An estranged and recently widowed grandfather purchases a used RV to take one last family road trip with his two sons, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter to rekindle a broken relationship. On an isolated stretch of desert highway, the family decides to pull over to assist two stranded motorists and offer them a ride to the next town. Suddenly, the RV veers out of control, steering itself to the middle of the dangerously sweltering desert. The group now finds themselves all stranded and alone with a RV that outputs a strange vibe, displaying vividly horrific secrets inside the RV’s enclosure. One-by-one, the RV kills them off and soon they realize that their ride to family fun is no more than a reincarnated recreational vehicle with a long lineage for death and thirsty for new blood.
Fan crushes are a strange phenomena. Once an actor or an actress imprints their image, their voice, or their one-time portrayal of a charismatic character onto you, the unexplainable captivation never releases the firm grip around the psyche. Denise Richards has had a long impression on this reviewer, resulting in a severe case of fan crush. The Illinois actress won my heart as the determinedly beautiful starship pilot Carmen Ibanez in Paul Veerhoven’s “Starship Troopers,” one year before her anticipated and unforgettable champagne popping nude scene in the convoluted thriller “Wild Things.” Twenty years later, Richards, an ageless beauty, co-stars in the Tom Nagel supernatural horror, “The Toybox.” Nagel (“Clowntown”) directs his sophomore film penned by screenwriter Jeff Denton and, together, the pair of filmmakers toy with and present an idea of a detestable serial killer leaving his twisted soul in the under the rusted hood of a his torture chamber, a beat up old RV camper. A killer RV story that sounds to be right up horror-comedy’s alley is actually a rather earnest narrative that has a solid kill count with an innovative, outside the box villain and a no one is safe attitude.
I’ve already mentioned that the goddess Denise Richards co-headlines “The Toybox” and though I have yet to experience her more recent work over the years, “Valentine” was the last horror film that I can recall with Richards in the cast and her role in Nagel’s film as a loving, yet undisciplined mother and wife in “The Toybox” puts her at the opposite spectrum of her roles in the late 90’s/early 2000’s career. Still, the now recently re-married mother of two still has her unrivaled hots and still has her acting chops as a leading lady despite the lack of Hollywood glam and stardom. Her co-star, Mischa Barton, has been an upcoming figure in the b-horror community. “The O.C.” actresses has starred in a string of horror films in recent years such as “The Hoarder,” “L.A. Slasher,” and “Apartment 1303 3D.” Barton tackles a tomboy Samantha whose picked up, along with her brother, by the RV traveling family and while Barton has a fine performance, she doesn’t quite sell the intensity as a final girl. Greg Violand (“The Devil’s Toy Box”), Matt Mercer (“Contracted”), David Greathouse (“Yoga Hosers”), writer Jeff Denton, director Tom Nagel, and introducing Malika Michelle round out of the remaining cast.
“The Toybox” loosely aims to unravel the inner turmoils of the characters mainly focusing around the estranged relationship of the father and his two sons. The trio can’t quite shake the secret inducing uneasiness that boils inside their broken relationship, making a situational cakewalk for the killer RV to pit them against each other as a deranged therapy session to unsheathe their kindred issues. The bickering and the blaming hurts those they love the most around them first, a very relatable and unfortunate circumstance in beyond the sensational borders of movie magic. However, no matter how much movie magic Nagel constructs to gore-out “The Toybox,” a stiflingly story rears an ugly head via undercooked characters pivotal in being the heart of the narrative. Samantha, Barton’s character, has soft, buttery edges that don’t take shape to ultimate purpose for being a focal point and the same can be said for David Greathouse’s serial killer character Robert Gunthry whose RV-inhabiting backstory is whipped swiftly a single anecdote.
Skyline Entertainment and Steel House Productions present Tom Nagel’s “The Toybox” onto Blu-ray home video in high definition 1080p and a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Image is quite sharp despite lacking vivid coloring and going more for a dusty western-horror, exhibiting the rocky arid landscape of the pacific coast. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is nothing to write home about, but offers a clean dialogue track, ample ambience, and balance. Depth’s slightly weak, but won’t hinder the experience. Bonus material on the single layer BD-25 includes a behind the scenes of various takes throughout production, the theatrical trailer, and a feature commentary with cast and crew. “The Toybox” is no child’s plaything. A RV serial killer with the homicidal motivations stemmed from pure evil and, in a fair opinion, only director Tom Nagel could have poised a coherent film without making it out too, for a lack of a better word, campy and that’s not my weird obsession with Denise Richards talking.
One of New York City’s popular skyscrapers, the Millennial Building, is a modern marvel with 102 floors sought to be visited by national and international tourists, looking to reach the zenith and take a once-in-a-lifetime, awe inspiring gander across the Big Apple’s urban jungle landscape or seeking to be a working stiff inside the immaculate bones of the building’s historical foundation. Every day, thousands of visitors and employees ride the Millennial Building’s 73 elevators, assuming the safest ride possible to the touch the bottom of the sky, but when a deranged scientist implements a controversial biomedical computer into the building’s elevator vascular network, one tragic accident after another compiles fatal consequences within the vertical box that draws negative national attention. Elevator mechanic Mark Newman teams up with a rebellious newspaper reporter Jennifer Evans to investigate and uncover the a larger-than-life conspiracy behind a killer elevator organism.
Over three decades ago, Dutch filmmaker Dick Maas wrote, directed, and released the killer elevator film, simply titled “De Lift,” in the Netherlands. About 18 years later after his commercial success for “De Lift,” Mass spawned an American remake of the film entitled “Down,” also known as “The Shaft,” that transformed into the forgotten bastard when compared to Maas’ 1983 feature. To be frankly, “Down’s” terror-comedy knack with spunky characters and zany deaths put the 2001 remake right smack dab at the top of the repeat value charts and despite the lack of rigorous plausibility, the refreshingly no-holds barred, fun zone horror film doesn’t think twice, charging forward with gun blazing in an elevator ride to cinematic hell that shows no mercy and gives not one single care with each surpassing floor level. Be damned the backstory with meager exposition! Be damned the underdeveloped characters who are pivotal to the plot! Be damned the complexities of how the biomedical elevator system is able to live, breath, and reproduce through murder and mayhem! “Down” has a black and white, up and down glory that’s considered b-horror good that’s very reminiscent of the early films of Peter Jackson.
If you’re going to remake a killer elevator film, go big with the cast and Mass surely pulled through by signing cult genre stars of the time. Naomi Watts was just coming into the mainstream scene as she tackled well-received projects around that same time frame between David Lynch’s “Mulholland Dr.” and “The Ring” a year later, but the “Tank Girl” actress showed more than just her aesthetic assets, more than just shrieking horrific screams, and more than just displaying her big guns. In “Down,” she proved to be a gung-ho, rough-it-with-the-boys portrayer of a feisty reporter whose hot on the trail of a conspiracy helmed by surreptitious characters played Michael Ironside, who did not lose an arm in this film like he does in “Total Recall,” “Starship Troopers,” and “The Machinist,” and Ron Pearlman (“Hellboy,” “Cronos”). However, James Marshall, in the lead as the elevator mechanic, couldn’t ratchet tight a performance that called for concern and durability; instead, Marshall, known for playing James Hurley in “Twin Peaks,” schlepped clumsily on screen compared to the aggressively hungry Watts. Eric Thal (“The Puppet Masters”), Dan Hedaya (“Alien: Resurrection”), Edward Herrmann (“The Lost Boys”), and Kathryn Meisle (“Basket Case 2”) round out the remaining cast.
“Down’s” commercial success was plunging disaster. Reasons ranging from a flimsy premise to being an unconventional horror to the genre were, more than likely, not the major players in “Down’s” inability to elevate an audience. More so, the reasons stem solely between one or two factors, if not both. For one, Maas writes New Yorkers as belligerent morons, cocky, greedy, and deranged. Many of the characters are like this and if there was any that embodied any sliver of rationality or humanitarian attributes, there screen time was quick and fruitless. Secondly, though “Down” released in the spring of 2001, a film set in a New York City high rise with multiple mentions of terrorists and even verbally conveying a foiled plot to take down the twin towers probably hurt the film’s home entertainment value to the point where a DVD release didn’t surface until a good two years after the theatrical premiere.
Aside from all the delays, harsh reviews, and a shoddily cropped Artisan DVD release, Blue Underground delivers a godsend presenting “Down” on Blu-ray/DVD combo. The 1080 HD on a BD 50 dual layer disc has a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio and radiates with clarity; so clear, that I had a hard time placing the year as the image certainly outshines most turn of the century products. An immense amount of detail just exemplifies the extraordinary content without appearing as a discount deal for special effects. Audio options include an English and French 5.1 DTS-HD and an English and French Dolby Digital stereo with both including optional English SDH subtitles and Spanish subtitles. The amount of range is leaps and bounds beyond the Artisan’s par quality with the 5.1 channelling maximized quality and clarity. Dialogue track is clear and free from obstructions with the only stain being the horrendously dubbed diner jerk that punches James Marshall in the face, but that’s not necessary a make or break blemish. Bonus materials include audio commentary with writer-director Dick Maas and stunt coordinator Willem de Beukelaer, the making of “Down,” behind-the-scenes footage that’s exclusive to the Blu-ray, theatrical trailer, poster and still gallery, and teaser trailers of upcoming releases. The casing itself harnesses a collectible booklet with new essays by Michael Gingold. “Down” finally shines through with a stellar release from Blue Underground, a leader in restoring and releasing cult films. If in the mood for a story without much thought while desiring to choke on out of this world terror-comedy then “Down” is a must on the upcoming marquee!
Spiders creep me the hell out. Eight legs, hairy, lots of black eyes, fangs – Spiders are frightening creatures of nature especially if you’re an insect. Spiders can hunt probably better than any human can as they can spin a web to capture their pray, dig holes to create traps for passing by prey, and can inject poison to paralyze their soon to be meal. I’m so fascinated (and frightened) of spiders that I had to review a copy of Tibor Takacs film simply
A disabled Soviet Union space station once harvested alien DNA that would only combine with the genes of spiders. The station was abandoned and 20 years later, the station orbits earth until a crumbling meteor slams into the station breaking off portion and sending the space junk into the atmosphere and crash landing into New York City’s metro underground. The mutated spiders lay eggs inside their prey and grow six inches every hour. A massive military cover up exposes the greed behind a rogue colonel’s intentions and its up to a metro controller and his estranged ex-wife, a city health inspector, to bring the surface the truth of the colonel malicious reign and to stop the mutant spiders from taking over the city.
Director Takacs isn’t new the giant spider genre as he directed the 2007 TV movie Ice Spiders which didn’t fair too well with audiences, but who doesn’t love man-eating monstrous spiders? 2013’s Spider’s feels like David Arquette starred Eight Legged Freaks with the terror among the community in an old fashion creature feature, but Spiders does stand on it’s own eight legs by making the spiders alien in origin. Adding the once softcore porn actress Christa Campbell doesn’t hurt either. Campbell is accompanied by Patrick Muldoon who might remember from another arachnid type sci-fi movie Starship Troopers as the fleet pilot Zander. Muldoon also appeared in Ice Spiders – the guy has a thing for spiders.
Takacs surprises me with the quality of Spiders and his other recent work. The story and the effects are okay and passable, but not as creatively outstanding as 1987’s The Gate – the film that had boosted his career as well as Stephen Doriff’s. These computer generated spiders are awkward when crawling and their razor-teeth filled mouths are even more awkward when stretched out to devour the next victim. However, Takacs knows how to keep an adventure and the action going and continuous, but seems to lack character motivation at times. I struggle to comprehend and begin to question our hero’s (Muldoon) and heroine’s (Campbell) choices in handling the spider chaos and the military’s cover-up. Also, I’m finding difficulty understanding that Muldoon’s character can outwit a giant Queen spider which is three stories tall while an entire military force can’t even handle the baby 4 foot tall male spiders.
With Spiders you will have to stretch your imagination beyond the limits of logical thinking, but with most creature features, you kind of need to and with that said, Spiders fairs well among the latest in the monster spider genre which has been severely neglected over the last five years. Spiders is also available in 3D if you have the capabilities! Thank you Millennium Films and Nu Image productions for a terrifying arachnophobia experience.
Like Paul Verhoeven’s intergalactic warfare movie Starship Troopers where mankind battles an arachnid army known as “Bugs?” Did you know that Starship Troopers is based off a novel of the same title and was published in the late 1950s? Well if you did not know, now you do! Written by a former naval lieutenant Robert Heinlein Starship Troopers bares little action similarities to the novel’s more recent movie counterpart.
Juan Rico decides to join the service against his parents’ wishes and embarks from a private in boot camp to non-commissioned office to finally commissioned officer. Rico’s backdrop is war; an intergalactic war with a nasty enemy known as the “Bugs,” an arachnid species that can calculate and that can strategize with the help of a brain caste pulling all the strings.
If you’ve seen the movie, the plot pretty much describes the movie, right? Most of the Heinlein’s novel follow’s Juan “Johnnie” Rico’s career through the trials and tribulations of Service, from boot camp to being a lieutenant, in becoming a citizen, but the action and bloody mess that was experiences on the big screen was not translated from the book as most of the Mobile Infantries whom were killed in action were described as “buying the farm.” You can’t blame Heinlein as this book was written in 1959 mentally constructed as a totally different mind set than from our generation. The words on page are seriously outdated and can be technical for the most of the novel due to Heinlein’s military background.
The novel touches more upon the power suits which make an appearance in Starship Troopers: Marauder (“Marauder” is a name of one of the many power suits). These suits give Rico and the other M.I.s a superhuman ability and give them an even playing ground with the Bugs. I rather prefer no power suits as like in Verhoeven’s film that make the bugs seem like an unstoppable force. The novel does delve a bit more into the Bug society and hierarchy as well as how the Bugs reproduce endlessly. Much of James Cameron Aliens was inspired of Heinlein’s novel in the aspects of “Bugs” and their being a Queen to produce the “warrior Bugs.”
Heinlein touches mainly on civic duty and the social norms of a military lifestyle through the confines of war. We live through Juan Rico much like we live through Johnny Rico in the movie, but don’t expect to read much about Johnny Rico’s companions. Ace, Carl, Carmen, Dizzy Flores, Sargent Zim are a few characters that you might remember from the film that are in the book, but Ace, Carl, Carmen and Dizzy are brief mentions that probably span no more than a page and half out of 260 plus pages. Zim is all through bootcamp and near the end of the novel. Instead, Juan Rico encounter various people and ranks that stem from privates to cadets to sergeants to generals.
Starship Troopers can be an interesting read for anybody with a military frame of mind or a curiosity for it. But don’t expect the chaos of battle scenes or the gore of the arachnid M.I. slaughter. Robert Heinlein’s novel will not be everyone, but a good read none-the-less.