Dead Rising: Endgame (2016)

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Last year, we covered the first Dead Rising game, “Watchtower”, and despite me not being a particular fan of the games, I rather enjoyed it. Nice sense of humour, decent special effects, well-shot action, for a computer game movie produced for a website, very good indeed. It was either a success or they just shot two movies at the same time (possibly the latter), so now we get this.

 

Returning from part 1 are investigative reporter Chase Carter (Jesse Metcalfe), his sort-of-girlfriend Jordan (Keegan Connor Tracy) and General Lyons (Dennis Haysbert), who’s gone from the moral ambiguity of the first movie to full-on villainy in this one. It’s two years since the events of “Watchtower”, Jordan died in Army custody and Chase is still going into the quarantined area of East Mission City to find stories about how the army is treating the people there. Zombrex, the drug which stops infected people turning into zombies, is now administered via a chip with a year’s worth of concentrated doses, implanted into the body.

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Given that it’s supposed to be a quarantine area, there’s very little evidence that humans still live there – it’s basically Army guys, investigative reporters and zombies. It’s a bit “well, we have this set but not enough money for extras”, I suppose. One day, Chase finds evidence that General Lyons is involved in human trafficking, and there’s a mysterious something called “Afterlife” which seems to have got a lot of people interested. Factor in the biotech company Phenotrans (who, we’re supposed to think, started the zombie outbreak in the first place) and you’ve got yourself a good mystery.

 

The writer of part 1, Tim Carter, returns, but he’s got a co-writer this time, Michael Ferris, who got his start on “Bloodfist 2” back in 1990, and also wrote “The Game” (Michael Douglas version), “Terminator 3” and “Terminator Salvation”. While it’s a leaner and probably slightly better movie, the oddball sense of humour part 1 had is all but lost, and that’s a bit sad. One definite plus in changing crew was Zach Lipovsky, director of part 1 (and also of the rotten “Leprechaun: Origins”) getting replaced by long-term Canadian TV director Pat Williams.

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So, with conspiracy everywhere, Chase assembles a team to help him get the truth out. There’s hacker / new love interest Sandra (Marie Avgeropoulos), whistleblower George Hancock (Ian Tracey), Chase’s producer Jill (Jessica Harmon) and Garth (Patrick Sabongui), who’s a bit of a tech genius – we see him playing “Dead Rising 3” as his character’s introduction, which is only surprising in that it took them til half an hour into movie 2 before they did it. It turns out “Afterlife” is…well, no spoilers, but they need to get to a server “farm” located right in the middle of the quarantine zone to stop it.

 

The fight scenes are really well done. Chase swings his home-made weapons about like a pro (even though he’s, y’know, a TV reporter) and they use that hand-held camera to great effect. Perhaps they’re a bit over-choreographed? But this is small potatoes. There’s also a really nicely done escalation of the threat facing our heroes, as they discover Phenotrans has been working on new strains of the zombie virus, which turns the undead super-strong and fast. While it’s not terribly original, anyone watching a sequel to a movie based on a computer game wanting originality ought not to be allowed to watch B-movies ever again.

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Casting is strong – despite Dennis Haysbert looking like he’s waiting for his cheque to clear, then he’s right off set and never looking back, everyone else is fine. There’s a nice Billy Zane cameo, who’s presumably annoyed James Spader stole his look for “The Blacklist”, and I imagine it was a fun set to work on, as almost all the actors are Canadian TV veterans who have worked together before (two actors from “The 100”, and four who were on “Continuum”, including Victor Webster, who apparently plays the star of the second computer game. No idea).

 

With the sort-of announcement of a “Dead Rising” TV series, I imagine this will be the last movie. It’s less of a shame than I’d have said after the end of part 1, because that installment’s humour and structure set it apart from a lot of the pack. This, while slicker, and a bit better acted, is sort of samey – when you’ve seen one conspiracy to do something scientific with the undead, you’ve seen em all. Although, I suppose, you don’t see tons of zombies get offed with a baseball bat with a knife shoved in the end, and nails driven into it. If you have access to Crackle, you should definitely put this on and you’ll have a fine time.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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Leprechaun’s Revenge (2012) (aka Red Clover)

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After watching all seven “Leprechaun” movies, my heart honestly sank when I remembered that SyFy Channel had done one with a similar name. “Well, I’m an obsessed completist,” I thought, “so I might as well give it a go”. And I’m really glad I did! By a mile, it’s the best leprechaun-titled movie we’ve covered at the ISCFC, and there’s lots of fun little things to talk about.

 

Almost effortlessly, we’re given a short and sweet history of the leprechaun which makes more sense than any of the official series – down on their luck Irish people move to the USA but take a magical creature with them, in a sack. They suck the luck out of this creature and become rich, but one day it escapes, leaving them with nothing (presumably to share the fate of the other Irish immigrants to the USA). The leprechaun, or “luchorpan”, has been twisted by having its luck drained, thus becoming the monster we will see a little later.

 

The acting is spot-on here, with SyFy and After Dark Films hiring some strong people. Out on a hunt are Karen and her grandad, “Pop”, played by Courtney Halverson and William Devane. Halverson is great, with appearances in “True Detective” and some really interesting movies under her belt, and Devane is of course TV royalty, perhaps best known for a decade on “Knot’s Landing” (but seriously, he’s been in everything). Karen picks a red clover from the ground, which burns her hand and releases the leprechaun from his tree-root prison. And it’s on!

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Her Dad, Pop’s son, Conor, is the Sheriff, and he’s played by Billy Zane. Billy Zane! Add in a few other top-level performances, such as Azure Parsons as the Deputy, Karl Herlinger as local investigative reporter Karl, and Kelly Washington as Karen’s best friend Amanda, and this is a strong cast. Some of the high school boys are a bit cookie-cutter, but this is small potatoes for such a fun movie.

 

The red clover poison / curse causes Karen to hallucinate, and it’s done really well, tying in with the rest of the movie in a much better way than your average dream sequence.  There’s also a strong sense of humour on display, such as when the sort-of-but-not-really love interest is reading a book called “MILF” – only it stands for “Medieval Irish Legends & Folktales”. This got me thinking, “I’m sure I recognise the name of that writer” (well, I already knew who it was, but I’m trying to build up some drama for the next paragraph), so I checked and…

 

Anthony C Ferrante! Now, infinitely better known as the director of the “Sharknado” series, he wrote a few SyFy Channel movies (including “Ghostquake” and “House Of Bones”) and, in perhaps the awesomest bit of foreshadowing in SyFy history, even puts in a “Sharknado” reference in “Leprechaun’s Revenge”…a year before it was made! Karl is trying to interview the Deputy, and she mentions a tornado dropping sharks in a local lake, the dumb headline “Sharknado!”, and that’s why she doesn’t say anything to the press any more. I’d love to know how it happened, if SyFy saw the reference and decided to get Ferrante to make that movie, or it was already being planned and this was just very subtle viral marketing. Anyway.

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Unlike “Leprechaun: Origins”, this movie gets to the killing, and gets to it quickly. Gold heals the monster, so that’s why it’s so interested in taking it (unlike other Leprechaun efforts, where he just seems to like it a lot), and happily slaughters anyone who has it. People drop like flies! Including several people you expected to make it to the end, as our heroes try and find the four magic horseshoes to turn into a totem that will kill ol’ Lep – well, I say totem, they describe it as a “four leaf cleaver”, which was a working title for the movie I believe. The end of the movie takes place during a St Patrick’s Day celebration, of course, and it looks like they went to some small town and just filmed their real one, as it’s way too big to have been paid for by SyFy (talking of which, it’s fairly gross for one of theirs).

 

You can tell this was made by fans of horror, as it’s got some nice references to genre classics in there. The “Silver Shamrock” brewery is presumably a “Halloween 3” reference (okay, I know I said classics, but anyway), and there’s a shot which is lifted from the end of “The Blair Witch Project” too. IMDB also lists a reference to “The Evil Dead”, but I don’t see it myself. Kudos to Ferrante and director Drew Daywalt (whose career seems to have stalled a little after this, sadly) for giving us fans a few easter eggs.

LEPRECHAUN'S REVENGE -- "Syfy Original Movie" -- Pictured: (l-r) Mother and Leprechaun -- (Photo by: Syfy)

A word about the leprechaun itself, as you might spot from the screenshots, it’s not the highest-budget effect ever, being a guy in a suit, but it’s vastly better than the lazy old Irish stereotype of the other movies (or the frankly crappy effect in the WWE Films version). It looks like something that’s spent a few centuries in the root system of a tree, which is exactly what it’s supposed to be.

 

One last thing before we wrap this up and I tell you to go and buy this film immediately. Billy Zane, it might reasonably be said, doesn’t always look like he’s delighted to be there. He was in “Titanic”, and he maybe is a little sad at some of the paths his career has gone down – he’s sort of phoning it in a little at the beginning. But, if I was a betting man, I’d say the reason he chose this project was an absolutely amazing monologue he gets to deliver near the end, about how he lost his wife. It’s one of the more insane bits of movie dialogue I’ve ever heard, and Zane clearly loves performing it – I won’t spoil it, but it’s seriously worth the cost of admission on its own.

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So, if you were thoroughly bored of Warwick Davis’ rhyming dialogue, and also want a good movie with fun, action, and plenty of decent characters, this could be the one for you. An absolute win for SyFy, and I hope when the “Sharknado” train runs out of steam, we get more great stuff like this. Actually, that’s a terrible thing to wish on anyone – I hope Ferrante gets to work with decent budgets and his own scripts.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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Critters (1986)

 

critters-movie-poster-1985-1020205513People in the 80s seemed to understand that if you made B-movies, you might as well make them fun. It’s not like anyone’s going to take “shapechanging bounty hunters track an escaped group of criminals, who are all small mutant-hedgehog-looking aliens, across the galaxy to a small town in Kansas” and treat it like a great work of art. A “Critters” remake in 2015 would have tons of backstory at the beginning and be half an hour longer; but luckily we don’t have to worry about that!

 

Thank you for not messing about, movie! In a lightning fast opening, we see a prison asteroid with a ship full of prisoners heading towards it. After touching down, the ship is taken over by the Krites and escapes – the authorities (aka a voiceover) charge a couple of bounty hunters with killing them, and off we go. Total elapsed time, about three minutes.

 

But it can’t all be fun in space, so then we get some fun on Earth. Because everyone mentions it, I suppose I ought to as well – although the director loudly denies “Critters” was produced in response to the success of “Gremlins”, it very obviously was, and there are a ton of similarities. Small town which appeared out of time even then; father who tinkers; scene where the critters run wild (one of them tries to talk to a stuffed ET doll before biting its head off); blowing up a building near the end. I mean, it’s not close enough to warrant being sued for plagiarism or anything like that, but it’s unlikely to have been an accident.

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The bounty hunters are shapeshifters, so while one picks a guy from a music video pretty much at random (the awesomely coiffed “Johnny Steele”) to blend in, the other can’t decide – changing from the corpse of the Deputy who’s the Krites’ first victim, to the local Pastor, eventually to the town drunk. It’s a fun moment in a movie that really seems like it’s paying attention and getting those little things right. The buildup to the “carnage” is well-handled, if a trifle slow in comparison to the opening scenes, and the scene transitions are clever. Or maybe I’m just too impressed by that sort of thing. Who knows?

 

The cast is really strong too – from theatre star Terrence Mann as stoic bounty hunter Ug, to Dee Wallace Stone as the harried mother (a role she seemingly played in every movie from the mid 80s to the mid 90s), to M Emmet Walsh as the Sheriff, to Billy Zane in a very early role, as the surprisingly non-douchebag boyfriend – despite his number plate, which had the custom frame “I don’t give a shit”. It’s a cast every bit as strong as “Gremlins”, despite being a little smaller and a little more cartoony – Don Keith Opper as Charlie the town drunk is the chief culprit.

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So, we’ve got critters which are surprisingly easy to kill, a family fighting off the Krite invasion of their house, and a couple of aliens with super-cannons trying to find out where they are (although if they’d left the main family for another ten minutes, they’d have probably had their job done for them – the humans definitely have the bounty hunters beat in the Krite headcount stakes).

 

There’s one bit where you go “oh, the 80s” with a sad look on your face, and that’s when the parents need to pick one of their kids to go on a mission to get help. Rather than the 18 year old daughter, who can drive, they pick the 12 year old son, who just has a bike, and it’s not even a point of contention, as everyone just understands the boy is better for the job. But that’s one small moment in a film which is funny, full of action, and quite charming in its own way; I’m definitely looking forward to parts 2, 3 and 4 now, which means they’ll probably be terrible and you can laugh at my optimism in this review.

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Rating: thumbs up