Chupacabra Terror (2005)

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Witness the birth of a new movie description, SPOS, which stands for Serviceable Piece of Shit. The SyFy Channel can always be counted for a SPOS, and that’s what we have here. Though it played on SyFy as Chupacabra Dark Seas, it was originally, less evocatively, titled Chupacabra Terror. In the interest of truth in advertising, there is a chupacabra involved—and not much terror—though the GiaS (Guy in a Suit) is handled competently. Sometimes that’s all the silver lining you get.

But not here. In addition to an adequate creature, you get a decent lead in Captain Randolph (John Rhys Davies) and an even better mad scientist with Dr. Peña (Giancarlo Esposito). Along with the Captain’s curvy cutie daughter (Chelan Simmons, a petulant blond who, not only couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag, probably couldn’t spell it), and some other guy (Dylan Neal), they spend the majority of the movie below deck of a luxury cruise ship searching for the titular critter.

Note on the mise-en-scene: It is apparent after about five seconds, that they are not, in fact, passengers on an immense ship, but rather four actors on endless walkabout in another anonymous industrial location (Anonymous Industrial Walkabout, another long-needed category). In order to reinforce the nautical illusion director and co-writer John Shepphird wisely thought to tack life preservers on the majority of the walls, even deep in the bowels of the ship, which, if you think about it, doesn’t make a lick of sense.

As for the chupacabra itself, actor (or stuntman or temp or intern) Mark Viniello, who resembles a squat, vaguely canine, wingless gargoyle, tears out a few dozen throats, and appears to have the annoying ability to be everywhere at once when in attack mode, followed by long periods of suspended animation in which the principals wander around saying not much of anything. Esposito, who plays the amoral scientist, repeats the line “I captured him before, I can do it again,” at least five times.

There is some entertainment value to be savored in Chupacabra Terror, but it’s a mighty thin broth.

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Shadow Puppets (2007)

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Several folks (mostly attractive women, Praise Be!) wake up in a mental institution, dressed in generic undies, with no memory of who they are or how they got there. They spend the remainder of the film wandering around the facility while trying to steer clear of a dark, shadowy, spider-type thing with a face, that shows up once in a while to kill someone.

Despite the presence of genre-pedigreed actors James Marsters (Spike from Buffy and Angel, who hasn’t aged well); Tony Todd (the Candyman himself!); and comely Joleen Blalock (she was the Vulcan babe from that lame Star Trek series with Scott Bakula), there really isn’t much to recommend Shadow Puppets—other than the scantily clad Ms. Blalock. This is another one of those annoying “walkabout” movies, with endless scenes of wary characters moving (very slowly) through a largely featureless industrial landscape. It’s an approach that’s quite different from a movie like Cube, for example, where shocking and creepy details emerge from both the alien environment and the characters’ own heads. We do discover the identities of the captives, but it doesn’t add up to anything worth writing down. We learn the origin of the smoky, spider thing, but it’s all argle bargle that’s forgotten two seconds after the explanation is delivered. (“It’s the distilled essence of the victims’ life forces,” or some such drivel.)

Note to writer-director Michael Winnick: If we don’t care about the monster or the characters, then you’re going to need at least four more hot girls in briefs to maintain a passable level of interest from the average horror fan. And a big, herky guy in a rubber suit would have been a major improvement in the monster department.

Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011)

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It’s a lesser effort than the first Quarantine, but I consider it a worthy sequel nonetheless, because most of the time, sequels suck ass. Why would I be interested in an inferior distillation of an original formula? (Go back to Halloween II and work your way toward the present; the exceptions being Romero’s Dead films.) However, I must wag a stern finger at writer/director John Pogue, for blowing an opportunity to make his movie substantially better.

I was sold on the premise right away. The same virus that caused the apartment dwellers to go berserk with a case of the man munchies in the original movie, breaks out again. Only this time on a plane. That’s right: Zombies on a Plane. And not the slow, shuffling kind, either. These guys are strong, agile, and ready to rock and roll at 20,000 feet. My point is, if Pogue had contained the action to the cabin of a plane, he could have ratcheted up the tension tenfold. In addition to zombies, you add the possibility of the plane plummeting to the ground—not to mention claustrophobia.

Instead, Pogue chooses to let his harried cast land the plane, and then hide in the basement of an airport, where, for the rest of the movie, they walk around a featureless industrial landscape in the dark. The place is surrounded by soldiers who shoot anyone who emerges, but that’s not nearly as frightening as the prospect of a plummeting plane. Pogue even had a formidable lead zombie in Ralph (George Back), an overweight, drunken golfer who proves extremely difficult to bring down once he’s succumbed to the virus. Big boy can wreak some serious havoc!

Despite some wasted potential, Quarantine 2 is a very watchable feature, with gallons of gore, that moves along at a brisk clip—until everyone gets lost at the airport.

Deadwater (2008)

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Deadwater is not a very good film, but the presence of grizzled vet Lance Henricksen helps a bit. And at least director Roel Reiné took the time and energy to dress it up as a contemporary naval action thriller (not that there are abundant thrills to be had in this yawner) and include scenes of “advanced interrogation techniques.” Abu Ghraib is mentioned a few times. That’s about as timely as it gets, though.

Somewhere at sea near Iran or Iraq (forgot which), a U.S. crew operating a recommissioned WW II vessel is slaughtered under mysterious circumstances, which are mainly due to the poor lighting and spastic camera work. Old salt Col. John Willets (Henricksen) and his crack team of nobodies are sent to investigate. Lo and behold, one of the few survivors of the haunted holocaust is the colonel’s son, Colin Willets (played by Australian side-of-beef Gary Stretch, whose acting chops and resemblance to Henricksen are equally nonexistent). So what the hell happened?

There are approximately 863,111 movies in which a team of well-armed investigators boards a derelict ship or facility to find out what became of the previous occupants. This isn’t nearly as good as say, Ghost Ship, one of the better efforts in that genre. The threat remains mostly unseen (malevolent energy or something. Zzzzzzz.) and 95 percent of the movie consists of Henricksen and company moving stealthily through corridors and making ludicrous military hand gestures at each other. Save this one for Low Expectations Sunday. BTW, if you’re looking for it in Netflix, you’ll find it under the title Black Ops. My advice? Don’t look too hard.

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