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Shapeshifter (2005)

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Starring Jennifer Lee Wiggins, Ocean, Chris Facey, Vas Andreas, Marat Glazer

Directed by Gregory Lemkin


It was this past summer that I was all excited about a rapidly rising direct-to-DVD genre company called The Asylum. I was growing increasingly convinced that they were onto something and even when I wasn’t fully satisfied with the films they made I at least got a sense that they were improving with each new film. Now here we are less than six months later and I’m shaking my head wondering if they’re even trying anymore. Maybe it’s this policy they have to release a new movie every month that’s sapping their creative juices and leading to the release of more unoriginal clunkers like Beast of Bray Road, and Dead Men Walking, and now this one. I guess the folks at The Asylum figured that since they still had the prison set from their recent zombie stinker Dead Men Walking they might as well go ahead and make another movie while they’re at it. Along comes Shapeshifter, a thoroughly dull demonic monster in a prison flick almost completely devoid of energy or imagination.

A new female prison guard recently discharged from the military for insubordination stemming from an incident in Afghanistan gets a job as a deputy at some California prison in hopes of working her way up to patrol duty. Lord knows this prison needs some more guards since they appear to have all of three. On the other hand, there only appears to be about a dozen (maybe less) prisoners to contend with and none of them give off the vibe of being hardened, potentially dangerous cons.

The script works in references about a new wing being added onto the prison and that the events of the film are set in the old wing, which I suspect is really just an excuse to explain why the prison sets are so small. We’re also told that nobody ever visits the prison overnight, which is a convenient way of explaining why later on they won’t be able to just wait it out until help arrives in the morning.

A new prisoner has arrived; picked up off the street for yelling and spitting at pedestrians. The shirtless man only speaks a yet unidentified foreign language, has no ID, and no worldly possessions save for the pants he’s wearing and an envelope containing thousands of dollars. He also has a strange symbol tattooed on his chest. After allowing the time to introduce us to a couple of the predominantly Latino and African American clichéd convict characters, the mysterious new prisoner start ripping flesh out of his arm with his own teeth in order to retrieve a medallion that seems a bit big for one to be smuggling into a prison within one’s own arm flesh. Add some chanting, some not-so-fancy editing, and the mysterious man transforms into a seven-foot, demon-headed Bigfoot creature.

As the satanic Sasquatch chows down on an unfortunate prison guard, everyone – guard and prisoner alike – stands around watching the spectacle with expressions on their faces more along the lines of the kind of reactions I’d get if I stripped naked and began running around with a rubber glove on my head yelling, “Look at me! I’m a squid!” and not nearly as freaked out as you’d imagine people should be to suddenly see someone transform into demonic monster and begin eating others just a few feet away.

I will say this; the shapeshifter in demonic form is a pretty decent man-in-a-rubber suit monster creation; a bit reminiscent of the alien creature from Frankenstein vs. the Space Monster. It just doesn’t behave or do anything that makes it standout from any other movie monster. It slashes people with its claws and feasts on their intestines. To make a monster movie with a premise as run-of-the-mill as this built around a creature as routine as this in this day and age really is inexcusable.

The origins of the monster are revealed very early in the film so I hardly feel like I’m spoiling anything by repeating it here. One of the prisoners is of Romanian descent and he reveals that the Romanian mafia uses a kind of gypsy shapeshifter as enforcers. They’ve sent this shapeshifter to kill him for betraying the Romanian mob or the gypsy magician’s code or something along those lines. Some of the other prisoners want to just serve the guy up to the creature but he tells them that won’t matter because once you’ve seen the beast in its true form it must kill you.

The new deputy leads the prisoners in their attempts to survive and escape while the monster often forgets about its ultimate goal in order to munch down on some more entrails (I suspect these too were leftovers from Dead Men Walking) or takes the time to pose dead bodies in a symbolic manner.

After the first half hour, Shapeshifter completely devolves into your standard characters crawling through ductwork and wandering through hallways, “can we trust one another while we look for any way to escape” monster movie. As unoriginal as this is, this still could have been made into an okay creature feature if not for the sheer lack of creativity, weak characters, and ridiculously slow pace at which it all plays out. This is all stuff we’ve seen a million times before.

The shapeshifter does takes on his human form for the pursuit at times (at least whenever plot convenient) and I must say that a guy that looks like a scrawny, European, Michael Imperioli look-a-like isn’t nearly as threatening as a huge hairy hellbeast. There is a twist involving the shapeshifter’s motivations revealed during the third act but what comes of it moments later only pounds home how little thought went into crafting this particular creature feature.

1 out of 5

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7 GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB Review – Rest Easy, Indiana Jones, There’s Not Much To See Here

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Starring Kellan Lutz, Bingbing Li, Kelsey Grammar

Directed by Kimble Rendall


If it only weren’t for those friggin’ spiders. Kimble Rendall’s adventurous flick, 7 Guardians Of The Tomb is one of those “wanted to be, yet couldn’t quite hit the mark” action-films that will probably entertain those looking for some cave-dwelling escapades caught on celluloid, but for the more picky aficionado of said slam-bang pics, this one might be viewed as a bit stagnant. Let’s strap on our mining helmets and pick around this one, shall we?

Acting as a bit of a search-and-rescue formation, the movie tails alongside Dr. Jia Lee (Li) as she hunts down the whereabouts of her missing brother after losing contact with him while he was on expedition in Western China. Apparently he was looking for a secretive Emperor’s tomb that supposedly holds a potion that can reanimate, or re-invigorate…or rehabilitate – anyway you slice it, the juice has got some pretty potent powers. So a search team is assembled, led by Mason (Grammar – glad someone got Frasier off of the barstool), and he’s latched onto all-American fella Jack (Lutz) to assist this operation. As it turns out, the initial journey is cut off fairly quick when a violent electrical storm forces the group to head underground, and that’s when things get creepy and crawly…like 8-legged style. The film is ripe with some feverish action and a few decent performances, but it’s the overall framework that acts as the big bully, tauntingly kicking sand in the little guy’s face at the beach.

We’ve got love interests, a flurry of backstories, and oh my lord, those spiders! Yep, even the heartiest of CGI can effectively ruin a good case of the willies when it comes to arachnids and their powers of sucking humans and animals dry of their lifeforce. It’s an intently goofy movie, and even the dialogue seems a bit showy at times, leaving plausibility and intelligence at the entrance to the caves. Lutz is fun to watch as the burly rescuer, and he looks as the type who is just waiting for his cinematic moment to step into the spotlight. What pains me is that this movie really could have been something much bigger, and apparently it looks as if the majority of the film’s budget was wasted on those hokey-looking computerized spiders.

All in all, 7 Guardians Of The Tomb is spotty entertainment, even if you despise those little skittering aphids racing towards you, programmed or not. Give it a peek if Raiders Of The Lost Ark isn’t readily available at your disposal…even that crappy Crystal Skull one.

  • Film
2.5

Summary

A film that could have been so much more adventure-wise instead comes off looking like a lesson in how not to waste too much time on computer imagery.

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Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 160 – A QUIET PLACE

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Lately, it seems as though comedy actors are cutting their teeth as horror directors and absolutely killing it! This year’s indie horror darling comes in the form of John Krasinki’s A Quiet Place. Chris has been sick as a dog, so the haomie Christine from Horrible Imaginings Film Fest is filling in to discuss whether A Quiet Place is 2018’s horror heavyweight, or just a lot of noise.

What Bruno took was what changed me; it only amplifies your essence. It simply makes you more of what you already are. It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 160!

If you like what you hear, please consider joining our Patreon subscribers. For less than the cost of a beer, you get bonus content, exclusive merchandise, special giveaways, and you get to help us continue doing what we love.

The Who Goes There Podcast is available to subscribe to on iTunes right here. Not an iTunes user? You can listen on our Dread Central page. Can’t get enough? We also do that social media shit. You’ll find us on FacebookTwitterInstagramTwitch, and YouTube.

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THE DEVIL AND FATHER AMORTH Review: Friedkin Goes Mondo Catholic

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Starring Father Gabriele Amorth

Directed by William Friedkin


Hitting theaters this weekend in NYC and LA is William Friedkin’s new documentary, The Devil and Father Amorth. And right away I am asked: “Is it ‘good’?” You don’t watch a documentary like this with that in mind. Faces of Death, Traces of Death, Mondo Cane. They are not here to be “good”—they are beyond words like that. Beyond good and bad.

It is more like the sideshow—Behold! See what has not been seen before! The Horror! The Forbidden! And you hand the man your ticket — you see The Arabian Giantess at the flea market in New Jersey, and maybe it is a sleight of hand and made of papier-mâché, but it was worth that dollar, and now you have a story. You have bought your way into the unknown.

The Devil and Father Amorth is light on science (and length – it runs just 68 minutes) and heavy on faith. If you have been exposed to Friedkin’s — or more specifically, William Peter Blatty’s — work, there is the struggle with belief in the Roman Catholic faith, and also in the search for evidence of the miracle. You could also prove the Force of Divine Good if you could face the opposite side of the coin—the Force of Evil, in the vernacular of Catholicism—the Devil himself. Paradoxical, yes—faith exists without proof; and so what is the drive to tell the world God exists, the Devil exists?

In the documentary we learn Rome is filled with the possessed. Hundreds of people are contacting the Church about their own possession or the possession of their loved ones. The Most Holy Father Amorth is the person the Vatican has tapped to perform exorcisms—thousands of them. And sometimes he has repeat business. Christina is one such woman, exorcised nine times and still susceptible to the Force of Evil. Those of us who are non-believers look at this woman as someone who is troubled—but “through the eyes of faith,” obviously it is a demon.

Surrounded by her family, the rite begins, and you see… an actual exorcism. There is no enhancement, no Dick Smith make-up; it is not as dramatic as we want it to be. Should we get her help that is not in the form of a witch doctor? What about doctors? And so we meet them.

Friedkin brings the footage to top hospitals in NYC. Psychologists give their point of view. Then neurosurgeons. They don’t know what’s going on—the exorcism seems to help, but they do see that it might be a cultural remnant. There is a medical diagnosis for it, as it can affect anyone of any faith. But the doc never digs too deep. I am disappointed: I needed to know more. I don’t believe it.

Are they hurting Christina? Is she just another female the Church is suppressing, as they did with witches—the control, the stigma, of the female body and identity? None of this is explored because it’s just a 1-dollar ticket under the striped tent, just left of the dancing girls and the strong man—Actual! Exorcist! Footage! Hurry up and see!

As Friedkin mentioned himself, when someone asks you to film an exorcism, you say yes. So see it for the freak show. Expect nothing else. And either you believe or you don’t, based on how you were raised — mythology, religion, or superstition.

  • The Devil and Father Amorth
2.0

Summary

See it for the freak show. Expect nothing else.

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