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Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy (2005)

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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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Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions

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Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa

Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa


During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.

Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).

What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.

While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.

Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.

While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.

With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.

  • Before We Vanish
4.0

Summary

Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.

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Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On

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Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston

Directed by Johnny Martin


When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.

Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.

Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.

 

  • Film
2.0

Summary

Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!

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Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility

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Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita

Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita


The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.

The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.

The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.

From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.

The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.

Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.

The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.

  • Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
2.0

Summary

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.

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