Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
Jan 1st, 2007


Directed by Kevin VanHook
Written by Kevin VanHook
Starring Casper Van Dien, Kevin Grievoux, Jennifer O'Dell, Alexis Cruz
Produced by Kevin VanHook
87 mins

Kevin VanHook brings us another shockingly derivative work done with at least some style in "Slayer" a SciFi Channel Original Picture that really isn't all that original.

And with this Sci-Fi Not So Original Picture, we get a bunch of commandos down in South American jungle for no clear reason (something about rebels is mentioned in passing) that get attacked by vampires. The United States Government, of course, isn't about to admit that there's a bunch of pre-Incan vampires roaming South America--remember how much flack they took over "Ketchup is a vegetable"? So, they're just going to write the whole thing off as a "local tribal anomaly". And they're going to send the leader of the commando team back into said jungle to retrieve his scientist ex-wife. Oh, and probably have to kill his best friend, who was also on that commando team, and now may be the ruler of the local tribal anomaly, because wouldn't that just suck if he got back to the States and went on a book signing tour proving conclusively that the United States Government was capable of lying about something?

That just can't be!

But anyway, I seem to remember this being a movie on the Sci-Fi channel long before it actually hit video stores, so pardon me if I'm a smidge nonplussed before we even get this candle lit. The back of the box confirms my shattered memories--this is in fact a SciFi Original--which basically means welcome to the craps table, boys...purely random action. It might be good, but then, it might totally suck. And no, that's not a pun. Why does everyone think I'm trying to be funny when I say most vampire movies just plain suck?

Don't believe me? Here's a quick summary of what Kevin VanHook's trying to foist on us now: Johnny Rico from "Starship Troopers" going into the jungle to kill some guy from "Underworld", who's leading an attack squadron of vampires about to invade America. Oh, and Johnny's also got to rescue the hot chick from "The Lost World". Though I'm being facetious, the actors' best-known roles are quite accurate--the back of the box agrees with me in most cases--so it's pretty safe to say, hellooooo dumping ground!

Never mind that VanHook uses wire-fu like no tomorrow. Never mind that his script and choice of actors is about as bereft of originality as a desert is of water--it's freaking "Predator", for crying out loud! He just replaced extraterrestrial hunters with vampires! Never mind any of that. It may not be long on originality, but one thing you can say for VanHook's work is that it certainly is not dull. Nope, there's more than enough action going on around here for two movies. Lots of fighting, lots of gunplay, lots of vampires getting staked. No, this will not be boring, just wildly unoriginal. Though for some, that may make it boring enough.

The ending is much like the rest of the movie--packed with action, yet not featuring a whole lot beyond what you'd expect from it. But there are a couple handy plot twists at the end that help to redeem it from total mediocrity.

The special features include a commentary track, photo gallery, a copy of the screenplay for those of you with DVD-ROMs, and trailers for "Masters of Horror", "Voodoo Moon", "The Fallen Ones", "Room 6", and "Hellboy: Sword of Storms".

All in all, Kevin VanHook's latest effort is much like his earlier efforts: fair, with plenty of action, but not a whole lot of uniqueness to distinguish them from the pack.

Are You Scared?

Directed by Andy Hurst
Written by Ellis Walker
Starring Alethea Kutschner, Carlee Avers, Erin Consalvi, Brent Fidler
Produced by Michael Feifer
79 mins

Are you scared by a movie that takes the worst parts of our modern culture and piles them fast and deep in a fashion that makes you lament for the whole of civilization? If you can answer yes, then "Are You Scared?" is your movie of choice.

Destroying modern culture this week is six kids in the midst of a reality show that turns out to be entirely too real for anyone's good--with lethal consequences. The first minute is going to prove almost jaw-droppingly familiar. A disembodied voice watching from nowhere explains the terms of a game to a frightened participant with a reward on the line, and a price to be paid for failure. The game is called "Are You Scared?" and somehow, someone forgot to tell the folks involved that--son of a bitch, somehow we're in a SAW KNOCKOFF!!

I can't believe it. It's finally, finally crapped out to this. We've finally reached the point where direct to video is just another word for "who can rip off what the fastest?"

Frankly, I confess to some surprise. The cynic in me has been wondering for the last two years, give or take, how long it was going to take for some enterprising DTV soul to rip off "Saw". And to their credit, they had restraint enough to wait until "Saw III" cleared its theatrical release before launching off on the low-budget, poorly plotted and scaled-down movie of one of the most raw, brutish and ultimately effective splatter flicks of the twenty-first century.

And let's face it, that's what we've got here. There are no funky gadgets here. No triumphs of cobbled-together murder engineering. No incredible, vicious Rube Goldberg-esque killing machines (I still remember that revolver hooked to the peephole from "Saw II" with something like respect). However, there are some interesting traps--check out the twins on the drill press game about the half-hour mark. Most of the traps here will be much more industrial in nature.

Where "Saw" seemed to be mostly to be fever-dreams cobbled together by a highly intelligent amateur using whatever bits and pieces he could find and holding his festivities in former crack houses, "Are You Scared?" speaks to a much more deep-pockets killer who can order industrial equipment and use an abandoned factory for his abbatoir.

Some of us out there will say, well, welcome to the modern reality show era. Welcome to the era when hot, desperate women will throw themselves at a construction worker where they think a million dollar price tag is involved, or even less understandably, Flavor Flav. Welcome to an era where even my big fat fiance can get a twenty-share and even cartoons can get their own "Big Brother" style chicanery. Though in all honesty, the concept of vicious reality show has long since been done. "$la$her$" is an apt comparison, and surely we all remember the great Schwartzeneggerian opus that was "The Running Man". What? There was OPERA involved, for crying out loud. Basically, all "Are You Scared?" has managed to accomplish is taking a concept that isn't exactly new and merge it with one of the newest splatter franchises on the block. The result is surprisingly palatable, even if it's familiar.

Welcome to the cinematic equivalent of the Reese's peanut butter cup.

And yet...this is interesting. Is this supposed to be an actual reality show? Are these people applying for a show they've been watching Thursdays at nine? And has no one noticed that the participants don't seem to be coming back near as often as they go in? The cops are chasing rapidly after the guy behind it--just like in "Saw"--and yet all the participants seem convinced beyond all reason that they're there to be in a reality show, until they start witnessing people dying. I'm willing to express some begrudging respect for the first "Saw" knockoff, mostly because it is in fact the first of its kind, and was willing to intermingle the basic "Saw" concept with a reality show to give it that extra touch of originality. But, also, because it at least manages to do the job without being quite so sanctimonious as the "If you're not willing to risk death to live, you're not worthy of living" message that "Saw" bludgeons you with hundreds of times. And yet, we're still looking at a movie that's packed to the walls and ceilings with what amounts to pointless brutality, that's not so much scary as it is sickening.

The ending is a pretty big surprise. Seriously. It elevates my respect for this movie by at least a couple inches.

The special features include English and Spanish subtitles, and trailers for "Hard Candy", "See No Evil", "An American Haunting", "Stephen King's Desperation", "Dark Fields", and "The Feeding".

All in all, "Are You Scared?" proves to be a mixed bag of entertainment options, wavering from the interesting premise to the pointless killing spree to the big surprise. To answer the movie's self-styled question, yes, I'm scared...and at the same time, I'm surprised. Too much mindless brutality for my liking...but oh, what they did with it.