Thursday, May 20, 2010

Short Film: Zombeer (The Netherlands, 2008)

Here’s a cute little "horror" film written and directed by the Dutch duo Barend de Voogd and Rob van der Velden that combines two of my favourite things: beer and zombies. And less to my liking but fitting perfectly to the film: Japanese tourist groups. Having been many a time to The Netherlands, and at least twice on Queen’s Day, I can easily imagine how successful a person would be who runs around telling the people not to drink the beer. I doubt you could successfully tell that to a Dutchman on any day, much less on that great day of nationally sanctioned drunken excess.
According to the omnipotent imdb, the one-liner plot of Zombeer originated at the 24th Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival, when Mr de Voogd showed up suffering from the night before complaining about the bad beer he had had. (He must have been drinking Heineken—really, how can a country that has French fries as good as Dutch French fries and such top-notch weed have a beer like Heineken? Jeez, you might as well drink an American Bud.) Mr van der Veldon cracked "You must have drunk zombeer", and a week later the script was finished. And what is the plot of Zombeer? Well, bad beer turns people into zombies. (So does religion, actually, but that’s another story.)
Mr van der Veldon and Mr De Voogd are still waiting a call from Sam Rami requesting a feature-length version of their short, but till then, enjoy this little piece of cinematic fluff.

Bloodlust! (USA, 1961)




"Listen, Mister Balleau, fun's fun. But if you think we're gonna be the clay pigeons in your shooting gallery—you're just a little far out!"

Bloodlust! is the directorial debut of one Ralph Brooke, a non-entity agitating on the fringes of z-productions whose brief (documented) foray into film ended with his death two years later in 1963 after writing the script to the sleazy noir The Right Hand of the Devil (1963), a film described by the website Noir of the Week as rising "above its budget restrictions to reach a respectable level of artistic achievement—snugly fitting within the lineup of other harsh 60's noirs (Brainstorm [1965] and Point Blank [1967 / trailer] among them). As in those films, the atmosphere in Right Hand is thick with illicit sex, psychosis, and hair-trigger violence." (Ralph Brooke the director/writer, by the way, should not be confused with Ralph Brooke the actor; the latter, who died on 23 March 1992, is the man that supplied the famous Wilhelm Scream in The Charge at Feather River [1953].)
For Bloodlust!, which he also scripted, Ralph Brooke liberally mined one of the old faithful plotlines of genre trash: Richard Connell's famous story The Most Dangerous Game, which was first filmed in 1932 (click here for the full film) with Fay Ray, Joel McCrea and Leslie Banks as the killer count and has been (officially and unofficially) remade ad-nauseam times since. (Selected versions include: Run for the Sun [1956], The Woman Hunt [1973], Turkey Shoot [1982 / trailer], Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity [1987 / trailer], Deadly Prey [1987 / trailer], Hard Target [1993 / trailer], Surviving the Game [1994 / trailer], The Pest [1997 / trailer].)
In this version, two teenage couples—Johnny (Robert Reed) and Betty Scott (June Kenney) and Pete (Eugene Persson) and Jeanne (Joan Lora)—on a boat cruise decide to go ashore an uncharted, nearby island for clam bake when their skipper Tony (Troy Patterson) drinks too much and passes out. Onshore they wander around like idiots before being taken in by Dr. Albert Balleau (Wilton Graff, a poverty row and TV character actor whose career highpoint was playing one of the fathers in the film version of Compulsion [1959 / trailer]). Back at Balleau's mansion, the kids get introduced to his wife Sandra (Lilyan Chauvin of Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings [1994 / trailer], Predator 2 [1990 / trailer], Silent Night, Deadly Night [1984 / trailer], The Mephisto Waltz [1971 / trailer] and Lost, Lonely and Vicious [1958 / trailer]) and his drunken guest Dean (Ralf Brooke's brother Walter Brooke, of The Conquest of Space [1955 / trailer], the TV series The Green Hornet [26 episodes, 1966-1967], The Graduate [1967 / trailer] and The Return of Count Yorga [1971 / trailer]), who soon reveal to the kids that the good doctor is a psychotic killer. (Something Pete and Jeanne already know from their exploration of the mansion’s basement caverns.) In love and desperate, Dean and Sandra make an attempt to escape but end up as part of the doctor’s collection of stuffed trophies. Dr Balleau, who then reveals himself to be a windbag psychotic, soon discloses his plans to hunt the alcoholic skipper and the two youths next. During the hunt, Dr Balleau kills the skipper and some crazy dude (Bill Coontz) before letting his brutish henchman Jonder (Bobby Hall of High School Big Shot [1959 / trailer], Hell's Angels '69 [1969 / trailer] and Night Call Nurses [1972]) sink to death in some leach-infested quicksand—but he fails to nail either the two teens or their girlfriends, who have snuck out of the safety of the house to join them. The four decide that the safest place would be back at the house, where they might find weapons. Later, the good doctor, having called it a day, returns and traps them in his trophy room. As he forces them at gunpoint to test out the various positions he might have them stuffed in, he suddenly finds out that he left the side of the quicksand pit much too early...
The cast keeps a straight face throughout the film, even if their presence and skills vary. As Johnny Randall, the manly man of the two youths, future Brady Bunch daddy Robert Reed (seen in the image here as Daddy Brady) towers over the rest of the cast but looks oddly like an over-stuffed sausage in his skintight shirt and tight pants, his love-handles and gut bulging over his much too tight belt. As big as he is, he is easily upstaged by most of his co-stars, even those that never went on to do any other film. (His three teenage costars, that is: the diminutive June Kenney, who had previously had feature roles in such exploiters as the depressing Teenage Doll (1957 / trailer), Earth vs. the Spider (1958 / trailer), and Attack of the Puppet People (1958 / trailer) never did another feature-length film after Bloodlust, nor did Joan Lora or Eugene Persson.) The film is greatly serviced by the cinematography of Richard E. Cunha (the director of Dog Eat Dog [1964 / trailer], Frankenstein's Daughter [1958 / full film], Missile to the Moon [1958 / colorized trailer, sorta], Giant from the Unknown [1958 / trailer] and She Demons [1958 / trailer]), which is nicely moody during many of the cave and jungle scenes. The generic music comes from Michael Terr, a man of little note other than that he started his career working on the music for the tragic but camp classic Hilton Sisters exploitation vehicle Chained for Life (1951 / full film) and ended it with Wilbur and the Baby Factory (1970 / trailer).
All trivia aside, Bloodlust! is an interesting, at times even effective z-budget film that is, in general, given many more raspberries than it actually deserves. Hidden between all its cheese and poverty-row ineptitude is a surprisingly effective and at times even shocking thriller that could even be labeled an early attempt at B&W gore filmmaking—indeed, the flick has a lot more tasteless viscera than Hammer’s indefinitely far more artistically successful and tasteful “early gore” color masterpieces, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957 / trailer) or The Horror of Dracula (1958 / trailer). The real problem of Bloodlust! is that for all its bare-boned shocks and atmosphere, it is an oddly uneven film: the only reason the first half hour isn’t tedious is because it is so laughable, and even once the film finally moves into its horror segment, the soundstage-heavy and full-frontal filmmaking deadens a lot of the limited amount of tension the film has. (The cinematography is noticeably better in the cave and, on occasion, the jungle scenes.) Nonetheless, Bloodlust! has more than one jaw-dropping moment, and not all of them are due to unintentional humor or inane dialog. The dead babe floating in the tank (played by the director's wife, Brianne Murphy, who between directing the grindhouse non-classic Blood Sabbath [1972, with Dyanne Thorne] and the snooze-a-thon To Die, to Sleep (1994) became the first female director of photography on a major studio, union picture, the Anne Bancroft directed seriously un-funny fiasco Fatso [1980 / trailer]), the pieces of a skinned human pulled from the preparation tank, the living man in the acid bath and the blood visibly pulsating from an impaled man are all highlights of early grindhouse offal, and more than once the story swerves briefly into unadulterated verbal sleaze (like when Dr. Balleau starts waxing on how the two girls will replace his departed wife and how he is looking forward to getting to know them better).
For z-grade B&W horror, Bloodlust! is a surprisingly entertaining watch and is an easy way to waste both 68 minutes or introduce your young child to the pleasures of horror films. More than one scene is sure to scare the gee-bees out of the kids, if not get your wife pissed at you for letting them watch such warped trash. Bloodlust! is not only in public domain in the US, but is available at the Internet Archives. Going by the shared skips and rips, the print there is the same as the one used for the PC Treasures Double Feature DVDs. The film is embedded below for your viewing pleasure—or go here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Blood Waves (USA, 2006)


"I will suck on your fuckin' cock all the way back to L.A., if we just leave now! Please!"
Rose (Joleigh Pulsonetti)

Like so many cheapies, this 2006 flick has pretty much slipped under the radar and been relegated to total obscurity. It is, perhaps, a touch too under-developed to deserve any fame and adulation (although it does have some nicely sly humor at the expense of weltfremd US Americans), but considering the sheer amount of unadulterated crap that is out there it can at least be said that fans of low budget horror can do far, far worse than Blood Waves. The flick is a bit low on the blood and gore and too high on the shaky camera and quick edit, but it does fly by quickly and, even better, director Ian McCrudden does a rare thing in that he actually manages to give the sun-baked surfers of his horror film enough personality that they become something more than mere bodycount. They might be brainless surfers, but there is more to their horror-film generic personalities (hero, girlfriend, best dude friend, slut and geek) than just their surfboard. The result: one not only sort of hopes that they'll get away but even feels slight regret for those that don't.
The title itself, Blood Waves, is totally off the mark, however; far less appropriate for the film than its original name of Trespassers. The waves never get bloody, and it is rather the beach itself than hides the danger, a danger that (illogically enough) seemingly never extends beyond the narrow confines of the shore with dream-sized waves to attack the nearby locals. But then, despite the film's initial appearance of slight wallowing in US xenophobia (similar but not even half as obnoxious as in the Hostel [2005 / trailer] and Hostel: Part II [2007 / trailer] films, the most xenophobic US film franchise of the past decade), the evil of Blood Waves is actually born of Americans and aimed at those that come to take and use—Trespassers, in other words. And as the film makes abundantly clear, there are enough out there, so it is perhaps somewhat understandable then that the evil never attacks or spreads to the locals nearby.
As the tagline explains, Blood Waves tells the tale of "5 friends. An exotic journey. A deadly curse." (OK, Baja California really isn’t all that exotic, but it isn't the US—which means it’s pretty damn exotic for most US Americans.) After drifting around the world in search of the perfect wave, the surfer Tyler (Brendan McIver Fleming) finds one the best beaches—the in real-life ecologically endangered Punta Abreojos of Baja, Mexico—relatively close to home. He calls up his brother Colin (Kaiwi "I’m an actor who surfs not a surfer who acts" Lyman, an actor well on his way to Z-movie fame with such masterpieces as Frankenstein vs. the Creature from Blood Cove [2005 / trailer], Robinson Crusoe: The Great Blitzkrieg [2008 / trailer], and Blue Movies [2009 / trailer]) in LA to join him in the party. Coming down with four friends — the good girl Ashley (Michelle Borth of Easy Rider: The Ride Back [2009 / trailer] and Komodo vs. Cobra [2005 / trailer]), the slut Rose (Joleigh Pulsonetti of Hatchet [2006 / trailer]), the geek loser Lucky (Alex Feldman of The Final Patient [2005 / trailer], Repo Chick [2009 / trailer] and The Collector [2009 / trailer]) and the buddy Javier (Jon Ada)—the five find wicked waves and the cars and bikes of Tyler and his buds, but no party or people. After a day of frolic and fun, the five are faced with the curse of El Gringo (Clayton Rohner of Nightwish [1989], I, Madman [1989 / trailer] and The Relic [1997 / trailer]), a former cult leader gone demon that converts trespassing users and takers into crazed cannibals or cannibal food. (Perhaps one could call them cannibal zombies, as they are living zombies in the sense of 28 Days Later [2002 / trailer] or the remake of The Crazies [2010 / trailer] and not dead ones as in Night of the Living Dead [1968 / trailer] or Dawn of the Dead [1978 / trailer or 2004 / trailer], but they like to eat what they kill.) Can the five fun-loving folks save themselves? What do you think?
The initial leisurely pace of Blood Waves serves to assist in identifying with the victims—even if not all of them are all that likable—and also serves to underscore the fact that they are the foreigners. It does seem odd that while El Gringo goes after the first of the five during the day, hell doesn't actually break loose until night—which is filmed as night really is, meaning that much of the action and gore once the cannibals start attacking is lost in murkiness. A rarity in contemporary grindhouse pops up twice in Blood Waves: both babes toss out a topless scene, one under the bright sun and the other in the gloom when the last couple on the run decide upon some desperate sex in the face of imminent death—but whereas the babes brave to bare, the men do not, though Lucky comes close to it during his wanking scene. The final shot of the film can be seen as either an invitation to a sequel or as saying that not only is life circular but the world is full of inconsiderate users and takers…
Hardly a masterpiece at any level, Blood Waves nonetheless has enough individuality and effectiveness as a horror film despite its mundane and generic plot to supply 1.5 hours worth of low grade entertainment. It is a shame that the film seems to be more of an anomaly in director Ian McCrudden's filmic oeuvre, for it does manage to indicate a possibly promising career in genre films.

Turbulence (USA, 1997)




Definitely a woman’s film—they all seem to like it even if the men don’t. Probably has something to do with being able to identify with the hero. The real hero of this film is a woman, and while the babes out there seem to find her resourceful, brave and admirable, men seem to find her a little bit dumb. Seeing that these type of bloody, body-excessive thriller are primarily a man-thing, it is not surprising that Turbulence wasn't the biggest of successes, but it was obviously successful enough or it wouldn't have spawned two even trashier semi-sequels, Turbulence 2: Fear of Flying (1999 / trailer) and the ultra-trashy Turbulence 3: Heavy Metal (2001 / trailer).
That the film is so flawed is probably not the fault of director Robert Butler, who has had a career specializing primarily in television series and movies but for a few kiddy comedies like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1970) and Hot Lead Cold Feet (1978) and the even rarer excursion into adult fare like the laughably dated Night of the Juggler (1980). His direction is perfectly acceptable and competent, and he even manages to sneak in a few truly memorable, disturbing scenes, like when the good girl stumbles down the aisle while left and right of her in the seats all the dead men are propped up “watching” It’s A Wonderful Life (1946 / trailer), or like the murder of the unimportant stewardess (Catherine Hicks) during which Ryan Weaver (Ray Liotta) obviously gets his rocks off. But Butler, and the film’s various actors, fights a losing battle against a crappy script with some hugely implausible—if not plain unbelievable—aspects.
The first mistake is that no airplane is going to have only 12 (or so) passengers, even if it is Christmas—the flight would be canceled and the passengers bumped to a different flight. Likewise, four stewards/stewardess for 12 odd people is also unrealistic—most airlines keep their personnel “on call”, thus an empty flight would simply have fewer stewards. Likewise, even if we overlook the fact that the oxygen masks don’t fall when a window gets shot out (though they do fall later in a different scene), no way in hell is it believable that a briefcase put against the window would be a successful hole stuffer, nor that it would stay in place during all the “turbulence” that follows, including a hilariously believable 360 twirl the plane makes while on auto pilot. The most obviously laughable mistakes come later, during the first unsuccessful landing attempt. Like, get real. We should believe that the wing of the plane can rip through a (steel structure) billboard and stay attached? That the wheels of the plane can knock the top off of a cement parking structure and not get ripped off? Scriptwriter Jonathan Brett obviously decided not to strain himself when he cobbled this laugh fest together.
And the story? (If you plan to see the film, skip this next paragraph.) Accused serial killer and rapist Ryan Weaver (Ray Liotta) gets busted and, forever polite and friendly and insistent of his innocence, gets put on a flight back to LA with some other killer, a bunch of heavily armed FBI guards, two pilots, four flight attendants and a variety of unimportant passengers. No time short, both pilots and all the macho men are dead and Ryan’s nice guy act disappears. He locks everyone up in a back area and tells Stewardess Lauren Holly (Teri Halloran) that he’s killed them all. Forever alternating between trying to land the plane and leaving it to fly on auto-pilot she, of course, does a lot of stupid stuff so that the tension stays high. The two fight a lot and Lauren also wanders around the empty plane crying while it does flips in the air before she finally blows Ryan’s brains out and can concentrate on landing the plane, not knowing that it has been decided to shoot the plane down over the ocean (desert?) rather than risk the chance that she crash it in the middle of the city....
Sound familiar? Well, think of Airport 75 (1975 / trailer)—but with a stewardess without crossed eyes—peppered liberally with Dead Calm (1989 / trailer) or Ultraviolet (1992 / trailer), add the speech Dustin Hoffman gives to the pilot flying the bomber at the end of Outbreak (1995 / trailer) and you’ve got the full story.
As Ryan, Ray Liotta delivers another one of his patented psycho performances à la Something Wild (1986 / trailer) or Unlawful Entry (1992 / trailer)—something he is good enough at, but has done once too often. Though functional and believable, his performance fails to surprise or impress because it is so expectable and rather one dimensional. Still, had the film been better, Liotta’s presence might’ve not been so bothersome—Christopher Walkin’s patented psycho performance is pretty much just as predictable, but unlike Liotta, Walkin (usually) makes more interesting films, and thus the predictability of his performance is (usually) less annoying.

Much harder to stomach is actually Jim Carrey’s ex-wife Lauren Holly as Teri Halloran. The script gives her character all the brains of Betty Cooper—who Holly played in Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again (1990)—but without either the humor or personality. The little the script gives her Holly fails in any way to really add to for most of the film, and by the time she finally starts getting her shit together and takes the bull by the balls, the (male) viewer doesn’t really care.
Turbulence is a crappy thriller, but if stoned, you will probably find it a passable comedy. The babes out there probably won’t see it this way, but they would probably rather rent My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997 / trailer) instead anyway.

Lady Frankenstein (Italy, 1970)




One of the more infamous films that has entered the public domain in the US and that, as such, can be viewed for free on any number of film websites, including here at the fabulous Internet Archives. Lady Frankenstein combines everything that is good and bad about Eurotrash horror, and as such it seems almost to have as many yay-sayers as nay-saysers: tendentially, perhaps more people seem to find that the film sucks the big one, but others are just as willing to claim that “Lady Frankenstein has to be one of the most seriously underrated horror films of all time” (to quote Classic-Horror.com).
Yes, Lady Frankenstein is indeed underrated: it is both worse than you've probably heard, but more entertaining as well. It is the type of film that has you laugh out loud at the ridiculousness and cheapness of the production as often as you drop your jaw at the audacity of what just happened. But face it: any film that shows a hot babe like Rosalba Neri (as Tania Frankenstein) naked, biting her hand to stifle her orgasm just as her crippled husband Dr. Marshall (Paul Muller, of Vampiros Lesbos [1971 / trailer] and dozens of other Eurotrash major and minor classics) kills her hunky fuck (an uncredited Marino Masé of Contamination [1980 / trailer] as Thomas Stack, the mentally deficient young handyman) can’t be all bad.
Somewhere in Europe in the early 18th century—maybe the time and setting is revealed in the film, but then in passing—Baron Frankenstein (Joseph Cotton, of Citizen Kane [1941 / trailer], The Third Man
[1949 / trailer], Niagara [1953 / trailer], Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte [1964 / trailer], The Abominable Dr. Phibes [1971 / trailer] and Soylent Green [1973 / trailer], to list but a few of his good ones) is as always busy trying to create life from the human body parts, which he purchases from the local group of grave robbers led by Tom Lynch (Herbert Fux of Der Gorilla von Soho [1968 / trailer] and Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält [1970 / trailer]) and sews back together again with the help of his intelligent, game-legged and morally torn assistant Dr. Marshall (Muller). The good doctor’s daughter Tania (Neri), having finished her studies at the university to become a surgeon—a plot device that is probably less proto-feminist than the director Mel Welles was apt to claim than simply expedient for the plot—arrives home and reveals herself as equally obsessed to create new life from dead people as her daddy. A night or two later, Daddy Frankenstein finally succeeds using the damaged brain of a recently hanged murderer, but the funky-looking creature (Paul Whiteman, in his only known film) ain’t too happy about it: he promptly bear-hugs the doctor to death and then literally saunters out the front door and across the countryside killing those who stole his remains and an occasional villager or naked girl. (There is a great scene in which the creature stumbles upon a dressed man making out with a naked lass; in an odd homage to the original Frankenstein [1931 / trailer] he promptly pick her up and tosses her into the water.) In the meantime, Dr Marshall and Tania marry and the law shows up on the scene in the guise of Captain Harris (Mickey Hargitay of Jayne Mansfield's bed [1958-1964], Bloody Pit of Horror [1965 / trailer] and Delirium [1972 / unofficial trailer]) to investigate the "murder" of the Baron by someone unknown. He hardly believes their story, but has no proof otherwise. Harris wanders around most of the film making sly insinuations and insults, but he is soon distracted by the many murders of the wandering creature. Tania pussywhips her new husband into helping her kill the dumb stud houseboy Thomas—a literal case of la petite mort, as the French say—so as to exchange the two men’s brains. Then Marshall would be strong and healthy and good looking, and Tania would have a strong, intelligent stud muffin that can bonk her brains out and revenge the death of her daddy. She gets everything she wants and more just as the angry villagers, following the destructive path of the creature, storm the castle….
Wow. They really don’t make movies like this anymore, do they?
Director Mel Welles, who died in 2005, was an American character actor who moved to Europe in the mid-60s and is best remembered (if at all) as Gravis Mushnik, the flower shop owner in the original version of Little Shop of Horrors (1960 / trailer / full movie). In Europe, in addition to his successful career as an actor, Welles also wrote, produced and even directed a few films—Lady Frankenstein being the best known and, perhaps, the "best". (Island of the Doomed / Maneater of Hydra [1967 / short clip]—a Eurotrash distant cousin of Little Shop of Horrors starring the legendary Cameron Mitchell—is undoubtedly the worst.)
For a low budget production, Lady Frankenstein looks pretty good outside of the laboratory and when not focused on the creature. The typically atrocious dubbing of the film hurts only in the accents: Neri sound properly European, but almost everyone else seems to have been dubbed by Californians and the accents grate with the visual tone of the film. There are titties galore and a little bit of blood now and then, but the gore is not that much more than an early Hammer film, the look of which Welles was obviously trying to emulate in his own, less-than-successful manner. The film music is startlingly and effectively Brian Enoish on occasion (not his Roxy Music or pop album days, but his ambient noise days), on other occasions it is oddly bland. (Composer Alessandro Alessandroni, by the way, is a name not unknown to those who love Italian "Incredibly Strange Music"; he also scored such "classics" as The Devil’s Nightmare [1971 / trailer], The Mad Butcher [1972 / trailer] and Bruno Mattei’s infamous S.S. Extermination Love Cap [1977].)
The film is surprisingly quick, its 96 minutes flying by more quickly than with many other better-made film, and some of the humor actually seems on purpose (like the scene in which a naked babe suddenly pops out from beneath the covers of Lynch’s bed to supply him an alibi). Neri looks hot in and out of her clothes, but she is actually a better actress physically than verbally. (No, it's not about mammeries here: she can simply do more with her eyes and body language than with her voice.) Were Lady Frankenstein a man she would probably be described as "driven" instead of with terms like "cold-hearted bitch", as she is in more than one online review, for she shows all the heartlessness and single-mindedness of a CEO—only she gets her rocks of with the reanimated dead instead of with call girls. Still, even if she is much too conniving and cold-hearted to gain the viewer’s sympathy—other than as an anti-hero—she is actually a better monster-maker than her own dad. Daddy Frankenstein’s monster, with his dorky head and deformed face and inability to figure out how he wants to walk, is a laugh every time the camera actually focuses on him.
To be blunt, Lady Frankenstein probably succeeds despite itself. It displays none of the class or talent found in such Eurotrash masterpieces as Nightmare Castle (1965 / trailer)—which also features Paul Muller—or Daughters of Darkness (1971 / trailer) or even well-produced trash such as Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye (1973 / trailer), but for all its flaws, Lady Frankenstein never bores and its underlying perversity is oddly appealing. It is, in the end, a mildly well-made piece of gothic Eurotrash with titties and blood—and as such, all that it needs to make for a fun night is a six-pack or two in the fridge.

Eden Log (France, 2007)




For his first feature-length release, the French long-standing second unit director Franck Vestiel has released a low budget science fiction film that is definitely of the love-it-or-hate-it school. Co-written by Pierre Bordage—whose next project as screenwriter was on another French sci-fi mental mind fuck, Marc Caro’s Dante 01 (2008 / trailer)—Eden Log is a film that really requires more than one viewing to fully comprehend. The question is: does anyone who has managed to sit through the bleak and dank 98 minutes once really want to do so again? (Going by the popular word of mouth the flick has been getting, there are obviously enough people out there that are willing to do so.)
As mentioned, Eden Log is a dank and desolate movie, and to that it is also incredibly dark; more than once it is almost impossible to see what the fuck is going on. But in the occasional flashes of light in the darkness that starts the film, it can be discerned that a naked and mud-covered man (Clovis Cornillac of Maléfique [2002 / trailer] and Poltergay [2006 / trailer]) awakens within the wet, slimy ruins of an underground structure with no memory of who he is, where he is or how he got there. Retrieving a flashlight from a nearby skeletal dead, he begins to explore. He finds a bodysuit—can’t have a sausage swinging for a whole film now, can we?—and then the remnants of deserted labs and stations overgrown with roots. The clues he gains regarding where he is and who he is are revealed to the viewer as he himself gains them, so for most of the film one is as lost as he is. But level by level he goes upwards, dodging or fighting hungry mutants and units of faceless armed guards (though both turn out to be relatively easy to overcome whenever he is forced to confront them). Along the way he has a brief conversation with a man half-engorged by roots, allows a lab botanist to experiment with him, occasionally flips out (during one such rage he rapes the only non-digital woman [Vimala Pons] to appear in the film), slips into unconsciousness whenever the story sort of gets stuck in a situation (he always awakens in a new situation), finds out who he is and the nasty secret of the Eden Log Corporation and, finally, sheds a tear as he... well, see the film if you want to find out.
Franck Vestiel goes overtime in creating a gloomy, end-of-days atmosphere within the clammy ruins of the ruinous underground complex, and the feeling of danger and paranoia is well conveyed. But the film is an incredibly alienating experience, leaving the viewer lost most of the time and then almost angered by the final resolution. OK, the sensual experience conveyed by the film is intentional, so Vestiel gets plus points there, but the structural progression of the plot is definitely flimsy at times and the artsy ending almost too out of the blue to not instigate guffaws of derision. And while it might be forgivable to have the main character pass out and awaken in a new situation once, by the third time the story—and, in turn, the film—can no longer be taken seriously. (This reviewer, for one, was suddenly reminded of the Hardy Boy books, and how often the boys slipped into unconsciousness to stretch the plot—is there one book of the series in which neither of them slips into oblivion at least once?)
Those who see deeper philosophical statements in shades of non-color or convoluted plots and artsy endings will probably find this flick an intellectual masterpiece, but in regards to philosophical intentions or intellectual pondering it is miles away from, say, other not-as-low-budget-but-still-low-budget sci-fi classics such as George Lucas's THX-1138 (1971 / trailer) or Alex Proyas's Dark City (1998 / trailer)—but then, Eden Log is perhaps also far less compromising. As a first film, Eden Log gives the impression of being a highly interesting failure, and as such it makes for mildly interesting but hardly essential viewing. But for that, it also infers—as did Luc Besson’s highly entertaining but even lower budgeted post-apocalyptic debut L'avant dernier / The Last Battle (1981 / trailer)—that the director might yet still produce bigger and better things in the future.

Below (USA/Great Britain, 2002)




A submarine isn’t a good place to keep secrets .”

Strange how movie studios work. By the time director David Twohy's made Below in 2002, he had a rather admirable career in genre films behind him. Beginning as a scriptwriter of lesser projects such as Critters 2: The Main Course (1988 / trailer) and Warlock (1989 / trailer), he went on to help pen such fine quality mainstream genre flicks of varying quality and commercial and critical success as The Fugitive (1993 / trailer), Waterworld (1995 / trailer) and (gag) G.I. Jane (1997 / trailer) before giving Vin Diesel a viable if short career with the justifiable sci-fi hit Pitch Black (2000 / trailer), Twohy's third directorial job. With such a track record behind him, it seems more than odd that when it came time to release Below, Twohy’s next film after Pitch Black, Miramax decided to reduce its planned broad theatrical release to a measly 150 theaters (around the world!) instead. Even ignoring Twohy's track record, that decision of the powers-that-be can only raise one question: did they even watch the film they so ignominiously dumped? For their actions surely doomed an atmospheric and chilling film that easily could’ve found a popular audience had it only been given the chance.
The film starts with the submarine U.S.S. Tiger Shark on the way home, but it is detoured to pick up the drifting survivors of a British hospital boat torpedoed a few days earlier. No sooner do they have three survivors—a strong-willed nurse named Claire (Olivia Williams) and two sailors, one of whom is badly wounded—aboard then does the enemy show up. Deep below the water’s surface, the crew of the submarine not only has to deal with the particularly persistent attempts of the enemy to sink them, but there seems to be someone in the midst that wants them found and sunk. The Commanding Officer of the Tiger Shark, Lieutenant Brice (Bruce Greenwood of Disturbing Behavior [1998], The Core [2003 / trailer] and Star Trek [2009 / trailer]) discovers the injured survivor is German and ends up killing him, but with his death the disturbing events begin to take an even more unnatural nature. But are the events truly that of a supernatural nature, or are the crew only slowly but surely going stir crazy? As one crippling disaster after the other occurs, Claire soon finds out that Brice, Loomis (Holt McCallany of Creepshow2 [1987 / trailer] and Alien3 [1992 / trailer]) and Coors (Scott Foley [Scream3, 2000 / trailer]), the three senior officers of the boat, are hiding a secret themselves...
Below is a well acted, well written, well directed and amazingly enthralling amalgamation of a wartime suspense film, psychological thriller and ghost story. The film starts off as a run-of-the-mill wartime adventure film set in a submarine only to slowly and steadily evolve into an effective and intelligent ghost story, and nowhere along the way does it stumble in its narrative tension. (Rather unlike that other "unknown" but critically well-received Brit wartime psychological-cum-horror film The Bunker [2001 / trailer], which gets rather turgid towards the end.) The claustrophobic setting is palpable, particularly in the scenes when the enemy ship is after them, and serves well to emphasize the continually increasing sense of inevitable doom. The book open to Shakespeare's Macbeth that Claire finds in the gangway is an early indication that the events occurring are indeed of an unnatural nature—the play, you might remember from high school, does feature a vengeful ghost—but until the chilling mirror scene everything seen or heard could be explained as natural or imagined. The scares in the movie are less cheap than unexpected, and the overall tension of Below is achieved equally in what the film does and doesn’t show. Indeed, the buildup to the quotable question "Mister Loomis, where's our crew?" shows a restraint in its execution that is seldom found in genre films and, as a result, the shock of the answer is all the more effective.
Miramax may have made an asinine decision in their lack of faith in this film, but if you want a finely wrought tale of tension and horror featuring a superior ensemble cast of familiar faces in an unusual setting you should put your faith in Below. You won’t be disappointed.
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