Feature 23 – Cthulhu (2007)

or “Even Death May Die”

Featuring: Jason “Act of Valor” Cottle , Scott “Milk” Green , Tori “Beverly Hills 90210” Spelling

Director:  Dan Gildark

Writers: Dan Gildark , Grant Cogswell , Douglas Light , Jason Cottle

Origin:  USA

Review_____

“Don’t let those salty bitches get their hands on it!”

I like H.P. Lovecraft. I can’t say I “love” him, not just because it’d be a cheese-ass pun even for me, but also because I’m not much of a book person and have only read a handful of the man’s work. Hey, my cup already overfloweth with movies and comics and video games, with a side helping of pro-wrestling and cartoons and TV shows. Don’t judge me. Anyway, as with all great writers, Lovey turned his personal demons into memorable stories for people cool enough to seek them out to enjoy long after his passing. When I was in high school, I got clued in to his coolness after discovering Re-Animator… which I discovered after unearthing an issue of the 1991 comic adaptation in a bargain bin. Hunting down a collection of the original “Herbert West – Reanimator” short stories, I realized that I wasn’t the type of 15 year-old who could appreciate deep tales of extremely descriptive horror that took 3 pages to explain the terror a character felt from ascending a dark staircase. As you can probably guess, Poe didn’t exactly instill me with fear boners either, giving me more fear yawns instead. Meh.

After adulthood set in, I gave the ghoulish tales of Herbie West another go-round and, despite still suffering from fear impotency, I REALLY appreciated the man’s knack for setting a mood. Though never a ‘Craft nerd myself, I did take a shine to the man’s eldritch nightmare Cthulhu well before he was co-opted by anti-pop culture. The idea of a giant eternal humanoid dragon star god with the head of an octopus was just the kinda crazy shit I horrified my art teachers with while growing up. You can imagine my intrigue when Cthulhu came onto my radar…and the immediate black hole that imploded my guts when I also read the name “Tori Spelling” attached to it. But, lucky for you, black holes in our guts is little more than a bad bag of Taco Bell waffle tacos to we Death Gods. So, I crapped that reality-collapser into the Bowl of Eternal Torment, underwent several hours of hypnotherapy to repress my gag reflex enough that seeing Tori Spelling wouldn’t invoke violent upheaval in my nervous system, sat down with my notebook bound in human flesh, an ink well filled with the blood of a mermaid, a quill made from a cockatrice feather and set about my dark task.

…oh, and don’t get too impressed about the cockatrice. I kinda pulled a Corman and just glued a bunch of emu feathers to a taxidermied iguana. It’s actually pretty sad to look at and I don’t know why I brought it up. Sorry.

Despite its title, the movie’s actually based on the H.P. Lovecraft story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, which has little to do with the Elder God Cthulhu beyond a passing mention or two. The original narration is really about introducing readers to another section of the Lovecraftian pantheon of abominations – Dagon, and his order of man-fish followers/offspring known as the Deep Ones. In that respect, Cthulhu sticks to its source material fairly well, keeping the name-dropping of He Whose Face Makes Japanese Schoolgirls Squirm minimal, even then not until much later on. I’m assuming the titular adjustment is to cash in on the recognition of the Cthulhu name. Nightmare nomenclature notwithstanding, the hero of our tale is Russell Marsh (Jason Cottle), a gay (in the literal sense) Seattle based English professor who we meet as he’s woken from his slumber by an unfortunate phone call – his mother has passed away. The best comfort his club conquest from the night before can muster from Russ’s bed is a half-hearted “That sucks.” before hitting our milksop protagonist up for an Andrew Jackson… by which I mean $20 and not some kinky sexual maneuver…though there could very well be something called an “Andrew Jackson” and I’m just not up to par on my perversion lingo…not to be confused with Perversion Bingo, which is a fun game you can play with your friends where you go to ExtremeTube.com and watch random clips while marking off a Bingo card filled with various sexual acts until someone wins…or until everyone has to go to separate rooms to whack their wank meats. Where was I? Oh yeah, I’m guessing this thing between Russell and Club Kid (literally what the guy’s credited as) isn’t one of those relationships that will lead to these two not being allowed to file their taxes jointly.

Like most gay men in movies, Russell grew up in a small town of “traditional moral values”, so when he was outed as being a fancier of phalli, his final years at home basically consisted of being the object of homophobic ridicule from everybody. Has the sleepy coastal Oregon burg of Rivermouth socially evolved in the years since Russ’ retreat? The eerie exchange our hero has with a pair of skinheads in a pickup truck on his way there may prove otherwise…or, it could signal something FAR more unsettling than repressed hate mongers. Either way, I was starting to get PTSD flashbacks of Birdemic before the pickup conflict, what with the camera riding along in Russell’s back seat and the conveyance of seemingly innocuous radio news programming during a scene I feared would go on well beyond its welcome. So, thank you pickup truck. You may have saved me from an anxiety attack that could have ended with a lot of dead orphans.

Speaking of traumatic flashbacks, Russell immediately starts having some of his own upon his arrival. Nothing straightforward though, just flashes of enough to keep the audience guessing. I understand it from a movie standpoint, but really, who only thinks back to quick cuts of their past?! If I think back to the time I saw my dog hit by a car when I was 8, or my heartbreakingly awkward first time (or seven) getting laid, I don’t just remember brief nigh-hallucinatory glimpses, I relive ALL the horror and shame! Anyway, momentary lapses of sanity aside, Russell’s homecoming isn’t improved by strange nightmares of becoming his father or waking up in a cold sweat to bizarre onyx totems covered in runic carvings clenched in his fist. THIS is why I stopped drinking. The problem with becoming his father, you ask? Unlike most sons who would rather not become a chartered accountant or championship arm wrestling truck driver like their own dear papas, Russell’s dad (Dennis Kleinsmith) is some kinda new aged “reverend” (*cough*cult leader*cough) who dresses in purple robes (at least they’re gay pride friendly) and wants Russell to give him a grandchild. Sorry old man, I don’t know what sex ed film they showed you back in 1950s high school (actually, thanks to RiffTrax and “MST3K” shorts, we do), but gay people don’t work that way. They can’t just reproduce by budding. They’re not sponges!

Russet Potato’s visit isn’t all bad, though. His sister Dannie (Cara Buono) clearly misses him, and despite also wanting her brother to spawn a niece/nephew for her, she obviously still loves him. He also reconnects with his boyhood friend Mike (Scott Green), who’s grown into a tow truck driving divorcee since last they frolicked along the cliff sides and capered in the ocean’s salty froth. Speaking of salty froth…uhm, never mind. We’ll wait till the kids go to bed before discussing private matters. While in town, Russell also makes time to visit his aunt, who’s been relegated to a nut house for alleged dementia. Their sit down doesn’t last long, but includes curious portents of Russell’s mom dying of less-than-natural causes, and something of huge importance she left behind for him at the house. It’d be too easy for the movie gods to just let her spill ALL the beans, so Auntie has what could be a mini-stroke and starts mumbling some gibberish that sounds like ancient Aramaic as written by a college linguistics drop out on Quaaludes and Jim Beam. ALSO why I stopped drinking…and taking Quaaludes…and sniffing glue.

Like any horror movie worth its salty froth (not yet…), Cthulhu has a crazy old town drunk to drop some necessary background for our protagonist. His name is Zadok (best He-Man villain name for a non He-Man villain character ever) and he’s an alcoholic old sailor who approaches Russell in a bar about the small onyx (“SLAM! SLAM!”) obelisk/butt plug our hero woke up next to in his hotel room, linking it to the whispered local legends of the human sacrificing fish-men cult of Dagon. Zadok’s tutoring in Lovecraftian horrors isn’t free though: he requires Russell to buy him a bottle of Wild Turkey and a sixer of Miller High Life before meeting him later to discuss the itinerary further. Shit, this movie’s turning into a fetch quest from an RPG. So, while at the liquor store acquiring their special Zadok’s Friday Night Combo, Russ Meyers is slipped a note by Julia (Amy Minderhout) the register girl (who doesn’t look old enough to drink, let alone work in a liquor store) telling him not to talk with ‘Dok. He does anyway, but comes back to girlie girl later demanding to know what the fuck she knows about what’s going on in this town. She just ends up cluing him in on her little brother Kellan, who went missing several years earlier and telling Russell he’s the only one who can save him.

Now, you might think this glass bottom boat tour is getting a little overbooked in the plot department, and reading it out as I type this, I’d be with you on the concerns of all the extra weight sinking the ship straight down to Davy Jones’ locker (or any of the Monkees, really). Hell, we haven’t even gotten to Tori Spelling using her homosexuality neutralizing Dagon roofies to rape Russell (which I just did, so now I don’t need to mention it anymore) or the whole “waking Dagon to end the world of men” plot! The funny thing is that none of this felt as cumbersome to watch as it does writing it out. It says a lot about Dan Gildark that he can stuff this much story into the movie while making it all move along as smoothly as it does within its 100 minute running time. It’s the hallmark of a guy who knows what he wants to put into what could be his only chance to make a movie, and has figured out how to make ALL of it edible. He took the elements of a four course meal, and rather than risk over serving his dinner guests to the point of making them sick (*cough*TheHobbitTrilogy*cough*), he ran everything through a grinder and fit everything into one well packed sausage. NOT a gay euphemism, by the way, though I appreciate anyone who knows me well enough to think that’s what I was going for.

As I’ve noted before, my moratorium on spoilers is 5 years, which makes Cthulhu ripe for ruining. If you’d rather avoid further plot putrefaction, I would suggest skipping down a few paragraphs to the one that starts with “WAY back in 2001”. Otherwise, I will be skinning this fish monster and baring its guts for all, so you’re welcome to stay and watch if that’s the type of thing that salts your froth!

Russell’s talk with Zadok results in drunken rantings of an island off the Rivermouth coast that housed the ruins of an ancient city. The townspeople would gather together in the mansions along the hillside (one of which Russell’s family home) to perform rituals, while making human sacrifices of their children in the boathouses to the horrors that lived on the island so that their nets would always be filled to the gills. Heh, fish humor. Zads name- drops Shoggoths (big monster Lovecraftian amoeba introduced in “In the Mountains of Madness”) and talks about how they came in droves from the sea and dragged the children of Rivermouth back into the brine. At least I’m pretty sure that’s what the old boozehound said. He spews a lot of incoherent drunken nonsense, but that’s what I could piece together. When half your family is made up of lifelong alcoholics, you get a lot of practice deciphering drunk-speak.

Dannie introduces Russ to her buddy Susan (Tori Spelling) who starts hitting on him from the word “homo”, inviting him back to her place under the premise that her hubby Ralph has a book about artifacts that has info on Russ’s mysterious stone trinket. Once there, Susan wastes no time in trying to seduce Russ into putting a baby in her belly, citing Ralph’s jizz factory no longer being in service thanks to a work site accident involving an exposed rebar. I just threw up a little. When Ralph’s pleading of “Susan needs your swimmers” falls on deaf/gay ears, the couple instead drug Mr. Marsh, allowing Susan to strip him down and milk the reproduction juice out of him with her ham wallet. Pretty sure that’s how Ms. Spelling ended up getting pregnant in real life too. Not to worry though folks, this is so low budget a production they couldn’t afford to pay the woman to go topless. That’s a horror that will, praise Isis, remain unknown…unless you saw that creepy pic her real-life husband “accidentally” posted to Twitter with her swollen mom boobs flopped out behind her son’s head. In which case get in touch with me and I’ll forward you the meeting times for our support group. The awfulness I come across when researching for these reviews. Blart.

With the book thing a bust, Russell just kinda ignores the whole “I was raped by the ugliest girl from 90210” plot and hits up the local library archives to do some sleuthing. He doesn’t find a lot about the stone, but he does come across a lot of old newspaper articles covering people gone missing around Rivermouth. I guess the American Library Association is immune to the corrupting influence of the Deep Ones? Anyway, Russ enlists Mike’s help in investigating the cult’s sacrificial boathouses, where he runs into some weird supernatural shit and old guys in robes before escaping to a random nearby house. Here he finds Kellan, conveniently enough, as he stares at a snowy TV screen like a latter day Carol Anne Freeling. When asked why he’s there, the boy tells Russell that he lives in the basement of the house with others while they await the coming of Cthulhu (finally, our movie has a title…an HOUR in!). The kid then leads our man into said basement, where he finds a network of tunnels that are inhabited by weird humanoid fish mutant babies! Running in terror like most anyone would (except maybe a hungry weird humanoid walrus), Russ escapes to the surface, emerging from a hole covered by a manhole with an elaborate carving of Cthulhu on it, the likes of which you can find on any number of cheap arts & crafts jewelry, as sold in any number of stores on Etsy.

Russell retreats back to Mike’s apartment, where they have a heated exchange about Mike ditching him (thanks to a nosy sheriff) that escalates into a full-on spat about Mike’s lack of jelly for the PB&J Russ is making, ending in our hero calling him “a very bad host” before storming off. I know it doesn’t sound like much an in insult, but a gay man telling you you’re a bad host is like someone calling you a limp dick piece of shit who should save your family years of shame by just slitting your throat right now! All in all though, I gotta say that this scene is a brilliant piece of inspired madness that leaves you wondering what the fuck it was you just watched. Speaking of, I suggest you watch it at THIS LINK, post haste! You know, when I get around to posting it on YouTube…

The next morning, our gents intend to go look for Kellan, referring to him as “the blind boy” for no apparent reason (also what he’s referred to by in the credits). They don’t have to look far though, because upon exiting Mike’s apartment they find the lad waiting for them. Yay! That was easy! Except that he’s tied to Mike’s porch with a huge exit wound in his forehead. Boo. This isn’t gonna be easy to explain to the small town law enforcement. Small town law enforcement in movies don’t have a very good track record when it comes to gays and/or liberals “finding” dead bodies. See, to them a gay man “finding” a dead child translates to “raping and murdering”. And to add to the sting, Russell gets taken away in front of a whole group of townsfolk at his mother’s estate auction, immediately after losing a bid-off for her house to some unspeaking guy dressed like a government spook who just drives away without saying a word after. After getting the “small town hospitality” treatment from the Sheriff, Russell wakes up in a jail cell straight out of the Inquisition to the sounds of rioting outside. We don’t actually see the rioting, but the first rules of low budget horror and Lovecraft adaptations are both the same – less is more.

Russ makes his way out of confinement only to be drugged in an alley by Ralph and Susan (whom he NEVER confronted after being raped of his baby seeds), who seem to make some effort to drag him into a nearby doorway, only for our hero to regain his druthers and run away. For anyone still confused with what’s happening here, Russ heads to his mother’s home and finds a videotape she left him in which she pretty much explains everything about the fish people and his family’s connection to the cult directly…and proves that his dad doesn’t know shit about camcorders and how to record over VHS tapes when a message of his own is included right after Mom’s, then cuts off mid message. Oh old people, so casually racist and ignorant of modern technology no matter what their species. Equal parts cute and pathetic, really.

Oh yeah, remember that riot I mentioned before? Turns out it’s time for the spawn of Dagon to return to the sea, which includes murdering as many norms as possible in the process…for some reason? It’s not entirely clear what’s happening here. There’s a bunch of naked people setting fires and people with sub-machine guns interlaced with public domain footage of actual riots. All that really matters is Russell and Mike are making an exodus out of town on the next train to Get The Fuck Outta Dodge. By “train”, I mean Mike’s tow truck. They stop by dear old Daddy Marsh’s place to pick up Dannie, still oblivious to the fact that she’s PART OF THE CULT, and end up captured. Russell’s introduced to the “children” Susan turned his swimmers into (which we don’t actually see, under the aforementioned “less is more” rule), before he’s pegged by the gathering of sushi sapiens to ascend and replace Papa as the new Leader Bean (“Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah LEADER!”). The price for his promotion? The sacrifice of the man he loves. One of the most important things that can make or break a movie is its ending, and this is the proverbial nail that Cthulhu hits squarely on the head for me. While his dad restrains Mike, Russell hauls back with the jagged onyx totem, screams and…hello end credits. Does he kill Mike? Does he kill his father? Does he kill himself? Does he get a monster leg cramp and just roll around on the ground screaming in pain for 5 minutes? Nobody knows because it’s left up to us. Speaking of the end credits, they run over a song called “White Daisy Passing” by some guy named Rocky Votolato. Not the kinda music I listen to normally: it’s a simple twangy, folk-songy ballad about sleeping on the bottom of the ocean that really fits the tone of the movie. I won’t link to a vid, cuz you really need to see the end of Cthulhu to put it into the right context. That said, go watch Cthulhu!

Before I go any further, I gotta make one stupid joke that only people who watched that Kanye West episode of South Park a few years ago will get – so, now that it’s revealed Russell’s a gay merman, you could say he really loves fish sticks! I know it’s violently shoehorned in there (that’s what SHE said!), but there was no humanly way possible to review this movie without making that reference somewhere.

WAY back in 2001, the undisputed (and if you dispute it I will pinch a Greenland shaped bruise into your neck) grandmaster of Lovecraft adaptations, Stuart Gordon, teamed up with his frequent collaborator in Lovecraft crafting (and the 1979 TV adaptation of “Bleacher Bums”), Dennis Paoli, to make Dagon – their adaptation of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” (which you can read at this link if you feel so inclined). I’ll get around to reviewing it here eventually, but for those of you who have already supped upon its chalice of greatness, if Dagon and The Cake Eater had a gay son who went to film school and mortgaged his house to fund a movie for Sundance (i.e. no money for monster makeup), it’d be Cthulhu>.

As with any no-budgeter, you’ve gotta temper your expectations going into it. If you can pull off a good story, some halfway decent camera work, and some talented storytelling, you don’t need high-grade effects and big names to hook your audience…fish pun not intended. The story of a gay man returning to his bigoted hometown is perfect for the paranoid anxiety of a Lovecraft tale. You don’t have to be gay to sympathize with Russell’s plight, and if gay men make you uncomfortable, well just consider that adding to the discomfort of the atmosphere! The minimal-to-non-existent gore and effects are fine because, I’ll say it again, less is more here. A few brief flashes of mutant fish-babies and the rest can be taken care of with the horrified reactions of the characters. Speaking of, the acting’s not great, with the exceptions of Cara Buono and Jason Cottle. Buono (whose actually done a lot of TV work on more than a few respectable dramas) makes Dannie a loving sister figure who manages to be a cultist without resorting to the too obvious “Join us! Join us!” tropes. Cottle’s well cast as our lead, since he’s the best actor of the bunch. He’s nothing fantastic when Russell’s being laid back or scared, but the guy knows how to crank the intensity when Russell’s got his angry face on. Somebody call Dick Wolf and get this guy a guest spot on whatever one of those “Law & Order” shows is still on the air! That being said, we still have to deal with some pretty limp fish performances from much of the rest of the cast, which includes Scott Green. I understand Mike’s supposed to be that “simple small town guy” persona, but listening to Green’s line delivery hurts. And I know “love conquers all”, but a college English professor falling for an inbred tow truck driver who constantly mumbles like a goober 9 cans deeps into a case of Labatt’s feels irritatingly sitcomish.

Overall, I gotta hand it to Dan Gildark and Grant Cogswell for cobbling together a great piece of movie that’s not without its warts, but shines despite them. It’s sad to see that neither has added any further film credits to their resume in the years since Cthulhu was spawned. Maybe they felt their story was told. Maybe their dream had been realized. Maybe they walked off into the sunset. Or maybe they got some negative feedback they couldn’t handle. Maybe they bankrupted themselves into a financial quagmire from which there was no rescue. Whatever their epilogues, I hope they’re happy with their final product, because I’m definitely a fan.

On a final note, I’m pretty sure my TV’s haunted by a homophobic ghost, cuz the audio went all schizo on me during BOTH viewings of the movie when the inevitable sex scene (there’s your salty froth!) between Russell and Mike came up (salty froth!). By the way, if you thought that was a spoiler (a salty, frothy spoiler!), you obviously know nothing about indie movies – it’s all gay cowboys and pudding. And that’s my quota for “South Park” references today, kids! I am outta here! Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fhtagn!

Moral of the Story: Don’t ask Tori Spelling where all the sea lions are. Better yet, don’t talk to Tori Spelling at all. She just wants your swimmers, and that fishy smell isn’t poor hygiene. At least she’s well cast. I mean, she already looks like something out of an H.P. Lovecraft fever dream!

 

Screenshots_____

“Just look at it out there. Fish of all shapes and sizes are having sex and shitting everywhere. It’s like a huge orgy in a giant unflushed toilet. My GOD the ocean is a horrible, disgusting place! Magnificent.”


Justin Bieber from 5 years in the future has come back to our time to convince his current self to kill himself now and spare them both the years of heartbreak after Usher ends their relationship.


“Hey faggot! You got any Grey Poupon… your dick?! Cuz, you know, it sounds like I’m saying ‘grey poop on your dick’, referring to your homosexuality while also referencing a popular mustard commercial from the ’80s!… But seriously, do you?!”


“Shaun, you’ve got red on you.”


The Rivermouth High School football team, sponsored entirely by an “educational grant” from Gorton’s Frozen Seafood.


No joke to be made here (unless you wanna come up with your own reference to The Accused). I just wanted to point out that I fucking LOVE that the Attack From Mars pinball machine is making a cameo! I used to play the shit out of that machine! YEAH!


“I love you too Aunt Ruth, but can you please let me go? You smell like pea soup, soiled diapers, and cheap vitamins. I may throw up on you if you don’t stop right now.”


“Hey guys. This is my friend Tori Spelling. She’d really appreciate it if one of you would have sex with her. She can pay.”


“So, my dad was really rich and famous… but he’s dead now… which means I inherited a lot of money… I mean a LOT of money! That being said… ya wanna go fuck in the mens’ room?”
“I keep telling you, no! I know you’re my sister’s friend, but if you don’t leave me alone, I’m going to call the police!”


And finally, this is where EVERY man ends his night after a conversation with Tori Spelling.


What?! She had to work a children’s party today and didn’t realize she was out of white greasepaint. What was she supposed to do, skip out on a paying job? Give Bonko the Clown a break. She did the best she could.


I find it hard to believe there’s such a thing as a “beloved” garbageman. I mean, the closest I’ve ever seen was Duke “The Dumpster” Droese, and he still wasn’t even close to being “beloved”.


“I don’t care if you don’t know what ‘Memorex’ is, Billy. Just do what I tell you. This recreation is gonna skyrocket my YouTube page to a million views!”


Well, it’s still better than the official It’s Alive remake. You gotta give it that.


“Finally, my own bridge! And that guy sold it to me for such a bargain! Once I put up the toll booths, I’ll make double my investment back in no time! Things are finally coming up Russell!”


And this is a New York City subway train simulator. It gives people in small towns a taste of the big city life. At the top of every hour a pair of women have a very shrill conversation in Chinese while a homeless guy stands on top begging for change and pisses all over everybody. It’s VERY realistic!


I’d ask what’s going on in that toilet or what the big oily stain on the bed is from, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t like the answer to either.


If I’m ever involved with a movie production of some kind, I insist that I be credited for “Asskicking”!

Anubis will return next time in
“Criminalize It”

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All materials found within this review are the intellectual properties and opinions of the original writer. The Tomb of Anubis claims no responsibility for the views expressed in this review, but we do lay a copyright claim on it beeyotch, so don’t steal from this shit or we’ll have to go all Farmer Vincent on your silly asses. © October 1st 2013 and beyond, not to be reproduced in any way without the express written consent of the reviewer and The Tomb of Anubis, or pain of a physical and legal nature will follow. Touch not lest ye be touched.

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Feature 17 [Rerun] – The Condemned (2007)

or “Stone Cold Killers”

Featuring:  Steve “The Expendables” Austin , Vinnie “Snatch” Jones , Robert “Man-Thing” Mammone

Director:  Scott “The Marine 3: Homefront” Wiper

Writers:  Scott “The Marine 3: Homefront” Wiper , Rob “Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan” Hedden , Andy “Simon & Simon: In Trouble Again” Hedden

Origin: USA

Review_____

This is not war Breck, this is television. It’s much more complicated!”

 Intro: I may not have made it clear enough in my Tag Team review, but I’m a huge nerd when it comes to wrestling. None of that legit shit though, I’m talking the really stupid stuff with grown men in tights with gimmicks who pretend to fight each other amidst bizarre pageantry that shames those creepy mini-prostitution contests that mutated the ‘L’ in TLC from “Learning” to “Lascivious”. And not in the good way! As much as I thought WWE Studios (they changed the name from WWE Films shortly after this “film” underwhelmed both monetarily and critically) would’ve gone the way of the XFL years ago, there must be some solid home movie market keeping it alive, because their theatrical saturation is badly dehydrated… heh, moisture humor. Even the screens they do end up shown on make shit for box office. They did wise up as far as not making their wrestlers the front and center of every movie, relegating most of them to much deeper territory on the movie credits totem poles and casting legit actors for the starring roles. They had an oddly successful production last year with their Halle Berry vehicle The Call, which debuted at #2 in the country and pulled in about as much domestic dollah dollah as the studio’s 10 prior poopers combined!

Anyway, here’s my rerun for The Condemned. It’s basically The Hunger Games for adults… so it’s basically Battle Royale with convicted criminals instead of high school students… so it’s basically a “serious” modernization of The Running Man. It’s not unlike the way Death Race 2000 beget Death Race, only without having to pay Stephen King for the “Running Man” name. Have at it, kids.

Original Review:

“They shot my fucking Arab?!”

Tired of everybody else making money off of their trained monkeys, Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly the World Wrestling Federation until the World Wildlife Fund decided to throw a judicial fit over the use of the initials “WWF”) started up their own movie division in the hopes of getting a big chunk of the paycheck from the next wrestler to make the successful crossover from squared circle to action movie notoriety, like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Of course Lionsgate picked up the distribution for all of WWE Films productions because, well, Lionsgate are whores looking for the next underdog success story, like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, only with less fellatio… I hope.

WWE Films’s (and I hope they’re using the term “films” in an ironic sense…) first release was the slasher flick See No Evil, which was a combination knock-off of Friday the 13th Part 2-D, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Embarassment Generation, and Four Rooms, only the killer didn’t wear a mask… because you can’t try to whore out your employees to Hollywood if nobody can see their face. See No Evil bombed like Al-Queda at an Easter Egg Hunt. Their second flick was the generic action hero revenge movie The Marine, which saw Robert Patrick sink to a new low when he kidnaps the girlfriend of, you guessed it, an ex-Marine. The titular protagonist was played by John Cena, the so-called star WWE has been trying to force down our throats outside of the ring as hard as they’ve been forcing him down our throats inside of the ring for the last 10 or so years. Explosions and adrenaline fueled hijinks ensued to mild financial success. Yay. For this third effort, WWE expanded their plagiarism sights to the far east, ripping off Japan’s Battle Royale franchise. To make it more palatable to American consumers though, the bizarre twist of desperate school kids dragged out of the comfort of their safe little lives is replaced with the basic stand-by of convicted criminals with nothing to lose fighting for their freedom (*cough*TheRunningMan*cough*) in an effort to appeal to the US audience’s taste for testosterone… which probably tastes like chicken… or armpit sweat… or chicken wingpit sweat… Obviously this falling back on traditional tropes wasn’t enough to convince people to crack open their wallets at the box office, cuz I seem to remember The Condemned doing the lowest box office numbers of the three WWE celluloid bricks pinched to this point.

Defamed Hollywood producer and raving racist ratings rapist (say that ten times fast, I dare ya!) Ian “Breck” Breckel (Robert Mammone), along with his semi-likeable a-hole technician Goldman (Rick Hoffman as a cross between Jeremy Piven, Joe Rogan, and a dozen donuts), is ready to make a fortune on the project that will put him atop the world: a globally broadcast internet Pay-Per-View event that will pit 10 death row killers from all corners of the planet (a term no doubt coined when people didn’t realize that Earth is a sphere and HAS no corners) against each other to the death on an otherwise deserted island for a 30 hour murder marathon with the winner getting freedom! Some call it a live snuff film, some call it extreme sports combat at it’s finest, some call it a rip-off of Battle Royale, but either way it should be an interesting train wreck to watch. Each of the ten “competitors” is fixed with a high-tech tracking ankle bracelet that, you guessed it, will detonate if its pull tab is yanked. It’s the deadliest game of flag football you’ll ever play! Also, if they’re still sporting the weaponized jewelry when the 30 hour time limit expires, well, so do they!

As for who these guys and gals trying to kill each other are, here’s what we’ve got:

  • Jack Conrad (former WWE figurehead turned action movie maven “Stone Cold” Steve Austin) – the American hero with the mysterious past who’s just so darned tough that he won’t even accept the keys to his manacles when he’s dropped on the island!… but mostly stands around and does pretty much nothing until properly “motivated” into defending himself. Obviously his jail term was one of those “miscarriages of justice”, likely due to killing someone in defense of himself or a loved one. Jack’s picked from an El Salvador prison when he shit beats an Islamic fundamentalist behemoth Breck (not to confused with “Brak”) is scouting. Though this denies him his Arab contestant he was hoping to use to appeal to Middle Eastern audiences, Jack will bring in the Anti-American crowds! He hails from FuckYourMomma, Alaska (I hear the fishing there is amazing) but Breck bills him as a redneck Good Ol’ Boy extremist from the South to help sell the image.
  • Ewan McStarly (bad ass soccer hooligan turned cinematic cockney thug Vinnie Jones) – the downright evil and remorseless misogynist bastard Brit with special ops military training who gets “condemned” to having the stupidest name of the cast. The sinister heavy of the flick and Jack’s inevitable antagonist.
  • Petr (failed former WWE wrestler turned generic action movie shaved gorilla Nathan Jones… no relation to Vinnie) – the Herculean Man-Sasquatch (or “Mansquatch”) of the group, who we’re introduced to while killing three men in some unnamed zoo of a prison. He’s also mute because, well, Nathan Jones shouldn’t be allowed to speak. Trust me. He makes Schwarzenegger’s early work look like Brando.
  • Saiga – the prerequisite crazy little Japanese guy who prerequisitely knows martial arts and has a weird thing for sunglasses.
  • Kreston Mackie – the angry black American… or, if you’d ask a Republican to describe him (without using a slur), the black American.
  • Yasantwa – the angry black African who might get it on with the angry black American… oh, and she’s a woman. Sorry to anyone who was coming into a testosterone dripper and hoping for sword fights of the fleshy kind. The homo-eroticism is only implied here.
  • Paco (Manu “30 Days of Night” Bennett) and Rosa Pacheco – modern day Mexican Bonny & Clyde. So, I guess they’d be Boné y… Clyde? I don’t know. I took Spanish for 3 years in high school and didn’t retain mierda.
  • Helmut – the grumpy old German guy who’s just there so the Germans have some representation. He’s not a Nazi war criminal, nor does he go into battle dressed in the traditional Lederhosen combat garb of his people, so there’s really not a lot to care about in Helmut.
  • Dominic – the Italian guy whose sole purpose is to talk a lot of shit, threaten to gut everybody, and then get dropped onto a wooden spike by accident for comedy relief before the show even starts. In the wrestling biz, he’s what’s known as a “jobber”.

No offense to the cast members whose real names I didn’t list, but when you do something worth talking about, I’ll gladly make a note of it… Is it just me, or do I come off as King Asshole sometimes? Or am I thinking of King Vitamin? Either or.

In a lame effort to try and make this more of a “legit” movie with some actual plot and less of a simple down and dirty bloodsport flick, there’s all manner of side shit going on involving the FBI trying to track down the secret secluded island locale of Breckel’s broadcast, dramatic morality conflicts between Breck’s production crew, and an uncovering of Jack’s background that includes following his waitress ex-girlfriend around and some government cover-up conspiracy that got our hero El Salvadored in the first place. That’s not what we’re here for though, so anyone interested in the counts for this Super Bowl of carnage, here we go: 1 spike impalement; 1 neck stabbing (via wood splint) followed up by numerous “testi exploder” kicks to the jimmies; one guy beaten mercilessly for several minutes with multiple bones broken before he’s shot through the stomach with an arrow and SET ON FIRE!; 1 arrow in the back; 2 knives in the guts; 2 slashed throats; 9 people gunned down; 1 very harsh scene of McStarly beating and slashing one of the female contestants with an implied extended rape afterward; and 7 folks turned to fine particulates by ankle bombs! Add to all of that the inmate who gets his neck broken by Petr before the show even starts and you get a bodycount of 23! Overall, a pretty fair bit of bodies and bloodshed for a movie that makes no illusions about not being Shakespeare… though, much like Hamlet, pretty much everybody’s dead by the end credits, so maybe it is trying to be Shakespeare?

For a movie whose action is all supposed to be being broadcast on stationary cameras, it’s irritating as Hell to have to sit through shaky cam during some of the fisticuffery. Thankfully the shaky doesn’t come into play too much, with the exception of the the Conrad vs. Petr fight. Then again, the five or six wrestling fans who remember Nate Jones’s short stint in the WWE probably remember he wasn’t exactly one of the better guys at making fake fights look real, so that might explain why it looks like the cameraman’s having seizures for this scene.

When it’s over, The Condemned tries to be a morality tale about America’s unsettling love for violence and depravity while simultaneously giving us the same. You can call that art or you can call it bullshit, I don’t really care. As a Direct-to-DVD feature it would be great, but as a theatrical release it’s a basic low-level action production. It’s hard watching the “making of” stuff on the DVD for The Condemned because you see the cast, the filming crew and the stunt people setting up and shooting this nightmare and physically beating the hell out of each other in hideous conditions on gruesome terrain and you almost get this Ed Wood pity for the thing. I’ve also got a personal bias as a guy who likes Vinnie Jones, Steve Austin (though he should keep his acting to a wrestling ring and cutting promos), and any version I can get of that “Old Black Betty” song, so if you want the “real” rating for this flick, you might want to drop a good point or so before you run out and rent it based on this review… not that I imagine anybody making their rental choices based on my reviews, to be honest.

Xtro: Since this was originally a Shorty (i.e. capsule review), having watched it again there’s a few things I’d like to add to my thoughts on The Condemned.

For starters, Rick Hoffman is probably the best non-killing part of the movie. I liked him when I originally reviewed the movie, but this time around I appreciate him even more. As the beset upon “Goldy” (coincidentally enough, a nickname often used for WWE wrestler Goldust), he’s the manic Jewish comedy relief. Thanks to Breck’s cost cutting measures (i.e. cheap-assiness) the laborers on the show employ nothing but local work-for-Pepsi-and-bits-of-string natives. Naturally this region doesn’t speak much English, so Goldy’s trying to put together and maintain a production that’s, as he puts it, “bigger than Farm Aid meets We Are the World and I’m supposed to do it with sign language?!” Goldy’s humor gets cut off once everything turns into a conflict of dollar signs vs. being able to sleep at night though, so his best contribution to the flick farts out about 2/3 of the way through the running time.

Funny enough, Helmut (or “The German” as he’s referred to in the credits) is played by actor Andy McPhee, who hails from Australia…Germans – so universally distrusted that Hollywood won’t even hire them to play German characters! Trivia note: McPhee went on to some notoriety as Keith McGee in “Sons of Anarchy”… possibly… I don’t know. I still haven’t watched it. What? Shut up. Continuing on with the cast, Steve Austin was bland as bleached flour here. I’ve seen him do a helluva lot better, but maybe it’s the writers’ fault. He probably wasn’t allowed to do anything other than read his lines, cuz in this case the actor has way more to offer than the role. He can be a leading man, but much like his wrestling promos, Austin needs the barest of direction so he can be allowed to direct his magic to wherever he wants to take it.

On the plus side, this is the kind of movie that relies more on a compelling villain than a hero, and we actually get two decent baddies. Like Dr. Frankenstein, Breck’s obsession with his goal pushes him beyond humanity until he’s as much a monster, if not more so, than the actual monsters he’s created. Also, just like Victor (or Victor Von if you’re going by Hammer mythology), Breck and everything he’s created are ultimately destroyed by his creations. Speaking of, Vinnie Jones is detestable as McStarly. I feel nastier in my guts from watching the impression of the shit he’s done and had done to him than anything I saw in anything the Saw or Hostel movies had to offer. It’s because the worst stuff isn’t shown for MPAA purposes, but it has a Texas Chainsaw Massacre mental brutality to it for that reason. Jones’ monstrous portrayal makes McStarly irredeemable, and even though you can’t help but want him to die, he pulls this last minute sympathy turn at the end about his hideous military past and what he suffered through for his loyalty to make him what he is. He’s a rabid dog – there’s no helping him and it’s better off for everyone with him dead, but for that brief instant you can’t believe you actually pity the creature…

Enough of this nancy pants “emotions” crap! I don’t know what the Hel I was thinking when I first wrote this review and said that the shaky cam stuff only ruined ONE fight scene. I hate shaky cam. Maybe whatever makes me able to see the pathos underneath an otherwise generic torture porn action flick also made my already heavy intolerance for shaky cam flat out toxic, because every time somebody started throwing fists, I had to pop another Dramamine!

As for writer/director Scott Wiper, he would go on to do nothing. Well, not nothing, since WWE Studios did bring him in to work his “magic” with their threequel The Marine 3: Homefront, but he did NOTHING ELSE for the 6 years in between. Being a financial flop, The Condemned didn’t exactly lead to an illustrious post-flick career for “The Wiper”, as he was pretty much wiped from the collective consciousness of audiences before even getting in there in the first place. You might say he’s condemned to languish in obscurity… good thing they don’t make those exploding anklets set to detonate when amateur movie reviewers use shitty puns based on movie titles, or I wouldn’t be here typing this follow-up line describing the idea… in which case the device wouldn’t have come into existence anyway… I think I just created a time paradox. If I just ended all reality, I apologize.

Oh, and one massive urethral parasite to finish up with – the movie ends on a Nickelback song… if that’s a good thing for you, please go slam your head in a car door until you’ve learned your lesson. And on that note, this rerun is OVER!

 Moral of the Story: When filming a gang of the world’s deadliest criminals on an island killing each other, make sure your productions facilities are on a different island. You think Jeff Probst stay on the island while they shoot “Survivor”?! No. The further away from the “talent” the better.

Screenshots_____

“Shaun? Why don’t we ever make love with the lights on anymore? Be honest.”


It’s Sweet Dee’s doppleganger!


“Jeezus. I didn’t think it was possible for someone to cultivate one zit on top of ANOTHER zit, but there it is!”


Steve Austin stars in the re-remake of Willard.


Call me old fashioned, but no prison guard should EVER have as well practiced a rape face as that EVER! Fuck! I’m gonna have nightmares about this guy now!


“I was promised prune juice and Werther’s Originals! WHERE’S MY DAMN PRUNE JUICE AND WERTHER’S ORIGINALS!?”


“Damn it Pedro, why can’t I QUIT you!?”


I know Antonio Banderas hasn’t been doing as many movies in recent years, but the man’s REALLY letting himself go!


No, Vinnie. No Maverick-ing. Stop it. Just stop it now.


“Hello? What? Uhm… I don’t know. What’s ‘Prince Albert in a can’?!”


“What do you mean what’s ‘Prince Albert in a can’?! It’s a brand of tobacco that comes in a can! What do you mean you don’t use tobacco?!”


“I’M SORRY! I DON’T SMOKE TOBACCO AND I DON’T KNOW WHO THIS PRINCE ALBERT PERSON IS! PLEASE STOP YELLING AT ME! WHAT?! WHAT DO YOU MEAN, ‘IS MY REFRIGERATOR RUNNING?!’ I’M HANGING UP NOW AND I’M CALLING THE COPS!”


Swamp Thing takes his voyeurism to a new creepier and incriminating level. He’s got a tree stump full of these tapes back at his place.


Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes a cigar is a cigarillo. And sometimes a guy smoking a big thick cigar is a sign that he likes other big thick things in his mouth. So, I guess smoking a cigarillo means that Vinnie Jones likes Vienna Sausages. Flawless logic wins again.


These leaked production photos prove it: the next Jurassic Park will center on a gang of motorcycle riding raptors! Called it. Clever girls indeed.


Reaction shot of Steve Austin using the toilet after the Undertaker – a mistake he never made again.


“I’ve got your bloody ‘Hunger Games’ right here, you little twats!”


“Somebody’s gonna explain why my cable bill was so high last month, and they’re gonna fix it right fucking now!”


Steve Austin battles government surveillance devices this summer in his next Direct-to-DVD epic, Drone Hunter!


“This was on the floor while I was vacuuming today. I think it goes to one of your He-Man dolls?”
“They’re not ‘dolls’, they’re ‘action figures’… and yes, that’s mine… Thank you.”

Anubis will return next time in
“African American Explosive Device!”

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