Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Corin Nemec, Miriam McDonald, Daniel Wisler, Gary Hudson
Directed by Paul Ziller
Sea Beast. Wow. What a creative title. What’s our movie about? A beast from the sea? Hmmm… What are we going to call it? Water Monster? Nah. Not snazzy enough. How about Sea Beast? Winner!
Would you believe that before Sea Beast came to be known as Sea Beast, the original title was… Troglodyte? But aren’t troglodytes primitive cavemen-like hominids that have more in common physically with Sasquatch than the Creature from the Black Lagoon? Words I’m fairly certain that have never before been used to describe a troglodyte: aquatic, reptilian, fishy, webbed-fingers, gill-breathing, egg-laying, amphibious. Now if they wanted to get cheeky like with Mansquito and title the film Froglodyte, better believe I could have gotten behind that. Hell, title a movie Froglodyte, and I’ll give it a rave review just based on the title alone.
That at one time the title of a film about a deep sea fish monster was Troglodyte leads me to suspect that either there were radical changes made during the creative process or nobody involved initially had any comprehension of what a troglodyte is. The latter is entirely possible when you consider we are talking about a Sci-Fi Channel original movie; for them, science is merely the mouthful of chewing tobacco to be spat every two weeks into the visual chaw cup that is their Saturday night original movie time slot.
In retrospect, Sea Beast is a perfectly acceptable and rather appropriate title for a monster movie as unimaginative as this. An amphibious man-eating monster from the deepest dregs of the ocean arrives in a perpetually overcast fishing village and goes on a killing spree with its recently hatched little ones. That’s all she wrote, folks. Monsters go after people with zero depth and little personality. People with zero depth and little personality go after monsters. People with zero depth and little personality die. Monsters die. Rinse and repeat for 90 minutes. Never a total bore yet never anything more than what it is, which isn’t much.
Director Paul Ziller covered this same territory for the Sci-Fi Channel last year with Loch Ness Terror. That creature feature possessed a peppier pace, a lighter tone, and was considerably more fun to watch. It may have been by-the-numbers, but the numbers added up to something that clicked. I liked the concept of the sea beast they came up with there enough to be entertained by its monstrous antics while still wishing it was the star of a movie with a little more ambition than its uber generic title suggests. When that beast from the sea isn’t on the screen attacking, there is nothing of interest going on.
Corin Nemec, going for the Guinness World Record for “Most Sci-Fi Channel Original Movies Starred In” it would appear, stars as a down-on-his-luck fishing boat captain in financial dire straits and a local pariah because nobody believes him when he tells them something snatched a crewmate from his boat during his last failed fishing trip. I’d be willing to guess Nemec watched a few episodes of “Deadliest Catch” in preparation for his role as he appeared to be trying to channel some of that Sig Hansen mojo, only he ends up coming across more like a humorless Denis Leary.
Nemec gets help from a pretty marine biologist; she’s not really a love interest nor does she contribute much to the outcome. Nemec’s teen daughter (Miriam McDonald, Emma of TV’s “Degrassi: The Next Generation”) and her dullard boyfriend get trapped in an isolated house under siege by the sea beast babies. The sheriff foolishly rounds up a small posse to patrol the woods. Nemec’s best friend goes a little crazy and believes smearing himself with dead fish and locking himself in a shark cage on a dock armed with a spear gun is an effective means to fight a malicious merman.
A prime reason why Sea Beast proves to be such ho-hum hokum when the monster isn’t front and center can be best summed up in a major subplot about the young man dating Nemec’s daughter. He gets bitten by the monster trying to get a picture with his cell phone and afterwards talks about the experience in the same way you’d describe seeing a strange dog in the neighborhood you didn’t recognize and displays even less concern than one would after being bitten by a stray dog. That his bite wound is becoming suspiciously infected doesn’t appear to worry him in the slightest, not that it should since that aspect of the subplot never builds to anything at all.
The sea beast is said to be a mutant form of the angler fish, a rather ghastly looking deep sea fish capable of bioluminescence and known for the appendage on its head that acts as a lure to reel in prey. Freakish in appearance – though not nearly as freakish as an actual angler fish, looking a bit more like a fishy version of Marvel Comics’ Venom, the angler fishman monster is capable of turning translucent so as to give it Predator stealth abilities and spits a venomous slime that incapacitates victims, and in place of that head appendage, instead it possesses a very long tongue that’s wonderful for snaring and strangling. Not to mention how surprisingly spry this bear-sized amphibious freak of nature is, capable of out-hopping a chupacabra. Come to think; I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a movie about a sea monster that spent this much time hiding out in the brush waiting to attack prey from above.
A movie titled Sea Beast about a creature from the darkest oceanic depths that spends more time on land and up in the trees than in the water…? Bless you, Sci-Fi Channel.
2 1/2 out of 5
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Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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