Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I Want My Mummy, Any Mummy Will Do: "Pharaoh's Curse" (1957)

This short, cheap horror flick doesn't even make with the mummy its title promises.

In 1902, the hilariously named Captain Storm (Mark Dana) is a British soldier guiding an expedition into the Egyptian desert to rescue a group of archaeologists out digging for mummies and such. He is stuck with two low ranking soldiers, and a woman...in this case, Sylvia (Diane Brewster), who is married to the leader of the dig.

The four set out, stumbling across the mysterious Simira (Ziva Rodann) along the way. Simira tries to hurry the group to the dig, but they are set in their ways. Essentials like food and animals start disappearing, Simira spends her nights staring into the distance, and Sylvia is bitten by a scorpion. Simira warns the group that it is too late as they pull into the camp, run by hothead American adventurer Quentin (George Neise) and populated by a group of foreigners whose names and characters aren't really that important simply because they are so poorly written. Simira's brother Numar (Alvaro Guillot) reacts badly to the opening of the sarcophagus of a high priest, suddenly aging fifty years in a few hours. As the white guys run around with torches and guns after Numar escapes from the group, Sylvia reveals the real reason she came on the trip, and Simira still stares into space.

It's sad that the low budget spent on the film also provides the greatest entertainment value. In the tense sarcophagus opening scene, you swear you hear a box cutter going through masking tape. The wordy curses the group discover are translated by analysis of a handful of badly drawn hieroglyphics. At one point, Sylvia is wandering around a cave, and you can hear her hands knock against a wooden sounding set. The day for night shots are also badly done, and Death Valley's desert looks nothing like the Sahara. According to IMDB.com, the film was shot in less than a week, and I believe it.

Mark Dana looks like a young Ronald Reagan, and his bad British accent comes but mostly goes. Every time he opens his mouth, he sounds like Cary Grant. The rest of the cast doesn't register at all, my mind wandered while everyone searched for hidden passages and lit conveniently placed torches. One plus here is the makeup used to age Numar. It is well done, and may have accounted for most of the budget.

"Pharaoh's Curse" is a typical B horror flick, clocking in at barely an hour, and directed with all the stylish flourish of a piece of gum. Break this curse. (* *) out of five stars.

Monday, March 30, 2015

When Animal Attacks!: "Animal" (2014)

Drew Barrymore is one of many executive producers in this typical "monster on the loose" flick that could generate many a straight-to-video sequel.

A group of friends, including step-siblings Jeff (Parker Young) and Alissa (Keke Palmer), head to the woods to show their prospective life-partners Mandy (Elizabeth Gillies) and Matt (Jeremy Sumpter) where they used to camp as kids. Along for the ride is poor fifth wheel/slight comic relief Sean (Paul Iacono). After getting caught in the boonies after dark, they are attacked by what seems to be a bear with male pattern baldness, fleeing to a cabin where three responsible adults are hiding out.

Carl (Thorsten Kaye), his wife Vicky (Joey Lauren Adams) and boo-hiss villain Douglas (Amaury Nolasco) are waiting in the pre-barricaded abandoned cabin after Douglas' wife (singer/actress Eve, in either a cameo or a supporting role that was left on the cutting room floor) was eaten by the monster. Infighting and badly thought out escape plans begin, as well as some eye rolling secrets the group of friends decide to unload before trying to outrun the creature.

The script doesn't explain a lot, and perhaps any possible follow-up sequels will- like why the cabin was already fortified, and the origin of the title character. Simmons' direction is nice, the scenes in the woods are beautifully shot, but once the characters get indoors, the flow slows. I liked that the cast of bait figure out some things about the creature, and whether the thing possesses higher intelligence, but that kind of analysis is interrupted by Douglas wandering around a loft delivering unintentionally funny we're-all-gonna-die speeches.

Palmer and Gillies are better known for past sitcoms on Nickelodeon ("True Jackson, VP" and "Victorious," both of which had their hysterical moments), and they transition into these adult roles well. Palmer is saddled with the unfortunate theme song over the end credits, and I would like to see a law passed that Gillies must wear tight fitting button-up shirts in all her future work on camera. Adams is given nothing to do, I forgot she was in the film until she would show up onscreen.

The gore and monster effects are good- when you can see them. Simmons keeps his camera shaky in the attack scenes, so you don't get a very good idea of what we are dealing with. A couple of jump scares will startle you, but the monster isn't all that scary, despite what the screaming reactions and a bum-bum John Carpenteresque musical score tell you. Two of the characters are given short monologues that you know were done during the audition process.

"Animal" is average, not the worst thing out there, the watchable cast definitely helps. (* * *) out of five stars.

Monday, March 9, 2015

2015-2016 Films Ranked By Year

2015

EXCELLENT
Mad Max: Fury Road (9/10) George Miller
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (9/10) J.J. Abrams
The Treatment (9/10) Hans Herbots
Horsehead (9/10) Romain Basset
Theresa Is a Mother (9/10) C. Fraser Press, Darren Press
VERY GOOD
Avengers: Age of Ultron (8/10) Joss Whedon
Pitch Perfect 2 (8/10) Elizabeth Banks
Spy (8/10) Paul Feig
Reckless (8/10) Joram Lursen
GOOD
Home (7/10) Tim Johnson
Kingsman: The Secret Service (7/10) Matthew Vaughn
Beyond the Grave (7/10) Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro
Gone Doggy Gone (7/10) Kasi Brown, Brandon Walter
Soaked in Bleach (7/10) Benjamin Statler
Cub (7/10) Jonas Govaerts
The Longest Ride (7/10) George Tillman Jr.
AVERAGE
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (6/10) Paul Tibbitt
The Last House on Cemetery Lane (5/10) Andrew Jones
Queen Crab (5/10) Brett Piper
BELOW AVERAGE
Taken 3 (4/10) Olivier Megaton
The Summer House (3/10) Curtis Burz
Hotel Transylvania 2 (3/10) Genndy Tartakovsky


2016

BELOW AVERAGE
The Veil (3/10) Phil Joanou
BAD
The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave (1/10) Davis Doi