Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Fright Fest

Three reviews. Three horrors. Three diverse subject matters. Three distinct levels of quality. Feel “three” to read on, terror enthusiasts…

18 – 88mins – 2004

Lazily borrowing the title from Mary Shelley's vintage gothic novel, you'd be forgiven for thinking this 2004 telefilm is a modern day remake. In actuality it's a quasi-sequel, catching up with the eponymous monster-maker and his iconic creation some 200 years after the original story. And yes, both doctor and monster are still alive, with the mad genius's controversial experiments leading to evolutionary advances in human sustainability – which Dr. Victor Frank- sorry: Helios (as he has now taken to calling himself) has successfully tested on himself.

“The Monster” (Vincent Perez) may well be Helios's (Thomas Kretschmann) first foray into human resurrection, but in the intervening centuries many more patchwork people have been reawakened in the doctor's mission to create the perfect living organism – including Helios's own wife (Ivana Milicevic) and, worryingly, a mad man who is butchering his way through New Orleans. You see, Helios's creations want to die – but they can't kill themselves, so one rogue “monster” is setting himself up to be caught.

Enter Detectives Carson (Parker Posey) and Sloane (Adam Goldberg) who are aided by a mysterious third party (I'll give you a clue: “I'm not the monster anymore – I'm your best hope”) in tracking down the organ stealing serial killer. From Conan 2011 director Marcus Nispel I was expecting much better than this low budget trash, which mistakes gothic for “no lighting” and paints even the daytime scenes in a grimy blue/green hue. In addition, the camera refuses to take a step back from the characters, making the whole endeavour feel claustrophobic rather than atmospheric.

Conceptualised by horror writer Dean Koontz with a view to expanding this pilot into a TV series (which goes a long way to explaining the painful lack of closure), creative differences saw Koontz depart and go on to make his vision into a very popular series of novels. The Frankenstein he left behind is, unsurprisingly, a misfiring mess: scenes feel rushed, the editing often feels like it's worked around ad breaks, minor characters (such as Carson's autistic son) are introduced then wasted, while the whole project feels half-baked and unfinished (at no point do Helios and his creation/the police cross paths). This monster is anything but alive.

CR@B Verdict: aaaaa

15 – 102mins – 2011

Zombies? Love ‘em. Vampires? No sweat. Creature Features? Piece of cake. Yet when it comes to ghosts I turn into an absolutely nervous sissy. What? Don’t judge me; we all have our weaknesses! Even before pressing play, I was already freaked out by Insidious’ atmospheric montage menu sequence – yet still I persevered through Saw creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s spine-chilling phantom fest; and I only needed three changes of pants!! I deserve a medal (or a pack of Huggies!).

Moving into a new house, a young family’s lives are turned upside-down when their oldest son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), falls into an unfathomable coma. With doctors utterly perplexed, after three months the unresponsive lad is moved back home, but a number of ghostly visitations, bumps in the nights and whispers on the baby monitor lead terrified mother Renai (Rose Byrne) to persuade her sceptical husband Josh (Patrick Wilson) to relocate once more. Problem is: the supernatural entities follow them, because it isn’t the house that’s haunted.

A second half curveball where, out of sheer desperation, Renai hires a team of low-tech paranormal oddballs (Lin Shaye, Angus Sampson and multi-talented scribe Whannell) to rid them of spectral intrusion, moves the film away from its low-key haunted house concept and into full-scale demonic parasite invasion, via Ghostbusters-esque light comic relief. It’s a bit of a tone change, but no less jumpy, and the dread continues to mount in this tense and truly terrifying vision.

Much like the equally freaky Paranormal Activity (the creator of which, Oren Peli, is producer on this gig) I can assuredly say I will never watch Insidious again – and that’s the highest praise I can pay it.

CR@B Verdict: aaaaa

Film Review: PRIMAL
18 – 80mins – 2010

Six hopelessly ill-equipped university pals travel deep into the remote Australian outback to document long lost 12,000year-old rock paintings for their anthropology thesis. But, as is the convention with these genre B-movies, what starts out as a fun and exotic off-road expedition into the unknown soon spirals into disaster as one of their number contracts a mystifying fever which sees her hallucinate wildly as all her teeth fall out. Someone didn’t have their jabs!

Before long, the formerly flirtatious Mel (Krew Boylan) has grown a nasty set of animalistic gnashers, taken to communicating in primitive grunts and eating a wholly raw meat diet. Now her friends must decide whether to kill or be killed as they are hunted down in a ferociously primeval fashion. Slick production, a mounting sense of desperation and delightfully visceral cannibalistic carnage provide Primal with a superior edge over other similarly small-budgeted direct-to-DVD shockers.

Unfortunately, director Josh Reed’s vivid feature length debut stutters as it attempts to give reason to the madness (something about a giant horny cave-dwelling slug making the Neanderthals into its slaves to bring it fresh flesh to chow down on and women to impregnate) and an early stab at tying the events in with lead character Anja’s (Zoe Tuckwell-Smith) descendents is disregarded almost as soon as it is brought up. Should have stuck to the fiendishly entertaining stalk n’ strike scenario.

CR@B Verdict: aaaaa

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