Shadow Puppets (2007)

Several folks (mostly attractive women) 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 Joleen Blalock (she was the Vulcan hottie from that lame Star Trek series with Scott Bakula), there really isn’t much to recommend Shadow Puppets.

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 lots more gore and gals to maintain a passable level of interest from the average horror fan.

And a brawny dude in a rubber suit would have been a major improvement in the monster department.

Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011)

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)

Deadwater is not a very good film, but the presence of grizzled vet Lance Henricksen helps a bit.

Kudos to director Roel Reiné, who 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, due mainly 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.