Friday, November 19, 2010

So Bad, It's Good? Not These 2 Movies

Ever heard of the idiom used on really bad movies? The one that states: "it's so bad, it's good"? This is usually reserved for movies that have become cult classics and heavy on camp. You can even call them guilty pleasures. Perfect examples include the infamous Ed Wood film, Plan 9 from Outer SpaceThe Rocky Horror Picture Show and many of the Grindhouse flicks.

I recently had the (dis)pleasure of reviewing a couple of really bad movies, both of them horror flicks and both them frankly stunk! There is nothing remotely good about these movies and the idiom above is not to be applied in both these cases. The first is titled Altitude and the other is Damned by Dawn. Read on if you dare!

Believe me, I tried to go into this movie with an open mind. Yes, I had some preconceived notions about what this film was all about but overall, I tried to keep my expectations in check. To achieve that, I refrained from reading the synopsis of the film but I couldn't help but take a quick glance at the cover art when I removed the disc from its case. Bad move on my part. On the cover is a picture of a small twin-engine plane with a person hanging out the door and H.P. Lovecraft-inspired tentacles reaching out menacingly to it. O-kay....this should be interesting.

Directed by first-time director Kaare Andrews, Altitude is so chock full of clichés, I could not only guess what was going to happen next, I could even guess most of the dialogue. If you have watched any teen-oriented horror flick in the past decade, everything about this film is just one déjà vu after another. Every character (all five of them) in this film comes straight out of the “teen horror movie cliché” playbook. Meet Sara (Jessica Lowndes), the requisite heroine (whom by the way, is a brunette; just to differentiate her from her blonde friend, whom you just know will be killed off somewhere in the middle of the movie) and also the pilot of the plane. Her best pal, Mel (Julianna Guill)--yes, the blonde one--is a film buff and decides to record the entire trip (and annoy the other passengers at the same time) on her handheld camera. Then there is Sal (Jake Weary), the requisite dumb jock, who is also Mel's boyfriend. All Sal does is chug beer, act like a moron, put his girlfriend down, rinse and then repeat. Then there is Cory (Ryan Donowho), the sensitive one, the one who plays a guitar, the one who also happens to have the hots for Mel but don't have the guts to tell her. Oh yeah, and Cory is also Sara's cousin (familial ties makes the loss of life that much harder, I guess). Finally, we have Bruce (Landon Liboiron), Sara's boyfriend, who acts serial-killer-weird and has an obvious fear of flying. Unfortunately, no one else notices this (except the audience) until it is too late.

So, now that we have our character stereotypes assembled, let's get on the plane and be frightened!

But wait, before we get into that, let's get some backstory about Sara. Sara's Mom was a pilot (so is his Dad, go figure!) before she was killed in a freak accident while flying a young family on a routine trip. For some unknown and masochistic reason, Sara decides to get her pilot's license, without her father's knowledge, of course. So the gist of the story goes like this: a group of teens is on their way to attend a concert and Sara has volunteered to fly them all there in a small chartered twin-engine plane. Simple, right? Whatever happened to teens driving a car on a road trip? I guess that's just too cliché nowadays!

So, off they go on their merry way. Everything seems fine until a random screw on the plane comes loose (yes, I'm serious) and jams the tail rudder. You know, the one that makes the plane go up and down. At the point when the screw gets jammed in the rudder, Sara was ascending the plane, hoping to avoid some nasty-looking clouds. So now that it is stuck, the plane keeps climbing unabated. Up and up into the clouds, up into the dark clouds, up into the dark and scary clouds. Panic sets in and that's when all the clichéd dialogue comes flying in, unabated of course. The kids debate and fight among themselves (well, they mostly fight) as to what would be the next step in order to get out of this predicament. Now, not only is the plane climbing to altitudes that are beyond the small plane's limits (which doesn't make much sense) but all the plane's instrumentation starts going bonkers and to make things even worse, the weather outside quickly becomes dark and stormy with plenty of lightning flashes and rolling thunder.

And guess what? Ladies and gents, we are now officially entering the Twilight Zone! Remember those tentacle things I mentioned earlier? They start showing up among the clouds outside the plane but of course, no one else believes the only person who claims to have seen them--Sal. Well, Sal being Sal and everyone knows he's pretty much in a drunken stupor most of his waking hours--what with all the chugging--it is not a big stretch not to believe anything he says. C'est la vie!

So here are we, five kids on a plane that is stuck flying further up into the stratosphere, with menacing sky-tentacles just beyond the horizon. What else could go wrong, right? Well, Cory decides that this would be a great time for him to show Mel what a brave and swell guy he is and volunteers to be tied to a rope (held on the other end by Sal, nonetheless) and fling himself outside to the plane's tail to lodge the rudder free from that damn screw. Oh, did anyone happen to mention those damn sky-tentacles just lurking outside? How silly will this film go?

It comes as no surprise to find out that “Altitude” is a direct-to-video release. With its preposterous storyline, bad dialogue, overacting and the lack of imagination when creating its characters, “Altitude” just isn't any good at all. In trying to explain away the existence of the sky-tentacles, this film jumps right into the realm of a bad TV episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. The final reveal will have you slapping your head in disgust and throwing your remote at the TV screen. Seriously, if The Mystery Science Theater 3000 is brought back some time in the future, this film should be first in line as a great candidate to mock.

For a second there, I thought there was a retro movie revival or something. I really didn't think that a dated-looking movie like Damned by Dawn could be made in this digital day and age where sophisticated movie special effects shots could be easily produced by a couple of guys working in a garage. In fact, this movie reminded me so much of another horror film. From 1981 no less! I am referring to none other than Sam Raimi's classic horror flick, The Evil Dead. Shot on a very low budget and with only makeshift effects, “The Evil Dead” cleverly combined humor with some genuinely scary moments to keep its audience on the edge of their seats. Using extreme camera angles to disorient and terrify, Raimi paced the film to perfection and just kept coming at the audience without letting up. Raimi and his amateur crew was able to accomplish so much with so little money due to their creativity and great passion for filmmaking. Unfortunately for Brett Anstey, writer and director of “Damned By Dawn,” he had a lot of the latter but none of the former.

“Damned By Dawn” is a 2009 Australian production but the grainy images and low production value make it look dated and retro (in a bad way) more than anything. The story itself suffers from some inconsistencies and there is definitely a major flaw in the overall pacing. However, the core idea of this film is quite original. I have read about banshees in books but have never seen one featured in a film until now. A banshee, deeply rooted in Irish mythology, is a female spirit usually seen as an omen of impending death and is distinguished by its loud mournful wailing.
Using this concept of a banshee coming to claim those who are about to die, Antsey struck on a great idea for a film but the eventual execution clearly did not pan out as expected. First of all, the film is set in Australia, not Ireland, which immediately nullifies the true impact of the banshee myth. Unfortunately, that is the least of its problems. Claire (Renee Willner), together with her boyfriend Paul (Danny Alder), are returning to her family's home in the remote backcountry to visit her frail and ailing grandmother (Dawn Klingberg). Upon arriving, they are greeted by a spooky-looking farmhouse surrounded by a distracting digitally-inserted fog effect. Just like that, I was hit by a sinking feeling that this film would be a chore to get through. Unfortunately, I was right.

At her deathbed, Claire's grandmother informs her of the impending arrival of a spirit to claim her soul and to not interfere. Apparently, this ghastly visit is sort of a family tradition, with the same spirit having claimed her great-grandmother as well. Just as Nana had predicted, the banshee (Bridget Neval) appears that night, wailing and searching the house (room to room, I might add) for the soul it is about to claim. Dismissing her grandmother's warning as the rant of a dying person, Claire does the unthinkable by evading and then shoving the wailing banshee out of the balcony and impaling it on the fence below, thus saving her beloved Nana from the clutches of the crazy screaming banshee.

And that's when all hell breaks loose, literally, and the unintended laughs descend upon the film. Thwarted from claiming the soul that she came for, the banshee summons the dead from their resting places to exact revenge and wreck carnage on the living. These ghostly servants of the banshee come in the form of, wait for it, flying skeletons! Not some rotting undead creatures of the night but flying skeletons! Seriously? Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! How cheesy can one get? Even the make-up on the banshee is not that scary, easily blown off the water by Gene Simmons' KISS face paint!

Not only does this horror film fail in making sure the undead creatures are at least somewhat scary, the pacing of the story is absolutely horrendous, with major lulls in the middle that simply deflates the building tension. Getting past the typical movie scare tactics, quick camera cuts and bad acting, there are hardly any elements within the story that is remotely redeeming. Throw in a low resolution DVD-quality transfer and inferior audio engineering and what you have here is a major train wreck. After watching this mess of a movie, I almost feel like the banshee, screaming my lungs out in sorrow and despair.

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