Thursday, 29 April 2010

Cube Trilogy (Cube, Cube 2: Hypercube and Cube Zero)

The Cube trilogy is one of those lovely anomalies in the realm of SF cinema- a series of flicks made on small budgets that actually maintained some sense of a compelling story, even in the sequel and prequel that followed the original. That first Cube film is a monumental film in the annals of independent movie-making. The concept is simple, and its execution is ingenious.

The fact that on that first film, the whole set consisted of one fully realized cube room and one extra wall. Add different lighting and some clever cinematography, and the film looks like it contains hundreds of those rooms. It's a classic idea for a story- stick some strangers in a room and see how long it takes them to freak out at each other. The Cube trilogy has become a much appreciated series since that first flick landed, and while the two that followed that first film had little of the original's impact, they did serve to add some interesting elements to the Cube mythos.

In CUBE, the sense of claustrophobia and tension is superb, helped along by a strong cast featuring the likes of Nicole De Boer (aka Ezri Dax on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and a ton of other good stuff, like that classic 90s outer Limits episode 'The Quality of Mercy') and some tight direction. That first film was a mini masterpiece, the claustrophobia and fading energy and patience of the prisoners boiling over repeatedly into violence and venom. Clever, gripping and extremely well constructed, CUBE is one of the finest modern science fiction films around, and its power remains untainted by the sequel and prequel.

CUBE 2: HYPERCUBE followed soon after, with the tagline "The First One Had Rules". Yes, and the first one also had a better plot and a better cast, and effects that didn't slap you in the face with cheap CG oddness. That said, I do like CUBE 2, as there are some excellent ideas in it, and it has a much more impressive ending than the sombre final act of the original. The cast are largely forgettable, but there are enough twists and turns to keep you entertained, even if the rendering of the effects takes you right out of the action in some scenes. Pretty good.

A third outing emerged in the form of CUBE ZERO, a prequel that was supposed to offer some answers to the origins of the cube and its machinations. Did it do that? Erm, sorta. Again there's a cube, again there's a bunch of people trapped inside, but this time around we get to see some of the people watching the cube from the outside. The story largely follows the exploits of two lowly workers involved in monitoring what's going on inside the cube, but when one of them finally grows a conscience he ends up trapped in there himself. It's dark and dirty, and while it does work as a prequel and as a film in its own right, it looks a little cheap and a little rushed. The idea is great, and the execution is valiant and very creative, but it falls short of true greatness by a large margin due to some hammy acting and pedestrian direction.

The first CUBE movie is an essential addition to any collection, and the sequel and prequel are worthy too, if not brilliant. The idea is genius. The first film carries it off the best of all, and while the other two aren't perfect, if you're a fan of the first film you'll find something to enjoy in the other two. Now, how do I get out of here? ;)

Monday, 26 April 2010

Quick Fix: JIGSAW (2002)

Full Moon Entertainment is a company I have a lot of affection for. They were responsible for a number of my favourite films as a teenager, including the mini-masterpiece that was ARCADE (I gotta get a copy of that to talk about for you- my VHS went AWOL years ago). However, they;re also known for the sheer number of titles they release. JIGSAW is a fun little horror flick from 2002 that has all the hallmarks of a suitably cheap and cheerful Full Moon film. The basic plot of it is that a group of troubled art students are each given a part of a mannequin to decorate and modify, taking inspiration from their darkest secrets and problems. Of course, the mannequin, once assembled, comes to life and starts offing them all in the manner of their own fears. It's not rocket science, and the cast are fair to middling, but it's entertaining, bloody and ideal pizza-and-beer viewing. My one issue with the film is the ending, which is a bit of a let-down, but in the context of the flick it works. A fun little film despite its limitations.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

QUICK FIX: The Twins Effect (2003)

Vampires, wire-enhanced martial arts, a cool cast, magic and mayhem? Yes please. The Twins Effect is ridiculous, chaotic, and a ton of fun. It's almost like a superhero flick crossed with NightWatch. Sort of Blade meets Buffy meets, erm, Double Dragon with female leads?

Ekin Cheng, Charlene Choi and Gillian Ching head up a cast that is clearly having a blast with the material, and a lengthy special guest appearance from the legendary Jackie Chan is the icing on top of a ludicrous cake. The Twins Effect is a very silly film, full of very silly vampires with very silly accents and very silly action sequences.

It is essentially 90 minutes of eye candy, but it never really puts itself across as anything else. The CG effects are rubbish (they've not dated well), but other than that the production looks pretty damn good. Oh, and watch it subbed, not dubbed. You need the real voices for the full effect. Ace.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Basket Case (1982)

Basket Case is a wonderfully odd film. Despite the terrible, terribile acting, there is a gloriously unsettling atmosphere to the film, and while it is often billed as a horror comedy, the film really qualifies as a great cult horror flick that will unnerve many viewers when watched with the right frame of mind. It tells the story of Duane, who is tracking down and offing the people responsible for him being separated from his conjoined twin, namely the freakishly deformed Belial.

Belial is carried around in a big basket, and for a good portion of the film, you don't see all that much of Belial. This works in the film's favour, as it really gives some impact to the big unveiling. The thing is, the people behind the effects on this movie did something very clever with the creature. The Belial models and puppets look rubbish (you can clearly see the mould seams in the rubber, for example), but the creature has been given some extremely lifelike eyes, which are the source of much of Belial's creepiness.

In fact, Belial becomes something of a sympathetic character towards the end of the movie (especially after the gruesome flashback sequence where he is removed from Duane's side), and while the entire cast doesn't seem to feature a single actor amongst them (aside from maybe the landlord of the apartments where much of the action takes place, as he's just cool), their performances are uniformly bad to the point where it just works really well.

It's a very odd film, with an undeniably creepy atmosphere, and with some clever use of stop motion in some shots, some effective shock moments (shoving someone's face into a drawer of scalpels, only for them to emerge with a face covered in protruding blades), it is also a very satisfying one. As cheap horror films go, they don't get much cheaper, but Basket Case is one film where the low budget actually works in its favour.

It's the right length, shot pretty well considering the budget, and while it's about as tacky as it gets, there's some genuine moments of horror on show. Belial is a great character, and while his effectiveness was ruined by two shoddy sequels (with higher budgets and more horrific characters), in this first film he's formidable. Basket Case is an excellent curiosity for the discerning horror fan, and about as essential as it gets.

Abnormal Service Resumed

Back again! There's been some upheavals life-wise, hence the lack of updates here, but I'm back at it now. A new feature that will run alongside the regular full reviews will be QUICK FIXES, namely short reviews to keep new content coming at you at a great rate, including comics, books and TV stuff as well as movies. The full reviews will continue apace. Let's see how this works out :)