Monday, 23 November 2015

SHARKNADO 3: OH HELL NO!

Directed by Anthony C. Ferrante, Starring: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Cassie Scerbo, David Hasselhoff. Horror Sci-Fi, US, 2015, 89mins, Cert 15.
Released in the UK on DVD and digital download on 23rd November 2015 by Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment.

‘OH HELL NO!’ Never has a movie title seemed more apt. Clearly meant as an up-front apology, the makers are obviously recognising the inevitable reaction to SHARKNADO 3 as they serve up yet another humourless meteorological smorgasbor(e)d of cartoonish CG shark splatter.

With ominous storm clouds once again gathering overhead, Finley Allen "Fin" Shepard (Ian Ziering) attends an awards ceremony at the Whitehouse in recognition of his previous heroics in Los Angeles and New York. But sure enough, no sooner has Fin accepted his ‘Order of the Golden Chainsaw’ award, then the heavens open up and sharks rain down on Washington DC. The president and Finn stand fighting shoulder to shoulder in a scene resembling the dynamics of the arcade game ‘House of the Dead’ (albeit with less convincing graphics here) as this latest sharknado turns the Capitol Building into a (Great) White House. Meanwhile, down in Florida, Fin’s heavily pregnant wife April (Tara Reid), their daughter Claudia and April’s mother (Bo Derek) are at Universal Studies Orlando, where the ‘Twister’ attraction is about to become a whole lot scarier. With multiple sharknados merging (sharkicane!) it’s a race against time to prevent a cataclysmic cyclone of carcharodon carcharias (and loads of other species of sharks that I don’t know the Latin names for).

How dispiriting it must be for SFX companies commissioned to work on a film like SHARKNADO 3. Hi guys, we need you to deliver a barrage of intentionally sub-par visual shots of random shark species flapping unconvincingly through stormy skies. Then we need lots of shots of sharks landing with repetitively telegraphed precision on victims turning them into human piñatas bursting with point and click CG blood? Gee thanks – we’ll get right on it – this’ll look great on our CVs!

The trouble with a franchise that strains so intentionally to be knowingly rubbish and self-aware is that having set the ambition bar so low to begin with – by the time it gets to SHARKNADO 3, the bar is practically scraping the floor (or barrel). So instead you end up spending most of the film’s running time counting up the number of celebrity cameos you can spot – and feeling slightly cheated if they don’t end up as shark-bait (e.g. Jedward).

To be fair, Ian (Beverley Hills, 90210) Ziering throws himself into his heroic Jonah-like role as Fin with more straight-up commitment than the film frankly deserves. Tara Reid on the other hand appears to ‘act’ in a near-comatose state of tranquilized disengagement. This is however understandable given the fact that the sole raison d'être for her character here is to deliver (both literally and metaphorically) a tired double-whammy punch line finale. David ‘The Hoff’ Hasselhoff - having already previously survived another toothsome fishy peril in PIRANHA 3DD - somehow manages against all odds to retain a modicum of dignity as Fin’s estranged father and former NASA colonel.

The MOONRAKER(ish) finale sets up the only reasonably successful tongue-in-cheek moments in the whole film. If you thought Alfonso Cuarón’s GRAVITY was scientifically dubious, SHARKNADO 3’s dénouement makes Sandra Bullock’s predicament look like an Open University documentary - and PIRANHA 3DD a discarded segment from BBC One’s ‘The Blue Planet’.   

Following its premiere on the Syfy Channel, a Twitter campaign was launched for fans of the series to vote on the fate of Tara Reid’s character for SHARKNADO 4 (confirmed). The options were either: #AprilLives or #AprilDies. Given the choice, I’d have typed: #SharknadoDies.
**(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

Originally published on the FRIGHTFEST website.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

THE HALLOW



Directed by Colin Hardy, Starring: Joseph Mawle, Bojana Novakovic, Michael McElhatton. Horror, Ireland, 2015, 97mins, Cert 15.

In cinemas from Friday 13th November 2015.

“This isn’t London. Things here go bump in the night”

Upping sticks (pun intended) from London, tree-surgeon (Joseph Mawle) relocates with his wife (Bojana Novakovic) and baby to a remote Irish mill house in order to carry out an assessment on the surrounding woods. Dismissing the warnings of the locals to stay away, he discovers a sinister fungus growing in the woodland, but he and his family are also about to discover there’s something else residing in the woods.
Music video director Colin Hardy’s feature debut is a love-letter to his childhood special effects heroes Stan Winston, Dick Smith, Ray Harryhausen: and to monsters. It’s a minimalist, familiar, and underwritten set-up: married couple, baby (and pet dog) move to an isolated location surrounded by spooky wood. But creature-feature fanboy Hardy’s heart lies with the “faeries, banshees, baby-stealers” that the forest belongs to, and it’s obvious that’s where his creative focus lies.

Tree scraper Adam Hitchens (Joseph Mawle, think David Thewlis-lite), isn’t an especially sympathetic character. The script frequently requires him to demonstrate exasperating obstinacy and complacency for his family’s safety. He refuses to talk to local farmer Colm (Michael McElhatton), who is unnerving wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic), and dismisses his well-intentioned warnings until it’s too late. He brings a highly contagious parasitic fungus into the family home; takes his eyes off the road to reach for a fallen toy when driving with his infant in the car; convinces no one but himself that he can defend his family in STRAW DOGS style from a supernatural home invasion; and is prepared to leave his child in a cupboard whilst the aforementioned fungus is spreading its viscous black spiky gloop throughout the house! 

But enough of the humans, what about the monsters? Director Hardy constructs a gradually incremental reveal – pulling off a brilliant early sequence using mainly sound to convey the threat as dad is locked in the car boot with his child strapped into the car seat vulnerable to the encroaching menace clawing away at the vehicle. Their first appearances are teasingly glimpsed by Adam’s camera flash briefly illuminating the source of the rustling in the bushes. Deploying a combination of largely practical FX - prosthetics, performers and animatronics – and adding some light touch post-production CG enhancement, the end results on screen have a pleasingly old-school feel to them. Think a sort of cross between the Berserkers from NIGHTBREED and 'Groot' from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – but there are many films and creatures referenced. John Carpenter’s THE THING is clearly an inspiration – and whilst he’s not name-checked in the credits, given the prominent on-screen threat to eyes, I’d say Lucio Fulci must be in director Hardy’s DNA somewhere too. There’s also a terrific set-piece featuring wife Clare fighting to prevent a baby-stealing creature breaking through the loft trapdoor which conjures up a similar encounter with a one-armed hero named Ash and a fruit cellar...

The combining of olde worlde folklore with the science of a Cordyceps Parasitic Fungi aka ‘zombie fungus’ (which rather alarmingly is a real thing – I Googled it) is an interesting premise but it doesn’t gel together all that well. The same can be said for the body-horror element, which deflects the attention away from the creatures onto our tree-expert, who quite frankly isn’t remotely as interesting as what’s lurking in the woods. This shift away from the monsters threatens complete derailement – but luckily the focus gets back on track to bring things to a reasonably satisfying conclusion as sunlight bursts through the trees.

I would have liked a bit more back story concerning the mythology of the inhabitants featured in THE HALLOW (which was originally titled: THE WOODS). And all the characters, especially wife Clare, could have benefitted from some more depth than the minimalist sketches provided for them (she doesn’t like to leave draining the pasta for too long). But perhaps the absence of any detailed origins was all part of director Colin Hardy’s grand design to keep us wanting more? The way the seemingly innocuous tracking shot behind the end credits suddenly zooms in on a suggestion for the story’s expansion certainly sets up the possibility of a sequel. But Hardy himself may now have to pass on revisiting THE HALLOW as he’s currently flying high helming the reboot of THE CROW. If so, then at least he’s nurtured a decent creature-feature which has helped him to lay down future roots to branch out into whichever genre path he chooses (and that’s more than enough tree puns for now).
***(out of 5*)

Paul Worts 

Monday, 9 November 2015

FURY: THE TALES OF RONAN PIERCE


Directed by Kevin McCarthy, Starring: Michael McCarthy, Jordan Elizabeth, Wade Gallagher. Thriller, US, 2014, 91mins, Cert 18.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray & DVD on 9th November 2015 by Monster Pictures.

A vigilante cop seeking revenge for the murder of his daughter and the kidnapping of his ex-wife sets about exacting brutal justice on those responsible. Cutting a bloody swathe through an underground network of human traffickers, drug dealers, and organ harvesters, can he get to his ex-wife in time to save her?

This dispiritingly tedious attempt to recreate the neo-noir sensibility of Frank Miller and Robert Rodriquez’s SIN CITY flatlines right from the off with its jaundiced visual palette, its unremittingly grim misogyny, and its anti-hero’s rasping voiceover of inane cobblers.
It’s some achievement to make a film so packed with sordid incident, yet at the same time so dull as to render it almost unwatchable. Where to begin? Let’s start with the lead Michael McCarthy as rogue law enforcer Ronan Pierce. Grunting and screaming through one violent set-piece after another, he lacks any real onscreen presence to engage the viewer, and instead remains just as eminently unlikeable as the endless parade of scumbags he leaves slaughtered in his wake. Kane Hodder’s fleeting onscreen time is largely taken up with him relaxing in a strip club ogling pole-dancers (hardly worthy of second-billing on the DVD artwork). Jordan Elizabeth fares better as an initial damsel-in-distress circus clown (yes really) who turns out to be only too eager to torture an overpowered assailant with a pair of rusty pliers (albeit off-screen, in a rare moment of coyness on the part of the lead actor’s brother, director Kevin McCarthy). Actually, I would have much preferred a film centred on Jordan’s character, but that would presumably deviate too much from the film’s unerring machismo aesthetic where female characters are only either chained up or stripped.

Visually, the murky cinematography, filtered through a bleached yellow cataract hue, often renders detail indiscernible. Unfortunately though, the cartoonish speeded up driving scenes are all too visible (and risible) and as a stylistic flourish just fall flat. 

Is there anything at all to recommend this film? Well, you do get to see a man bludgeoned to death by a large fish – admittedly this is not nearly as entertainingly audacious as the piscine violence meted out in Spanish short FIST OF JESUS – but FURY doesn’t offer up much to reel you in.

*(out of 5*)

Paul Worts 

(Review originally published on FRIGHTFEST website.)

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

Directed by Christopher Landon, Starring: Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Joey Morgan, Sarah Dumont, David Koechner. Comedy/Horror. US, 2015, 93mins, Cert 15.

Be prepared. Be VERY prepared.

Director Christopher Landon, probably best known for his writing stints on the PARANOMRAL ACTIVITY franchise (he also directed THE MARKED ONES instalment); takes a break from penning blurry CCTV footage to offer up an undemanding smutty zombie comedy romp with gross-out splatstick and boob jokes aplenty.

I’m beginning to feel sorry for zombies. It seems every possible demographic from strippers to cockneys to pro-wrestlers wants a piece of them. Their latest enemies, an unlikely trio of resourceful teenage scouts and a hot cocktail waitress handy with a shotgun, give them no end of messily gruesome grief when they infest their little town.

Character-wise, despite the initial novelty of the premise, we have essentially your standard teen archetypes, albeit ones wearing full scout kit. There’s the decent looking more thoughtful lead, Ben (Tye Sheridan), the horny titty obsessed smut hound, Carter (Logan Miller), and the triangle is completed by Augie (Joey Morgan), the overweight insular kid who you don’t want tagging along to a frat party for fear he’ll cramp your style (once you’ve changed out of your scout uniform that is).

The script offers up current references which feel overly calculated and appear clumsily shoehorned in for the multiplex crowd, e.g. selfie obsession, and Carter’s quip to chubby Augie when he unveils his handmade bomb: “What are you, the Taliban?” I will give it sniggering kudos for naming the local strip club: ‘Lawrence of Alabia’ (even if it is pinched from a porn film title – or so I’m told). In between setting up the next zombie encounter, the script pauses for breath to try and inject some depth into our teen protagonists. These moments feel obligatory rather than integral, but at least Sarah Dumont as the teens wet-dream Denise gets the occasional break from having her arse leered at.

Like a thieving magpie, SCOUTS plunders from a host of (infinitely superior) genre films ranging from John Carpenter’s THE THING, to RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, but it does still manage to drag at least some freshness onto the overly-saturated rotting corpse playing field.

The plentiful zombie splatter carnage is executed with an impressively satisfying exuberance by renowned special makeup effects designer and supervisor, Tony Gardner – and there are a couple of gross-out moments that even the Farrelly brothers would probably stand up and applaud.

In the end, SCOUTS won me over (or rather beat me into juvenile submission) with its gaggle of gross-out gore gags and inventively silly set-pieces. (Although I would have liked to have seen more of the zombie cats). It’s not a genuine cult classic in the making because whilst it strains every sinew of its synthetic fibre to be a current crowd-pleaser, it lacks the real heart required to stick around.                   

***(out of 5*)              

Paul Worts