APRIL 12, 2012
If there’s one thing missing from American cinema these days, it’s bad puns related to the death scenes. You might get one at the very end when the main bad guy or monster is killed, but otherwise ever since Batman & Robin turned it into some sort of deranged art form, any movie with a budget steers clear of such nonsense. That’s where the Syfy Channel comes in, as movies like Caved In: Prehistoric Terror never got the memo, and eventually the movie is worth watching just to hear the next one.
Oddly, many of them are delivered by the victim moments before their death, instead of the hero (which is fine, since Christopher Atkins isn’t exactly Schwarzenegger). “Seeing this tears me apart!” the main human villain says, after announcing his plans to murder the other survivors in order to hide his crimes, but before he is indeed torn apart by the giant beetles that serve as the movie’s monster. Another guy complains about his “splitting headache” moments before a beetle splits his head in half, and in case you didn’t quite get that one, Atkins’ wife (Angela Featherstone) awkwardly says “When he said he had a splitting headache he wasn’t kidding”. Making it even sillier, she’s actually shooting the bugs to keep herself alive at the time, but damned if she was gonna let that opportunity for a joke pass her by. It’s almost a shame that five people walk away at the end; we could have had 3-4 more amazing puns.
Otherwise it’s pretty standard Sci-Fi channel nonsense, though I like that they rip off Cliffhanger by melding the giant bug plot with a survival tale of a guide (Atkins) having to help some criminals secure a payday in treacherous terrain (a deep mine/cave, which is the inverse of a mountain! Clever!). I also like that most of the criminals were actually on Atkins’ side; there was only one guy that was all “we need to get more emeralds!” while the others had the smarter idea of getting out alive. And Atkins is such a good guy that he doesn’t even really get too hostile toward him even after discovering that he has arranged for his family to be held hostage up above as collateral. I think the harshest thing he does is cut the dude’s water supply; the rest of the time he’s still playing the helpful guide. Stallone started fucking with his captors like 10 minutes after they took him!
In addition to Cliffhanger, I also got a Con Air vibe, as not only Featherstone but Colm Meaney were on hand, no doubt sharing stories about working on a 75 million tentpole a few years ago and now they’re both stuck in Romania making a giant beetle movie. Anyway, Meaney lends the movie some class, so it’s a shame that he gets taken out around the one hour mark. I was hoping he’d be more like Morgan Freeman in Hard Rain, a criminal but also an ally to our hero, happily getting away with his fortune at the end. And he doesn’t even get a pun, since he is shot to death instead of skewered or dismembered by the beetles. Weak sauce.
The FX aren’t too bad for a while, and I think they even had some practical pincers for closeups (hard to tell on this lo-res screener). The setting gives the movie some added suspense (questionably secure bridges, elevators falling apart, etc), so they can get away with not having wall-to-wall beetle action – I’m curious why Syfy doesn’t use this kind of setting more often, actually. But I guess the FX guys worked in sequence, because the finale FX are horrendous; both the obligatory “Queen” (which is like 30 feet tall) and the swarms of regular sized beetles around her look like the lamest PS1 cut-scene ever. I’d rather shitty FX in the first half or so if it meant having a more impressive climax, but that’s why I review the things instead of making them, I guess. Bonus points for the surprisingly graphic deaths though; lots of blood, intestines spilling out, decapitated heads, etc. Syfy (still Sci-Fi when this aired) is weird in that they won’t allow the profanity that Comedy Central uses constantly, but won’t cut a shred of graphic violence even during daytime viewing. However, they don’t take advantage of it very often; since most of their movies tend to be giant water monster based the deaths usually just involve someone going under the water and then a pool of red will form near the surface.
One thing I noticed is that it’s practically like the ABC Family version of a horror movie at times, as there’s stupid stuff like Atkins’ kid sneaking into the mine, and the bitchy teenage daughter who is sick of traveling around mines and mountains and wants to go to some tropical paradise for a vacation with them (she actually gets mad about her dad delaying a vacation – what 16ish girl wants to spend MORE time with her family?). The closing shot looks like something out of a low-rent Vacation sequel, with all of their problems being solved and the daughter totally loving her parents again and oh boy! They got a bag full of emeralds to retire with to boot! Yay! Sorry about all of the dead Romanians.
But it’s entertaining enough, and again, I like when they combine horror with survival adventure ideas. And it’s a hell of a lot better than The Cave, which this movie was probably designed to cash in on in the first place (and whose bloodless deaths were a major sore spot for me!). So in the realm of Syfy Original movies, this is basically Shawshank Redemption or something.
What say you?