Ice Spiders (2007)

Ice Spiders

Tibor Takacs has been making ISCFC-worthy movies his entire career. From 1987’s “The Gate” to 1997’s “Armageddon” (the Rutger Hauer / Mark Dacascos one) to 2013’s “Spiders”, he’s the guy you call if you have a movie with a weird premise and a low budget. Although we’ve only reviewed one, the fantastic “Mansquito”, he’ll be showing up again, and he’s behind one of my favourite SyFy Channel movies, “Ice Spiders”.

I want SyFy to be more like Roger Corman who, during his 60s heyday, would do stuff like write a script in a day if he suddenly got access to a cool set. I’d like to think something similar happened here, where SyFy were offered a ski resort and something that looked a bit like a military base for a weekend and knocked up a film with the first monster that came into their heads. The gist of this particular one…can you guess from the title?…is we have a group of teen skiing superstars going off to a resort for training; plus the owner of the resort (famed TV writer Stephen J Cannell, doing a spot of acting); his head trainer, former Olympic hopeful Dan “Dash” Dashiell (Patrick Muldoon) and the hot scientist from the local research place, Dr April Sommers (Vanessa Williams, 44 at the time and not looking a day over 25). It’s this lot up against the head scientist from the local research place, who’s been doing illicit experiments on some prehistoric spider DNA, and a bunch of gigantic spiders, who are fine in the snow and have got a taste for humans.

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“Ice Spiders” manages to separate itself from its SyFy brethren in a number of ways. First up, the entire main cast can act so there’s no wasted time getting embarrassed on their behalf. The characters, by and large, behave in a sensible manner. And there’s a good sense of fun on display – the first reaction of the two hunters who die at the beginning of the movie isn’t to run, or get help, when they see a giant spider, but to try and kill it; Dash’s pathetic attempt to hit on April; and a truly magnificent mid-air death.

Although there’s a lull (only a small one) Takacs understands that you need to change things up a bit in the middle of a cheesy giant spider movie, so we get all sorts of different attacks, methods of defence, camera styles and perspectives. There’s a great scene where the teens are watching some of their friends try and make it to the school bus, at extreme distance, so their commentary runs over the footage of tiny figures trying to dodge spiders – not a world-beating scene, I admit, but visually unique in terms of the rest of the film. This is rare, is what I’m getting at.

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There’s a fun final battle, some magnificent black-and-white morality at the end, and a decent satisfying coda. What more could you ask for (from a SyFy Channel original, about ice spiders)? It’s also got one of those odd credits that almost guarantees an interesting story – listed as “executive consultant” is Brian Trenchard-Smith, who we’ve covered with “Drive Hard”, but has a long and famous career in Ozploitation and in being one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourites. What did he consult on, I wonder?

Anyway, while it’s not perfect, it’s loads of fun, Muldoon is a great B-movie leading man (although he does come out with one too many lame sexist “jokes”), and you’ll have a great time if it’s on.

Rating: thumbs up

44 years old. I think she's a vampire.

44 years old. I think she’s a vampire.

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The 7 Adventures of Sinbad (2010)

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I tried to keep count and got to 4 before what might be considered an “adventure” became a confusing concept – but never mind trying to figure out if the title is a bit misleading, because it’s one of the stranger and more fun Asylum mockbusters we’ve yet to review!

Adrian Sinbad, a Qatari shipping magnate played by a white American, has a heart of gold. He’s discovered some super-deep-sea oil, or something (never seen a film where that happens before, so far so good), and is also investing heavily in environmental stuff as well. Good work Sinbad! Anyway, he’s got a tanker with 130 million gallons of oil on it which gets hijacked for a $10,000,000 ransom. Hold on, 130 million barrels? The Gulf of Mexico spill, which went on for weeks, was only 4 million! How big a tanker would you need to carry all that? Anyway, we mustn’t dwell on such things, for there is much more film to discuss!

In the first 12 minutes of the film, not only does all this happen, but Sinbad and a few of his co-workers fly out in a helicopter to the tanker and see it…get pulled under the surface by a gigantic sea creature! This is almost insanely fast by Asylum standards, and when the helicopter is also sucked into the ocean, only for Sinbad to wake up on a mysterious island which is actually the back of a small-country-sized whale, things start to get odd.

This film is apparently the mockbuster for “Prince Of Persia”. It has the alternate title “Sinbad, Prince of Persia” and the DVD I have has the hookline “The Real Prince of Persia” – that the film isn’t set in Persia, and stars a guy who neither looks nor acts particularly Persian, appears to not be a particular problem for our friends at the Asylum. Of course, in their grand tradition, they’ll rip off the name or the plot but not both at the same time, so in this one we get a plot which appears to be sort of lifted from “The Odyssey”. Sinbad has to deal with giant birds and a Cyclops and crabs and Sirens and super-squids and having the island he’s on flap its tail and submerge, thanks to some ancient prophecy about how a bloke on a helicopter will come to save us all. Oh, and this is packaged with an enviro-disaster of some sort, which is never really explained but gives the people back at Sinbad’s corporate headquarters something to do.

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As well as his cannon fodder team, he meets Loa, the beautiful daughter of a scientist who died on this island decades ago and left her to fend for herself. She helps him and adapts amazingly quickly to modern life, given her apparent complete lack of exposure to it – including helping him pilot a submersible to go and rescue the sunk tanker, which is in danger of rupturing and spilling its oil all over. There are some nice subplots here and there, but this film’s Wikipedia page is the place to go if you’d like a slightly too-detailed rundown of the plot.

It’s full of holes and features a thoroughly confusing ending, but I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed this one (my wife’s alternate explanation is repeated exposure to the Asylum means my brain can’t process good entertainment any more). Patrick Muldoon deserves a bigger career than he’s had – if they ever made a film of the “Uncharted” computer game series he’d be perfect for the lead. Sadly, although I also loved “Ice Spiders”, not enough people did and it didn’t launch him into the wisecracking action hero stratosphere.

This is what I’d call a “classic” Asylum mockbuster, where the routine is:

1. Title from one film
2. Plot from two or three others
3. ???
4. Profit!

I mentioned “The Odyssey”, but there’s the classic Ray Harryhausen films here too, as well as a hefty dollop of “Lost” (close to its end when this film was made). It’s got more in common with “Transmorphers” than “Sharknado”, is what I’m trying to get across. Anyway, Muldoon is a great leading man, there’s always something going on and this is definitely in the upper echelon of Asylum films.

Rating: thumbs up

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Project Viper (2002)

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Our Jim Wynorski season is winding down – there might be a few others coming, but seeing any of his really recent films fills me with dread. This site will close before we touch “The Witches Of Breastwick” with a ten-foot pole.

The space shuttle is off on a terraforming mission to Mars, and to help it along it’s brought a mysterious secret weapon, contained in a large tube. Power cut – secret weapon gets out – people in space shuttle die; but we then meet the group of scientists who created the thing in the tube, codenamed “Viper”. It’s a really odd scene, as their banter feels like it’s from a bad corporate video (you know, like the ones you have to watch about sexual harrassment or whatever). They’re waiting for the fourth member of their team, but she’s busy getting killed and replaced by a doppelganger. The main scientist, Nancy Burnham, is played by Theresa Russell, who appears to have aged very well as I would never have guessed it was her.

Our star, though, is Captain Connors, played by Patrick Muldoon (star of “Ice Spiders”, one of my favourite B-movies of recent years). He’s a wisecracking womanising special agent and he’s called in when it’s discovered that persons unknown are after the other “Viper”, held in their secure lab. It turns out that “Viper” is a combination mechanical / organic device, created for terraforming but with military applications that raise its value considerably, and after it’s stolen the thieves make it as far as the small town of Lago Nogales before crashing their plane, allowing Viper to escape and kill them both. Oops!

So, we’re in familiar territory for a SyFy Channel movie (for it is so), a small town with a bad thing terrorising it. But, amazingly, Jim Wynorski still gave a damn back in 2002 so there’s a variety of storylines impacted by the arrival of Viper, Connors, Burnham and her team. The sheriff, suffering from terminal cancer thanks to local radioactive waste, is played by ISCFC legend Tim Thomerson; and Curtis Armstrong is the ambulance chasing lawyer, trying to persuade the town to sue the company that dumped the waste.

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Signs of low budget are everywhere – the water jugs with “NASA” stuck on them are a delight, and the fact no cars were damaged in the firefight that takes place in a car park is a good indicator they were all rentals and they couldn’t afford to lose the deposit. Then they blow up an aeroplane! Wynorski 2014 could make ten films for the cost of that one special effect from Wynorski 2002 (unless they bought it from some other film).

It’s not all good news for “Project Viper” though, sadly. People seem to die at the drop of a hat, as characters who are built up to be fairly central just get offed without a by-your-leave. But, the flipside of that is you don’t have time to get bored by any of it, as the plot rips along. It’s got a very strong cast, relatively speaking, decent-ish special effects, and is definitely in the upper echelon of SyFy Channel originals.

Rating: thumbs up