Saturday, May 9, 2009

I Heart Sci-Fi Originals, Part the First

As one who spent a large portion of the late '80s watching -- and sometimes making fun of -- horror movies with my friends, I know that much of the fun of a horror movie (esp. bad ones) lies in your ability to let humor override the scare when the scare does not deliver. It's hard with good scary movies to accomplish this, because films like The Descent and Ravenous do such a great job of drawing you in, making you laugh to release tension, and still managing to scare the crap out of you. Best to just enjoy those films for what they are and leave the wisecracks at home. I think Snakes on a Plane set the gold standard for many of these movies: after all, it's all in the title, right? Either you're gonna go see a movie titled Snakes on a Plane, or you aren't. There is no in-between (and yes, I saw it opening night - the first time ever I have seen a movie snake roar).

Sci-Fi Originals, which essentially picks up where MST3K left off, provides bad horror at its best...or worst. Every once in a while, they do a pretty decent job of camping it up on a basically decent script with fair-to-middlin' actors. Yet even then, you're embarrassed to admit that it spooked you a little and you kinda liked some of the characters. The uncharacteristically decent Wyvern (a Nordic flying dragon) is the only one of these that springs to mind.

What makes Wyvern different from most of the other films on Sci-Fi? Well, it has four things that most other films featured here lack: (1) a setting that feels real (in this case, a remote Alaskan town); (2) a script that doesn't take itself too seriously; (3) a cast of actual actors, not relatives of the producer; and (4) decent CGI that doesn't look like it was done by unpaid student interns. Oh, and two actors from "Northern Exposure", who bring credence to the whole Alaskan thing. Yep -- Barry "Maurice" Corbin, who for once is not playing an Army guy, plays Haas, local live-off-the-land guy. And remember Marilyn (Elaine Mills), the doctor's receptionist? She plays the deputy, although now I know why she rarely spoke in "Northern Exposure". Almost mercifully, she is an early victim of the title monster. We also get to see Don S. Davis (Major Briggs from "Twin Peaks") playing a convincingly eccentiris ex-Army guy. These are familiar faces, and I always like to see them again, even if it's in a movie about how global warming is freeing giant monsters from the melting polar ice caps. I take my comfort where I can get it.

Abominable, on the other hand, looks like it was filmed for about five bucks at a rental cabin in Southern Cali. Yes, there's loads of bad CGI and an ending that tries hard to have a twist that comes off more cartoonish than scary (wait, is that a bad thing?). However, it does have a little bit of suspense (not enough) and apparently Lance Henrickson (who needs no introduction) is in the first five minutes. I missed that part -- blame knitting again. Even Sam Raimi has a cameo. I can only assume the director had a lot of friends in high places. The lead is played by the actor who played Crazy Lloyd Braun in "Seinfeld", making it even more weird when the deputy shows up...and it's Kramer's lawyer ("Who told you to put a balm on it?").

Hollywood must be a very small town, indeed.

But possibly the very first film on SciFi that I watched from start to finish (while knitting - does that count? I guess I was listening to it more than watching it) was this movie:

Yeti is not a good movie, nor does it try to be one. It does not score on the camp level, and neither does the acting and what I assume was a script. No award-winner is Yeti. Not only did I hate every single character, but I could practically hear the pitch the producers gave this one: "It's like Alive meets Abominable! In the Andes -- we shoot it in the Sierras near the director's cabin. C'mon -- it's got Dom DeLuise's son! How can we miss?" Let's just say this plane-crash-in-the-mountains movie has its real defining moment when the CGI interns gave the Yeti the ability to jump twenty yards in a single bound in the last twenty minutes of the film. 8/ WTF? The only possible reason I could think of for this was either the interns got bored or money ran out, so they couldn't actually spend time laying down some artwork. "We're gonna be here all night with no overtime -- just make the damn thing jump to the other side of the camp, fer Chrissakes!"

Still, what do you want for free? As long as there's movies with titles like Mansquito and The Man with the Screaming Brain out there, I'm gonna watch them. I could go on like this forever, but I think that in order to give these features the shit they deserve, I better revisit this next week. Maybe we can talk about Ice Spiders or Flu Bird Horror.

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