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Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009)

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Universal Soldier: Regeneration ReviewReviewed by The Foywonder

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Andrei Arlovski, Mike Pyle, Garry Cooper, Emily Joyce

Directed by John Hyams

Distributed by Sony Pictures


So much of Universal Soldier: Regeneration takes place inside a dilapidated factory and the action consists so much more of kickfighting and mixed martial arts than the gunfire and explosions of the previous Universal Soldier films that they could have just as easily changed the genetically re-engineered zombie soldiers into androids and called it Cyborg: Regeneration.

Regeneration – more like the old generation if you ask me. Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren are both back for this direct-to-DVD sequel to the 1992 Roland Emmerich original, and boy, do they look old. If you saw JCVD, then you already know how world weary Van Damme’s face looks. Lundgren may be showing his age as well, but he still looks almost ten years younger than Van Damme despite being three years older. Van Damme already returned to the franchise once before in a 1999 sequel that effectively killed his big screen career for a decade, but for Lundgren to return, it really would have to be regeneration since the last we saw of his character were bits and pieces flying out of the hay harvester he got shredded in.

In the director’s chair this time is the son of veteran filmmaker Peter Hyams, who, in addition to 2010 and The Relic, also directed Van Damme in Timecop and Sudden Death. John Hyams’ most notable directorial work up to this point was the compelling 2002 mixed martial arts documentary The Smashing Machine about the rise and fall of ultimate fighter Mark Kerr. The younger Hyams could be the reason Universal Soldier: Regeneration boasts a heavy MMA influence.

Guerrilla fighters from a Russian breakaway republic have seized what remains of the Chernobyl nuclear plant and are holding the Russian President’s two children hostage as they threaten to blast the concrete chamber encasing the reactor that famously melted down in 1986; doing so would let loose a radioactive cloud described as being “100 times that of Hiroshima”. Their demand is the release of 110 captive political prisoners. I don’t know about you, but I think if someone has kidnapped a world leader’s kids and intends to unleash a nuclear holocaust unless his demands are met, the release of 100 imprisoned allies seems like small potatoes to me.

This is not lost on the rogue Universal Soldier scientist they’ve hired to hook them up with a UniSol for back-up firepower. Tension will boil over between the rebel leader and the scientist, who clearly dreams of one day commanding his own army of super soldiers to possibly conquer the world with, as to whether or not a more financially rewarding ransom should be issued. I really wish they had done more with this crazy nerdy scientist because his motivations were far more interesting than that of generic Russian nogoodnicks that cannot hit a target even at point-blank range.

That UniSol is played by former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei “The Pit Bull” Arlovski. You can count on a single hand the amount of dialogue Arlovski has. For the best, since he makes for a surprisingly imposing foe just silently annihilating adversaries, usually using what becomes in this film the trademark Universal Soldier finishing tactic: holding the opponent down on the ground with one hand while repeatedly punching their face until its a bloody pulp with the other. Arlovski is a new generation UniSol, or “NGU” for short. Allegedly an upgrade; I couldn’t really tell the difference other than the NGU possessing a nifty retractable wristblade that the alien drug dealer from I Come in Peace would consider to die for.

After the first attempt to infiltrate the power plant by Russian-American coalition forces and four Universal Soldiers results in a bigger failure than Universal Soldier: The Return, the commanders decide the solution is to reactivate original UniSol Luc Deveraux (Van Damme). This makes little sense for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that we just watched the NGU single-handedly – literally in two instances – terminate the quartet of UniSols sent in with the commando raid, so what makes them think one lone Universal Soldier that is of the now obsolete first generation model stands a chance?

Luc Deveraux currently resides in Switzerland, where a brilliant psychologist is working to reintegrate him into society. Comparisons are made to his treatment being like retraining a fight dog to live as a house pet. I can only assume Universal Soldier: Regeneration has chosen to completely ignore the events of Universal Soldier: The Return (probably for best) because, as you may recall, it was explained that Luc Deveraux had somehow been cured of death, had completely readjusted to his new life, and even had a young daughter. That made no sense in that film, and what we are told here makes no sense in this film. Nor does it make any sense that being injected with a special serum is all it will take to instantly revert Deveraux back into his super soldier fighting shape and mindset.

The science of the Universal Soldier films has never made any sense, and here it’s less than ever. None of it bothered me all that much because I have long since accepted that looking for plausibility in a Universal Soldier flick is as futile as trying to find a virgin in Michael Bay’s hot tub. You just accept the illogic and hope the action delivers. It does.

The first hour makes for an above average action flick of the direct-to-DVD variety, though still one dragged down by formulaic plotting, characters, and dialogue typical of such action b-movies shot in Eastern Block countries starring over-the-hill action heroes. About an hour in Van Damme finally gets reactivated and jumps right into the best staged action sequence he has been a part of in ages, laying waste to every Golan-Globus quality foot soldier in his way, only pausing long enough to switch from a machine gun to a side arm and then just cutting loose with a survival knife. Barely a single kick or punch thrown, a no-nonsense expression on his no longer pretty boy face, not saying a single word the entire time or even letting out so much as grunt, this was the most badass I think I have ever seen Jean-Claude Van Damme look in any of his films. From then on the quality of the action steps up, and there is almost nothing but solid b-level action until the credits roll.

If you’re tuning in for Dolph Lundgren, be advised he doesn’t even make an appearance until around the 50-minute mark and doesn’t stick around very long. In what very much feels like a tacked-on excuse to shoehorn Lundgren into the picture, the rogue scientist resurrects the undead clone of insane UniSol Andrew Scott. Unfortunately, Scott is even more insane and out of control than before. The way things were going, I was halfway expecting Van Damme and Lundgren to join forces to eliminate the NGU. Instead Lundgren and Van Damme engage in one hell of a sumo rematch during which the two of them burst through more walls than Kool-Aid Man has in his entire pitchman career. Their demolition derby ends with such a dynamic kill that it really should have been saved for the very end. Not to say the 15-minute showdown between Van Damme and Arlovski disappoints; just that the Arlovski goes out with a bang where as Lundgren goes out with a “Holy crap! Rewind that!”

3 out of 5

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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

Directed by Charles Martin Smith


I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

Now let’s get to it.

First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

Rockstar lighting for days.

Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

  • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
3.5

Summary

Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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User Rating 3.62 (21 votes)
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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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User Rating 4.14 (22 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 3.95 (20 votes)
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