This movie really goes to lengths to justify its premise: Giant killer geckoes (Yes, geckoes.) that adapt to wounds and weaknesses faster then the Borg. This is a pretty goofy place to start. But then the movie is set in the isolated mountainous countryside during the middle of a blizzard, habitat and weather geckoes usually don’t inhabit. And then the Russian mafia gets involved…
The lizards are played, most of the time, by half-way convincing puppets, but a few times the movie substitutes them with really awful early CGI or cheesy hand-puppets. The lizards reproduce like crazy and lots of them get squished, accompanied by the cheesiest stock “squish” sound-effect you can imagine.
The movie has some occasional moments of self-aware humor. The hero of the piece is a limp-wristed science nerd who gets blinded (the geckoes spray venom too, by the way), can’t shoot for shit, and sets himself on fire throughout the course of the film before suddenly transforming into an uber-confident one-line slinging badass at the end. The movie might have been going for an Ash style transition, but this guy sure ain’t Bruce Campbell. There’s a couple other absurd one-liners thrown in and the Russian mobster blowing away dozens of mutant geckoes in seconds, spraying the room with lots of fake blood, is so absurd that it had to be intentional. The movie isn’t very good but I do have to admire its old-fashion schlocky style. The performances are kind of amiable and the movie gets some okay mileage out of its New Zealand setting. It doesn’t have much charm but MST3k-ready creature features are few and far between these days. (5/10)
I think the “Watchers” franchise is probably the last major eighties horror franchise (if you could call it major), that I haven’t gotten to yet. Though a cult classic, the series has never exactly garnered a lot of critical favor. (And Dean Koontz fans seem to hate it. But, being Dean Koontz fans, I don’t value their opinions very highly.) This first one is a pretty fun little slice of eighties camp. Corey Haim isn’t very convincing as the young male lead, but Michael Ironside is pretty awesome as the ruthless government agent. Most of the film’s charm comes not from the horror element so much as the appeal of having a super smart dog that can play Scrabble with you. People getting torn apart by a guy in a not-totally-convincing orangutan suit has its own entertainment value, of course. And, admittedly, the movie does a fairly decent job of disguising the shoddy suit, at least until the end.
The climax of the movie, where Corey goes commando on the monsters, is well-known among schlock fans. It’s not as hilarious as I heard. And, slight spoiler alert here, but you wouldn’t think the “Ultimate Killing Machine,” that the government invested so much money in, could be taken down by a faceful of buckshot. “Watchers” is dumb fun. I bet it makes great stumble-upon late night cable viewing. (7/10)
The Guardian (1990)
Despite directing one of the greatest horror films of all time, William Friedkin really isn’t a horror filmmaker. “Cruising” kind of counts (I certainly think it does), but this is his sole other foray into the genre, and not a particularly well-regarded one either. It’s strange, off-center film.
Nonthreatening horror threats seem to be an unintentional theme tonight. While a killer tree might sound campy on paper, the movie handles it with complete seriousness. The scene of an animated tree tearing a trio of punks apart is both absurd and somehow unnerving. There are a couple of moments like that in the movie. An early nightmare sequence is pretty creepy. The sequence with the wolves does a good job of building intensity, but undermines it when one of the wolves pulls a Nicholson-in-The-Shining, sans “Here’s Johnny!” of course. (Though that would have been kind of awesome.) The endangerment of an infant provides the film with an unseemly, jittery nervous quality. Seeing as how the movie totally goes there in its opening minutes, you know literally anybody can go, creating a grim atmosphere. The exact nature of the evil babysitter/Druid/tree lady is handled in a surreal, sometimes effective way. The movie is pretty gory in spots, especially the finale. Gore is obviously used here not to titillate but in an attempt to unnerve.
But, still… Killer tree. It’s hard to escape the absurdity of that. “The Guardian” left me feeling, not so much disturbed, as slightly disquieted. And not by its content but by its odd pacing, presentation, and tone. I’m not really sure what Friedkin’s interest in the odd-ball material was and he isn’t trying to make another “Exorcist” here, except when he is. This is just a weird, uneven film. (5/10)
Demons of the Mind (1972)
A deeply psychological film about insanity, incest, and murder among an isolated aristocratic family. This certainly isn’t your typical Hammer film. Indeed, the lack of any supernatural elements or exploitation that you normally associate with the company makes this something of a slow burn. The movie builds and builds as a quack hypnotist tries to help the patriarch of the family prevent his self-fulfilling prophecy of insanity. (That this insanity is based on a failed performance on his wedding night adds extra Freudian flavor to the story.)
The movie is intensely acted and directed but it really didn’t have me sold until the very end, when things finally go off the rails into carnage. “Demons of the Mind” is ambitious and worth seeing, but it’s not exactly the light horror viewing you’ve come to expect of Hammer. (7/10)