Hellraiser: Deader (2005)

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I keep expecting the “Hellraiser” series to get properly rubbish, but it never does. I know we’ve got rough times ahead with part 9, made on the cheap to keep the rights to the name, but the surprising thing is despite numerous flaws and obvious twists, the first seven movies have easily been the best of all the long-running horror franchises.

 

Why is this, I wonder? I think the best option I can think of is the main character and the story opportunities he provides. Looking at the other ones – “A Nightmare On Elm Street” (child murderer); “Halloween” (mute all-round psychopath); “Friday The 13th (same); and “Children Of The Corn” (er…some corn? Never seen them). Even the lesser franchises, with their killer puppets, killer dolls, killer Santas, killer fun-averse summer camp counsellors, and killer builders of very elaborate traps, have no central character anything like as interesting as Pinhead. He’s not evil, particularly, he just has a morality that exists outside our own (when he’s being written smart, that is), only comes when he’s called, and offers pleasure as well as pain. Okay, he tried to take over the Earth that one time, and takes more souls than is strictly necessary, but Doug Bradley has helped make the character a fascinating one. He represents something (our desire to “transgress”, to push our boundaries further) in a way that none of the others really do.

 

They’ve also been pretty good with their casting, mostly, and part 7 is no exception. Starring is Kari Wuhrer, best known to me as the later-seasons star of TV gem “Sliders” but a superstar in this low-budget world (at least until having three kids kept her busy, she does mostly voice work now). She’s too-cool-for-school newspaper reporter Amy Klein, working for “The London Underground” doing exposes like “how to be a crack whore”. One day, her editor brings her in and shows her a tape, of a woman shooting herself in the head and then being brought back to life by a chanting group and a stereotypical “libertine” guy – longish hair, billowy shirt, pale skin; the group call themselves the Deaders, and this took place in Romania, so she’s off there to find Marla, the person who sent her the tape in the first place.

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While she’s watching the tape, I kept getting distracted by the edits and multiple angles on display, like it was a professional documentary and not some grungy snuff film. Also, who used VHS tape in 2005? Also, what newspapers still do old-fashioned exposes nowadays? Apparently, the movie sat on a shelf for a few years, but that doesn’t really account for it. Talking of editing, after watching the video, Amy and her editor have a conversation about going to Romania, and it’s done as a total ripoff of the famous scene from “Don’t Look Now”,  where you see the thing that’s happening intercut with the thing that happens after it – for absolutely no reason other than presumably someone hoped no gorehounds would notice the lift. Anyway, off she pops, and bribing her way into Marla’s apartment, finds her dead on the toilet, having committed suicide, and takes another videotape…and a box, which the dead woman is clutching in her hand.

 

Yay! The Lament Configuration shows up at 20 minutes, so we at least know we weren’t tricked by the opening credits and are in a “Hellraiser” movie. She takes the box, and…well, it’s certainly getting easier to open these days. She presses a button and it starts playing music (the box must have gotten an upgrade?) then pops open on its own. It’s at this point you may well wonder if it’s going to have the same overarching idea as parts 5 and 6, but I can inform you now that it doesn’t. Amy meets Joey (Brit TV great Marc Warren), the leader of a non-stop party on a subway train – I wasn’t sure of the logistics of running your own train down there either – who warns her away from the Deaders and Winter, their mysterious leader, but this is a movie and people don’t take sensible advice in movies. The train scene is hilariously stupid, like someone lined up every stereotype of cool edginess and shoved it all into one room, and is therefore a perfect metaphor for a trashy Hellraiser sequel.

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After the box is opened, we get a few seconds of Pinhead and then reality starts bending the same way it did in 5 and 6 (not surprising, as 6, 7 and 8 share a director, Rick Bota). It even manages to up the ante in the final act, as Amy becomes a “Deader” herself, stabbed through the heart but still walking and talking – the scene where she tries to remove the knife from her back is pretty great. Marla comes back to lead her through the maze of the plot – something to do with the LeMarchand family from part 4, but I won’t spoil it any further, and then she’s got a final confrontation with Winter to go.

 

Again, I’ve not mentioned Pinhead very much in this, and it’s for the same reason as the last two movies. Dimension Films had a bunch of horror scripts they’d bought over the years, and decided to use three of them to extend the “Hellraiser” series. The third act was completely rewritten and works surprisingly well, as Amy has to confront the mysterious flashbacks to her childhood, Winter, and Pinhead. He’s really good in this, the best part he’s had for a couple of movies (not difficult, admittedly), with motivations that seem entirely believable based on what we know about him.

 

The cast is great (the ones who aren’t just Eastern European extras hired for nudity, that is), especially Georgina Rylance as Marla, a fantastic performance. Wuhrer is always fun to watch too, but the one issue I have with her is – people refer to her “fucked-up, self-destructive” streak, but it’s more that if they repeat it, we’ll believe it, despite no actual evidence. Okay, she feels compelled to take on the dirtiest, most messed-up stories and definitely has a dark past, but she’s a completely likeable, strong woman who just seems a little over-confident. But she’s great, and the part where she tries to cover up her rapidly leaking chest wound is an oddly light scene, and she pulls it off. They also mention how nice her ass is like three times, which feels like it was a clause her agent got put in her contract – I mean, I wasn’t paying attention to it, as she wears mostly baggy trousers, which is why it felt weird bringing it up.

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It’s certainly not perfect. No-one bothers to explain how Winter figured out he could bring people back from the dead, and the randomness of who can and can’t open the box is a bit irritating. It’s also part of a spree of filming in Romania from Dimension Films, to the point where I’m not sure if everyone realised what movie they were in – they shot Dracula 2 and 3, Prophecy 4 and 5, and Hellraiser 7 and 8, all at pretty much the same time, sharing lots of crew and some cast. It also features what I think is the first ever jump scare in “Hellraiser” history, which is a bit of a disappointment, and the whole thing of Amy being some sort of Lament Configuration chosen one feels a bit underwritten, too.

 

Now I’ve come to terms with Pinhead being an ancillary character in his own movies, I really rather enjoyed “Deader”. Unlike “Halloween”, which tried to become an anthology series and failed, “Hellraiser” is perfect for it – characters going through their own “hell”, drop the box in to their story, and away you go. Given that killing Pinhead seems close to impossible, the story of the Cenobites finished after part 4, and if there’s money to be made they’ll never stop churning them out, I’d rather we had something like this than Indestructible Killer X vs. yet another group of dumb teens.

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Rating: thumbs up

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Beastmaster 2: Through The Portal Of Time (1991)

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The squeamish among you will be pleased to find out that no animals are put in any sort of danger in “Beastmaster 2”. You think one of his menagerie dies, but they don’t, the tiger is normal tiger-coloured and the ferrets save the day. Hurrah!

Never mind part 1 altogether, really. The peace that Dar achieved at the end of the first film…er…what first film? Look over there! *runs away* We’ve got some serious B-movie royalty in this one – the bad guy, Arklon, is Wings Hauser (last seen by us in the amazing “Rubber”); one of his henchmen is Robert Z’Dar, returning to the screen soon for “Samurai Cop 2”; making a brief cameo is horror legend Michael Berryman; and introduced later is Kari Wuhrer, who we loved in “Sharknado 2”  and “Alien Tornado”, but who really ought to have been a far bigger star. And, even though I don’t go searching his films out, this is again Jim Wynorski-related, as he wrote the script.

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The gimmick of this film is a tried and tested staple of low budget cinema – the baddie opens a portal to present day LA! Theirs is a parallel universe, apparently. So, after a little bit where Wuhrer, playing wild child Jackie, accidentally drives through the portal and has a very hard time believing she’s not in LA anymore, the entire main cast decamps to present day LA, and Arklon goes looking for the neutron detonator, a mega-nuke of some sort that can destroy the Earth. Arklon sucks all the knowledge of the earth from some poor cop’s head using magic, Dar follows Jackie and evil witch Lyranna has been watching LA through the portal for months so knows all about our customs.

There’s a surprisingly small amount of “fish out of water” comedy on display, as if everyone realised that would be too cheesy. Arklon is trying to get the neutron detonator to take back to his world and rule unopposed, and Dar is trying to stop him, nice and simple-like. There’s a “hey, we’re the real barbarians, man” moment; Dar gets into rock n roll and calling people “asshole”; there’s the sort of scene that “Wayne’s World” parodied, when Dar happens to meet a monster in the woods at the beginning who gives him a huge amount of incredibly important information; there’s the way Kari Wuhrer can’t shut up, even though unless her IQ is in single digits she must realise something very weird has happened to her; there’s the way Dar isn’t remotely curious about where this utterly alien woman has come from. In other words, this film is packed with little OTT details that really elevate it.

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I know this film is cheaper than part 1, doesn’t look quite as beautiful, has a less strong cast, barely any death (must have been aiming for a family-friendly certificate) and is played for laughs much more than serious questing…but I think it’s a better film. The ending fight alone is a minor work of comic genius, even though the stakes are high and the characters are taking it seriously. You’ll have yourself some fun with this one.

Rating: thumbs up

Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)

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The Asylum and their friends at the SyFy Channel have nailed it, finally. After years of “funny” giant monster films which were anything but, the occasional clever parody which they treated like a serious film, and a not-that-great first “Sharknado” (despite a few brilliant moments) they’ve got some big sponsors and therefore a decent budget, a ludicrous number of special guest stars, a script which is actually funny and clever, an almost universally strong cast and a world which was ready for it.

It cleverly understands that the “how did this sharknado happen?” bit is dull and no-one cares, because it’s not like it could happen anyway, so they just get straight into it. In more ways than one – as Fin and April are on their way to New York to visit family, they fly through a sharknado, somewhere. Who cares? The celeb cameos start right away – I’m not going to mention them all, as there’s too many and I’m bound to miss a few, and indeed there were a few who were clearly supposed to be famous who I just didn’t recognise. Kelly Osbourne is a flight attendant, Wil Wheaton is a passenger and, best of all, Robert Hays is the pilot. You may remember him from “Airplane” and sadly not too much else, but he’s having fun here.

Fin’s family are unusual in an Asylum film. Not only because the mother and father are famous (father is Mark McGrath from Sugar Ray, mother is Kari Wuhrer) but because they seem happily married – regular readers will know the SyFy template of the estranged couple resolving their differences during the apocalypse, although the son, at least, has the decency to be a terribly wooden actor. The drama here is being separated – dad and son go to a Mets baseball game, mother and daughter to the Statue of Liberty.

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The really weird thing is, they appear to have actually filmed in New York. I’ve seen the Mets Stadium enough to know that they’re really there; and the Statue of Liberty seems real, and in the shot with the actors, too. There’s a lot of real New York street-shots…the upgrade in budget is obvious at every stage, and it’s great. Talking of real New York things, one of my favourite sitcoms is “Taxi”, set in the sleazy New York of the late 70s. Amazingly, they got that show’s star Judd Hirsch to play a taxi driver in this – a reference that will probably be lost on a lot of this film’s younger fans, but great for those of us with long TV and movie memories. He does unfortunately get eaten, but it’s good to see him again. We know him as “America’s favourite cranky old Jew”, but I hope he has a sense of humour about his career.

Biz Markie is in it! A pizza place that clearly paid a little to have their frontage on screen is Fin’s favourite place in New York, and his old friend played by Biz is the cook there. When I heard he was appearing, it made me so happy I sang his hit “Just A Friend” round the house for days, loud and out of tune (so, like Biz). He’s not, it must be said, a great actor, so I presume someone involved with the film was just as big a fan of his as I was.

The thing they learned from the first film is that normalcy is boring. It starts insanely over the top and just stays there – the plot and exposition is handled by regular cuts to real TV news people, clearly having the time of their lives; the cast just get to run around and be badass, shoot, slice or cook sharks, and have weird adventures with the B-list superstars who must have been queueing round the block for a chance to be in this film. I was amazed they lasted til nearly the end of the second one before they made a “jump the shark” joke as well, and then slightly disappointed in them. Ian Ziering gets both a rabble-rousing monologue and one where he questions his own life, as a formerly famous surfer turned nobody turned shark-killing superhero. The second one is clearly about Ziering’s own career, and talking of his actual career I hope he seizes this chance and does well with it. I imagine signing on for a terrible SyFy Channel movie a few years ago was a sobering moment for him, so it being the best thing he’s done in nearly 20 years must be weird.

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So yes, it’s really good! Loads better than the first film, and by a distance the best original movie by either the Asylum or the SyFy Channel (although my own personal favourite “Super Cyclone” runs this close). It was a huge success on its first broadcast, setting SyFy Channel viewing records, so I’m fairly certain there’s going to be a third one. Time to start guessing locations, and I’ll go for either the Caribbean or England, both of which give plenty of opportunities for celebs to pop in for a minute, have a laugh and then get eaten.

Rating: thumbs up

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Alien Tornado (2012)

This never happens

This never happens

Fun pre-film fact: one of the trailers on this DVD was for a film called “The Preacher’s Daughter”, one of those wonderfully earnest pro-religion films made by church front companies. It was so out of place that I kept expecting them during the film itself to go “well, we’ve tried everything else, what about prayer?” but I was sadly disappointed.

Jeff Fahey, star of “100 Degrees Below Zero”, is seemingly working for anyone at the moment. I’m not saying he had the greatest agent in the world before, but I think his voicemail nowadays must go “if you’re calling about work, the answer is yes”. How else to explain a film called “Alien Tornado” that DOESN’T HAVE ANY DAMN ALIENS IN IT

Calm down, Mark. One good thing about this film is that it kicks off fairly quickly, establishing the evil tornadoes along with the central relationship in the film between Fahey, as a farmer who’s down on his luck; and Stacey Asaro as his high-school daughter who’s desperate to get out of this small town and off to college in Chicago. They both look like they were cast for this film years ago and it kept getting delayed until they were both too old to play the parts, but it went ahead anyway – Asaro is 25 and Fahey is 60.

Rounding out the film’s main cast is Kari Wuhrer, who in a better, more just world would have been cast as Lara Croft in a pre-Jolie “Tomb Raider” movie as she combines being a believable love-interest lead with looking like she could kick ass. Instead, she got a few seasons on “Sliders” and is now reduced to appearing in, what I just discovered after thinking I’d escaped one, a SyFy Channel original movie. Why do you torture me so, SyFy?

So, these two groups are brought together by mysterious tornadoes appearing above government institutions, army bases, power stations and the like. They’re unusual in that they are black, with weird flashing green lights inside, and this is enough to bring Wuhrer from her big city meteorologist / reporter / storm chaser job, as well as pique the interest of some shady Government agents, who dress in black jumpsuits with little red stripes on one arm. They look like they’re wearing outfits that the band Devo rejected for being too dumb, but I’ll let that one slide. The main man of the agents is a Malcolm MacDowell-wannabe who fills this film’s quota for soft-spoken verbose psychopaths (although he does have an interesting character arc).

Too late to call your agent now mate

Too late to call your agent now mate

Fahey’s first meeting with the government guys is ridiculous. He’s driving, sees the tornado up ahead then sees a black SUV go flying past him. He catches up to try and warn them, sees they’re all uniformed guys who look like they know what they’re doing, then they speed up away from him again. His response to this is to try and run them off the road for absolutely no reason whatsoever, endangering the life of his daughter in the passenger seat too. Huh?

Wuhrer gets her hacker friend to decode some mysterious signal they record coming from one of the tornadoes, and to the surprise of no-one who saw this film under its original title (it was renamed “Tornado Warning” for its DVD release in Europe, presumably because the distributor saw it and thought “why the hell has this got alien in its title, there’s none of them in it”) the tornadoes are either aliens or under the control of aliens – it’s never really made clear. They’ve been on earth for some time, apparently, but they’ve only recently become violent, with tendrils coming off the tornado to scoop the occasional unlucky person up. The government guys realise they can either keep it under wraps and kill the people who know about the aliens, or help Wuhrer and co and damn their evil orders, a matter which becomes more pressing when it’s discovered the tornadoes are headed for Chicago and could kill millions.

Given that the bad guy in this is some wind, the ending manages to be fairly decent. We do get to see Bernie from “Weekend at Bernie’s” (yes, the corpse) in a rare living role, which caused me and my wife to spend several of the quieter moments of this film debating what happened in “Weekend at Bernie’s 2”. Did they store him in a fridge between movies? Does the second one start the instant the first one ends?

Anyway, it ends with all being resolved. Dad had to use the daughter’s college fund to repair his farm at the beginning of the film, which causes conflict (obviously), but as she’s a national hero thanks to her uploading her exploits on Youtube, she gets an offer from an overseas college with a full scholarship. Wuhrer, whose main job is running a weather website, decides she can do it from Fahey’s farm just as well as from the big city, and despite sharing basically no scenes all the way through the film, having zero chemistry, one of them being a gorgeous celebrity and the other an old farmer, they kiss and all is well.

Literally up to the last few minutes of the film, part of my brain was waiting for some aliens to appear and do anything at all, but sadly no. It has inspired me to write my own film though, called “An Entirely Off-Screen Dracula Tries To Kill Teens With Remote Control Planes”. Look out for it in cinemas near you soon.

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