Manhunt (2008)

Directed by: Patrik Syversen

I’m trying to work out the message behind ‘Manhunt’. I think it is a comment on what happens when you decide to go to College or University, and leave your hometown behind. You go through an initial period of fear, and anguish, battling through a nightmarish emotional wilderness, then you come out the other side, battered, bruised and bleeding – nonetheless you somehow survive.

Its seventies Scandinavia and everybody dresses terribly. We’re on board a camper van with a young couple and a pair of siblings; at first it is difficult to do which duo are which; living in Norfolk I often encounter such groups. This is all the more confusing when these young folk are supposedly considered the classy city types, and they are heading into Hicksville. The foursome has planned a hiking trip out in the woods.

There is already dissension in the ranks. The driver Roger is in an irritable mood, and seems pissed that his lovely blonde girlfriend Camilla is heading off to college. He intensely dislikes the bloke in the back seat, a comic book nerd called Jorgen with curious sideburns. Then there is the comic book nerd’s sister Mia who looks like a goner already, with her annoying face which displays the permanent expression of a woman who has just been slapped in the face with an eel.

Stopping for supplies at a roadside café / truck stop they meet some of the locals; a transplanted group of Deep South redneck types, including a stern faced matriarch who runs the place. Inevitably these backwards blokes are warning markers for what the group are likely to encounter, they also run into a disturbed looking young woman called Renate with striking raven black hair. Roger is irritated by the lack of sophistication in the café and strikes up a conversation with Renate and offers her a lift down the road.

The story picks up, the five young folk drive on, their newest passenger gets car sick, forcing the camper van to stop. She gets out and hurls, gushing a ferocious glob of yellow. The foursome argues, and stupidly the car keys get thrown into the woodland. A grey land rover pulls up alongside the van, three rednecks get out and the hunt begins.

For the next hour we are subjected to the young folk getting shot, slashed and smashed up in the woodland, battling to survive. Given that the film is set specifically in 1974, the film is homage to the greatest independent horror movie of them all ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ – Group of friends pick up a hitchhiker / vulnerable person, who quickly afterwards meets their demise, the group then find themselves running for their lives in unfamiliar territory.

***Spoiler Alert***

Just as Sally Hardesty escapes in the back of a pick-up truck screaming like a mentalist with blood all over her face, our heroine, Camilla who’s off the college, somehow dispatches a bunch of heavily armed experienced hunters and gets picked up by a good Samaritan, wait a minute… it’s the stern face matriarch who served the group in the truck stop. Maybe, she won’t make it out alive after all.

‘Manhunt’ could have been so much better had a back story been built about the killers, maybe somebody in the café tells the group about the history of the woods, how important hunting is in the area. Let’s have some motive, even Wes Craven did that back in his early years.

Mercifully short, we don’t have to endure much uncomfortable dialogue when the chase is on. The murky, dank natural light creates a disturbing bleak tension which works well, it’s just that some of the ‘set pieces’ don’t work. For instance it is hard to believe that the cute blonde Camilla can shoot a man fifty yards away with a homemade bow and arrow, and towards the tail end of the movie develop a killer instinct not seen since ‘First Blood’. Another note, the DVD menu screen gives away how one of the group is killed, which means that the quite clever set-up to this brutal killing loses all of its suspense.

Kidnapping and torture are regular themes in modern horror, though worryingly such despicable acts are losing their shock value. ‘Manhunt’ is fantastically shot, making the most of Norway’s serene woodlands, but it lacks the punch of the traditional no thrills intensely visceral horror movie that it aspires to emulate.



Manhunt on IMDB
Buy Manhunt [DVD] [2007]


Pusher (1996)

Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn

I hummed and hawed about including this film. Mainly because right now Refn is a big deal in Hollywood after all the praise that has been lauded upon ‘Drive’, and his previous work is now very much under the mainstream spotlight, people are actively seeking out his back catalogue. ‘Pusher’ is where it all began, the first in the trilogy. Made whilst Refn was aged in his mid-twenties, the film is an unflinching realistic take on life in the dark usually unseen underbelly of Copenhagen.

Refn captures the fallen man in ‘Pusher’ with Frank (Kim Bodnia), the protagonist, a street dealer who is fundamentally flawed by his neurosis and naivety, representing masculine weakness, fragility and hopelessness. Frank can’t balance maintaining ‘healthy’ personal relationships with trying to establish himself and his reputation as a dealer.

Immediately we find ourselves following Frank and his sidekick Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen) who both aspire to live the Tony Montana lifestyle, but put the cart before the horse. After a deal goes awry, Frank ends up owing money to his supplier Milo (Zlatko Burić), a creepy Serbian man with a penchant for cookery. His problems multiply when a second massive deal that Frank makes with a former prison cellmate ends up with our bedraggled dealer floating quite literally in the middle of a lake. Milo offers Frank some time to pay him the money back, and Frank finds himself being closely monitored by Milo’s enforcer Radovan (Slavko Labović) as he goes about repaying his debts by visiting junkies who owe him money and calling in some favours, unfortunately Frank learns the hard way that a man in debt is halfway dead.

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is Frank’s relationship with Vic (Laura Drasbæk), a dancer who works in an up market brothel. Frank is very standoffish with Vic, and doesn’t appreciate her vain attempts at building an intimate relationship. Without this relationship the film wouldn’t probably carry the same weight, likely resorting to gangster cliché’s and cautionary drug tales.

We’ve come to expect a certain amount of bleakness from Scandinavian television and film from the likes of ‘Forbrydelsen’, Stieg Larsson’s adapted ‘Millennium series’ and ‘Wallender’. ‘Pusher’ doesn’t need to shock or startle, it relies on Bodnia’s performance, a desperate portrayal of a man whose whole world falls apart after making a couple of big mistakes. The dramatic lunacy Frank displays towards the end of the film is brutally shocking, much more so than if the film ended with a dealer getting his violent come-uppance or a user overdosing in their own filth.

The film is testament to the Do It Yourself ethos that has powered independent cinema, with Refn dropping out of film school, acquiring his own funding and shooting the film on handheld cameras to capture blunt realism set over one hellacious week. The budget constraints work for ‘Pusher’, moody lighting and the chronological sequence that the film was shot meant the scenes snap together, the story never lingers. Frank’s desperate descent is illuminated by shadowy cinematography. Red lights, bar lights, street lights and lamp lights create an unstable paranoiac atmosphere.



Pusher on IMDB
Buy The Pusher Trilogy [DVD]

The Innkeepers (2011)

“The Innkeepers”- an Adam Schirling review

***Warning, 2 Spoiler Alerts:
1) I am going to tell you how this crapfest ends
2) If you ever saw Top Gun and wanted to bang Kelly McGillis do not watch this movie

The other day while in the local Stop-n-Shop picking up groceries, my old lady and I decided to peruse the Red Box for any possible good movies to check out. For my British or Aussie friends who may not be in the know, the Red Box is a giant dvd rental vending machine where you can rent an assortment of new releases or older titles for 1 buck a day. So, once more, I feel that the $1 rental fee makes all titles subject to possible review by the esteemed ISCFC.

The Innkeepers popped up on the first screen in ‘Horror’….Creepy DVD cover art? Check. Haunted New England hotel? Always cool. And, wait…Kelly McGillis???!!!???!! Maverick’s girl toy from Top Gun? No fucking way! I had to have this movie on my screen immediately. As soon as dinner was over and drinks were poured, I popped it in, surrounded by my old lady, my lil sis, and good friend & DA artist Tom Butts.

Very quickly you could see the influence the director had from movies like Poltergeist. It was quickly established that this was a ‘creepy hotel’, all the pre-requisites were present. Last weekend open, owner in Barbados, two barely competent employees left to run the joint, strange guests checking in…….All the plot points were filling in nicely. Dread was building. Stories of supposed ghosts were told. A couple cheesy bullshit ‘boo’ scenes were even forgivable, as you could see the point, a young director trying to break up plot building with slight comedy to keep you guessing. I am fucking saying, friends that I was on board with it all at first.

My biggest complaint with the torture porn films of the mid 2000s was the lack of buildup. There were no subtle nuances; they just threw the gore in your face until you couldn’t take it anymore. So I was pleased to see a film take its time, establish some characters (as flat and cliché as they all were), and make a backstory. But then……we kept waiting….and waiting….and waiting……

Kelly McGillis shows up as a failed actress (HA!) and drunk who is in town for a ‘psychic medium conference’….I have no doubt that such conferences exist, but what were the chances of this old bitch staying at the one haunted hotel on its last weekend? OH, Kelly….For those of you with fond remembrance of the spunky blonde from Top Gun; the brilliant Intel specialist with a thing for renegade pilots: You Shall Be Disappointed. She has been replaced with a frumpy old butch haired lesbian with zero acting ability. In this film she portrays the ‘old psychic’ role poorly, offering only the fucking cliché advice “stay out of the basement!!!!”…Listen fuckers, I live in a 100 year old house in New England, and I fucking know to not be hanging out in the goddamn basement for no reason. And to insult our intelligence even more: the clerk in question that warning was directed to keeps going in the fucking basement!!!If you find yourself in a creepy house, and a psychic tells you to stay the hell out of the basement, just fucking do it.

So, we have more buildup, and more buildup, and more buildup…..It becomes obvious that the scene is being set for a big giant evil showdown in the damn basement. The female clerk in question (played by Sara Paxton, who did a stand up job in the Last House on the Left remake) figures out this bad shit is going to go down asap, and escaping it is literally as easy as walking out the front door of the small hotel in the middle of a quaint Connecticut downtown street (this was NOT the goddamn Overlook stuck high up in the mountains of Colorado, escaping literally would require walking about 25 ft.) but still she hangs out….and keeps going in the fucking basement…

NOW FINALLY, YES! She is trapped in the basement, something is chasing her. She runs into the small basement closet (that’s always the right choice, trapping yourself) and lo and behold the slow moving cliché ‘dead bride’ ghost appears and we get a fucking ‘fade to black’….motherfucker!!! ANOTHER FUCKING SOPRANOS ENDING!!!

Not entirely, as the scene opens the next morning to her dead body being brought out on a stretcher, and her fellow incompetent employee giving the ole’ “I can’t believe it” statement to the cops, all the while Kelly Mcgills stares out the window sadly, no doubt starting to second guess her tactic of just warning people to stay out the basement….As the scene fades out we get a glimpse of a room of the hotel, with a very quick slight shot of a shadowy ghost of Sara Paxton in the room before the door slams and credits roll.

Almost 2 fucking hours of plot building and dumbass clichés just to keep you hoping for a big crazy Poltergeist type payoff in the form of the house literally shitting itself with demons and ghosts, but nope, we get a hipster getting stuck in the basement and the slow ghost bride eating her, or stabbing her, or who fucking knows what.

People, just listen to your ole Uncle Adam and Aunt Kelly McGillis and stay out of the fucking basement.

The Innkeepers on IMDB
Buy The Innkeepers [DVD]

Trigger Man (2007)

Where I found this: Okay, I’m wandering outside my remit here. This was a download, as this DVD isn’t available in the UK – Danish or nothing. But it’s really interesting, and I’ve been inspired to write a half-serious, if shorter than usual, review of this film.

Ti West is one of the up-and-comers of horror. He’s done “The Innkeepers” and “House of the Devil”, and is already 20% more awesome than most directors because this is his profile picture on

First things first – the plot of this film is so paper-thin it’s an insult to things that are paper-thin. Three friends, one of whom is about to be married, go for a hunting trip in the forest. And that’s pretty much it, until one of them is shot by an unseen presence, then the rest of the film is about trying to survive, and maybe fighting back.

But, like I said, the plot is the least interesting thing about this film. Even with a budget of approximately £7, West is skilled at building up the tension, and it uses its limitations (amateur actors, no location budget) to its advantage, I think. There are lots of good choices – interesting camera angles, and a sense of uncertainty that many bigger budget films have been unable to capture.

That’s quite enough of the good stuff, as I’m terrible about writing about why films work and are good and entertaining. The film is 80 minutes long, and the first 30 (at least) are taken up with nothing. Now, knowing West’s other work, this seems to be a stylistic choice on his part, but it doesn’t get round the fact that such a large portion of a short film being taken up with three amateur actors wandering round a forest doesn’t make for the world’s most amount of fun. Also, it would have been nice if he’d spent a few quid investing in something which stopped his camera from jiggling round so much – there are zooms where zooms aren’t needed, and it wanders dangerously close to found-footage-film territory at certain points. Oh, and it doesn’t so much come to a conclusion as just grind to a halt.

I was wondering whether this counted for this site – given West’s popularity among horror fans at the moment, this is maybe not even in cult territory. But then I realised that any film made for $10,000 over 7 days about people getting shot at in a forest is never going to be multiplex fodder, and therefore we should be fine in featuring it on this site.

To conclude, it’s a fascinating early film from West, and while it may not be the best film you’ll ever see, fans of micro-budget cinema, “Deliverance” homages, and surprisingly tense films will find something to enjoy here. I think West is interested in the effects of minimalism in cinema, and I hope he gets the chance to make something really good that doesn’t have to rely on the horror film press to get it out there.

COMMENTARY: I wish I could have made this review a bit stupider, like my first two for this site, or informative/entertaining, like the other reviews by my ISCFC cohorts. But there’s really not a lot to talk about here. Don’t worry, though, I have at least one more giant shark film to watch, and if there’s one thing you can take for granted, it’s that people will still want to make films about mutated monsters eating people in glamorous locations.

Trigger Man on IMDB
Buy Trigger Man (2007) (Region 2) (Import)

The Last Lovecraft (2009)

Directed by: Henry Saine

As you’ve probably already realised by now we’ve moved, and changed our name; mostly in fear of getting sued by the legal might of Poundland, now we are the International Syndicate of Cult Film Critics. Still, Poundland is likely to continue to supply a significant proportion of my films, and ‘The Last Lovecraft’ (UK DVD Title) was purchased alongside a roll of kitchen foil and a pack of notepads that I’m supposed to be using to scribble down a rough draft of my upcoming assignment on the differences between psychodynamic and person-centred counselling. Instead I find myself writing about another low budget straight-to-DVD movie.

Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos ‘The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu’ is a cheaply made homage, somewhat similar in style to ‘Shaun of the Dead’. In this movie our Shaun is named Jeff, and he works for the SQRLY Squirrel gift delivery company. Jeff (Kyle Davis) is sensible, albeit a tad naïve. Jeff and his confident slacker co-worker, and aspiring comic book artist friend Charlie (Devin McGinn) suddenly find themselves after a dull day at work on an adventure quest when a mysterious grey haired professor turns up in their apartment. The Professor, a member of The Council of Cthulhu tells Jeff that he’s the last living descendent of Lovecraft, and must therefore become the guardian of one half of the relic of Cthulhu. Jeff’s duty is to prevent both pieces getting put back together. If that happened then Cthulhu would rise from deep beneath the ocean and wreak havoc upon Mother Earth.

The gore is hilariously gungey, reminding me more of the classic kids show ‘Get Your Own Back’ then a nasty slaughterhouse horror. After an over the top bloody double murder on board a boat we are introduced to the villainous Starspawn, Cthulhu’s General. Half man half squid, big red and pretty evil looking; Stawspawn, assisted by the devious Cult of Cthulhu possess the other half of the relic. Unfortunately the ‘deep ones’ Starspawn’s violent mutant piranha-like creatures are quite literally plastic and rather pathetic looking despite contributing towards a significant proportion of the films body count.

Jeff and Charlie are joined by Lovecraft nerd Paul (Barak Hardley), a bespectacled overweight manchild who lives with his potty mouthed Grandmother. The trio takes their half of the relic on the road, fleeing from Starspawn in search of the only man who can help them – Captain Olaf, a gnarly sea dog who had encountered the ‘deep ones’ up close, and some might say personal, as his “fish raped” quip suggests . Olaf lives in an RV somewhere in the desert reminiscent of the one featured in the first season of ‘Breaking Bad’, an unlikely place for a showdown that will determine the fate of the world.

My biggest gripe with the film is that some of the cast are hamming it up, and some blatantly can’t be arsed because they knew the film was going to end up as a festering bag of shite. In a film like this everybody needs to be pulling in the same direction, if you’re going to be outrageous I want Klaus Kinski levels of madness, or if you can’t quite reach that level aim a little lower on the crazy scale, like Ben Foster’s performance in the otherwise woeful ‘Alpha Dog’. Low budget films demand acting on a scale of extremes, varying from terrible to dramatically am dram Shakespearean. You can’t really phone in the performance.

The biggest enemy of a movie that could be categorized as “so bad that it’s good” is ‘boredom’ and ‘The Last Lovecraft’ contains several scenes that go nowhere, not to mention the anodyne plot; and though the creators may dream of cult status, this is one DVD you’re unlikely to lend to a buddy, or put on during the final hours of a drunken gathering. Although it feels a lot like ‘The Last Lovecraft’ was cobbled together after a late night session descended beyond the “I love you, man” point to a “Dude, let’s make a movie”.

There are some fun moments in what is actually quite a short and painless film experience, the brief cameo of Martin Starr as Paul’s equally hopeless pal Clarence and the animated sequence which tells the tale of Cthulhu are meagre highlights, there just isn’t enough here to recommend.



The Last Lovecraft on IMDB
Buy The Last Lovecraft [DVD]

2001 Maniacs: Field Of Screams (2010)


by Ian Shearer

I came up against a rather unexpected obstacle when I joined the International Syndicate of Cult Film Critics: my local Poundland didn’t have any B-movies. Neither did the Poundland in the city centre. I decided I would have to bend the rules slightly and just go to a normal DVD shop and seek out a bargain. Since I wasn’t relying on a bargain bin to narrow my selection, I decided it had to be either a horror or martial arts movie. If I was going to forego quality in the name of the project I sure as shit was not going to compromise on the violence and/or titties.

I skimmed the horror section, filtering anything that didn’t have a bright pink £3 sticker on it. Not quite as fun as getting a movie for a quid, but still not breaking the bank. I landed on 2001 Maniacs (*1) and almost skimmed on, since I already have that movie. This one had a different cover, though, so I stopped and, alas, it was actually 2001 Maniacs: Field Of Screams. A sequel! Perfect. And since the original 2001 Maniacs is one of the most batshit horror movies I have ever seen, I felt the £3 outlay was more than fair. I scanned the back of the case and was disappointed to discover that Robert Englund had not reprised his role, but heartened to find that his shoes had been filled by none other than Bill Fucking Moseley. Boobs, blood and Bill Moseley had been a winning trifecta for House Of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, and I truly believed I had lucked onto the proverbial diamond in the rough. As I was paying I also thought the cute girl with the nice rack smiled at me, so in hindsight that was two things I was dead fucking wrong about.

The story is that when people stop showing up at the maniacs’ civil war re-enactment park, they take their show on the road. This at first appears to be a completely arbitrary plot point, since it has no bearing on the story whatsoever, but then you realise that the reason for it is simply that they clearly did not have the budget to recreate the town from the first film (*2). Fodder for the maniacs comes in the form of a television crew which is on the road shooting what is absolutely, positively, not a piss-take of The Simple Life. At first I thought it was, but I checked the disclaimer at the end of the credits and it turns out any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Anyway. The film crew has van trouble and decides to shoot some scenes at the maniacs’ makeshift camp. What should follow is a series of hilarious and bloodthirsty murders, punctuated by – or even better, combined with – a few silly sex scenes.

What actually follows is a series of embarrassingly uninspired murders dotted through a story that is closer in content to spoof than anything else. The sheer gratuity of it should be fun, but is so contrived it just comes off as boring. The dialogue is at best a forgiveable attempt at horror-movie-cornball and at worst a string of poorly judged race jokes. Worst of all is the nuts and bolts film-making. The costume, set design and special effects are all haphazard, with none of the love or attention one would expect from a horror film crew, and the sound is just fucking terrible. Several scenes obviously had sound issues and were dubbed – poorly – which is just plain annoying. The inattention to detail makes me wonder whether the people who made this piece of shit really like horror movies at all, and makes me feel bad for the cast members like the aforementioned Bill Moseley, and also Lin Shaye and Christa Campbell, who were in the first movie and were totally let down by the script and the production of this one.

The first 2001 Maniacs was fucking bananas. Gory, sexy, hilarious, and it had Robert Englund doing his thing. This movie doesn’t even deserve to be part of the same franchise. Had I managed to find it in a £1 bargain bin, I would still feel ripped off. A truly, truly shitty movie.

* 1 – It strikes me now that this movie should have been at the very start of an alphabetical assortment.  It is not impossible, though, that it was deliberately hidden by some good Samaritan.

* 2 – If I had to say where that budget went, I’d say it was used to pay John Landis to give the following quote for the DVD cover: “One of the rare sequels that surpasses the original.”  Fuck off.

2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams on IMDB
Buy 2001 Maniacs: Field Of Screams (Extreme Edition) [DVD] [2009]

Swamp Shark (2011)

LOCATION FOUND: Birthday present from my friend James

With DVDs, there are many signs that you’ve bought a good one. Special features, animated menus, director’s commentary, you know the drill. You can also tell when you’ve bought a bad one – and that moment comes when you pop the DVD into the player, go to the kitchen to get a drink before pressing play, and come back to find the film’s already started because it doesn’t have so much as a menu screen, it’s insert and away you go. As you may have already guessed, “Swamp Shark” is one of the latter.

Where to start with such a great film? First up, should you choose to watch this (don’t bother) there’s fun to be had pondering whether this film was supposed to be some PG teen adventure about facing down a shark, until the film company went “quick, throw in loads of blood and body parts!” Much like the title of the great documentary about low-budget legend Don Dohler, you need “blood, boobs and beast” to make a proper low-budget exploitation film, and this film goes out of its way to miss out on the middle bit. Saying that, I wouldn’t get too naked in a swamp, you’ve no idea what’s about.

I have yet to start recapping this, which probably shows how little I’m looking forward to it. Some kids are having a party by the side of an unspecified bit of water, and then comes the most incomprehensible sheriff in the history of film (admittedly, he’s talking through his car-mounted loudspeaker). I’m not entirely sure why he was there, something to do with not being able to hear his dialogue, but as the box says, he’s involved in the rare animal trade, which is a bit on the illegal side. Oh, sheriff!

FUN THING 1: Try and remember some of the films and TV shows the sheriff has been in. If you look on IMDB, it’s actually more difficult to name films he hasn’t done. The man is prolific.

I was going to write a nice long review of this, but what I ought to do is get the last review I did, of “Dinoshark”, and replace the word “Dino” with “Swamp”. Well, and capitalise the first letter of “shark”, but I’d probably still be able to do that with OpenOffice. Heck, talking about what word processing software I’m using to do this is more exciting than talking about this film.

Kristy Swanson, so very very far away from “Buffy”, plays the owner of a seafood restaurant / C&W music place, with a really shitty boyfriend. Or is he?

FUN THING 2: Take a shot every time Kristy’s boyfriend implausibly changes motivation, or turns from monster to supportive.

There’s a mysterious new customer at her place, who may or may not have something to do with the illicit animal smuggling which is the most pointless and poorly used subplot since the mother saying “I definitely have cancer” in “The Room”. He becomes the action herzzzzzzzz sorry I fell asleep just from thinking about this film.

I have an idea for a book. It’s called “The Laws Of Low-Budget Films With Sharks In Them”, and I’ve got as far as rule 1. Rule 1: ‘there must be a shot where the three heroes are on a speedboat looking ahead with determination’. So it was in Dinoshark, and so it is with Swamp Shark. Proof, I hear you ask?

I was perfectly prepared to abandon this silly idea at rule 1, but rule 2 has already popped into my head. Rule 2: ‘ there must be a large seafront entertainment event that can’t be cancelled, for some reason’. This film’s event is Gator-Fest, a celebration of all things scaly and human-devouring. Do alligators have scales? Ah, who cares.

Rule 3: ‘at least one character must behave in a brain-buggeringly stupid way, to drive the plot along’. We have a college student who seduces Kristy Swanson’s sister to fill this role, and his idiocy involves throwing all the phones in the swamp, and disabling the boat’s radio. He gives the other college students a reason for this, but they don’t have time to appreciate how dumb he is before he’s eaten (SPOILER).

Rule 4 (and I did not expect to get 4 rules out of this silly idea): ‘sharks be super-powered’. I imagine there’s a generation of kids watching films like this with entirely unrealistic expectations of what sharks can actually do. Sharks may be able to jump hundreds of feet out of the water and bring down helicopters, passenger jets, blokes paragliding – I don’t know, I’m too lazy to check – but I bet they can’t. Films, on the other hand, don’t have this problem with “reality” or “the far reaches of common sense” . I blame Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus and its brief brush with internet fame, and you should too.

Rating: 2 and a half sea creatures out of 5

Extra bit, where I mention something irrelevant: one of the supporting actors in this film is Wade Boggs. A name that means nothing to most British readers of these reviews, but one of the most famous baseball players of all time. One gets the impression that he either loves acting a lot, or managed his money really really badly. We’re sorry for your poor life choices, Wade.

– Mark Longden

Swamp Shark on IMDB
Buy Swamp Shark – Blu Ray Disc –

The Grand Tour (1992)

According to IMDB, this initially went under the name of ‘Timescape’ and missed out on a cinema release, but was retitled ‘Grand Tour: Disaster in Time’ for the home video market. I’ll admit to being sceptical of this, as A: My old VHS copy clearly says ‘Timescape’ and B: ‘Grand Tour: Disaster in Time is a clunkier (but vaguely more apt) title. In the interest of slightly pathetic obligation to the notion of canon, the title sequence within the version I’m reviewing simply reads ‘The Grand Tour’, so I’ll stick with that. Directed by David N Twohy (best known for Pitch Black and stilted attempts at a Riddick franchise), it’s a time travel movie, but one unhampered by the populism and economic success of, say, Back To The Future or Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. In fact, to this day it has eluded a DVD release in this country. The production is certainly humble enough to befit its obscurity, but there are enough original beats, not to mention a terrific central performance, that do deserve it some elevation (or failing that, waffle), by me, here, now.

Jeff Daniels stars as Ben Wilson, a still-grieving widower in the process of renovating a guest-house on the outskirts of town with his daughter Hilary (Ariana Richards). The pair are joined by a tour group, headed by the dubiously magnanimous Madame Iovine (Marilyn Lightstone), who insists on paying upfront for them to stay in the largely unfurnished building. Ben is instantly wary of the party’s eccentric behaviour, but has bigger problems in the shape of his late wife’s father, Judge Caldwell (George Murdock). Caldwell explicitly blames Ben for her death, and is encroaching upon his custody of Hilary. Long story short, the tour group are in fact (spoilers follow) time travellers from an immaculate-but-dull future, passively witnessing historical disasters in a callously decadent fashion. Their presence heralds the arrival of catastrophe, as a meteorite decimates the town and its population. Before their subsequent departure, a sympathetic time tourist slips Ben one of their passports. With his daughter’s life in the balance, Ben travels back in time to help set things right.

The film plays out like a feature-length episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, where the one-shot, high-concept premise is often contained within a folksy, small-town setting. In fact, the film is based on a short story called Vintage Season, written by one-time Twilight Zone contributors Lawrence O’Donnell and C.L.Moore. The Grand Tour avoids the pitfalls of similar-minded movies by not spending the post-reveal run time on a futile expansion of its own mythology (see Richard Kelly’s The Box, be my guest). Instead, once the penny drops and the second act begins, the plot takes the premise to a logical conclusion, but one that’s unafraid of cutting the Gordian knot at the expense of a more coherent finale.

The trouble with time travel stories is simply this; messing with time means messing with plot. Certain events already established may become undone, paradoxical, or rendered arbitrary by the protagonist’s ability to change it on a whim. If the traveller cannot change the past, say due to some form of predeterminist cosmological policy, then that can also feel arbitrary, not to mention unsatisfactory to the audience, as ideas are refused permission to conclude. What would actually happen if you went back and killed your grandfather? What’s more satisfying to see, the gun jamming for no reason, or the very fabric of reality unweaving in a psychedelic visual feast? Well, both are pretty stupid, but at least the latter would make for a better screensaver. ‘The Grand Tour’ has no such dazzling display, but it does allow the third act to delve into willful paradox, as Ben travels back 24 hours and teams up with the Ben from earlier on in the film. This twist allows for another unique trump card, as Ben literally confronts himself about his cowardice and complicity in his wife’s death. It’s a surprisingly harrowing sequence for such daytime-style melodrama and provides an unusual wrinkle to some otherwise forthright characterisation.

There’s no denying the TV-movie production values, but Jeff Daniels provides a much-needed emotional centre, judging the tone perfectly and inhabiting the everyman role with relative comfort. There’s a pleasing incongruity to the tourists themselves, as they for the most part seem to have escaped from central casting in a mythical epicentre of the 1980s. Meanwhile, their resident ‘retropologist’ blunders against passing cars whilst gawping at contemporary telephone lines. It’s hard to imagine such a party spending much time in history before getting rumbled by someone at somepoint, but therein lies the joy of imagination. Also endearing is the reveal of their mufti; a barmy assortment of esoterica replete with Tin Man face paint and New Romantical garb. Truly the future is a place of wonder.

As is the way with much of live-action science fiction, ideas triumph over compromised execution. In the case of The Grand Tour, ideas include the emotional detachment that Time and Space afford us from tragedy and ultimately how arbitrary that detachment is. More satisfying is the notion that, for lack of a better metaphor, perhaps reality can let us kill grandad now and then.

– Nik Drou

The Grand Tour on IMDB