MARCH 31, 2012
There are a handful of movies that I can’t conceive of someone disliking. Not my favorites, per se (I know perfectly well how/why people can and DO hate my 3 favorite movies), but movies that are just too damn good and culturally important to dismiss. One of them is Die Hard, and thus I’m actually kind of surprised that The Terror Experiment is one of very few horror films that combine the “Die Hard scenario” with a genre tradition, in this case zombies. Seems like a pretty obvious thing to do, but fear not – it’s not too late to do it right, because this movie’s a waste of time that will be forgotten by the time it actually hits disc on Tuesday.
At least it starts off well enough. A dirty bomb has been set off inside a Federal Building in Louisiana, turning everyone from a certain floor down into rampaging zombies (or, fine, “infected” – p.s. fuck you, they’re zombies), while the folks on the floors above the gas are OK but obviously can’t just head downstairs and get outside to safety. We’re given the usual ragtag group of random folks who don’t all get along, led by our most recognizable actor (Jason London), and the movie more or less follows their attempts to escape while being besieged by zombies at every turn.
That stuff covers about half of the movie or so, anyway. There’s also a hefty outside element, as the FBI, a group of firemen, a scientist, etc all gather outside and argue about jurisdiction and whether they should attempt rescue or blow the building to smithereens to ensure that the virus is contained. All of this stuff is wholly generic, but since the interior segments aren’t much better thanks to poorly shot (and overly CGI’d) action and far too much repetition, it’s not exactly doing any harm. It’d be like complaining that your broken down car also had an ugly paint job. Plus, with the exception of London, all of the actors you’d recognize (Judd Nelson, C Thomas Howell, Lochlyn Munro, Robert Carradine) are part of this outside team, so if anything these scenes offer slightly better acting and the semblance of a real movie.
On the other hand, these bits don’t have as much cribbing from Die Hard, something that gets pretty comical inside. The locked down building and personal agenda (London is trying to rescue his ex-wife! Bonus: their daughter as well) were more than enough to give me that Nakatomi vibe (as did the opening scenes showing how the terrorist was able to access the building and initiate phase one of his plan), but they go overboard with it. By the time London has tied a fire house around his waist and dove to safety, you’ll be wondering if you shouldn’t just be watching Sudden Death instead, since that one ripped off Die Hard just as much but at least offered some decent action sequences and a fun villain. Plus Van Damme fights a penguin at one point.
Sadly, that’s the most entertainment the movie offers. When it’s NOT stealing directly from a classic film, it’s just dull as dirt. The action scenes are all indifferent, including the climax in which some random guys in body armor take out a couple of zombies and London more or less waltzes out the door with barely a scratch on him. There’s also a ridiculously implemented “countdown” in which the building will self-destruct, which would be fine if there was any sense of urgency to it. But no, they have like six hours or something, and every time they check in with the count there’s still plenty of time, rendering it a wholly useless diversion that adds not one iota of suspense to the proceedings. You know, they love Die Hard so much – did they not check out part 2, where McClane had two hours to stop the terrorists before his wife’s plane ran out of fuel? Now THAT’S a countdown! Six hours, fuck – McClane would have went back and schmoozed with that hot customer service girl for a bit to kill some time.
But that’s just another example of the movie’s abundance of padding, which literally starts as soon as the film does as it opens with zombies attacking folks at random while others flee in several directions – general chaos, in other words. So you’re thinking, OK this is the end and the movie will depict how it got that bad, right? Nope – we see all of this stuff again, no lie, 15 minutes later. It pays off in no way at all, and we don’t learn anything but the obvious (“there was a zombie outbreak”) once the scene has context. Also, they cut repeatedly to a cop driving to the building, which would be fine if he was going to be a major character or if his police radio was providing us with new information, but no, it’s just a bunch of random shots of an equally random character, adding nothing to the film but 2-3 minutes of screentime to make its 82 minute length (which includes duplicate full credit sequences).
Thankfully, Anchor Bay has spared us any visual extras – not even the trailer is present here (though it has a few for other releases). The sole supplement related to the film is a commentary by executive producer/director George Mendeluk, who falls silent for the first time (of many) in the film’s first 30 seconds. I’m sorry, if you can’t talk for a few minutes straight at the very beginning of a commentary track for your own film, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing one. Then again, based on the rest of the track, maybe Mendeluk shouldn’t be directing films at all, as he has almost nothing to say about the actual process of making the film, merely offering things like “This is a CGI shot of this vent” or “We shot in two locations”. He’s also fond of pointing out the other, usually better movies that his actors were in before they slummed it here. “You might recognize her from National Treasure”, he tells us about the lovely Alicia Leigh Willis. But I didn’t recognize her, because she was actually in the 2nd film, where she played “Lady Customer”. One might wonder why he didn’t point out her more substantial roles, but he continually opts to point out their most high profile films, because he mistakenly assumes this will impress whoever is stupid enough to listen to him. He also claims C Thomas Howell played *the* boy in ET (no, he played *a* boy; Henry Thomas played THE boy, you twit) and boasts about another actor’s role in the Twilight films. Again, the role he mentions is insignificant (“Frat Boy”), but hilariously – the actor in question is his own son! You’d think he’d lead with that. Long story short – he comes off like one of those schmucks that think of filmmaking solely as a business investment, with zero affinity for anything on the screen; the most animated he gets during the entire track is when he (erroneously) explains Campbell’s hero’s journey, even adding that Campbell lived on Skywalker Ranch (he did not). If Campbell were alive today, he’d probably get about 10 minutes into this movie before deciding being dead was preferable.
What say you?