31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Scream 4”

 

New decade, old school?
New decade, old school?

What’s your favourite scary movie?

2011’s “Scream 4” revived everybody’s favourite post-modern slasher, Ghostface, after a decade’s absence, pitting the raspy-voiced, horror movie trivia-obsessed maniac against an entirely new horror – the Twitter generation.

Beginning with a dizzying series of movies-within-movies, as we find out that the faux “Stab” franchise is up to entry number seven, “Scream 4” follows series heroine Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) back to Woodsboro on the fifteenth anniversary of the killings to promote her new book.

As inevitably as night following day, Sidney’s appearance encourages a new crazed slasher to take up the cloak and Ghostface mask, putting a younger, wiser and equally doomed generations of teens to the knife.  Only Sidney, Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and a writers-blocked Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) can discover the identity of the new killer before he gets his black-clad hands on Sidney’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts).

 

 

A lot of people really hated the third movie – I wasn’t amongst them at the time (Jay and Silent Bob FTW), but it has been a hell of a long time since I’ve seen it. The reviews of this film put me off seeing it back in 2011, and only the prospect of taking on this Halloween movie challenge made me take a chance on it.  And, you know, I’m mostly glad that I did.

The sense of fun and arcane nerdery employed by Craven and Williamson in the original trilogy is still evident here,despite the dread hands of “Transformers” scribe Ehren Kruger being on the shooting script.  The kaleidoscopic opening sequence pulls the proverbial rug from under the audience’s feet multiple times, showing confidence in said crowd’s ability to determine flashbacks-within-flashbacks (we even find out that the fifth(?) movie featured time travel!).

It’s intriguing that the movie doesn’t comment too much on recent genre tropes beyond an aside about Asian ghost girls and torture porn – in an age of found-footage, possession and zombie flicks, we get precious little acknowledgement of how the horror movie has altered since the last movie opened.  Okay, the main plot features a character who streams every moment of his daily life via a head-mounted camera and mic, but that’s about the extent of things (well, until the ending, but I won’t spoil that).

The non-supernatural slasher does seem rather quaint in an era where Blumhouse flicks are tearing up the box office and you’re more likely to see 19,000 identikit demonic possession potboilers in Netflix’s horror section than an axe-wielding maniac chasing plastic teens around the woods.  But, to his credit, Craven is a master of staging and elegantly crafts several set-pieces which are the equal of the party scene from the first movie or the cinema opening of the first sequel.

This picture is utterly crucial to a discussion of the film.  Or something.
This picture is utterly crucial to a discussion of the film. Or something.

Campbell, Arquette and Cox are as good as you would hope them to be, and new cast members like Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts and – sigh – Alison Brie do good work in supporting roles.  If I have a problem with the film, the ultimate motivation of the new Ghostface killer seemed a little opaque, as for it to work, it indicates a rather epic level of cynicism about modern society and the blurring line between news coverage and scripted entertainment.  Cynicism which may be well-earned in this era of indistinguishable reality tv shows and the popularity of people who seem to do nothing more complicated than breathe oxygen on a regular basis.

I suppose that it’s quite plausible in the meta-hothouse reality of these movies, but the planning and – no pun intended – execution required to carry out the murders in the film suggests that the killers would be better remunerated writing these kinds of movies rather than taking out half of the graduating class of 2011.  Indeed, the staging of a climactic crime scene and actions carried out by the murderer stretch plausibility beyond credulity somewhat – it’s like some awesome hybrid of Sam Raimi violence, Looney Tunes and performance art.  Points for style, but the level of diabolical genius at play suggests a mind so twisted and brilliant that it makes Hannibal Lecter look like a Kardishian in comparison.

One last thing, if I may?  How come people don’t seem to have guns in Woodsboro?  Of all the places that one might expect to find surburban families packing heat, this blighted community would be it.  Oh, the possibilities of Ghostface bringing a knife to a shotgun fight…

Certainly worth a look if you like the previous films – if they left you cold and you found their layered pop cultural snark aesthetic utterly wearing, then avoid this movie as the clever-cleverness within might cause your head to explode, Tom Savini in “Maniac”-style.

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Day of the Dead”

Now that's what I call a classic movie poster...
Now that’s what I call a classic movie poster…

Third entries in horror franchises can be divisive.  Witness the initial furore over “Halloween 3: Season of the Witch”, which boldly divested itself of The Shape and then suffered the wrath of a fanbase not getting what they expected. George A. Romero’s trilogy-capping “Day of the Dead” enjoyed similar slings and arrows from critics and fans alike expecting the satirical underpinnings of “Dawn…”, only to get a dour and claustrophobic drama which is a slog even at 97 minutes.

Whereas “Halloween 3” has latterly been privy to critical and fan reappraisal, the third instalment of the “…Dead” series hasn’t been welcomed with open arms.  Perhaps this is due to Romero’s latter zombie films – “Land of the Dead”, “Diary of the Dead” and “Survival of the Dead” – enjoying progressively poorer reviews and box office returns in a pop culture space where “The Walking Dead” on TV and “World War Z” in cinemas have captured contemporary attention.

Romero’s film is set largely in a Floridian military base, with a small band of soldiers and scientists working at cross-purposes  in a world now overrun by the undead.  As the soldiers hold back the barbarians at the gates, scientist Sarah (Lori Cardille) and her colleagues are experimenting on zombies captives to determine whether or not the effects of the plague can be reversed and the undead pacified.

When the base commander dies, a power struggle simmers between the two camps, as an untiring army of zombies hammers at the gates and threatens to overrun this small pocket of what passes for humanity.

A major issue with this sequel is the decision to explore a comparitively small conflict amongst a group of broadly-drawn archetypes.  The characters are largely uninvolving as they represent philosophical positions rather than convincing as people. The conflict is very clear-cut and we’re in no doubt about whose side we’re supposed to be on – the military are itchy trigger-fingered racists and everybody else isn’t waving M16s and threatening rape at regular intervals.

The film really becomes involving in it’s last half-hour when the perculating tension boils over and the two sides come to blows.  It’s here that the undead finally breach the base and Tom Savini’s still excellent make-up effects come into play. The best CGI can’t really hold a candle to what Savini and his crew accomplished here – Romero’s zombies are still genuinely ghoulish and the stuff of nightmare fuel, some 29 years later.

The performances are, shall we say, varied?  Cardille does good, understated work as Sarah, one of the few characters in the film holding it together as the world comes apart – her dream sequences provide some of the bigger jolts in the film. Pilato is gloriously over-the-top as Rhodes but the real honours in the film, for me, go to Sherman Howard as the increasingly domesticated zombie Bub.  He’s a memorable horror protagonist, with a uniquely expressive performance that ranks amongst the greatest movie monsters.  The showdown between Howard and Pilato results in one of my defining horror climaxes – the ‘choke on ’em’ moment giving us some of Savini’s most grotesque and convincing effects work.

Not the best Romero zombie movie but it still has moments of real power and bleakness amidst the hand-wringing, petty power-struggles and truly inexplicable synth pop on the soundtrack (what is that end-credits music doing here?).

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Tucker & Dale Vs Evil”

Eat chainsaw death, college boy!
Eat chainsaw death, college boy!

 

The marriage of horror and comedy is fraught with danger.  Get it right and you get “Evil Dead 2”, “Shaun of the Dead” or “An American Werewolf in London”.  Get it wrong and you have a “Scary Movie”, “Lesbian Vampire Killers” or “An American Werewolf in Paris” on your hands.

Thankfully, Eli Craig’s “Tucker & Dale Vs Evil” is very much of the former camp.

Set in the Appalachian hills of West Virginia, the film pits hard-working, blue-collar Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) against an increasingly paranoid band of holidaying college kids who’ve gotten the idea that the two local boys are actually creepy psychos with designs on snuffing them out.

Tucker and Dale’s best efforts to make peace with the group are undone when Dale accidentally causes Alison (Katrina Bowden) to bang her head whilst skinny dipping.  Dale’s rescue is misinterpreted by the kids as a kidnap and things get progressively bloodier, blackly comedic and deliriously absurd from then on with the guys’ simple desire to fix up Tucker’s dilapidated vacation home being thwarted by disposable teens flinging themselves at the putative backwoods murderers before they meet bloody ends courtesy of  the axe-handed hillbillies.

If you think of this movie as a slasher movie for people who can’t stand the sub-genre, you wouldn’t be far wrong.  The film’s primary conceit is that the characters who would normally be depicted as the antagonists in a “Friday the 13th” sequel – the conspirational, untrustworthy rednecks – are the heroes whose naivety and unwordly nature contrive to give them the appearance of grisly serial killers.

It’s hard not to think that Jason Voorhees and Victor Crowley (of the “Hatchet” series) would have done better to adopt a similar approach and allow the drunk, dope-smoking, pre-marital sex-having teens of their respective series to behave with such forehead-slapping stupidity and hasten their own demises.  Crystal Lake’s favourite son could put his mask up, chill out in a lounger and never have to unsheath his machete again.

Performances are universally wonderful, with Tudyk and Labine endearingly hilarious as guys utterly bewildered by what fate is flinging at them – it’s a treat to see these perenial supporting players given the chance to lead a film and the college kids are equally fun.  “30 Rock” siren Katrina Bowden gets to do more than totter around in tiny outfits for a change and Jesse Moss makes for a splendidly hateful antagonist in Chad, the frat bro with a dark family secret he’s not aware of.

My horror-averse wife enjoyed this film tremendously, despite the free-flowing gore and dismemberment on display, which may give those of you with scare-phobic spouses another film to add to your Halloween movie countdown.  It’s certainly worth your time.

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Undead”

Three barrels, no waiting...
Three barrels, no waiting…

 

There must be something in the water down under.

Following in the proud tradition of New Zealand’s patron saint of DIY splatter, Peter Jackson, Australia’s Spierig brothers made their feature debut in 2003 with the demented zombie comedy, “Undead”.

Whereas Peter Jackson started in the low-budget trenches with horror comedies like “Bad Taste” and “Brain Dead”, before helming a few films you might have heard of, the Spierig brothers have remained in their native land, developing their own projects like 2009’s vampire sci-fi “Daybreakers” and the forthcoming “Predestination”.

“Undead” is every inch the debut feature.  It’s a little baggy around the mid-section, it has way more ambition than budget and goes for broke from the get-go, lest the makers never have the chance to make another feature.   Focusing on the inhabitants of small Aussie fishing town Berkeley, “Undead” shows us how a very typical community rapidly goes to literal pieces when mysterious asteroids bombard the town and turn the townsfolk in blank-eyed, intestine-hungry, shambling zomboids.

A handful of people escape the carnage – chief amongst them is disgruntled beauty queen Rene (Felicity Mason) who is all for getting the hell out of her small town after the bank forclose on the farm her grandparents bequeathed her.  She finds refuge with mysterious hick Marion (Mungo McKay), who previously had an unwanted close encounter with visitors not of this earth and has been outfitting his farm with enough firepower to blow a whole in the ozone layer.

It’s fair to say that this doesn’t represent the more thoughtful end of the zombie sub-genre.  This is very much a calling-card feature, showing prospective studios and producers what this pair of self-starting hypethenates could achieve with modest means – which is a nice way of saying that the plot and characters play distinctly second fiddle to gory kills, creative camera work and quick-fire editing.

The gun fights, seemingly, go on for at least five minutes each and at least one or two of them could have been trimmed to move the story along.  The reason for the zombie infection and the eventual resolution of the A-plot are so quickly romped through that you might have to head to IMDB to check and see if what you think happened actually occurred.

A quick and bloody caper through the greatest hits of Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi and John Woo, “Undead” is probably only for fans of the Spierig’s later films who want a look at where they started.  It doesn’t add anything of substance to the zombie sub-genre, isn’t quite memorable enough to rank as a cult movie and is notable solely for the underused setting and some inventive staging when our heroes escape from the farmhouse.

Any comparisons made by critics to “Shaun of the Dead” are very much flattering this film, which doesn’t have the wit or poignancy to justify the correlation.  It’s a fun diversion if you absolutely can’t get enough zombie action, but not a film which will live long in your memory.

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Stake Land”

Living here's like cutting teeth...
Living here’s like cutting teeth…

 

As vampire apocalypses go, the one which gives “Stake Land” a backdrop seems all too credible.

Director Jim Mickle paints a grim and plausible view of an America which has collapsed under the weight of a viral onslaught and left large swathes of the country either unihabitable or policed by extremist fundamentalist militia.  Doing their best to survive the everyday horrors are grizzled bloodsucker disposalist Mister (Nick Damici) and Martin (Connor Paolo), a young boy Mister rescues when his family are brutally murdered by a passing vampire.

There’s a useful comparison to be drawn between this film and Ruben Fleischer’s delightfully entertaining “Zombieland”.  On the face of it the two films deal with the idea of an inciting supernatural event radically changing the make-up of the United States and the ways in which our protagonists deal with the upended social order which results.  Whilst Fleischer’s film is a comic effort played for equal parts chuckles and thrills, Mickle’s film is a decidedly dark and glum proposition with minimal glints of humour poking through the necessarily dour whole.

“Stake Land” uses the inciting threat of the vampiric catastrophe overwhelming the country to paint a picture of dogmatic beliefs result in appalling inhumanity, when crisis gives people a licence to behave at their worst.  At a time when the USA’s underpinning systems have collapsed beyond repair, it is this base human cruelty which seeks to paint vampires as a punishment from above for sin and pits bands of survivors against self-imposed leaders of petty fiefdoms like Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris, who you might remember as the Observer in “Fringe”).

Science fiction, fantasy and horror, of course, use a surface layer of fantastical imagery and weird locales to mask potentially controversial or difficult to digest underlying messages about society and humanity – “Stake Land” is no exception.   At a time in our collective history when we’ve never seemed more divided and liable to cling to comforting ideas of faith in the face of challenges and change, this film’s message of suspecting false prophets and the worse kind of xenophobic rabble-rousing has never seemed more relevant.

It’s difficult to say that I enjoyed “Stake Land” – it’s an absolutely captivating take on the idea of vampires and whethere they or our fellow humans are the real enemy.  It’s a thoughtful piece which made me ruefully consider just how the world would go to hell in the event of a global outbreak which dismantled society as we know it.  So, you know, it isn’t necessarily Friday night funtime fare – it has a certain weight to it.

It uses a low budget to best effect by not relying on elaborate set-pieces and CGI work, using more realistic action and practical effects to underpin an emphasis on our old friends, story and character.  When the members of our party and incidental characters meet untimely ends, it is all the more affecting as the ground work has been done to build our empathy.

Of special note are the performances from Kelly McGillis, playing a brutalised nun and horror veteran Danielle Harris, as a pregnant singer, who form part of an extended non-traditional family group with Mister, Martin and former soldier, Willie (Sean Nelson).  It’s quiet and unfussy acting from a really rather good ensemble which is sensible enough not to paint all people of faith as being zealots and gun-toting loons.  Though the film’s essential liberal credentials are very much on its sleeve, I don’t feel as though you have to share the film’s underpinning convictions to find it a compelling spin on the idea of vampires, plagues and inquisition-like states.

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Cold Prey”

 

After the relatively dull and by-the-numbers fare of “See No Evil”, today’s movie “Cold Prey” came as a welcome surprise.

Though constructed from the classic slasher playbook – a gaggle of young people, an implacable killer with identity obscured, a compact locale – “Cold Prey” (or “Fritt Vilt”, in its original Norwegian) is a refreshingly direct and well-made horror thriller which uses locations to great effect and often wrong-foots even the most experienced scary movie fan by making smart choices and allowing the characters to act plausibly and consistently.

The plot is simplicity itself – five young snowboarders hike out into the Norwegian wilds to rip up the pure white powders of an unspoiled peak and find themselves out of their depths when injury forces them to take refuge in an isolated, apparently deserted hotel.  As this is a horror picture, the hotel is anything but isolated and has an unwelcome member of staff not best pleased by the peppy quintet’s sudden trespass.

So, not that dissimilar to “See No Evil”, then?  If you’ll forgive the pun, it’s all in the execution.  Whereas that film tried to make us care about a largely hateful group of teen axe-fodder, “Cold Prey” dares to spend a good half-hour establishing character and relationships before putting the cast in death’s clammy grasp so that we give a hoot about the group when our masked menace starts to thin the herd.

Of chief note is heroine Jannicke (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) who is quite the most resourceful heroine that I’ve seen in my horror film viewing this week.  Without being a magazine-swapping, neck-snapping femme assassin par excellence, she takes charge of an increasingly insane situation and courageously marshals her friends in an effort to keep them away from an abrupt, icy demise.

Director Roar Uthaug’s film is successful in that it doesn’t waste time or insult your intelligence.  The gore is restrained – perhaps too much if you judge a fright flick on the number of exploding heads featured within – and the thrills are well-judged and expertly-staged.  The plot more or less makes sense (bar rather opaque motivations on the behalf of the film’s slasher) and the whole affair is rounded up in a compact 97 minutes.

You may see better horror movies this Halloween, but if you have any love for the stalk-and-slash sub-genre, you’ll find it hard to find a recent effort which betters “Cold Prey” in it’s command of the essentials

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “See No Evil”

Oh, for the sweet release of death...
Not the kind of hooker these kids expected to meet…

Slasher movies are supposed to be fun, aren’t they?  Moderately transgressive teens getting not entirely justified punishment for comparitively minor infractions to underscore Western cultural and moral norms – that’s what we’re watching these movies for, much to the chagrin of film critics and self-appointed moral crusaders.  What to do, then, with a film like 2006’s “See No Evil”, which is about as much fun as a hook in the unmentionables?

One of the first features to bear the WWE films banner, “See No Evil” attempts to create a new multiplex maniac in the form of Jacob Goodnight, a seven-foot tall hack-and-slashologist driven doolally by a childhood of artily-staged and grisly religious oppression by Mommy Dearest.  Goodnight’s ocularly-fixated rampage is abruptly curtailed by a heroic cop, Williams (Steven Vidler), who gets his man but loses an arm in the process.

Cut to several years later and Williams is now heading up a work-release programme for at risk juvenile detainees, who are tasked with cleaning up a dingy rundown hotel in exchange for a month-long reduction on their sentences.  In an example of remarkable optimism about human nature, the group is comprised of overheated teens of all persuasions who can’t go a second without sparking up a joint, punching each other’s lights out or attempting to have the kind of unprotected pre-maritals which are as music to the ears of  the hotel’s special guest, our axe and hook-handed friend, Jacob.

So far, so slashy-slashy.  But there’s a problem.  And, it’s a doozy.

Most of these kids are unlikeable ass-hats.  There are perhaps two characters in the ensemble who wouldn’t benefit from one of Jacob’s signature kills, the forcible eye-removal via pointy finger gambit, and at least one of those is amongst the first of the group to be gorily smacked-down.  We’re left with a group of kids who are so venally stupid as to present a threat to the human gene pool if they survive their night in Jacob’s run-down lair.   However, arguably the worst offender therein, Mike the misogynist pimp wannabe, somehow makes it to the end credits somewhat unscathed.  What gives?

I can only assume that auteur Gregory Dark (he of the NSFW filmography – Google at your peril) is making some kind of point about society in that the cruellest and most unscrupulous amongst us prosper at the expense of nice mousy girls who are kind to stray dogs.  I’d like to think that, but I’m pretty certain that no such subtext is to be found amidst the eye trauma, omnipresent grime and obnoxiously in your face sound design.

Everything culminates in some much-needed and slightly too late character development for Jacob Goodnight, which allows Glenn Jacobs to demonstrate that he has some acting ability, just in time for that time-wasting stuff to be jettisoned for some more chasing around crawlspaces, lift-shafts and the inevitable besting of the Big Bad.  A defeat which, to this viewer, seemed so completely splattery that it precluded any further outings for the sin-punishing psycho.

Inevitably, I’m way off base as the Soska Sisters-directed sequel is due for release on VOD and DVD/Blu-Ray later this month:

 

Evidently, you can’t keep a good (or slicing and dicing) man down.  But, two of the pre-eminent Final Girls in horror cinema in the same movie, the Twisted Soska Sisters calling the shots and his Kane-ness sporting a wrassling-style mask for a new bout of gutting and glowering?  There’s always the possibility that the sequel improves on the original, isn’t there?

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Ghost Ship”

See Evil
All skull, no crossbones…

It’s really difficult to get excited about a film like “Ghost Ship”.

The words ‘competent’ and ‘workmanlike’ come to mind when thinking about it.  As directed by VFX pro Steve Beck, this is the very definition of a major studio-backed, middle-of-the-road horror thriller.  It’s not taboo-breaking or grungy enough to offend a multiplex audience and fails gorehounds who would be looking for something more extreme and transgressive.

The film, one of the first released by the Robert Zemeckis/Joel Silver genre label Dark Castle, pitches us into party night on the cruise ship Antonia Grazia.  It’s 1962 and the well-to-do passengers are enjoying an evening of dancing and dining until mysterious forces conspire to abruptly curtail the celebrations.  Forty years later, a roughneck crew of marine salvagers led by old soak Gabriel Byrne and his number two Juliana Margulies get a tip about a floating cruise liner in the Baring Straits which promises them the mother of all paydays.

As soon as the salvage team go aboard, strange events spark a realisation that the full story of the Antonia Graza’s disappearance has not been told and that the past is about to repeat itself, bloodily.

We’re in similar territory to “Event Horizon”, I suppose, with a ship-bound crew being hunted by ghostly anatagonists who are eternally bound to the site of their demise and hunting any living soul unlucky enough to cross their paths.  There’s a fairly elemental horror movie morality at play in the film, with any character greedy enough to suppose that they can profit from the sins of the past being rudely advised otherwise but the vast majority of these demises are without weight.

There’s a real lack of character development and plot momentum, with the ending and survivors in sight from the get-go. Even the cyclical nightmare ending is somewhat predictable, as the film’s rules have established that the events in the climax can easily be unravelled for the sake of a quick chill as the credits begin to roll.

Neither annoyingly inept or amazingly profound, “Ghost Ship” is a horror film as vague and insubstantial as many of it’s computer-generated phantoms.

 

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “The Dead”

I walked with a zombie...
I walked with a zombie…

“The Dead” is a low-key, African-set zombie horror character study.  How many of those have you seen recently?

Directed by the Ford Brothers in 2010, the film follows Murphy (Rob Freeman) and Dembele (Prince David Oseia) as they grapple with the mundane realities of surviving an implacable, tireless and omnipresent plague of the undead.  I’m not exaggerating when I state the scope of the threat.  Though this is clearly a film with a low budget, the focus is very much on the shuffling hordes of intestine-munching horrors who are rarely far away from our protagonists, just waiting for them to get tired and stop long enough to be devoured.

Murphy is an American private military contractor whose flight out of the hot zone crashes.  Finding himself washed up on a beach, he scrabbles to find weapons to protect himself, transportation and supplies to keep himself alive.  After encountering soldier Dembele who saves him from certain death when his car gets stuck, the two men travel across hostile country to get to an airfield where engineer Murphy hopes that he can find a plane and repair it – Dembele just wants to keep the car so that he can search for his young son.

It’s this matter-of-fact treatment which makes the film worth watching – the threat is constant, the dangers are as much from the environment and simple mechanical failures as anything more high concept or based in contrivance and the acting is refreshingly unhistrionic.  When was the last time that you saw a zombie horror film where the simple act of finding clean drinking water was a source of triumph?

 

If you want your zombie tales to be slick and propulsive, you might want to skip this, but I found it a refreshing change of pace from the usual ‘set-em-up, knock-em-down’ school of horror movies which followed Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” remake.  It’s a beautifully-shot and oddly thoughtful tale of survival against impossible odds.

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Planet Terror”

You win some, you lose some.

Letting Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez follow their film geek muse by making a double-feature homage to trashy Z-grade movies must have seemed like a can’t miss proposition back in 2007.

Naturally, Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s decision to let the directorial pairing’s collective id run unchecked was one of the more pricey follies of that year, as the film radically unperformed at the box office and was met with a collective shrug by film critics.

How can a film this OTT be so dull?
How can a film this OTT be so dull?

Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” is the section with the most relevance to this Halloween Horror blog, being largely concerned with hideous mutations running amok, zombie shenanigans, characters having their unmentionables hacked off and all manner of juvenile stuff guaranteed to make you wonder if the director is, in actual fact, an honest-to-goodness teenage boy stuck in the body of a middle-aged man.  If that makes you think of the movie “Big”, I’m right there with you, but dread to think just what Robert Rodriguez would make with that premise.

Beginning with the director’s then-muse Rose McGowan essaying the difference between go-go dancing and striptease in a scuzzy Texan club, there’s certainly enough South-Western guitar slinging and surface style to initially grab the attention.  Attention which is then held by a grotesque face-off between testicle-hoarding scumbag Naveen Andrews and mutant psycho military type Bruce Willlis and the introduction of martial strife between Marley Shelton’s anethetist and her doctor husband Josh Brolin.

We have a lot of plotlines colliding before we even get into the travailles of trucker hero Freddy Rodriguez, vaguely crooked local sheriff Michael Biehn and rib-joint proprietor Jeff Fahey and that’s kind of the problem with “Planet Terror”.

There’s way too much going on.  It’s a film permanently on eleven, with barely a grasp of how to structure the chaotic action, gore, girls and meta-commentary on exploitation cinema into something coherant.  The net effect of watching this film is like having an energy drink-addled friend explain the plots of their favourite VHS-era horror flicks and realising that one man’s gloopy monster fun is another’s shrill, tone-deaf mess.

The cast gives it their best, with Marley Shelton probably better than the movie deserves and the inevitable Tarantino cameo being mercifully short and commitedly gross, but you do wonder how the likes of Willis felt about having their names linked to a movie which boasts more close-ups of diseased body parts and pus-filled God-only-knows-what than can be found on the internet forum of your nightmares.

If you’ve read this far, you’ll be clued into the fact that I really didn’t care for this movie – it’s a one-note in-joke of a film which possibly plays better for you if you’re as in thrall to no-budget exploitation fare as Tarantino and Rodriguez clearly are.  If you regard Z-grade schlock as fun but not the kind of stuff that you want to spend $60 million smackers to emulate, your mileage may vary.

It’s a big old shoulder-shrugging, bemusing ‘Huh?’ of a movie.  How can a movie featuring a heroine with an M16 for a leg be as dull as this film was is anybody’s guess…