Monthly Archives: April 2012

Stargate (1994)

Here we go back to the beginning of the huge Stargate franchise, which now contains three separate TV programmes; Stargate SG-1 (10 series), Stargate Atlantis (5 series) and Stargate Universe (2 seasons) as well as three movies and various novels as well as an animated series called Stargate Infinity which apparently isn’t considered ‘cannon’ and probably makes Stargate fans spit in rage but as I’ve only seen random episodes of SG-1 and am currently watching Atlantis, I’m going to keep my comments to myself. There’s an actual Stargate Convention as well, which by incredible coincidence I have just discovered because the 2012 meeting is currently taking place in Canada.

I imagine the reason for its popularity is the fact that the stargate itself is an iconic item, and it extremely simple, allowing a great deal of scope for storytelling. A bit like Star Trek really, in that all you needed was a spaceship, and all you need in this is a watery hole to jump through to start whatever random journey the writers think up. Stargate Atlantis has sucked me in several years after it has been cancelled so I’m, as usual, a bit behind the times, but as I’m enjoying that and I love Kurt Russell in Escape from LA / New York and The Thing, I wanted to give the original film a go.

We start off in typical Indiana Jones territory with an Egyptian dig unearthing something and Europeans running in to mop their brows at it, before cutting to ‘present day’ (1994). Told you I was behind the times. An ancient Egyptian scholar is hired by an old lady we saw prancing about in the ruins in the 1920s and a damaged Colonel O’Neil (Kurt Russell) is ‘reactivated’ (played as a major character in Stargate SG-1 by Richard Dean Anderson), to sport the most severe buzz-cut known to mankind. You could chip rock with that thing.

A stargate has been found, buried beneath the Egyptian sands, with a seven symbol address to another galaxy. A team is put together to go through and see what’s on the other side, which includes O’Neil and his men plus the Egyptologist Dr Daniel Jackson, played here by James Spader and in SG-1 as another major character by Michael Shanks. What they find is a primitive ancient Egyptian world where Ra rules as he did in Egypt so long ago and humans are slaves in a mineral ore mine.

It’s a good film, taking a brilliantly simple concept – a gateway to places all over the universe – and also upending the believed history of human civilization. Russell is in typical monosyllabic form and does the job of a hard as nails soldier very well, whilst Spader brings a more human element to the expedition, but is also a bit annoyingly gormless. The other soldiers in the team are cannon fodder really, none of them are developed any further, which is why I think devoting TV series to the idea works better than this film, but it serves as a good start. The effects in it are actually quite impressive, and although the plot doesn’t do anything remotely out of the ordinary, it’s entertaining and has a good sense of scale to it. Overall, a fantastic piece of sci fi.

Advertisements

Zone of the Dead (aka Apocalypse of the Dead)

Zone of the Dead, which on the disc I have is called Apocalypse of the Dead, is a 2009 film directed by a pair of Serbians; Milan Konjevic and Milan Todorovic, and stars Ken Foree from 1978’s Dawn of the Dead.

It’s 1985 in Yugoslavia and construction workers have unearthed a couple of 300-year-old victims of the plague. However, when one of the men accidentally cuts himself on one of the skeletons (there’s no explanation as to how this was achieved), he died within hours… then rises again.

The film then cuts to the present day and a military operation is taking place with badly-dubbed actors at a train station watching a biohazard-suited unit turn up to enter the military exclusion zone. A gormless bunch of soldiers looking to give their friend a good time have wandered up the tracks and start to mess around with a station guard, grabbing his gun. It accidentally goes off, hitting a tanker of hazardous material, which like all ruptured containers in good zombie films starts leaking bright green gas, killing those that breathe it in.

Meanwhile, a prisoner is being taken from a prison to Belgrade by a mysterious, smartly dressed woman, flanked by a CIA agent, the kind of agent who is prefaced by ‘Don’t you know who he is?’ They’re going to have to drive there without GPS, because of the ‘military exercise’ taking place. However, what this ‘military exercise’ is, or why GPS and mobile communication would therefore not work isn’t discussed at all. This is going to be a recurring problem.

Back at the train station, one guy is still alive and is now facing the horror of the dead chasing him down the train tracks, because instead of running away from the leaking tank, he just sticks around shouting into thin air before deciding for himself that ‘the poison’s gone’. Elsewhere in the town, the zombie plague is spreading and a mysterious guy who has somehow been locked up in a convent and looks like he knows his way around a machete decides to deliver the wrath of God to the hapless undead. However, we’ve got some vital dialogue to get back to in the car – which consists of ‘so who is this convict we’re moving?’ ‘I can’t tell you that, it’s highly classified’ – so what or who the convent guy (who likes to spout things like ‘cut off the serpent’s head and the body will die’) is or the prisoner will remain a complete mystery.

In a short scene with the President we find out something called ‘Operation Blacksmoke’ has been running since the plague bodies were found, to isolate a mutated bacteria that can bring dead cells back to life. But we’re cut off again after this brief explanation to see the CIA dude and his group drive into the infection area and find people running from the zombies (I say people, there are about three). This provokes a strangely muted reaction from everybody, especially the CIA agent who just says ‘let’s just get to the car and move on’. Yeah, everything will be fine. Especially when you just stand and stare at them rather than shooting them in the head.

The convict seems to be having the time of his life whilst everybody stands around chatting about what they should do with him instead of BLOODY RUNNING AWAY. Eventually, after an age, the group get into a police station, but why it would be any less full of zombies than outside when all the lights are off and there’s clearly no living people around I haven’t got a clue – but I’m not a legendary CIA agent, so what do I know.

In the prison cells they find more ‘sane’ people as they’re described, whilst out on the streets the one man fighting machine is taking out all the zombies he comes across ‘with the flaming strength of the Lord’. He’s a damn sight more interesting, but we have to put up with more pointless bickering and chat from the police station group, one of whom is more upset by the fact he dropped his video camera rather than the dead walking the earth, which he considers ‘the most important thing to have happened since the beginning of civilization’. There’s just absolutely no tension at all, and very boring camerawork. There are whole periods of unnecessary chat with no atmospheric music, and the zombies once the group is in the police station stop banging on the doors and just wander off, so there’s no howling or sounds of mayhem. It’s not much of a police station either; clearly they couldn’t afford much because it looks like a school gym with a few tables in it.

Finally the zombies appear, which is what I thought the film was supposed to be about, but again the zombie sounds stop when the group has more of a chat in the central room. And not about what on earth is going on, or how they’re going to get out, just random rubbish. They then see on a monitor the soldier from God trying to broadcast to the outside world what is happening, which consists of ‘seeing a city lapped with dark waters’, and other meaningless drivel, which for some utterly bazaar reason makes one girl freak out and open the barricaded door to let the zombies in. Another professor decides that this is retribution for something to do with how our civilization has developed, and stays there to die, whilst the others finally try to make their escape towards the river to steal a boat. One guy suggests a shopping mall, presumably a nod to Foree’s previous zombie-based outings, but Ken’s learned a thing or two and quickly dismisses it with ‘they’ll get in anyway’.

The convict seems to know a lot more than you may expect about these zombies, and it turns out Chernobyl wasn’t a mere accident, it was a result of the previous outbreak and the area was deliberately nuked, which is what’s going to happen again if they don’t get out quickly enough. Unfortunately, there’s only one route to the boat, and between the escapees and their escape vessel, which they somehow know is there and has the keys in it, are a strange collection of zombies lying on the ground in rows. This is quite a cool shot, I’ll give them that, but why in the name of all that is holy, would they try and walk through them?  Obviously this is what the CIA guy decides to do, ready to sprint if anything happens. I never knew choreography and call and response was a zombie strong point, but after a bellow from a lookout zombie the rest all rise up and take chase.

Unfortunately, one of the surviving members of the group is a spineless little gimp, and despite thinking earlier that this was the bees’ knees he’s suddenly decided he’s not that keen on being chased by corpses after all and takes off with the boat, but luckily the God warrior turns up with the line ‘smells like the end of days’ to rescue the troupe and start firing rockets, machine guns and all sorts of other weaponry he has just happened to find lying around, when the others couldn’t even find ammo in a police station.

Eventually all the zombies are dead and the convict is let go by the agents, and we never find out what the point of him was. Or the Angel of Death soldier, the tanker of gas, or why some of the zombies sprinted and made tyrannosaurus rex-style snarls, whilst other zombies were just happy to ramble around sticking their arms out.

There are a lot of problems with this film, with a lot of effort and time spent on pointless dialogue and theological musings on what the meaning of the zombies is, when: 1) there’s absolutely no need, because we know why there are zombies, it was a genetic experiment gone wrong; 2) there are far better things to be discussing such as what on earth you’re going to do; and 3) I want to who the hell people are. The agents treat their prisoner like he’s the most dangerous man on the planet. Why? I never find out, and that’s annoying.

The second problem is what I mentioned before, and that is it’s just not that well shot. There were clearly restraints on budget, but in that case keep things tight and confined. You don’t need that many zombies if there’s only a small corridor for them to get down, but to just not bother with zombie sounds when they’re supposed to be battering down the doors is quite poor. As well as this, there was just a complete lack of shock, surprise, anger, or natural response from the characters to having their lives threatened.

Zone of the Dead unfortunately can just be summed up as a wan attempt at a zombie film, with passionless acting, no dramatic tension, and a story so full of holes I’m surprised an actor who was in one of the most well known zombie films of all time went anywhere near it.

Psychosis (2010)

There are six Psychosis films listed on IMDB, strangely all made between 2008 and 2011, but this is the 2010 Psychosis directed by Reg Traviss that I’ve unearthed which stars Buffy and Angel star Charisma Carpenter.

The film opens to see a bunch of scruffy, pierced British eco warriors, called things like Snake, pitching up camp with the slogan ‘Squat the world’ (whilst they’re miles away from anywhere in the middle of a wood). They start doing the normal things groups of campers do in horror films, which is split up and disappear, strangely they’ve chosen winter to camp in as well, and this understandably goes tits up. Another case of don’t go in the woods, as they’re picked off, in one case in mid bonk, by a complete nutter who looks like he should be in a Ronseal advert.

Several years later I’m presuming, we’re following crime writer Susan Golden (Carpenter) and her feller (Paul Sculfor) as they move out to a huge house in the English countryside, which weirdly they’ve never seen before (‘Oh there’s no phone signal,’ says Sculfor). She’s moved to have some peace and quiet and find ‘inspiration’ to finish her latest novel, so why have they moved into a 12 bed mansion that needs doing up and which requires a gardener and gamekeeper to manage? Surely a small cottage would have made far more sense? This is always a problem with horror films, a lack of common sense, and that is what makes many of them fail in generating actual horror.

A random drinking reverend just wanders in, apparently looking out for ‘squatters’ and ‘unruly youth’, but he may be on to something as Susan sees a strange boy kicking a ball around outside who keeps disappearing when she goes to talk to him.

There are allusions to a ‘previous episode’ which ‘won’t happen again’, so we’re led to believe that Susan might not be the most reliable narrator. She certainly hasn’t got much of a sense of direction because she gets lost in the woods and flashed at by some random beardy who turns out to be the gamekeeper. Along with the vanishing footballing hoodie, a range of weird knocks and creaks in the house and people treating everything she says with distinct disbelief, the paranoia starts to set in.

Left alone by herself things take a turn for the worse, not helped by the gamekeeper spiking her with magic mushrooms – people appear and disappear, sometimes covered in blood. Unlike a haunting though, sometimes it’s people that are still alive. And it works well to a certain point because as the vicar says when she talks to him about it: ‘What would you like me to do?’ If nobody else can see or admits to seeing these visions, it’s not a clear cut case of what is happening.

I think Charisma Carpenter is quite good as an out of place American in the English countryside with a history of mental breakdown struggling to cling to reality. Other people have said she overacts in this, but I disagree, she’s the one putting all of the energy into this film – it’s her husband’s lack of acting which is what gets my goat. Sculfor’s a bog standard cockney geezer who’s frankly not that interesting so it’s a bit of a strange film with Carpenter doing the classic ‘seeing things in an old country house’ thing with the weird locals and her husband living mostly in a modern London world. I don’t think it blends very well, and despite an interesting idea and good execution when it comes to Susan’s ‘visions’ and whether they’re real or not, it falls short of being a good psychological horror for a couple or reasons.

The first is that the original killings and Susan’s situation in the house are too loosely connected, and the killer is simply a random maniac with no further development. Second is the removal of her husband from the situation which means we have to watch him pratting about with prostitutes and Justin Hawkins, who’s desperately trying to look like Steve Tyler, in London instead. How are they friends and what the hell does a rock star get out of his association with Susan’s husband? It’s a bit flimsy and forgettable and I kept getting the feeling that it was just too much of an English film and Carpenter, despite what I think is a perfectly good performance, doesn’t quite slot in.

BloodRayne III: The Third Reich

I found this random DVD in the back room so thought I’d give it a go. Having never played the games, I don’t have the same blood-boiling reaction as a lot of gamers have had when confronted with Uwe Boll’s efforts, which have included Far Cry and the snappily-titled In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, where Jason Statham gets to pretend to be a farmer, but I see this leaving me free to assess BloodRayne III: The Third Reich’s merits purely as a film rather than as a piece of blatent cashing in on the gamer market. It’s safe to say that he’s got a lot of bad form in this vein of film making, but he’s clearly not bothered because he keeps going, with him recently trying to get his hands on the directorship of a World of Warcraft film. Can you image that? Clearly Blizzard could because they refused to sell him the rights.

Anyway, back to BloodRayne III. The back story is that Rayne is a half vampire, half human, otherwise known as a  dhamphir. She is on a mission to kill her vampire father, and any other undead that cross her path, but in this film she’s apparently taking a stand against Nazis but there are vampires wanding around as well so she mixes and matches as appropriate. The main villain is another half vampire that she accidentally created who turns out to be the kind of guy who screams ‘I am the devil incarnate!’.

Sporting a rather fetching red and black leather outfit and red extensions, Rayne, played in the second and third of this series by Natassia Malthe, cuts a swathe through a bunch of Nazis taking a cargo load of Jewish prisoners to a camp, and joins a resistance group, but not before accidentally bleeding on a German commander, turning him into a half vampire.

A German doctor, Dr Mangler, has been experimenting on vampires to work out how they work and is brought in to solve the mystery of the day walker. Played in a husky and completely un-German fashion by Clint Howard (interestingly, apparently quite the WoW fan, wonder what he thought), there’s actually quite a surprising lack of Germans or East European accents, despite the director himself being German. Surely he’s got some mates he could bring in to run around shouting things in German before being shot, it’s not exactly Shakespeare, despite a character quoting Henry V at one point. As well as a disappointing lack of comedy German accents, there’s also a couple of random modernisms thrown in for good measure such as Rayne describing a guy she’s just skewered as being ‘shish kebabed’.

The vampire German is now hunting Rayne, who apart from only having one set of clothes also inexplicably wanders into a bordello for a massage and a bit of raunchy girl on girl action before ending up in a firefight where the German doctor manages to get some of her blood.

Her aim now is to kill the vampire, taking out a couple of other strangely dressed undead along the way, who for some reason also fight with swords and look like they’ve wandered out of Lost Boys.

A lot of it just doesn’t make sense. There’s a Nazi who feels compassion for a vampire being tortured, yet says nothing about all of the Jewish people being carted off to camps. And how does every person who gets turned into a vampire suddenly know how to kung fu their way around? And for a supposedly underground resistance, they do a lot of bellowing at one another in Nazi-controlled areas.

Rayne and the resistance team need to find out what the Germans are up to, and accidentally walk into a trap. Rayne and Nathaniel, the resistance leader, are then bundled in the back of a truck to be transported to Berlin to meet Hitler and make him immortal. In a scene appropriate to the level of horror they must both be feeling, Nathaniel decides he might as well give her breast a bit of a grope whilst she’s unconscious, and then they suddenly start going at it hammer and tongs in the back of the moving truck, with the guy sexily keeping his woolly hat on.

Then they escape. She is the key to making Hitler immortal, and she’s a half vampire with superior strength and fighting skills, and she’s just popped in the back with her friend, not tied down, with no guards watching them. It’s ridiculous, but convenient because the remaining resistance get them out and she crushes the vampire German. However, ‘there’s still a lot of work to be done’, which consists of turning up at a camp, booting the back door of the truck open and finishing the film with the immortal line ‘Guten Tag, motherfuckers’.

Overall, it’s just lacking in all areas. There’s nothing different about any of it, and a lot makes absolutely no sense. Basically, it’s a trashy film for people who want a bit of bonking, blood and neck sucking.