Underground (2011): Underwhelming

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Sometimes when you find a DVD on sale for five pounds stirling you get a bit excited because you might have just found a bargain. A lot of times the “bargain bucket” can contain some hidden treasures. A wonderfully surprising gem.

Underground is not one of these delightful surprises. In fact, I feel like the price was about four pounds too much.

For as many things that the film did well; prosthetics and the “creature’s” makeup, there were too many other things that drug the film down into the muck and mire of sheer dismal drudgery.

Directed by Rafael Eisenman, Underground never takes off as a film. The acting is atrocious and the storyline asinine.

A group of young people attend a rave at an abandoned Army base. The base, which was shut down after some sort of top secret experiment went wrong and wound up killing a squad of soldiers, houses the result of this experiment, deep underground in a nest of bunkers.

The young people, two of whom are ex-soldiers, get into a fight with what looks like a motorcycle gang; who are referred to repeatedly as gang bangers. When it looks like the soldiers are going to win the fight, more gang bangers come pouring out of the crowd and chase the smaller group into the bunkers.

When they close the door they find a man and woman having sex. They soon find out that they’ve been locked in the bunkers and that the sexy couple are not the only things that they’re sharing the bunker with.

One of the better action sequences and one of the few times you could see.
One of the better action sequences and one of the few times you could see.

A real hodge-podge of a film, Underground has too many problems to really work. The editing really lets the whole thing down, as well as the lighting. Between it being too dark to really see who is who and the editing seemingly done by a sight impaired editor, the action is difficult to follow and the viewer winds up getting as lost as the young people in the bunker.

The acting was wooden and lifeless, a lot like the interaction between the main protagonist and his doctor girlfriend. But I don’t want to single them out as an example; the only actors who seemed realistic were the ones playing the “creatures.”

The plot relies on the old chestnut of a Nazi scientist experimenting on American soldiers. This “scientist” was supposedly an apprentice of Dr Mengele (the angel of death) who is rumoured to have escaped to South America and died. Granted the guy looked like he might be about a hundred years old. But Nazi’s? It would have made for a great black comedy, except this film was so bad, it wasn’t even unintentionally funny.

There were a few things they did well. Some of the creature effects were very good. The overall production value, when you could see it, was good as well. I am assuming that, like a lot of other recent films, that it was shot using digital equipment. Unfortunately high production values alone do not a good film make.

There were way too few scares and the action, when there was any, was again edited poorly and the lighting was even worse. I suppose you could blame the film’s problems on the low-budget, but really in this day and age, that is no excuse. I do  like dark films, but not so dark that I can’t make out what’s happening.

Avoid at all cost, unless you like being over-charged by four pounds for a film.

He's lucky, he won't live long enough to watch the end of this film.
He’s lucky, he won’t live long enough to watch the end of this film.

Wrong Turn (2003): The Right Stuff

Cover of "Wrong Turn"

With Eliza Dushku being a hot property (Buffy, Angel, Tru Calling) off television and a cast of well known, if not star calibre yet, actors that included the ever lust worthy Desmond Harrington ( I’ve known full-grown women who go weak at the knees from just a mention of his name) Wrong Turn was a sure-fire money-maker. If not in the cinemas (where it did more than alright), it would reap great home sales benefits for the makers.

It did.

In fact Wrong Turn did well enough that it has spawned four sequels the last of which, Wrong Turn 5 is due to be released later this year. I’m not going to talk about the sequels or prequels. I have no interest in any of them, unless of course Dushku or Harrington show up which is very doubtful.

Directed by Rob Schmidt, Wrong Turn was his second feature-length film. Armed with a more than adequate cast and a straightforward story plus prosthetic makeup effects by the legendary Stan Winston Studio, Schmidt came up with a real winner of a horror film.

Using the age old plot of ‘strangers in a strange land’ aka ‘The Deliverance motif,’ the film places six young people in the middle of nowhere in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia. Chris Flynn (Harrington) is a medical student running late for a job interview. He decides to take a shortcut around a four lane pile up and runs into Jessie Burlingame (Dushku) and crew who have had their tyres slashed by barbed wire placed in the middle of a back road.

As Chris literally runs into them or at least their vehicle and effectively renders both cars unusable, he strikes out with Jessie and newlyweds Carly and Scott (played by Emmanuelle Chriqui and Jeremy Sisto respectively) to find a phone to call for help. *On a side note here, Chriqui and Sisto fit so well together that major kudos go to the casting folks and for the actors themselves  for really selling their characters.*

They leave behind Evan (Kevin Zegers) and Francine (Lindy Booth) who have only a few moments of screen time and to live. In the short time they are on the screen they paint a brilliant picture of two self-centered, fun-loving Bohemians who have somehow found one another. Booth also has the funniest line with her, “Come on boy, don’t be a sissy. Take off them trousers.” which signals the beginning of fun and games with Evan. Off screen of course.

Oh, it’s trouser time again.

The first few frames of the film have already shown us that the woods are a scary place in West Virginia and that the local inbred population are a little hard on folks who cross their path. So when the killing starts  we are not surprised. The genius of this film is that the casting works so well and the actors sell their characters well enough that we actually care when they start to die.

We are rooting for them to get out alive and we feel badly when another one is taken by the grotesques of inbred hillbillies who treat the youngsters as prey. As the group is slowly whittled down (almost literally) it begins to look very unlikely that anyone will make it out alive.

The real power of the film is the group of actors who play the victims searching for an escape from the nightmare they’ve found themselves in. The script and the actors all work to get us, the audience, behind them. The whole thing is also helped by the grotesque inbred creatures that are hunting them. We never really get to see too much of them. Even the ‘lingering’ shots of the sleeping monsters are no more than a second or two in length.

No, I don’t want any damn candy!

The FX are top-notch. Speaking of FX, Wrong Turn is the first film to use CGI to brilliant effect in the area of pupils. When one of the group is killed quite graphically, CG was used to show the pupils dilating. According to the ‘making of’ featurette on the DVD, this film was the first to use CGI in this way.

The film delivers an entertaining time with the right mix of terror and humour, a likeable cast and suitable boogeymen to jump at and enough gore to remind you that you are indeed watching a horror film.

It is a ‘must see’ for Dushku and Harrington fans and I’d recommend it to anyone thinking of making a horror film. Wrong Turn show how it should be done with more than two-dimensional characters as the victims and damned scary villains. It moves at a great pace and the humour is well placed.

My final verdict is that it’s one that you should watch with all the lights off…

I spy with my little eye…

Hunter Prey (2010): Survival of the Fittest

Every once in a while you find a little gem of a film hidden amongst the usual low budgeted dross that passes for entertainment. I’m not talking about the kind of film that is so bad it’s good. I’m referring to a film that, despite it’s low budget, looks and feels like a bigger budgeted studio release.

Hunter Prey  is that kind of film. It’s not a “stops your heart” kind of film but it is damn good. My daughter and I found this science fiction film as we were ‘cruising’ Netflix for something a bit different to watch. We both thought it sounded interesting so we gave it a go. The film entertained, and did not expect too much from it’s audience in the way of suspending disbelief. The acting was way over par compared to similarly budgeted films.

Directed by Sandy Collora, he also co-wrote the story with Nick Damon. It had a good solid cast, Damion Poitier (no relation to Sidney), Isaac C. Singleton Jr.Clark Bartram, Collora himself as a bounty hunter and best of all it featured the voice of the beautiful and talented Erin Gray. The entire cast apart from Collora and Gray have a solid background in the stunt world.

Collora got his start as a teenager working as an assistant at Stan Winston Studios, which is why the prosthetics and ‘alien’ make-up looked so good. This film looks like a real labour of love for Collora and considering that the budget for the film was under 500,000 dollars also looks tight and well put together.

At the start of the film we see a spaceship explode and what looks like an escape pod jettison down towards a planet. The planet the survivors  land on is a huge desert planet. If there is any water at all, it must be buried so deep that finding it would be an impossibility. There are four survivors from the crashed escape pod.

Two of them are by some rocks with their weapons held ready. The third and fourth are by the wreckage. As one survivor points out where the other two are he is shot and the one he was talking to dashes for the rocks joining his companions. Off in the distance is another survivor, he is armed and he is firing at the others.

The film then goes into ‘cat and mouse’ mode for the reminder of the film. We find out that the other survivor is a dangerous predator alien whose home planet has been destroyed. It must be captured alive. This is proving to be difficult as it appears that the alien is a pretty good marksman.

For the first quarter of the film, no one removes their head gear. The computer link they access, Clea (Erin Gray) tells them that she is analysing the planet and its atmosphere to see if it’s safe to remove them.

When they finally remove their head gear we see who these survivors are and despite their military behaviour and speech, they are not what we thought they were. The alien who spends the first third of the film killing his captors, isn’t what he seems either.

I will admit that I saw the ‘plot twist’ coming after the first fifteen minutes of the film. Mainly because I thought it would be pretty damn cool if that’s where they were going with it. It turned out they were, so I sat feeling pretty smug for the rest of the film.

As prosthetics were used for the vast majority of the actors, they all deserve kudos for the high calibre of their acting. Of course having an experienced professional like Erin Gray along for the ride, even if it was only her voice, added a lot to the believability of the characters. Clea’s interaction with Centauri 7 was brilliant. Gray manages to exude a warmth and humour to her computerised character. Combine that with Poitier’s performance and you have a pretty good double act.

The only thing that bother me though were those great prosthetics. I kept thinking that the aliens seemed awfully familiar. I finally realised halfway through the film that they made me think of Lou Gossett Jr. as the alien in the 1985  science fiction film Enemy Mine. When Hunter Prey  finished, I quickly checked and found that they only very vaguely resembled the alien in the 1985 film. I’ll have to keep looking to see if I can find out why the damn things looked so familiar.

I would write a whole lot more about this film, but to do so would spoil the fun. Like I said, I guessed the plot twist but my daughter, who is a pretty dab hand at ‘second guessing’ films, missed it completely.

One thing I did want to point out was the fact that Hunter Prey was shot entirely with a RED camera on location in Mexico, making it another digitally produced science fiction film like the film Monsters also made in 2010 and also shot entirely on location. Another excellent example of why digitally produced films can be just as good as the traditionally filmed ones.

The end verdict of the  film is that it’s great entertainment. We liked it so much we bought the DVD to see if there are any special features and to watch it a ‘few more times.’

Oh and if anyone has any ideas on why the damn aliens looked so familiar, drop me a line. Okay?

Final Destination 5…Don’t bother

 

Final Destination 5
Final Destination 5 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been a huge fan of the Final Destination films since the first one. The mix of gory deaths and cheeky humour was able to make me laugh and groan at the same time. I will readily admit that I own all the films on DVD. But I have got to say the quality of the films has depreciated with each new sequel.Yes I know that is going to happen whenever any film gets turned into a franchise. Although I believe firmly that the Scream films are the exception to this rule and of course The Godfather  films also are the exception. And anything after Terminator 2 is just ______ (fill in with the expletive of your choice).

Now we have Final Destination 5 in  3D yet. When I first watched it, I felt the digital FX really let it down. Then I realised I was watching the blu-ray version and not the 3D one. All right, I thought, we’ll give that problem a miss as I’m guessing it looked much better when wearing the glasses. But that was not all that was wrong with the film.

Before I have a moan about the film, I would like to say that the highlight was seeing the cameo by that always impressive actor Tony Todd. I’ve loved this man’s performance’s ever since I watched him terrorise Virginia Madsen in Candyman.  On a side note, watching that film made me solemnly vow to never look into a mirror and say Candyman three times. *shudder* Unfortunately having Tony Todd in the film (and it is a shame we couldn’t have seen more of him) did not help save it from being a huge disappointment.

English: American actor Tony Todd at the 2003 ...
English: American actor Tony Todd at the 2003 Motor City Comic Con. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Mbig complaint about the film was the loss of the tongue-in-cheek way that fate (or death) checked each character out. All the prior films had a beautiful sort of irony in the way each person died. Unfortunately it appears that the producers just wanted to increase the gore factor. I can imagine them sitting around a big board room table. “Okay guys, we’re going to make one more Final Destination.” Much groaning from the table members. “I know. I know. We said that the previous Final Destination was going to be the final one. But hey, with the advances made in 3D on Avatar, we can really make this one rock!”

So in my mind, I think they were a bit too much in love with the idea of 3D. Nice idea guys but sloppy execution (get it?).  On a final note, this was the only Final Destination I bought in blu-ray and it will be the first blu-ray that I take to trade in for a better film. Well, it is the first one, if you don’t count the blu-ray copy of Twilight that I unsuccessfully kept trying to trade in. No one wanted it because it had a “scratch” on it. I think they were lying like a cheap watch. They just did not want a copy of a DVD they couldn’t get rid of.

Damn, I hope I don’t have the same problem with Final Destination 5!