The more SyFy movies you watch, the more you’re aware of them having a certain house style. You can make rough predictions of casting (one or two SyFy TV people, perhaps a B-list movie star who’s down on their luck), location (Canada, doubling for the desert, the jungle, or outer space), and plot (weather disaster, creature from mythology, giant version of normal creature); plus there’s usually an estranged family. All these things being absent (apart from the monster, I guess?) combined with nudity and gore made me think that this was perhaps bought in by SyFy – although I hope they didn’t spend too much money on it – and the version I saw was a DVD cut.
It’s really cheaply made, too. While we love him, being an ISCFC Hall of Famer (“Demolition Highway”, “Roller Blade Seven”), when your biggest star is Joe Estevez and it’s 2013, you’ve got some serious questions you need to ask yourself. And the effects for the giant are abysmal – when he’s running down the street after a car, his feet are barely moving yet the scenery is racing by. Having just watched “Decker: Unclassified”, the Tim Heidecker / Gregg Turkington comedy show on Adult Swim (which also co-stars Estevez, coincidentally enough), where the effects are bad on purpose yet the difference between the two is minimal, I feel bad for everyone involved. When you start noticing people from the scene in 1895 show up as part of the posse in the present day, well…you’ve already sat through the movie at that point, so sucks to be you.
We start in 1895 Minnesota, where a group of frontierspeople are…well, the scene is so cheap that it’s sort of confusing. A guy is doing an activity that looks like roasting a large ox, but the ox is obviously plastic and there’s no fire where a fire should be. The “meat” is so cold that snow is settling on top of it! Then, Grizzly Adams (the actual Grizzly Adams, Dan Haggerty, who must be wishing he’d saved that 70s money) wanders off for a minute and comes back to find the entire encampment brutally murdered. He’s not much longer for this world, as a mutant attacks him and quickly splits him in half in a lovely CGI woodmill. Quite exciting, as these things go, if only they’d bothered to spend a bit of time making it roughly era-appropriate.
The main bulk of the movie is set in the present, and is about a group of young offenders being given a second chance to stay out of jail; they’re accompanied by Sergeant Hoke (Thomas Downey) and social worker Ms K (Kristina Kopf). The teens, with the exception of the obvious Final Girl (who’s also the local Sheriff’s daughter) are the purest cannon fodder, and shockingly bad actors to boot. They tell the tales of why they were arrested, and Final Girl’s story is bizarre – while a little drunk, she got into her car to stop a very drunk driver from killing people. Despite her being in no trouble before that, having a fantastic excuse, and, y’know, being a Sheriff’s daughter, she’s still forced to go into this program, and indeed says her lawyer recommended a guilty plea. Really? But they’re all really dull to watch, and it’s not helped by the giant keeping mostly away from things for the first half of the movie.
The villain of the piece is Paul Bunyan, who was of normal height (if hideously disfigured) during the 1895 opening. After escaping punishment for that crime, over years of isolation in the high country grew to a height of…well, the movie is too cheap to keep the perspective constant, so it’s really anything from about 10 feet to 30 feet tall. The meat the loggers were eating at the beginning was his only friend, Babe The Blue Ox, and it was his anger over the death of Babe that led to their deaths; one of the teen criminals steals one of Babe’s horns and that’s the thing that seals their fate, too. A few words about Bunyan for my British friends, who may only know about him very vaguely and second hand – not too many words, though, as you can just get the information from Wikipedia yourself. Bunyan had his origins in the oral storytelling of early American lumberjacks, who made up stories about him to pass the time of day. His first appearance in print was a newspaper editorial in 1904, and it wasn’t until a promotional pamphlet for a lumber company in 1916 that his stories became widely known – he was by and large a nice guy, too, becoming a popular figure in childrens’ literature in the 1950s. Sort of interesting that he’s already passed into folklore, despite being so recent an invention.
One can question why they turned Bunyan into a giant, deranged mutant; or where he found the trousers and shoes he’s wearing; or even how he got his enormous double-headed axe, with the steel being a comfortable eight feet from edge to edge, if he’s got the mind of a child (not having access to iron ore, or a forge, or any training); but you won’t get answers to any of them.
They had access to a special effects studio (the famous Robert Kurtzman’s place, although I don’t imagine they put “Axe Giant” on their highlight reel), and had a guy willing to put on the rubber Paul Bunyan suit, and precious little else. The green-screen effects are laughably bad, but there’s no sense the filmmakers are in on the joke. The worst thing about all this is, writer / director Gary Jones is better known as a special effects guy, so lord knows how he thought it was acceptable.
It’s not terrible, I guess, but it’s still really bad. Estevez clearly relishes the chance to go completely OTT, playing his backwoods guy (who seems to be Bunyan’s friend, although it feels they edited something out that explained that, only leaving in him playing half a game of chess on his porch) and chewing every bit of scenery. Kopf is excellent, given the awful material, and Downey grew on me too, although he doesn’t last long enough to make much of an impression one way or the other. The rest of them are utterly forgettable, and in fact I already have, and the plot is tedious and inevitable, a slasher movie with the twist being a gigantic monster can sneak up on people rather than just a normal-sized murderer. At the very bottom of SyFy’s output.
Rating: thumbs down