Fateful Findings (2014)

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With even the worst and weirdest movies we’ve covered here, there’s usually a plot of a sort. “After Last Season”, for all its lunacy, has a beginning and an end, and sort of moves from one to the other. “Things” progresses, even though it’s wretched and utterly technically incompetent (and the director is a miserable bastard for sending me insulting emails). “The Pit” has a relatively standard plot. “Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage” would’ve been a good story, if anyone involved had any aptitude for filmmaking. But with “Fateful Findings”, the third Neil Breen movie, I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve genuinely got no idea. I mean, things happen, but it feels most like the daydream of a teenager who’s led a very sheltered life. Or perhaps, a film made by aliens who aren’t quite sure what motivates human beings, or how they behave.

The first image is a book covered in gold cloth, sat on a stool, in the middle of some storage lockers. The book is a comfortable 5000 pages, almost comically enormous, and as gold is sprinkled on it, we begin our story (just not here, or anywhere near here. Perhaps Neil Breen had a mate who asked to get his storage business on the big screen).

It’s safe to say Neil Breen has a number of directorial fetishes. There are things, images and scenarios, which are clearly very important to him somewhere deep down in his psyche, and he’ll put them in his movies, whether it makes sense or not. First up is the love affair starting in childhood. We’re shown two kids, Dylan and Leah, aged around 7, laughing and playing together, then they go into the forest, walk past the same goat skull we’ve seen in both previous Breen movies (directorial fetish no. 2) and find a large mushroom.  As they sit looking at it, it vanishes, being replaced with a small golden box, which has a black cube inside. Dylan takes it, and Leah takes a few of the small jewels sat by the side of it, filling the box with the rest of them as if they were trying to trick a Raiders Of The Lost Ark-style trap. Leah then writes “it’s a magical day” in confident adult handwriting in a little notepad, and repeats “it’s a magical day!” several times, as if trying to convince someone off-screen. Sadly, Leah’s dad is transferred to a new town, so the last we see of them is an extremely awkward hug, and her waving, the camera being sure to focus on the bracelet she’d made from the jewels. These children are bad, even by the extremely low standards of child actors.

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Dylan’s an adult now – well, however old Neil Breen is physically (50, maybe? 55?). In a suit, eschewing his love of tanktops for a minute, he’s crossing the street while talking to his wife on the phone, drops it, and gets run down by a Rolls Royce (in the sole passable special effect in Breen’s entire oeuvre). Despite the front of the car being drenched in blood and Dylan being unconscious, his right arm is able to scrabble around til it finds the black cube, which he’s had in his hand for every moment of the last 45 years. This evidently has some supernatural power, and he heals remarkably quickly, to the point within days he’s back in his shower at home, an Elephant-Man-style amount of padding wrapped round his head, having sex with his wife (blood continues to gush down his leg, which indicates the aliens who controlled Breen to make this movie didn’t understand human biology). As he’s just walking out of hospital, we see his ass through the back of his hospital gown, not the first time it’s made an appearance in a Breen movie – directorial fetish no. 3. This is definitely not the last magic power Dylan displays – is novelist / hacker / magic being a better character description than “Double Down” and his robo-zombie-gorilla-space-Jesus?

I think we need to mention the cast, at this point, and give a few biographical points on them all. First up is Dylan (Breen), who has no personality at all. He’s a Computer Science masters graduate turned novelist, whose first novel was very successful – you know this because literally everyone he meets tells him so. After recovering from the crash, he decides to hack all the world’s computers and reveal the greed and lying that’s gone on. His office has four laptops in it! And they’re all turned off! (Directorial fetish no. 4) No interests, no particular reason for wanting to turn the world on its head, just a blank slate with Neil Breen’s face. He’s married to Emily (Klara Landrat), who is a drug addict. Memorably, she fishes Neil’s tablets out of the toilet when he dumps them there after deciding to get by without pain relief. She also has zero personality, other than liking drugs.

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Introduced when he visits the hospital to visit Dylan is his best friend Jim (David Silva), who likes working out (judging from his arms) and, despite apparently being on the verge of destitution, owns a Ferrari. Of course, because it’s Breen’s car – last seen in “Double Down” – Jim doesn’t get to drive it, or sit in it, and just gets to polish the left wing mirror (he does this twice). He’s in an extremely unhappy marriage with Amy (Victoria Viveiros), who’s also an alcoholic, loves pills, and has gone off sex. They have a teenage daughter, Aly (Danielle Andrade) who’s obsessed with Dylan, to the point of going to his house, stripping naked and getting in the pool; she has so few lines that it seems almost unfair to discuss her character – she’s also the only person involved in this to have a proper career, having gone on to a bunch of teen-based TV shows.

Wandering into proceedings a little later are  the psychiatrist, Dr. Lee, who’s just desperate to get Dylan to take more pills; and Leah (Jennifer Autry), the childhood love who ended up being Dylan’s doctor in the hospital. Well, she sees him laid in bed with his face covered once, but doesn’t bother checking his chart or finding out his name…this gets really confusing in a minute.

Before I discuss the confusion, a word about the dinner party scene. Because that’s what humans do, Dylan and Emily organise a dinner party, and invite round Jim, Amy and Aly. The conversation is so odd, so unlike normal patterns of speech and behaviour, that I seriously started to doubt my own sanity. Nothing could be this weird by accident, right? You could have told me literally any story about Neil Breen’s upbringing at that point and I’d have believed you. Raised by penguins? Sure, why not. Grown on a tree like fruit? I suppose. No one line in the conversation leads on from any other line, and in a filmography as nuts as Breen’s is, it stands out as a really really weird scene. When Jim spills beer on the floor and just laughs it off like he’s a naughty puppy is maybe my favourite part.

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The couples argue. All the damn time. Now, again, I’m not sure Breen has ever met another person, because married couples just don’t talk that way. Rather than showing the slightest sympathy or understanding of their partner’s problems, the women scream, and the guys either scream or make demands of their wife’s behaviour.

I’m not sure I’m getting across just how crazy “Fateful Findings” is. Let’s move on to the barbeque, set round the same pool we saw in Breen’s last two movies (directorial fetish or just clever re-use of what you have?). For some reason, he chose to dub in the background noise of a very large party, despite there just being 7 people in attendance. It’s everyone who was at the last dinner party, plus Leah and her fiancée. Now, would you invite the doctor who apparently met you once to a barbeque? Thanks to Leah still carrying round the notepad from when they were kids, Dylan and Leah recognise each other immediately, and boy oh boy is the sexual tension immediately un-apparent.

Dylan says he’s thought about her every day since he was seven years old, and rather than thinking that’s absolutely crazy, Leah reciprocates. She doesn’t even say “you know it’s 2014, right? Facebook is a thing, and you’re apparently a famous novelist. I’m not sure either of us thought about the other at all”. Just drink in the image of the two of them together: Jennifer Autry, a normal-looking woman in her late 20s / early 30s, and Neil Breen, a guy in his mid 50s who looks like he’d just been taken from living in a ditch, given a scrub down and a shave and shoved in front of the camera.

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I need to move on, because I could seriously write a full book just about this movie. Amy shoots Jim because he’s suggested she ought to maybe drink a bit less, and despite Aly witnessing the whole thing, makes out it was suicide. This inspires some of the finest dialogue ever from Dylan, as he’s cradling his friend’s dead body:

“I can’t believe you committed suicide. I cannot believe you committed suicide. How could you have done this? How could you have committed suicide?”

Said with less feeling than he has when he’s a bit annoyed with his publisher on the phone. Anyway, Dylan and Leah meet up in the park, admit their love for each other and go for some alfresco lovemaking; while they’re doing this, Emily overdoses on tablets and booze and dies, removing the need for Dylan to have a serious conversation with her about how they’re not right for each other, should get a divorce, or anything like that. Leah moves in and Emily is forgotten about completely; poor woman, having to be married to Neil Breen (even in a fictitious world).

This is already close to being my longest ever review and there’s so much I’ve not mentioned! There’s the dreams, where he appears maybe inside the black cube (represented by just hanging a load of black plastic over the walls), naked; or how he decides to go and see a different psychiatrist, whose office is a couple of plastic chairs in an entirely unadorned room; or the way Aly looks at camera as if she’s saying “I can’t believe this garbage”. What about Leah’s kidnapping? The mysterious shadowy figures? The poltergeist in Dylan’s house? The sideboob? There are a million amazing, hilarious things in this movie, and I hope you discover them all for yourself.

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I will mention the end, though. Suddenly, the one-time novelist is able to call a press conference with hundreds of attendees outside a courthouse; as soon as he says “I’ve hacked all this stuff, and I know the corruption” everyone starts applauding. Then…and I can’t believe this happened, even though I saw it myself…the bankers, politicians and lawyers all say how disappointed they are in themselves, and then commit suicide! Some of them even do it at the press conference, which carries on after the first suicide apparently! (Death of corrupt authority figures: directorial fetish).

The more I think about it, the more I love it. It’s among the most entertaining bad movies of all time, mostly because of Neil Breen, who’s passionate, dedicated, and after ten years of making movies, still beyond wretched. Let’s take the way everyone repeats lines – see example above – presumably because the actors didn’t know what to do when the camera kept rolling after they’d finished their line, and Breen was unable to edit. There’s the way he abuses his laptops (he throws books and coffee at them, and when that doesn’t work just throws them to the ground). Talking of laptops, they’re always turned off, and there’s one point where he’s doing big hacking things by typing words from his own novel. Ah dammit, I’m just telling you stuff that happened again rather than trying to analyse it. Sorry!

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You could make the case, much like “Double Down”, that this entire movie exists inside the main character’s head – after being hit by the car, his life ebbs away in the hospital bed and his dying brain constructs a fantasy where the black cube he’s carried with him is a magic talisman, and his childhood girlfriend is back. This would explain him having magic powers and being part of a group of shadow-creatures – it doesn’t explain who the other guy with the black shoes who teleports everywhere is, or indeed quite a lot of the movie, but it is a theory. I just think that Neil Breen is a passionate guy who is singularly unable to perform any part of the filmmaking process, and isn’t really sure how relationships, or computers, or the world’s political and financial systems, work.

An absolute cast-iron bad movie classic, as are all Neil Breen’s movies. I think this is the most fun of the three, although they make one of the all-time great trilogies. If you’ve ever agreed with a word I’ve written, please check this out.

Rating: a million thumbs up

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PS! I’d almost forgotten about this! As the credits roll, you think Breen’s finally got some funding, as all sorts of companies are listed for the sort of thing Breen does for his own movies – special effects, catering, and so on. But then, like the most boring practical joke ever, he reveals the truth a few seconds later:

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Just when you think he can’t get any more amazing, he does.

Cameron’s Closet (1988)

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This is another of our 80s video shop “classics”. Chances are, if you remember this movie at all, it’s probably on the horror shelves of your local video shop – and, if you’re like me, you looked at it, went “this sounds rubbish. Who cares about a closet?” and put it back in favour of something with zombies and gore in it. But, we’ve decided the best way to drive traffic to the site is to review stuff like this, almost impossible to get hold of and guaranteed remembered fondly by no-one; so here we all are. “Cameron’s Closet” was a “Monday Night Movie Club” selection, where a group of my friends gather at my place every week and we take it in turns to pick a movie to watch. I picked “Night Life” last week, so we’ve got a pretty poor recent batting average; this is fellow ISCFC reviewer @kilran’s, so if you want someone to blame, he’s your man.

 

Cameron is a kid, and he has a closet (to help non-American readers, they have extremely large closets as a matter of course). He has a monster of some sort living in it, all large, very ugly, glowing eyes; but his Dad seems not to believe in its existence. One day, trying to track down the noises he’s been hearing from Cameron’s room, he tries to go up into the attic while, for some reason, using a machete to open the attic hatch. Just give it a push mate! Anyway, he falls off the ladder and the conveniently placed machete slices his head clean off. The Dad, by the way, will be familiar to John Waters fans – it’s Tab Hunter, from “Polyester” (oh, and he was the biggest movie star in the world for a few years in the late 50s).

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Anyway, fast forward an unspecified amount of time, and Cameron’s got a stepdad – Gary Hudson, one of the great “That Guy” actors. He’s hostile in the classic evil stepdad way to Cameron, and – spoiler! – doesn’t last very long. The real battle is Sam the cop (Cotter Smith) and Nora the psychiatrist (Mel Harris, “Thirtysomething”) against the monster in the closet. They, naturally, don’t believe him at first, but luckily the beast isn’t too subtle.

 

With the best will in the world, it’s just not very interesting. We discover that Tab Hunter was a scientist, and his experiments on Cameron’s mind caused him to summon the creature forth – it feels like it was written first as either a straight horror or a psychological thriller, but was hastily rewritten into a sort of mish-mash of the two when the producers were all “hey, this movie was pretty successful at the box office last week” (I have a relatively low opinion of producers). And if the movies have taught us one thing, it’s that you don’t upset children with psychic powers.

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The cast is solid, all soap opera types (I spotted a few people from the “Dallas” / “Dynasty” stable). Smith and Harris, who were married in real life at the time, don’t have an ounce of on-screen chemistry, even though Harris is great. The one interesting name attached to this movie is Carlo Rambaldi, who created E.T. He’d clearly burned out on that, because by the time it came to create the closet-monster, he just decided on a mass of painted rubber with sharp teeth and glowing eyes.

 

Because we sort of know the mystery from the very beginning, we’re just twiddling our thumbs waiting for the denouement (a psychic lazer-fight between Cameron and the thing from the recesses of his psyche). If you’re still paying 100% attention by that point, you’re a better person than I.

 

There’s one scene where someone Cameron hates is thrown through a window, flies a good 100 feet through the air and crashes through the hood of a car, dead. Now, how are we supposed to read this scene? You’d really be stretching to call it the monster’s fault, but of course this being a studio movie, the kid is perfect and innocent. It just appears that no-one bothered to consider that some of this stuff might be Cameron’s doing. Ah, I don’t know, I feel like I’m giving this entire thing way too much thought.

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An interesting name attached to this movie is Carlo Rambaldi, who created E.T. He’d clearly burned out on that, because by the time it came to create the closet-monster, he just decided on a mass of painted rubber with sharp teeth and glowing eyes. Here’s a photo, because I don’t care about spoiling a near 30 year old horror movie that’s barely available and barely competent. The rest of the makeup is fine, I suppose, but it’s all very meh.

 

Pretty short review, eh? When I can write nearly 2000 words about the glory of Neil Breen’s “I Am Here….Now” but barely scrape 800 with this, it’s not that the robo-zombie-gorilla-space-Jesus movie is that much better, it’s just much more interesting. That was the insane mumblings of one man, this is a committee-created slice of barely passable entertainment that I’m positive not a single person would shed a tear for if its existence was forever deleted from the universe.

 

Rating: thumbs down

I Am Here….Now (2009)

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When you’ve made one of the greatest bad movies ever at your first attempt, what else is there to do? Well, the simple answer is to write, produce, direct, co-edit, do makeup and craft services for a movie where you play God, visiting Earth to check on your creation. I didn’t think it was possible to beat “Double Down”, one of the most unvarnished glimpses into a single person’s psyche that film has ever given us, but I reckon Neil Breen has managed it here. With less focus on himself as an actor (there are even a few scenes he’s not in at all) he’s freer to…well, I’ve still not got any idea what he did.

The ISCFC, as you may have noticed, covers a pretty random selection of movies – although mainly horror franchises, kung fu, and sci-fi – but our first love is so-bad-it’s-good (the reason we don’t do more is, chances are one of the professionally smug Youtube guys will have got to it first, and forever tainted it). I read “The Golden Turkey Awards” when I was a teenager and at the same time as watching whatever arthouse cinema I could get my hands on, I’d spend a (relative) fortune on VHS tapes of “Plan Nine From Outer Space”, “Rat Pfink A-Boo-Boo” and so on. I’ve seen a good amount of those “worst movie ever” movies (I still ponder “Demon Cop” from time to time), so hopefully you’ll trust me when I say Neil Breen is deserving of his place at the very highest / lowest levels of…well, something. He’s a complete one-off, and I want to celebrate his career with you.

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It starts off with what might be a second moon, exploding and creating life on Earth, or maybe it’s just an image of the glass ball found in the middle of the salt flats (clearly supposed to look like it arrived from space, but from no further away than a cheesy Vegas gift shop). It’s never stated, but the best guess is, it’s supposed to be the craft that THE BEING arrived on. Wearing a billowy white shirt and nothing else, The Being gets down off a cross (wounds in the hands and feet, a genuine jaw-dropping moment) and into the desert and…it’s confusing right from the beginning. The camera focuses in nice and tight on Neil Breen’s face as he scans the environment, and in the intervening years since “Double Down”, he appears to have gotten worse as an actor. His lack of presence, a complete blankness, no emotion at all, still manages to be surprising.

There are a heck of a lot of confusing things about this scene. Firstly, as he scans the horizon, his face changes between his normal face and a sort of weird gorilla-corpse face with long dark hair. This happens about five or six times during the course of 90 minutes, and no explanation is ever given as to why. Secondly, briefly here at the beginning and again at the end, he’s seen with bits of an old computer motherboard glued to his body. So he’s a robo-gorilla-zombie-space-Jesus? Cool. As he walks through the desert, he encounters a lot of plastic doll heads stuck into the dirt, which he must have put there deliberately, but I’ve got absolutely no idea why, and I’ve thought about this film a lot.

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After meeting a couple of junkies out in the desert, stealing their clothes, then freezing them and turning them invisible (it didn’t make any sense to me either), The Being is off to see what’s become of the world he created. An early line is “I’m disappointed in your species”, closely followed with “the human species”, because the shot he used had a plastic spider in it, and he wanted to make sure we knew he was cool with spiders.

To call this movie heavy-handed is almost an insult to heavy-handed things. He shows a loop of stock footage dozens of times – a wind farm, a solar panel farm, a pile of bribe money being counted, then some pollution. The Being really likes renewable energy, as does this movie, and they’re going to tell you a tale so horrible that you’ll be crying out for it too. But first, you’ll need to sit through a lot of driving, as Breen once again shows us Las Vegas from the driving seat of the junkie’s stolen truck – he also sleeps in the back, much the same as in “Double Down”. In terms of directorial fetishes, it’s up there with the great Coleman Francis and his love of skydiving, coffee and abject human misery.

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This all happens in the first 20 minutes, and I’ve barely scraped the plot yet. It’s wonderful! But I must be careful. There’s a lot to get through and I need to make it clear for you, but not spoil so much that you don’t want to watch it yourselves. And you really ought to watch this yourselves! Right, first up is a group of women who work for an environmental research company. These women appear able to act, which indicates Breen was sick that day and a competent director was briefly hired – anyway, due to Government cuts, they’re all being laid off. With some of the worst dialogue ever written for humans to speak, they all discuss how it’s the fault of big business and the Government, with kickbacks and bribes to ensure fossil fuels keep making profit for the multinationals.

(Aside: I agree with this, by and large. We need to get off fossil fuel as quickly as possible, and it upsets me that movies like this and “Birdemic” are on my side)

One of the young lady scientists is then seen, a little later, walking her baby (which is, lest we forget, a plastic doll with little attempt made to disguise that fact) alongside her twin sister. Non-identical, although they wear exactly the same style of top, just different colours. I need to name them, I guess, so we’ll go for hair colour – Blonde and Brunette (although they’re pretty similar). Blonde complains that she’s not got a job and needs to support her baby, and Brunette says “why not become a stripper, and then an escort? Plenty of money in it”. I get the feeling that Neil Breen doesn’t really understand women all that well, or perhaps just humans, if he thinks a reasonable thing to do would be to go from environmental science to prostitution in how long? A day? The weird thing isn’t that it’s suggested – okay, it is pretty weird – but that Blonde agrees to it so quickly.

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Back to them in a minute. The other main side of the plot is the men, and we see the fossil fuel people bribing a Congressman. He ensures the law is changed to cut funding for science, then when they need another favour from him later, they bribe him with a couple of prostitutes. Because they’re so difficult to come by and expensive to hire in Las Vegas! Of course, the two hookers are our sisters, and Blonde seems very happy with taking her clothes off for money now. This is perhaps the least erotic scene designed to be erotic ever – the ladies take their top off (shot from behind), then are pictured giggling and covering their boobs, then lying face down on lilos, and never at any point seen engaging in any sexual activity or even touching their “john”. They’re also filmed walking backwards into the pool, which looked super-awkward, when a more sensible director might have just filmed them from behind, walking forwards. Whatever.

The location of the hooker centre is pretty unusual. Next to a couple of extremely derelict buildings in a desolate area, a couple of guys with guns stand guard over…nothing, while a group of potential customers just mill about in the middle of the street, as if they’re waiting for someone to turn up and decide to give a career in prostitution a try. One of the men is the Congressman from earlier, so seeing a famous local politician stand next to a bombed-out store, cheering on a knife fight between two criminals in the middle of the day, is at best a troubling image.

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Here’s where things get really weird (I feel like I’ve said this loads of times already). After a brief break to show both sisters are now hard drug addicts, to forget the details of the profession they joined willingly, the movie sort of forgets about Blonde (not entirely, though). Brunette is then shown…getting fired from her environmental activist job, and deciding on becoming a prostitute? What the hell? Why didn’t she at least offer to get Blonde a job in her environmental place, if both sisters were in the same line of work? Did Neil Breen just forget which sister he’d filmed earlier? Anyway, Brunette’s boyfriend is murdered by the pimps, and she’s then visited by The Being, who decides to help her out.

I can’t even really talk about how he kills a bunch of people for pretty minor stuff; how everyone uses the fakest cheapest looking plastic guns; the sex scene; or how he heals a guy in a wheelchair, de-ages him by about 50 years, then fixes him up, Cupid-style, with Blonde; because this review will become as long to read as it was to watch. But he does crucify the bad politicians, lawyers and businessmen before heading back to the salt flats, unfreezing and converting the junkies to the side of the angels then heading back to wherever he came from. This, of course, makes no sense. I’ll leave you with a couple of points to ponder.

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One would think, if he created the world, then he deserves some of the blame for how it turned out. Perhaps, next time you build a planet, check back a little more often than once every 2 million years? If I build a car that blows up on its second journey, it’s probably not the car’s fault. But robo-gorilla-zombie-space-Jesus is perfect in every way, so it can’t be his.

We see him, at several points, giving magic pep talks to people. This is a good thing, obviously, but the way a movie not made by a madman would do it is to show them at the end, changed by the pep talk and making the world a better place. All Breen does is crucify a bunch of people then say, to no-one, “I’ll be back soon, and if you’ve not shaped up, I’ll kill you all and start again”. I can’t help but think if God was actually like that, there’d be significantly fewer Christians.

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I’m not sure if this is crazier than “Double Down” or not. Whereas DD had no story, and was just a man in the desert eating tuna and typing into broken laptops, this at least attempts a narrative. Of course, it fails utterly, but I think it’s safe to call this one a tie. Both movies are absolutely bonkers, in slightly different ways, and are among the most wretched things ever released. And 100% worth watching. And one last thing – check out that four-dot ellipsis! It’s such a tiny thing but it’s so irritating, and is a good argument for not letting people just make and release their own movies. Quality control is a sadly lost art.

Rating: thumbs up

Double Down (2005)

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YES!! After weeks of nothing good, the ISCFC hits paydirt with one of the most amazing so-bad-it’s-good movies perhaps ever, a glorious debut from a filmmaker who’s got a strong idea of what he wants and knows exactly how to get it. The only question that anyone should have is “where can I find this movie?” because it’s an absolute guaranteed good time.

A word about actor / writer / producer / director / musical director / editor / production designer / production manager / casting guy / locations guy / catering guy Neil Breen (not a joke, he has all these jobs in the credits). He’s an architect in Las Vegas and uses the money he makes in that job to fund his own movies – in case you were wondering, he’s never had any formal training in any aspect of the movie business. He’s made three, with a fourth one ready for release soon, and they all sound absolutely fantastic. You may have heard of him already, as Red Letter Media have covered “Double Down”, and Paste Magazine made his 2009 effort “I Am Here….Now” their 21st rated b-movie of all time, but if you’ve not, please read on.

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The first ten minutes are packed with so much insanity that I could do an entire article on them. We’re introduced to Aaron Brand, who’s had almost as many jobs as Breen had on this movie. He’s a former soldier who learned how to use computers and then became the greatest programmer ever, building the majority of the satellite systems and military applications used by the world’s governments. He’s basically the best at everything ever, and decided to become a mercenary, selling his services to the highest bidder, whoever they might be. He’s a patriot, but he’s protected himself by planting biological bombs in seven of the world’s biggest cities, that if he doesn’t send an encrypted message to them every three days, they’ll go off and kill millions. He’s got bio-electronic implants which help him be the most awesome person ever, and a ton of medals too. His fiancée, who he’s been in love with since he was seven years old, is shot and killed because he’s too awesome, and his latest job is to shut down the Las Vegas strip for a month.

Deep breath. This information is given to us via voiceover, perhaps the flattest and most boring monotone you’ll ever hear, as we see Brand go about his daily business. This involves sleeping in a car out in the desert, eating cans of tuna fish (he has hundreds of them in a box in the boot), and using one of four or five laptops and seven mobile phones, along with a satellite dish he mounts to the car, to control all the world’s computers, or whatever. For a former soldier / ultimate badass, he’s not all that tough-looking, balding with a sort of skinny-guy-gone-to-seed thing going on; and when we see him run across the rocks of the Nevada desert, he looks like he’s never done it before, coming close to falling on multiple occasions.

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So he’s a patriot, and the movie I guess wants us to sympathise with this guy who decided to forge his own path, but…he’s prepared to kill millions of people if the Government messes with him? What about if he gets ill and needs an operation? What about if he dies out in the desert? He’s a goddamned monster! Who the hell wants to close down the Las Vegas strip for three months anyway?

I think his relationship with his fiancée is very interesting, too. There’s plenty of footage of two seven year olds running and playing, but when we see them as adults, he’s…well, Neil Breen, and she’s very obviously at least a decade younger than him. What? She’s shot and killed while the two of them are in a pool – he naked, she in a thong – and the contortions the poor actress has to go through to avoid showing her boobs to the camera is pretty wonderful (although you can’t help feeling bad for her, as presumably she was cajoled into doing it). Brand then shows his first emotion, and when she’s floating face-down in the pool, he decides to join her, although because he’s entirely naked, we get a bit more of “Little Neil” than we perhaps needed, through his legs.

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After a quick bit of information about how some wars can’t be stopped, only for the movie to forget this part and have Brand tell us a few minutes later that he can stop or start any war with his computer skills, the plot…nope, I’m definitely not going to finish that sentence with “gets going”. The plot never gets close to getting going. He’s doing the same stuff at minute 80 that he is at minute 8, and the scenes appear spliced together basically randomly, with the exception (maybe) of the last one. Here’s a recap of what you can expect to see, should you pop on “Double Down” at a random moment:

  • Brand typing on one laptop, putting it down and typing on another laptop
  • Brand using a wrench on his satellite dish
  • Brand eating tuna
  • Brand waking up on the ground next to his car, where someone’s written “HELP ME” in blood on it
  • Brand running across the rocks

There are other actors in this movie, but they don’t appear all that often. There’s a couple of FBI agents who Brand helps bust an anthrax deal out in the desert at a ruin used for paintball – after he helps them out, the young one asks why they don’t track him, to which the veteran replies “He’s on a quest. Don’t ask, he’s protected. From the very top. Extremely top secret!” Then there’s the heads of the FBI, CIA and Homeland Security, who are gathered in Las Vegas for some reason; there’s his wife; and then there’s the couple. His “plan” involves picking up a couple from the wedding chapel where they just tied the knot, then taking them out to the desert, killing the husband, drugging the wife and then pretending she married him. I think? Only problem is, it’s the wrong couple so he just leaves them both in the desert to die! There’s a related scene where he phones up his prostitute friend and gets her to walk in front of his car so a guy is slightly distracted, and Brand can inject him with something. Even though her involvement in Brand’s plot is basically zero, she’s then murdered off screen by government agents! In case you were wondering, the couple he was supposed to pick up are also found dead in the desert, and Brand’s voiceover says they committed suicide, despite them having bullet holes in their foreheads and no guns anywhere nearby.

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The old man in the desert and the dinner party! I just can’t believe this really happened. Brand meets an old man in the desert, who keels over dead a few minutes later, pressing a small stone into Brand’s hand (it looks like fool’s gold). Brand becomes convinced of the mystical power of this stone, and when he’s at a dinner party with a family we’ve never met before and whose identity or relationship with Brand is never mentioned, tries to use it. The father tells Brand that the little girl has just been diagnosed with a brain tumour, so Brand holds the stone in one hand and presses the other hand on the girl’s head. Later that day, he delivers the immortal line “Tonight, I believe I cured Megan of cancer”. WHAT?

The dialogue is occasionally confusing because the voiceover is delivered at the same pitch as it, and there’s no pause between the end of his internal monologue and the start of a conversation; it’s also occasionally confusing because it makes no sense at all. Brand shoots a few people at one point who remain entirely off-screen, so you’ve no idea who they are, what they’re doing or why he wants to shoot them. Despite being filmed on 35mm, it’s achieved the remarkable feat of looking like it was shot on a cheap camcorder, so hats off to Breen for that.

He causes chaos round the world as a distraction for his plan, including bringing what looks like the Japanese train system to a halt – although how much of a distraction that would be to the police in Las Vegas is never elaborated on. Then, instead of carrying out the plan, he gives up the other conspirators to the police, saying this should prove his patriotism (he really wants you to know how patriotic he is). The end!

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Well, pretty much. It’s hard to overstate how absolutely bonkers this movie is, the insane dream of a man with no talent for filmmaking whatsoever. But, there’s a couple of odd little threads running through it. First up is the bodybag which he keeps opening, to find either his dead wife or a skeleton; he seems aware she’s dead, but thinks he can use the stone to bring her back to life (she sensibly refuses, not wanting any more time spent with this lunatic). Then there’s the “HELP ME”, and the tuna. Here’s my theory. Brand had a breakdown from his wife leaving him, and went mad, living out in the desert in his car, giving himself mercury poisoning by eating nothing but tuna; everything we see is his dying hallucination, including the end when he and his wife, returned to him but sitting in the back seat like he’s her chauffeur, drive off into the sunset. It’s the sort of idle daydream of enormous power (what if I was the best secret agent ever?) that we’ve all had at one time or another.

Okay, it’s probably not that, but there’s stuff in this movie which doesn’t make sense in a new way. What it definitely indicates is that Neil Breen is a filmmaker worth watching. The best movies right at the bottom of the pile are almost always singular visions, and this is 100% from the fevered subconscious of one man.

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I could honestly write about this film all day. It’s among the least entertaining movies ever made, with understanding a great deal further away at the end than it is at the beginning. But, the truly wretched are always interesting in ways that cookie-cutter Hollywood products just aren’t, so if you want to see a real genuine un-movie, then this could be for you.

Rating: thumbs up

Oasis Of The Zombies (1982)

A lot of lies in this poster

A lot of lies in this poster

Dear reader, my masochistic streak re: terrible movies has given you yet another review. I was under the impression that the Nazi zombie genre was fairly small, but after un-enjoying “Zombie Lake”, I discover there’s loads of the bloody things. We won’t be reviewing “Dead Snow”, because I watched it just before starting with the ISCFC and hated it, but at the urging of no-one (okay, my wife likes zombie movies and hates Nazis, so there was a little encouragement) I’ll review every Nazi zombie movie I can lay my hands on. I want no-one to have a bad entertainment decision and blame me for not writing a thousand words of nonsense about it!

 

We’ve done underwater Nazi zombies, but this is their sand-dune dwelling cousins. A pair of beautiful holiday-makers in a jeep stop to stretch their legs, and clearly our fascist undead friends are horny, as they pop up from the ground and get to eating.

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Er…hold on a minute. This sounds a bit like “Zombie Lake”, right? And by “a bit”, I mean “they’re pretty much the same movie”. Let’s do a list of ways they’re the same:

 

  • Zombie nazis
  • Roused by hot females
  • A very long flashback to WW2, where a soldier has a baby with a woman who dies in childbirth
  • At the end of the flashback, some badass Allies whup Nazi ass
  • Stupid ending where all the Nazis are wiped out, after appearing indestructible to that point
  • Involvement of Jess Franco

 

I don’t know what went on, but Franco, after quitting “Zombie Lake” due to the tiny budget, went back to work for Eurocine the next year and appears to have re-used significant portions of his own script. It’s really extremely similar, so I’m presuming there’s a good story behind it (well, better than the story they chose to put on screen). At least this one didn’t have a chuffing dead Nazi as the romantic lead!

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The reason all these people want to go into the desert is down to good old Nazi gold. It turns out that the transport we see in the flashback had $6 million worth on it, although the Allies never bothered searching the trucks or anything like that. The sole survivor of the Nazis decides after 35 years he probably ought to swing by and pick the gold up, so he goes to the sole survivor of the Allies, gets the map and then just kills him. I don’t know, if you can’t trust a fascist, who can you trust? He also seems pretty chill when the other guy tells him his soldiers might well be zombies now, expecting they’ll still listen to his orders (spoiler: they don’t).

 

I wrote in my notes “looks like two groups are converging on the gold”, but that might have been slightly fun and exciting, so it doesn’t happen. The son of the dead English soldier, who’s now a student in London, also learns about the gold and decides to round up a bunch of his student friends and go too, but they don’t arrive til the other group are pretty much slaughtered, and don’t really do much of anything themselves. There’s an idea that the zombies are protecting the gold, although who they’re doing it for is a conundrum never solved.

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There’s a couple of incidents which date this movie better than a receipt from opening night. The flashback involves the Allied soldier meeting and falling in love with a Muslim woman – there’s even a sex scene where she goes full frontal. Could you imagine the storm of abuse such an image would get in a movie today? It’s perhaps handy to remember that in the post-WW2 period, there was a lot of that Eastern eroticism sold to Western audiences, and pre-revolutionary Saudi Arabia (for example) was seen as a bit of a pleasure palace. This sort of casual indifference (to modern eyes) to Islam extends to when the son gets to Africa, and he and his friends stroll through a group of men kneeling in prayer, literally striding over them in a few instances. It’s perhaps the most shocking image of the entire thing!

 

There’s one really cool-looking zombie in this, an obvious model of a skull with half a jaw, and bits of skin hanging off. Most of the money must have gone on that, because the rest of the zombie makeup appears to be glue and a smidge of white paint, smeared all over the face – better than “Zombie Lake”, but then everything is better than “Zombie Lake”. They look pretty good, though, so I shouldn’t be too mean, even if their hair isn’t very 1940s military, more late 70s hipster. The location is interesting too – after seeing dozens of bloody jungle zombie movies, to see one set in the desert is interesting by the mere fact of its uniqueness.

 

You’ll need to really hold on to that small segment of positivity, though, as this movie is just dull. Way too much padding, way too little real incident, and there’s one line which makes me fear for the European youth of the 1980s – “let’s make Molotov cocktails, like in school”. No one element is really really awful, but it all comes together to just suck the life out of you. It’s not like there’s even much of the tricks of the exploitation director’s trade on display – no gratuitous nudity, barely any gore. There’s a moderately funny bit where, after burning all the zombie corpses, our main couple get horny and have sex very close to the piles of undead – not the moment I’d choose, but whatever. The end also has some scenes shot from above, where the sand is very clearly a few handfuls thrown on a sand-coloured blanket, indicating re-shoots (or a very lazy set designer).

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The thing is…it ought to be pretty easy to make a Nazi zombie movie. The 20th century’s greatest villains when they were alive, and now they’re dead? It should be a no-brainer. In both this and “Zombie Lake”, the uniforms the zombies were wearing was the least relevant thing about them. Why not try and make them a bit Nazi-like? Or use more of the trappings of their political creed, have them attack someone wearing a Star of David first? Anything other than this dull nothing would have been preferable.

 

Another movie which looked great on video shelves in the 1980s, but really ought to have stayed there.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Zombie Lake (1981)

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After our review series of the 15 parts of the 5-film “Zombi” series, I thought we were done, and you probably weren’t interested in reading me being annoyed by crappy zombie movies, but this is sort of a cousin to one of my favourites, so it snuck in. Its relationship is to the classic “Virgin Among The Living Dead”, even though it was made 8 years later – the distributors of “Virgin…” realised it was a bit short for release with all the nudity they’d had to take out, so asked Jean Rollin, who they were employing at the time to make this, to shoot some extra footage to bulk it out a little. If you’ve seen “Virgin…” on VHS, chances are you saw the version with Rollin’s extra scenes – every time Christine falls asleep, it cuts to a “dream sequence” where a woman with long blonde hair is being chased through some gardens by a bunch of zombies. Quite a good bit, as it turned out, even if it had no relation to the rest of things.

 

The earlier movie’s director, Jesus Franco, was actually hired to direct this, and left after arguments with distributor Eurocine. Rollin was hired with a few days’ notice, and split directing duties with Julian de Laserna, both of them using the pseudonym “J.A. Lazer” as Rollin was apparently deeply embarrassed by it (he realised as soon as he read the script it was not only going to be terrible, but was also a cheap ripoff of “Shock Waves”, the original Nazi zombie movie from a few years earlier). Then, to really complete the weirdly incestuous little circle, Franco made his own Nazi zombie movie, “Oasis Of The Zombies”, in 1982.

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Was Rollin right to be so embarrassed by this, though? Of course he was. You want a movie where the romantic lead is a dead Nazi? You got it! You want a lot of naked women swimming, shot from underneath so it seems more gynaecological than erotic? You got it! You want maybe the worst zombie makeup ever, which is bright green and is never applied to necks, arms, the hairline or indeed anywhere other than faces and occasionally hand? You know you got it!

 

A young woman decides to remove all her clothes, lay around in the sun for a moment, then go for a swim in a lake, which doesn’t look like a lake for swimming in – covered in lilypads, dirty-ish water, and so on. There’s also a skull-and-crossbones warning sign, but she ignores that, throwing it to the ground even. Absent any other reason, the sight of a vagina is enough to cause a bunch of Nazi zombies to reanimate, and they swim up to the surface and kill her. I’ve checked to see if I missed a line about some environmental change, or a witch casting a spell, but I don’t think so. They were just horny!

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The zombies eventually realise they can hit the nearby village up for some fresh meat, and every now and again they’ll wander out of the lake (their home base, obviously) and do some killing. They’re kindly helped at one point with maybe the most gratuitous scene in this or any other zombie movie, when a bus full of female netball players stops by the side of the lake to do some camping, and, like all women do, strip naked and go for a swim together. It goes on for so long I genuinely thought the movie was going to drop the whole zombie thing and just become a naked netball-er story.

 

The other part of the movie is the friendly Nazi story. A reporter goes to the town to ask about the legend of Zombie Lake, and the Mayor (Howard Vernon, the John Carradine of Italian cinema) tells her about what happened to the village in WW2. A Nazi saved a woman from bombing, and they fell in love. He had to go and leave to oppress some Jews, but on the way back 9 months later, sees he has a child, and the mother is sick. But he can’t stop, off to defend Berlin from the advancing Allies, and then his entire platoon is killed by Italian partisans on their way out of town.

zl81-daddy3This brings us to the most curious part of the movie. The reanimated Nazi wanders back to his girlfriend’s old house and meets a girl of about 10, who it turns out is his daughter. He gives her the necklace that the mother gave him, and they develop a sort of relationship (I thought this bit was crazy, and I’ve seen a whole bunch of crazy recently). Now, the fashions appear to be contemporary to when the film was made, so…how long’s it been in this world since the end of the war? It can only be 1955, at the outside, but no effort at all is spent to make it look like anything other than 1981. A genuine puzzler, and not just because, you know, we’re supposed to be touched by this tale.

 

Women are, as always in Italian horror cinema, absolutely useless, existing entirely to be naked and scream. No-one makes the slightest effort to save themselves, including one woman who continues to try and fix her stockings while a zombie is attacking her! Luckily, there’s a stupid lazy ending, which includes a fight between our friendly Nazi and one of the bad ones, over the fate of the girl, which is at least original I suppose. While this is happening, you can marvel at how well preserved the uniforms and especially the metal helmets of the soldiers were, from their decade or more at the bottom of a lake.

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Everything about this screams hack-job. Rollin is not exactly renowned as a great auteur, and with two days notice and (obviously) not much money, it’s safe to say no-one was trying their hardest. My favourite thing – well, you need to try and entertain yourself somehow – is the dubbing. Shot in French, the English dubbing job is hilarious, with the need to match the mouth-movements of the actors leading to some brilliant dialogue that makes no sense whatsoever. The only other fun to be had is watching how easily the “central characters” die, almost as if no-one was in the slightest bit bothered about making it make sense or do any of the things that normal movies do.

 

So, of interest to people who really, really love full-frontal female nudity and literally no-one else. What a spectacularly dull movie this was.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Grave Misdemeanours (1989) (aka Night Life)

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The worst thing ever – yes, even worse than all the dictators and diseases that have ever existed – is comedy movies that aren’t funny. Horrors that aren’t scary or thrillers that aren’t thrilling at least have a plot to fall back on, but when the entire point of a scene is a gag that just doesn’t work, you’re left with nothing. So it was with deep sadness that, about 20 minutes into this, that I realised it wasn’t just a bit unfunny, but a sort of comedy black hole where the writer clearly thought “hey, people being really mean to each other is funny, right? I’ll just fill the movie with that!”

 

Take a look at the video cover, above. Looks like a wacky, knockabout zombie comedy, doesn’t it? Well, it sort of manages that for the last 20 minutes or so, but for the first 55 minutes, no zombies and precious little fun. It’s the tale of young Archie Melville (Scott Grimes, “ER”, “American Dad”), who works at his Uncle’s mortuary – that Uncle is played by John “Gomez Addams” Astin, seemingly annoyed at having to be there – and dreams of the hot cheerleader, who has a douchebag boyfriend (of course).

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The first two-thirds of the movie is Archie being insulted by his Uncle and mocked by the group of assholes (one of whom is a young Mark Pellegrino, who’d go on to much greater fame in “Supernatural” and “Lost”, among other things); tricked into almost having sex with the hot cheerleader; his only friend, Charly the mechanic (Cheryl Pollak, “Pump Up The Volume”, “I Was A Teenage Vampire”) gets a job working for a NASCAR team and leaves town immediately; then he gets sacked when the assholes steal a corpse and rig it so it falls on Archie when he enters the room. You know, a nice reasonable prank!  There’s a whisper of an idea that Pellegrino and the cheerleader are actual human beings with empathy, but that must have been stuff left over from a previous script draft as it’s entirely ignored for the rest of the movie. Anyway, the four douchebags die offscreen in a car accident, colliding with a chemical truck, then when they’re back at the morgue get hit by lightning and turned into zombies.

 

The last section is sort of okay, with Archie and a returning Charly (turns out the guy who hired her was an alcoholic pervert, not a race-car mechanic) fighting the zombies, trying to save the town, and so on. It perhaps only appears exciting in comparison to the funereal (no pun intended) pace of the first two-thirds, but still, it seems someone thought it’d be a good idea to have stuff happen.

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It’s really all over the place. When Archie realises the dead bodies are his enemies, he doesn’t seem upset, or secretly pleased, or anything, he just seems sort of indifferent, a curious character choice. The recently undead just want to torture him, like they did when they were alive, and the only real difference is they’re almost indestructible and don’t talk. Charly    doesn’t strike me as the sort of woman to take a job that starts in the middle of the night, with an obviously sleazy guy, at seemingly a few hours’ notice, but it’s small potatoes for a movie as dumb as this, I guess.

 

Director David Acomba had a largely undistinguished career in TV, but was an (uncredited) director on the “Star Wars” Holiday Special, one of the worst things I’ve ever seen in my life; aside from his first ever directorial credit, an independent Canadian movie called “Slipstream” from 1973, he never made another movie. Writer Keith Critchlow only has one other writing credit, the Tom Hanks / John Candy damp squib “Volunteers”, so the signs were there if only I chose to pay attention to them before watching it.

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But, like I said, it’s a comedy with no jokes in it. It’s a zombie movie where the zombies don’t show up til it’s almost over. It’s slow and boring, and is of interest nowadays for its weirdly strong cast of people you’ll definitely recognise from other, more fun movies of the time. And for the middle section, you can safely have a conversation about whatever you like (we chose to discuss “Star Trek” fan films) safe in the knowledge you’ll not miss anything important at all.

 

Rating: thumbs down

 

SnakeMan (2005)

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I think maybe this SyFy Channel movie’s original title was “Snake, Man” because while there are snakes and men in it, there’s no one thing that could be called both. They just edited the pot references out and sold it to SyFy!

 

Alright, maybe not. But when a film is as dumb as this you need to try and entertain yourself somehow, and if that means trying to make a joke about the title, so be it. So, anyway, a group of scientists goes into the jungle to find a particular flower that grants extreme long life, only to become hunted by the giant anacondas that live there…oh, I’m so sorry! That’s the recap of “Anaconda 2”, released the year before this. What a mistake that was! On to the recap of “SnakeMan” – a group of scientists goes into the jungle to find the secret to extreme longevity, and are hunted by the giant snake creature that lives there.

 

Nailed it! Yes, dear reader, this genuinely feels like a writer sold the same script twice, and I’d be astonished if some legal documents weren’t exchanged when the producers of “Anaconda 2” saw this roll off the production line. Saying that, parts 3 and 4 of the “Anaconda” franchise (as well as the crossover with “Lake Placid”) are all SyFy Channel original movies, so maybe that was the deal they reached.

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The gist of all this is, a bloke who looks like a young Rob Reiner digs up a stone crypt, and in it is a well-preserved corpse. Turns out, the corpse was 300 years old when he died, so his corporation is interested in knowing the secret to this. The press conference is amazing, with a bunch of journos uncritically accepting everything they’re told and just straight-up cheering at the end. Anyway, to find that secret, they send out a bunch of nicely multi-ethnic scientists (don’t worry, I won’t burden you with most of their names, partly because I’m lazy, partly because most of them are just cannon fodder), led by douchebag Dr Rick Gordon (“That Guy” actor Larry Day) and smart / sensible Dr Susan Elters (Jayne Heitmeyer). Rounding things out are the head of the corporation Dr John Simon (another “That Guy”, Gary Hudson), and their jungle guide, Matt Ford (Steven Baldwin).

 

Every time I see Steven Baldwin in anything, my first thought is “how did this guy get the job in The Usual Suspects?” He’s a pretty terrible actor, and his recent conversion to fundamentalist Christianity (which merely manifests in his character wearing a gigantic cross which is never commented on) hasn’t improved things. He sort of tries to be the cool guide, obvious love interest to Elters, but his entire character falls flat, and he spends most of his time as her sidekick as she does all the important stuff. Talking of her, Jayne Heitmeyer is great in this, totally believable and great to watch develop. Also, she was in her early 40s when she filmed this and could have easily passed for 30 – good work, genetics! She was in “Earth: Final Conflict”, which I never watched, and was a regular in other less popular genre TV shows; I’d honestly never heard of her before yesterday but you might encounter a few reviews of her movies coming up soon.

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As they meet two different tribes in the jungle – the friendly guys with whiskers on their faces; and the initially less friendly guys who worship the snake and wear snakeskin loincloths; they discover that the Snake is killing people due to the removal of the corpse at the beginning of the movie (although see if you can figure out the ending, which doesn’t feature the return of said corpse); and discover that the snake-tribe has a plastic surgeon on hand, because some of their women are obviously models with body-parts that defy gravity. Apparently, snakeskin makes great bras, too.

 

A word about the snake. You could watch it in any of four or five different scenes and not have the most basic information about it. How long is it? How heavy? How many heads  does it have? At the beginning, we only see one, then there’s a scene where we see three, and the IMDB commenters seem divided on whether it has five or seven (we see five in most scenes, but the statues to worship it – cheap looking concrete statues, in the middle of the jungle – have seven). Also, how bloody big is this snake? It eats people whole, regularly, and a person in its mouth is roughly equivalent in size to a human eating a cherry tomato. Hundreds of feet long, at least? Yet it sneaks up on everyone, and is able to navigate through the tops of trees to get a jump on its human prey. How heavy must a massive snake, hundreds of feet long, weigh? Okay, I appreciate this is a SyFy Channel effort, and they didn’t have money to throw around, but surely someone would have gone “er, this stealth thing feels like a problem, guys”.

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So, after tricking the villagers with a bit of sophistry, and drawing Dr Simon and his goons to the jungle, we’re on for a showdown of sorts. There’s the completely unbelievable yet inevitable romance between the two leads, despite them having negative levels of chemistry; there’s the whole “we have to stop the secret from spreading to the outside world” ending, blah blah blah. It’s really dumb.

 

On the very remote that SyFy repeat this, go and change the channel immediately. They’ve made a few great pieces of entertainment, but this is most definitely not one of them. This was the last movie from director Allan Goldstein, as well (he directed the fifth “Death Wish” instalment, as well as the diabolical Leslie Nielsen vehicle “2001: A Space Travesty”); producers Nu Image would go on to “The Expendables” and “Olympus Has Fallen”, so at least someone succeeded.

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Rating: thumbs down