Grim (1995)

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Since when does a movie made in the 90s look like a movie made in the 70s? When it’s made in England, pretending to be Virginia! It certainly helps explain the abundance of denim jackets in this thing, that’s for sure.

Nutshell: Rob (Emmanuel Xuereb—he’s good in anything!) is a mining expert inspecting a series of tunnels and caves under a housing in development in “Virginia” (actually, Coleford, Gloucestershire) where folks have been disappearing. He and a bunch of concerned homeowners go spelunking into the bowels of the earth and are set upon by a magic troll-like being who can walk through walls.

The creature (Peter Tregloan) is the best thing about this SPoS—a toothy brute who bites and kills some of his victims, while others are imprisoned, presumably to be scarfed at a future date. By the way, the monster is initially summoned by some bored New Age suburbanites playing with a homemade Ouija board.

Grim is an idiotic film, but it’s the right kind of idiotic, as writer-director Paul Matthews leaves plenty of lengthy silences in the script so viewers can hurl snarky comments with impunity (a perfect movie for MST3K-style riffing). The story also gets increasingly (and I would argue “winningly”) bizarre, contains a decent amount of bloodletting, and leads to a WTF finale, with a minor character helplessly snared in a completely FUBAR situation. Grim is an amusing time-waster with an OK monster—nothing more, nothing less.

Shallow Ground (2004)

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A screwy mish-mash of elements somehow makes for a modestly entertaining melange of mayhem. Even though the overall execution is just slightly north of made-for-TV and the performances indicate that the actors were given perhaps an hour to familiarize themselves with the script, Shallow Ground managed to keep me engaged. Never underestimate the value of abundant gore and the occasional unclothed actress, I suppose.

The story reveals itself in very haphazard, what-the-hell fashion, as if a team of lemurs was busily typing out new scenes even as the cameras commenced rolling. In a middle-of-nowhere rural community called Shallow Valley, a tiny police department is in the midst of disbanding when a naked young man (Rocky Marquette) covered in blood makes an unwelcome appearance. Apparently, the townspeople are packing up after the completion of a nearby dam (don’t ask why, they just are), and Sheriff Jack Shepherd (a gaunt, haunted, and inexplicably Irish Timothy V. Murphy), still tormented by an unsolved murder from a year before, has to deal with a new string of deaths that are somehow connected to the presence of the mysterious blood-splattered adolescent.

The conclusion of Shallow Ground is clumsy and confused as writer-director Sheldon Wilson, another enthusiastic Sam Raimi acolyte, requests that the viewer obligingly stitch together several disparate story lines: the accidental death of a local man and his daughter during the dam’s construction, the subsequent disappearances of several people connected with the dam project, a crooked deputy (Stan Kirsch) who murders a drug dealer in a nearby large city (huh?), and a vengeful hausfrau (Patty McCormack from The Bad Seed!) with an axe to grind. It doesn’t coalesce in any meaningful way, but in this case the sum of Shallow Ground‘s grisly parts are (barely) enough to sustain us to the hastily constructed finale. You will have questions. For me, it was why is the incidental tension music so shitty and stupidly applied?

Hatchet II (2010)

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There’s no need to fret if you haven’t seen the first installment in writer-director Adam Green’s Hatchet opus. The burgeoning schlockmeister is generous enough to replay the origin of the “Bayou Butcher” Victor Crowley, a monstrous swamp-dwelling child cursed by his own mother who dies while giving birth.

Hey Ma, this is what happens when you opt for home delivery—and your home is a goddamn swamp!

The deformed kid is raised by his father, dies (I guess), accidentally killed by a blow from papa’s axe, and now it’s his alarmingly corporeal ghost that runs amok in the Louisiana bayou, artfully dismembering intruders. Was all of this backstory really necessary?

Marybeth (Danielle Harris) is the lone survivor from the first Hatchet movie, and for some reason, she wants to return to the swamp to retrieve the mutilated corpses of her family members that got chopped into kindling last time around.

Really? That’s the best motivation she can come up with?

Enlisting the aid of voodoo charlatan Reverend Zombie (the reliably nefarious Tony Todd) she puts a greasy white-trash posse together to salvage the remains and hopefully dispatch Crowley (Kane Hodder) into the afterlife on a more permanent basis.

Adam Green is a filmmaker of limited abilities and funds, so he wisely concentrates on the gruesome details in Hatchet II. A hunter gets his jaw torn off leaving his tongue lolling ludicrously. Another victim is bifurcated and while still alive, gets rudely yanked out of his skin by the spinal column. This is why we we’re here.

There’s no story, no character development, no life lessons; just plenty of splatter. Crowley is a Southern-fried Jason Vorhees sans mask and dressed like a cast member from Hee-Haw.

Is he a vengeful ghost? An unkillable thing? An evil spirit?

Don’t worry about it. Just savor the carnage. Green sends sufficient cannon fodder to foolishly confront the monster and the body count is more than respectable, while old pro Tony Todd chews the scenery with relish.

Reason enough, I say.

Chupacabra Terror (2005)

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Witness the birth of a new description category, 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) factor 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 daughter (Chelan Simmons, a petulant blond with no acting talent), 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 meandering around in an 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 a 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 (Stuntman? Intern?) Mark Viniello, resembles a squat, vaguely canine, wingless gargoyle, who tears out a few dozen throats and demonstrates the annoying ability to be everywhere at once when in attack mode, followed by long periods of dormancy in which the principals wander around the set 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.

Hillside Cannibals (2006)

The synopsis for Hillside Cannibals describes it as being about some dude named Sawney Bean, a cannibal killer who’s been feasting on victims for 400 years. He lives with his flesh-eating inbred clan in some caves on a hillside (hence the title) in the California desert.

My question is: Where the hell did all this back story come from? There is no evidence of 400-year-old killers found anywhere in the movie. Unless I saw a severely truncated version (which I doubt, because the film is heavily padded; every third shot is of the same pile of skulls and bones on the ground), then director Leigh Scott and writer Steve Bevilacqua are full of crap.

Hell, the cannibals don’t even talk! They just grunt, gurgle, and gesticulate a lot. Perhaps a jaunty song should play during the opening credits (like in The Beverly Hillbillies) that explains the premise. It would have helped.

Nutshell: Five campers, for no reason in particular, go out into the desert for an evening of drinking, reefing, and screwing. A clan of Road Warrior extras, who apparently got their costumes at Goodwill, show up for a bloody buffet.

Final Girl Linda (Heather Conforto), spends the rest of the movie alternately trying to get help, rescue her boyfriend, and elude capture. That’s about it, really.

In their desperate attempt to somehow link this turkey to The Hills Have Eyes, Scott and Bevilacqua neglect the other aspects of the film. First of all, three of the five campers are dead within 12 minutes of the opening. This leaves only two other characters to be killed for the duration of the movie, a problem Scott tries to fix by briefly introducing three more campers, who are on screen just long enough to prove annoying, before they become lunch.

We don’t know who they are, why they’ve chosen to stop in this location, or anything else. While the scene does up the body count, the inclusion of these off-brand characters was clearly an afterthought and accurately illustrates the haphazard level of craft and creativity at work.

Despite all the piss-poor examples of padding and subplots that go nowhere (e.g., what’s the sheriff’s relationship to this band of bizarros? Is he a cousin or something? We never find out.) there is abundant gore and some genuinely nightmarish imagery, including an ending that’s totally grim.

I thought it was a nice stylish touch that when a new chief of the tribe takes power, he has to remove the face of the fallen leader and wear it around. Disgusting, but sort of cool, I guess.

Hillside Cannibals isn’t a complete waste of time—but it comes awfully close.

Chillerama (2011)

We submit for your approval a quartet of farcical drive-in features rendered in the most tasteless fashion possible. The nearly charming monstrosity is a tribute not only to classic B-movie horror but also to schlockmeister Lloyd Kaufman and his Troma Team, who staunchly believe that there should be no limits on disgusting, juvenile entertainment.

The action takes place at a drive-in movie theater on its last night of operation. Theater owner Cecil Kaufman (Richard Riehle, whom you’ve seen in dozens of small parts over the years) is screening three lost horror movie classics, including Wadzilla, the story of a mutated sperm cell that grows to gigantic proportions and tries to mate with the Statue of Liberty.

The Diary of Anne Frankenstein, is a black-and-white flick starring Joel David Moore (Bones, Hatchet) as Hitler, who wants to create a monster of his very own (played by Kane Hodder).

I Was a Teenage Wearbear, a homoerotic beach-blanket bingo romp about a young man who transforms into a bloodthirsty bear (meaning large, hirsute gay man) under the power of the full moon.

Each section gets its own director: Adam Rifkin (Detroit Rock City), who also stars, does a fine job with Wadzilla, constantly wringing extra laughs out of a one-joke setup.

Adam Green’s (Hatchet, Frozen) Diary of Anne Frankenstein is the most ambitious of the vignettes, and the most artfully realized.

Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs, Driftwood) simply doesn’t have enough gas in the tank for I Was A Teenage Wearbear. It’s overly long and silly, though he gets props for a few catchy musical numbers and for casting the always watchable Lin Shaye as the Maria Ouspenskia gypsy woman.

Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2) has a barrel of fun as zombies run roughshod over the drive-in in the wraparound tale. And in the end, the fun should be enough to hold your interest.

But make no mistake, this is proudly low-brow cinema, and non-horror buffs probably won’t last to the credits.

The Reef (2010)

If you’re a fan of Shark Week like OldSharky, nothing gets your flippers in a fuddle like a little fresh blood in the water. And there’s plenty for everyone in the Aussie survival-fest, The Reef.

It’s a low-rent production with a lot of stock footage of sharks feeding, but there’s legit tension throughout.

A crew of reasonably attractive young sailors and their ladies fair set to sea in a beautiful pea-green sailboat. Boat hits rock and capsizes. Luke (Damian Walshe-Howling) advises they gear up and swim for the nearest land.

Warren (Kieran Darcy-Smith) inexplicably stays behind on the capsized boat. The entire area is teeming with sharks that seem extraordinarily peckish.

Who lives? Who gets their ass chewed off?

Why anyone would enjoy a sailboat outing along the Great Barrier Reef (aka, Shark Central) is beyond comprehension. Again, I’d like to think that my innate cautious nature would spare me from vast amounts of horror-movie sorrow whilst traveling the world.

The Reef isn’t top-shelf entertainment. It’s more like the junk drawer of passing time.