After the dreary disappointment that was Hellseeker, I’m excited to report that Hellraiser 7: Deader is a wonderful, wicked return to form and one of the strongest sequels in the canon so far, trying some bold new ideas on for size and going to some shockingly depraved new places in the universe. This one shifts the action over to the UK where an American journalist (Kari Wuhrur) is sent by her boss (Simon Kunz, the adorable butler from The Parent Trap) over to Romania to investigate a mysterious cult called the ‘Deaders’, who are rumoured to have certain abilities that transcend the boundaries between life and death, our world and others beyond. Not much sooner after stepping off the plane she starts getting into trouble after she’s led by chance to the evil puzzle box, whereupon Pinhead and his gang show up and she has to juggle them plus the dodgy cult leader who is out to get her too. This one has a neat spin, I liked the cult angle as it ties in succinctly to the Cenobite mythology and feels organically developed. This is the most fucked up of the sequels too, because of one sequence involving a rogue subway train that barrels through the Bucharest underground system, with newspapers plastering its windows. At one point she has to get on it to gain information from a sort of darkweb contact, and let me tell you the kind of bizarre, hedonistic, vomit inducing euro-trash rave taboo horrifying WTF shenanigans going on inside this thing aren’t images I’ll soon forget, and careful watching that sequence because it’s among the most disquieting things I’ve ever seen in a film and may cause the more sensitive viewers to get upset. That’s a testament to the film’s effectiveness though because so few horror sequels are able to successfully push the envelope beyond what the first film established and be scary in new, innovative ways, but this baby pulls it off spectacularly. I’ve always loved Kari Wuhrur, she’s in a lot of edgy, cult horror type stuff, is gorgeous and super charismatic with an angelic tomboy presence that I vibe with whenever she shows up, she’s great here. This is the strongest Hellraiser film since Bloodline (the fourth) and one that gets positively shocking, down n’ dirty and reworks the motifs for something fresh, unsettling and dark as fuck. Solid stuff.
Anaconda is great stuff, no matter what anyone says. Revered as a B Movie cheese-ball, it holds up far better than anyone remembers, and there’s a lot to love about it. Reminiscent of creature feature stuff like James Cameron’s Piranha 2, Lewis Teague’s Alligator and Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing, it carved out its own nasty little adventure/horror story with neat characters, impressive effects for the snake and a knowing sense of fun. It sets the tone with a suspenseful prologue that sees poor poacher Danny Trejo stalked, attacked and killed by an unseen serpent, before the title card marches gloriously across the screen in true horror form. Then it follows a national geographic film crew led by intrepid Jennifer Lopez, whilst Eric Stoltz, Jonathan Hyde, Vincent Castellanous, Ice Cube, Owen Wilson and sexy Kari Wuhrur tag along, pretty much for snake bait and for us to place drunken bets on who’s gonna get nabbed by the beast first. Along the way they meet the most engaging character of the film, a whack job big game hunter played to cockeyed perfection by Jon Voight and his greasy ponytail. Sputtering out ominous warnings in a warped, tailored South American accent, willfully misleading their party into danger and staring creepily at anyone in his scope of vision, he’s hilarious and clearly knew the right recipe of branded camp and genuine menace to put into the work. It’s a glorified B Flick for sure, but one that knows its place, showcases a big old fashioned movie monster and whisks the viewer away for some solid gold escapism. Do avoid the sequel though (Hunt For The Blood Orchid), it’s about as interesting as cardboard.
Phoenix is a half forgotten, neat little Arizona neo-noir noir that isn’t about much altogether, but contains a hell of a lot of heated drama, character study and hard boiled charisma anyways, which in the land of the crime genre, often is an acceptable substitute for a strong plot. Plus, a cast like this could hang around the water cooler for two hours and the results would still be engaging. Ray Liotta is terrific here in a mid-career lead role as an a police detective with a nasty temper, huge gambling problem and just an all round penchant for trouble. He’s joined by his three partners in both crime and crime fighting, Daniel Baldwin, Jeremy Piven and Anthony Lapaglia. There’s no central conflict, no over arching murder subplot and no orchestrated twist or payoff, it’s simply these four sleazy cops just existing out their in the desert on their best, and it’s a lot of sunbaked, emotionally turbulent fun. Liotta vies for the attentions of a weary older woman (Anjelica Huston, excellent) while he’s pursued by her slutty wayward teen daughter (Brittany Murphy) at the same time. He’s also hounded by eccentric loan shark Chicago (Tom Noonan with a ray ally funny lisp) and trying to close countless open cases in his book. Piven and hothead Lapaglia fight over Piven’s foxy wife (Kari Wuhrur) too, and so the subplots go. The supporting cast is a petting zoo of distinctive character acting talent including Glenn Moreshower, Royce D. Applegate, Giovanni Ribisi, Xander Berkeley, Al Sapienza, Giancarlo Esposito and more. I like this constant and obnoxious energy the film has though, like there’s something in that Arizona sun that just drives peoples tempers off the map and causes wanton hostility, a great setting for any flick to belt out its story. Good fun.
Sand is about as tasteful and memorable as it’s title, a bland, pointless and inconsequential piece of low grade fluff that starts nowhere and ends up just about the same. Funnily enough, it attracted the attention of some fairly notable actors who show up to loiter around in a boring family melodrama that barely registers past a flatline, and wander off again without bothering to bring their character arcs to a satisfactory close. Michael Vartan is some California stud who returns home to the surfing town he grew up in only to run afoul of his nasty criminal father (Harry Dean Stanton), and two deadbeat half brothers (John Hawkes and some other dude). They’ve shown up to lay low from the cops, but instead have eyes for Vartan’s cutie pie girlfriend (Kari Wuhrur) which is where the vague trouble starts. I do mean vague, as no one really makes an effort to convince us that these characters care, let alone know about what’s going on, and any sense of real danger is stifled by lethargy. Denis Leary usually crackles with witty intensity, but not even he seems to want to play, a sorry excuse for a villain who mopes around looking like he forgot his lines and just wants to go home. Norman Reedus is wasted on a quick bit as Wuhrur’s surfer brother, and there’s equally forgettable cameos from Jon Lovitz, Emilio Estevez and Julie Delpy too, but it all goes nowhere. There isn’t even any kind of adherence to genre, no Mexican standoff, no ramp up to revenge, it just kind of drops off and leaves an absence of anything interesting in the air. Some cool Cali scenery that could be Big Sur if I remember correctly, but even then you’re better off ditching this one and going to the beach for real.
G-Men From Hell is.. well, pretty much exactly what the title suggests. Based on a comic book, I think, it concerns two melodramatic 1950’s FBI Agents named Dean Crept (William Forsythe) and Mike Mattress (Tate Donovan) who are gunned down by mysterious assailants, and sent off to the inferno to rot, only they aren’t finished their business earth-side, and escape using some magic dimension opening crystal. Once back in the realm of the living, they set up their own private detective agency, forced to keep up their good deed quota in order to prevent from being dragged off again. The Devil (Robert Goulet, hilarious) is furious and dispatches an agent of his own to retrieve them. Meanwhile, a relentless and fairly nutty police detective (Gary Buddy) is also hot on their trail. Busey, as usual, flips the script into the dustbin and does his own warped thing with the dialogue, making scene partners visibly try to hold in laughter and bewilderment, proving once again that any film he appears in will never get boring. Forsythe and Donovan play it like Looney Toons in noir mode, two campy gumshoe performances that are so knowingly tongue in cheek that it almost seems like a stage play. Cameos include Bobcat Goldthwait, David Huddleston, Kari Wuhrur, Charles Fleischer, Frank McCrae and Vanessa Angel. I feel like the whole thing is just a bit silly to work, even as one big riotous in-joke, but it’s a colourful diversion nonetheless, and any film with that title deserves a watch as an ode to it’s sheer commitment to blatant inanities. Please excuse the pitiful lack of high def photos in my collage, whoever was in charge of screen caps and production stills on this should be shot in the face.