6-Headed Shark Attack (2018)

Well, dear reader, it appears adding a head was the way to go because the difference between this and the same year’s “5 Headed Shark Attack” is night and day. While it’s a very long way from being a great film, it’s still a lot of fun, better paced and better acted than its predecessor.

That might be related to director / co-writer Mark Atkins, who got his start as a cinematographer for The Asylum (“Snakes On A Train”, “Transmorphers: Fall Of Man” and many others from their mockbuster era) and has directed his fair share too – “Sand Sharks”, an ISCFC favourite, was one of his, and he’s also responsible for a series of movies (beginning with “Empire of the Sharks”) where sharks have taken over the world after the melting of the polar ice caps. Will there ever be an end to shark movies? It appears Atkins is one of the bigger talents working in this low budget world, and this movie just adds to the plus column on his resume.

In the Isla De Corazon area of Mexico, William (Brandon Auret) runs a marriage boot camp, with four dysfunctional couples attending. Well, it’s a wooden structure and a few shacks, the actual camp is hinted at more than shown. Well, it’s not even hinted at, the Asylum long since stopped caring about such things. The four couples are…interesting, visually? Two of them are young women with much older men – oddest of all, contract lawyer Mary (German-South African actor Thandi Sebe) and her angry husband James (Cord Newman, better known as a stunt performer and possessed of one of the oddest heads of hair I can remember).

Shark! The cold open of the movie is the shark’s first attack, from 1984, against the members of a scientific base – a base which appears to be nothing more than three different pontoons, tied together, with a rack of test tubes and a few papers lying around – you know, like all high-end scientific establishments! This, at least, provides some explanation for the titular creature, who’s the result of experiments at this base. The five-headed version was just…there?

The movie doesn’t waste a lot of time getting going, which is nice. The couples bicker, William and his estranged wife, his partner in the boot camp, are getting divorced (irony!), and they keep getting chased or eaten by the shark. I like Duke (Jonathan Pienaar), one of the older men, who turns into a natural hunter when the rest of the men are panicking. He doesn’t last all that long, but he has a great impact.

So the movie rips along, and it has a shark with, as advertised, six heads (none of that oddness with the last head being in the tail, like in the previous movie). But it does have some problems. Firstly, they all wear wetsuits – which they keep on for the rest of the movie – for a relatively short swim from the shore to a party pontoon that William owns. Now, this would be pretty unlikely if you’re in the nice warm waters of Mexico; completely normal if they were filming somewhere like Canada or Eastern Europe, where lots of movies are located and where it’s quite cold. Obviously, two of the women constantly remove the top half of their wetsuits so you can see them in their flimsy bras, I mean, this is still low budget cinema we’re talking about here.

Later on, the female half of the hippy couple says she’s a meteorologist and there’s a storm coming; William suggests they shelter in a nearby lighthouse but she says there’s not enough time and they should shelter in that same base from 1984, which is still floating off the island and still containing the exact same items in the same condition as they were 35 years ago. Not enough time to get to the lighthouse, because of the storm. Want to guess if that storm ever shows up? And if they eventually go to the lighthouse and ignore the hippy lady? It’s possible she’s just a really bad meteorologist, which would be sort of a fun twist.

I would like to talk about the shark now. Six heads, as advertised, but the only two that do anything are the front ones. The four at the side are only used as – wait for it – legs when the shark starts attacking them on land! The back two “heads” have a pretty rough deal of it, if we’re being honest, and I feel sorry for them. Thank heavens they share a stomach, I guess. I presume the special effects people just used a crap template and mapped shark features to it, which gives the poor creature a very peculiar look.

There’s oddly timed deaths, an implausible growing romance at the centre of things and stuff like the shark swimming so fast in a circle it causes a whirlpool which capsizes a boat, and the volume of silly stuff happening without it being pitched as a particularly camp movie does wear after a while.

But, you know, after such a miserable previous instalment, I can’t complain about this one. The acting, especially Brandon Auret as William, Jonathan Pienaar as Duke and Thandi Sebe as Mary, is strong (fun fact: Sebe’s sister Naima is one of the other people at the marriage boot camp, it might have been fun if they’d done some “you look familiar” jokes). The effects are cheap but okay, there’s only one egregious “it was daylight, then night really quickly, then daylight in the next scene” transition, and despite a little lull as they realised they started things off quickly and had nowhere to go for act 2, it’s a fine little movie.

Let’s hope that, after this, the final “Sharknado” is my last encounter with Asylum, having promised to stop watching their cheap-and-un-cheerful movies several times now.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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5-Headed Shark Attack (2017)

A while ago, I came up with “Indifference Theory” when talking about SyFy Channel original movies. It’s not my most original thought, but quoting myself from years ago saves me having to write something new (and this movie does not deserve that).

SyFy Channel need material cheap enough to allow them to make a profit from selling advertising. They absolutely don’t care what it is or if it’s any good or not, and nor do the advertisers. The director has a set amount of time and money, and knows that if the film’s good, bad or indifferent, it makes no difference to him. People watching it are either like me (hipster scumbag film reviewers) or people who saw the title and thought it would be marginally better than staring at a wall for 2 hours. And thus the Indifference Theory creates another film enjoyed by no-one (not the people who made it, paid for it or watched it) and which will disappear without a trace, save a footnote in a few academic treatises about SyFy’s only real success, Sharknado. I will hopefully have forgotten it in a few days, and this review will drift into the ether, to the delight of no-one.

I missed out on “3-Headed Shark Attack”, which had Danny Trejo and pro wrestling legend Rob Van Dam in it, and there was no 4-headed version, so I’m jumping straight from “2-Headed Shark Attack”. And it seems several of my criticisms of that can be applied to this, but before we get to that let’s discuss the IMDB synopsis.

Shaped like a demented starfish, a monster 5-headed shark terrorizes the open ocean before invading the beaches of Puerto Rico, endangering the once peaceful island paradise.

Hmmm.

Shaped like a demented starfish

No it isn’t.

a monster 5-headed shark terrorizes the open ocean

No it doesn’t.

before invading the beaches of Puerto Rico, endangering the once peaceful island paradise.

This movie set in a peaceful island paradise was released in 2017. Also in 2017, Hurricane Maria landed in Puerto Rico, causing $91 billion in damage and leaving the island devastated, devastation it has yet to recover from.

After a surprisingly strong environmental message about plastic in the ocean, we just meet the titular shark, who for the first half of the movie only appears to have four heads. The fifth head is…at the end of its tail. How does that even work? Am I a fool for even worrying about the logic of a movie called “Five Headed Shark Attack”? Anyway, a photographer and his distinctly average-looking models are eaten by the shark, so the Puerto Rican cops go to the local aquarium and ask the director and the head scientist about the creature.

The director sees dollar signs and the scientist sees…science, I guess? So they take the students / interns and go looking for a shark – only one of them dies so they have to get help. That help is Red, the movie’s comic relief / hero, a boat captain who has a romantic history with the scientist, Dr Angie. Like all scientists (and like the stars of 2-Headed Shark Attack) they take no scientific equipment, and use a flimsy tourist boat. Oh god I’m bored of writing about this so you must be bored as hell of reading about it.

There’s a grand total of one funny or clever line in this movie, when the students complain that Red is yet to catch the shark. “That’s why they call it fishing, not catching” is his reply, and it may be old as the hills, but it’s new to me. The rest of the dialogue is abysmal, which might be related to the three credited writers, none of whom have much in the way of previous writing credits. Or director Nico De Leon, for whom this is his only credit of any kind. Who knows.

It’s just so dull. Every bit of “action” is tediously predictable, people continue to act like idiots so the shark has a nice steady supply of food, the shark is a genius, able to avoid sonar by hiding under the boat, and the ending is only interesting in that it doesn’t pan across the ocean floor to a couple of baby five-headed sharks, ready to carry on Mum’s work, just before the credits roll.

Oh yes, one more thing – this is a production of The Asylum, the company that produced cheap and unpleasant movies with titles (but not plots) based on whatever big budget title was due out that year; before stumbling onto worldwide success with “Sharknado”. I dislike them due to their poor health and safety record and rotten treatment of freelance writers, but I can’t be bothered to go into that again. Best just to avoid anything with the Asylum’s logo on it, aside from the Sharknado series, I think.

Not just bad, but boring. Avoid unless your TV is broken and stuck on the SyFy Channel, and you’re trapped on your sofa.

Rating: thumbs down

100 Feet (2008)

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Credit where credit is due, SyFy Channel will occasionally try something different. This movie looks and feels nothing like their monster-of-the-week format; factor in what for them would be a super-A-list cast (Famke Janssen, Ed Westwick, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Pare) and this is something altogether out of their comfort zone.

 

Given information about this is hard to come by, all this is supposition, but…looking under “production company” on IMDB, of the 6 listed, this is the last (or only) film for three of them, there’s the special effects house which got a production credit, and two other producers who didn’t do anything else for at least five years. I think this was a huge financial disaster for the people making it and drove them under, allowing SyFy Channel to snap the rights up for a song, and also for our enemies at The Asylum to get the DVD rights – you know they’re not paying unless they absolutely have to.

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If you recognise the name of writer / director Eric Red, then you loved horror in the 1980s. His first produced script was “The Hitcher”, one of my favourites, and he also wrote “Near Dark”, the beloved vampire movie.  After that? Not so much. Looks like he quit the business for a decade only to come back, make “100 Feet”, then quit again (he does have a directing credit for a dogs-gone-wild movie from 2015). I was happy to see his name, certainly.

 

Janssen is Marnie, being taken in handcuffs to house arrest, after spending a couple of years in prison for murdering her husband Mike (Pare). It was self-defence, thanks to years of beatings, but it seems absolutely no-one believes her – not her sister, certainly not Shanks (Cannavale), Mike’s old partner and the guy driving her. So, she’s taken back to her old house, and is fitted with an ankle-bracelet which will alert the police if she spends more than three minutes over 100 feet from the base unit, fitted at the top of her stairs.

 

*record scratch noise* You don’t need to be particularly eagle-eyed to spot the very significant problem this movie has. She’s not quite able to reach her front door before the alarm starts, meaning she has to do a weird stretch to let people in – if you live in a two-storey house, please go and measure the distance from the top of your stairs to the door. I’ll wait. I’m going to say not a single one of you got over 40 feet, and even the most generous measurement of her old house wouldn’t put it much above that. The alarm also triggers when she’s in her basement, which is probably even closer to the base unit than her door is. Did no-one involved in this say “maybe we should change the title to “50 Feet”? Or if 100 feet is a thing for house arrests, just put in a line about the base unit malfunctioning, or something. It’s really dumb!

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This crack then opens to release something of a floodgate of odd choices from Red. Marnie owns a huge old house in New York, with a value in the millions. Who was paying the taxes on it while she was in prison? They put in a scene with Marnie’s sister, who hates her, just to say that their mother used her life insurance to buy the house for her, but that still doesn’t explain who’s paying the bills. The NYPD? Thinking about it, why did her mother buy the scene of her abuse, and not just get her a nice new apartment somewhere else? She’s seen inquiring about a phone sales job at one point, presumably put in when someone thought about how she’s affording all this stuff, but it’s never mentioned again.

 

All this is a shame, as the meat of the movie is really quite interesting. Mike is haunting the place and starts assaulting her – to avoid the cops thinking she’s crazy, she explains away the bruises and cuts as clumsiness on her part…just as so many battered women do every day. It made me feel very sad at the same time as admiring its mirroring of her old life. The haunting increases in intensity, and she tries to get rid of the spirit by tricks taken from old books – maybe the script was written before the internet was a thing and no-one bothered changing it. Her developing friendship with grocery delivery guy Joey (Westwick) is sweet and believable, and she doesn’t look like she’s 23 years older than him.

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Despite the case involving his partner, Shanks apparently doesn’t read the file on the murder until halfway through the movie, despite the fact he’d definitely have been questioned about the abuse at the trial. He finds out that she’s not lying, and Mike did beat her regularly, so then goes from hating her to angrily wanting to pin the murder on Joey. There’s also the thing of how he spends all day outside her home, apparently – does he not have normal police duties to take care of? Could she not use his obvious harassment of her to get the terms of her house arrest eased?

 

Everyone’s behaviour in the last 10-15 minutes is just inexplicable. A quick word about the priest – at one point, while trying to clear the house of all Mike’s belongings, she finds a bag full of cash, like millions of dollars, and rather than calling her lawyer, then the police (which would help her case a great deal), she decides to give it to her local church. The priest comes round, takes her confession, takes the cash but when she asks him to bless the house, he just says “no” and leaves. What? Actually, she finds the money under some loose floorboards in her bedroom…why didn’t she notice those loose floorboards when she was living there before?

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Should you choose to watch this, I will leave you to ponder the very last scene and think “how is that person going to live, with no money, no social security card, and no family?” And, even though I’ve spent a thousand words laying into it, it’s still way above average for SyFy. Janssen is fantastic (even if the script and direction isn’t), in every second of the movie pretty much, and I like Westwick a lot too. Cannavale is meh, and Pare presumably did the part as a favour to Red (they’d worked together before), as he has no dialogue and spends most of the movie as a blood-soaked ghost. If you can ignore the Grand Canyon-sized plot holes, you’ll probably have a good time if it’s shown on SyFy any time soon. Although they’ll probably cut most of the swearing and bits of the sex scene.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Dead 7 (2016)

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Rating: thumbs up

Zombie Apocalypse (2011)

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Well, it’s better than “Zombie Night”, I’ll give them that. Although, that line could apply to about 99.9% of all movies ever made, so I ought to elaborate a bit. It’s yet another SyFy Channel / Asylum production; it doesn’t appear to be one of their mockbusters, although it shares a star (Ving Rhames) and a few vague plot details with 2004’s “Dawn Of The Dead”. I also remembered, about halfway through, that I’ve seen this before – it was one of the last movies I watched before starting to write for the ISCFC, a little over three years ago. But this isn’t a blog! You want the hard hitting movie analysis!

 

It’s 6 months after initial contact with the VM virus, which has spread throughout the world and resulted in the deaths of the vast majority of the world’s population, and then their resurrection as zombies. Humanity is done as an organised species, it would seem, but into this world come three people – Ramona, Billy and Kevin. And we’ve got the return of a long dormant ISCFC feature – GERALD WEBB ASYLUM WATCH! He’s our favourite member of the Asylum’s repertory cast of players, but sadly we don’t get much chance to get used to him on screen before he’s eaten. These three have apparently been living in a cabin since the outbreak, and are thus completely unprepared for what they see; you’d think this would make one of them the audience’s POV character, but I’m guessing someone realised that the ostensible leader of the three, Ramona (Taryn Manning) wasn’t exactly the most charismatic actress in the world, and turned it into an ensemble piece. Or maybe it’s just shoddily made, like every other Asylum movie?

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Their first encounter with the undead is a disaster, but luckily round a corner are group 2, a friendly gang which includes Henry (Rhames, who’s just effortlessly brilliant), Cassie (Leslie Ann Brandt), and a few bits of cannon fodder. I am being mean – the characterisation and acting is pretty decent in “Zombie Apocalypse”, with everyone apart from the long –haired woman (who I kept forgetting was in the movie) given a decent amount to play with. They stroll along for a while, encountering lots of arrows sticking out of zombies, which they say is a group they’ve been following since at least Kansas City. The plan is to get to LA and then to the docks, where organised humanity is still okay on Catalina Island (they cleared out the zombies from there early on) and sends a boat to pick up survivors every week.

 

Eventually they run into group 3 (the archers) and…everyone’s fine with each other. No particular conflict, no betrayals, the only thing that happens is Henry and Cassie get separated from the main group for a bit (and they end up using a huge machine gun on an alley full of zombies, which is pretty cool). Will they make it to Catalina? Who’ll make the dramatic sacrifice to save their friends?

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Let’s try and be positive for a minute. Think of it like a fun thought experiment – what would someone potentially enjoy about “Zombie Apocalypse”? Like’s been said, the acting is mostly strong. The way they explain no-one having any tech to help them out shows someone at least put a bit of thought into things. The zombie makeup is okay too. Ramona has sort of an arc, which is so rare as to be worth mentioning in an Asylum review.

 

But boy oh boy, is it way easier to point out all the dumb stuff. They talk about a battle outside Pittsburgh, which is a reference to “Dawn Of The Dead”; and they crowbar in a story about a guy called Kirkman, clearly a reference to the creator of “The Walking Dead”. When you mention the titans of the genre like that, it might be an idea to learn from them; but “learning” gets in the way of profit for our old friends at the Asylum. The “secret bite”, the laziest zombie trope of all time, is a fine example of this – it’s that thing where someone gets bitten but doesn’t tell their friends til it’s too late.

 

Halfway through the movie, we get a zombie dog, which is just to get the idea of zombie animals in our heads so the finale, and the rather larger zombie, doesn’t come out of nowhere. The problem is, zombie dogs would wipe out the human race overnight, as even the best trained people would let their guard down for a dog after months of not seeing anyone. Why not zombie birds? It’s a Pandora’s box of plot problems that should probably have been kept closed.

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One more, and this is ignoring the little stuff like why everyone seems to have an unlimited supply of the ammunition of their choice, and how many conversations are that thing where two people stare off into space and monologue at each other. Shouting! We’re told, right off the bat, that noise is bad, and it attracts zombies. So what do they do every single bloody time they set foot in a new building? “Hello, are there any humans in here?” What, do you think it’s just bangs and explosions that zombies can hear? Or did the writer forget he’d put that bit in earlier?

 

On the plus side, it rips along at a fair pace, and Ving Rhames is great as always. One the minus side, it’s a bit stupid. But…it’s worth a go, I reckon.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Zombie Night (2013)

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Are you bored of characters who display even the most basic level of competence? Do you wish there was a movie where, at every single step, the wrongest decisions possible are made? Or a movie where you have to pretend it’s a stealth comedy to get any enjoyment from it? Then “Zombie Night” is for you!

 

The first minute of this SyFy original brings us very good news and very bad news. Good news – the cast. Anthony Michael Hall, Daryl Hannah and Alan Ruck – not exactly tentpole names any more, but still very solid (that I guessed correctly they’d be kept apart for most of the movie, so they could film it on the cheap, isn’t exactly my most amazing prediction). And the bad news – The Asylum. The kings of low-budget staff exploitation and health-and-safety ignoring are back, and yes, I know I said the last time that I wouldn’t do any of their movies again. Perhaps you’ll allow me to make a compromise, readers – I’ll just cover the Asylum when they’re making movies for the SyFy Channel, and hopefully there aren’t too many left.

 

The basic gist of things is there’s two different families who live next door to / somewhere near each other, and zombies suddenly start popping up everywhere – not only rising from the grave, but if you just die normally you’re screwed too. If you’re bitten…I’m not too sure about that one, but we can get to that later. Alan Ruck, his wife, their two sons and someone I assume is a nanny, are about to lock themselves in a panic room; they’re just waiting for Hall and Hannah and their daughter to turn up. Hall, the daughter and the daughter’s friend are in a graveyard and Hannah’s at home.

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The first line of my notes reads “the daughter is a simpleton”, and I could repeat this, with the names switched out, throughout the review. At the first sight of zombies, friend panics and runs off; and then, lumbering through the night comes an old lady zombie. Daughter: “Amber? Is that you?” OF COURSE NOT YOU IDIOT IT’S A CHUFFING SHAMBLING ZOMBIE. Although, perhaps panic is a more sensible response than Hall’s initial one, which is sort of mild annoyance like the zombies are slowing down his morning commute.

 

I’d like to break down a scene inside Ruck’s house. The nanny wants to leave to be with her family, but they’ve already barricaded the house (she should probably have thought of that before). Ruck refuses to remove the barricade, and the nanny, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, starts speaking on behalf of the zombies, ranting about how they’re going to kill everyone. Ruck, quite reasonably, locks her in his study and starts ferrying the family upstairs to the panic room. First in is the kid – oh, how I loathe child actors – but, while the rest of the family are arguing about waiting for their neighbours to show up, the kid sneaks back downstairs and stands outside the locked study. While this was happening, the nanny has jimmied the window open without checking if there are any zombies stood right outside – she’s immediately attacked and “turned”. So, the kid stands there like a lemon, not doing anything within the realms of sense like asking his family if he should unlock the door, and then unlocks the door.

 

As the film had the gumption to kill a different kid earlier on (a small girl, shot when two people are wrestling over a gun) I assumed that the son was done for too – but no, as they rescue him, after some considerable time in the clutches of a zombie, from being…dribbled on? His ear is covered in blood so I assumed we were waiting for him to turn too, but he’s fine and it’s just a shoddily edited red herring. The older brother gets bitten in this tussle and does turn later, also killing Alan Ruck, so…thanks, you little asshole! We’re supposed to be pleased when he survives, I guess?

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Ruck refuses to let his neighbours into the panic room, they argue, Hall and Hannah argue and run about, people are helped, people are killed, you know the drill. The unique selling point of “Zombie Night”, though, is it’s an undead-mockbuster of “The Purge”, the surprisingly thought-provoking movie from the same year. In “The Purge”, the legally allowed period of lawlessness lasts from 8pm to 8am; in “Zombie Night”, for no reason whatsoever, zombies start rising at dusk and all fall down dead again at dawn.  We also get a moment where Daryl Hannah must have been crying at what she’d been reduced to, where she implausibly finds a sword and, in “homage” to Kill Bill, goes hog-wild on a whole heap of the undead.

 

Panic and incompetence, after a certain tipping point, just isn’t fun to watch, and this entire movie is panic and incompetence. People shriek and run away, and barricade themselves in poorly, and then run away again when the barricades are breached, and split up, and betray their friends, and there’s no relief from it. There’s also no zombie movies in this world, so I suppose the utter uselessness of every character is moderately realistic.

 

There’s a concept called “film grammar”, usually used in smarter reviews than this, that tells us there’s “rules” to how you structure movies, and you break those rules of grammar at your peril. Especially if you’re the Asylum, and there’s a particularly large example of those rules being broken here. We get a moment where Hall volunteers to hold a door in place so his family can escape. The family runs and the camera cuts from the scene without seeing him die, which tells us Hall is fine and will show up later. He does, so far so good…but then he has another “heroic sacrifice” moment which he also escapes from later! One is acceptable if trite, two is just ridiculous.

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Then there’s a concept called “characters are dumbasses”, which we use quite a lot here. Hannah’s blind old mother manages to kill herself with her inability to just stay put when she’s told, then when she’s a zombie she can suddenly see again! And there’s the constant references to “it’s got to be dawn soon”. CHECK THE TIME YOU MORONS!!!! I wanted to slap everyone in this movie repeatedly.

 

Right at the end, one of the survivors asks “what happens at nightfall?”, a reasonable question, the answer to which is “please, whatever it is, don’t make a sequel”. This could well be the worst SyFy Channel original movie ever, so please avoid should they ever torture their viewership by repeating it. Director John Gulager also made the rotten “Piranha 3DD” (which I reviewed on here, but it got deleted when we changed hosting); and was the winner of “Project Greenlight”, so we have Matt Damon and Ben Affleck to blame for this, really.

 

Rating: thumbs down

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Death Racers (2008)

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This will be the last Asylum review I ever write. I’ve had problems with their business model for some time now – the use of unpaid interns to do most of their special effects, lack of health & safety on set – but a recent article cemented it all for me. They strung along scriptwriters for years, in some cases, getting them to send in spec ideas and write first acts of potential movies for no money, and you know that some of the ideas they got sent in were used, with no accreditation to the poor writer who came up with it. They just seem like a bad example of the bottom-feeding scum that populates the lower rungs of the movie industry. Sorry, everyone! You’ll have to look elsewhere for your “Sharknado 3” review in a month or so.

 

But one movie snuck in under the wire, and that was thanks to the starring role of the Insane Clown Posse. They’ve been doing their thing for over 20 years, and while I’ve never enjoyed a single one of their songs, in real life and on “Insane Clown Posse Theater” (a music-video version of “MST3K”), they seem like okay guys. Guys I’m glad I don’t know, but okay nonetheless. It’s their TV work on “ICP Theater” which got me interested in them again, so expect a few other reviews of their independently made “Big Money Hustlas” and “Big Money Rustlas” coming up soon.

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But enough of all that! This is the Asylum’s mockbuster for “Death Race”, the 2008 Jason Statham-starring sort-of-remake of 1975’s “Death Race 2000”, one of my favourite movies of all time. If you’ve seen either of those two, there’ll be few surprises here – we’re in a dystopian situation, where martial law has been declared; and to maintain order, the “Red Zone” is created, a prison which eventually houses 1,000,000 inmates. Inside the Red Zone, which is more a walled-off city than a prison, an evil mastermind called The Reaper (former pro wrestler Raven) has worked out a plan, although the exact endgame of his plan is frustratingly vague – he’s going to flood the water supply with sarin (a pipe supplying millions of people helpfully runs right underneath the zone).

 

The Governor of whatever state they’re in, already upset at having the world’s biggest prison on his land, decides to start and televise a Death Race! As well as keeping the masses happy, this race has a points system – 20 points per inmate death, and a big 500 for bringing the Reaper in alive (slightly less for dead). Get more than 1000, and you’re free! The 2-person teams picked for this are –

  • the Severed Head Gang (Hispanic, biggest gang in the US)
  • Homeland Security (two disgraced former soldiers)
  • Vaginamyte! (generic hot, evil women)
  • The Insane Clown Posse (playing themselves)

The ICP’s music was so hardcore ,it inspired every major crime, so it’s been banned and the ICP have been locked up. But no matter, as they all get the chance to kill a bunch of other criminals, quip and then, eventually, figure out what’s really going on. One of the SHG gets his head exploded before the race has even begun, to demonstrate the power of the kill-chip the Governor has installed inside them all (and to answer the question “why don’t they just drive away?”) Homeland Security don’t make it much past the first half-hour, and so on. You know the drill.

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This movie at least makes an effort to make things look post-apocalyptic. Throughout the movie, we get the TV hosts talking about the points system and commentating on the action, and it sort-of works, despite the slightly wooden delivery of the male host. The Governor’s office is half-empty and just randomly strewn with books; they manage to film in suitably grim-looking locations, and if they can’t at least use angles to hide the most obvious things; and best of all, there’s a weird colour filter over everything which does a lot for not much effort. All these things put it in the top echelon of Asylum movies, straight off the bat.

 

Unfortunately, everything else lets it down. The acting is truly mind-buggeringly terrible, with only Jennifer Keith (as “Double Dee Destruction”) and Violent J of the ICP as anything other than charisma vacuums. But they’re not helped by the editing, which goes beyond rotten into some netherworld of badness. To have a snappy conversation, it’s best to edit tightly round the spoken lines, so it can ping from one character to another – I’m sure you know the sort of thing I’m talking about. Now imagine one of those conversations, but with a second of awkward silence before and after every line is spoken, and see how good it’d be. I guess the unpaid intern they were using to edit the movie couldn’t use the software very well, and no-one bothered, when seeing the rough cut, to do a damn thing to make it better.

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You’ve got twists and cheap-looking explosions and body parts being hacked off and seemingly no-one paying attention to the scores, as they go down at one point (again, kudos to that editor). It rips the ending straight off from the 1975 original, and while I sort of grew to like the characters, everything they did was saturated in Insane Clown Posse music – one song is repeated at least 8 times, and the credits list a good dozen of their songs.

 

Ultimately, it’s a standard Asylum mockbuster, with the bonus of some fun stunt casting. Cheap, with effort made in some areas but seemingly negative effort made in others, it’s really only worth checking out if you’ve watched the three modern “Death Race” movies, the original, and still need to see cars running people over while the drivers cackle with glee.

 

Rating: thumbs down

500 MPH Storm (2013)

None of this happens - the thing being destroyed, the 500 mph storm, NOTHING

None of this happens – the thing being destroyed, the 500 mph storm, NOTHING

I was, I felt, about 5 minutes from the end of this movie when I paused it to deal with a whining dog. Everything that needed to happen had happened, people had rushed hither and yon, resolution was at hand. It wasn’t good, for sure, but it was at least nearly over. When I checked the screen, I realised that only 47 minutes of the film had elapsed. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Science is dabbling in God’s domain. I wrote that as a joke, then two minutes later one of the cast went “We messed with Mother Nature” and I started polishing my CV to send to the Asylum as a scriptwriter. Casper Van Dien has figured out how to get free energy from the earth, thanks to a beam of energy of some sort – I doubt understanding that bit any better would improve the film, so any explanation they gave washed over me. Only problem is, he’s at a balloon festival (thanks, Balloon Festival, for letting the Asylum film you) when the other guys are about to do a test firing, and they’ve altered some parameters or whatever so it causes a huge hurricane. It dies down and comes back a few times, and Casper is too far away from his base to go back and help, so he runs about the country like a headless chicken, wife and son in tow, occasionally suggesting ways the scientists and Army could help.

How do you get round filming on clear days, with bright sunshine, when your film is about a world-ending storm? If you’re the Asylum, you don’t, really. There are lots of eyes of storms and lulls and so on, I guess, but it‘s all so utterly stupid. They can’t even be bothered to CGI in some dust when giving you a medium shot of a car, because when it’s in close up it’s surrounded by a storm. Why are you so lazy, Asylum?

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The son is far too old to be so useless (he’s got to be 18, at least) and is all about the internet, to the stage where he’s complaining about not getting access in the middle of the aforementioned storm. He ‘s certainly the most annoying character in the movie, not like there’s a ton of actors to choose from. Shut up, you whiny little asshole!

The wife is almost deliberately irrelevant. We like Sarah Lieving here at ISCFC – she’s shown herself capable of elevating the ludicrous material given to her, and coming out of awful films smelling of roses. The problem here is, she’s not given any material to elevate. Her entire job is to accompany her husband, looking a bit concerned – she has the barest amount of dialogue and operates like a 50s housewife, making sandwiches when there’s a crisis. She’s left by Casper in the middle of the movie and not picked up til nearly the end, as if the movie was slightly ashamed of how little it had for her to do. With the only other woman in the movie being a young beautiful woman at the military base, with no lines and almost certainly the niece of one of the producers, if you expected any female in this movie to do much of anything, you’re out of luck.

“500 MPH Storm” reminds me of an anecdote told by a child. Because they don’t really understand how stories work, they’ll just go “and then THIS happened, and then THIS happened, and then THIS happened” (I’m sure, if you’ve ever been told a story by a kid, you’ll recognise it). It just keeps piling on THINGS happening, with no real rhyme or reason or sense that the protagonist is closer or further away from achieving his goal. When they start slowing down the running-through-the-woods bit, to pad the time out, I was ready to start tying myself a noose. What the hell sort of garbage is this?

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The dramatic ending involves “triangulating” their position, because the scriptwriters clearly know that’s a thing that people in movies do, even if they’re not sure what it entails; plus, they must avoid making a “Hypercane”, because two words to describe a thing is one word too many! It also has one of the more bizarre final scenes I’ve seen, where the survivors stare off into nothing, while a town which is clearly too small to be in the same shot as them, burns in the foreground.

This is bad, even by the Asylum’s low standards. The last half hour was painfully dull, and I sincerely hope everyone at the end was ashamed of themselves.

Rating: thumbs down