About This Blog

A place to find my reviews not featured on epinions.com or horror-asylum.com, as well as opinions and lists on everything from movies to TV to music. It's all about me! Send hate mail to vegie18th@hotmail.com or just leave a comment beneath the posts. Review grading system assumes C+ is somewhere in the vicinity of a Passing grade or minor fail.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Review: The Stuff


Oddball industrial spy (and former FBI agent) Michael Moriarty is hired by a food company to investigate a new rival product called ‘The Stuff’ (which looks somewhere in between whipped cream and shaving cream), which has become all the rage. In fact, people just can’t seem to get enough of it. What Moriarty finds, however, is that if you have too much of ‘The Stuff’, it could end up taking over you, ala “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. He hooks up with a businessman named Chocolate Chip Charlie (Garrett Morris), a Col. Kurtz-esque militia guy (Paul Sorvino), and an attractive advertising exec (Andrea Marcovicci) to infiltrate the corporation making ‘The Stuff’.

 

Meanwhile, a young boy (Scott Bloom) sees the eerie effect ‘The Stuff’ has on his entire family, and tries his best to avoid eating it himself. Patrick O’Neal plays the head of the corporation that makes ‘The Stuff’, Danny Aiello has a spooky cameo as an FDA administrator whose dogs apparently love ‘The Stuff’. Look for cameos by the likes of Eric Bogosian (in a supermarket scene), Patrick Dempsey, a young Mira Sorvino, and others.

 

Schlock writer/director Larry Cohen (“Q: The Winged Serpent”, “It’s Alive”) isn’t a master filmmaker, but he’s a great ‘high concept’ ideas man (he more recently had a hand in writing both “Phone Booth” and “Cellular”, essentially variants of the same ‘high’ concept). This 1985 effort isn’t the man’s best film (that would be “Black Caesar”), but it almost comes off. “Invasion of the Appetite Suppressants” perhaps? Certainly Mr. Cohen appears to have been a fan of the 1978 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, when at one point Moriarty is forced to act like someone on ‘The Stuff’.

 

Personally, I think it works better as a serious sci-fi piece of schlock rather than a satire. I loved the ads for ‘The Stuff’, though, they’re cheesy as hell and not all that unrealistic, the best satirical element in the film by far. I also found the celebrity cameos quite hilarious, especially Abe Vigoda, Clara Peller (‘Where’s the Beef?’), and a post-credits Brooke Adams (from the aforementioned “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”). By the way, even without the ‘Stuff’ ads, this has more product placement than perhaps any film I’ve ever seen. But overall, I think it works best as a fairly straight piece of schlock, despite at least one prominent critic (Roger Ebert) having the opposite opinion. He’s wrong, it’s not consistently funny enough to be a satire.

 

My least favourite element of the film by far is the central performance by bizarro Michael Moriarty. I’ve never liked the idiosyncratic actor and his odd vocal inflections and accent. Here his performance suggests he was high on some ‘stuff’ during the shoot. I think he’s an appalling actor, and it carves a pretty damn big hole in the film. Replace Moriarty, and spend a few more bucks to improve some of the FX (anything involving fire is a dud) and ugly look of the film (except in the well-lit night scenes), and you might be on to a winner. Underrated “SNL” original cast mate Garrett Morris (who was essentially the token black amidst Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Gilda Radner, etc.) steals the film as ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie, and the film is lesser whenever he’s not around. He’s involved in the film’s best and creepiest special FX moment. Danny Aiello, meanwhile, has a genuinely unnerving cameo that is the best thing in the entire film aside from the cheesy music score by Anthony Guefen. Speaking of cheesy, the title is hilarious, and one has to assume it was Cohen having a dig at “The Thing” (or at the very least “The Blob”). I also found Bloom’s father’s rationale for eating ‘The Stuff’ even if it’s a living organism, really bloody convincing. The entire family dynamic in those scenes is frightening, because it’s creepy when your whole family basically turn on you and chase after you.

 

It’s an OK film, but could’ve been even better, and is mostly ugly to look at thanks to the uneven work of cinematographer Paul Glickman (Cohen’s “The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover” and “Special Effects”). It’s mostly a stale and unattractive film, almost Canadian TV-esque. I’m not sure when all those ‘World Vision’ type ads started appearing on TV, but imagine all those starving kids in Africa being given ‘The Stuff’. That would be daring and hilariously wrong. Still, it’s not a bad film at all, but like many Cohen films, it’s a great idea not quite capitalised on.

 

Rating: B-

Review: The McMasters


Brock Peters plays an African-American Union soldier who returns home after fighting in the Civil War and finding himself targeted by racists and thugs led by one-armed former Confederate officer Jack Palance and his sadistic henchman L.Q. Jones. Burl Ives plays Peters’ former slave master, a genial and dignified man who is more than happy to allow the ‘free man’ (more a friend or son than slave or employee) to have half of his land. Unfortunately, getting hands to tend to that land proves difficult, with only a few Indians (including David Carradine) willing to work for a black man. This angers the rabble-rousing racists even more, leading to violent trouble. R.G. Armstrong plays a local shopkeeper who treats Peters fairly, but buckles under pressure from Palance. John Carradine turns up as a preacher, whilst Nancy Kwan plays the squaw given to Peters by the local Indian tribe.

 

Every once in a while, a fine B-movie slips through the cracks and gets forgotten about. So is the case of this 1970 western from director Alf Kjellin (better known as an actor, having a role in “Ice Station Zebra” with Jim Brown), which belongs to the group of films with African-American leads that came about just before the blaxploitation boom (Alongside films like “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song”, “tick...tick...tick”, “Cotton Comes to Harlem”, “100 Rifles”, “The Split”, and “Across 110th Street” among others). Scripted by Harold Jacob Smith (who co-wrote the brilliant “The Defiant Ones” and the overrated “Inherit the Wind”), it’s no great masterpiece or anything, but the cast alone makes one wonder why the hell it’s so little-seen.

 

We start off with a pretty poor Sergio Leone title design rip-off by Sandy Dvore of “Blacula” fame (a terrific blaxploitation entry), but don’t hold that against this film. The murky print and droning, monotonous music score by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (“The Education of Sonny Carson”, “Thomasine and Bushrod”) are even worse, however. Things perk up once one-armed Jack Palance and racist L.Q. Jones turn up to threaten to steal the film. Palance isn’t on screen much, but he’s spine-chilling, whilst Jones is a slimy rat bastard here. He nearly approaches Billy Drago levels of snaky sleaze. Meanwhile, Burl Ives and lead actor Brock Peters have two of the greatest voices in all of cinema and great screen presences. Ives and Peters are both towers of strength and dignity here, whilst Palance’s role (and to an extent Ives’) reminded me a little of Palance’s bad guy turn in “Young Guns”. Peters (best known as the accused in “To Kill a Mockingbird”) reminds one of Sidney Poitier but with a shorter fuse, and just short of Jim Brown’s physicality. He makes for an interesting screen protagonist and it’s a shame he was only afforded a few leads in his time.

 

In a film where acting and casting is just about everything, we also get David Carradine is an Injun and veteran character actor R.G. Armstrong as a shopkeeper. The latter plays a more conflicted role than the villains he normally plays, and is as rock-solid as ever. Meanwhile, Carradine isn’t exactly convincing as an Indian, but he’s just about the only actor I can think of who would almost seem miscast playing a white guy, because we all remember him from “Kung Fu”. Even Nancy Kwan isn’t as ridiculous playing a squaw as you might think. She also bares her arse and breasts briefly, for those curious. I also think it must be written somewhere that any film with even a small appearance by John Carradine pre-1975 is significantly better for it. Here as a preacher, he doesn’t get many scenes, but that voice is still commanding. It’s bizarre that there’s a real reverend in the cast but it’s Carradine who plays the preacher in the film. Odd.

 

The idea of Peters as an African-American working pretty much hand-in-hand with his former white master Ives and then having his own squaw is a really interesting idea. For 1970 I bet it fucked some racist people up. Thematically, there is a similarity or two between this and “tick...tick...tick” in how Peters’ mere presence rubs white folks the wrong way. It was done better in that film, but this is interesting nonetheless.

 

Aside from one scene of animal lust shot from and distance and above by cinematographer Lester Shorr (Woody Allen’s “Take the Money and Run”, “The Phantom Tolbooth”), the film doesn’t have much style. In fact, it’s a bit ugly to be honest, and not just due to print damage. For me, the only major drawbacks are a lack of Jack Palance (who drifts in and out a bit too much for the central villain), and an ending that is crudely edited. Apparently there were two endings originally, one happy and one sad. The one chosen here is definitely the appropriate one, but it’s sloppily editing so that you can tell it has been tacked on, as one important death takes place off-screen (presumably because the other ending was the initial and preferred one by the director).

 

Still, I picked this one up for $5 sight unseen, and it proved to be money well spent. It’s a good B-grade film worth a look if you can manage to find it.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings


This prequel begins in the 70s where the inbred cannibal killers we came to know and love in “Wrong Turn” are in an insane asylum where they overpower their keepers and escape. Years later and we cut to a group of horny young twits (including two lesbians played by Kaitlyn Wong and Tenika Davis) who get lost on a ski trip in the middle of a blizzard and come across the now abandoned Sanatorium and decide to take refuge. But is it really abandoned? Of course not, or else there’d be no movie, stupid. Shouting, walking down long dark corridors, and occasional murderising ensue.

 

The original “Wrong Turn”, essentially a modern “Hills Have Eyes”, was one of the better horror films of the 00s (and better than the official remake of “Hills”), and I can’t say that any of the subsequent entries into the series have been outright terrible. In fact, the second one (co-starring the inimitable Henry Rollins) really wasn’t bad, and each subsequent film has taken the basic concept of inbred hillbilly cannibal mutants and put it into a new environment or basic plot. This 2011 film from writer-director Declan O'Brien (“Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead”), in addition to being a prequel, puts the inbred cannibal nutters into a much colder climate. You’d think such a change really wouldn’t work (though that might be because of my ignorance of the geography and weather patterns in West Virginia), but as it turns out, it’s one of the few problems that don’t arise here in what is essentially 90 minutes of searching long, dark corridors and rooms that all look the same.

 

It’s the abandoned nuthouse setting that is the problem, not the cold climate. The film is basically “Halloween II” with a different menace, whilst the blizzard keeps our characters mostly indoors. It’s pretty boring stuff that wonderful lesbian sex can’t even liven up much, especially when it is frustratingly and pretentiously intercut with boring hetero sex. Mr. O’Brien has a special place reserved for him in an imaginary hell of my own devising for that alone. How dare he ruin the fun for us perverts. Shut up, I am not the only one, and you know it. A second lesbian scene is ruined by that other irritating ploy, the horny hetero dude seen spying on them. We get it, he’s perving just like we are, so what? I’m sorry, but the only reason to include lesbian sex is to titillate a male audience, and hetero males such as myself don’t get turned on watching dudes watching chicks.

 

It’s not an awful film, just a clichéd and monotonous one, and far too slowly paced for what is the fourth film in a series. I mean, aside from the opening, it takes about 40 minutes for someone to die. For a fourth film in a series, that’s far too long. The characters and actors are all interchangeable, except the lesbians and that’s only because one of them is Asian and the other is African-American (and the only non-inbred chick in the film who isn’t attractive to me, much as I love women of all colours and races). Otherwise, they’re all twenty-somethings and all conveniently romantically paired off in that boring and clichéd way about 99.99% of horror films (especially American ones) operate. I’m sick of it.

 

I will give credit to one small mercy we can all be thankful for, however; Slow as the film is to get going, once the fit hits the shans, it doesn’t take long for these characters to get proactive and be willing to fight before the numbers truly start to dwindle. I really wish they wouldn’t split up so often, however. Haven’t they ever seen a horror film before? The makeup is interestingly different this time out, more of a Cro-Magnon look to them, and thus a bit more realistic. They’re by far the best thing about the film, and sadly underused.

 

The film starts well, with a pretty strong and disturbing opening scene, if a tad elongated. A cute musical cue undercuts it with humour. The film looks great, thanks to the snowy exteriors and it’s well-lit by Michael Marshall, who even lights the night scenes really effectively. You can see the foreground well, but the background is made pitch-black in a manner I recalled seeing in another snowy film, the terrific “Frozen”. Colour filters continue to be the bane of my existence, but in this instance, having white snow would make things rather bland, so adding a bit of blue didn’t bother me in the least. The interiors being dark blue/green, however, were another matter entirely and quite annoying. I just don’t get it, folks. There’s a really nice hanging/throat slash combo with blood trickling down onto the camera below, but it’s born out of stupid-as-hell human behaviour, however. Speaking of stupid human behaviour, I’m a pacifist and self-preserving coward, but one character’s rationale for non-violent resistance as a kind of ‘let’s not stoop to their level’ seems patently absurd when the chief menace are a band of inbred cannibal killer mental defectives. Meanwhile, when you get to the finale, does it not seem like one of the characters forgets who their romantic partner is and seems more concerned with saving someone else? It appeared that way to me, and seemed awfully stupid. The ending is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in my life, though I’m not sure if that makes it great or terrible, or just hilarious.

 

Look, this film isn’t awful, but it’s not awfully interesting either. Probably about as average as the previous film in the series and miles behind the rather effective original.

 

Rating: C

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: To the Devil...A Daughter


Richard Widmark stars as a writer on the occult asked by a panicked-looking Denholm Elliott to pick up his daughter (Nastassja Kinski) at the airport. Kinski is a teenage nun in a Bavarian Catholic sect. Staying with Widmark, they are pursued by the sect’s leader, a defrocked priest played by Christopher Lee (and whom the wimpy Elliott once sold his soul to for protection, but now Elliott regrets it). They are apparently a Satanic cult, and have very specific, sinister plans for Kinski as she comes close to her 18th birthday. Honor Blackman and Anthony Valentine play a couple of Widmark’s colleagues who get mixed up in helping him and Kinski.

 

A Hammer co-production during the famed British horror studio’s final years in its initial form, this 1976 Peter Sykes (“Demons of the Mind”, also for Hammer) film appears to be an attempt at a more serious horror outing, something along the lines of “The Exorcist”. Based on a Dennis Wheatley (“The Devil Rides Out”) novel adapted by John Peacock and Chris Wicking (“Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb”, “Demons of the Mind”), the film has its moments of enjoyable schlock, but could’ve done with a stronger dose. Having Richard Widmark drink tea and in one scene read an ancient text are just two examples of how the creepy and somewhat kinky material have been made somewhat stuffy and uneventful (although it’s still kinkier than most non-Sapphic films from the Hammer stable). Some really weird, semi-sexual shit later on involving Kinski and a tiny red demon give some insight into what the film could have been, but the good stuff just isn’t plentiful enough.

 

The shockingly gloomy, ugly cinematography by Richard Lester regular David Watkin (“Help!”, “The Three Musketeers”, “Robin and Marian”, “Out of Africa”) doesn’t help, though print damage might have something to do with that. It was interesting to see some handheld in a Hammer film, not usually their kind of thing, though this was hardly a Victorian era horror film.

 

The cast is mostly good, and it’s not a bad film, but pacing issues plague it, as does the fact that lead villain Christopher Lee is left to the sidelines for the first three quarters of the film. Although it has elements of “Rosemary’s Baby” (and “End of Days” obviously took some inspiration from this), it most reminds me of a reworking of “The Wicker Man”, where here someone is being led away from evildoers, and the evildoers are chasing after them. Unfortunately, this film doesn’t fare well in comparison (And what the hell are those ghostly apparitions chasing after Elliott? That never made sense to me nor did they add anything), and it comes to no surprise that there was not a finished script during filming. It has that misshapen, and ultimately underdone feel to it, as the delayed and clunky integration of the Lee character attests to.

 

Richard Widmark is a somewhat unusual casting choice (and apparently he was hell to work with), but he gives one of his better latter-day turns. Even better are Christopher Lee and a perfectly cast Denholm Elliott (in a worried, neurotic part), but neither are in the film enough. Lee is really good as the charming Satanist, making the most out of whatever material he’s handed, as always. Not as good are the typically awful Honor ‘Pussy’ Blackman (in an entirely superfluous, distracting role), and in particular Nastassja Kinski. I’ve never been a fan of Kinski, but her mumbly, hushed performance is awful, and I have absolutely no idea how the obviously accented Kinski could possibly pass for Denholm Elliott’s daughter (A role that Olivia Newton-John was apparently in line for too, which is even stranger).

 

It’s a very watchable film, but ultimately a disappointingly uneven one. It fails to embrace its schlocky premise and go all-out with it, instead resting uncomfortably in between Hammer Horror and more serious-minded “Exorcist”-wannabe, never quite satisfying anyone. The ending is a real letdown, too, and was apparently not the ending in the original script.

 

Rating: C+

Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter


Although the title is perfectly apt, I suppose a plot synopsis is traditional: Set in the 1800s and beginning in 1818 where a young Abraham Lincoln witnesses the evil Jack Barts (a well-cast Marton Csokas) break into the family home and drink the blood of Abraham’s mum. Yep, he’s a creature of the night. Years later, Abraham (now played by Benjamin Walker) attempts to kill Barts, before running into Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who advises him against such an action. Sturgess also reveals himself to be a vampire hunter, and agrees to train the young Abe to become his apprentice, Abe eventually wielding a silver-tipped axe (the only weapon/tool he seems competent in). Abe still wants Barts dead, but instead Sturgess insists on a specific order of vampires to kill, and like it or not, Barts’ time has not yet come. So by day Lincoln studies to be a lawyer, pays bills working in a general store owned by friendly Joshua (Jimmi Simpson), and by night he hunts down bloodsuckers. He also finds the time to romance Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and eventually moves into politics, finally achieving the highest of offices, President of the United States. He even enacts the Emancipation Proclamation, though this time he’s freeing the slaves from being used for food/beverage by vampires. Anthony Mackie turns up as the adult version of a young black boy Abe saves from being whipped by nasty Barts. Rufus Sewell plays the chief vampire villain for most of the film, and leader of the ‘slave trade’. Alan Tudyk plays Stephen Douglas, a foppish potential suitor for Todd.

 

I knew I was most probably going to enjoy this 2012 film from director Timur Bekmambetov (the somewhat watchable Angelina Jolie action flick “Wanted”) and screenwriter/novelist Seth Grahame-Smith (based on his graphic novel) from the schlocky title alone. And indeed it is quite a bit of fun. But is it actually a good movie? Well, that’s a little hard to answer, and in fact, despite some schlocky elements, it actually takes itself a whole lot more seriously than I had expected. However, I think if pressed I’d still come out on the affirmative side here. Oh, and anyone who questions this film’s historical accuracy is a fucking idiot. Look at the title, you hosers. And if you still don’t get the gag, you’re gonna hate what this film does to the Battle of Gettysberg. Me, I thought it was hilarious, and if the real-life event was anything like this, I doubt you’d be getting any re-enactments of it.

 

It’s a well-directed and impressive-looking film and every bit as visually dynamic as you’d expect from the director. It has been very well-shot by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (“The Right Stuff”, “The Natural”, “The Patriot”), especially the lighting (though apparently the 3D version fucks things up. I feel sorry for you poor suckers, I truly do). Anything that looks a bit foggy and moon-lit tends to be up my alley.

 

Co-stars Dominic Cooper and the absolutely luminous Mary Elizabeth Winstead are better than Liam Neeson lookalike Benjamin Walker in the title role, but durable villain Rufus Sewell ought to have been in more of the film, if you ask me. I’ve heard he doesn’t have an equivalent in the graphic novel, so perhaps the Sewell and Csokas roles would’ve been better combined and played by Sewell alone. Jimmi Simpson, meanwhile, seems to be channelling Brad Dourif as a shopkeeper turned Lincoln sidekick, and it’s the most likeable he’s ever been. It’s not much of a role, but foppish Alan Tudyk is perfectly cast as Stephen Douglas.

 

I was just so shocked at how seriously this was all playing out, and especially, surprised that it wasn’t a bad strategy. Instead of the “Bubba Ho-Tep” approach I was expecting, it was more “Blade”, a cheesy B-movie, but with much less emphasis on humour and schlock (at least at face value). Mind you, if vampires can’t kill vampires as suggested here, I guess Blade never got the memo. Then again, given what happens to slaves in this, maybe Blade had an extra incentive for hating blood-suckers! Actually, if anything, it’s more in the vein of a Hammer horror film, and that vibe, plus the film’s look are very indicative of Tim Burton (“Batman”, “Sleepy Hollow”, “Dark Shadows”- written by Mr. Grahame-Smith, no less), even if you didn’t notice his name listed as one of the producers.

 

I can understand why a lot of people would not want to watch this, but I can’t understand how anyone could watch this and not be mostly entertained by it. It’s not quite the film I was expecting, but it’s hardly a bad film, either. After liking “Jonah Hex”, perhaps my opinion no longer means a damn thing, but this was entertaining stuff. Those are some truly ugly vampires, by the way, if not nearly as spine-chilling as the vamps in “30 Days of Night” (another vampire film based on a graphic novel).

 

Rating: B-

Monday, August 26, 2013

Review: Bait


Xavier Samuel plays Josh, a lifesaver who saw his best mate killed by a shark, something he still hasn’t quite recovered from. He even lost girlfriend Sharni Vinson over it. Now Samuel is a shelf stacker at the local supermarket when would-be bank robbers Julian McMahon and Dan Wyllie attempt to rob the joint (Are the “Nip/Tuck” residuals so piss-poor that McMahon has to resort to robbing a piddly supermarket? Really?). Also in the supermarket are young shoplifter Phoebe Tonkin and her cop father Martin Sacks, as well as the recently returning Vinson, who has a new Singaporean boyfriend. Awkward. Oh, and a tsunami hits, putting the supermarket partly underwater. And that’s when the nasty, blood-thirsty sharks turn up! Lincoln Lewis and Paris Hilton-esque Cariba Heine play a young and dumb couple (with an ugly handbag dog to boot) stuck in the supermarket basement car park with a shark of their own to contend with.

 

This is the film that, with a little more competence, “Sharknado” could’ve been. However, this 2012 schlocky shark movie from director (and founding member of genius Aussie pub rock band The Hoodoo Gurus) Kimble Rendall, is still a few whiskers shy of actually being a good film. It has an irresistible premise, a terrific set, and a lot more technical competence than “Sharknado”, but the performances are wildly uneven, and like “Sharknado”, it’s not as much campy fun as you want it to be. It nearly gets there, though and is a billion times better than Rendall’s previous “Scream” rip-off “Cut” and I’m always happy to see Australians making genre pieces, even less than stellar ones. It’s a bit of a shame the film flopped (at least locally, it did fine in China and even Italy), because it’s not a bad film and boasts the schlockiest premise to never grace an Irwin Allen production.

 

It doesn’t start particularly well, though. The set-up is far too elongated for something that, frankly, involves a bunch of ‘types’ rather than characters. Aside from Xavier Samuel (in the film’s best performance) as lifesaver Josh, none of the characters really pop. This isn’t helped by some seriously uneven performances, by actors who should frankly know better. Sharni Vinson, Lincoln Lewis, Cariba Heine, Phoebe Tonkin, Martin Sachs, and especially Julian McMahon, are all veterans of the small screen by now, and in the always frighteningly emaciated Vinson’s case, she has had some exposure in American films too. You may not consider Aussie soaps like “Home and Away”, or kids shows like “H20: Just Add Water” to be great pieces of art, but those sorts of shows do tend to breed the stars of the future (Isla Fisher, Melissa George, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Nicole Kidman, Heath Ledger, and others have all gotten their start on soaps and kids dramas). But on evidence here, a lot of their performances are pretty damn amateurish. Julian McMahon, probably the most senior among them (best known for playing an egotistical plastic surgeon on the popular “Nip/Tuck”) is especially bad.

 

And then there’s the accents. Either some of these ex-pats (particularly McMahon, but also the gorgeous Tonkin) have had a hard time shaking a newfound American twang, or some idiot (possibly the director) has instructed them to adopt an American (or somewhat mixed) accent for overseas marketing purposes...or something, because the accents are truly all over the shop here. Sharni Vinson (who ain’t gonna age well with that tan) and Cariba Heine appear to have a full-on American accents, but it doesn’t seem convincing coming from their mouths, and I could never tell if their characters were meant to be American or not. McMahon, and especially Tonkin, however, were simply drifting in and out of it. If McMahon’s character was meant to be an American, surely his cohort Dan Wyllie would have a Yank accent too, so I think it’s just that Tonkin and McMahon couldn’t shake their Yankee twang. So boasting a cast full of veteran TV stars and ex-pats doesn’t quite reap rewards for Mr. Rendall here. Xavier Samuel (is he obligated to appear in every Aussie film these days?) is perfectly fine in the lead, but the only other ones who were halfway decent were a well-cast but underused Lincoln Lewis (he’s spot-on as a douchebag, perhaps for good reason), a reasonably well-cast Phoebe Tonkin (who at first glance doesn’t seem the rebellious-type, but really isn’t bad), and a slightly too broad Dan Wyllie (who I swear is doing a David Argue impersonation). Wyllie is at times hilarious as the last guy you’d like to be in this situation with. But Martin Sachs playing a cop? Wow, that’s a stretch. Vinson is by far the worst of the actors, like I said her accent might never waver, but it seems forced and her performance is just terrible. And that surprises me a bit, because she’s hardly a novice. Meanwhile, this might be a little too ‘insider’ for some of you, but I was a little disappointed that I never got my mermaid vs. shark showdown. I mean, there’s at least two damn mermaids in the film, and if you’re looking for bait, wouldn’t Tonkin or Heine be your first choices? So disappointed about that.

 

I won’t say that I was terribly enamoured with any of the characters here, but at least they’re a varied lot. There are some strange editing choices, however, or at least some characters have conversations with seemingly the wrong people. Either there is some connective tissue missing via some messy editing or it’s just really bad writing by screenwriters John Kim and the one and only Russell Mulcahy (the underrated and visually-minded director of “Razorback”, “Highlander”, “Ricochet”, and many an 80s music video). Unless I’m mistaken, not all of these characters knew each other (at least not very well) before being thrown into this situation, but at times, the dialogue scenes seem to suggest a familiarity. So perhaps, in order to get the running time down, some relationship building had been snipped.

 

What the film really suffers from, however, is that despite the schlockier than schlock premise, it’s still predictable and clichéd. I also have to take the filmmakers to task for over-populating the film with underwritten ‘types’, too many of whom actually survive. Gory deaths are an important part of these sorts of films, especially if it’s not “Jaws” and you’re not Steven Spielberg. I was shocked at the paltry amount of casualties here.

 

It’s an extremely beautiful-looking film, especially those beach scenes early on. This is a much, much better-looking film than “Sharknado”, which was cheap and murky. Sure, some of the CGI sea creatures weren’t 100% convincing here (the fish and sea snakes are terrible), but at other times, either they used footage of real sharks, or damn...they fooled me. The shark has to be real at least some of the time here, I’m sure of it, and boy is that one scary and nasty shark with cold, black, dead eyes. Rendall seems to have fully embraced the schlock value of 3D, by splattering blood on the camera quite often, so for once I’m almost sad to have seen it in 2D, though it didn’t suffer for being seen in 2D, either. You can tell it’s a 3D film, but not in any annoying or detrimental way. Excellent bit where a guy gets eaten in half, by the way. Yummy. The set, as I’ve said, is terrific, and I bet they had a fun time conceptualising it. The supermarket motif is priceless, just like the shopping mall full of zombies (both alive and undead) in “Dawn of the Dead”. Clever stuff, and it’s precisely why I find going to the Sydney Aquarium deeply uncomfortable. If there’s a McDonald’s near the Aquarium, by the way...take a very close look at the menu before ordering!

 

This isn’t a great film, and it’s just a tad underwhelming as schlock too, but there’s no doubt Rendall and co are no hacks. Is it a good film? That’s an irrelevant question under the circumstances. Is it good schlock? No, but it’s not bad schlock either, and it’s the kind of film I want to encourage Aussie filmmakers to continue making. Most of these films tend to be awful, so whilst hardly “Jaws”, when one of these films doesn’t suck, one should embrace it to an extent. You could do a lot worse than this film, even if it hasn’t been as culturally embraced as “Sharknado”. I think it at least deserved to make a bit more money at the box-office, but poor marketing, a long stretch in development hell, and a change in director (Mulcahy was originally set to direct) might’ve played a part in that.

 

Rating: C+