Deadlocked: Escape From Zone 14 (1995)

Long-term readers may remember our series of Rutger Hauer reviews, as his run of movies from the mid 80s to the early 90s features some video store classics like “Split Second”, “Salute of the Jugger”, “The Hitcher”, “Wanted: Dead Or Alive” and “Blade Runner”, to name but a few.

 

One of our favourites was “Wedlock”, where he and Mimi Rodgers were inmates in an unusual future-prison. No walls, just an explosive collar round the neck. Each inmate was paired with another, and if you got too far from that person the collar would go boom, but no-one knew who, the idea being that people would keep each other in check, foil any escape plans, and so on. A simple story, well told, and lots of fun.

Although this is a sequel to “Wedlock”, with the same writer even, it’s more a use of the same beats to tell a different story, which takes the collar / prison thing but pretty much nothing else. There’s a circle round the outside of the non-prison, same as before, but that’s just the boundary that no-one can cross, rather than being “you’re always within range of everyone else, inside this line”. The prison, a disused amusement park, is more reminiscent of “Escape From New York”, as there are no guards and the prisoners can do what they like.

 

Our protagonist is Tony (Esai Morales), who’s either a thief or a high-end corporate security analyst, depending on who’s paying him. He breaks into the offices of the extremely evil Jack Claremont (the excellent Steven McHattie), and almost gets away with some important documents! But sadly, one of the completely ordinary pieces of consumer tech he uses to break in was on like 10% charge, shuts down at a critical moment and he’s caught. Dear me! That’s the best idea you could come up with?

Turns out, Claremont refused to pay Tony $25,000 for a previous job, so he’d decided to rob some information from him and sell it on. Claremont, sensing an opportunity, murders one of his own guards, pins it on Tony and has him sent to jail. What he needs to do when he’s there is find Allie (Nia Peeples), who apparently embezzled $85,000,000 and hid it so well that no-one can find it; escape with her; get her to lead him to the cash; and tell Claremont where it is. He’ll let Tony live, and blah blah blah. You know the score.

 

The section of the movie set in the actual prison is fairly short, as once you’ve established the rules of the prison and demonstrated it by blowing a random extra’s head off, there’s not a lot else to hold the viewer’s interest. Tony helps Allie with some very insistent male prisoners, and she agrees to escape with him – it’s at this point that he reprograms the collars so his and hers are linked, Wedlock-style, making this the sole link to Rutger Hauer’s original classic.

The abiding memory of this section of the movie is a series of scenes where Tony and Allie are close to separating and blowing themselves up – on a train, on two separate moving trucks, skydiving – and while it’s not terribly original, it’s kind of fun. Like a highlight reel for a low-impact stunt performer, therefore perfect for a TV movie. Claremont’s people are chasing them, and you’re waiting for the moment when Allie discovers Tony’s interest in her isn’t just him being nice, and that’s all fine.

 

I’d suggest the main issue is that it’s not remotely futuristic enough. It’s just our normal modern society with weird prisons and a court where the judge appears via TV but everything else is exactly the same. I know, budgets and TV movies and all that, but we sci-fi fans like a little more sci in our fi.

But, it’s solidly entertaining, and that is far from a given, when you look at the movies we normally cover. Nia Peeples and Esai Morales have a really strong chemistry, and the villains are good too. So, if you saw Wedlock and really enjoyed it, but want a little more of people with bombs round their necks, then you could do a heck of a lot worse.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Advertisements

Riddick (2013)

r1

Vin Diesel is, by all accounts, a smart fella. His production credit on the “Fast and Furious” films means he never needs to work again, and he’s nurtured his Riddick character through two previous films, a computer game series, a few animated shorts and now, nearly ten years after the last one, this new entry.

At the end of the “The Chronicles of Riddick”, our hero found himself as Lord Marshall of the Necromongers, a sort of supernatural race of partly dead soldiers. But clearly David Twohy (the writer – director) and Diesel weren’t interested in telling more stories about the Necromongers, so after a rather implausible first few minutes where he quits his job and gets himself stranded and left near death on a sun-blasted alien planet, we’re able to kick off with a relatively clean slate.

The planet he’s stranded on is full of weird and wonderful alien life, and the first third of the film is him learning to adapt to this environment, hunt in it, and so on. He even manages to get himself a little pet, in the form of a weird dog-like creature, and this section, with Diesel being the only human on screen, is surprisingly gripping and operates as a way to show the skills he has for those viewers who never saw the character before.

But it’s when he finds a long-abandoned scientific / military outpost that the film really kicks off. He triggers the emergency beacon, and when a scanner identifies him, two different groups of bounty hunters come to the planet to get a man so dangerous that the bounty is doubled if he’s brought back dead. One of the groups is a bunch of degenerates, led by a fella called Santana, the other a pseudo-military outfit led by Boss Johns. Santana’s lot want the money, whereas Boss Johns wants to know what happened to his son, one of the characters from the first Riddick film, “Pitch Black”.

Therein lies the film, really. The two groups have their tactics of how to capture and kill Riddick, while he has his lifetime of training, fighting and survival to fall back on in a battle of brawn and wits. It’s really exciting, and while it bears a few similarities to the first movie I think it’s a fresh and interesting way to use the character. Riddick is the hunter in this, and while he’s occasionally a little too amazing to be real (and his comments to the one female member of either crew, Katee Sackhof’s character Dahl, are a little on the dodgy side) the tension is well built up and the final battle, with hordes of Mud Demons being revitalised thanks to a heavy rainstorm and trying to snack on some humans, is well done.

I find it hard talking about films which are solidly above average, other than to say something like “go and see this” in one of a hundred different ways. But I love science fiction, and I want to see it succeed, so it’s great that some real hard sci-fi like this is getting made. None of your “planet Earth with one or two differences” nonsense, this is an alien, with alien ideas, fighting on an alien planet, and I love it. It certainly has the feeling of the middle chapters in a much longer story, but it does well to operate as a standalone film too.

Okay, it’s not going to blow anyone’s mind, and it doesn’t so much advance the Riddick mythos as it does give us an entertaining two hours in his company, but a complicated mythos has been the death of many a sci-fi franchise. For a fairly low budget film it doesn’t feel like it scrimps and saves on the special effects, using its relatively few sets and large portions of darkness well.

If you’re a fan of Diesel’s, you’ll have almost certainly seen this film already (and judging by its box office take, we’ll be getting more in the series as soon as Diesel’s finished with upcoming “Fast and Furious” and “XXX” franchise entries), but if you’re not, I’d definitely recommend getting all three films, and watching them over the course of a few nights.

Riddick-2013

Oh, a PS going out to the makers of this film – my wife was very disappointed we got to see boobs in this film, but not even a tasteful butt shot of Vin Diesel. You might want to think about that portion of your fanbase, guys.

Phantasm 2 (1988)

A mere 8 years after the first film in the series, Don Coscarelli decided to revisit the franchise that made his name and gave us the first of three sequels to “Phantasm”. The first film was surprisingly good, if a bit confusing, so now the film’s got rid of its annoying kid star, will it improve?

p1

First things first, it starts just like “Halloween 2” (and “Porky’s 2”, if you want to talk about the real classics) by starting immediately after the first film finished. Mike goes up to his room and meets the Tall Man, then is dragged through his bedroom mirror by one of the Jawas (please read the review of part 1). Reggie comes to the rescue and prevents the Jawas carrying Mike to the Tall Man’s hearse, and the Tall Man accepts this with remarkable stoicism, giving an almost imperceptible shrug as Reggie blows up his own house.

Fast forward 8 years, and Mike is now James LeGros. This was his breakout role, pretty much, and he’s accompanied by Reggie Bannister returning to play Reggie, a slightly more obvious comic force in this installment, as well as being much more central to the plot. Fun fact – Reggie Bannister only acted in Don Coscarelli films for the first 12 years of his career, if IMDB is to be believed, and didn’t work at all between Phantasm 1 and 2. Maybe he really was an ice cream man?

Are you a tenth as badass as Reggie Bannister? Thought not

Are you a tenth as badass as Reggie Bannister? Thought not

Reggie tries to convince Mike that the stuff from the first film was a dream, unconvincingly, until his house (plus family) is blown up – again! – and that hardens both their hearts and sets them on their way towards revenge. The next section of the film is stylistically pretty interesting, as the two of them drive across America in a black muscle car trying to track the Tall Man. It’s like a very small seed of what became “Supernatural”, and I wonder if Eric Kripke would acknowledge the influence? Reggie provides a voiceover as the car drives down empty highways and through desolate, boarded up towns, evidence of the Tall Man’s work – remember, he’s an alien who steals corpses, compresses them into midgets and sends them through a portal to his home planet to work as slaves.

Mike is drifting in and out of dreams where he talks to a beautiful woman called Elizabeth, who’s also aware of the Tall Man, and fate seems to be bringing the two of them closer to each other. The Tall Man leaves little traps for Mike and Reggie, like an abandoned mortuary with a perfectly preserved corpse in it (come on guys, you really should have been suspicious of that one), but after picking up a hitchhiker called Alchemy who needs a ride to her small town home, the stage is set for the main section of the film. Two groups – one, Reggie, Mike and Alchemy; the other, Elizabeth and the local Vicar, who’s apparently turned a blind eye to the almost complete destruction of his town but no longer!

Every mausoleum in this world looks exactly the same. It’s entirely possible every one in this film is the same one, with differences in lighting and angles to distract us from that fact, but it’s both a little confusing and quite clever – this is the Tall Man’s world. The last section of this film is the fight between our heroes and him, and I love how well prepared Reggie and Mike are – they’ve tooled up, they’ve got a plan, and they’re not stupid. It’s a bit more meaty than part 1, with less of the dream-logic that looks more and more like something the director was forced into due to budget. It’s more action oriented, and better for it I think.

So, I’ve been pretty positive about the film so far. Reggie is great, the Tall Man is a brilliant villain, and the humour is welcome. Unfortunately, we’ve got an ending to be let down by, and here’s where I suppose you either ought to stop reading or watch the Youtube link above, if you’ve not done already. It’s such a boring paint-by-numbers 80s horror ending, where the victory so hard won by Reggie and Mike is rendered absolutely meaningless, and the Tall Man goes from alien to indestructible force of nature. Every single one of the big horror franchises made the same mistake, though, so perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on this one. Jason Voorhees went from misunderstood dead kid to supernatural representation of evil; Michael Myers, the same, probably (I’m not watching those damn films again to find out); Freddy Krueger ignored every single rule that the film had expected you to pay to see adhered to; Death went “sorry you guys, no matter what you do or what convoluted hoops you jump through, you’re all going to die” in the Final Destination films; in fact, Angela from “Sleepaway Camp” is the only one who doesn’t die and then get brought back, or get supernatural powers for no reason, and that I’m mentioning those films in a positive tone is something I never thought I’d do.

Anyway, it’s still annoying, even though it’s been going on so long that it’s the norm rather than the exception. Amazingly, “Phantasm” has avoided the other main horror franchise problem, of them needing to reboot rather than just tell new stories, partly due to it being all written and directed by one person, and it looks like the now fifteen year old part 4 will not be the last in the franchise. But more on that later.

It’s not a bad film, certainly. It’s got solid building blocks – decent central performances, a good original idea, and a healthy streak of humour. Its problems are the same problems that so many other films had, and if you can get over that fact (as horror fans presumably keep on doing) it’s another solid entry in a surprisingly good horror franchise. Also, the facial expressions that Reggie pulls during his big chainsaw fight scene are a joy to behold, and almost worth the price of admission on their own.

The eroticism is too much!

The eroticism is too much!