Goblin (2010)

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“Dumbasses think burning a baby will help their crops” is the first thing I wrote in my notes, but on reflection, it’s fairly rare for movies, especially nice mainstream SyFy ones, to kill off babies in the name of genre entertainment, so we ought to give them credit for starting off in such a rare way (and give you fair warning, should that be a dealbreaker, that it happens).

 

Welcome, dear reader, to yet another SyFy Channel review. “Goblin”, from 2010, stars Gil Bellows (“Ally McBeal”) as Neil, the patriarch, Tracy Spiridakos (“Revolution”) as his unhappy-ish 17 year old daughter Nikki, and Camille Sullivan (“Sea Beast”, “Dead Rising: Endgame”) as new stepmother Kate. They’re on their way to the small town of Hollow Glen to have a little holiday, and also to discuss some real estate deal Neil worked on with his douchebag friend Owen (Colin Cunningham, “Falling Skies”). They pull into town on October 30th, which should immediately cause alarm bells to ring in the minds of low-budget movie fans everywhere.

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So, the events I described at the top of the page happened in 1831. The townspeople killed a baby with an unspecified “deformity”, to purge their town or whatever the hell it was, but the mother revealed herself to be a witch, and used magic to create a Goblin, which killed a bunch of locals before going for a nap, only to emerge every Halloween to capture and kill babies, and slaughter anyone who gets in the way of it capturing and killing babies. How the town has managed to survive down to 2010 without any new people being born, and how it’s not the most infamous place on Earth, are two questions sadly left unanswered.

 

Although the budget doesn’t allow them to have too big a cast, the way the townsfolk are all aghast at the sight of a baby in their town, but want to protect the family rather than  offer them up, is a nice touch. But who invited them to the town, knowing they had a small kid? And what’s their interest in it all? Oh, and why does that friendly but loud old fella know so much about the Goblin?

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First things first, this movie is guilty of a common movie crime, characters not having conversations off camera. Nikki is extremely unhappy at having to look after Neil and Kate’s new baby, but surely on the long drive to this small town in the middle of nowhere, someone would have said “do you mind babysitting for a few hours while we have this business meeting?” And there’s the way everyone acts surprised at the lack of mobile phone service – again, wouldn’t this have been brought up on the drive there? But then, there’s the bland teen boy love interest, who Nikki seems to know despite her presumably never having been to this town before…it’s quite curious.

 

Realising that they need some way to tell the teens about what’s really going on in town, they introduce the sister of one of the bland teen boys, Jane (Julia Maxwell, “Supernatural”, “Scarecrow”), a cool goth who knows all about the town’s history. The parents get told by Charlie, the friendly old man, but of course they don’t believe him at first, so he goes to help out the teens, gives them the special magical thing which will save the day, etc.

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The Goblin itself looks a bit CGI-goofy, but they hide its face underneath a large hooded robe for most of the movie, so that’s fine. While its motivations were clear, it’d be nice if they’d defeated it by, I don’t know, apologising to the ghost of the mother, or something, and not just “oh, I have this magical spear thing which will do the trick”. If you’re going to have a monster created from a mother’s grief, it would seem thematically appropriate to have that also be the tool to defeat it, but whatever.

 

Talking of mothers, I need to spoil an event which happens later on. Kate takes a huge chunk of glass to the chest while protecting Nikki, and when Neil comes home he calls 911, demanding an ambulance. For some reason, they send the Sheriff round, who umms and ahhs a bit before suggesting they take her to the diner as his wife, who works there, has some vague medical knowledge. Now, okay, the Sheriff is clearly a bad ‘un, but the operator isn’t, and why on earth would you not send an ambulance for a person who’s near death? I would sue the crap out of that 911 service.

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After all this criticism, it’s a pretty fun film. It packs a lot of stuff into 90 minutes, and while not all of it makes sense, the strong acting does its best to make up for it. Tracy Spiridakos shows that her awful performance in season one of “Revolution” (she was great in the second) was an aberration, and I hope she goes on to better things. Gil Bellows could play this sort of character in his sleep, although he does seem unsure whether he’s supposed to be a loving parent or a bit of a dick. Everyone else is cool, pretty much.

 

I think a bit more explanation of what was going on wouldn’t have gone amiss, and they could have thinned the cast out by a few people to create space for that, but as far as SyFy goes, it’s a good one.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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The Circuit 3: Street Monk (2006)

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If you’re going to make a low-budget action film, you need to make sure you do as well as possible with the things you have control over. That’s pretty much script and editing – you can’t get the best directors, actors or special effects when you’re in the bargain basement, but you can at least make sure your script makes sense and the editing assembles the film in a logical order.

 

Of course, if you’re Jalal Merhi, then these guidelines don’t apply to you. Producer, director and co-star of his own movies, Merhi is entertaining in a sea of trash because his films sort of look okay – actors look like actors, scenes are well-lit, fight scenes are usually decent; but they make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Most of the discussion about this movie will be about its plot and editing, because everything else is blandly competent.

 

OIivier Gruner, solidly dependable star of the first two movies and stuff like “Nemesis” (so he’s worked for both Albert Pyun and Jalal Merhi, poor fella) returns as Dirk Longstreet. Now, it’s been a while since I saw part 2, but I’m pretty sure he was exonerated at the end of that movie, so it’s a little weird to see him living the life of a fugitive, in a van by the beach, spending his days either surfing or taking part in a weird sort of fighting league where everything takes place on rocky outcrops with a helicopter watching. Not sure of the economics of this, but…eh, if I dwell too much on how this is bonkers, by the end I’ll be tearing my hair out.

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For some reason, he thinks his fiancé, left in a coma at the end of part 2, is dead, and because he’s dropped off the grid (apart from getting in touch with the people who organise the canyon-fighting) no-one can tell him his wife’s actually alive, and awake from her coma. This is, of course, entirely irrelevant to the plot.

 

Before we’ve had too much time to dwell on this, we’re transported to a strip club, which is also the home to another underground fight league, although the way they tell us is really confusing, with a fight breaking out in the middle of a normal evening of stripping, and suddenly everyone being super into the bloodshed. King of this league is “Spider” Webb (how many characters surnamed Webb in the movies have had the nickname Spider? I feel like it must be hundreds), played by badass actor James Lew, who’s been in a million things. Lew is awesome, but he’s fairly small and not in ripped shape, and would’ve been around 50 when this movie was filmed. Not the guy I’d have picked for my ultimate fighter, but whatever.

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Turns out that club owner Octavio Ventura (Jason Carter, “Babylon 5”), is also into human trafficking, including buying a teenage girl, Sherri, from her own stepfather for $15,000. Thanks to the dumbest kidnappers in the history of the movies – well, maybe running those from “Lauderdale” a close second – she’s able to escape, although where they’re going from and to is never mentioned, and luckily runs into Gruner on the beach, who after a little reluctance, helps her out, beating the crap out of the kidnappers with his surfboard. So they team up, and what follows is genuinely one of the more baffling sequences in movie history.

 

Apologies for going a bit in depth on this one. So, the kidnappers are told not to return unless they’ve got the girl with them, so one of the guys goes up to a group of surfers and pays them to find Dirk and “bring him in”. The scene with the surfers appears to be improvised, and I wouldn’t put it past Merhi to have gone to the beach and hired the first five guys he saw – so anyway, after this weird little scene, they find Dirk, exactly where he was the last time, and beat the crap out of him, all the while with the kidnappers watching from a distance. Then…they just leave him and go surfing again! After a few minutes, Dirk wakes up, goes into the water and kills all five surfers via taking them underwater and drowning them, then escapes the scene, while the people who wanted him beating up and bringing to them observe and do absolutely nothing. He’s not actually kidnapped and taken to the Strip Club Fight League for another half an hour or so, leaving act 2 exceptionally dull.

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The rest of the film is almost standard stuff, almost. We get one scene where Octavio is watching the fighters train, but he’s actually watching a CCTV feed of someone else watching the fighters train. Never change, Mr Merhi! Then, all his fighters, backstage, start beating up Dirk, which seems a foolish thing to do for such a big investment. After his first fight, the dreadful MC of the club says “World champion Dirk Longstreet does it again!” Er, what’s he world champion of? He was a teacher who used to be the top dog of an illegal fight circuit at the beginning of movie 1, and he’s done nothing since then to win any championship. During his apparent one-night domination of the Strip Club, he faces one bloke whose sole move is to get knocked down, then do a kip-up: seriously, he does like five of them in a row and it looks bonkers.

 

Right at the beginning of the movie, Octavio wants Sherri back partly because she can finger his entire organisation. At the end, he’s so upset with his dreadlocked assistant that he shoots her, non-lethally, gives her some severance money and tells her to get the hell out of his sight. Er, couldn’t she just go to the cops and get your operation shut down immediately? Have some consistency, man!

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Sorry for having to spoil the ending, dear reader, but it’s so odd that I just had to. Dirk wins all his fights, then right at the end takes on “Spider” Webb, the undefeated champion of the league, and kicks his ass in ten seconds. After, bear in mind, at least four other fights that same night, which must have tired him out a bit. So he and Sherri escape, then for absolutely no reason whatsoever he climbs onto the roof of the club for another, hopefully climactic, fight with Webb…then kicks his ass in ten seconds again, sending him off the roof to his death. Wait, what? That’s it? Well, there’s a coda where Dirk takes to the road, escaping what he thinks is an impending arrest (giving us a mumbled monologue about honour or something), and a meeting with Jalal Merhi (who was a newspaper editor in part 1 and just a buddy of Dirk’s in part 2), Sherri and Dirk’s fiancé, who decides on the spur of the moment to become Sherri’s new legal guardian / boss. I have no idea either.

 

You may notice that Loren Avedon, ISCFC favourite, is seventh billed in the credits. How hard did he have to work for that seventh billing? Well, his entire screen time is approximately ten seconds, so “not very” is the answer. But look at those credits, where his name is misspelled, as is that of the woman playing Sherri (Cristina Rosas), with the name of the woman above him in capitals for no reason. You might also notice that Gruner is never on screen with Merhi, Avedon, his wife or any of those people, which indicates to me there were some fairly serious post-production problems (I’d lay good money on this sitting on a shelf for several years, for one).

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I’d dismiss it as a shambles but this is Merhi we’re talking about, a man for whom the criticism “paid for movies just so he could be in them” is being too kind. But saying that, if you’re going to drop a million dollars on a movie, wouldn’t you at least try to make it make sense? How could he have possibly watched the finished version and thought it was in any way releasable? But his lack of anything approaching care is your gain, pop this on and provided you’re in the right mood, there’s a ton of unintentional laughs to be had.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Sea Beast (2008) (aka Troglodyte)

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Predator crossed with Jaws. There you go. That’s pretty much all you need to know about this film, and I’m willing to bet the mental image forming in your head will be roughly similar to what this movie is. But, I don’t get paid (current earnings: £0) to just write Twitter-length reviews, so if you’re interested in reading a bit about another totally decent SyFy movie, you’ll have to read on.

 

It’s a welcome return for Corin Nemec, who’s rapidly approaching ISCFC Hall Of Fame status. “Lake Placid vs Anaconda”, “House Of Bones”, “Sand Sharks” and “Mansquito” have all been in the upper level of the stuff we’ve reviewed, and that’s partly thanks to Nemec, who manages to wink at the audience while seemingly taking things totally seriously. Here, he’s a fishing boat captain who’s down on his luck (one of his crew dies in a storm right at the beginning of the movie, as he sees a mysterious creature leap out of the ocean, grab the poor crewman, and dive back in), with debts to the guy who sold him the boat, and a daughter he’s trying to encourage to go to college, leave this small town behind, etc. She’s more interested in one of his deckhands, though, and then there’s also another deckhand, and his girlfriend too, who represent the stereotypical group of “young people” in a movie of this sort.

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Mercifully, we get to the action right away with this one, after a nicely done introduction. There’s Quint (that’s not his name, but he’s such an obvious analogue for the character from “Jaws” that it’s pointless calling him anything else), who’s retreated into a bottle after seeing one of the creatures himself; the hot local environmental scientist, who Nemec ogles once but that’s it – perhaps they had a romantic subplot which was left on the cutting room floor; and the Sheriff, who’s Nemec’s older brother. The young folks all head off to a nearby island cabin for some fun, but are sure to not tell anyone where they’re going, or take any emergency supplies, and one of the sea-creatures hitched a ride on the bottom of the boat, turning up in town and almost immediately having dozens of babies.

 

It’s all fairly standard stuff – of course, a group of baby monsters attacks the partying teens, while Momma goes after the people in town. And they drop like flies! The “Predator” part of the equation comes from the monster being able to turn itself almost invisible, much like our alien friend did in the 1987 classic, oh, and walk on land perfectly well. For a creature which has apparently never emerged from the watery depths, it adapts to its new situation remarkably well.

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One thing that sets this apart from your average SyFy movie is location. It looks like they found a real run-down fishing village to film in, as the sets and buildings are way too authentic to have been dressed. There’s also an abandoned ferry which is the set for the last chunk of the movie, and congrats to whoever found that, because it’s brilliant visually and makes “Sea Beast” look like it had ten times the budget. It’s just unfortunate that the random abandoned ship nowhere near town is also the place where the monster has chosen to lay her eggs.

 

Which leads us to our “huh?” segment. Events unfold over what must only be a couple of days, but when you see the monster’s lair, there are hundreds and hundreds of eggs there. They make several references to how the ferry has been picked clean by previous salvage teams, but there’s a car with a tank full of petrol in there, and a radio, and tons of other stuff. I also don’t buy that anyone brought up in a seafront community didn’t have it hammered into them from a young age that if you go anywhere, take an emergency radio with you, or a dinghy, or something. Okay, I know well-prepared people tend to make for dull movies, but if that’s what you’re relying on to drive your plot, then you’re in trouble.

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Sprinkle a little “no-one believes him, because people obviously lie about giant killer sea creatures all the damn time” and you’ve got yourself a SyFy Channel original. The cast are mostly fine, the effects are surprisingly decent (most of the time, the creatures look like they’re actually there in the shot, and there’s a fair bit of model work to go with the CGI). Okay, the ending is “haha all our friends are dead”, and therefore is horrible, and it’s best if you don’t think about it too hard, but should you see this on the SyFy Channel listings, you could do a lot worse.

 

Rating: Thumbs in the middle

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Deathlands: Homeward Bound (2003)

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“Deathlands” is a little bit similar to this year’s “Dead 7”, not in the sense of having loads of 90s boy band stars in it, but in taking your traditional low-budget post-apocalyptic movie and spinning it in an interesting direction. “Dead 7” went the Western route, and “Deathlands” has gone for a medieval flavour to proceedings. As a very early Sci-Fi Channel movie, it’s also surprisingly good, but hey! Stick around for the next 700 words or so, I’ll try and be entertaining.

 

It turns out that “Deathlands” is a series of books which I’d never heard of until last night. Starting in 1988, they now stretch to a staggering 125 volumes (!), with a spin-off series clocking in at 75. So that’s 7 books a year for almost 30 years (not all written by the same guy, I ought to add), but I guess they just never really made the leap to the UK? They do appear, from my limited research, to be slightly right-wing fantasies of a world which was ravaged by the Cold War suddenly heating up – Russia starting things, naturally – but the odd thing is, by 1988 change was coming, rapidly, with great swathes of nuclear disarmament on both sides and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union a few years later. Yet the book series just merrily carried on (although as of November 2015, it’s done, with its publisher being shut down).

 

The series has a group of central characters, and the movie was (again, apparently) pretty good at portraying them. The hero is Ryan Cawdor (Vincent Spano), who’s the youngest son of a “royal” family – turns out, when he was in his early teens, his brother was having an affair with his stepmother, and the two of them murdered the rest of the family and took over, with only Ryan and his sister escaping. The movie’s set 20 years after those events. There’s Krysty (Jenya Lano), his monogamous life partner – one of the things I read emphasised this bit strongly, which indicates it’s a big thing in the books. She’s a badass redhead, who’s half-mutant; there’s also a full mutant, Jak (Nathan Carter), an albino with glowing red eyes. The whole mutant thing isn’t really dealt with in the movie at all, but is the sort of seemingly unnecessary world-building you see often in failed pilots that are re-configured into TV movies. Rounding out the crew is JB Dix, the fedora-wearing weapons expert who…nah, got nothing. I’m sure he has a personality, though. Oh, he doesn’t trust Jak, I guess?

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Ryan and his crew drive into a small village, which is part of the “Ville” (the name of all these new future areas of governance) controlled by Harvey, Ryan’s older brother. This appears to be by accident, although you’d think Ryan would remember the area – anyway, they meet Ryan’s secret nephew Nathan, who tells them how evil Harvey (Alan C Peterson) and Lady Rachel (Traci Lords) are. Ryan decides it’s about time to show his brother a thing or two, and we’re on for some rip-roaring good times.

 

There’s a cool scene in the throne room, as our heroes pretend to be traders to get access to Harvey’s “castle”. It feels a little Game Of Thrones-y, as Harvey and Rachel’s creepy son Jabez kisses his mother full on the lips and fondles her breast before trying to grope Krysty, then getting one of the servants killed. He’s a winner! Anyway, they figure out who the mysterious travellers are fairly quickly, and then they’re locked up, with escapes, offers of sex from super-evil stepmothers, friendships, and a surprisingly fun, fast-paced story.

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They found some good sets, or just an abandoned town somewhere in Eastern Europe, and the film looks a lot more expensive than it no doubt is. There’s a red filter over a bunch of scenes to show the result of the nuclear war, and in one scene the moon seems rather closer than it is at the moemtn, which indicates someone tried at some world-building. There’s a few nice touches too, like how the dinner plates and mugs at the banquet are random, cheap plastic, rather than a never-would’ve-survived full dinner service. The cast are all excellent, too, with special credit going to Jenya Lano, who’s way too good to be in movies like this – she stopped acting in 2005 and it’s a shame.

 

Of course, no review of a SyFy Channel movie would be complete without a few “huh?” moments. One scene involves someone dying, and getting shoved through the bars of a cell window into the castle moat…but if the bars were big enough to fit a body through, then you could escape through them, surely? And perhaps the oddest bit is a throwaway line which is just worrying. Passing by several people who’ve been hung, presumably as a warning to any potential wrongdoers, Jak says “look at that strange fruit”, a reference to the poem / Billie Holliday song, about the lynching of black people. Is it just being used by someone who doesn’t understand the depth of meaning of the reference (like the crappy movie where Plymouth Rock is sucked up by a hurricane and literally lands on a black guy)? It indicates that there are very few black people working on these sorts of movies, because I can’t believe that line would have made it out of the first draft if there had been.

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Anyway, small criticisms aside, it’s excellent for SyFy and would’ve made a fine TV series (this definitely feels like a pilot), with an enormous amount of material to draw from. I imagine fans of the books probably don’t love it, but I can’t imagine there are too many sensible fans of the books, so never mind them.

 

Rating: thumbs up

 

 

Bad vs Worse (2013)

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If I was a movie gangster, I’d never lend money to obvious idiots like the one at the beginning of “Bad vs Worse”. It seems like a whole lot of effort, when he inevitably doesn’t pay, to drag him out to a bridge in the middle of nowhere and then shoot another different guy who owes you money, in order to impress on him the importance of good financial planning. I reckon I’d invest in property, a nice steady return on my money.

 

Of course, “Sound Investment: The Movie” would not be all that interesting, but that would just mean it’d join “Bad vs. Worse” down near the bottom of the cinematic pile. We have one Gus Trapani to thank for this – he produced, wrote, directed, filmed and edited, and made this all with a budget of less than $10,000. While that’s to be commended in some ways, it’s also worth pondering that perhaps there ought to be a bigger hurdle to clear to get into the movie business.

 

Our tale involves Joey, a fellow who’s in hock to gangsters, and then asks his younger brother Lenny to help him and his buddies rob some houses, in order to pay them back. They’ve been working on low-end houses, but when Joey really needs the cash, he decides to move onto nicer places. But wouldn’t you know it? They pick somewhere a serial killer is finishing off his most recent bit of work, a serial killer who calmly decides to add a few bland white guys to his murder list for the day. So begins a tale of cat and mouse, or “bad vs worse” even.

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I’m really struggling to find anything to say about this. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve seen dozens of movies remarkably similar – low budget, made by and for disaffected young white men. There’s no human warmth, any comedy is crude and obvious, and everyone is just angry or swear-y. “Home invasion gone wrong” is nice and easy with a low budget, but it’s also pretty difficult to differentiate yourself from the mass of others that have come before you, especially when you’ve not got the greatest script.

 

I’ll start with the positive – Trapani is a gifted cinematographer, and a lot of the movie’s visual elements look more expensive than whatever tiny amount is the final budget. I think if he’d not had to worry about his 17 other jobs on “Bad vs Worse”, it could have looked even better.

 

Okay, that bit was short. Sorry! It’s just an amateur movie, with people whose sole credits are other ultra-low-budget horror crap if they’ve got any credits at all, and it’s pretty tiring to watch a parade of people who don’t look all that comfortable in front of the camera, substituting shouting for any actual emotion. The sound is terrible, too, with some dialogue barely audible and some so loud as to be deafening. And the script! I was shouting at the guys “just get out of the damn house! Go find the police! Stop being so stupid!”

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Writing any more about this would just encourage them. This has been distributed by Wild Eye Releasing, who’ve got some real gems of independent horror in their catalogue – check them out and watch stuff like “They Will Outlive Us All” – but sadly not every release can be a winner. I hinted at this earlier, but…there’s too much “stuff” in the world. It’s so cheap, relatively, to make a movie these days, and there are so many distribution platforms, that people who shouldn’t be anywhere near the creative reins of a motion picture are ending up able to get a DVD into the hands of some guy in the UK like me. I mean, okay, it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but is it essential? Did anyone think this particular story needed to be told? Would the world, in fact, be slightly better if the number of movies released every year reduced by 75%? Okay, the low hurdle means people who’ve been marginalised by the mainstream can get their stories out there, like people of colour and LGBT people, but I’m not sure white metal fans in their 20s count as marginalised.

 

So – go to Wild Eye – www.wildeyereleasing.com – give em some cash, but pass on this one.
Rating: thumbs down

Dead 7 (2016)

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I do love a bit of stunt casting (please don’t check any old reviews where I probably say I hate it), and this could be the stunt-cast-est movie of them all. Nick Carter, formerly of Backstreet Boys, had long hankered after making a movie, and he came up with the idea for a post-apocalyptic zombie Western, and then got The Asylum and the SyFy Channel on board. That cast? Howie Dorough and AJ McLean, also from Backstreet Boys, Joey Fatone and Chris Kirkpatrick from N-SYNC, Jeff Timmons from 98 Degrees, and what would appear to be the entirety of O-Town (I’d never heard of either of the last two bands until I saw this, so apologies, US 90s / 00s boy band enthusiasts). Rounding things out are Jon Secada, “Shifty Shellshock” from Crazy Town – of “Butterfly” fame – and perhaps most bizarrely of all, Art Alexakis of Everclear!

 

While the acting quality is, to put it mildly, variable (Carter and Fatone all seem to have experience, Timmons was great despite it being his first time on a movie set, whereas Dorough is a little on the “naturalistic” side) there’s lots of enthusiasm, everyone’s having fun, and best of all, no sneaky winks to camera about the cast’s former professions at all. Honestly, if the choice for the Asylum and SyFy is stuff like this, where everyone’s having a laugh, and stuff like our recently reviewed “Alien Lockdown”, which sucks enjoyment from the rest of the universe, I’ll take the former.

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Copper-miners start emerging from the mines with a mysterious illness, and by the time it’s developed into full-blown zombie-ism, it’s too late for humanity, as it spreads extremely quickly. Copperheads (as zombies are known) almost completely wipe out humanity, and the pockets that are left retreat back into a simpler existence, which means small towns, and a sort of Wild West vibe to everything.

 

I’d already written a Magnificent Seven joke in my notes before one of the “chapter” titles came up as “The Magnificent Dead 7”, and that’s what the film is all about. A small town is wiped out by an army of zombies, and they’re about to move on to the next one, so the Mayor (Secada) gets a gang of rough and tumble outlaws to fight the zombies, their controller, the super-evil and absolutely bonkers  Apocalypta (Debra Wilson, “MadTV”) and generally save the world. There’s Jack (Carter); Whisky Joe (Fatone); Daisy Jane (Carrie Keagan, TV presenter / producer); The Vaquero (Howie Dorough); Komodo (Erik-Michael Estrada of O-Town) and Billy (Timmons). Billy and Daisy Jane are a couple, but she used to be with Jack, who’s Billy’s brother. I think, I might have missed that bit. Rounding out the seven a little later is the beautiful and mysterious Sirene (Lauren Kitt-Carter), who lives in the wilderness and hunts Copperheads for sport.

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Alexakis has a cameo as a potential member of the Seven, which I almost missed because I was too busy going “bloody hell, that’s Art Alexakis!” (I was a bit of an Everclear fan in my younger day). But the biggest “bad guy” role for a boyband-er is AJ McLean as Johnny Vermillion, Apocalypta’s sidekick, face painted, a demented laugh never far from his lips, and really surprisingly good.

 

It also seems someone has bothered giving this world some background. Currency is now zombie teeth, as anyone who’s prepared to kill zombies deserves a reward for it (you see scumbags taking out other living peoples’ teeth to try and cheat the system); and you’ve got the sort-of religion that’s grown up around Apocalypta (who apparently invented her own gibberish language for some of her scenes). The town looks interesting too – filmed over a couple of weeks in Butte, Montana, it heavily features the gigantic “Our Lady Of The Rockies” statue, which is just outside of town and gives the movie a really interesting visual.

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The special effects are fine (probably borrowed the same computer package that The Asylum’s “Z-Nation”used), the outfits look authentically grimy and lived in, and most of the acting is decent too. The fight scenes are excellent, with special mention going to Fatone’s surprisingly graceful drunken bar-fights (Estrada, as the ninja-like Komodo, had only a week to prepare with swords, and it shows, although his long-distance stunt double is great). It feels weird to say, but there’s not a lot to complain about! There’s the odd dropped plotline, like the specially trained zombie doesn’t do anything all that special at the end, but that’s small potatoes.

 

I mean, if you really hated that boy band music era, then this movie will wear thin pretty quickly. But I didn’t care much one way or the other – I was an adult who never listened to pop radio, and most of them passed me by. One of my sisters was a big fan of the Backstreet Boys, and they seemed like reasonable chaps – no sense blaming them for the culture that allowed them to exist. And now, as they’re in their mid/late 30s, and all seem to have a pretty reasonable attitude to the super-fame being gone, they decided to do something a bit more fun than yet another reunion tour (although I’m sure they’re going to do one of them too).   Amazingly, AJ McLean and I have exactly the same opinion about the radio, how it’s all controlled by Clear Channel, who want nothing even remotely different or new or interesting – I imagine McLean and I would disagree on what we’d fill post-Clear Channel radio with, but that’s the boring part of the argument.

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It’s fun, the cast are having a good time, there’s some interesting ideas, lovely scenery, plenty of zombies get hacked to bits…it’s absolutely worth a watch. And the cast even do a few new songs for the soundtrack, if that’s your cup of tea!

 

Rating: thumbs up

Dead 7 (2000)

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This is my first, and probably last, dalliance with Brain Damage Films. They’ve been plowing a lonely furrow since 2001, making and distributing zero-budget horror films for what must be the least discerning fanbase in cinema. According to the very few people on IMDB who’ve seen it, this is perhaps their best effort, so I dread to think what their worst one must be like – I nearly turned it off right at the beginning, as we got a truly embarrassing intro from a chap with spiky hair, a nose ring and a leather jacket with “Brain Damage Films” crudely written on it. He tells us the plot, anyway, such as it is, so you don’t need to worry about paying attention, something I presume the average Brain Damage fan has trouble with.

 

EDIT: I just discovered they also distributed Len Kabasinski’s early movies, and I love Len Kabasinski. But he seems to have moved on, thankfully.

 

Oh, before we get going, Brain Damage are the sort of people who’d make a 5 films (and counting) series called “Traces Of Death”, which is a bit like the infamous “Faces Of Death” only with real footage of people being seriously injured and killed – R Budd Dwyer’s infamous on-air suicide, a father getting eaten by lions at the zoo, and so on. Mercifully for humanity, it’s been banned in the UK, with the BBFC saying “the work presents no journalistic, educational or other justifying context for the images shown.” These are the people who not only think that sort of stuff is fun, but want to sell it to you!

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I appreciate you, dear reader, probably aren’t as interested in finding the very bottom of the cinematic barrel as I am. You’d take one look at this in a second-hand VHS shop, or on some disreputable streaming service, and immediately move on. But this review will hopefully entertain, and on the off chance someone wonders whether they should buy or rent this, my words will be here to guide them.

 

Okay, so the plot is, a bunch of worthless people get killed in the woods. Done! Two meth dealers kill some guy who stiffed them on a drug deal, cut off his head and throw him down a hole in the middle of the woods. While they’re driving away, they happen upon their girlfriends, who are also off to the woods to find items for Art class (despite them all obviously being in their late 20s), and everyone argues. There’s also a Sheriff (played by the director), a third girl with the girlfriends, and a couple of developmentally disabled people who live out in the woods – Venus and her brother Harley. Harley gets in their way so they kill him too; no-one is remotely pleasant or interesting to watch, and it’s a relief when they start dying.

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For a film which starts off with a hello to “gorehounds”, the first thing to notice is there’s really not much gore in it. The basic gist is, Harley comes back to life and starts killing the people who offed him, but due to the lack of budget and ability, we don’t see him til the last few minutes of the movie, or any other zombie, or really all that much gore. If I watched films purely to see the staples of exploitation cinema – blood, boobs and beast – I’d be sorely disappointed with this. As it is, I sort of hoped it might be halfway tolerable, and I was sorely disappointed there too.

 

ISCFC favourite Janet Keijser is one of the girlfriends, and provides the sole ray of light in the morass of dull ugliness. But even she struggles, presumably as she was probably being paid an absolute pittance and this was some garbage filmed in the woods by a bunch of emotionally stunted man-children who think people shouting at each other is dramatic.

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Chances are a couple of people reading this have made better home movies than “Dead 7”. The non-Keijser cast are absolutely pitiful, the writing and directing (from Garrett Clancy, who mercifully hasn’t worked in either capacity since 2007) is almost non-existent – like he could have just improvised the entire thing with a hard-mounted camera and it would have been roughly the same. I don’t feel cheated of my time – I’d have only wasted it anyway – but I feel sad that anyone thought this was a good idea, to write, make or release. Who would possibly enjoy this?

 

Rating: thumbs down

Alien Express (2005)

This image is a lie

This image is a lie

Before we get going with another SyFy Channel review, I wanted to talk about the way sexist ideas and words get so ingrained in our culture we don’t notice them. Several times in this movie, Senatorial aide Rosie (Amy Locane) says to her ex-husband State Trooper Vic (Lou Diamond Philips) “you can’t tell me what to do, we’re not married”. As well as being lazy scriptwriting (how many times have you heard that line?) think about the implication for a second. Is it okay to just tell your wife what to do? I’m sure they didn’t intend to reinforce the patriarchy when they popped that line in, but there it is.

 

Also known as “Dead Rail”, a far better title for this would’ve been “Aliens On A Train”. An arguing couple waiting by a railway crossing are hit by a meteor just as the special campaign train of Senator Frank Rawlings (Barry Corbin) is about to go past. The train stops, a toothy little alien pops out of the meteor and kills one of the engineers, the State Troopers are called to the scene, and the Senator acts like an asshole to get the train moving again. Guess who snuck on board?

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Wow, I was expecting to have to take a bit longer to recap this movie. Vic, our hero, is suffering from a mild form of PTSD from the first Iraq War, and is a bit of a loser. No-one believes him when he starts talking aliens, or that the train needs to be stopped, but luckily his partner has a helicopter and flies him after the train (they take a really long time to catch up to it, given how short a head start it had). Then the alien kills the other engineer, and starts laying eggs, and the train is an hour from crashing into a slow-moving train carrying nuclear waste. Vic is perhaps the loosest cannon ever, and it’s so cheesy that you occasionally forget Lou Diamond Philips can act, and is probably enjoying this chance to go over the top. Main villain is Brit Steven Brand as the Senator’s campaign chief / financial backer Paul Fitzpatrick…oh, I nearly forgot, there’s a terrorist subplot which goes absolutely nowhere, too.

 

The aliens themselves are like a cross between the Aliens from “Aliens” and the ant-monsters from “Things” – ugly, very toothy creatures, usually models (although the main alien is a bloke in a rubber suit, which is nice). They can move with blinding speed, except when it’s convenient to the plot to have them move normally – and talking of models, the outside shots of the train are perhaps the most obvious use of miniatures in modern movie history. Sorry, aliens! They’ve got methane for blood so you can just wave a flame near them and they explode, which seems to be a substantial weakness, and would correct the people who are insisting “we can’t stop the train, these aliens would get off and wreak havoc”.

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There are lots of really terrible supporting cast members in this, for us to enjoy. Train safety operator Gina (Steffanie “wife of Gary” Busey) is very wooden, and the good guy porter is so terrible I thought he might have won a competition to appear in a movie (I liked his earnest-ness, I suppose). No-one really seems to be trying, like they all read the script and realised how awful it was, but needed the money.

 

Perhaps the greatest of all the runaway train / alien / eco-terrorist / nuclear waste danger movies, or perhaps the only one. Absolutely miserable from beginning to end, cliché after cliché after cliché, with special effects so rotten you’ll never be quite sure if it was supposed to be a joke or not.

 

Rating: thumbs down

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