Thursday, 15 March 2012

From the archives: Alone in the Dark

Another oldie, from around 2006 this time. Uwe Boll was just beginning to make serious inroads to my crap-film-loving brain. I later wrote a feature on the good Doctor for the Quietus (linked on the right somewhere), but for now let's look back to...

Alone in the Dark
Back in the eighties when the home video market took off in a big way (a phenomenon I'm old enough to remember... aah Inseminoid [image] ) there were a handful of producers and directors who excelled in making movies specifically for that market. The biggest name in straight-to-video scifi/horror/action was Charles Band (now well known for his Full Moon company). Charles Band films were low budget and cheesy but full of character and often very funny. There is obviously a market for the Band brand as he has directed twenty-six and produced an astonishing two hundred and thirty-two films for the home video, DVD and cable market! Band is the positive face of uncinematic low budget scifi horror popcorn movies. He gave the world the Trancers and Puppetmaster series' and introduced Tim Thomerson to the world as a leading man (genius). He also hired Albert Pyun a couple of times. Albert was like the prototype Paul W. Anderson, there was no genre or style he could not rape wholesale to knock out his cheap, derivative (but entertaining) flicks, and he's still out there (@AlbertPyunFilms), somehow getting money to do his thing (although it appears that some of his fund raising methods may be dubious, he allegedly owes the government of Guam huge amounts of cash which they stumped up to fund his opus 'Max Havoc: Curse Of The Dragon').

I propose that the logical progression was for the major studios to realise that not only do they not have to produce anything original, in addition they too can plunder the existing library and hire a pro to cobble together money making garbage, but this time with a substantial budget and the promotional steamroller to MAKE us go see it. Enter Paul W.S. Anderson, Hack Extraordinnaire and director of video game and comic book adaptations. How the hell that even happened is anyone's guess as his first film, 'Shopping', was dire. It's ironic that major Hollywood player and cardboard cut-out Jude Law also owes his big break to 'Shopping'. In Anderson's favour his Hollywood films are watchably bad, and there are some things he does rather well. He has a good ability to integrate special effects into his work and everything does look slick, it just lacks character. Event Horizon is a great example. As Anderson farmed out the directing jobs for the Resident Evil sequels and AvP, and has entered remake territory with 'Deathrace 3000' then a gap in the video game adaptation market has yawned wide-open and, just in the nick of time, been filled by the sizeable personality of Uwe Boll!

Uwe Boll is an enigma. In the space of three years he became the internet fan's most hated and reviled character, and he hadn't even begun to roll. He owns his own production company and so has sole creative control over his projects yet manages to convince HUGE companies to entrust him with the reputation of their multi-million dollar franchises. How does he do it? I personally believe he is the modern day J Edgar Hoover and has embarrassing files on every major video game company executive in the world. He probably wears dresses too.

'House Of The Dead' was his first sojourn into the realm of video game adaptations, yes it was woeful but I enjoyed it on exactly the same level that I enjoyed Charles Band or Albert Pyun films when I was 14. I had no experience of the game on which it was based so had no axe to grind on that score. I'm a huge zombie movie fan but as I can happily watch any Italian stinkfest involving zombies I didn't mind it's bizarre approach to the zombie horror genre. I can handle a bit more Boll I thought to myself. So one day I watched 'Alone In The Dark', and here is what I found.

It begins with a crawl (like the text at the beginning of each Star Wars film to give us a bit of background), a fairly common tool in scifi and horror but this is no ordinary crawl. It goes on for HALF THE MOVIE, and has to be the longest, most excrutiatingly badly written piece of exposition ever to precede a movie. Just in case you don't like crawls, hate reading or are just plain illiterate fear not, Boll provided us with an anonymous eastern European sounding narrator so there is no escape from the mediocrity. In a nutshell it says that an ancient race called the Abkani created a gate to somewhere (probably dark) and before they could close it 'some evil' came through and they disappeared. Meanwhile an archaeologist blah blah, a shadowy government bureau blah blah, etc. According to the director he added the crawl because preview audiences didn't know what the hell his film was all about! Thanks for clearing that up for us Uwe.

Anyway Edward Carnby is a paranormal investigator. He looks the part anyway.
Long coat?
Skimpy low necked vest?
Erm.. Check!
Ability to karate kick impervious-to-bullets bad guys through windows?
Ugh... hang on a minute. I've never played the Alone In The Dark video games but had heard that they were adventure games of Gothic horror inspired by H. P. Lovecraft! In fact the mini-documentary on the disc features the writers and director name-checking Lovecraft numerous times. But then again Boll does say something along the lines of 'Lovecraft in a contemporary setting', so if contemporary means pointless kung fu fights and bullet-time then they've absolutely done everything right.
A thousand times wrong! I've banged my drum about gratuitous slow motion before but have to confess that, like seventies Hong Kong cinema with their hilarious irrelevant zooms, Boll has elevated irrelevant slow motion to the level of an art form. An irrelevant art form but an art form nonetheless.

Carnby: 'Will someone tell me what's going on here?'
Bureau woman: 'We're picking up massive readings!'
Carnby: 'That's not what I asked! I asked what the hell is going on here?'

On several occasions during the film I knew exactly how Carnby felt. Incidentally Carnby is played by Christian Slater, by no means the worst piece of casting in 'Alone In The Dark'.
After all Stephen Dorff plays a tough, uncompromising and quite frankly unpleasant government bureau action man called 'Burke' and, most hilariously of all, Tara Reid (of American Pie) plays an archaeologist called 'Aline'. I say hilariously because it seemed to me that every time she had to say 'cataloguing' or 'catalogued', or any sentence with more than seven words, her dialogue appeared dubbed on, as though Uwe had said 'Don't worry Fraulein, we'll get it in post!' Ironic when you consider that Tara could do so much better in actual catalogues. She would look mighty fine on the cover of the autumn/winter edition of Grattan.

Boy on plane: 'My mommy says that there is nothing to be afraid of in the dark.'
Carnby: 'Your mother's wrong, kid. Being afraid of the dark is what keeps most of us alive.'

Chill out Carnby you uptight freak! He was just making conversation. Carnby is like the movie, he has absolutely no sense of humour whatsoever, and for a movie that even rips off 'The Relic' at one point it really needs to get one fast. Ultimately, despite the source material and the claimed (but conspicuously absent) Lovecraftian inspiration 'Alone In The Dark' isn't a horror movie, it's a low quality action adventure. Carnby doesn't investigate the paranormal, he blows away CGI monsters with, and I quote, 'photon accelerated luminescent resin coated bullets'.
The days of Pyun and Anderson are gone, there is a new hack in town, and with another FIVE video game adaptations coming our way from Boll Filmproduction and Boll KG (Bloodrayne is completed and reviewed elsewhere) it appears Herr Boll's sojourn is looking more than permanent.
I cannot recommend this film to anyone except people like me, the curious and the insane, and it defies my ability to give it a rating. Watch it or don't.

Join me again soon for a review of Postal which, I'm convinced, will be the best film to come out of the US since Mario Bros. Curiously enough I've been hearing a lot of retrospective love for the Mario Bros film. I may have to grab a copy.

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