Horror Movie Review a Trois I - Hellraiser: Inferno, Days of Darkness, and The Reptile.
My first Horror Movie Review à Trois will focus on three mostly different movies. We have the fifth part of a long-playing horror series (Hellraiser V), a zombie movie on a low budget (Days of Darkness) and a lesser known entry from the famed Hammer Film Production studios (The Reptile). The first is about a strange game of puzzles and morality; the second about a virgin zombie birth (and survivor panic), and the third is about British people getting bit by a reptile thing.
Hellraiser: Inferno, aka Hellraiser V (2000)
The setup? By the time Inferno had come out, we had the original "trilogy" (which strikes me as being a duology with an extra that doesn't contradict it except in one way, by making Pinhead a more classical demonic force) and Bloodlines which was something of a capstone prequel-sequel sort of deal. The rules and the Lament Configuration and the Cenobites were all layed out and known. Then comes Inferno which takes us back to the present, once again puts the Configuration into the hands of thrill seekers and puzzlers, and once again is mostly about a dude and his family and friends, and getting flesh torn. Except, well, it's a different universe, so to speak.
The gist? The plot here is unusual for a Hellraiser film. When Detective Joseph Thorne, our main character, solves the Configuration, he is not immediately torn to shreds or tortured. Instead, he becomes the focus of a series of cat-and-mouse games in which everyone he turns to ends up painfully dead and he finds himself compromising more an more to try and find out some answers. He hears rumors and street whispers about a man called The Engineer, but every time you get near The Engineer, he goes after you. As time goes on, the landscapes become weirder and the sequences more and more a nightmare-like scene. Eventually, he learns the horrible truth about the choices he made, and so forth. Imagine something like a cross-breed of bits of Ninth Gate, Jacob's Ladder, and Angel Heart blended into 1990s era version of the hardboiled cop on the edge detective movie.
The goods? A lot of the gore is implied rather than focused on. We see hooked whips flash overhead and see blood flecks followed by groans and wet gurgles, but we rarely see skin torn directly. We do see torn skin, mind you, but it becomes more about the aftermath and how one takes it than torture-porn. While this is surely for budgetary reasons, it makes for a nice effect. Also, Craig Sheffer does a good job playing the hardened cop trying to graft his element unto something well outside of his experience. The bads? The acting drops off in places and a few scenes are too dreamlike to have any real suspense. The biggest offender of this is the later scene involving ninja cowboys and a old-West-like poker salloon. Also, the Configuration gets opened way too quickly and easily, making you wonder what all the build up was in previous films. Sure, Thorne is meant to be great at puzzles, but he spends about five seconds of screen time looking at it before he solves it.
The final word? The central divergence here is that the torture offered, the pleasure and pain of infinite measure, is much more in the psychological realm than the physical. Excepting a shot near the beginning where they reach under Thorne's skin to play with his rib cage, the physical side is much more about activating the mental side. Old school fans may dislike the Hell allegories and the personal-bad-trip feel of things, but those open to other takes on the Cenobite mythos will find this an interesting digression to the well-explored central themes of the original. Pinhead fans, though, will likely be disappointed to find out he is only in a few key scenes, much closer to the first film in duration.
Days of Darkness (2007 Low Budget Indie Zombies)
The gist? Zombies are spawned by a comet breaking up near the Earth. A pair of would-be lovers come back from a camping trip, virginity intact, only to find the walking dead crapping on their plans for a safe drive home. They are taken to a military compound, where the survivors are a wild and wacky bunch, and many interpersonal fights break out. By the end, most people have either shot each other or been eaten, and the dwindling survivors must either learn to work together or die apart. Oh, and it's pretty low budget with numerous shout outs to the genre, which makes it fairly normal for a zombie movie. Zombie virgin birth. Oh, did that come out of nowhere? Well, now you know how people who watch this movie feel.
The good? The two main characters are somewhat compelling and the ending, despite its inherent played-for-laughs aspect, is actually entertaining and solves the mystery of the whole thing. The bad? The rest of it. Too many scenes are lifted from movies that did it better. Scenes not lifted, such as the ex-porn star mother, spend too long trying to be both funny and touching at the same time. Since the filmmakers are not Ricky Gervais, they fail to pull this off.
The final word? Watching it on FearNet (link above) means it costs you nothing but time, just be warned that the biggest and only defense I have seen regularly trucked out for it was "Hey, it was zombie movie, why take it so seriously, stupid?" which is the movie review equivalent of "Puke is meant to taste bad, genius!" There are tidbits here or there that make it tolerable, but the gaps in between are likely to overwhelm all but the most diehard lobudj zombie freak.
The Reptile (1966 Hammer Film Productions Creature Feature)
The setup? Apparently after making The Plague of Zombies, Hammer Film Productions decided to play it cheap and reused many of the sets and costumes to make this one.
The gist? Recycling more than just sets, the general build up is much recycled from the earlier Hammer film Gorgon. A man dies in or near a country-side estate and his family comes to investigate what killed him, a monster in a manor that turns kills its victims as slowly as the plot needs; a monster protected by some and hiding an important and tragic secret. In this case, the monster is a googly-eyed humanoid snake that strikes fast and kills without seeming reason. The monster is only backdrop for the story, which is mostly taken up by Harry and Valerie Spalding, a cute and earnest married couple trying to make the best of the tragic death of Harry's brother, and the interplay between Harry and Tom Bailey (the means well barkeep played by Michael Ripper who all but steals his scenes) and the Spaldings and their erratically acting rich neighbor: Dr. Franklyn. All of the personal conflicts are leading the Spaldings closer to "the reptile", but before they get there, you have already learned why it will end not end well.
The good? Despite the retreads evident on this hurried production, the focus on the people and not the monster helps to keep it compelling and watchable. The bad? The script breaks down in a few places, often with no rhyme or reason. The first victim is shown dead in a matter of seconds, but at least one later victim is able to travel a fair distance and still has time for the poison to be sucked out. The "evil servant" has no justified place in the movie. And the final few scenes defy a proper sensibility, feeling much too "We need an ending" than they should.
The final word? Hammer's creature features rarely diverged from their core: an alien (to those parts, anyhow) and often ancient (or from an ancient, primitive source) evil interacts with well-to-do folks who are backed up by more salt-of-the-earth types and a building gets burned down. Take that. Oh, and a couple of busty pretties are scene decoration. This movie follows the script to a tee, but manages to be good storytelling and an interesting addition to Hammer's catalog. There really isn't much specific I can go on about here, besides to say that I ended up liking after being pretty sure I would end up hating it.
From worst to best, Days of Darkness limps off with a Blech (-1.7), Hellraiser: Inferno gets a Fair with bits of Good and interesting mixed in (+0.3), and The Reptile gets a Fair with several moments of Good creeping in as they focus on the interpersonal interactions and the mystery behind the whole thing (+0.7). This overall trio of movies, what's the final word? Watch only the last ten minutes of Days of Darkness, watch Inferno if you are a Hellraiser fan and want an alternate take on the Cenobite mythos, and watch The Reptile if you like the Hammer way of doing things but have run out of the better known examples to watch.
Si Vales, Valeo
file under (...on Horror & Zombies)