Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dog Soldiers

When The Descent wound up being a surprise hit among horror fans, I had had some hopes that this would lead to fans then seeking out director Neil Marshall’s previous film Dog Soldiers, which I hold up as being possibly the best werewolf movie ever made. Sadly (and perhaps obviously), this did not happen, and it still languishes in semi-obscurity.

The film follows a group of Scotch soldiers on what seems to be a routine training mission out in the wilderness, when they find that the team they are fighting against has been almost completely wiped out by a pack of werewolves. Taking the lone, badly wounded survivor, they pretty much run screaming away from the vicious pack and hole up in a local’s home, where they have to make a NotLD-style defense against them all.

One of the things that makes this work so well is the rather frantic pacing of it all. I mentioned how it plays out somewhat like Night of the Living Dead, but only if you remove those wussy slow-moving zombies with the ones from the Dawn of the Dead remake. And make them smart, so they can figure out all the extra-sneaky ways to break in and kill people. Also, I don’t know if Britain just takes extra care in training its actors, but unlike many (read: all) of the United States’ low budget horror movies, there’s not a single bad actor to be found here.

This is not to say that the movie is perfect. I did, after all, not rate it quite four stars, pretty much entirely due to the ending, which takes all the momentum the film had built up and lets it drop with an ugly thud on the floor. It’s admittedly not the worst ending I’ve ever seen (I think that honor may permanently belong to Atonement), and also admittedly it’s not like there’s not a small army of horror movies out there that completely fumble the ball at the end, but for a movie that’s been so great up to this point, it’s all the more glaring. Still, if you watch it, the option is always there to turn it off ten minutes before it ends and imagine a different, much better ending. You can’t get that with most movies these days, you know.

Rating: *** ½


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Death Ship

Like most people (I presume), the bulk of my knowledge of George Kennedy comes from Police Squad! and the Naked Gun movies. As such, it was a fun experience getting to watch him, not only in a horror movie, but as one of the villains.

Not the main villain, though; that honor goes to the title character. This ship is just vicious; after the main characters have their ship wrecked and float on their lifeboat to the main setting, this ship does just about everything to murder them. Originally a nazi ship, as these things often tend to be, it knocks people into its propeller, it drops cranes on them, it possesses their captain (Kennedy) and gets him to attack people; in short, it’s one of the most inventive killers since Freddy Kreuger. And no, I don’t care that this came first.

I will be straight with you – this is not a perfectly made film. There are some noticeable continuity glitches, such as the rather abrupt shifting from day to night and back again. Personally, I’m willing to accept such snafus if the movie is entertaining enough to warrant it. Hell, Evil Dead had that problem, and I love the entire series. Plus, the ship itself just looks amazing, and that does tend to go a pretty long way in horror movies. It’s not really one of the better movies in the HROHFYSSBYD, but it’s still a fun movie, and in no way deserves the crap that seems to frequently gets slung its way (you know, on those rare occasions when anything at all gets slung its way).

One more thing. While this movie is not available yet on DVD (link to VHS below), you can supposedly see the whole movie at the link provided on the Youtube link. I can’t really confirm that at the moment, however, as the site seems to be temporarily on the fritz. Still, if it’s there when you go, be sure to check it out. It’s worth a viewing, at the very least.

Rating: ***


Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Deadly Spawn

If there’s ever a low budget monster Hall of Fame, the creatures from the Deadly Spawn absolutely deserve to be among the first inductees. On a budget of roughly twenty five grand, Douglas McKeown and company crafted some of the greatest looking monsters in film history, easily besting the lame CG monsters we often get in films today. Seriously, go check out, say, the monsters from the Underworld movies, and then come to this film, and tell me which look better to you.

This is a good thing, since the film operates on more of a premise than a plot. The story: aliens crash on earth, initially looking like large tadpoles with lots of teeth, and just growing more and more the longer they stay on the planet. Enter a small, relatively peaceful New Jersey family, whose cellar the alien fiends set up shop in, and who wind up getting chewed on a lot. The End.

So yeah, on paper it doesn’t really look like anything particularly special, but it’s simply a very fun, fairly gory 80s monster movie, in the grand tradition of the old 50s monster movies. The main character is a young kid, raised on such movies, who creates his own monster masks and is surprisingly well-equipped to deal with this onslaught. Somewhat less well-equipped are the boy’s parents, but hey, someone had to get eaten, right?

The eating, by the way, is easily the best part of the film, as it should be. Most movies like this, the actual violence is almost non-existent, or looks like shit. Not here. These bastards go around eating people’s heads, invading a vegetarian party full of old ladies (one of the best set-pieces in all of horrordom), and making blood splash all over the damn place. It is pure, unadulterated mayhem, and even though McKeown never went on to make anything else, this film shows he could easily have hung with horror standards like Craven or Hooper, had he wanted.

Rating: ***