Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

Movie Reviews 345 – Get Out (2017)

May 17, 2018

The adage that there are no new horror concepts is a common complaint of fandom and somewhat true given the constant feed of remakes and reimaginings. So it’s more than refreshing when a novel concept comes along like last year’s Get Out. The film did a lot more than just give us a fairly fresh tale. It also broke a few stereotypes along the way and reminded us that a good story can come from people with diverse backgrounds. In the case of Get Out, that happens to be writer, director and producer Jordan Peele, a well known comedian with a lengthy, laudable television comedy résumé – although given the huge box office and critical acclaim for the film (four Oscar nominations) I would not be surprised that a career change is forthcoming.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams) are taking the next step in their relationship by visiting her parents out at the Armitage family’s estate in the woods over the weekend. Chris is somewhat concerned that Rose never explicitly told them that he is black while his good friend Rod jokes about the entire interracial affair. Once there, the well-to-do parents, a surgeon and a psychologist, appear to be nonchalant about the situation.

Chris then learns that the weekend is also the annual get-together for the extended Armitage family and as he tries to duck out of a few race related awkwardness with some of the odder clan his concerns begin witnessing odd behaviour with the African-American servants. The mystery deepens when an older woman presents her companion, a much younger black man that Chris recognizes but now seems completely different from the man he knew. When that acquaintance momentarily breaks out of character and explicitly yells at Chris to get out his anxieties are enough for him to comply. Of course, that does not turn out to be as easy as he thought.

There is a slow but palpable buildup of suspense that something is clearly wrong here, but what? With hints coming only in dribs and drabs the audience is gently pulled into the story until all the cards are on the table. Although definitely a horror there isn’t all that much gore or reliance on cheap scares, the story being strong enough to stand on its own. Another strong point in favor of the film is that it does not shy away from pointing racial stereotypes, particularly treatment of colored people and benefits of white privilege, which of course are main points of the story. But those aspects are not force fed and only enhance the plot. There are surprises although I was able to deduce some of the twists early on.

Although Peele may have been tempted to inject a lot of comedy given his background he restrained the jokes to Rod’s character (Lil Rel Howery) with just the right amount of levity to not break the suspense. The film comes as a cross between Ira levin’s The Stepford Wives and Frankenstein if you can even picture that, but I prefer not to pigeonhole and set expectations.

While it may be too late to see this one on the big screen, I do urge everyone to get out and see it at some time.

Advertisements

Movie Reviews 344 – The Thing With Two Heads (1972)

May 11, 2018

Not to be confused with the The Incredible Two Headed Transplant which was released just a short time earlier, B movie studio American International’s release of The Thing With Two Heads is a 70’s oddity that hits all the right notes for a low budget film. We have some goofy science going on, a creature (of sorts), blaxploitation comedy, a celebrity athlete in a starring role, a bona fide movie star to make it all legit, and a lots and lots of smashing police cars.

As his health declines and with death just around the corner, famed surgeon Dr. Max Kirshner (Ray Milland) experiments in his own basement laboratory with a novel concept. His experiments on a gorilla have proven that a head can be grafted adjacent to the head of a living body and with time and some drugs can be made to fuse and connect with the spine. Moreover, once it has established equal control of the body, the original head can be removed, essentially giving the transplanted one a new body. Now all Kirshner needs is a sacrificial body to perform the operation with his own head, promising him a long life.

Kirshner has a team of doctors already lined up for the surgery but wants to get the best available surgeon and his research has led him to believe that Dr. Fred Williams (Don Marshall of Land of the Giants fame) is his man. Having offered him the job, Kirshner is stunned to see that Williams is an African American when he arrives at the lab. Clearly shocked, Kirshner’s abject bigotry is exposed and he conjures up some pretense to dismiss Williams. But Williams clearly understands the situation and despite the insult won’t let Kirshner of the hook so easily, forcing him to honour the contract for at least the six month term promised.

As Kirshner lapses into a coma the word goes out to a local prison that death row inmates can opt to volunteer for some experimental surgery while neglecting to mention the gorier details, but consigning that they will die anyhow. Believing it will by him some more time to prove his innocence, the offer is taken up by Jack (Rosey Grier), already all primed and ready to fry in the electric chair.

Brought to Kirshner’s lab Jack immediately under goes the operation. Upon awakening both men are appalled at the outcome. Jack, realising that while he has bought time, clearing up his innocence may be easier than getting rid of his new companion head, and Kirshner appalled to learn that even if all goes as planned, he will have a black body at the end, for him a fate almost as bad as death itself.  From that point on, Kirshner struggles to gain control of the body as Jack (well Jack and Kirshen I guess) makes a break from the lab taking Williams hostage, his only goal to reach his wife Lila (Chelsea Brown) in the hope to clean up the mess.

The premise merely hints at the madness in this film which includes a prolonged mud filled motocross race where the movie would have us believe that a bike with a rotund, two-headed, novice rider along with a second passenger can somehow win the race and then follows that up outdriving a dozen police cars in an open field. As corny as that sounds we are then treated to an onslaught of xenophobic threats from Kirshner while Jack and Lila mock the situation at the dinner table, taunting Kirshner with their African American menu.

As strange as the film itself is the chasm in cast selection. Roosevelt ”Rosey” Grier was an NFL player who became one of those multi-talented generic celebrities.. At 6 feet 5 inches and tipping the scales at 300 pounds, his imposing figure was a point in favor for his casting here. His post athletic talents had him dabbling in acting, being the author of Rosey Grier’s Needlepoint for Men and being a bodyguard for one of the Kennedys at the time of the RFK assassination (even handling the gun used). On the other hand we have Oscar winning (for The Lost Weekend) Ray Milland who also starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder. But by the seventy’s he found himself performing in Roger Corman low budget odditties like X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, other AIP fare like Frogs and Panic in Year Zero!, a movie he directed himself. A far call from him glory days.

As kitchy as the movie is and with some pretty lame effects, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the handling of the head transplant itself was well made with a credible animatronic head standing in for Milland’s noggin, fluid connecting tubes and all. What is almost unbearable watching is the painfully obvious ‘over the shoulder’ placement of Milland and Grier for most of the film. I can only imagine how much fun that must have been for either of them while filing. I could have sworn that the gorilla shown at the beginning of the film was Bob Burns (the ‘go to’ gorilla man of Hollywood for many years as he was the only guy that had his own gorilla suit) but the credits indicate that none other than Rick Baker was underneath all that fur.

I can sum up my feeling for the movie by the very song the cast breaks into as they ride into the sunset. “Oh Happy Day.” Yes. This has to be seen to be believed.

Movie Reviews 343 – The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

May 3, 2018

Oscar Wilde‘s The Picture of Dorian Gray is a novel that straddles being a love story, a morality play and a Victorian gothic horror. This multi-angled plot is why many underrate or dismiss altogether the ‘Horror’ label and why MGM, not recognized for horror other than a few sporadic efforts decided to stray from their roots and produce this 1945 adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray. This is quite a shame as the studio delivers in all the aforementioned elements in this finely crafted film that included great performances by the entire main cast.

Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield) is a young aristocrat who embraces his youth and upon seeing his finished portrait declares “As I grow old my picture will stay young. I wish it was the other way around”. But such Faustian desires are always fraught with danger and when Dorian first falters at holding societal norms, callously testing his lover’s morals, he notices that there are slight yet unmistakable changes in his picture. Over time he discovers that he is indeed ageless while his image ages in his place. But even worse than simply maturing, this portrait begins accumulating grotesque features for each and every of Dorian’s misdeeds. As his exploits and destruction continue in an ever widening spiral, so does the painting until it becomes a monstrous obscenity that even he cringes to look upon.

Dorian is the focus of the story but George Sanders takes top billing as the callous and heartless Lord Wotton who first leads Dorian down the poisonous path. The first victim is a poor, lovely singer (Angela Lansbury) who captures Dorian’s heart but is the one that he morbidly tests. Despite the terrible outcome this test, Dorian continues baneful ways for years, indifferent to the murmurs and lurid speculation among nobles. The second woman  to catch his affections is Gladys (Donna Reed), the niece of the painter that created the portrait when she was but a child. At this point Dorian becomes more perceptive of the harm inflicted on others around him and wishes to spare Gladys the evident eventual torment. But can he turn back to clock?

As lauded as the cast is the stunning mutating artwork that is the title of the movie. The movie was filmed in black and white but it does switch to color (a novelty at the time) for a few seconds at points in the film when the portrait is being shown depicting further decay. These brief expositions are quite effective, especially when Dorian has just stabbed his first direct murder victim and we now view ghastly red blood added to the portrait’s palette. Artist Ivan Albright, already celebrated for his time consuming, intricate detail work painted the ever deteriorating Dorian (as well as the freakish backdrop) but this was done on top of a painting of a young Dorian by another artist. Thankfully the painting can still be enjoyed as it was preserved and currently resides in the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is as celebrated on film as is the novel which is has remain in constant reprint across the world. There were British, German and Hungarian silent film renditions respectively released in 1916, 1917, 1918, well before this film. There have also been two remakes that were simply titled Dorian Gray, the first in 1970 an Italian production (Il dio chiamato Dorian) from B-movie maven Samuel Z. Arkoff that was quite indicative of the sexually liberal era in which it was filmed and the other in 2009 in a film that strays somewhat from the original version. And there is also a full title 2004 movie starring Josh Duhamel. But given all these choices, this is the version you want to see with your tea and crumpets.

Movie Reviews 341 – Scanners (1981)

April 19, 2018

My first recollection of Scanners, one of director David Cronenberg’s earlier films, was seeing  Louis Del Grande’s head blow up. Now I’m not sure whether it was in a commercial or a trailer, but it was certainly something that caught my attention and I knew that at some point I’d have to go see the movie. As it so happened I did not catch the theatrical run and had to settle for the novelization, which quite frankly, was not nearly as horrific. But the story, a blend of science fiction and horror, was interesting in its own right, with or without gore. Del Grande went on to great Canadian fame the following year in his own TV show, but his role was really just a small part a few minutes into the film. The break out actor in this film turned out to be antagonist Michael Ironside, who went on to make a career with his tough guy, menacing looks.

To explain the premise of the film I can recount that scene with Del Grande which sets to tone and the concept of a ‘scanner’. He is sitting in front of an auditorium and telling the audience that there are 237 scanners in the world and that he is one of them, working for the ConSec corporation that aims to weaponize scanners. He then asks for an volunteer from the audience that will help him demonstrate his abilities. After much hesitancy one man acquiesces and joins him onstage. He then asks the man to think of something, supposedly a thought that he will read from his mind illustrating his scanning ability. But as soon as the demonstration starts it is Del Grande that begins fidgeting. Then jerking erratically. Then developing to a full sweating, grimacing spasm until…boom!

Scanners are super psychics that also have mind control abilities although how they came to be remains a mystery. We learn that the ‘volunteer’ was Darryl Revok (Ironside) a fugitive scanner who has been recruiting others to join him as rivals to ConSec, otherwise eliminating them as he did to the Del Grande character. Working for ConSec is Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) who is onto Revok and Ruth has a secret weapon of his own. Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), a heretofore unknown scanner that Ruth intends to infiltrate Revok’s gang and one that he hopes can match Revok’s abilities.

There is a lot more to the plot including a mystery drug that suppresses scanning abilities, ConSec’s backstabbing security head, a woman leading a telepathic alliance of scanners hiding from Revok, and a computer program doing .. well .. things. A few twists, a grand world domination plan, all those good things along with plenty of action, effects and a tab bit more gore than that signature exploding Louie.

All said, it is a great film with much to offer. But it does come with a price to pay of sorts.

One thing that stood out this last time I watched this film was the many similarities to the all too real thalidomide tragedy that took place here and in many other parts of the world. I could not help but pick up on those references now, something that I was blissfully unaware of all those years ago reading the novel and seeing the movie for the first time. It was not the first time Cronenberg’s trademark medical themes made the horror even creepier. But making this connection now both elevated my reverence for the director and managed to sadden me with the realization that cinematic horrors are nothing compared to real life ones.

Movie Reviews 339 – Rats: Night of Terror (1984)

April 6, 2018

I remember when this DVD was being offered to me and debating whether I should get it given the relatively poor ratings for this Italian oddity. Never having heard of any of the cast members, it was the name of Bruno Mattei that caught my eye and for which I gave it the benefit of a doubt. Co-directed by Mattei and frequent collaborator Claudio Fragasso (together credited as Vincent Dawn for this release) this is one of those spaghetti Sci-Fi Horror pastiches that rode the coattails of Mad Max and other such films of the era.

The title (faithfully translated from the original Italian, Rats – Notte di terrore, although in Italian the word for “rat” is really “ratto” ) encapsulates the plot of the movie which is how a ragtag bunch of motorcycle punks survive one night of rodent centric tribulations.

The opening credits are followed by a screen roll describing a post apocalyptic Earth ravaged by nuclear fallout in which survivors split into two factions: those living underground while others remained atop. Now in the year  225 AB (After the Bomb), we begin with a small gang of rough and tumble punk stereotypes rolling their motorcycles to a stop in front of a building in a desolate city ruin. Content that everything is safe their leader decries that they will rest for the night in the building.

Once inside they scout a few rooms in the building finding the odd rat here and there, as well as a few bodies that have recently died (and being consumed by rats) but nothing which is of any real concern. Before bedding down for the night they also find a strange lab with hydroponics and air scrubbers, along with a vintage computer control room, all evidence that the recently deceased had created a long term self preserving environment in which to live. But as the night progresses members of the gang start disappearing at the hands of the rats which prove to be both more intelligent and numerous than expected.

The characters run the gamut from the stereotypical leader, his sidekick, the rebel among the group to stir a bit a trouble, a sage, the goofball twit, and a bevy of beautiful girls some sporting those garish 80’s headbands. When things start going sour and the group plays with the ‘video game’ (computer) it inevitably turns on and spews a recording left by the mysterious previous dwellers which lectures to them how rats had to surface when under-dwellers descended into their territory after the nuclear cataclysm.

Don’t look for any scintillating dialogue or well thought out plot here as this is one of those by the numbers movies that checks off the requirements for a cash in: gallivanting gang, some bloody scenes, a dash of sex and boobs, cheap scares and mostly laughable special effects including one particularly ridiculous ‘wave’ of scurrying rats which are clearly rubber rats on an undulating carpet. And while this is supposed to be a rat-centric film and there are quite a number of the vermin onscreen, don’t expect the swarms and armies like those other staple rat films like Willard or it’s sequel Ben. This is ratmagedon on a budget.

But I have to give full credit for the very last scene twist which, while predictable is none the less shocking, well made and almost makes up for some of the other faults and inadequacies. Honestly, its an ending right up there with that of Sleepaway Camp.

Movie Reviews 337 – Witchfinder General (1968)

March 23, 2018

Back in the day the name of Vincent Price was synonymous with horror cinema. His 200 plus acting resume was filled with performances in many horror staples including The Fly, House of Wax, The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Theater of Blood, and those only touch the surface as he had an illustrious career in mainstream films. His roles oscillated between being the protagonist and the antagonist, interchangeable in the sense that he was equally adept in either capacity. But one film often left out when reciting those better known horror films is Witchfinder General, ironically the one in which I find he is at his detestable best (a good thing in horror). But perhaps this performance transpired as it did for other reasons.

Titled as The Conqueror Worm in the US, the film is set during the 1645 civil unrest in which lawyer Matthew Hopkins (Price) is appointed as ‘witch finder’ a duty he fulfills wandering the British countryside from one town to the next accompanied by his trusty torturer Stearn (Robert Russell) who all too happily does most of the dirty work. Needless to say the goal is not so much to save anyone from the evils of Satan as it is to put down political foes or just a pretense to collect a few guineas.

After demonstrating some quick marksmanship that saves the life of his unit commander, cavalryman Richard (Ian Ogilvy) is granted a few days of leave and takes the opportunity to visit his beloved Sara (Hilary Dwyer) who lives with her priest uncle (Rupert Davies). The priest urges Richard to marry Sara as soon as possible but only on the promise that he will take his niece and leave the village, only hinting at troubles brewing. But almost as soon as Richard returns to his unit he learns that the uncle has been taken in by the witchfinder. Against orders he returns to the village but not before Sara herself is imprisoned and Richard must save her from the horrific fate that awaits all those accused by the witchfinder.

While not as resplendent in blood as Hammer Studios and American International Pictures (AIP did provide some funding for this film) gothic horrors of the era, the gory scenes are fairly graphic. The allure of the film lies with the richness in character and the clear distinction of good versus evil. The sorcery perspective is well captured with such scenes as a cleric appealing for repentance from a woman being dragged to her death with the opportune witchcraft references like brimstone and burning flesh read aloud by a vicar. What makes the film truly terrifying is wrapping your head on how mere accusations could result in one’s demise. What comes off as comic in one of Monty Python’s troupes best sketches (“She’s a witch!”), is eerily prescient here with dead seriousness despite the equally insane faulty logic we see the witchfinder using to ‘test’ those accused. And there are plenty such trials and extractions of false confessions with all manor of deadly sentences.

A cult favorite today, one of the reasons Price may have been so effective in this film portraying the ruthless, conniving Matthew (based on the real life character) was that the director never wanted Price for the role and made no secret of the fact throughout filming which rankled the otherwise humble Price. This acrimony seems to have translated into Price’s deadpan performance which was perfect for the role.

If the Salem witch trials were your idea of Satanic eradication, they have nothing when compared to The Witchfinder General.

Movie Reviews 336 – Vamp (1986)

March 16, 2018

Nothing could be more emblematic of a 1980’s horror movie than including including disco diva Grace Jones in the ensemble, which is exactly what the producers of Vamp did. The danger in injecting a celebrity in the credits is that they may not have the acting talent to carry a leading role and thus destroy an otherwise fine movie. Thankfully the producers here were wise enough to capitalize on Jones’ aptitudes (aside from her vocal chops as a singer), namely her eye-popping flash and daring style, and leave the heavy lifting to more seasoned (if younger) folks.

Tired of their sleazy and dimwitted fraternity brethren, AJ (Robert Rusler) and Keith (Chris Makepeace) decide to try out for another frat run by the more refined and richer boys. But when the initiation – a very cool mock satanic ritual – goes horribly wrong, AJ makes a deal with the new frat leaders to secure their induction. He promises to deliver a stripper to the frat party to be held later that night.

But what would normally be a simple enough task in any large city is no mean feat for these boys whose school is at least a two hour drive from the nearest city to supply this particular need. A two hour drive that seems impossible given that they don’t even have a car. So to get a set of wheels they grudgingly befriend Duncan (Gedde Watanabe), the one rich kid who runs a clandestine on-campus rental empire.

The trio make their way to the city and land in the After Dark strip club, which happens to be run by a coven of vampires led by none other than the centerpiece, sensuous dancer Katrina (Jones). Keith also encounters “Amaretto” (Dedee Pfeiffer) a childhood friend working at the club who has no idea of the true nature of the club which is to identify patrons that are alone and who would not raise eyebrows if they suddenly disappeared as blood donors. But due to a misunderstanding AJ falls prey to Katrina’s summons and now Keith has to try to save himself and his friend from the vamps while also eluding a street gang led by an albino (Billy Drago) whose paths they crossed earlier in the evening.

While this is no Lost Boys it’s still a great corny but entertaining retro romp. While some of the stars don’t shine as much as they should, some of the charm comes from the smaller roles such as Vic (Sandy Baron) the club’s emcee who just wants to go to Vegas or the pathetically friendless Duncan who is blinded by the flood of sexy girls surrounding him to the point of being oblivious to the fanged threat they pose. If nothing else enjoy diva Jone’s many costumes including a coiled copper wired number more befitting telephone exchange office.

Movie Reviews 334 – Manhattan Baby (1982)

March 2, 2018

Iconic horror director Lucio Fulci’s Manhattan Baby begins in a location as far away as one can imagine from the titular metropolis. While professor of archeology George Hacker (Christopher Connelly) investigates some digs in Egypt, his wife Emily (Laura Lenzi) and daughter Susie (Brigitta Boccoli) take in the tourist views of an old city. As he and an aide venture alone into the booby trapped maze of a remote pyramid he stumbles upon a curious ancient hieroglyph resembling an eye. Suddenly an aperture in the pattern shoots laser beams into his eyes immediately blinding him, and far away, at that very same moment a glassy eyed, blind beggar hands his daughter an amulet bearing the very same pattern.

Upon the family’s return to New York city, Susie exhibits increasingly erratic behavior as George slowly heals from his temporary blindness. She not only manifests physical ailments, but increasingly demonstrates other powers. Powers that culminate in her creating a nexus to another dimension within a room in the house. As her health declines and with her parents becoming desperate for answers, they receive mysterious hints urging them to visit an antique shop run by one Adrian Mercato (Cosimo Cinieri) who is well aware of the powers of Susie’s amulet.

With more snakes and scorpions than you can find in an exotic pet shop this horror oddity was clearly made to capitalize on the success of The Exorcist with many parallel if not overtly copied scenes. This is backed up by interviews in the Special Features of my Anchor Bay DVD where Fulci admits as much and also explaining the odd title as an attempt to gain audience share by riding the coattails of Rosemary’s Baby. Fulci’s vision was to create a technological based evil entity, hence explaining the use of lasers. But that emphasis on technology is what falters here, more so given how those effects now look silly from a technical point of view as much plot silliness.

But when you dispense those few ‘technology’ inspired scenes the movie, not Fulci’s best to be sure, has enough legs to creep us out. The flim does get better with Susie and her brother Tommy (Giovanni Frezza – he’s also the young boy in Fulci’s House by the Cemetery) and their nanny making trips to the sand dune dimension, and gathers more momentum with the introduction of Mercato trying to help all culminating in an avian attack that would make Alfred Hitchcock proud.

Movie Reviews 333 – 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)

February 23, 2018

I’ve watched all kinds of bizarre and uncategorizable movies over the years but the one that always stuck out first for me was 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. Is it a western? A fantasy? A comedy? A fable? It’s all of these and more.

The movie begins with the elder chinaman Dr. Lao (Tony Randall) riding on a golden donkey who flicks his thumb to produce a flame that he then uses to light his yandaiguo pipe as a precariously balanced fishbowl rests on the saddle front. Dr. Lao, owner and operator of a travelling circus, has ridden in from the dusty great plains and enters the old western town of Abalone. His first stop is the local news printshop where he wants some of his circus event posters to be printed. As he awaits being served he overhears the first rumblings of trouble in the town as the newspaper owner/editor/writer Ed Cunningham (John Ericson) is visibly angered by a visit from Clint Stark (Arthur O’Connell) who chides the editor for some negative press he has been writing. The local business man Stark has buying up all the houses and real estate that he can lay his hands on while having the mayor in his pocket. Cunningham fears for the towns future although is isn’t quite sure what game Stark is really playing. And while Cunningham seems to be the only one who wants to hold the town together, the only person that seems to have the same mindset is Angela the lovely, widowed town librarian (Barbara Eden) who is cold to Cunningham’s advances.

The movie plays out as a sequence of scenes played out in the confines of the tent circus. The stars are Dr. Lao’s menagerie of mythical figures and creatures including the Abominable snowman, Merlin the magician from King Arthur’s court, three ancient Greek figures; Pan (god of love), Medusa the Gorgon who turns all who look at her into stone and blind fortune teller Apollonius of Tyana, and finally a slithering, talking serpent (whose face looks exactly like Stark).  Most of these play out scenes with the cast of human characters, digging deeper into their real issues and problems. Angela for example loses her inhibitions after being mentally aroused when she stumbles upon Pan, while the root of Stark’s greed is deconstructed by the serpent. Viewers will be quick to note that all of Dr. Lao’s charges are in fact played by Randall which was quite a formidable feat for the actor.

Unsurprisingly, this movie was directed by George Pal best known for his special effects laden classics of the era that include The War of the Worlds, Destination Moon and The Time Machine. Also notable is that Charles Beaumont was the writer, a man very familiar with the bizarre as a Twilight Zone regular. Alas, this is one of those movies in which my memories were better than my recent viewing experience. Most of the special effects are still fine but the overall story and the delivery now suffer a bit with my more mature adult assessment. But the movie is really a comedy which excuses the candy coated ending. Still a fun watch even if only for the the special effects and gags.

Movie Reviews 331 – The Shaft (2001)

February 9, 2018

I didn’t think much of The Shaft other than the standout name of Naomi Watts as one of the stars listed on my DVD cover. But as I dug into the film there was what seemed like a constant barrage of cult favorite actors that kept appearing and giving me hope (Ron Perlman, Michael Ironside, and Dan Hedaya) that things would pick up.

The plot centers on the fictitious Millenium building (more on that name later), a beautiful Art Deco high-rise that is really a stand-in for the Empire State building, in which the elevator system becomes a deathtrap and seems to have a will of its own. But maintenance worker Mark Newman (James Marshall, better known as the dimwitted private in A Few Good Men)

is wary of the elevators and isn’t convinced that the recent spate of injuries and deaths are accidental at all and at the prodding of an ambitious tabloid journalist (Watts) investigates the events.

The explanation lies with a former military scientist (Ironside) who once dabbled in dolphin based organic computer chips and has managed to convince the elevator company executive (Perman) to secretly adopt the technology in the elevators for this particular building which will some day inexplicably make them millions. As corny as the plot sounds, the execution adds even many more head scratching moments, unclear scenes and nonsensical dialogue exchanges.

The film does deliver on some fairly gruesome and cringe inducing kill scenes, but not enough to make it worth our while to sit through the rest of the infantile proceedings despite the notable cast. But where the intended drama fails the movie manages to achieve some level of unintentional spookiness because of the subject matter, the city, the role of the building, some fortuitous dialogue, and the very specific year in which it was made. You see this was made in 2001 just before the tragic events of 9/11. As it would happen, the film cityscapes includes many prominent views of the twin World Trade Center towers (not especially surprising in itself) but also remarks on terrorism and even specifically mentions Osama Bin Laden’s prior failed attempt on the WTC years earlier. The choice of naming this fictitious building Millenium adds just that much more creepiness and makes it almost uncomfortably prescient. Another irony and ominous portent of things to is that the original title of the film was simply: Down, which could apply to the building as well as just an elevator.

Conspiracy theories and eerie prophecies aside, the end credits could not come soon enough and I got more entertainment value listening to Aerosmith’s Love in an Elevator during those credits than from the movie itself. Now if you really want to enjoy horrific elevator films, then I recommend two, both titled “Elevator”, one from 2008 and the other from 2011.

Watching this movie, I felt myself subjected to the title itself. Getting “The Shaft” that is.

Where is Richard Roundtree when you need him?