The movie opens with little Billy seeing his parents murdered by a robber in a Santa suit (and man, they milk that kill for all it’s worth, rerunning that footage repeatedly). Interestingly, that opening kill is far more brutal than it was originally scripted as. The screenplay simply says Santa yanks open the car door. Ellie’s screams stop and he stands over her lifeless body. there’s no mention of him pulling her our, ripping the blouse and cutting her throat. This is curious considering ti’s the single most re-used piece of footage throughout the entire series.
Of course this all happens right after a visit with the most terrifying grandpa ever, who warns Billy about Santa punishing the wicked. The message is only reinforced at the catholic orphanage (They sure did know how to build ugly buildings in the 70’s an 80’s) he finds himself in as he suffers bad flashbacks. Still, when we flash forward 10 years later to his job at a toy store, everything seems to be alright. He seems well adjusted.
I got to admit, I’m digging the toy store he works at, spotting familiar boxes. Things start to go wrong right after the Christmas banner goes up though, and the flashbacks return.
And then, the store owner asks him to fill in for Santa. Because this won’t end badly at all will it? I’m not sure how the parents don’t notice their kids are terrified by the dire Santa, but the nun from the orphanage realizes just how bad a scene this is.
The killing starts around forty minuets in and it turns into an earnest slasher.Don’t let the early kills fool you, the murders get more outrageous as we go on.
It’s an odd slasher though, lacking a final girl or a defined set of victims. Our Santa killer is more of a wandering villain, popping targets of opportunity.
As Christmas thrillers go, this one has some chilling moments and a very grindhouse feel. It’s cheap but a good VHS throwback.
But does it really deserve 5 Sequels?
I was hanging out at the Christmas party over at Carol and John’s when my buddy Jason cocked his head and asked me “Did you ever watch all five Silent Night Deadly Night movies?”. I strained to remember. I don’t think I even realized there WERE five of those things. He further blew my hair back by informing me that Mickey Rooney appears in on of the late entries.
I know I’ve seen the first one of these. It was years ago when I was trying to hit all the traditional Christmas Slashers; Christmas Evil, Black Christmas, ect. But I don’t remember exploring any further in the franchise. Moreover, since then, there’s been a remake to add to the pile. I’m intrigued now. So I hit the resale shops and collected a stack of VHS tapes. I really don’t know what to expect from this – slashers I think. 80’s gore I’m hoping.
We’ll find out together.
Did any else know that there was an Asylum rip-off of the Statham reboot of Corman’s Death Race 2000 and that said rip-off featured the Insane Clown Posse? I sure didn’t, but if I have to be burdened with this knowledge, so do you.
Over gritty and filtered stock footage, we get voice over that it’s 2033. The president declared martial law and criminals have all been exiled to a burnt out, slightly urban area in the middle of nowhere called the red zone, ala “Escape from New York”.
It just so happens that inside the prison city, terrorists are making saran gas. Word leaks (there’s a kid in the red zone filming everything with an old camcorder somehow hooked up to wifi) and the governor has to find a solution. His solution is a death race inside the red zone, complete with a Secret mission – to kill the terrorist. He breaks it down to the racers – you get points for killing inmates, but you get the most points for killing the terrorist… Maybe even enough to win your freedom.
And also ICP is there.
The cars are largely uninspired, guns added to a sports car, a missiles added to a jeep, spikes on an average cars tires. ICP are really the only ones with a monster machine, an ice cream truck with a snowplow front, meatgrinder, guns and missiles. The cinematographer tries to make up for the cars lack of visual excitement by giving us tight frames of the more interesting areas; cockpits next to guns and details that are very visually interesting.
As the race begins, the other prisoners chase after the cars, attacking. Some get shot down, others get run over… But it’s usually a cut away with blood thrown onto the car from off screen. The budget doesn’t seem to have allowed for much in the way of stunt people and these cars are almost certainly all rented. Still, they manage some fairly ridiculous gore. Indeed, the gore level in this movie more horror film chunky as opposed to mere action movie blood. I assume that’s ICP’s influence.
The Asylum attempts to mimic the media blitz aspect of the Statham films, with their own news commentators constantly giving updates on the race it’s self. It’s not quite as slick with all the computer graphics and statistics of a big budget production. Instead of extreme sorts commentators, they come off looking more like your local evening news. As our racers fight their way through the red zone, these newscasters pop in periodically to explain a little bit of what’s going on – kind of a necessity considering the plot is a little bit more convoluted than strictly necessary (I’d have expected a little something more straightforward from this movie).
Interestingly enough, this is actually an ensemble piece. ICP gets a little more screen time than the others, much the way Captain Picard got a little more screen time then other characters when Star Trek was on TV, but there is actually something for everybody to do here. It’s a wise idea, because the clowns aren’t actors, and it shows. Then again, a lot of the people surrounding them aren’t much better, but instead of watching them struggle to carry a movie by themselves, all the actors together contribute to a pool of mediocrity. It’s a whole swirling bucket of suck where no one person stands out too much. If anything, the only reason ICP stands out at all is because they don’t quite belong in this world. The film leans far more heavily in the direction of being a Death Race movie rather than being a long ICP video and as a result, they kind of feel out of place. I realize they’re here for the star power, but it’s a strange match up. Their music is all over this film as well, and quite frankly it might of been better served with A heavier rock score.
All that said, it’s not as terrible as it sounds. Much to my surprise, it passes the watch test easily and is just loony enough to be fun instead of cringed worthy. Indeed, it’s still a better entry then Corman’s Death Race 2050 released around 2016, and is even superior to Death Race 3. If you’re a stickler for continuity like I am, I can actually fit this in, right before 2018’s Death Race : Beyond Anarchy, showing how the race got started up again and showcasing the increased governmental obsession with the “morality” of the prisons and the race. Death Racers is worth a look as a curiosity if nothing else.
For those keeping score BTW, the proper order for the Death Race films then is;
1. Death Race 2
2. Death Race 3
3. Death Race
4. Death Racers
5. Death Race : Beyond Anarchy
6. Death Race 2000
7. Death Race 2050
After the disappointing outing DR3 was, DR4 opens to an encouraging back to basics approach. We’re back in a prison (albeit a different one – a city walled off) and Frankenstein is back to a brutal race. We get a quick recap with shots from the Statham film, to set the stage.Death Race still exists, but has been made illegal and gone underground, broadcast on the dark web from the walled off prison city (for a prison city though, they seem to be pretty well off with plenty of gas, bullets and booze. It’s not the wasteland Escape From New York was).
I’m not sure what Danny Glover is doing slumming in this film, but Danny Trejo makes a welcome appearance as Goldberg, now a bookie in Mexico and our real link to the outside world. He funnels supplies into the prison and takes bets on the race. We really get to see the race through his eyes. Frankenstein looks more terrifying than ever. The entire affair has more of a Mad Max feel to it, possibly stemming from the success of Fury road (released a year prior), and the opening treats us to gore at horror movie levels. Chainsaws, beheadings, this new Frankenstein is out of control, to the extent that the government is ready to move in and take over. Our hero this time around is Conner, a ringer snuck in to take out Frank in the race. He’s also about as charismatic s a block of wood, with a somewhat bored expression perpetually plastered on his face.
Of course it’s a new director so it’s a new vision for the series. The more stylized violence is a departure from the series. The fights are far more martial arts based, not the brutal street brawling that Statham was directed to do in Death Race. Also a departure is that Frankenstein is brought in as the straight up villain. Finally, the running time is a big departure, clocking in at nearly two hours. I’m not sold on the longer run time, I tend to think these things should stick to 90 minuets. It dosen’t quite pass the watch test, but there’s enough blood and antics to keep me amused.
It’s interesting to look at the cars. They’re evolving; not just guns, but fins and more spikes – you can see how they are growing into the cars we will see in DR2000. It’s ramshackle, something you can even see it in the tombstone on the back of Connor’s car. It feels welded and patched together, not the solid block of steel we’re used to. Still, it lends us a brilliant sequence where they are building the car and getting things ready. It’s good stuff, bonding the characters without lengthy exposition. And it makes me absolutely fall in love with the sassy, punky navigator for this movie. She still gorgeous, but it’s different kind of pretty. Not the glamorous street girls we’ve gotten used to in the past. Interestingly enough, she’s not the love interest for Connor, she’s really just there to help him with the car.
Of course, before you get a car, you have to fight. The gladiatorial bits are even more prevalent here, with both a dirt bike challenge and a hand to hand one, each streamed in all their bloody glory.
They get out of the cars a lot. Even though the race is really only the last half hour of the film, it seems like they are constantly finding reasons to get out of the cars and shoot at each other.
It’s not a bad film, certainly a step up from three and the twist at the end was actually well done. It’s worth a look, but be careful who you watch it with. There’s so much nudity in this thing that there’s characters who spend more time with their clothes off than on.
Death Race 2 ended with the creation of Frankenstein. DR3 opens with Frankenstein having won his fourth race. One more and he goes free. There’s just one small problem. The race has changed hands and the new owner isn’t as keen on keeping that bargain.
Between the films, it appears the pit crew never knew that Frankenstein was actually Lucas – their fallen comrade. His identity is revealed in the opening minuets of this entry though, along with the fact that he’s been getting some reconstructive surgery to fix his face (so Luke Goss doesn’t have to wear makeup or a mask for this whole film)
All of this feels very episodic. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear this was filmed back to back with DR2 because of how easily the characters slip back into their relationships. I suppose we can chalk that up to this film being made by Roel Reiné, the director of the previous film. We’re still following his vision, which is pretty close to what Anderson wanted when he made Death Race. The continuity makes this comfort food. Still, there’s some new faces with Dougray Scott taking over for Laurie Cohan as the villain. After he wrests control of Ving Rhames’ company and acquires the Death Race, he takes a very hands on approach to administration, chewing the scenery every chance he gets.
The Death Race has a new twist. The navigators have to fight for their positions, echoing the Death match of the previous film. It’s an interesting twist to let us know that all bets are off and the rules don’t matter anymore. The team is shipped off to Africa to race against new prisoners in a desert track. Its a different kind of race, that takes us through a village. The residents and the warlords are none to happy to see them and It gives us a glimpse of what the race will eventually becoming Death Race 2000.
It also presents us with a problem. At this point in the sequels, you have to do things that are new and innovative, things we’ve never seen before. This is just a step down from “Death Race in space!”. The problem is that we’re still in prequel mode, with this taking place before the Statham Death Race or the Corman DR2000. Innovation feels out of place. The scriptwriters have just about given up too, simply content to drop Rob Zombie levels of f-bombs instead of crafting actual dialogue and cramming as much sex as they can into the halftime intermission. Moreover the bigger wrecks and explosions come at the cost of the racing action. The desert track not only completely changes the color palette, but it also slows things down.
The ending feels very contrived. It’s an attempt to get things in line with the continuity established in the Statham Death Race while attempting to give us a satisfying conclusion with this crew. It’s certainly not what I expected, with a voice over recapping and explaining how everything fits together (kind of like the end of Oceans 11 or a Sherlock Holmes story) but it doesn’t drag the film down too much.
I have to give this film a bit of a break, with each installment the budget has been slashed (I don’t get how that works anyhow. Seems like you should get more money for a sequel, not less) and the move overseas was likely budgetary rather than aesthetic. Still, it’s one of the weakest films in this run, and that watered down feeling from DR2 is even more keenly felt here. This one is a safe skip, and I would have bet it was the end of the road for this series. In fact, it was, but only for a little while.
Death Race 2, the sequel to Death Race, is actually the prequel to Death Race which is the prequel to Death Race 2000. …Okay. I think I have that straight.
Opening this thing on Danny Trejo is a good sign. And is that Sean Bean in the credit listing? I didn’t realize he was in this!
The film begins with a riot – basically trying for that bit of deleted story Paul Anderson talked about in the commentary for one. I can’t help but notice that the prison’s owner, unnamed in the previous film is now being referred to as the Wayland corporation. It looks like someone is trying to place this in the Aliens universe.
Our driver for this film is Lucas, a Jason Statham lookalike who goes down for armed robbery and murder. Inside prison he discovers the Death Matches going on – televised gladiator fights between randomly selected prisoners. It’s interesting to see the elements in the death matches that carry over to the death race. Power ups exist here too. Hit the panel, grab the weapon. The matches have the same slick TV productions and sports announcers. It’s easy to see how it evolved.
The mastermind of this is Laurie Cohen in her pre-Walking Dead days. Almost strange to see her glamored out with makeup and that full long hair. I didn’t even recognize her until I skimmed the credits. She sees Luke driving and hatches the idea of creating the Death Race.
We don’t get to the race (in it’s prototypical state) until nearly an hour in, but once we do, you’ll find the cars look familiar. There’s less explanation and they seem less personalized to the driver, but once we hit the track, we’re back on familiar territory, with racing that is just as frenetic as ever.
Don’t expect to see much of Frakenstien here. We get a bit at the very end when they show the origin of the character. It’s rushed, not quite what I expected, but it works.
In general, the film feels a tad watered down from the previous. The new cast feel like replacements, they’re fun, but lack the gravitas of Staham and Ian McShane. Nevertheless, it’s just as entertaining as it’s predecessor, and makes for a good sequel. It promises a good series.
The first thing you notice about Death Race is how desaturated and gritty it is, particularly compared to the bright colors of Death Race 2000. DR2k is a cartoon, where as this remake is a comic book.
We begin establishing that Death race is a competition that happens at an island prison in a dystopian future where the economy is depressed. Jason Statham’s character is framed for the murder of his wife and sent to the prison, then gets drafted to be the new star racer, Frankenstein (replacing the previous masked driver who died in the last race). Fans of Statham need not worry though, the mask isn’t on much. It comes off in the car, the prision yard and in the garage. It’s really there only to establish that he’s carrying on the legacy of the legendary racer.
In the navigator’s seat next to him is the ridiculously hot Natalie Martine. The skin tight hip hugger jeans and low cut belly shirt over a gravity defying push up bra seem out of place for prison wear. Looking at her perfect bouncy hair I think I’d be willing to go to jail just for her salon privileges.
The cars here however are not pretty. No lizard scale paint job or oversized Bowie knives here; these are down and dirty gun metal gray. All cannons and steel plating as they jockey for position and attempt to mow down their opponents with brakes and bullets. The racing action in this film sets the bar, above even more mainstream contemporaries like the Fast and the Furious. They put you in the middle of the action, a kinetic experience punctuated by violent attacks and burn outs.
Adding to the video game feel, the race way has power up panels (which look like sewer covers) that activate each car’s accessories. you can’t use that Gatling gun or your oil slick unless you’ve grabbed one of these power ups first. far from being just gimmicky, this device actually helps drive the story and ups the peril.
Death Race is one of those rare remakes that works, taking the basic concept then going it’s own direction with it. But is it a remake really? I got a nice two disc set that includes 2&3 on one disc and the first film on the other – along with a director’s commentary. According to director Paul Anderson, this is actually meant to be a prequel, showing the origins of the Death Race before it became the colorful national pastime we see in Death Race 2000. In fact, he takes it a step further, describing a part of the story that had been cut – a riot at the prison was captured by security cameras and accidentally webcast. It garnered such attention that they started having regular organized fights there, broadcast world wide, and this is what eventually evolved into the Death Race.
I like this reading. I like the idea that Death Race is part of the whole narrative, because it makes me feel less guilty about the fact that given the choice between watching Death Race and Death Race 2000….I’m going to choose this Statham film every time.
Long considered a classic, the thing about Death Race 2000 is that it’s the kind of movie that could only be made in the 70’s. And of course if you can remember the 70’s, you weren’t there. Well, I was there. But I was five as the seventies rolled into the 80’s so I don’t have the nostalgia for it that some do.
Still, there’s something about Corman in the Seventies that allows you to get away with David Carradine in a mask and cape, or Sylvester Stallone driving a car with a giant knife on the hood. Visually, this thing is a comic book. Yet it’s easy to see how the violence in this movie would have been a little out there for 70’s audiences. Today, in the era of Saw, running down civilians and tossing a smidge of blood here and there is mild. In that era where transgressive cinema was really finding itself, senseless violence was a little more shocking.
In this story about a much hyped annual race between lethal contestants Carradine (the black cloaked champion dubbed “Frankenstien because he’s been put together so many times after too many wrecks) chews the scenery as he is want to do, even as Stallone (in a role his agent probably should have run screaming to the hills from) grumps through the competition in a stylized 30’s gangster pimp suit. It’s not just race to the finish, it’s a competition to murder your opponents and as many innocent bystanders as possible in order to achieve a higher score.
The thing is I don’t hate it. I appreciate it on a classic film level and of course I revere Corman. But being raised on Splatter and being a fan of racing games like Carmegeddon (much the same premise, but with more wrecks and blood) this feels a little slow and tame for me. I’m glad to have seen it and I wouldn’t necessarily change the channel if it came up on TV one night.
Not until the commercials anyhow.
Remember when I said Death Race 2000 was the kind of film that could only be made in the 70’s? I stand by that statement. That’s why it was such a bad idea to try and remake it in 2016-17.
Death Race 2050 is a soft reboot that acts as a kind of sequel to the original Death Race and retreads the same plot more or less exactly. Of course, this film uses no name actors and brighter colors to achieve a hyper reality that directly conflicts with the supposed dire nature of the race.
When Death Race 2000 was made, it was ridiculous and campy, but to their credit, all the actors played it straight. There were hams of course, but they never played it off as comedy or parody. The same can’t be said in DR2050. This film isn’t even trying. It’s unintentional parody of itself. There’s the occasional heavy handed political message (It’s no longer the USA, it’s the United Corporation of America, with the “C” done up similar to a dollar sign) but it’s so cliche you can’t really even believe it’s earnest about it.
The cars themselves are quite cool to look at, but they don’t seem real. They feel like toys or models, a little too convoluted sci-fi – the sort of thing you’d find in “Total Recall” or “Demolition Man”. The featured ones don’t fit with the rest of this world. That dosen’t stop me from wanting a Hot Wheels of them though….
I don’t want to call this film garbage, because I like garbage films. This sullies the good name of garbage. Rather I’d just call it a waste of time. if you’re new to the Death Race franchise, this film will put you right off it. If You’re a fan of the Death Race films, this movie will make you angry as Frankenstein in an ill-fitting mask. Either way, it ends up being just a waste of time.
According to IMDB: “Captions are written in Comic Sans “.
I think that nicely sums it up.
I was well into my thirties, pushing forty really, before I saw Death Race 2000. I have no idea what took so long either. Some films just fall behind the bookshelf – you know, the stuff you always mean to watch but never actually get around too? Death Race was like that for me.
Doing up my reviews, I realized something else. It may be a generational thing. I missed Death Race by at least half a decade. There were no commercials or advertising blitz for it to pique my interest, and it wasn’t one of the movies that constantly played on late night UHF like the Death Wish films and the Eastwood westerns. I think it more went by unnoticed, never germinating the nostalgia in me that it might have if I were about five years older.
Still, I’m a Corman fan and I remember being vaguely aware of the Statham reboot, understanding that yes, they were indeed connected. Seems like it’s time to hit all of these at once, especially with #4 being released just a couple years ago.
So let’s kick off this years franchise focus with the Death Race films. Come along as we look at the good, the bad, and the REALLY bad.
Right off the bat, I’m glad to see that this film wants to be a proper sequel, unlike the sequel in name only that we got from the Mangler 2. The problem is, I’m not convinced that the filmmakers ever saw the actual original film. I’m not sure what kind of device they think the Mangler is (other than being referred to as “an antique”) but for this film, they have transformed it into a big boxy conveyor belt with stabby CGI knives that pounce on you from above. This isn’t a laundry device, it’s just a killing machine…and it wants blood.
The video quality is better than consumer grade, but not as high as I’d expect from professional production. It feels like an Asylum movie and I was actually a bit surprised to discover it wasn’t one. The addition of Reggie Bannister is a definite plus though, making sure that the movie still had some horror star cred, just like it’s predecessors.
We start off with a man, Hadley, and his wife arguing. She wants him to get a job and stop tinkering with that machine in the attic. It ends predictably and we pretty much know the score before the title credits roll.
Hadley does service on washing machines and uses that as an excuse to kidnap victims for the Mangler. We get a brief sequence of him abducting ingénue Jaime and then switch over to Reggie Bannister and his son Mike, casing Hadley’s house. They’re thieves and have been planning to knock over the place for a while. Reggie sneaks in, but to his surprise he doesn’t have to pick the lock – the door is open. Inside, the windows are bricked up behind tacky curtains and Reg discovers that the locks are actually on the inside of the doors. He’s going to have to pick his way OUT, not in.
Things get weirder when he discovers a drawer full of old wallets – all of which have money in them. He suspects the mark may be a thief himself and after grabbing the cash figures it’s time to start getting out. Back in the van, Mike is getting worried and nags Reg over his wallkie talkie to get movie. Reg is almost to the stairs when he sees the bloody handprints on the wall and hears the whimpers of a woman locked in the bedroom across the hall. He decides he’s going to do the right thing “For once in my life!” and grabs his lock pick tools to try and free her. It’s too late, Hadley arrives home, with Jaimie in a sack slung over his shoulder.
Things go poorly for Reg and Mike sneaks in after him. The girl that Reg tried to free gets fed to the machine, but Mike does better than his father, getting Jaimie out before buying it himself. Turns out that Jaimie is the actual main character here. I wasn’t sure, because she vanished for a good 20 -30 minute stretch in the middle of the film while we focus on Reggie.
Bannister for his part, is well used in this film. While he couldn’t have worked more than a couple of days on set, his scenes are shot judiciously, mostly alone. There’s shots of him talking on the Walkie, or hiding in the closet – stuff where you can insert the other actors later without immediately worrying about shooting their coverage when time’s at a premium. As a result, Reg has a significant amount of screen time here. It’s more than a cameo, but less than a full supporting role. If there a weakness, it may be that he’s too likable. Bannister is obviously trying to play a sort of scummy deadbeat dad type. Perhaps I just have too close an association with him from other movies, but you take one look at that skullet ponytail that only Reggie Bannister can pull off, and you just feel like he’s you cool uncle. He’s impossible not to root for.
The house too, is a little underdeveloped. There’s some good ideas here – the house is a trap. Once you’re in, you can’t get out. But it needs to be better highlighted and the spook factor increased. The entire place is lit in a flat white light. Some gloom here to really creep up the look as well as some grime to add more repulsion would go a long way towards making this a truly scary set. The bricked up windows are treated as an afterthought. People come in, glance behind the curtins and then move on. Treated as a revelation, with proper lighting this could have been unnerving. As it is, it’s just…odd.
All in all, the greatest sin here is that it feels cheap. The movie has good intentions, but it’s ambition outweighs it’s reach and the entire affair comes off as a misfire. It’s worth watching as a companion if you really love the Mangler, but the film could have been so much more.
The Mangler part 2 begins with an intruder in a large office building, clad in black and a ski mask obviously up to no good… They carry a CD-ROM – it was right around 2000 so I suppose this is meant to look high tech. The computer itself doesn’t even have the drive built-in, she slides it into an external and uploads a virus.This sets off the alarms in the building and she’s quickly captured by security. It turns out the Intruder is the daughter of the company president and he’s about to ship her back off to her awful Prep School.
We get shots of kids in uniform – Prep School tie and skirts, wandering a stone campus overlaid by early 2000s pop punk
The headmaster is a haggard-looking Lance Henriksen (in a role originally meant for Malcolm McDowell), who controls the school through computers and mechanization, provided by the father you saw in the pre-credits sequence. A field trip has been scheduled to conveniently empty the school of all but our main cast.
They are tasked with trying to figure out who tampered with school website – a prank to embarrass the Headmaster. If they fail there will be no senior activities including prom… oh, so we have our premise. Jo, our outcast hacker girl from the beginning is the Chief suspect. Whether she did it or not, she’s going to be blamed anyhow – so she decides on some mischief of her own.While browsing the dark web (did they even have a dark web in 2002?) she discovers a virus called “The Mangler” when she downloads to deploy at the school. It immediately overcomes the server and takes over every camera in the school.
The janitor is the first one to get it, murdered by a pair of hedge clippers attached to wires that have grown out of the wall. This is one impressive virus…
Over at the pool, our left behind kids throw a luau party. This provides us with some long overdue getting-to-know-you schtick as well as stripping the main cast down into swimsuits to satisfy the purely voyeuristic requirements. Jo announces here that she’s impacted the computer system with The Mangler and expects the school to be shut down within the next day. They realize the virus can be traced back to them, since they’re the only ones left at school and go off to try and figure out a way to hide that fact.
Elsewhere, The Mangler takes out the crippled gym teacher by using the wheelchair lift the throw him down the stairs and then wrapping one of its prehensile wires around an axe to go after him. It’s also after the school chef trapping him in the freezer and turining up the cold. This is definitely the kind of action I was more expecting from this film rather than disembodied wires wreaking havoc.
Two of the kids get stoned and head to the kitchen. Ominous wires follow them. Meanwhile one of the other teachers gets ready to do laundry, but she’s brought her flask – time to let her hair down and cop a snootful. Of course, being drunk with a basket full of thongs, in a prep school haunted by a evil computer virus definitely gets you a big case of death by washing machine.
Back in the kitchen, the stoners discover the chef, frozen in the walk-in, and manage to rescue him. He explains to them he’s certain that it’s the computer behind everything, and man is that computer angry! I’m kind of rooting for the grumpy old dude, at this point he seems like the only character in this movie with any sense.
The Mangler is starting to get bolder. It taunts its next victim on a computer chat before releasing acid through the fire sprinklers. The gang knows they’re in trouble now, and they meet up with the chef to try and figure out how to get out of the school. Sinister prehensile wires snake their way towards them, blocking the door. Meanwhile, the cameras watch their every move. They make a break for the roof, where there are no cameras. At least, they think there’s no cameras up there. Turns out there’s plenty of cameras to spy on them on the roof and this is just an elaborate scheme to pad the runtime.
The stalking continues with one of them crushed in between the remote control bleachers. This murder keeps The Mangler occupied long enough for the rest of our group to escape outside. They clear the building, but are still trapped on the campus by electric fences that surround the grounds. Their only hope of escaping for good is to shut down the server hosting a Mangler, so back to the dorms they go.
While Jo attempts to figure out a way to shut down program, The Mangler reaches out to contact her through her computer. It tries to convince her to join it rather than fight, but shes seen too many people die already. It’s at that moment that the Headmaster shows up, none too pleased about what’s going on. One of the kids clocks him and once again the chase is on. It’s okay, The Mangler isn’t paying attention to them , it has the principal to deal with. Wires wrap around Lance and drag the body away.
As they pass through the computer lab, the webcams on top of the monitors turn to follow their every move while the screens pulse red with the words “you’ve been mangled”. They pass through the bloody laundry room and a wire slides out from the ceiling, yanking one of the kids away. Finally back outside they ram a car through the electrical fence, shorting it out oh, but not for long. The Mangler claims its next victim – well, at least the chef got out. He tosses Jo his knife and she heads back into the school, determined to end this.
Inside, a deep electronic voice announces “I’m in the basement Jo.” She makes her way down into the depths of the school unchallenged. All around her, wires cover the walls and the floors and the stairs. The Mangler has taken over, full force. Electronic music scores her descent.
Down in The Mangler’s lair it has wired up Lance Henriksen and is using him as an avatar. Jo finds herself face to face with the living embodiment of the virus. It’s a great visual and this should be the crown jewel of the movie, except he’s wearing sunglasses because the Matrix was cool and literally quotes the Spice Girls. Jo tricks the avatar into downloading a program that will ultimately crash it, and while the application dismantles the virus she goes to work on the body with the knife.
Ultimately, this is a sequel in name only. After the box office failure of the original Mangler film 7 years prior, this one attempted a structure that was much closer to the fashion of this era. Using the scream model, they cast a bunch of young attractive 18 year olds from the local CW shows, and attempted a reasonably bloodless cyber-thriller. While it’s got some interesting moments and at least one good set-piece at the end, it’s largely unremarkable and it’s treatment of technology is infuriatingly fictional. The movie could stand alone outside the franchise and works if you’re a fan of stuff like Hackers or Arcade or The 13th floor, but feels completely out of place as a part of this series.
The Mangler is one of those movies that I think everybody knew existed, after all, New Line pictures was slapping the trailer for this film on every video tape they had in the mid-90s. The advertising hook was brilliant – a movie from writer Stephen King, directed by horror master Tobe Hooper, starring Robert England. It’s a creepy story about a series of accidents centered around a Laundromat in rural Maine. King himself had a great deal of experience with the machine they call the Mangler – he writes about it extensively in his book “On Writing” and his time working at the laundry as a young man that seems to have inspired this concept.
It opens with great atmosphere – the huge boxy machine melds steam punk and sinister intentions, yet it’s a perfectly rational piece of equipment. It’s lovely, all grease and brass – they have dirtied it up a bit to give us a grim repulsion and yet it doesn’t look like something just designed to be evil.
Robert England on the catwalk however, he definitely looks like he was designed just to be sinister. The old age make up looks rubbery but fits the character – like a grumpy J. Jonah Jamison archtype.
Of course we know that the machine is the real monster here, and it’s hunger begins when one of the young ladies working it accidentally cut herself. The blood stirs it’s desire.
It’s actually quite interesting watching the machine – how just a subtle movement conveys hunger – conveys evil. You can almost see the machine wanting to chomp onto the workers hands, and blood spatter is a sinister foreshadowing. When the dire machine sucks in its first victim, the blood spray is gratuitous– covering the other women and coating the laundry red. It’s brilliantly framed and shot though it’s not actually scary per se.
The women up in the laundry are still covered in blood when sheriff Ted Lavigne arrives. His weak stomach keeps him from doing much in the way of investigation, but it doesn’t really matter – it’s an open and shut case. Industrial accident, nothing more, right?
Detective Ted relates the story of what happened to a friend that night – we get quick flashes of gore here, adding to the horror of what happened to this point, and giving us a better look at some of the details of this massive speed ironing machine. Lavigne‘s friend is a parapsychologist-a horror movie set up if I ever saw one! While he’s hanging out with his friend, the steam hose breaks and burns several workers. Detective Ted runs out to the hospital to check on them and investigate further. His parapsychologist friend Mark suspects that the machine might be possessed or haunted in some way, but Ted isn’t having any of it. Mark press on, and while back at the laundry – the mangler is hungry.
Detective Ted continues his investigation, interviewing the first witness and then coming across a discarded refrigerator from the laundry. It seems that the evil can travel. The fridge is a killer as well – not for long though, as Ted attacks it with a hammer and demonic energy pours out in brilliant blue electricity. It’s enough to convince Detective Ted that psychic Mark might just be onto something.
A trip to the morgue doesn’t turn up anything new so Detective Ted heads over to the laundry to get a better look at the mangler. The machine grabs his jacket and tries to pull him in, he escapes, and then it’s upstairs to confront Robert England. It’s an explosive confrontation which helps me to understand just how important a figure England is to this town – the biggest business owner, the biggest employer, the very lifeblood of this small hamlet. Lavigne is angry though, no longer caring about his pension, no longer caring about his position – all he wants to do is shut the laundry down. England won’t be intimidated and sends him on his way, after all, it’s time to make some calls… After he gets Detective Ted thrown off the case, England returns upstairs and and reveals the backstory to a young ingenue.
Back at Home, Psychic Mark has figured out the best way to exercise the Demons from the machine. What they don’t know is the foreman of the laundry has also had enough of the accidents and is ready to dismantle the speed iron. The Mangler however, won’t go so easily. He survives been crushed only by taking an axe and chopping off his arm. The eyewitness runs off and we all know England can’t have that. Besides, she is the last one in town that needs to be sacrificed to The Mangler and Detective Ted has just discovered the pattern.
We all have to make sacrifices. It’s a race back to the laundry to save the victim and expel the Demon.
The ending is absolutely bananas… It’s 1995 so the CG isn’t great, but they’re wise enough to keep it hidden as much as possible. Overall, The Mangler is a fun film – better than it gets credit for, though perhaps coming up short of being a classic. The filmmakers proceed with an interesting aesthetic, mixing styles and looks to keep it timeless – old-fashioned suits and cameras, modern cars and hair, it’s hard to place exactly when this is supposed to happen and that’s to it’s advantage. Robert England, trapped in leg braces and arm canes is in his element – all of these devices give him stuff to play with and ways to ham up the performance. More than any other time in his career, he comes off as an old-fashioned Vincent Price sort, a truly maniacal figure. It’s a brilliant choice, considering the somewhat old-fashioned look and tone of his character. Of course he is here mostly for the name value – the part almost seems written for him. He doesn’t drive most of the action, but the movie wouldn’t be remotely the same without him.
I think it’s understandable why the film didn’t catch on. It’s less complex than what you would expect from a Stephen King film, and yet doesn’t particularly feel like a Tobe Hooper movie. It never entirely figures out what it wants to be – a monster movie, a detective thriller, or a pure Faustian bargain. In an era where horror was about to be dominated by the Scream slasher model and Japanese horror remakes, The Mangler was doomed to be overlooked.
You know it feels really silly? The fact that I’m probably going to spend more time talking about this particular feature that I did watching it.
Riddick blindsided is a 6-minute short feature that premiered online, looks like it was on Fandango site but it may have hit a couple other places as well. It’s basically a 6 minute long deleted scene from the final Riddick movie… And that makes it kind of weird.
It’s animated, but not the anime style that we saw on Dark Fury. These are more like animated storyboards, or a motion comic book with some glitzy special effects throwing in. It’s not bad, an interesting atmosphere and the deleted scene itself actually ads just a touch of death to the rest of the third film, but it’s not quite enough to stand on its own.
We see Riddick waxing poetic about his position as Lord Marshall and witness and assassination attempt… It’s basically exactly what he was talking about in the film when he describes himself as losing his edge. This is the moment that brought him to that.
If this isn’t a special feature on the DVD then it really needs to be… Because it’s a great deleted scene, and deserves better than to just vanish into the darkness of lost web content.
You see, I’m just not sure where this series goes wrong. This was the last gasp, Vin Diesel put up his own money and secured financing for this film because he believed in the character. I think he was right about that as well, he sees what I see in it, but perhaps fails to understand what’s required to make it work.
Approach. Perhaps it’s greatest problem is that it’s to back to basics. In a lot of ways I feel like I seen this story before and it borrows far too heavily from Pitch Black. We start off with Riddick stranded on a alien planet with absolutely gorgeous alien life forms. It’s one of the things that has always impressed me about this series and this entry in particular, just how well thought-out the creatures are. When I was a teenager I really was into Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials. Wayne Barlowe had an excellent grasp on anatomy and really thought out his creature designs. I get that same kind of vibe from this film.
As Riddick struggles to survive, he finds a way station and sends out an announcement that he’s at this location knowing rightly, that it will be picked up by bounty hunters. The bounty hunters arrive and the fun begins.
At this point it takes on most of the elements from Pitch Black but is missing a couple of key things here. Riddick is still very much the main character though we switch our focus in great part to the bounty hunters. This is a good thing, because we need other characters that we can relate to and root for here. What’s really missing however, is the heart. there’s something about the kid in Pitch Black that really a sense of peril and of warmth and humanity to the film and it’s been missing ever since. It’s still missing here. Vin Diesel is attempting to create a sort of carbon copy of pitch black but misses the mark by neglecting to infuse the soul of the film with heart. I like creepy monsters and I’m very happy that the violence and gore has been ratcheted up here (We finally have our R rating!). It’s just not enough, you need something new. You need a better story.
I’d like to see more in this universe I’d like to see more of these characters but with the failure to really zone in on a formula, I fear this franchise is dead for good.
That doesn’t mean I’m finished though. More next time.
Remember what I said about weird tonal shifts and the dramatic difference in style that we get from Chronicles of Riddick? Well that’s here in force. Dark Fury is an anime version of Riddick presumably taking place immediately after Pitch Black on their way to New Mecca.
It’s so clean! Anime tends to have that kind of a very slick and polished look but that’s totally out of place within Riddicks dirty, rusty universe. Even Riddick himself seems to slick – all the character that we get in Vin Diesel’s dirty face is missing.
We get some really good imagery here, giant ships, elegantly hand-painted along with dynamic and interesting-looking mercs. Riddick’s ship – the escape capsule last scene in Pitch Black is picked up by a bunch of mercenaries trying to capitalize on the bounty on his head. Hijinks ensue. We’ve got monster fighting again, but the monsters are… weird. Tentacles and glowing bodies, very much anime creatures. They lack the sophisticated attention to biology that the films show, but nevertheless it shows some thought going in here. There’s an attempt to keep some of those themes throughout these movies.
In the end it feels more like a random anime and it does a Riddick entry. That’s the problem with not having a series Bible… anything goes. The technique of anime sidequel works very well with the Matrix films, they already had heavy Japanese influence to them, and translating that kung fu action style into anime was simply a next logical step. Not so much here. Still, at least the animation is of a reasonable quality – that wasn’t the case with the Hellboy animated episodes. It’s a curiosity that would have been better suited as an extra on a DVD rather than a standalone entity in its own right. Unless you’re a completist, it’s not really worth owning.
Time to move on to the third film.
Did they actually intended for this series to be a franchise? Seriously, because this film makes me kind of think that wasn’t the plan. One of the biggest problems with Chronicles of Riddick is that it’s such a drastic departure from Pitch Black. Pitch black is a very small story. The premise is there the danger is all around, but the only people that are going to die are the ones who were shipwrecked. With Chronicles of Riddick the stakes are up to planet destroying, universe killing levels. The necromongers, our villains for this story, are a universal threat. Also, we’re rooting for the bad guy from the last movie.
Already I’m seeing some problems in the formula.
The formula is a big part of the problem here as well, because there isn’t one. Let me rephrase that, if there is a formula… we’ve gone off book and are trying to find a new one. Pitch Black work because it was a smaller story. A narrower focus and a genuinely good idea. This reads more of a by-the-numbers studio film trying to recapture the magic of the previous movie and the result is just a mess.
It’s a shame too because the film is lush. I mean it is beautiful, gaudy, the design is brilliant! I love the Necromonger masks with multiple faces and their shoulder pads with the ornate portraits. The ships are awe inspiring as they land on the worlds they are going to destroy (unless Riddick stops them). And yet the entire film feels vapid – like we’ve put the least possible amount of effort into telling a good story. You see, that’s what Pitch Black really was, just a good story. It’s really why I come back to this question of whether or not they intended to turn this into a franchise because that’s exactly what Chronicles is… and attempt to launch a franchise. They even went as far as to release the animated feature Dark Fury… Sort of a guaranteed trilogy, just in case things fell through.
Things fell through.
I want to like this, it’s just too long and too much of a slog to get through on a regular basis… There’s no rewatchability here, whereas I can view Pitch Black endlessly.
That should have been the end of things, but Vin Diesel had other plans and fought tirelessly to keep this series alive. More on that next later.
Into Pitch Black is a tie-in to the original film, an hour long special that was originally broadcast on the Syfy channel. They’ve done this kind of thing before, most notably with the Blair Witch Project, though this seems to have aged a little better. It helps a great deal that the world Riddick exists in is so vaguely defined, it allows them greater leeway in creating a sidequel.
Using a smattering of scenes from Pitch Black, we are given an overview of the film through the eyes of a contractor hiring a mercenary to find Riddick. Interspersed through the narrative are interviews with Riddick’s psychologist in prison as well as the prisoner who altered Riddick’s eyes. There’s a lot of digital overlay, computer screens and graphics to give it more of a documentary look when we’re not in the thick of the narrative. All of that actually gives it a great deal more atmosphere, and it needs it!
The narrative component of this film looks cheap. I’m sure that’s because it was cheap, filmed on standing sets that were decorated with whatever clutter and junk was laying around. Leather coats, sunglasses and tank tops make up for the costumes, and the performances have all the skill and charm of a crime recreation on America’s Most Wanted. It’s slow and it drags, and at times it seems like it doesn’t know if it wants to be an adventure or a documentary. A straight documentary may have worked better, with screen static and quick cuts to hide the obviously low production values.
I recall this being either a special feature on a DVD or sold as a cheap oh VHS at Best Buy back in the day. These days you can find the entire thing up on YouTube and it’s really only worth watching as a curiosity.
I had considered trying to do all the Riddick movies in one post. There could really be an exploration of where things went wrong, but as I got further into these I discovered more and more material… Enough to justify a full round of franchise Focus.
Riddick begins with Pitch Black… A story that fails to even bear his name. Pitch black is a straightforward tale, shipwreck in space, marooned on a world with a bunch of nasty predators. Straightforward, but they manage to pull this off brilliantly with a cast of characters that you can’t help but cheer for, and a villain that you almost want to root for. Riddick is not the central character here, although he does steal every scene he’s in. This is a straightforward horror film, with some sci-fi elements much in the vein of alien. The creature designs are brilliant, with a frightening sense of realism and just a touch of gore. It manages to push all the right buttons, one in particular is in making the ships ugly! I miss ugly ships, it was one of the big selling points for me with the aliens films. The outsides might be a little shinier, but the insides are full of rust and dirt and grit and chains and leather and it’s just beautiful.
I feel like somebody really cared about this movie. They were trying to tell a story they had a specific tale that they wanted to spin and they created great characters to weave it around. For my money this should have been the next great sci-fi horror, and I’ve always been a little disappointed that it wasn’t. But then again by the time we return to this material we find that the series has changed into something completely different.
More on that next time.
For the most part, when it comes to franchise focus I really have tried to stick with films that are a little outside the mainstream. You know, weird movies that have inexplicable franchises. Not so with Riddick. Despite being a failed franchise, most people instantly recognize Vin Diesel as Riddick and have seen at least one of the films on cable. So why go this direction? Something about these films enchants me – perhaps it’s the set design, perhaps it’s the character itself. In a lot of ways these movies remind me of old, ugly and gritty sci-fi, and that’s something that we don’t get enough of that in the 21st-century.
Nevertheless, the reason this ended up being a series instead of one article either in the “Defense of “category or the “case against” category is because once I started digging little deeper into the series I discovered there was more to it than I had realized – maybe even a little bit more to it then you realize.
Next time, will get started with the excellent first entry, and The movie that made me a fan of then diesel… and let you in on a little secret, it’s not the fast and the furious!
The Butterfly Effect part three start off with a brutal murder – much bloodier than anything were used to seeing in these films. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.
Everything about this worries me – the after dark productions are meant to give exposure to small indie films that couldn’t get made otherwise, and a sequel is a weird choice… As if somebody bought the rights to the franchise and intended to crank out low-budget sequels one after another, match the way Dimension has done with Hellraiser and Children of the Corn.
Our main character has a reputation as a psychic cop, a profiler like Will Graham in Red Dragon. His task is to solve the mystery of his dead girlfriend, and his dilemma how to use the Butterfly Effect to do that.
You can already see he’s a practitioner of the Butterfly Effect. We are not slowly discovering it this time, it’s not a secret or a surprise. The skill is a firmly established thing, approached with a methodology to maximize and monitor it (using a bthtub full of ice and electrodes to monitor his vitals). He has a mentor who cautions him about using it, in particular using it to change its own past and timeline. It serves as both exposition and foreshadowing, but the almost casual approach to the Butterfly Effect almost robs it of its mystery. Basically the series has shifted from horror edged sci-fi to superhero without a costume, much like Jumper or Wanted.
Still, the suspense ramps up as he makes his first jump back to try and save the girlfriend and discovers the murderer, but as it always does, things take a turn for the worse. We are treated to more gore. More and importantly, in the new timeline there are more murders. His time jump created a serial killer which he must now stop or prevent from ever existing.
It’s an interesting premise, and makes for a very different kind of film than what we’ve seen before in the series… Indeed, it almost feels like fan fiction set with in the Butterfly Effect universe. It feels as if it were written by someone obsessed with the mechanics and rules of the power and the chaos theory driving it. The part of me that loves reading sourcebooks and who’s who reference books really digs that. They don’t overdo it, it’s kind of like a television pilot – it’s enough that someone who hasn’t seen the previous films will be able to understand what’s going on in what is otherwise a solid but average film. I do need to mention, it’s got a great ending, with a curious twist. As far as quality goes, it fits right in with the rest of this box set collection, however despite some impressive gore, it’s not horror and that does make it the odd man out. The simple story entertains but makes it forgettable.
The Butterfly Effect to has a cast that is so CW it hurts. Indeed, we start out the film in a coastal scene that could be straight out of Dawson’s Creek.
Tragedy strikes when the cast’s cars tire blows out in front of a semi truck barrelling down on them. Our hero’s next scene is in the hospital, dreaming series of flashbacks to the events that we just saw about five minutes previous. Alone, the only survivor we very shortly get a glimpse of the butterfly effect as he stares at a photo… Fast forward one year later. Stress triggers the effect at a business meeting and he is sent home – that’s where things really get started.
In a lot of ways this movie feels cheaper… And yet somebody is very interested in playing with the special effects . It’s a similar look, but not the same and our main character seems more analytical, less emotional than Ashton Kutcher. He is not exploring the power to change time through memories, he is examining and analyzing it as it happens.
The movie in general feels more shallow. The stakes are far less serious, and then there’s the little things – there is a lot more sex in this movie (though weirdly enough way less nudity than the first). The ending too, feels diluted, far less satisfying than the first.
I’m worried about the next one.
The Butterfly Effect starts so with a tense scene about Ashton Kutcher hiding under a table with a notebook. We then rewind to his childhood and teenage years to discover he’s been having blackouts and terrifying visions all this time. It doesn’t help that one of his teen friends is a psychopath. After a particularly traumatic event, he leaves his girlfriend behind with a message to her “I’ll come back for you”. Fast forward to college, and we’re off to the races.
You know, I have always despised Ashton Kutcher – I’m not a fan of the sort of dumb shaggy pretty boy he usually plays. Unexpectedly, this is different. Haunted by the memories, and clinging to his journal, Kutcher displays a greater range than I’ve ever seen him show in any other role. There is genuine fear and despair as he remembers those terrible things that happened during his blackouts – things chronicled in his journal. And as he concentrates on the memories from the journal, suddenly… something in that memory changes… and when that happens, everything changes.
As horrifying as it is, as much as it feels like a thriller, this film is science fiction and not really horror. It’s brilliant and has laid the groundwork for a lot of things we have seen since– especially for those of us who watch the Flash. It’s everything Donnie Darko wishes it could be. The end was heart wrenching and now I want more… I understand why we got to sequels.
But is that a good thing? We’ll see shortly.
Death Kiss may have flickered on my radar a year ago but I forgot all about it and didn’t really notice it until I was pretty much done with this series. Death Kiss is a homage to the Bronson films of the 70’s, particularity the Death Wish films, and features a gimmick like no other. A lookalike, standing in for Bronson.
The film opens with a very young looking Charles Bronson (younger now than he looked in most of the the Death Wish films, three and on) emerging out of the dark to patronize a pimp. He’s trafficking in underage girls and our Bronson lookalike takes him down with a quick pistol whipping. The blood flies quickly – and I note that it’s bloodier than what we used to see in the dearth wish films actually.
The Bronson lookalike is convincing until he opens his mouth and speaks to the dubbed dialogue. I almost wonder if they would’ve been better off just using the actual actor’s normal voice – even if it’s nothing like Bronson. After all we know that’s not actually Chuck walking on the screen. The look sometimes feels out of lace as well. While I’m sure his wardrobe was meant to be fashion neutral, it’s all comes off as kind of vintage in a movie where all the other characters, settings, filters and cinematography are extremely 2018.
It’s honestly exactly the sort of film somebody would make if they were trying to make something LIKE a Death Wish film. It’s way closer than that awful “A Daughters Revenge” film I talked about last week. It hits all the right elements – street gangs, big guns, it even attempt social commentary using Daniel Baldwin as a radio announcer (And I wonder how much of this was inspired by the media segments in the Death Wish remake) to deliver its anti-crime message. But it’s also ham fisted, and the filmmakers fail to capture the heart of the Bronson films.
It sounds like I’m down on this film, and I’m not necessarily… I’m down on what this film wanted to be. It’s a novelty piece rather than a fun low-budget action film. For a micro budget flick like this, the action and violence are really well done – it’s fun, there’s even some nostalgia seeing a young Bronson here, But it’s melancholy, because the lookalike, who’s trying his hardest, isn’t the talent Charles Bronson actually was. Bronson was a man with range and acting chops. This guy fires guns really well, but his overdubbed dialogue fails to move me.
This is a cool movie. Catch it where you can. Hopefully as a rental – I’m not convinced it’s worth the cost of the Blu-ray or iTunes download, but it is definitely worth seeing.