Stranded aka Djinns (2010): Desert Deja Vu?

Djinns (film)

That this French film made little to no impact on the world of cinema is evident by the overwhelming lack of information on the internet. Both IMDb and Wikipedia have very short ‘blurbs’ on the film apart from a shorthand version of the story/plot and a cast list.

I can’t really understand why. It is a decent enough film in a small niche market of military horror. Yes, it has been done before and arguably better.

The South Koreans with the brilliant (and in my humble opinion the best of the lot) R-Point in 2004 followed closely by the 2008 film The Guard Post. Not only has Korea created this cross-genre but by making two military-horror films one after the other seems  to prove that they have mastered this niche genre.

The UK brought out Deathwatch in 2002 and Stranded reminded me of the film with the choice of colours and the muted desert tones that pervade the film. A not too dissimilar plotline and cast of characters  made the film  seem a bit  like a distant cousin to Deathwatch.

Written and directed by Hugues Martin, and Sandra Martin, Stranded is  the maiden voyage for the both of them and they acquit themselves well. The actors were mostly unknown to me as I am not a huge French film fan. I did recognise Cyril Raffaelli who is perhaps better known as a stuntman and stunt coordinator. He played the lead role in Luc Besson’s excellent District 13 and the sequel District 13: Ultimatum (Cyril was the stunt choreographer for both films) and he was a ‘baddy’ in Die Hard 4.0.

The film opens with a lone figure in a military uniform staggering down a highway surrounded by desert. The figure is carrying an aluminium briefcase with a handcuff on it. At one point he fires his weapon, an SMG, wildly and then collapses. He is rescued by more French military personnel and they begin to question him about the briefcase and where the rest of his squad is.

One week before the survivor along with the rest of his squad were sent out into the desert to find an airplane that had crashed and to look for any passengers who might still be alive. The squad have all been together for a while except for the newest member who was recently drafted into the military. This newcomer is Michel (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) and he has brought along a spring operated cine camera to film their desert search for the missing plane.

Once the squad have found the plane, they find all the bodies bar two and an aluminium briefcase that has been handcuffed to one of the passengers. Vacard (Thierry Frémont) hacks the dead man’s hand off to take possession of the case. Thierry plays Vacard with a mix of cold professionalism with just a hint (at first) of homicidal madness that really makes him stand out in the film.

After the men have collected the corpses from the plane Michel  arranges his comrades around the area and he starts directing and  filming them. Just as he gets started one of the men is shot and the remaining squad members take cover and begin returning fire.

Vacard kills one of the attackers and the men take advantage of this to escape the plane and head off into the desert. A sandstorm blows in and slows down their escape and hinders the attackers from following them easily. While they have camped for the night during the storm Ballant (Emmanuel Bonami) appears to be approached by some almost invisible creature.

Michel witnesses this and he watches as Ballant tries to steal the briefcase and after failing he wanders off into the storm.  While the squad are looking for Ballant the stumble across a village. The men enter the village and round-up all the occupants accidentally killing a girl in the process.

Michel is approached by the village’s ‘holy woman’ and she tell him that he can see the Djinn (creatures of the desert) and that he has been marked as a ‘holy man.’

Since the film was originally titled Djinns it is no real surprise when these desert creatures start taking over and influencing the dwindling number of French soldiers.

The film was atmospheric, moody and slightly eerie. The actors all did a good job and there was a plot twist at the end. So really I don’t get why it was so poorly received. I felt it was entertaining, if not too original, but to be fair there were only a few military-horror films that  came out prior to this film’s release.

I would recommend seeing it just because it does entertain well. It got a little confusing at one point, but that’s because I stopped reading the subtitles while I answered an email or two. It did not spoil the film, however, and I soon picked the loose plot thread back up.

It is currently on show via LOVEFILM in the UK and I’m sure it wouldn’t be too hard to find in a film rental shop.

My final verdict is that despite the initial poor reception, it’s definitely worth a watch. Even if you don’t get to see Cyril Raffaelli do any smooth parkour moves.

District 13: Ultimatum
District 13: Ultimatum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wishmaster (1997): Tongue-in-Cheek Horror

Wishmaster (film)
Wishmaster (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Made in 1997 and directed by Robert Kurtzman (this was his second feature film) Wishmaster is a fun frolic of a horror film. With a cast list that reads like a “who’s who of horror” it’s easy to see why it did so well at the box office.

Promoted as a “Wes Craven Presents” film, it definitely fits into the Wes ‘we are not worthy’ Craven style of horror film.

Now about that cast list.

Robert Englund as Raymond Beaumont
Kane Hodder as Merritt’s Guard
Reggie Bannister as a pharmacist
Tony Todd as Johnny Valentine
Ted Raimi as Ed Finney
Angus Scrimm as Narrator
Joseph Pilato as Mickey Torelli
Andrew Divoff as The Djinn/Nathaniel Demerest
Tammy Lauren as Alexandra Amberson
Chris Lemmon as Nick Merritt

With the obvious exceptions of Tammy Lauren and Chris Lemmon (Jack Lemmon’s son and he sounds just like dad) all the names on the above list are horror film ‘alumni’ and well recognised by film fans.

Peter Atkins who wrote the film, named some of his characters after real-life writers in the horror and fantasy genres.

The plot is about an evil Djinn, aka genie, who inhabits a jewel. This jewel is appropriated by Chris Lemmon’s Auction house and while being appraised by the lab enable the Djinn to escape and wreck havoc on the world. The sting in the tale of this “genie” movie is that the Djin are the original form of the ‘helpful’ genie.

Narrator Angus Scrimm tells us at the beginning of the film that the Djinn equal fear. What he does not tell us is that the Djinn have a wicked sense of humour. Played with evil relish by Andrew Divoff, the Djinn obviously enjoys granting wishes, even when the “wisher” doesn’t intend to wish for anything.

English: Photo of Andrew Divoff taken at Adven...

Some of the FX are a little dated but the intent is still there and the film works in spite of it. It is a brilliantly funny film and well worth the time spent watching it. Some of the things the Djinn does reeks of irony. There is a moment in the film where a door man tells the Djinn that if he wants in the building, he’ll have to go through him. The Djinn with an evil laugh and a grin turns the man into part of a glass door so he can do just that. Wicked fun.

Wishmaster was made for an estimated budget of five million dollars and grossed three times that in box office sales. It was popular enough that it spawned a total of three sequels, finally ending after Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled

Despite the popularity of the original, it is easier to find copies of the sequels that it is to  find Wishmaster itself.

I would definitely recommend this to any horror film fan. Hell, it’s worth a look to just watch Chris Lemmon who is definitely a slice off the old peel.

Chris Lemmon at the 1990 Academy Awards. NOTE:...