Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Jeffrey Combs, William Forsythe, Hunter Tylo
Directed by Michael Oblowitz
As Jeffrey Combs mad scientist character informs us, the hammerhead shark is the pinnacle of shark evolution. Whereas the Great White Shark gets all the glory for being a mindless, voracious eating machine, the hammerhead shark is a highly intelligent animal that is one of the most superior creatures found in the ocean. If that is the case then I can safely say that a hammerhead shark did not write Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy.
To be honest, I’m of two minds when it comes to this movie. Part of me did indeed enjoy it for being the cheesy monster movie that it is. As far as low budget creature features go today, Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy is a perfectly watchable B-movie. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but get aggravated, and not just for the usual clichés and plot logic mistakes that movies of this type tend to make. One of the main reasons that I enjoyed the heck out of Mansquito (review) was because they put the monster front and center in all its cheesy glory and allowed it to go berserk. That’s what makes monster movies fun. That’s also the primary component missing from Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy. Whereas Mansquito gladly embraced its B-movie nature, Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy plays out in a self-conscious fashion, as if it were made by people unwilling to fully revel in its B-movie nature.
Despite being called Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy, the only thing really frenzied about the Hammerhead sharkman is the rapid fire editing they used every single time it appeared. Maybe the director did that so as to convey the lightning quick nature of a shark killing frenzy, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the makers just didn’t have much faith in their title monster. It struck as if they built a monster suit, decided it just wasn’t convincing enough, created computer generated shots of the creature, realized the CGI didn’t look all that more realistic than the rubber suit, and tried editing both types of effects shots together only to do so in such a dizzying fashion that it end up sucking a lot of the fun out of watching the monster attacking people. A lot of monster movie keep the look of the monster obscured until the finale of the film. The makers of this movie seem to be trying to obscure the look of the monster even when it appears onscreen. By the end of the movie you come to realize that except for a few very brief long shots of the CGI creature swimming in the water you never ever got one solid full body view of it. I’ve seen production stills from the movie that gave you a better look at the monster than anything you actually saw in the actual film.
Mad scientist Dr. King (Jeffrey Combs, hamming it up with the kind of zeal that would make Vincent Price smile) lures his forming colleagues to the uncharted island in the Pacific where he has been conducting highly questionable genetic research involving the use of shark DNA in finding a means by which to specialize human stem cells in order to cure diseases such as cancer (sharks are seemingly immune from disease). Coincidentally, kidney cancer supposedly claimed the life of the scientist’s adult son years earlier.
When the other scientists and execs that work for the corporation that has been funding his research arrive, King reveals the true nature of his work that somewhere along the way went from being about curing disease to creating a new race of human-shark hybrids that will come to populate and dominate the oceans of the world. He then introduces them to his previously thought dead son, who he managed to save from terminal cancer only to turn him into a half-man/half-hammerhead shark creature that is more shark -physically and mentally – than man. He then informs them that he’s sick of them stealing his work and profiting from it, so he has brought them here to die at the jaws of his son. He does so in such an casually abrupt manner that I’m amazed they didn’t just have him go, “I hate you all and I hope you rot in hell,” before slamming the door and letting the monster loose on them.
By the way, just for the record, if I’m ever invited to the home of a genetic scientist and holds a luau where the main course is a roasted three-eyed pig, not only would I not eat any of it, I do believe that would be an omen telling me to get the heck out of there ASAP.
The rest of the movie has the group running, swimming, and jumping for their lives as they are hunted down by the Hammerhead sharkman, constantly shot at by the mad scientist’s private army that flies around in a helicopter with the number “666” on the side (Real subtle, huh?), and contend with the various deadly forms of genetically engineered plant life Dr. King has created for no particular reason. All the while, Dr. King watches via close circuit television, forever rambling deliriously about how having to hunt them down across the island will help grow his shark son’s intellect.
It also turns out that one potential victim, played by soap opera diva Hunter Tylo, was once engaged to Dr. King’s son turned Hammerhead sharkman; thus leaving us wondering just how old Josh was at the time seeing as how there only appears to be a ten year age difference between her and his father. Nonetheless, crazy mad scientist dad thinks his son’s former fiancé would be the perfect person for sharkboy to procreate with in order to spawn the first generation of his master race of mermen, which seems like a logical choice what with her collagen fish lips and all.
Jeffrey Combs is far and away the best part of the film and it really is a shame that the rest of the movie isn’t up to his performance. Combs knows full well he’s playing a mad scientist in a cheesy monster movie and hits all the right notes without becoming overtly cartoonish. His character is completely, utterly, totally insane but completely unaware of how far removed from reality he is. Everything he does makes perfect sense in him mind. He even has his own Igor in the form of a hapless three-fingered sidekick.
The rest of the cast does a perfectly suitable job considering what little is required of most of them, which is mainly screaming and running away, or in the case of Hunter Tylo, looking good in a wet t-shirt.
The under appreciated William Forsythe, virtually every line out of his mouth is delivered in an overly intense, matter of fact whisper, is cast as the unlikely love interest of Tylo’s character and hero of the group; a casting choice that might strike some as odd given his rather beefy physical nature at the moment. Personally, I liked the fact that the hero wasn’t the usual muscular pretty boy like Lorenzo Lamas, Dean Cain, and Casper Van Dien. Forsythe’s everyman makes for a nice change of pace but that’s all the more reason to be disappointed by the way he suddenly turns into Rambo in the third act. Some might question whether or not a woman like Tylo’s character would ever go for a big lug like Forsythe’s, but for me the thing I found hard to swallow was when his corporate executive character suddenly picks up a machine gun and turns into a better mercenary than the heavily armed soldiers after them.
Also, someone needed to remind the filmmakers that the movie’s title was Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy, not Hired Goons: Shooting Spree. If it wasn’t bad enough that the sharkman scenes are filmed using those rapid fire edits, they also pretty much relegated it to being a secondary threat behind Dr. King’s seemingly endless supply of trigger-happy henchmen. The monster for which the movie is named for should always be the real star of the film. Again, take Mansquito for instance. In this case, the monster is just a plot device.
Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy has most of the usual problems movies of this type have – clichéd plot, subplots, supporting characters, and minor details that are introduced but never really followed through on, dull protagonists, illogical science, a monster that somehow manages to always be at just the right place at the right time, inconsistent special effects, etc. All of this would be easier to overlook if the movie gave us the killer landshark action we’re watching the movie for. We do get it but only in quick bursts that fail to fully satisfy.
If nothing else, at least this one’s better than Peter Benchley’s Creature. Well, at least it has a great Jeffrey Combs mad scientist performance, more gore, more cleavage, and it’s shorter.
And since I’ve managed to somehow get through an entire review of a movie about a landshark without ever making a Saturday Night Live reference, here you go: “Candygram.”
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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