Sweet Home

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“Hogar, dulce hogar…”

sweethomeA straightforward yet effective cross between a slasher film and Die Hard, sees Alicia (Garcia-Jonsson) plan a birthday dinner for her boyfriend, Simon (Sevilla) in an almost deserted apartment building. However, she stumbles into a plot to evict the last remaining tenant… in a body-bag. Trapped inside the locked tenement, the young couple become the target, first for the evictors, and then their boss, the Liquidator (Tarrida), as they seek to cover the tracks of their murderous work.

Three sentences, and that’s basically the entirety of the plot covered, since most of the film is an extended stalk ‘n’ slash, with Alicia, in particular, seeking a way out. It’s absolutely her story, because Simon is wounded relatively early in proceedings, and ends up close to a non-factor in proceedings – for one reason or another. Even though there’s a sense of Garcia-Jonsson acting mostly in her third language (she was born in Sweden, most of her career has been in Spain, yet her dialogue here is mainly English), it doesn’t harm the film, because Martinez is a firm believer in showing, rather than telling. That’s just what something like this needs, with gratifyingly few pauses for exposition after things kick-off. In particular, things are ramped up with the arrival of the Liquidator, who disposes of bodies with the aid of liquid nitrogen and a hammer. This is about as wince-inducing as it sounds.

As well as a fairly monstrous villain, who is quite prepared to dispatch his supposed allies if they prove more trouble than they are worth, the main appeal is seeing Alicia use her wits to survive, clambering in, around and through the maze of corridors and service passages in the building, as she tries to stay one step ahead of those hunting her down. The claustrophobic setting, enhanced by a thunderous deluge coming down outside, which has cleared the streets of everyone else, generally work for the movie too. Reading other reviews, seems I’m not the only person to detect notes of John Carpenter, with this in particular evoking feelings of Assault on Precinct 13 crossed with Halloween. Though it has been a very long while since Carpenter has directed anything as shallowly entertaining as Sweet Home.

On the other hand. the floor-plan of the house, an important factor in proceedings, seems more than a little inconsistent. This may be less an apartment building, and more a Klein bottle, for there were times when I was thought Alicia was on an upper level, only for her to open a door and suddenly be back at ground level. However, if you’re prepared to let that aspect slide, along with the occasional moments of less-than-sensible behaviour (almost inevitable, given the genre), this is an energetic and enthusiastic romp, which will likely have you quoting various John McClane-isms over the course of proceedings. But it’s safe to say that Die Hard did not end in a climax which had Bruce Willis in the basement, unconscious, dotted lines drawn on his limbs, in preparation for easy separation by Alan Rickman and his hacksaw. More’s the pity, perhaps.

Dir: Rafa Martínez
Star: Ingrid Garcia-Jonsson, Bruno Sevilla, Oriol Tarrida, Jose Maria Blanco

Tiger House

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“It’s Die Hard… In an English suburb.”

Kelly (Scodelario) sneaks into her boyfriend’s bedroom, only to find herself stuck there, when a group of criminals invade the home, intending to use his father as part of a robbery. Before being captured, the boyfriend does manage to injure the gang’s leader, Shane (Scott), who is then laid out on the bed to recuperate, while the gang regroup and adjust their plans. Unfortunately, it’s the same bed under which Kelly – who was a promising gymnast, up until an unfortunate accident with a crossbow(!) – has hidden herself. With no apparent way out, can she save the rest of the family and escape her perilous situation?

tigerhouse

An attempt to cross the ever-popular “Die Hard in a ____” and home invasion genres, the performances here deserve a significantly better script, than the largely sorry procession of coincidences and implausibilities we get here. Oh, look! There’s a crossbow in the attic! And, wouldn’t you know it, Kelly still carries around in her handbag, the bolt which ended her sporting aspirations! What are the odds against that? Some of the crooks’ behaviour also falls into the category of idiocy necessary to the plot as well; they seem strangely oblivious to their surrounding for career criminals, even when Kelly is literally hanging off the banisters above their head.

Counterbalancing these problematic aspects, both Scodelario and Scott deliver well-rounded performances – all the more impressive for the latter, since 90% of his screen time is spent lying on his back. Kelly is shown early on to be a strong-minded and independent girl, not reliant on anyone, least of all her boyfriend, who all but vanished from the movie after he leaves the bedroom to investigate a middle of the night noise. Assistance is provided by Callum, the psycho henchman – standard for both the genres – played by Skrein who appears to have gone on to greater things, starring in the recent reboot of The Transporter. The same goes for Scodelario, who is now the female lead in the Maze Runner series.

Notably not yet going on to Hollywood fame is writer Simon Lewis. You can increasingly see why that’s the case, the further this goes on, with Shane inexplicably switching sides and other plot points requiring so much suspension of disbelief, you could use it to build a small bridge. While the idea of interbreeding these two types of action-thriller is not a bad one, and the suburban setting adds a claustrophobic element, the storyline is in desperate need of several stiff rewrites, on its way to an ending that does deliver a satisfactory amount of heroiney goodness – albeit still with a deficiency on the logic front. You’ll have to go through more contortions than the gymastic lead, for your mind to swallow this one.

Dir: Thomas Daley
Star: Kaya Scodelario, Dougray Scott, Ed Skrein, Langley Kirkwood

No Contest II: Access Denied

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“Second time’s the not-so charming.”

In many ways, this is a shameless rip-off of a shameless rip-off, trying to recapture the success of the original. It’s not quite as successful, lacking the gleeful sense of energy which help its predecessor overcome its (obvious) limitations. Once more, Tweed plays action actress Sharon Bell, this time filming her latest work in Eastern Europe. She arranges for the film to do some location work in a gallery owned by sister, Bobbi (Heitmeyer), which is just about to open an exhibition, showcasing artefacts that were looted by the Nazis in World War II. The gallery is taken over by Eric Dane (Henriksen) and his crew, who seal the place off from the outside world, intent in stealing a lethal German nerve agent hidden in the base of one of the sculptures. Unfortunately, inside at the time are both sisters, along with the movie director Jack Terry (Payne), who is scouting the place out.

To be honest, the plot makes little sense. Why does Dane – who has apparently had access to the statue for quite some time – wait until it is installed in the gallery, behind a hefty security system, before going after the nerve-gas? And when he does, his subsequent actions and plan seem to be designed more to artificially generate tension for the movie plot, than any practical purpose: for example, his decision to leave one of the canisters, attached to an unstoppable time, in an air-duct, while he is still present in the sealed building. Meanwhile, the heroes prove adept at fashioning tear-gas and lethal blow-darts from everyday materials (or, at least, everyday materials for an art gallery).

If you don’t look too hard, this is still passably entertaining, with the art gallery providing an interesting location for some battles (the cat-fight between Sharon and Dane’s henchwoman comes to mind, ending on a piece of unfortunately-pointy artwork). Henriksen us good value as ever in the psycho role, e.g. shooting people because they can’t deliver Shakespeare to his liking and, while Payne is better known as a villain, he does decent work here in a more sympathetic role. However, the film doesn’t use them as effectively as before, and the film needs to be less obviously stage-managed towards its conclusion, which is obvious well before it happens. The flaws are likely not much worse here – just a little more obvious.

Dir: Paul Lynch
Star: Shannon Tweed, Lance Henriksen, Bruce Payne, Jayne Heitmeyer
a.k.a. Face the Evil

No Contest

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“No originality, no budget… But no disaster, either.”

An almost-entirely shameless Die Hard rip-off, this stars Tweed as Shannon Bell, the host of a beauty-pageant, which is interrupted by Oz (Clay) and his gang, who take a half-dozen of the beauty-queens and Bell hostage, up in the penthouse, and demand $10 million in diamonds for their release. Bell manages to slip away and, fortunately, her character is an actress, famous for playing action heroines [yeah, it’s all a bit ‘meta’ – except, it came out in 1992, largely before ‘meta’ became popular…]. So she gets to go all John McClane on their asses, crawling round air-ducts and assisting ex-federal agent Crane (Davi), who was bodyguarding one of the participants, who is a politician’s daughter, but popped outside the building for a fortunately-timed smoke.

The script is hackneyed, certainly, but it’s a stellar B-movie cast, that works well, and largely keeps things entertaining. This is where the thought has gone in. While Oz is undeniably brutal, he is as far from Hans Gruber as can be imagined, a foulmouth sleazeball rather than a suave sophisticat, and Bell, similarly, is the opposite of McClane, despite her action pedigree (one character describes the roles she plays as, “Bruce Lee with boobs”). Endearingly, she bursts into tears after she has to kill someone. Davi, of course, was in the original, playing Special Agent Johnson [“No – the other one…”], and we’ll watch anything with Piper in it, after They Live. It’s clear Tweed is not exactly in the realm of Lee, but does credibly enough to paper over the cracks, action-wise, and perhaps surprisingly, keeps her clothes entirely on.

Things do fall apart at the finale, which is convoluted and strained, to say the least: the film is much better when sticking to its basic premise – or, more accurately, someone else’s basic premise. But, having sat through much the same film with Anna Nicole Smith in the lead, this is an enormous improvement. Certainly, it’s cheap and cheerful, the kind of thing you can imagine seeing in an early 90’s videostore, with an appropriately lurid cover. But it is entertaining, and given the sights of the makers were clearly aimed no higher than that, has to be judged a success.

Dir: Paul Lynch
Star: Shannon Tweed, Andrew ‘Dice’ Clay, Roberto Davi, Roddy Piper

Hard to Die

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“I just want to get my clothes on and get out of here.”

This slice of cheese couldn’t be any riper. Five employees of the Acme Lingerie Company are called in to work on a Saturday to do inventory, despite the presence of creepy janitor Ketchum. A misdelivered package arrives, intended for Dr. Newton, an investigator of witchcraft, and when the ladies open it, they unleash the soul of a serial killer (allowing the use of flashback footage from a previous Wynorski flick. Sorority House Massacre). Meanwhile, the workers, having got all dusty gathering up boxes in the basement, make the logical decision: to take showers and try on the latest Acme line of skimpy products. Which they then wear for the rest of the film. As the unleashed killer picks off them, and everyone else in the building, one by one. Fortunate that there’s an arms dealer who has also set up shop on another floor, and who has left large quantities of merchandise and ammo around…

For the first 70 minutes, you’ll be wondering why this even qualifies for the site. It’s more in the campy horror line, with the emphasis more on the “camp” than the horror: always nice to see genre icon Forrest J. Ackerman in a supporting role. Otherwise, this is basically an excuse to ogle scantily-clad babes, but the tone is kept light – check out the squeaking sounds when they are assiduously soaping their breasts in the shower. Even the deaths are basically off-screen, with a fraction of the gore we get now, more than twenty years on. As a B-movie, it’s fine, but despite the title, Joe-Bob Briggs was about a million miles off when he said, “It’s the female version of Die Hard, full of lighting-hot action.” There’s a reason just about everyone involved uses pseudonyms. And then, fortunately, there’s the final reel, to which no description can do justice. Fortunately, someone posted it on YouTube, so I think I’ll just let the footage speak for itself.

Quite why they waited until the end to unleash this furious assault on the senses, I don’t understand. Is it great art? Not in the slightest. But it crams in more marvellous, lingerie-clad, automatic, dumbness into ten minutes than many better-known GWG entries do in their entire running-time, and should only be respected as such.

Dir: “Arch Stanton” [Jim Wynorski]
Star: Robyn Harris, Lindsay Taylor, Debra Dare, Orville Ketchum

Skyscraper

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The obvious point of comparison for Smith would be Pamela Anderson, another Playboy playmate who moved into films of doubtful quality, but any such comparison would be unfair. To Anderson, that is, who given the right role, is not actually too bad. With Smith, you get the feeling she simply has no talent, and any character would be a stretch, let alone the Shakespeare-aware, ace helicopter pilot and crackshot she is supposed to portray in this shameless Die Hard clone.

She is trapped in a tower block by a bunch of criminals who are after a computer chip which…er, well they never actually say what it does, but they clearly want it bad. Just like Brooce, she’s bickering with her other half, a police officer – “I wanna have a baby,” she whines, not long after the immortal line, “Well, excuse me for still believing in Sunday walks in the park and little babies.” It was at this point, that my sympathy for her character made its excuses and left.

Other points of similarity with McTiernan’s classic action film:

  • Hero/ine crashes in through a plate glass window, half-way up the building.
  • Slimy worker tries to cut a deal with the terrorists, only to get a fatal come-uppance.
  • Bad guys are largely European types – though in Skyscraper they look pretty gay, too.

When in motion, the general execution is not so bad, and the first of these probably provides the film’s best sequence, as Smith leaps onto a window-washer’s cradle, and dangles from a cable, trying to avoid gunfire from the rooftop. Not brilliant, I admit, but compared to much of the rest of the movie, it stands out as tense and well-staged.

The script and the acting sink this one early, and it’s damned further any time Smith opens her mouth. The chief villain – associate producer Hubner – quotes Shakespeare badly, mixing in the odd Biblical quote for good measure: his performance is mercilessly skewered in one review which includes a highly amusing parody of his style. Another article, now sadly lost, spent half its time detailing a Saturday night search for a copy of the video. The other supporting characters such as the cowardly security guard are, at best, good ideas badly implemented, and at worst, pointless wastes of space (who are probably also associate producers – there’s a coincidence!).

Smith whips ’em out four times: one shower scene, two consensual sex scenes (one as a flashback, while she’s right in the middle of evading the terrorists!), and one rape – the last of these might actually have some vague relevance to the storyline, but the others certainly don’t. Her attempt at any kind of action are ultra-lame as well, presumably out of fear that any kind of sudden motion could rupture an implant. She might have been better served by trying to smother the terrorists, Double Agent 73 style.

It’s easy to imagine the pitch for this one: “It’ll be Die Hard with tits!” Given the vast number of other clones in that style made before and since, such an endeavour was probably inevitable – and in the right hands, or at least with the right leading lady, might have had some potential. Instead, the main reason to watch this is for some cheap laughs at the most woeful acting performance since the early days of Pia Zadora. Bad movie fans will likely love it; everyone else should stay clear.

Dir: Raymond Martino
Stars: Anna Nicole Smith, Charles M. Huber, Richard Steinmetz, Branko Cikatic