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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Unseen Evil (2001) Horror Protective Spirit

Unseen Evil (2001) - This a lower budget film about Native American burial site that has a spirit that seemed to be imprisoned by a tribe centuries ago. A place where the spirit possibly one of the four eagles that are Komeshtam'ho is incarcerated for some unknown reason. It is possible that the creature called Unseen is there to protect the riches buried in this cave. This part of the story was shown instead of explained and because of that it could be interpreted many ways. The whole setup may be a fiction, an finding much information about this supposed creation myth was all but impossible so the viewer should go along with the intro text of the film and take the scenes for what is presented. Opening after these scenes it is the 1990s and an expedition is setting out into the California hills to try to find that burial ground. What seems as straight up academic research quickly becomes a treasure hunt. Jenson has done the research necessary to find the site in the opening of the film. He is determine to find it but instead of study it to steal the gold and jewels of the site and retire to an island in the sun.He puts together a team which some of them know his plan while others do not.
  Our group consists of leader Dr Peter Jensen (Richard Hatch), Archaeologist Kate (Cindi Braun), Guide Dana (Cindy Pena) and two hired hands Mike (Frank Ruotolo) and Williams (Jere Jon). Very quickly into the hike to the site do the dynamics of the group change. Starting as a legitimate quest for knowledge signs seep into the behavior of the men that let the audience know that something is not right. Stopping at the rangers station Dana is friends with Ranger Chuck MacNeil (Tim Thomerson) and chats him up. What she does not know is that when he goes inside with Williams that things change. Wanting to keep things secret Williams knocks the Ranger out and cuffs him to a post. Now here you have a group with perfect cover, a couple of believable professionals in Dana and Kate but the men need to attack a Ranger creating a reason for the law to be involved. If they had just driven away their chances of pulling of the grave robbery would have been better. But with hot headed Willams in the group. there cover is immediately blown well at least for the viewers. Note that the one black character in the film is the hardest criminal of the bunch, hmmm..
  When resting on the hike and in the most awkward of set pieces Dana finds the gun that Jensen is carrying the gig is up and the women learn that this crew is not on the up and up. Its a bit too late though and at gunpoint and with hands tied the women are forced to participate. So the tension created when the viewers knew the expedition was a scam but the women in the group did not dissipates and is replaced by the tension of becoming prisoners. All of this will be trumped when they rob the burial ground and are attacked by the "Unseen".
  Survival film from that point on,  there is a bunch of this and that attempts to escape the creature. There is no mystery about anything after the creature makes its first kill of a group member. Seeking depth in the characters comes across hollow and the film is nothing particularly interesting. Will Jensen get away with his loot? Will the good characters survive? Will the creature get them all? Sure there are these questions as well as the ones that don't make sense like since this creature has been locked up in a cave for generations how is it that it knows to attack the groups van stranding them? The all too convenient return the treasure to the cave is the only way this one could have gone. Not particularly thought provoking or deep this simple story falls flat. Kate apparently can read hieroglyphs so well that all the exposition we need is given to us with ease. Then the ending and not the ending was too tiring to want to explain. No recommendation for this one from this blog. The choppy style and flat acting just dooms it. A one dimensional story with little subtext leaves the viewer just watching a series of some what connected scenes playing out a fantasy story but a story not really fleshed out.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Head Cheerleader, Dead Cheerleader (2000) Horror Slasher

Head Cheerleader, Dead Cheerleader (2000) - Hand it to writer, director, producer Jeff Miller for making this attempt at a 'who's the killer?' slasher film. Even though it was painfully obvious that he had very little money and although ultimately not making a good film he certainly made a small independent slasher with a script that worked hard to keep the viewer guessing. Working each scene to create or reenforce a red herring or a foreshadowing he creates for a viewer no less than a half dozen suspects before revealing the killer. Coming out four years after Scream (1996) this film tries to capture some of the structure of that film but ultimately fails for obvious reasons. You could say this seems derivative of that famous and more professional production, and you would be correct. Maybe that last comment was not very fair but if this film was made for the same budget it still may have been an inferior product. Although the writing is solid in that it is efficient and plotted fairly well it fails to develop character beyond what is needed for the 'who is killing cheerleaders?' question. The work put in to get the audience questioning just about every characters as they interact with the final girl really interferes with the erotetic narrative in that there are so many false questions being posed that ultimately the gems of truth pointing to the fluid narration is lost.
Heather (Tasha Biering) our main character gets the most back story Her Father was the  first male cheerleader of the high school. He is gone and her Mother away on business is an absentee parent. Poor Heather has had a series of failed relationships with boys from not only her school but from the rival Airfield high school. This gives us a whole lot of possible killers, her current boyfriend Danny (Dan Roach), the footballer her Mother freaked out about Chris (Andre B. Walker), rival QB Jimmy (Kirk Bair), they all have motivations that are shown in the setup scenes. Each comes across as creepy rude or possessive in their own way to get the audience guessing. Adding to the list of people who were pushed as possible murderers were Jezabel (Amber Coker) the girl Heather kept off the cheerleader squad. The touchy feely football coach Cranford (Bobby Cerutti) who secretly tapes the cheerleaders locker room. Drifter old guy Hatterman who supposedly killed in the past and even the fat old sheriff who manages to be creepy talking about Heathers Mother. Most of the second act in fact is to introduce each suspect and then have them do something or have somebody throw suspicion on them.
   Mixed in are the kills first of poor Trish the freshman cheerleader off screen who is only shown as a head in a bag. Then the money shot of cheer coach Riley (Debbie Rochon) who is axed after taking a hot tub and talking on what is now a really antiquated cell phone. After she shows her beautiful breasts she has one lopped off and dies in a bloody mess. Why is it every time a character shows her body does she have to die. Sexualizing the murder of women seems to be a traditional thing to do in slasher films but it is hard to rationalize. You rarely see men exposing there bodies before having their junk lopped off. A few red shirts are introduced just to be axed to death without a fight, again one of the girls removes her shirt which apparently is a signal that she needs to die. (I might add that the twist at the end of this film put a very different perspective on these scenes, but I am not sure if the messaging of it is any better.)
  If you were going to pinpoint the main failure of the film it has to be the lead. Heather never quite carries the sense of jeopardy she needs to. Whether it is the writing or the acting she just falls flat. Even when the character knows that danger is all around her she acts as if she is not sure she is in danger. Examples of this are: She is at home for the night. She lives out in the boondocks and there is no easy way to get help. When she starts getting creepier and creepier calls from the killer she is reluctant to call the police and even though she has knowledge that her classmates are being killed she fails to give any details to the police when she does call. She just asks for a car to check around her house.Later she is threatened even more menacingly and then gets a call from her Mother from out of town, instead of saying anything to her Mom she says everything is fine. Things at this point are definitely not fine. The killer just called pretending to have her cat and threatened to kill it. It just does not make any sense. On a side note another thing that does not make a lot of sense, the football team players getting together to kill birds and cats and string them to the goalposts as a act that will psyche them up for the big game. What is that?
  The third act is the revelation of who the killer really is and the struggle to see if Heather will survive the night. Although there are some decent practical effects the unknown until now protector is not foreshadowed and the exposition needed to explain the character was tedious. The similarity of the scenes to those in Scream are too close to be by accident. The energy of the bad guy matches the energetic performances of that earlier movie. After all the red herrings smacking the audience in the face, it was disappointing that the seeds of the killer story were not sown during the second act. Then everything has to be explained. It is all out of left field.
  As a reviewer it is useful to see a film like Head Cheerleader because it helps you see more clearly what went right in  the smash hit like Scream. There is a reasonable body count for a slasher movie somewhere around seven or eight, still though this film left something out that it needed to be more successful. On top of the illogical wreck the third act was is the tagged on ending. A trope used during the film where the gloved killer is writing the names of the victims on a list under one of the three headings Killed, Stalked  or Called and we flash to the end of this after all the killing of the final act is over and we are sure the killer has been dealt with. To then suggest that the killer is still out there is something every viewer will call bullshit on. When all is said and done you can appreciate that Jeff Miller can execute a project like this but it still can't be recommended by this blog. Everyone has their own tastes and sure this film will be acceptible to some but there is no recommendation coming here.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Cheerleader Camp (1988) Horror Comedy

Cheerleader Camp (1988) - Also called "Bloody Pom Poms" After watching the latest Lucky McKee film "All Cheerleaders Die" I decided to try another cheerleader based horror film. Cheerleader Camp is probably more notable for the people in it than its popularity. Featuring at least two former centerfolds Teri Weigel (Playboy April 1986) and Rebecca Ferratti (Okay maybe not a centerfold but in Playboy' Bathing Beauties) but not a T&A film at all. Director John Quinn says in the commentary that the story was inspired by a case in Northern California where a girl killed a classmate who made the cheerleading squad while she failed to. The film is also of note for starring former teen heart throb Leif Garrett a bit older and not so much a heartthrob at the time. On top of this is our lead the gorgeous Betsy Russell (of Avenging Angel fame, but still working in horror appearing in a couple of Saw movies) so we end up with a wonderful cast to look at. It is a slasher, mystery that unfortunately so transparent that the story loses effect. Really though it is part of the 1980s and the eighties had some wonderful low budget comedy / horror. I had hoped that this film would be a hidden gem, but unfortunately it wasn't. Right after the room mate pairing up was done at the Camp holding the cheerleader competition the film is too blatant in foreshadowing who the killer is leaving the viewer without a mystery and just watching the motions to get to the end.
   The first scene a dream sequence is filmed well with a dutch angle throwing the feeling into the slightly off.Shot at Bakerfield High it is designed to show the psychology of the main character Alison (Betsy Russell). From this scene we can sense there is quite a bit of pressure for the cheerleader. The story has a simple set up, five cheerleaders and a mascot drive out to a camp to participate in a cheerleader competition. When participants start showing up dead the characters need to figure out if the deaths are accidents or is there a killer among them.
  The team consisting of Alison, Pamela (Teri Weigel), Theresa (Rebecca Ferratti), Timmy (Travis McKenna) Brent (Leif Garrett), Bonnie (Lorie Griffin) and mascot Cory (Lucinda Dickey) arrive at the camp to find pushy coordinator Miss (Vickie Benson) already to assign rooms and enforce the rules. Very quickly the film is about the rivalry between the teams but in a strange way because they never really create a rivalry or develop the other teams. Instead the film uses focus on Betsy as a stressed or possibly murderous competitor. When the first competitor from another team is found dead by Betsy it looks like a suicide but there are some questions. The obvious red herring of the Betsy character and some of the interactions she has with teammates start to give away who the killer is. Its a bit of a shame because the film although low budget is trying to have some fun.
  There are some decent suspense at times like when Betsy gets trapped in the cooler with the dead body which sets up the next red Herring of someone in the camp crew possibly being the killer. We follow Betsy as she spies on Pop (George 'Buck' Flower) the camp handyman. While still they push the idea that Betsy may be a bit off her rocker. There is not tons happening early in the film it is a lot of buildup, setting up the rocky relationship between Brent and Betsy. Then showing several Betsy dream sequences and scenes to make us question her mental state we are being lead down can't be the one that is revealed later. First after a dream Betsy finds a dead rival cheerleader she saw in the dream. Then Betsy gets mad at Brent for giving time to Pamela and then has a dream about that. We have the kill scene of Pamela and everything is setting up that Betsy is the killer. Since though this is a horror movie the obvious path can't be the likely one so we can really dismiss Betsy as a suspect and think about who else would want to solve her "problems" for her. Who has shown enough empathy that maybe they are killing on her behalf?
   In the end although the film is cool it is really not great. Having figured out the twist way too early the viewer could be left not thrilled going through the less than complex third act to see the killer revealed. Seriously there were two kills going into the final act and because it is not action packed and exciting, it is instead people walking around the woods in the dark. There really is not going to be a recommendation for this film. The ending needed to be exciting and cohesive but it is neither;  it never really reaches the slasher variety scary. The big twist leaves you think "damn!" so much potential but never really leaving us satisfied. It is very close to being a recommendation but just not quite for me. I think older viewers of horror could tolerate the pacing but younger folks would be irritated at the slow stretches. Although rated R it is really a pretty tame film with a splash of gore, a flash of boob but compared to modern films really quite controlled. It also does not reach the action movies heights that would make the film worth recommending.
Odds and Ends
* The band playing at the camp is "Rigor Mortis Rigor Mortis", with Producer Jeff Prettyman's son Chris on drums.
* Each time we come into a dream we get this fade to a red background which was used in another film Daughters of Darkness (1971).
* The rap in the film may be nominated for worst attempt at rapping in film history.