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

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The Immortal Voyage Of Captain Drake (2009)

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Once again, SyFy Channel have made a movie that I imagine looked a lot better on paper than it did in execution. Adrian Paul, who’s a fine comedic leading man, as a heavily fictionalised version of Sir Francis Drake, with tales of derring-do as he takes on Spanish captain Don Sandovate – played by the Maori actor Temuera Morrison. Throw a few CGI creatures in there and that’s your recipe for a SyFy movie. But it ended up a bit…silly?

 

Drake is “the Queen’s Pirate”, rightly enough (they must have run out of time to talk about him being heavily involved in slavery) and as we join him he’s defeating Sandovate and stealing his stuff. Only Sandovate kidnaps his daughter, Isabella (Moroccan-born actress Sofia Pernas, in her movie debut) who’s also the girlfriend of Drake’s first mate, Easton (Wes Ramsey, doing a perfectly passable English accent). There’s a super-obvious “I’m going to betray you later” guy in Drake’s crew, as well as the world’s smartest fellow who regularly spouts deep philosophy in an Italian accent. So, all in all, things look good so far.

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A Sultan then gets his magical overacting assistant lady to cause a storm to bring Drake to his castle and things go a bit off the rails. He wants Drake to go and find the Tree Of Life and bring back its fruit, because all his people are dying of some disease or other – if he returns, he’ll return all his treasure, multiplied by 20. So off Drake pops, pursued swiftly by Sandovate, and we’re then treated to a giant monster fights, trickery and backstabbing; Isabella escapes and is re-captured, and the Tree Of Life seems no nearer.

 

“Drake” is hampered mostly by its presumably very low budget. There’s a lot of boat-y CGI, and it’s really cheap-looking – perhaps they paid some company to do it, and had to use it based on their outlay, because there’s no other reason a film made in 2009 should look that bad. All the outfits look far too clean and new to belong to long-time sea dogs, and Sandovate’s is the worst of the lot, resembling nothing more than a kid’s set of toy armour. “My First Conquistador” perhaps? The beyond cheap snow effect at the end (as they track the Tree to the North Pole) is just par for this sad course.

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If it’s anything, it’s a Middle Ages version of “National Treasure” (this observation was by my wife, as she’s reading this over my shoulder and demands credit), as our heroes consult maps, make surprising links from very thin premises, and go on wild goose chases. Plato apparently drew a map which not only features Atlantis but also the exact locations of every other famous mythical place, so they need to decipher that; they see the hidden words in normal texts, and so on. It’s kind of a fun idea but with one guy so amazingly smart, it ends up just being him explaining large chunks of the plot to the rest of the crew.

 

Of course, the main reason people would be watching this is Adrian Paul, and he doesn’t disappoint. He plays Drake as sort of a dick at the beginning, and it’s only when it’s revealed just how evil Sandovate is that you understand why. Otherwise, he’s channeling the spirit of Errol Flynn, crossed with his own lighter moments on “Highlander”. I like Adrian Paul, but of course your mileage may vary (and if you don’t, then there’s no reason to watch this movie) but I get the feeling he might be difficult to work with. Case in point – Drake’s accent. Despite Drake being English, and no-one really knowing what accent he would have had, therefore it being fine for Paul to play the part with his own also English accent, he goes for some weird mix of Irish and Cockney which I can’t imagine was the director’s choice. “Hey, Adrian, why not just use your own accent?” he might have gone, to which he got the reply, “nah, I got this. Don’t worry!”

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I love that they tried going for the spirit of the old “Jason And The Argonauts” movies, with a lightly camp tone and lots of fun locations and monsters, but it didn’t quite work. Script not quite tight enough, budget too small, everything just a little off. I presume writer Rafael Jordan doesn’t remember a thing about this, as he’s written what seems like half of the last decade’s SyFy Channel movies – from “Lost Colony: The Legend Of Roanoake” (also starring Paul) to “Frost Giant” to “Stonados” to “Ragin Cajun Redneck Gators” to “Crystal Skulls” – wow, did I ever hate “Crystal Skulls” – he’s prolific but sadly, on this occasion, uninspired. Director David Flores, on the other hand, is only responsible for a few other SyFy movies, having done “Invasion Roswell” and “Sands Of Oblivion” (which we loved).

 

I wish they’d had a little more time and money, because I love this sort of adventure movie. And it was set up for either a sequel or a TV series too, with most of the characters surviving and lots of locations to re-visit. A (slight) shame.

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Rating: thumbs in the middle

Cold Fusion (2011)

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After checking out a thoroughly average, if very early, SyFy Channel original movie last week, I didn’t have much hope for this one. I remembered all the dull plots and lack of action and dumb suplots and ugly sets, and forgot the ones I’d enjoyed; that turns out to have been a mistake. “Cold Fusion” is rarely mentioned in “favourite SyFy movie” conversations – perhaps because very few people have those sorts of conversations – even though it’s really rather good.

 

Adrian Paul! Forever in our hearts thanks to “Highlander: The Series”, he’s got form in this field, appearing in “Apocalypse Pompeii”, “AE: Apocalypse Earth” and “Lost Colony: The Legend Of Roanoake”, among others. I get the feeling he either thought he was a bigger deal than he really was, at the end of Highlander’s run, or had an agent pouring sugar in his ear; either way, the relative failure of the Highlander movies with him in, meant that within a couple of years he was back on TV in “Tracker”, a one-series-and-cancelled genre show. Since then, it’s been starring roles in low-budget movies like this, trading on his former success, and while I think he had the talent to do more, he’s probably found a comfortable level for himself.

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Two UFOs crash on Earth, one in Russia, the other in the USA. They appear the same, classic flying saucers, and before much of anything happens with them we’re flung decades into the future – the present day, in other words. Paul, who these days looks as if he’s permanently just shaved, but the bit he shaved isn’t quite as tanned as the rest of his face, is Unger, an Army guy. He’s part of some super-secret / powerful branch of the Armed Forces that can evidently go toe-to-toe with the CIA, and is dispatched to the site of a gigantic terrorist attack.

 

Right here, about 20 minutes in, my friend Julie and I looked at each other and I was like “ooh, this is a bit too close to the truth”. Unger, unhappy with just blaming it on Iran and sending the troops in, details a series of false-flag operations carried out by Governments in order to build up support for a war (and increase military spending on both sides, of course); and the using of “real” terrorism to inspire war also. It’s well-written by someone who had a bee in their bonnet about this exact thing, I’m guessing. Anyway, Unger needs his best spy on the job, and luckily we’ve already met her too – Lisa (Sarah Brown, better known as a stunt performer). Lisa kicked the ass of an Antarctic base full of Russian baddies, and it’s her intel along with Unger’s almost supernatural powers of deduction that kick the movie off. When there’s a similar attack in Russia, everyone leaps into action, and she’s got to go to the Ukraine, liaise with an undercover agent they already have there, and find out where their terrorists are getting these incredibly powerful, untraceable bombs from.

 

Up to this point, the movie’s been pretty good, if a trifle on the cheap-looking side. Then Lisa goes to Ukraine and meets her contact Ekaterina (Michelle Lee), who’s gone undercover as…an “exotic dancer”. Lisa has to do the same job, so we get an extremely extended demonstration dance, as well as an entire routine later on in the movie. I mean, I can’t speak for their abilities as purveyors of the burlesque arts, but I’m really not sure if we need ten minutes of ladies dancing in their undies in this movie about aliens and terrorism and such.

IMPORTANT TO THE PLOT

IMPORTANT TO THE PLOT

So it turns out to be a big conspiracy, of course, and Lisa and Ekaterina have to kick a ton of ass, destroy the Ukrainian base with the UFO in it, and get home to help Unger expose the conspiracy. And all that stuff is again quite good (Lee and Brown both looking decent in the fight scenes, there’s a good bit of comic relief from one of the Russian scientists, too).

 

If you look at the IMDB listing, Paul is top-billed, and there’s no way he should be. He’s in the movie for about ten minutes and only shows up at three locations – a burned out street, a computer-filled nerve centre and a generic office. Brown is far better than any stuntperson-turned-actor has any right to be, and it’s sort of surprising she didn’t try and get more straight action roles; I’d call her the star of this, despite her being weirdly passive at times (and the whole subplot about finding out why her Dad was a baddie agent was almost the definition of filler, if we’d not already had tons of dancing used the same way).

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It’s an interesting idea, about the uses we’d probably put alien technology to, and how the military-industrial complex actually wants more war, all the time; it’s got a couple of decent central performances; another pass or two at the screenplay would have been nice, but it’s SyFy and we take what we can get.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

War of the Worlds: Goliath (2012)

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The War of the Worlds is an amazing piece of fiction which has inspired a prog rock musical and numerous other media.

The 1950s film, although quite dissimilar to the original novel, was a great influence in my formative years, together with its peer, The Time Machine, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Day of the Triffids and the Quatermass trilogy.

So when I spotted the animated sequel (and it really does wear it’s heart on its sleeve, even licensing the song “Forever Autumn” from Jeff Wayne’s musical), War of the Worlds: Goliath on Netflix, I was equally intrigued and equally dubious about a film whose description is “Forget World War I. The real fight is the Red Baron, Nikola Tesla and Teddy Roosevelt vs. The Martians, steampunk style.”

So of course I watched it. Set 15 years after the fall of the Martians, it describes a very changed Earth. Having reverse engineered Martian technology, Earth’s technology level is years ahead of the real world equivalent.

"Steampunk tripods!"

“Steampunk tripods!”

Fearing further invasions from the Martians, the countries of the world (who are still at each other’s throats), have dedicated resources and manpower to a military force dedicated to battling the Martians: A.R.E.S. (Allied Resistance Earth Squadron). They utilise two massive airships which ferry around squadrons of rocket powered triplanes and three-legged walking tanks (humanity’s version of the Martian tripod).

The first third of the film is basically a lot of infighting between the various A.R.E.S. soldiers. They are all of different nationalities and, with their home countries at one another’s throats, arguments are rife.

Then there is a war game which is interrupted by Martians and the rest of the film is humanity fighting Martians. Spoiler alert: humans win. Yay!

To be blunt, this film is a two out of five. At best.

"Martian tripods!"

“Martian tripods!”

The film appears to be someone’s role-playing game turned into a script and then into an animated movie. It’s all there: the steampunk tripods, the military unit with a terrible acronym, the name dropping of famous people in history (the “Red Baron” is the squadron leader of the rocket triplanes…) and the open setting of humans fighting the Wellsian martians. I really would not be surprised if there was a miniatures war game based on this movie.

"The Red Baron!"

“The Red Baron! In a rocket powered triplane!”

Really, the whole plot of the film is like an adventure written for a role-playing game by Bioware, or even for the tabletop, and flows as such. That is, there isn’t much in the way of narrative, just a series of encounters between the soldiers of A.R.E.S. and the Martian war machines (culminating in Teddy Roosevelt standing on top of a building firing a machine gun at alien war machines, no really). It’s kind of like G.I. Joe if it were steampunk. Which probably sounds amazing to a certain strata of nerds but sometimes the “That would be a brilliant idea!” ideas don’t work in reality…

"Teddy Roosevelt with a laser!"

“Teddy Roosevelt with a laser!”

Without much story to support it, the film really is all about the action. Unfortunately, the animation really, really, really lets it down. The design of the various vehicles employed by humans and martians look great but everything else about the animation is done on the cheap. For instance, all the humans, save for the token female, have the same He-Man physique (and if you know the toy line, you will get my double meaning) and whenever a human tripod is damaged, it just explodes (because animating individual models with unique injuries costs more).

The voice animation is serviceable (everyone’s TV immortal, Adrian Paul, and everyone’s favourite right wing gun nut, Adam Baldwin, both make appearances).

And I think serviceable is what sums this movie up: there’s nothing particularly wrong with any aspect of it, it all gets the job done but without anything being particularly inspiring. It could have been a cult favourite but I’m not sure anyone is going to actually watch it. And if they do, I very much doubt they will have anything amazing to say about it. Worth watching if you have nothing better to do, I guess?

TL:DR “The sort of film people think is ‘a brilliant idea’ but is incredibly difficult to do well. It’s really quite bonkers in how over the top it is but isn’t actually all that interesting. “

The Wraiths of Roanoke (2007)

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The story of the lost colony of Roanoke is a fascinating one, and I’d definitely recommend people read about it – it’s got Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake swooping in to save people, mysterious local Native tribes, colourful legends and, most famously, the word “Croatoan” carved on a tree stump as the sole message from the missing colonists.

As the title’s a bit of a giveaway, we’re introduced to our wraith friends at the beginning, slaughtering the initial English camp there. Now, it deviates from the “official” history here, as Raleigh really did rescue most of the colonists, but it’s a cool scene so we shouldn’t be bothered. Then, it’s 6 months later, in the middle of 1587, and the largely historical residents of the Lost Colony arrive. Chief among them is Ananias Dare (Adrian Paul), but there’s also his wife Eleanor (Frida Farrell) and oh-my-god-he-was-in-War-of-the-Worlds Rhett Giles as George Howe. Ananias is friends with a local Native called Manteo, and Manteo is full of warnings about the evil spirits who live on the island, but the British need it as a strategic base against the Spanish so they’re obliged to stay.

As is often the case with movies, the wife is the nagging, shrewish anchor who wants no part of any conflict, although in this film she’s got the added bonus of having dreams of the wraiths to give her protestations an extra edge. She’s like Skyler from “Breaking Bad”, a thankless character, and sadly they picked a not-great actress for the part too, so every time she’s on screen it’s a drag. I don’t blame her, really, I just wish women could be given stronger parts in these things.

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But she’s really the only weak thing about this movie. Well, the only other thing if you count the bizarre stew of accents on display. The descent of the colony from happiness to misery is really well pulled-off, with crops failing, soldiers getting picked off and the local tribes abandoning them. They retreat and retreat and retreat, and Adrian Paul tries his best to hold them all together. He’s great, by the way, my fandom of “Highlander: The Series” probably helps but he does a top job. It’s also a great example of how to do things right, in the way that so many SyFy Channel films fail at – you need something for all three acts, to keep viewers interested. The middle section of this deepens the characters, shows the effects of the futile attack on the local Croatan tribe, and ratchets up the tension with the wraiths even further, as we discover why they’re so interested in Eleanor and her new baby.

Director Matt Codd seems to be working more as a concept artist for big budget films now, which is a shame as he’s got a great sense of how to keep the pace going throughout- but presumably, his other work pays better. This was writer Rafael Jordan’s first credit, and he’s gone on to write a lot of SyFy Channel movies, including “Ragin Cajun Redneck Gators” and “Stonados”. I’d love to see more films like this from SyFy, serious dramas masquerading as monster movies, or just films with as much thought gone into them as this one did. If they repeat it, it’s definitely worth a watch.

Rating: thumbs up

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Apocalypse Pompeii (2014)

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I have a lot of time for Adrian Paul and John Rhys Davies, stars of two of my favourite series of the 90s, “Highlander” and “Sliders” (okay, they were both really cheesy, but I loved em). So any film where their names are above the title will have me in attendance.

I probably shouldn’t have bothered, though. I suppose this is a mockbuster for the soon-to-be-released “Pompeii”, but if it’s anything it’s a painfully ordinary recreation of a hundred other Asylum films, with the same beats, the same non-locations, the same wooden supporting people and the same everything else. It’s the morning after I watched it, and the details are already fast slipping from my mind.

Volcanoes be eruptin’. The Galapagos Islands are wiped out, then we see Adrian Paul, his wife and daughter on a trip to Italy. Dad is going to do some business deal in Naples (turns out he’s a former Black Ops Marine, and is now setting up a private security firm) and the ladies are going to see Pompeii. Well, almost as soon as they get there, Vesuvius erupts, and there we have the two sides of the film – mother and daughter trying to survive the eruption, father trying to rescue them.

JRD is a NATO army guy who helps out Dad by hooking him up with members of his old Black Ops unit, all of whom were conveniently located in Naples. I thought “ol John Rhys Davies, he looks like he’s playing the same part he played in “100 Degrees Below Zero”, and an IMDB check reveals that in this, he’s Colonel Carlos Dillard (Carlos is definitely a name I’d associate with an old Welshman) and in “100 Degrees…” he’s Colonel Ralph Dillard. What an odd bit of continuity across their films!

The scriptwriter clearly read the Wikipedia page on volcanoes in preparation for this, and his mouthpiece is the daughter, who knows all the tricks for avoiding the worst of the lava, the dangerous gases, and so on. So, blah blah blah. As a substitute for dramatic tension, the film just kills off cast members fairly regularly, but you know who’s going to survive anyway.

Time for a spoiler, just to indicate how terribly terribly dull this film is and how you definitely shouldn’t watch it. There are news reports of other volcanoes erupting, and with the title, you think there’s going to be an apocalypse, right? But then, right at the end, as our heroes stand and look proudly out over the ash, we get a from-nowhere radio news voice telling us the eruption is all done and everything’s going to be fine. Huh?

It’s all so pointless. The middle of the film is the mum and daughter sat in a room with the other survivors, talking, while Dad and friends are in a helicopter, talking. No drama, no spectacle, no nothing. Adrian Paul was never a great actor and it shows, while John Rhys Davies, who’s a fine actor when he tries, appears to be wearing a brand new set of false teeth which look horrible and affect the way he talks. And obviously isn’t trying either. Sorry John.

It’s not worth watching for a laugh, and it’s not worth watching for any level of excitement or fun either. Boo to this film.

Rating: thumbs down

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