Christmas Slay (2015)

Merry Christmas, dear reader! To celebrate the season, I’m giving you a review of what is in the running for the most thoroughly incompetent, wrong-headed, downright boring Christmas slasher movie it’s been our displeasure to watch. I’m going spoiler-crazy in this one, so if you’re remotely interested in watching it spoiler-free…then you’re an idiot. Seriously.

What passes for the movie’s only joke comes in the first few minutes, as a couple of British coppers (for this is a British effort) are radioing back to base – “Sierra Lima Alpha Yankee”. Slay! Like the title! Hahahahaha! So anyway, a guy dressed in a sort of beat up Santa outfit breaks into a house to kill the couple inside, but the silent alarm they have also summons the police. The two normal officers get their asses kicked, but then the rough-and-tumble sweary boss turns up and easily defeats the killer (who, aside from one word, stays mute throughout).

Even in these first few minutes, weird decision after weird decision assaults us. First up, the dead couple are sleeping with lit Christmas lights all over the top of their bed. Who does that? Turn them off! Then, as the killer is about to leave, he encounters a girl who asks “have you got any presents for me, Santa?” Reasons this is wrong:

  • She looks 14 years old and wouldn’t believe in Santa
  • This Santa has no beard
  • This Santa is drenched in blood and carrying a knife, also covered in blood

But this is just the first five minutes. We’ve got so much more stupidity to get through! “One year later”, and three women who I guessed were soft-porn stars but all appear to be actual working actors, are off to the Scottish highlands for a Christmas break. I mean, it doesn’t look even a little bit like Scotland, and in fact looks exactly like Bulgaria (which is where it was filmed), but let’s try and suspend our disbelief for a few more moments.

So, these three women, who all look sort of alike (fake-tanned, dark straight hair) although one of them is easily ten years older than the other two, even though all three are in relationships and would presumably have other places to be, have decided to spend Christmas together in a cabin in the middle of nowhere – although, when the director forgets to frame his shots right, you can see they’re in a moderately busy village.

At the same time, there’s a breakout in a nearby mental hospital, and out go two people – a lunatic who wears his pyjamas with one leg rolled up, and Santa from earlier. He hasn’t been taking his medication (I have to assume that people locked up for multiple murders are given a little more oversight than “none”), and when a Santa sent in to…cheer the patients up?…insults our friend, he gets a felt tip pen driven through his skull, allowing our friend to get his outfit back. Now, felt tip pens are significantly less strong than bone and this would never, ever happen, but this isn’t even the stupidest thing to happen in this five minutes.

Time. We see pyjama-man stood at the side of the road threatening the van with our three heroines in it…but then in the next scene we see him in the hospital, pre-escape. Any indication it’s a flashback (which would be confusing anyway, coming just after a “one year later”)? Of course not!

Place. One can assume, from the accents on display from everyone in the first scene, that the initial murders took place in the London area. But, for narrative convenience / to mask the filming location, the killer was transported to a mental hospital in the Scotland area?

After some of the most abysmal banter it’s ever been my misfortune to witness, Emma (Jessica Ann Bonner) emerges as the probable final girl – her boyfriend perhaps cheated on her with her best friend, she seems to have the faintest flickering of a personality, etc. Then the aforementioned best friend turns up, then all their boyfriends start turning up…to this cabin in the extremely remote Scottish highlands, remember.

It’s also at this point that we discover that, no matter how cold it gets, these women were hired to look good in underwear, and it’s them in underwear we’re going to get. Even when they go outside in the snow (!) one of them puts a coat on, but other than that they don’t even seem aware they brought other clothes with them.

One of the boyfriends is a pothead, and we’re treated to a scene of him making a joint, and it’s very clear he’d never made a joint in his life before. This scene, where he sort of builds his joint while his girlfriend lolls on the bed next to him, is perhaps the most tedious scene in the history of cinema, where almost literally nothing happens, for a solid five minutes.

Let’s talk about the killer. One might wonder if there’s some trauma in his past, some Christmas-based upset (much like “Silent Night, Deadly Night”) that causes the Santa outfit to bring out some homcidal tendencies in him. Nope. Well, there might be, it’s just that the movie never bothers telling us that, or indeed anything else, about his character. That he wanders through the woods til he finds some people to kill indicates he’s not got any geographical issues, either. Although more on that later.

Okay, now let’s talk about how horror movies are structured. At about the halfway point, we’ve established that the killer is on the loose and that some girls are in trouble. Two people could get involved – the cop from the beginning, who was set up like a leading man, or the chief doctor at the asylum, who’s upset that the murderers he was looking after have gotten loose. Do you think either of these people show up? Of course not! Well, the cop does, but again, more on him later.

Eventually, in the fashion we’ve come to expect, killer meets final girl, and final girl is victorious. Then it’s Christmas morning! As she sits there, surrounded by the corpses of her friends (not literally, that would be odd), the door to the lodge (complete with Bulgarian translation on it) opens and in walks her boyfriend! To say he’s not got much screen presence is a vast understatement, but that’s not really the issue. He swoops in to take charge of the situation, and they drive to the nearest police station to report all this murder – their phones didn’t work at any point of course, although you’d think a tourist spot with no cell service would at least have a landline. Wait, did I say they’d do something sensible? Of course they don’t! He drives her all the way back to London where she finally has a bath to wash the blood off her. From Scotland. Sat in a car, covered in blood. WHAT THE HELL

And finally, we come to the end. For absolutely no reason whatsoever, Emma is arrested for all the murders, and in a scene of such brain-buggering stupidity it’s hard for me to even believe I watched it, the last we see of her, she’s in that same Scottish asylum we saw people break out of at the beginning, angrily protesting her innocence. I would like to provide you with a little dialogue, courtesy of the same cool cop we saw at the beginning and his skinny female constable, both dressed exactly the same as they were a year ago.

Constable: “They picked up that escaped patient from Moorview a few hours ago. The one that killed all those students up in the highlands.”
Sergeant: “That is good news. Where’d they find him?”
Constable: “It wasn’t a him, it was a her.”
Sergeant: “A her? You sure about that?”
Constable: “Yeah, positive. They found her prints everywhere.”

Now, one would think that at least a few people would be able to vouch for the fact that Emma wasn’t a mental patient, just a young woman with a lot of make-up on; and equally that at least someone would be interested in the mass-murderer who actually did escape, at least as far as knowing what his gender was. But no. The final final scene, where the killer turns up in cool cop’s office, soaked in blood, having healed himself from the multiple axe blows to the head and the knife to the throat he got from Emma, and kills him (despite cool cop having dealt with him in hand-to-hand combat with embarrassing ease at the beginning) , is just another gem.

Now, I hope my words have gotten across just how utterly appalling this movie is. Dull, ugly, stupid, with terrible dialogue, awful special effects and crappy acting, with zero evidence that anyone involved in its making had the slightest idea what they were doing, it’s evidence that too many people have access to enough money and camera equipment to make movies. Or that there are too many outlets – I have Amazon Prime to thank for this (thank the heavens I didn’t pay any actual cash for it).

The one even slight smile comes from the name of the director, one Steve Davis. The Steve Davis that most British people know and love is the former snooker world champion and current snooker TV presenter / obscure music DJ; this Davis appears to be a former nightclub bouncer whose path to the movie business is a puzzler to me.

Please, please, please, avoid this movie, and merry Christmas!

Rating: all the thumbs down

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Van Wilder: Freshman Year (2009)

It’s times like this that I wish I’d not described a load of other movies as the worst comedy ever, because we’ve got a new kid in town that makes “Van Wilder 2” (our description: “miserable failure”) look like “The Godfather 2”. I’m not sure the words exist to truly convey how wretched this is, but I’ll give it a go.

Van Wilder is off to college, the sort of college entirely populated by soft-porn actors in their mid 20s. We get a delightful recreation of the scene from that “Police Academy” movie where Van, giving a speech to his high school’s graduating class, is given oral sex by the valedictorian who has hidden underneath the lectern. He’s a chip off the old block as his Dad is ready to take him to Amsterdam and party with him, but he has business and can’t make it; so the credits roll and we see a series of snapshots of Van’s summer before he gets to Coolidge College.

Then the realisation sets in that this is a competition movie. The person you’re most likely to recognise, Kurt Fuller, is the colonel who’s now in charge of Coolidge, and was a former classmate of Papa Wilder; he hated the Dad and now hates the son too. So, he forces Van to join the ROTC, along with a troop of nerds and stoners, assuming that the tough military discipline will force them all to drop out. That this will all end up in a sort of wargame act 3, for control of the school, is never in doubt.

ASIDE: Why did no-one check that the college had become a military school in the intervening years?

The plot is effectively the same as part 2. Van meets a beautiful young woman, Kaitlin (Kristin Cavallari, a former reality TV star), but she’s not only in the ROTC, she’s the girlfriend of the villain, Dirk (Steve Talley, who played the younger Stifler in the straight-to-video American Pie sequels). There’s also an organisation called Daughters In Christ’s Kingdom (DICK, because of course), which appears to be entirely made up of extremely hot women who are saying no to sex, despite them nearly devouring Van and his friends at one point.

Van’s friends are the aforementioned stoner and a character called, and I genuinely wish I were making this up, Yu Dum Fuk. He’s the Taj replacement, being desperate to pleasure as many women as possible; and the first great prank that the three of them pull is to steal all the dildos and vibrators…I thought this was to drive the women so crazy that they started having sex with the guys, but in reality it’s just to strap them all to the underside of the choir’s bench in church and turn them on at once so all the DICK ladies get an orgasm from the vibration. There is no reason for this.

Van, despite being a fairly obnoxious freshman, instantly becomes the main man of the school. He helps the football team break their long losing record by getting the cheerleaders to come out in little more than underwear and offer to have sex with the players if they win. Luckily, all the female students (who have all had pre-college boob jobs) are instantly okay with nudity, pole dancing and engaging in a bit of faux-lesbian play for the delight of the assembled men – not a single one of them, of course, has any lines or anything like that. Undoubtedly, if you watch movies to see attractive naked women, then this has an awful lot to recommend it. You’ll also really enjoy the sex ed class that Van takes over, where a supply of underwear models are helpfully on hand to demonstrate all the sexual positions (every one of which Yu knows the name of, which immediately makes him attractive to the women).

So, pranks pranks pranks. Van, at one point, laughs off being waterboarded by the ROTC assholes, as the substance they use is beer. I don’t even know if this is okay any more. Is it cool to joke about a modern torture technique? So he gets them back by replacing their camo-face-paint with dogshit.

Oh, let’s talk about continuity for a second. Van meets his dog for the first time as it apparently escaped from an animal testing lab (no payoff on that, in case you were wondering). It’s either the same dog from the first movie – set seven years after this – or he just happened to have two English bulldogs with grotesquely enlarged testicles. Because their names are different! Balzac is the dog from parts 1 and 2, and this fellow is called Colossus; and let’s not get into the whole thing about his testicles reverting to normal size after he’d “taken a load off” into those cream-filled doughnuts in part 1. If they don’t care, I shouldn’t either, I guess.

I actually felt bad for Kurt Fuller at one point; that point was, during a blindfolded massage, when he had his penis and testicles smeared with peanut butter by Yu’s Asian girlfriend (awfully nice of her to agree to do that) and had the dog lick it off, just as his wife paid him an “unexpected” visit. Kurt Fuller is a decent actor who’s appeared in comedies I like; this is a little like seeing an old school friend homeless.

In the cold light of the next morning, it reminds me of a porno version of a college comedy. There are a grand total of two women who have lines – one of which is Kaitlyn, the other the super-horny woman who offers to do Dirk’s dirty work for him in return for sex (not planting stolen test papers like in part 2, but planting a bag of weed which Colossus eats before the cops get there anyway). Every single other woman in the movie is there to get naked, grind on other women and get leered at by men. Or to perform acts that would probably qualify as prostitution? You know, good old fashioned teen raunch fun.

I might have made this sound moderately entertaining. It certainly never stops trying, but the relentlessly sleazy treatment of women is really hard to get past. Plus, if that’s your thing, there’s a ton of blatant homophobia in there too, as the ROTC sidekick masturbates to gay army porn and then is tied to a tree with Dirk, in the classic “accidental rape” pose, as the final joke of the movie. Good jokes would have given them a ton of leeway, but it’s just presenting a limp double entendre then pausing for the audience to have a chuckle before moving on to the next one.

But, the acting is largely okay, I guess? Cavallari is terrible, but everyone else appreciates that this might be a good thing for their careers and tries their hearts out. Our criticism must land squarely on the shoulders of the people who financed a movie solely for soft-porn addicts; dishonourable mention goes to writer Todd McCullough (his only feature-length writing credit) and director Harvey Glazer (whose first movie was a Jamie Kennedy starring vehicle in that crazy time when people thought Kennedy was remotely funny, engaging or bankable as a star; his second was a Jason Mewes vehicle!)

I just don’t buy that Wilder, father and son, are the same characters that appeared in the first movie. Dad seems to party more, and be a great deal more tolerant of his son, in part 3; plus, young Van doesn’t seem like the sort of man who’d spend seven years at college. Oh, there’s cellphones and references to modern stuff in this, which makes the whole prequel thing completely stupid. I appreciate this is a strange thing to fixate on, but when movies mess this sort of thing up, it’s a good indication that nothing is right.

What a thoroughly depressing experience. I always assumed that raunch movies had sort of died out, to be replaced with slightly more “conscious” efforts in the post American Pie world, but it turns out they just went straight to video and carried on with the fine work of elevating the white teenage male to godhood and exploiting the hell out of women. I’m sorry for bringing this into your life, dear reader.

Rating: all the thumbs down

Prom Night (2008)

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Remember how I said they’d saved the worst for last with “Prom Night 4: Deliver Us From Evil”? That was chuffing Shakespeare crossed with Tarantino compared to the 2008 remake, one of the dumbest, most pointless movies ever to go under the “slasher” banner. It’s down there with the worst of the worst, and in the little mini-era of remaking 70s and 80s horror – “Friday The 13th”, “Halloween”, “A Nightmare On Elm Street”, “My Bloody Valentine”, “April Fools Day”, “Children Of The Corn”, “The Hills Have Eyes”, “Day Of The Dead”, “Dawn Of The Dead”, “Fright Night”, “Silent Night, Deadly Night” and “Black Christmas” – that happened between 2005 and 2012 or so, this is right down at the bottom.

 

But I can’t expect you to believe me, so let’s talk Idiot Plot. The Idiot Plot, as coined by Roger Ebert, is a movie that would fall to pieces in seconds if any person made a single sensible decision or asked a single reasonable question. It relies at every turn on people being as dumb as possible and for every single domino to fall exactly favourably for the antagonist – while this has its uses, such as the best tragedies, it’s fairly safe to say that “Prom Night” does not number itself among the great works of that genre. I will hopefully provide you with many examples of the Idiot Plot in action throughout the course of this review.

 

We have writer J.S. Cardone to thank for that Idiot Plot, and he’s got previous ISCFC form. He was an uncredited writer on the first “Puppetmaster”, and Full Moon Pictures gave him his break – he also wrote “Crash and Burn”. Then a little later he dabbled in SyFy Channel original movies, giving us “Alien Hunter”, before finishing up on crap like this (he hasn’t worked since 2009’s “The Stepfather”, another horror remake that didn’t exactly set the world on fire).

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The plot, in case you wondering, is so utterly dissimilar to the 1980 original that the decision to use the name can only be a cynical money-grabbing one.  Donna (Brittany Snow) witnesses the murder of her entire family by a teacher who’d become obsessed with her; three years later, he’s locked up on the other side of the country and she’s ready for Prom, going to the same school, in the same town. She sees a psychiatrist (played by the lovely Ming Na in a too-short cameo), has a boyfriend, Bobby (Scott Porter, who was 28 at the time of filming, playing 18), and a nice group of friends, who I won’t bother to list because they’re pretty much cannon fodder and no-one has ever complained about the lack of a list of minor characters in a slasher film review.

 

Anyway, the teacher, Richard Fenton (Jonathan Schaech) escapes from maximum security mental hospital, but thanks to a bureaucratic mix-up, no-one bothers telling the police force of his old town for three days. This force is pretty much represented solely by Idris Elba as “Detective Winn”, and while he’s one of the best actors currently plying their trade, he must have really not liked being there as he’s as painfully generic as they come. So, Fenton has made it all the way back to his old town, with love on his mind – well, psychosis and murder, which is nearly the same thing. We see him right from the beginning, there’s never a twist or a single doubt that he’s butchering everyone, and butcher he does. Every ten minutes or so, one of the dumbass teens will go off on their own for some reason, and Fenton is always in the perfect place to murder them (but only with stabs to the gut, because this is PG-13 and they can’t be showing too much blood). He’s every psychopath you’ve ever seen, and is therefore almost instantly forgettable.

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Let’s talk fake scares! They are much beloved by crappy horror movie makers, and this one, directed by a fellow named Nelson McCormick (for whom this represents a very rare non-TV credit), is crappy. You name it, “Prom Night” has it – the dream sequence; the “hey, the murderer just disappeared behind that moving bus in the middle distance” one; the Final Girl backing into someone and screaming, only for it to be her friend (or a pot plant); a tree making spooky noise outside her window; and, by far the most common, the mirror scare. You can absolutely guarantee that if anyone goes to a mirrored bathroom cabinet, or is stood in front of a mirror, then looks away, then looks back, they’re in for a scare! It happens so often that you might be inclined to start believing it’s a joke, but there are no jokes in this movie. By the fifth or sixth one, I was ready to smash the director’s head into a mirror, just to make sure he never did it again.

 

So, we’ve already had the “sorry about not mentioning the psychotic killer on his way to your town”, but then this gets compounded. Idris pops round to tell Donna’s aunt and uncle that Fenton has escaped, but they decide not to tell her immediately, because it might spoil her Prom, and it’s not like the completely obsessed guy would head towards the woman he’s obsessed with, right? Then, Idris goes to the hotel, and rather than circulate Fenton’s photograph, just sort of vaguely asks a few hotel staffers if they’ve seen anything suspicious. Elba is the dumbest cop I can remember, staying three steps behind the killer at all times – well, until the last thirty seconds of the movie. Almost every member of the cast leaves the Prom at least once to go up to their room, just so they can be alone with the murderer, who’s able to move around at will, and always knows which closet his potential victim is about to use. Even when the Prom is being evacuated by the cops, looking for the killer, Donna decides to pop back to her hotel room, on her own, to grab a shawl. Good old horror teens and their complete lack of self-preservation! When they take her and her family home, they make sure to only have one cop with them, just to make it nice and easy for Fenton to kill them all, and Elba waits until way way too late to call for backup. Good work cops!

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Everything about the new “Prom Night” is glossy and dull. Not much point comparing the two, but the 1980 one had a home-made-looking Prom, with a cast made of fairly average looking people. This Prom went over-budget by $100,000 (what must the overall bill have been?) and has taken over a huge, glitzy hotel; the entire cast is model-perfect, of course. It has the flatness of something made by a committee, with not a single interesting creative voice within a million miles of the production; the cast are the same, blandly professional to the point you wouldn’t say they were good or bad, really (although you expect more from a guy like Elba).

 

It’s just a “nothing” movie. The scares aren’t scary, there is absolutely no humour whatsoever to leaven the stodgy script, there’s no gore, you don’t care about any of the characters, and the sense of utter futility is strong. I feel like this is about as close as we’ll get to just spending 90 minutes watching a company’s balance sheet slowly ticking up (it made a very small profit, mercifully not enough to bless us with any further sequels). A waste of time on every possible level.

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Rating: thumbs down

 

Ratman (1988)

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I have my friends Val and Nick to thank for this – on holiday in Edinburgh, they spotted the DVD and thought of me. One way of looking at it – it’s good to have friends who buy you things like this; the other way – why did they torture me so? To say it didn’t exactly seize the attention of the people in the room is something of an understatement, but there’s stuff to talk about, should you, dear reader, be in a Fopp shop and wondering whether to drop your hard-earned cash on one of Shameless Videos’ releases.

 

The original title for this movie is, translated from the Italian, “The Villa At The Bottom Of The Park”, which is even less descriptive than the one we ended up with (perhaps “inspired” by “The House At The Edge Of The Park”, because if you’re going to be sleazy you might as well go all out). A scientist, going for his Nobel Prize, has successfully crossed a rat with a monkey.

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Wait, what? Wouldn’t the title of the film be “Rat-Monkey”, then? I wrote that in my notes at the beginning of the movie, and I now dream of the time when that was my biggest problem with it. If you’re in a forgiving mood, you can imagine that Peter Jackson was inspired by this to create the Sumatran rat-monkey which is the driving force behind all-time gore-comedy classic “Braindead” – he is a student of the genre, so it might well be true.

 

So, back to the rat-monkey, which the scientist has left for some reason in the world’s tiniest and most flimsy cage. The hybrid has poison in its claws and teeth which is fatal; and escapes pretty quickly. Ratman is played by Nelson De La Rosa, who was 2’4” and weighed around 16lbs at the time; you may remember him from “The Island Of Dr. Moreau”. I’m not really sure what to think of his use in this movie, although it lends it an exploitation authenticity that few others can touch. Slap a set of fake teeth in him, smear him in brown makeup and put some rags on, and you’re good to go.

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Nothing happens for half an hour. Then Rat-man watches a woman take a shower, at incredible length. Then nothing happens for another half an hour. Finally Rat-man kills a bunch of people, overpowering each and every one of them despite him being about the same size and weight as a small  dog, and being so clearly disabled that his walk is a slow side-to-side trot that anyone could run away from in seconds. Not a single person fights back or shows any desire for self-preservation at all.

 

There are a couple of main characters in it – Janet Agren (“City of The Living Dead”) and David Warbeck (“The Beyond”), but I’ve got no idea why they know each other or what their relationship is. She’s the sister of a model who goes into the jungle for a job, and they both go looking for her and instead encounter Rat-man. Even remembering what happened in this film 24 hours ago is a miserable experience, but I think I’ve given you the highlights.

 

This could well be the dirtiest, sleaziest, broke-looking movie we’ve ever reviewed. Every room is dingily lit, and the walls and floors are filthy. Everyone looks sweaty and ground-down by life, although this could just be the attitude of the actors who were obliged to take roles in a piece of crap like this.  According to about half this movie’s other reviewers, the main highlight is a full-frontal nudity shower scene featuring 80s Euro-hottie Eva Grimaldi, but luckily for those of us in 2016 who want to see that sort of thing, there are millions of websites and DVDs with nothing but nude ladies in them, rendering the need to watch 80 minutes of nothing to see two minutes of showering entirely moot. Add on to that an ending my notes merely described as “bullshit” (luckily, I remember none of it, thanks, chest infection!) and you’ve got something that resembles a movie!

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I’m actually sort of delighted that the era of exploitation cinema is over. It’s useful to remember why they were made – because unpleasant people wanted to make money as easily as possible. They’d have made ballet movies, or documentaries about concrete, if that’s where the money was, and almost to a person had no aptitude or particular interest in making movies. So we get hype – “you’ve never seen anything like this!” to describe miserable experiences, where huge chunks of nothing are broken up by female nudity or violence. Take “Ratman”, for example, whose DVD cover proudly states:

 

“a glorious exploitation fest of bad taste, worse acting, needless nudity and tense wince-inducing slaughter”.

 

Let’s clean that up a bit.

 

“A boring movie, with some needless nudity but barely any gore”.

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You’re welcome, Shameless Cinema. Of course, the current business model of companies like Shameless are partly responsible for the great swathes of old crappy exploitation movies. I imagine it goes something like:

 

  1. Person finds an old movie he loves and wants to release on DVD
  2. He does so, setting up a company along the way
  3. The connections and money he makes allows him to find some other cool old movies to give the same treatment to
  4. Eventually, quite quickly, he runs out of half-decent movies
  5. He carries on sweeping up whatever garbage movies he can find
  6. He has to lie ever more strongly to generate any interest in it
  7. Everyone stops caring

 

“Ratman” is just so un-entertaining. I feel annoyed towards everyone involved – the director (whose career looks like a series of bandwagon-jumps – spaghetti westerns to giallo to crap like this, plus “Exterminators Of The Year 3000”, and he retired immediately after “Ratman”, dying last month – September 2016); the producers who paid not one cent for any set dressing or anything that might be remotely nice to look at; and now the company that chose lying over just stopping with the DVD producing and obtaining gainful employment elsewhere.

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Is this caring too much about some trash with a Rat-man in it? Probably. It’s dull as hell, though, no matter how much or little you care about it. Sorry, Val and Nick! Thanks for the pressie though!

 

Rating: thumbs down

Deadly Descent: The Abominable Snowman (2013)

Nothing this exciting actually happens

Nothing this exciting actually happens

You know that bit at the end of horror movies when the sole survivor will say “I wonder who the real monsters are?” During those moments, I occasionally joke “the thing with green skin and massive teeth was the monster, you idiot”, but after watching this, humans are the monsters. Specifically, the humans in this movie, who are thoughtless morons and deserve to die in the most horrible way possible.

 

This is the third of our SyFy Channel yeti / sasquatch / abominable snowman reviews (none of them exist, so I don’t care about lumping them all together), along with “Yeti: Curse Of The Snow Demon” and “Abominable”. This is by a million miles the worst of the three, and could well be the worst SyFy movie we’ve ever covered, despite looking decent and having reasonable special effects. Every second of it would be the dumbest second in any other movie, and I’ll try and relate to you just how bad it gets.

DUMBASS

DUMBASS

The first five minutes seems to be in a race to give you as much plot as possible, but to do it in a super-confusing way. Brian (Chuck Campbell, “Jason X”, but twenty times more irritating here) is off up a mountain trying to find his Dad, who was killed when he was a kid. Brian’s climbing partner is killed by a Yeti, a huge brown thing with crazy teeth, and despite the monster standing in front of Brian, shouting, Brian makes it back down the mountain just fine. This scene (like several others) is perhaps victim to an over-zealous special effects department, as it feels like they inserted a yeti in a location that makes no sense. Or perhaps it’s just good old fashioned idiocy?

 

Anyway, Brian waits a bit and then goes back up the mountain, driven by the desire to kill the yeti once and for all; he gets a lift from local rescue helicopter pilot Mark (Adrian Paul, “Highlander”, and even though I like him a lot, he’s pretty rotten in this). Finding the monster extremely quickly, he’s attacked and we think that’s the end for him.

 

So then a search operation is put on for Brian. This includes proper search & rescue teams, and when a couple of their skiers are eaten, they halt proceedings, and it’s up to Brian’s sister Nina (Lauren O’Neil), his old Army CO Rick (Nicholas Boulton), a newly married couple who are also his old army buddies, despite looking way too young, Stacey and Jon (Elizabeth Croft and Sam Cassidy) and a guy called Erlander whose introduction I missed (Sean Teale). The crucial information you need at this juncture is that Nina bills herself as an expert on mountaineering and the local area; and that everyone else has spent some time in the Army.

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When they get up there and immediately panic and mess up, causing Jon to break his leg and eventually get eaten, them to lose their only method of communicating with the outside world, and turning Erlander into a gibbering wreck, you might reasonably shout at the screen “this is what the Army trained you to do?” Their complete lack of preparation and ability in any field of endeavour would be funny, if this were supposed to be a comedy. As you’re supposed to be cheering them on, their failure and incompetence – before they ever meet the yeti or come close to rescuing Brian, lest we forget – is less than ideal.

 

Eventually, they happen upon an enormous ski lodge, five stories high or so, closed for the season, and in it they find Brian, who’s perfectly fine (escape from yeti no.2) and is just waiting for the creature to turn up so he can kill it. With a pistol. The monster that’s a good 12 feet tall and weighs a ton or so (despite being described by one of the characters as 8’, 6-700 lbs) is not going to be stopped by a pistol, and given Brian’s army training, you might reasonably expect him to know this, and have access to better firearms.

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A quick pause from discussing the futility of their endeavours. Brian is fine, at this moment, so just think about the number of people who die trying to rescue a person who’s not only capable of leaving the mountain under their own steam, but doesn’t want to be rescued…and all the money and people-hours that went into the search. Six people die because of him, but is he remotely remorseful? Not a bit. I’m not even sure the movie is aware he’s sort of a dick for doing all this. When they blow up the ski lodge to try and stop a yeti later, causing millions of dollars of damage (not a lot of insurance against “I thought I was killing a mythical creature”) and ensuring jail time for the survivors, it’s just passed over as if, well, this is the sort of thing you do in monster movies, so we’ve got to do them!

 

During a fight at the lodge, Erlander is seen looking close to death and bleeding from the mouth, but is perfectly fine in the next scene…Brian and Rick take a break from barricading to discuss their relationships with Nina, because “Scriptwriting For Sociopaths” says you need a quiet character moment to provide a counterpoint to the action, never mind if it makes the remotest bit of sense. And Mark falls off the wagon (we see him drinking milk at the beginning) and we’re treated to some of the most embarrassing drunk acting of all time from Adrian Paul. The bit later, where he positions the helicopter just right so Nina can ski off a cliff straight into the passenger seat is just the icing on the cake – I’ll accept that sort of nonsense in a Fast & Furious movie, where physics is just a mild annoyance, but not from this.

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Liberally sprinkle skiing footage, to the point where even an enthusiast would go “okay, I think we’ve seen enough skiing now” and you’ve got yourself one of the most annoying movies we’ve seen in some time. Rotten acting performances, a script of almost mind-bending stupidity (courtesy of Nathan Atkins, who also did the much better “Cold Fusion” with Adrian Paul in it) and lousy direction (can we use the excuse it was a very early English-language movie for Marko Mäkilaakso? No) produce something which is only of use to you if you enjoy shouting abuse at the screen every thirty seconds or so. Absolutely bottom-of-the-barrel. That it was shot in Bulgaria in 13 days doesn’t justify it, just makes me sad. Shame on everyone who thought this was good enough to release.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Zombi 3 (1988) (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters 2)

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9 years is a long time in the movies. Kevin Smith went from “Clerks” to the thoroughly miserable “Jersey Girl”; David Gordon Green went from “All The Real Girls” to the unfunny “Your Highness”; Will Ferrell went from “Anchorman” to “Anchorman 2”; Michael Paul Girard went from “Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars” to “Different Strokes: The Story Of Jack And Jill And Jill” (okay, I was reaching a bit by the last one). The point being, many a great / promising career has fallen off the rails, and so it would seem at least initially with Lucio Fulci. “Zombi 2” is a genuinely brilliant film, a horror classic, whereas this, well, isn’t.

 

There are several explanations. Up til 1983’s “Conquest” (his first big-budget movie) he was pretty much untouchable, with gem after gem, but going to make that caused him to break off relations with his regular scriptwriter – everything he made after then seemed corny. Or maybe it’s his health – at some point in the mid 80s he began to suffer with diabetes, and this  along with other medical issues caused the early end of his career and can be blamed for the lack of effort shown in his later movies. It’s the second one that’s probably the case here, as he was unable to finish filming due to ill health, and production was handed over to…Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso!

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Yes, Mattei and Fragasso are firm “favourites” here at the ISCFC, having given us “Shocking Dark”, “Strike Commando” and “Robowar”, and while reports vary on just how big their hand was in “Zombi 3” (Fulci said they did minor reshoots, Mattei said they directed anywhere between a third and half the finished product), by quality it’s certainly right down there in their wheelhouse. But enough of my baseless allegations against dead Italians! We’ve got a movie to discuss!

 

A group of scientist employed by the military are working on “Death-One”, a virus which brings the dead back to life – although the movie never bothers mentioning it, one can assume it’s so the army can send a bunch of undead soldiers onto the battlefield. Oh, authority figures, when will you ever learn? The first test subject we see ought to have been listed in the credits as “overacting zombie”, because he goes all out with the gurning and the moaning, but he’s sadly not in it very much, as the main thrust of the plot comes from a different direction.

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Firstly, a guy steals a sample of Death-One and manages to evade the army security; then, when he’s been shot at, dropped the sample, and become infected with it, he bites a few people. The army captures and kills him, but decides to burn his body, letting his ashes into the atmosphere. This isn’t the first similarity to “Return Of The Living Dead” you’ll notice, released a few years before this and a big enough hit that it was mined for scenes by Italian exploitation-movie folk. It’s the military’s fault, and their incompetence allowed it to escape, after all!

 

The bulk of the movie is idiots slowly getting killed and being completely unable to defend themselves. A group of your traditional horror movie “meat” (hot girls, boring guys) meets up with three army guys in a jeep and they get attacked by a bunch of birds which were poisoned with the ash-cloud. Holing up in a hotel, they get the most astonishing good luck in movie history and just find a crate of guns; the girl who was pecked by the birds slowly gets worse and worse before “dying”. A few of them try to find a doctor but get killed on the way and then white-overall-wearing guys from the Army attempt to kill everyone in the entire area, infected or not.

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The more I thought about “Zombi 2”, the more I enjoyed it – a masterpiece of grungy horror filmmaking. This, on the other hand, is a catalogue of how not to do it, with a few “classic” mistakes, and a whole heap of new ones. From the notes I made, I could go on for hours, but I’ll try and stick to the main ones. Firstly, if you’ve got black people in your movie and you need to dub them, please pick an accent that doesn’t sound like the maid from the Tom & Jerry cartoons; because black people like watching movies too, and might not be too thrilled by that. If you’ve got a virus-based zombie-ism outbreak, then it might be handy to have all your zombies behave in roughly the same way – instead, we have slow zombies, fast zombies, zombies that jump from tall buildings, zombies that wield weapons, a zombie which is just a flying head (?!), and eventually zombies that talk. Also, it might be handy if it takes roughly the same amount of time to turn you from human to undead – but we see a few people take days to turn, but one woman go from human to zombie in what must have been seconds (the woman who falls into the water, if you decide to watch this to fact-check my review).

 

There’s a scene where two female survivors meet a heavily pregnant woman, and the obvious conclusion to proceedings is going to be “baby is a zombie”. So you wait, and wait, and then they send the woman with a bad leg off to find help while the healthy woman stays with the pregnant lady, and you wait, til eventually…an adult-sized hand tears its way out of the woman and throttles the remaining helper. What the hell? I suppose surprising is good?

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Those are new and fresh mistakes, but they sprinkle in a few classics too. The ending, where three people go for the helicopter which handily appears out of nowhere, has two people getting in and a third holding the zombies off. When he’s done his thing, he runs for the helicopter, which for some reason has decided to hover 10 feet off the ground, making it almost impossible for the third guy to get in (he doesn’t, and dies). Why not just wait ten more seconds, you assholes? But my favourite, my all-time most annoying thing about zombie movies, is the person who gets infected and decides to keep it to themselves. Seriously, you dumb git, what do you think will happen? Go hand yourself in, someone might be able to help you! Arrghh! Thank you, dear reader, if felt good to get that off my chest.

 

The biggest problem, though, bigger than a movie full of idiots with no sense of self-preservation, is the troubled production. Whether Fulci left due to ill health or arguments with the producers, it left a very bad final product. Because Mattei and Fragasso didn’t have access to all the actors, the “main” plot ends up feeling weirdly isolated in the middle of the movie, and all the stuff with the guys in white is obviously added afterwards. And there’s a subplot with a radio DJ which I get the feeling was added to explain what the hell was going on, and to give us more of a plot (it’s all to do with the environment, you guys). Aside: the set dressing for Blue Heart (the DJ) leaves a little to be desired – when we get a very brief glimpse of what’s on his set-list for the day, the only thing written on it is “play Beatles song”. Lovely!

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We’re left with a mess. Fulci’s section is the work of a director devoid of inspiration, fighting a studio and probably illness. If you think Fulci’s stuff was the gold, then I would like to point out that the flying head, as dumb an effect as a zombie movie has ever had, was his favourite scene. Mattei and Fragasso’s section is…typical work from the two of them, only not as much fun as the stuff we’ve covered so far (more “Hell Of The Living Dead”, less “Shocking Dark”). The acting, such as we can see through the dubbing, is flat, and nothing works.

 

Up next, all the other movies that have been released somewhere in the world as “Zombi 3”, two of those movies are favourites of mine (“Virgin Among The Living Dead” and “Burial Ground”), so the next week of reviews ought to be fun. And we finally get the answer to why Italy seemed to mock copyright for so long!

 

Rating: thumbs down

Hellraiser: Revelations (2011)

91yLmrhdEdL._SY445_So, we come to the end of yet another horror franchise – yes, we might be getting either a sequel or a reboot this year, but so far this is as much “Hellraiser” as we have. My friend Dave, sadly no longer with us, loved “Hellraiser”, and once horrified me by telling me about parts 5-8 – like, how could the franchise have kept going but flew so low under the radar of even a horror fan like me? I got to return the favour when I learned about part 9, and his child-like glee at the prospect of yet another instalment is a happy memory.

 

This movie only exists due to a clause in the original contract, a clause that also gave us the (unreleased) “Fantastic Four” movie in the 1990s and no doubt several other completely unnecessary sequels. If Dimension Films didn’t do something with “Hellraiser” at least every five years, the rights would revert – and they decided, apparently on the spur of the moment, that the cost of making a new one would be less than the potential lost profits from a big-budget reboot somewhere down the road.

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From that indifference, we get this! Made for an almost unthinkably small (for a major studio) $300,000, with an entire production time of 3 weeks, including 11 days shooting time. Publicity, such as they could be bothered with, included the line “from the mind of Clive Barker”, to which Barker responded on Twitter:

 

Hello, my friends. I want to put on record that the flick out there using the word Hellraiser IS NO FUCKIN’ CHILD OF MINE! I have NOTHING to do with the fuckin’ thing. If they claim it’s from the mind of Clive Barker, it’s a lie. It’s not even from my butt-hole.

 

(which would be a better statement if everything he’d written since the mid 90s hadn’t been utter pish, but there you go). But I suppose we ought to get on to the movie itself – it’s usually a good sign that it’s going to suck when I take this long to mention it at all.

 

From the very first thing you see – a cheap-looking Times New Roman fonted “Hellraiser: Revelations” – it’s really obvious it’s going to be a bad one. And then…found footage! Damn you! The poison that’s killed off modern horror, found footage movies are popular to make because they’re cheap, and you don’t have to worry about framing or lighting a scene correctly, and can skimp on special effects. Two young men are off to Tijuana for a weekend of partying, and have decided for absolutely no reason to film their exploits – even though they’re both aiming to have sex, and one of them (Nico) has a girlfriend (Emma) who’s the sister of the other partier (Steven).

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Luckily, ish, the found footage stops after five minutes or so and we’re introduced to our main set, a large suburban home, some unspecified time after this filming, where the mother of one of the boys is watching the tape. Both sets of parents are getting together for a dinner party, and it turns out that Nico and Steven went missing, the parents hired a private detective, but all they found was a bag of their stuff, including the video camera and…yes, you guessed it, the box we all know and love, the Lament Configuration!

 

We cut between the parents getting angry with themselves and each other, Emma thinking about opening the box, and the further Mexican adventures of Nico and Steven. Now, it feels almost churlish to bring this up, but there’s one scene where they’re talking to a beautiful young woman in a bar, and we not only see the camcorder footage, but “properly” shot stuff from the reverse angle. They couldn’t have made it any more obvious that it was being employed as a cost-saving measure, but they can’t even be bothered to stick close to their original conceit in the next scene, where Nico is having sex with the girl in a toilet, and Steven walks in on them. We see Steven filming this, but at times when the camcorder is on the floor, Emma reacts as if she’s seeing what the movie is seeing, from a completely different angle. Does this make sense? It’s chuffing terrible, is what I’m saying.

 

The plot, garbled as it is, sort of rips off the first movie. A tramp gives the boys the box, and tells them about ultimate pleasure and pain, the flesh, all that gubbins, so of course they open it and Pinhead shows up. Nico is taken to the Cenobite dimension, and Steven is left there, and it’s only when he hires a hooker himself and kills her with the cube that the blood soaks into the mattress and Nico pops out of it, demanding more blood so he can get his body back.

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We’ve mentioned Pinhead, so I guess we ought to go into that. Doug Bradley didn’t sign on for two reasons – one, the script was a first draft and to his mind was unfinished; and two, his fee would only have been enough to buy a new fridge. The sensible option would’ve been to use a different Cenobite, but that involves having an original thought, and this movie is painfully short on original thoughts.  So they hired Stephan Smith Collins, a jobbing actor, gave him a rough approximation of the classic Pinhead makeup, but didn’t bother giving him an imposing or interesting voice. We also see Pinhead creating a new Pinhead out of who we think is Nico (no spoilers!), driving nails into his head and giving him squares of skin from his victims to cover his head up – despite this not being anything like the original Pinhead’s origin, such as we saw of it.

 

So Stephen shows up after Emma half-opens the box, dazed and covered in blood, and no-one thinks to ask “where the hell have you been for the last six months?” or “why didn’t you call rather than walk here?” There’s twists and turns and the Cenobites pop up again at the end, because of course they do. We learn that all hookers in Mexico are apparently Asian, that movies will feature the off-screen killing of a baby to try and generate some cheap publicity, and that Steven looks and acts like a very poor man’s Jared Padalecki.

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It’s truly, thoroughly, miserably rotten. One example – “Steven” shoots his dad in the stomach then proceeds to rant about how rubbish parents are, which makes his dad give him a loving speech about “maybe you’ll understand when you have kids”. He just shot you! Have some self-respect! It feels like a very bad play, with its miniscule number of locations, crappy acting and underbaked script. How the hell did the private investigator recover their camera and the box? What sleazy Mexican motel wouldn’t have sold that camera before their bodies were even cold?

 

Actually, it’s worse than that. It’s the very bottom of filmmaking, made for one reason only, to retain the rights to the name in the cheapest manner possible. As such, it doesn’t deserve mockery or laughter, just contempt. Every penny spent on this movie is a penny to kill any creativity the movie industry may possess. For real laughs, check out the very end, which is supposed to be setup for a sequel. The look on the below actress is supposed to represent hidden sexuality and longing, not vague boredom, in case you were wondering.

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Now we’re done, should you watch any of them? Yes, of course. The first four are all surprisingly good, even if part 3 is definitely an acquired taste. The re-edited part 4 might even be the best of the bunch, and there’s at least something to enjoy about parts 5 to 8 as well. Let us not forget part 9, but remember it whenever a sequel to a once-beloved franchise comes out several years after the last one, to little fanfare.

 

Rating: all the thumbs ever, down

Detention (2010)

The most overused poster template ever?

The most overused poster template ever?

Given how fantastic 2011’s “Detention” was, I realised that the 2010’s namesake would be unlikely to be as good. But I wasn’t fully prepared for just how rotten it would be, something that looks vaguely like a movie but doesn’t fulfil any of your normal expectations (coherent plot, believable characters, any sense of pace, fun or enjoyment).

 

Let’s start at the beginning, in 1976. A group of kids that look absolutely nothing like kids from 1976 are breaking into their school at night to steal something, maybe? It turns out they just want to play a “prank” on Gabriel the nerdy student by locking him in a steel cupboard – only a lightning strike from the storm outside rather implausibly sets him on fire. The pranksters run away and poor Gabriel burns to death, really quickly too.

 

Fast forward to the present day, and…bloody hell, if you can’t tell 90% of the plot from those first five minutes, then I’m surprised you’re clever enough to read. A group of students are given detention for all sorts of reasons, and the only tension of any kind is whether they’re there to solve the mystery of what happened in the 70s and free the restless spirit, or whether they’re the kids of the original students who left Gabriel to die, and he’s manipulated the whole thing so he can get revenge (hint: it’s option 2).

Check out the text of this news report

Check out the text of this news report

The headmaster is David Carradine, one of his astonishing 11 post-death IMDB credits. Oh, and there’s a teacher with an English accent called Miss Cipher (seriously) who knows more than she’s letting on. Played by Alexa Jago, her first ever screen appearance was in “Witchcraft 3”, so welcome back to the ISCFC, Alexa! The students feel like the first time they ever met was the first time the cameras rolled, and are a miserable group of stereotypes. Rich haughty girl; her boyfriend, and I didn’t buy them as a couple for a second; goth girl; stoner; angry jock; cute nerdy girl and cute nerdy guy.

 

So, they’re initially trapped in the detention room without their phones, the Coach who’s taking detention disappears (or maybe he dies, it’s all very poorly shot), the Principal dies because the producers could only afford David Carradine for a few days, and a mysterious spirit stalks the halls, possessing people, making them hallucinate, and so on. If you’ve seen any kids-trapped-in-school horror, you’ll know exactly how it works and “Detention” does not try anything original at all. They try a twist, but it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever (it relies on someone we’ve seen get possessed by an evil spirit be actually evil all along, a spirit which has already shown it can jump out of dead bodies deciding to just stay in one), although “making no sense whatsoever” at least fits in with the rest of the movie.

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Now, just from reading this short recap, I bet you’ve got some questions. Like, how did all the 70s students have kids at exactly the same time, and stay in the same school area? Did the spirit manipulate reality so they could all get detention on the same day? Why did it kill a bunch of people who had nothing to do with Gabriel’s death, like a couple of middle-aged workmen (one of whom is the great “That Guy” actor John Capodice)? Who moved that one corpse so our hero could helpfully pull a sword from its chest on their way to the showdown? It’s not all unanswered questions, though. Okay, it’s mostly unanswered questions. But there’s rotten effects too – the burning scene is laughably bad, and the ghost doesn’t look much better either. Sprinkle a few of the more tedious teen horror clichés and there you go.

 

I don’t want to blame the kids and their acting – they have no chemistry, but that’s the job of the director. Talking of him, there’s a relationship with the director of our last review, “Hellraiser 3” – the Hickox brothers! James directed this, Anthony directed that. Think of them as like Ridley and Tony Scott, but in the sense that the Scotts are the Beatles and the Hickoxes are a Beatles cover band that get bottled off the stage in your local pub. It feels sloppy, like “will this do?” was the most common words uttered on set.

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We’re reviewing every movie with this title for no reason, so hopefully we’ve got the really rotten one out of the way first. Please avoid at all costs. I’ll leave you with one cheery thought, though – from a budget of around $2 million, its box office return was…$190. So there is justice in the world!

 

Rating: thumbs down