Starring Christa Campbell, Costas Mandylor, Meshach Taylor, Rudolph Martin, Amanda Aardsma
Written and directed by Eric Weston
Hyenas is an early frontrunner for the best bad horror movie of 2011. Performances are campy, dialogue is loopy, make-up and visual effects are silly, and I’m positive something must have gone down behind the scenes to explain why Hyenas is such a hot mess. Did the production run out of money and what we’re seeing is the end result of an editing bay salvage job? Was there a hard breeze that blew away some of the pages of the only script the day before filming that they were never able to recover?
Hyenas is wacky enough even on a conceptual level. This is a movie about werehyenas, folks. They’re never actually called werehyenas because that sounds even loonier than “crypto-humans” - the term the film does use to describe them. Calling them “crypto-humans” makes them sound like some new offshoot of the X-Men instead of a breed of werewolf that shapeshifts into cartoonish looking computer generated hyenas - effects so chintzy they’re a comic delight. These hyenas are supposed to be menacing, but all I wanted to do was pet them and make “goo-goo” sounds while telling them how cute they look.
The real hyena comic gold comes during the transformation scenes in which actual make-up appears to have been used to bridge the gap between person and cheap digital effect; the make-up is more believable looking and yet way more laughable all at the same time.
I also dare anyone watching not to bust a gut laughing whenever these crypto-humans in their human form let out a hyena laugh. Hyena laughter doesn’t exactly exude the same menace as a wolf howl, especially when it’s being shown coming out of the mouths of actors with glowing red eyes straight out of a 1980’s heavy metal video.
These hyenas are a female dominated society, which means women rule and males are second-class citizens forced to sit around and bemoan having to eat second even though nearly every hyena kill in the movie would give you the impression that the males were the hunters that ate first while Christa Campbell prances around naked. There’s a lot of talk of hyena pack politics that never adds up to much because it feels like there are key scenes chronicling the changing hierarchy of the hyena pack missing.
A heavily tattooed and frequently clothing optional Christa Campbell is the defacto pack leader, Wilda. Why Campbell speaks with a Scarlett O’Hara accent even though not a single other member of the pack does so is anyone’s guess. Campbell is a hoot as hyena hoochie Wilda, preening and prancing about, often in various states of undress. She definitely appears to be having fun.
The absurdity all begins when the wife and newborn baby of a man named Gannon get eaten by the hyenas. Gannon is played by Saw substitute Costas Mandylor in a performance that can only be best described as positively Mandylorian. I’ve given Mandylor a lot of grief in the past, but he’s perfectly fine here, and something hysterically corny he does in his final moments on screen will make it impossible for me to ever hate on him again.
The police believe they merely got ambushed by wild animals after getting a flat tire, but “Crazy Briggs” knows the truth and forces Gannon at gunpoint to follow him into the woods to learn the truth about “crypto-humans”. Briggs is played with raspy-voiced enthusiasm by Meshach Taylor, perhaps best known for his role as flamboyantly gay window dresser “Hollywood” in the Mannequin movies. Something about his appearance here brought to mind a Jamaican cowboy Arsenio Hall.
Just when I thought this whole movie was going to be about Briggs and Gannon hunting Wilda and her pack, the film shifts focus onto two teenage cliques experiencing their own personal West Side Story. I could almost hear a producer screaming, “What do you mean there aren’t any teenagers? It’s a horror movie! There have to be teenagers!” So here we go with a group of white teens feuding with a group of Mexican teens unaware that the sister of a dimwitted kid being hazed by the white clique is secretly dating a Latino hunk from the Mexican clique.
Thank goodness for this inclusion; otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to go 15 minutes without getting to hear a Mexican called a “beaner” or “wetback”. The odd thing is I understand why racist white kids would constantly be making disparaging remarks against Mexicans; I’m not quite sure why the Mexican teens have to continuously say things designed to remind us they are very much Mexican. For all the racial slurs the white teens hurl, at least the Mexicans stick by their bros. Two of the white teens get eaten by hyenas, and none of their homies ever inquire as to their disappearance or even appear aware that two of their own have gone missing. Some friends they are.
That dimwitted brother I mentioned gets an awful lot of screen time as a lot of the storyline involving the two rival teen factions has this kid stuck in the middle. He’s even put in a position to potentially fall victim midway, but after all this concern over his character, he has no involvement in the finale whatsoever.
The focus will eventually shift back towards Gannon and Briggs after they rescue an attractive young woman whose car gets ambushed by hyenas in precisely the same manner as Gannon’s late wife. She and Gannon will quickly begin a romance that had me thinking this seemed strangely inappropriate considering it hadn’t been that long since his wife and newborn baby were eaten alive. A mere throwaway line of dialogue will reveal that two years have passed since his wife and baby were eaten.
Two years? What? When did this transpire – during that montage? It seemed like maybe a few weeks had passed, perhaps even a few months – not two years.
Okay, so two years have passed and Briggs and Gannon are supposedly traveling about killing all “crypto-humans” in search of their lair. So why is it that they don’t appear to have ever left the same location they started in? Wilda and her pack also have no clue where Gannon and Briggs are hiding out even though they’ve all been lurking in the same locale for two straight years. This town and these woods are not that big, people. Near the end Wilda decides they need to finish these two hunters once and for all and – you know it - she and her pack head straight for the house in the woods where Gannon and Briggs have been staying without any indication as to how they suddenly know precisely where to find them.
There are plenty of amusingly head-scratching moments like that adding to the nutty entertainment value of Hyenas. Like how Briggs talks about Gannon as if he’s never had a partner before and gives no indication that anyone other than he knows of the existence of these “crypto-humans”. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, with no proper introduction to this character, Gannon gets a phone call from a fellow hunter informing them that the pack’s “alpha female” is dying. Who is this guy? Where did he come from? How did he learn this critical piece of inside the pack information? We’ll never know because this new guy gets killed almost as soon as he gets off the phone. And does Wilda or her kin interrogate the guy before killing him to learn of Gannon and Briggs location? Of course not!
There’s also a dopey plot twist involving a certain character that if you don’t see coming from a mile away then you’re as clueless as Gannon. So clueless the script has Wilda outright mock him for not having figured it out by the time she reveals it to him.
Watching Hyenas will probably make you a laughing hyena. I certainly made me one.
3 out of 5