Ghost Storm (2011)

ghost-storm

It’s another in our glorious long line of “films that can be entirely described by their title”. I would lay good money on the mental image you have right now being about 75% correct, but if you have a bad imagination, read on.

Teenagers in a graveyard! (actually, I think that should be a SyFy Channel original movie title, or the name of a bad band) They witness their little island’s main memorial, to the people who died in 1912 due to a cult suicide, split by a lightning strike. The golden medallion falls off the front, and the GHOST STORM emerges, sucking the soul right out of a horny male teenager.

SyFy Channel original movies are a fascinating and varied bunch. They range from pretty bad to really bad, and the cast is all the way from C-list to Z-list. Not recognising a single name on the opening credits made me worried, but there are two faces in this film who this site’s readers will welcome – Sheriff Hal Miller is played by Carlos Bernard, who you may remember from “24” as third banana Tony Almeida; and “paranormal expert” Greg Goropolis is played bv Aaron Douglas, who was also the Chief on “Battlestar Galactica” (the new, good version). Both of them seem to be in a competition to see who can act the least, as well.

We’re also introduced to the latest in a new trend that seems to be sweeping low budget cinema – the estranged couple, raising a teenager, who are definitely going to get back together by the end (because women are just prizes for men who behave heroically, am I right?) “Sharknado” had them, and there are numerous other examples dotted throughout the “Mega X v. Giant Y” films. It’s just a cheap way of generating a central plot, and the kid in danger allows the parents a chance to bond (and the father to be a hero).

It turns out the “Ghost Storm”, which is more a large version of the smoke monster from “Lost” than it is a storm, is the collected souls of that 1912 tragedy, and the medallion was keeping them trapped in the earth. As it sucks up the souls of the townspeople in its path, turning their bodies to dust, it seems to gain power, but luckily there’s an innocent soul in there and innocent souls emit a different radio frequency than evil ones, which gives them a plan to rescue the town.

I was about to mention the other groups of people in the town – the Vicar with a spooky past, the grieving father, the amazing extra in the church scene who wildly overemotes to everything that goes on around her – but the death rate is so spectacularly high in this film that I don’t need to bother. What I do want to mention is the way that when you die, you apparently get to change your contact photo in the smartphones of your friends. If you’re fully a baddie, your contact photo will be all ugly with a demonic background, but if you’re someone’s boyfriend, your photo will be changed to you looking peaceful in front of rolling clouds. This is a bizarre and brilliant bit of the film.

Without revealing the ending, I will say that considering the staggering loss of life in the town, the survivors are far too jolly at the end. “Well, everyone we’ve ever known or loved is dead. Time for some kissing and laughing!” But, the film itself is definitely in the top tier of SyFy Channel originals. It looks pretty high budget, to the extent they may have borrowed the sets from some other production (perhaps SyFy’s “Haven”, as it’s set in a similar sort of town). No-one’s a really terrible actor, and it’s occasionally set outside, in the daylight, almost unheard of for one of these movies. It held my wife’s interest to the point she asked me to pause it while she was making herself a drink – again, almost unheard of.

I was going to make a joke about the way they pick the titles for these films, but when I saw “Metal Tornado” (the subject of my next review) it made me realise my joke is probably really close to the truth. Two buckets. One with the names of cool stuff in it – shark, ghost, metal; one with the names of natural disasters – earthquake, storm, tornado. Draw one word from each and boom! If you can make a cool compound word like “Sharknado” or “Arachnoquake” out of your words, do so, if not then just put them together and make a movie. I would bet £20, for real, that there’s at least one SyFy Channel movie that had a title picked that way.

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Rating: 3 demon ghosts out of 10

Ghost Storm on IMDB
Buy Ghost Storm [DVD] [2011] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

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Transmorphers (2007)

Transmorphers

I’ve avoided reviewing the granddaddy of the Asylum’s mockbusters, partly because I’ve already seen it, but mostly because on that previous occasion, my friend James bought the DVD and it broke three-quarters of the way through. I assumed it was God giving me a lucky break, half an hour off for good behaviour. But for some reason, here we are in 2013, and I thought it’d be a good laugh to watch it again for the ISCFC.

If you’re reading this site, chances are you’ve seen a few Asylum films. They started off in the mockbuster game with “War of the Worlds” in 2005 closely followed by “The Da Vinci Treasure” and “Snakes On A Train” in 2006, but for me it’s 2007’s “Transmorphers” that really put them on the map. Everything that makes Asylum the place we know and love is there – a wacky pun-ish title; at least one actor you maybe sort-of recognise from something else; a plot that surprisingly bears little relation to its namesake, but lots of relation to other films in the same genre; and, of course, a low low budget.

I don’t know if this is deliberate on the part of Asylum or not, but all their films only ever rip off the title or the plot of another film, but never both at the same time. You might be inclined to believe that a film called “Transmorphers”, released the same year as a giant robot movie whose name escapes me for the moment, might be about some giant robots having a fight. You would, of course as the construction of this paragraph has already told you, be wrong. If you rather luckily guessed it’d be the future war bits of “Terminator” crossed with a healthy dose of “The Matrix”, with bits of a hundred other sci-fi movies and TV shows thrown in for good measure, then you’re far too clever for the likes of me.

In 2009, we discover an alien civilization 20 million light years away, we send them a signal then 5 years later some big-ass robots turn up and basically take over the planet, killing 99% of the people, driving the rest underground and so on. Now, right away at the beginning of the film is a problem. Sending a message 20 million light years is not the same as calling your friend who lives a few streets over. Were the robots just five years travel away, having come from this far distant star system at some point in the past? Is it some wormhole-based fun? It almost deliberately puts the viewer on the back foot, and there’s more to come.

A bunch of human fighters try and fail to take on a group of robots. In fact, they barely get out of the door before they’re blown to bits. So, the “leaders” decide to take a badass fighters out of cryogenic freezing prison as he’s the only one who can help. He’s Warren Mitchell, a former revolutionary who was imprisoned five years ago, and luckily Mitchell immediately agrees to help out the people he wanted to overthrow before; after unfreezing his best mate and recruiting all the super-hard misfits from the Army to help him out.

We then get a lot of talking. A lot. The purpose of dialogue in most films is to tell us about the characters, or to illuminate a debate central to the film. Something like that. This film just has it to fill in time – the forced wacky banter between the characters is the same, no matter who’s talking to who; and we never really understand why they’re now so desperate to battle the robots, after spending a century underground. The city they all live in is enormous and beautiful, with flying cars, huge towers and all sorts, even though whenever you see anyone in their own room, it’s a featureless metal box with no windows.

The bad guys are all robots, remember? So it turns out the eccentric scientist’s assistant is an android he created! Why there’s a surprise that a race of people who were virtually wiped out by robots would not be thrilled to have one living with them is never really explored, but this gives scientist guy a chance to explain that he created another android too, designed to be the perfect fighter, but that one had problems. That this other android could only be one person is screamingly obvious from this point on…oh, there’s a third android, but that was clearly put in as a seed for a sequel which never came (Transmorphers: Fall Of Man, the 2009 follow up is a prequel, and that had at least two proper actors in it).

The humans finally figure out a good plan to finish off the robots for good, and the great big confusing battle on three different fronts is the last part of the film. And then it ended, and my wife informed me she’d been reading a magazine for most of the film, and therefore had a much better time than she normally does watching one of these godawful films with me.

It is, unsurprisingly, awful. It’s leaden with large periods of time where basically nothing happens, and other periods of time with poorly shot, confusing fight scenes. The robots are indestructible in one scene, and vulnerable to pistols in the next; the cast are almost without exception terrible actors and writer-director Leigh Scott should stick to something that isn’t writing or directing (while looking him up on the IMDB, the “User Lists” section displays nothing but “the worst directors of all time” and other such lists you really wouldn’t want to be on).

My criticism will mean nothing to the Asylum, they’ll keep on making these rotten films to cash in on blockbusters, they’ll continue to make enough of a profit to keep going, and fools like me will continue to review them. As my reviews have shown, though, cheap films don’t have to be bad, or slow. Asylum could make good films, but it’s like they don’t want to. I feel this film was so leaden and boring that it’s made my review suck. I apologise, readers.

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Transmorphers on IMDB
Buy Transmorphers [DVD]

Sharknado (2013)

This film has swept the public’s imagination like no other SyFy Channel / Asylum co-production has before; and there’ve been some really, really bad ones. The AV Club gave this film an A, there’s already a load of podcast reviews of it, and the night of its broadcast turned Twitter into a game of comedy one-upmanship as nearly every comedian I follow wanted to talk about it. That said, I think some of the reviews come from a place of never having seen one of these films before. Like the intelligentsia are muscling in on our territory? Hey, AV Club, where were you for “Sharktopus” and “Swamp Shark”? But enough of my bitterness, let’s get on with the film!

sharknado

This film is already several steps ahead of the many other shark-based films I’ve reviewed for this site, as it breaks three of my four rules of shark movies. Those rules?

Rule 1: ‘there must be a shot where the three heroes are on a speedboat looking ahead with determination’.

Rule 2: ‘ there must be a large seafront entertainment event that can’t be cancelled, for some reason’.

Rule 3: ‘at least one character must behave in a brain-buggeringly stupid way, to drive the plot along’

Rule 4: ‘sharks be super-powered’

Rules one and two are right out, I’m afraid (and I always liked rule 1). It could be said that by hanging around the beachfront bar when the sharknado is on its way, the entire cast fulfilled rule 3, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s only rule 4 that every single one of these godawful movies manages to keep.

An evil Oriental gentleman is after some sharkmeat, or their fins, or something. For the amount of money he’s paying, you’d think the sharks were made of gold. He has hired a boat full of scumbags to do his shark-capturing for him, and wouldn’t you know it! The sharks do not like being slaughtered, so as soon as the storm picks up, they start jumping over the boat and eating everyone in sight. One poor deckhand gets devoured almost whole. This doesn’t seem to have much bearing on the rest of the film, other than to establish man’s inhumanity to man (and shark), and to show us the storm on its way to shore.

A former world champion surfer, Fin Shephard, played by a chap from Beverly Hills 90210 (not Jason Priestley or Luke Perry), runs a beachfront bar. He has a beautiful bar-person called Nova, a colourful barfly (John Heard, star of C.H.U.D.), a wacky Australian best mate who can speak or move his facial muscles, but not both at the same time, an estranged wife, played by Tara Reid who sadly forgot how to act at some point and a couple of kids who look far too old to be the offspring of the two of them.

The film then kindly explains that while tornados never hit California, there’s one on its way now. I get the feeling this line was added after someone mentioned this fact to the producers while they’d already started shooting. But I’m not going to call them on their weird ideas about weather, or any of that, as it’s low-hanging fruit. We exist in a world where this stuff happens, and so be it. We also exist in a world where people sit around on the beach while someone yells “get the hell out, sharks are on their way” and for that they deserve to get eaten.

After the chaos of the initial shark attack and the tornado warnings, how does this affect seaside life? Does it reduce the beach to an empty shell? Or does the bar continue to do a roaring trade while people walk by outside with ice cream and balloon animals? If you guessed the second one, you win a shiny SyFy Channel award. Round about here is where things get a bit confusing. A shark flies in through the window and starts chomping as we see people out on the boardwalk pursued by sharks swept up by the leading edge of the sharknado…but we go from scenes in bright sunlight to scenes in the middle of a storm, from the middle of the day to the early morning, and they’re all supposed to be on the same stretch of beach at the same time. Maybe it’s SyFy subtly telling us that it’s hard shooting a film on this budget, so they had to shoot individual actors whenever they were available, never mind the continuity.

The middle portion of the film is a chase through the streets of LA to find Fin’s family, stopping off to save a school bus full of kids. Sharks get everywhere, including the flooded house of Tara Reid – a house which is evidently entirely water-tight, as the flooding indoors does not correspond to any flooding outside. Sharks can now swim in a depth of water which only covers up to the middle of a car tyre…sorry! I said I wouldn’t nail the technical shortcomings of the film! The clever thing that the filmmakers did was insert a lot of stock footage in here of storms and so on, and make it look part of the film. Well, either that or Asylum just films stuff like extreme weather and unusual stuff on the off chance they’ll be able to use it as background in some film they’re going to make in the future (which is actually a really good idea – Asylum, call me).

Poor old John Heard gets a wacky death scene, not quite on a level with Samuel L Jackson in “Deep Blue Sea” but still not bad; and we move on to the big plan to stop the three sharknados which are ravaging Los Angeles. And that’s where I must leave you, dear reader, to fend for yourself. Who lives and dies, and how quickly you can get over the death of a long-term boyfriend (hint: it’s less than a day), are questions the answers to which I cannot give you. We also get Nova’s description of why she’s called Nova, which encompasses her fear of sharks. Now, I’m no scientist. But, if you were afraid of sharks, and could live anywhere, would you choose to live on the beachfront? And spend all day in a bar that looked right out onto the ocean?

Which way to get out of this film?

Which way to get out of this film?

Is it any good? Of course not, really. There’s been a lot of debate about whether this film is deliberately bad, and of course Asylum must know they’re not making Oscar contenders. It’s certainly not played for laughs, aside from a few chuckles here and there, and there’s too much of it which reminds me of the tons of SyFy Channel original movies I’ve seen since I started writing for the ISCFC. But I enjoyed it – it didn’t mess about, the Australian had a really frightening stare whenever he wasn’t speaking, John Heard realised the sort of film he was in, and everyone else gave it their best shot. If you’re on this site, you’ll have heard of this film already, so I say go and watch it. Have fun!

Sharknado on IMDB
Buy Sharknado [DVD]