Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring John Schneider, Katharine Isabelle, Ryan Kennedy, Chelan Simmons and Brendan Fletcher
Directed by Steven R. Monroe
A group of college age friends on an excursion happen upon a tiny backwoods town isolated from the rest of the world that appears to be stuck in a timewarp as if it were still the mid-1800's. The town elders struck a deal with the devil to save the town long ago leading to immortality on their part but at the cost of having an evil monster come calling for its annual human sacrifice, and now the young friends who've stumbled upon this secret might be the next ones sacrificed.
Hold on just one cotton-pickin' minute!
Group of good-looking young'ens? Town stuck in a timewarp? An unholy curse? Evil monster that collects sacrifices on a timeframe? I'd swear the Sci-Fi Channel already premiered this movie last Halloween when it was called Headless Horseman. The set-up is practically the same.
Headless Horseman did not, however, feature a creature that looked like Vince McMahon's ideal version of Shrek. Like a pot-bellied boss monster from a video game, the ogre in all its hokey CGI glory looks like a giant inflatable crossbreeding of Shrek, a sumo wrestler, and the blocky title monster from Sci-Fi's S.S. Doomtrooper, which itself was one of the most LOL-worthy monstrosities they've ever unleashed upon viewers. If you don't come close to doing a spit-take the moment the ogre first appears in the film's opening minutes then the best thing you can do is switch the channel immediately because its goofy appearance is one of the only two things Ogre has going for it. For goodness sake, THE OGRE HAS BITCH TITS!
Ellensford, Pennsylvania in the year of our lord 1859: Sir Henry Bartlett ("Smallville's" John Schneider, considerably less annoying than he was in Lake Placid 2 earlier this year) is named the new magistrate after the village elder dies from the plague that's been killing the townspeople. Why do the townsfolk hastily elect Bartlett to be their new leader? Because Sir Henry Bartlett is the town magi and they believe he can cast a spell that'll save them.
Town magi? I seem to remember learning in history class that people such as this during that particular time period tended to be religious and none too accepting of people proclaiming to practice the dark arts. Guess my history teacher never heard of Ellensford, PA; they not only accept this sorcerer, they make him their leader and allow him to enter them into an unholy contract with the devil to save them from the pox killing off their community. Good ol' Satanism, the only 100% guaranteed cure for the common cold.
The plague is gone and the denizens of Ellensford gain immortality, but there's a catch. There's always a catch, isn't there? Everything evil and diseased that has befallen the village has been pulled out of the people and manifested in the form of an enormous ogre. Now every year on a certain day during the winter solstice a chosen one amongst the villagers will be sacrificed to the ogre King Kong-style.
It's worth noting that the ogre hides it shame behind a loin cloth. It may be the living embodiment of all the town's wickedness and disease but never let it be said that the forces of darkness have no modesty.
Present day: a group of young hikers are out in the Pennsylvania woods partaking in their own personal "Destination Truth" in search of the lost town of Ellensford. One of them will trip and fracture his ankle. He'll be left behind with another female to tend to him while our two leads, the non-dimensional Mike (Ryan Kennedy, soon to be seen in the highly anticipated Poison Ivy 4: The Secret Society) and a brainless ninny named Jessica (Ginger Snaps' Katharine Isabelle, giving an embarrassing performance of Tara Reid-ish proportions), go looking for help, preferably a ranger station. They won't have to go far before happening upon a gated dirt road with an old, homemade "No Trespassing" sign on it. Naturally, they trespass. Once doing so, these modern interlopers quickly find themselves in Wicker Man territory.
Sir Bartlett will blame these trespassers for Ellensford's latest ills brought on after ankle boy and the girl that stayed behind with him unknowingly unlock the lair where the ogre is kept until it comes time for the yearly sacrifice; now it's skulking about killing indiscriminately: grabbing, slashing, gutting, biting off heads, and taking a page out of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's book by stomping a mud hole into people and walking it dry - literally. Bartlett's daughter, Hope (Chelan Simmons, the naked tanning bed victim from Final Destination 3 that wasn't Crystal Lowe), will attempt to lead an uprising against her scheming father and put an end to the ogre curse once and for all using the magical anti-evil amulet her evil dad gave her.
All the while the ogre just seems to be wandering around aimlessly until it's time to mutilate a cast member. This is another one of those monster movies where I found myself wondering just what the heck was the monster doing during all the time it wasn't on the screen, especially considering the very limited proximity of the area it has to wander around in.
I also couldn't help but detect a basic fundamental problem with the townspeople and their unholy bargain. They may be immortal but they're incapable of spawning - very Highlander-esque of the writers - so if they continue with the sacrifices there will eventually be none of them left anyway. If they deny the ogre its sacrifice and attempt to fight back it'll kill them all. If they succeed in destroying the ogre they'll all die, disintegrating into a beam of light as happens to any villager who attempts to exit the town's outer limits. Any which way you cut it, they're all dead. Honestly, other than the horror of having to give someone up every year to be mutilated by a hideous monster, what does it matter how all this all ends for them since it all ends with them all dead regardless?
That's also the biggest problem with Ogre as a film - everything is inevitable. You know the townspeople are history regardless of how it turns out so that just leaves us with the two leads from our time and their fate - also quite predictable. Not that you care much about them anyway; Mike and Jessica are practically supporting characters only necessary as catalysts to unleashing the ogre who afterwards come across as completely expendable side characters.
Not expendable though is John Schneider as the Voldemort of Hazzard County. I've complained in the past that John Schneider usually just plays John Schneider. If that's truly the case then this time John Schneider is playing John Schneider as one of the judges in a stage production of The Crucible. A very theatrical acting job if ever there was, he's a site to behold dressed in his Witchfinder General attire, sporting a pilgrim beard, and wielding a stone encrusted wizard staff straight out of Lord of the Rings. I'd swear I've seen that very staff for sale in one of those catalogs that specializes in fantasy gear and weaponry. I don't think I've ever written this line before so here it goes: John Schneider steals the movie.
I can tell you precisely the moment all the air gets let out of Ogre, though doing so requires a SPOILER WARNING - assuming anyone cares about such a film being spoiled. After devoting so much time setting up Henry Bartlett as a scheming villain with magical powers, the character is unceremoniously killed off by the ogre about mid-movie. Schneider's performance was so hammy as to be genuinely amusing and the moment the movie lost him it lost a major source of its cheese factor and as I said from the outset, that cheese factor is all this movie has going for it. But worse than just losing a major provider of its cinematic lactose, the bulk of the film's first half worked to establish antagonism between Bartlett and his daughter, he and the two unintended interventionists, and the ground work had even been laid for a confrontation between the townspeople who had begun dividing up into those that trust Sir Henry and those that agree that it's time to end this infernal pact. The moment Schneider gets killed off the movie in effect kills off the biggest source of its dramatic conflict, negating almost everything it had been building up to.
Following that major misstep the second half sinks into the repetitiously lame Sci-Fi Channel everyone-rally-together-to-kill-the-monster motif and by then we'd already seen so much of the ogre that the novelty of this silly computer-generated creature running amok was beginning to wear off, much like whatever charm the film itself had.
2 out of 5