Karma (2018)

karrma

Directed by Nick Simon [Other horror films: Removal (2010), The Girl in the Photographs (2015), 2 Lava 2 Lantula! (2016), Truth or Dare (2017)]

For a Syfy release, Karma’s okay. It’s not particularly good, and I suspect it won’t be particularly memorable in the months to come, or even weeks, but it’s nowhere near as bad as other Syfy films such as Dead in the Water and Grave Halloween.

Story-wise, it reminded me a bit of It Follows, where, instead of a dark force following someone after sex, it follows them after they commit a terrible act. It’s not really original, but I liked some aspects of what Karma tried to do with it, though, and this perhaps wouldn’t come as much a surprise, the jumps struck me as mostly unnecessary.

When it comes to concerns, there are quite a few that Karma poses. For instance, only three of the performances in the film really stand out (being Tim Russ, despite his horrible character, Mandela Van Peebles, and Brytni Sarpy, who was also in the likewise unmemorable 2017 Syfy flick Truth or Dare). None of the other actors and actresses do particularly bad, but they’re just sort of there. And much could be said for the story itself – like I said, I enjoyed some of the aspects (such as Peebles’ attempts at removing the curse from himself during a feel-good montage), but ultimately, Karma felt pretty bland.

Once everything’s said and done, that’s the biggest problem with the movie – it was completely unremarkable. It did boast one death sequence I rather enjoyed (involving a saw blade and a hammer, in a very Final Destination fashion), so it wasn’t completely without gore, but generally, there was little of interest here, and the conclusion felt a bit off, along with being somewhat anticlimactic.

Syfy has so many better movies, such as House of Bones (2010), Neverknock (2017), Cucuy: The Boogeyman (2018), and even Stickman (2017). Karma isn’t the worse that they’ve done, but it is both tepid and ultimately forgettable, which is the main issue. I’d pass on this one.

5.5/10

Toxic Shark (2017)

toxic shark

Directed by Cole Sharpe [Other horror films: N/A]

Yet another silly Syfy shark movie. Toxic Shark, as it is, probably isn’t the worst shark film Syfy’s done in recent years, and honestly, I had more fun with it than I thought I would (and this is especially true as I’ve now seen it twice). There were elements I didn’t care for, and make no mistake, the film’s below average, but it’s nowhere near as bad as crap like 2-Headed Shark Attack and related films.

For a movie like this, much of the main cast was somewhat enjoyable. Kabby Borders and Bryce Durfee bickered a bit too much for my liking, but both were still likable characters. Michelle Cortés also puts in a solid performance, perhaps even better than Borders. I rather liked Quinn Bozza too, though admittedly he’s a bit generic. Eric Etebari was somewhat fun as an over-the-top resort manager (at least until he was dispatched), and while Jaime Wallace didn’t do much for me insofar as her performance went, she did have the cutest ass (which, in a movie in where every single woman is wearing a bikini, is somewhat of an accomplishment).

Plot-wise, it’s pretty bleh, but honestly, that can’t really come across as much of a surprise. The CGI was utterly atrocious, particularly during the times when the toxic shark sprayed a green toxic spew, which looked so awful. It didn’t help that the CGI clipped a few times, which looked so amateurish. There was also a bit of a zombie component (in the form of an infection from the toxicity of the shark) that I didn’t care for, and felt overly unnecessary. Lastly, that ending was just terrible. What a shitty conclusion.

If you’re going out of your way to watch a Syfy production called ‘Toxic Shark,’ though, I know you’re not going in with high expectations. Obviously, it’s not that great of a film, but I do think it’s more enjoyable than plenty of other Syfy films. It doesn’t get to that rare list of Syfy films that come out above average, but it is better than I first thought it would be when I saw it a couple of years back. If you’re looking for an okay way to spend an hour-and-a-half, you could do better, but you could definitely do worse.

6/10

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

10 cloverfield

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg [Other horror films: N/A]

Talk about a rather masterfully-done film. A spiritual successor to the 2008 Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a damn good movie with a very competent cast and spectacular suspense.

Much of this lies in the ambiguity of the situation Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character finds herself in. Waking up in a doomsday bunker after being abducted by Howard (John Goodman), and told that there’s been some type of invasion, and she’s safer there, it’s a tense, tense movie with a lot of twists and turns.

John Goodman is an actor I’ve always appreciated. He was great in Roseanne, and pretty much everything else. He does look healthier here than he did in Red State (2011), which I’m grateful for. Here, his performance is superb, and he comes across both as genial and other times rather threatening and absolutely batshit. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is an actress I know from limited exposure (Final Destination 3, Live Free or Die Hard, and the short-lived series BrainDead), but she does great here, and totally feels right in the role. John Gallagher Jr. (from The Newsroom) is pretty solid also, and brings a little humor to the film.

The tense, suspenseful plot of this film is one that I can’t imagine easily being rivaled, and when you have such a great cast, everything comes nicely together. Toward the end, when some of the hard-asked questions finally have a light shined upon them, the movie loses a bit of it’s magic, but I rather like the final scene, so I think that some of the loss of suspense can be forgiven.

Given my somewhat lukewarm reaction toward Cloverfield, I am happy to say that you can definitely watch this as a stand-alone, and I’d highly recommend doing so, as this really is a damn good film with a lot going for it, such as Goodman’s great performance and the fantastically-crafted, tense story.

9/10

True Bloodthirst (2012)

Vampyre

Directed by Todor Chapkanov [Other horror films: Copperhead (2008), Ghost Town (2009), Monsterwolf (2010), Asylum (2014)]

For a Syfy Daybreakers clone, True Bloodthirst (better known as Vampyre Nation) is actually okay. I can’t tell you how surprised I am exactly to be saying that, but it’s true. While there are big problems, such as horrible special effects and moderately forgettable characters, the story itself was unique enough to give the film a bit more heart than I’d have first expected.

From the get-go, the plot is interesting. In a world where the existence of vampires has been found out by the general human population, vampires live in segmented sections of the cities, treated generally as second-class citizens, and due to a synthetic blood, there’s theoretically no need for hostilities between them and the humans.

Of course, that alone might make for an interesting drama, but naturally they threw something into the mix, being tainted synthetic blood that causes the vampires to regress to a much more primal, unsophisticated killing machine, which goes after both humans and vampires. A detective, with the help of both a group of vampire hunters and vampires themselves, tries to figure out what’s going on in order to save human and vampire alike.

Generally, I don’t think I’d like most movies with the plot description above, but this made it work. Admittedly, from a political perspective, I did find it interesting to see how the confirmed existence of vampires would theoretically play out among the human populations on Earth, and the creation of a synthetic blood seems logical in order to keep both sides feeling relatively safe. Of course, one can easily see the vampires as substitutes for either racial or religious minorities, bringing an actual element of contemporary politics into the mix, which I personally found welcomed.

I think the reason that I found myself engaged with the movie’s story, other than that it was pretty intriguing, was that it seemed somewhat well thought out. Elements could have been better fleshed out, of course, but overall, I got the sense of semi-realism. It’d be a legitimate concern of humans that more and more people would chose to transform into vampires (given a much longer life-span), and of course what with not having almost any power, vampires, just by being in the spotlight, are at high risk of danger themselves, especially since humans in powerful positions are more likely to back up vampire hunters than attempt to protect the weaker class (vampires), which all brings a lot of pretty solid points to the forefront.

I didn’t love Neil Jackson as the main character, but I eventually got used to him. More enjoyable was Ben Lambert, playing a vampire, and Heida Reed, who was a bit weak at times, but her character was both fun and had an interesting story. Most everyone else was a bit run-of-the-mill, such as Andrew Lee Potts (playing Harker, one of the vampire hunters, he was a bit over-the-top), Roark Critchlow, and Jonathon Hargreaves (which is a shame, as this is his sole role on IMDb). Bordering pointless, we have Claudia Bassols, who had a generic role with a pretty unnecessary character, so she didn’t really have much of a chance.

Like I said, the special effects were pretty awful. The primal state of a vampire seemed to be a blob with wings, not too dissimilar from a rather strong-looking gargoyle. The blood didn’t do it for me, and aspects of the vampire’s abilities, such as occasional bursts of super-speed, just looked ridiculous. I don’t fault the movie too much for this, given it’s budget limitations, but even so, from a technical standpoint, it was rather amateur.

I’m not overly familiar with director Todor Chapkanov’s other output; I have seen both Copperhead (2008) and Ghost Town (2009). Copperhead was actually a rather enjoyable film, from what I recall, while Ghost Town was more in the forgettable vein (until I rewatch both of these, though, my final judgment will have to wait). He’s behind other horror films of which I’ve seen, but based on what I have, Chapkanov at least seems a competent director with the budget he has. Since most of his work is on Syfy originals, though, it may be worth his while to branch out a bit at some point.

Vampyre Nation (which is the title I saw the film under) definitely had problems, but since I went into it with very low expectations, the fact that it felt as good as it did really skewed with my perceptions. It’s not a great movie, nor is it a good movie, but I could easily see myself watching it sometime in the future, so while it’s below average, Vampyre Nation isn’t disastrously bad, and may perhaps be worth a shot.

6/10

The Green Inferno (2013)

The Green Inferno

Directed by Eli Roth [Other horror films: Cabin Fever (2002), Hostel (2005), Hostel: Part II (2007), Knock Knock (2015)]

His first horror movie since Hostel: Part II, Eli Roth, with this film, writes a love-letter of sorts to the classic 70’s and 80’s Italian cannibal flicks. At times, The Green Inferno is deeply uncomfortable, undeniably brutal, and genuinely horrifying, yet it’s kept back from being a truly great film due to the somewhat anticlimactic conclusion.

While I won’t say that I was an activist when at college, I did participate in a handful of demonstrations and most memorably, in an anti-Guantanamo Bay protest, so it was interesting seeing such activities from a different perspective (Sky Ferreira’s nihilism and glib references to tear-gassing protesters was pretty disturbing, on a side-note). Seeing a naive freshman getting wrapped up in an activist group, then seeing her utterly broken throughout the course of the film, was both depressing but well-done.

It helps that Lorenza Izzo was able to pull-off the innocent, idealistic college kid look. She generally had a pretty strong and emotional performance. Eusebio Arenas was okay as slight comedic relief, but didn’t really fit in with the vibe I was otherwise getting from the film. Perhaps my favorite actor here was Nicolás Martínez, who, despite definitely not looking like a college student, had a particularly strong presence (and was one of the few truly good characters here). On the flip-side, Ariel Levy did well playing the scumbag leader of the activist group – past a certain point, nothing his character did was worth applauding, but he played the type well.

The Green Inferno does take a little while to get to the point, and it’s something like 45 minutes into the movie until things really get bad. I can imagine that bothering some people, but I was actually pretty interested from the get-go, and the protest scene after they get to Peru was damn tense, which only escalated over the following twenty minutes.

Which leads to the gore. Personally, I was somewhat taken aback by just how graphic one of the scenes was (which including both dismemberment and the messy removal of eyeballs), and when I first saw that scene, I admit I was disturbed. I watched it a few additional times, and it still positively stands out. The unfortunate thing is that no other scene even comes close to that level of brutality. There’s a very uncomfortable scene à la female genital mutilation, but it’s not particularly graphic. Other scenes, such as one when a man is fed to ants while on a pole, didn’t really work that well (in that case, it was due to the somewhat bad-looking CGI ants).

Generally speaking, though, I think the gore here, while limited, was very solid when it showed up, and I’d daresay that it probably beats out any competing scene from the Hostel films. I just sort of wish there was more of it.

As it is, the conclusion was somewhat lackluster. I was expecting a bit more of a downer ending, which I wouldn’t have loved, but what we got didn’t really do it for me either, especially when they added in an utterly unnecessary dream sequence (it was short, at least). The post-credits scene, too, felt a bit much, and if they’re setting up for a potential sequel, I don’t think that would be all that great. Lastly, the marijuana scene was just a bit too ridiculous, and I definitely wish they had come up with a better idea than what they did.

When everything is said-and-done, I think The Green Inferno is a solid exploitation flick reminiscent of Man from Deep River (originally Il paese del sesso selvaggio) and Jungle Holocaust (Ultimo mondo cannibale). The gore is great when it’s present, and I can imagine some people thinking it a bit much. It’s not an amazing movie, but I do find it a little above average, and if you’re a gore-hound, or a fan of the classic cannibal movies, perhaps worth a watch.

7.5/10

Triassic Attack (2010)

Triassic Attack Poster

Directed by Colin Ferguson [Other horror films: N/A]

Look at the plot of this Syfy TV movie, and you can probably tell that it’ll be bad. Awful, even. Which is what I thought when I first saw it some years back (probably around when it first aired). Seeing it again, though, I have to admit, I find the movie somewhat, well, comforting.

The strong point here isn’t in the CGI dinosaur skeletons which are causing all the havoc, as they are just overly ridiculous and nonsensical (how can a skeleton growl without throat muscles, or sniff?). In a way, it a fun concept – a Native American spell brings the bones to life to protest development on traditionally tribal land, but come on, the skeletons look terrible.

What appealed to me about Triassic Attack were the characters, though. There’s some retroactive appreciation here, to be sure – one of the stars is Emilia Clarke, who began playing Daenerys Targaryen in the ultra-popular series Game of Thrones. Seeing the Mother of Dragons play a moderately bratty teenage girl isn’t something I got to experience the first time I saw the film, and that certainly adds a little something.

Even ignoring Clarke, though, there are some solid performances here, such as Steven Brand (who consistently reminded me of Ben McKenzie) and Raoul Max Trujillo. Christopher Villiers and Gabriel Womack made for fine comedic characters, but Kirsty Mitchell was somewhat shaky throughout.

The family dynamics between Brand, Mitchell, Clarke, and Trujillo actually got me invested, though, despite the silly story. One brother who believes in traditional Native American religions and another who is much more the modern, integrated one made for some good drama. And I don’t know why, exactly, but it worked.

If you look online, many people give this movie quite a low rating, and I can certainly see why people would give it such, especially since I used to be one of them. But I found Triassic Attack entertaining, probably more entertaining than I should have. The question is, would this be a movie I’d buy on DVD and pop in on a rainy night to watch, and the answer is yes. It’s not one of Syfy’s better offers, but I cannot deny that I enjoyed it, and ultimately, that’s all that matters.

7/10

3-Headed Shark Attack (2015)

Poster

Directed by Christopher Ray [Other horror films: Reptisaurus (2009), Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus (2010), Megaconda (2010), 2-Headed Shark Attack (2012), Shark Week (2012), Mega Shark vs. Kolossus (2015), A House Is Not a Home (2015), Circus Kane (2017), Minutes to Midnight (2018)]

This follow-up to the disaster that was 2-Headed Shark Attack is a marginal improvement, but make no mistake, it’s still pretty awful. The best I can say is that there are actually a few memorable characters here, and it didn’t feel nearly as shallow as the first one.

Even the story is a bit better, what with some of the main characters actually being scientists as opposed to just college kids who want to party and have carnal relations. While the underwater base was likely impractical, I actually thought it was sort of cool in a Jaws 3 type of way. The movie goes down a more generic route once the facility gets destroyed by the shark, which was a shame, though not a surprise.

Before I talk about the quality of performances overall, I want to speak specifically about Danny Trejo for a bit. Possibly one of the most well-known and prolific Latino actors, I’ve seen a handful of his films. I enjoyed Machete, and a few other roles of his. But the fact that he seems to accept any role offered to him doesn’t much endear me to the guy. In this film, he’s basically used the same way Carmen Electra was in the first one – to have a big name to draw people in. As it is, I liked Trejo’s character here, for the little he appeared, but his arc is exactly what you’d expect, and ultimately, he was pretty pointless as far as the film goes.

For other performances, you have a few that legitimately did okay, such as Karrueche Tran, Jaason Simmons, and Rob Van Dam. Jena Sims was rather attractive, and I somewhat liked her character, but she didn’t really amount to much, which actually caught me a bit by surprise. Generally, though, this movie, much like the first, seems more concerned about showing girls with impressive breasts in bikinis as opposed to crafting an even halfway decent story. While I won’t deny that some of the girls in question are beautiful (such as Brianna Ferris), it doesn’t add anything to the story being told.

In reality, while the movie was pretty terrible, it did improve a bit upon the first one (but honestly, given that I rated the first one extraordinarily lowly, that really isn’t saying much), and it seemed to want to be a better movie. It didn’t reach anywhere near average, but 3-Headed Shark Attack is a movie I could almost see myself re-watching at some point, which is definitely something I can’t say about the first one.

4/10