Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Shrieker (1998)

Once upon a time, I was in the habit of staying up late watching movies on the Sci-Fi Channel (they spelled it correctly then) and one I remember in particular was Shrieker. I recall enjoying the movie and trying to find it on DVD or VHS (that's how long ago it was) and ultimately finding it not worth the bother.

(The film was ultimately released to DVD, apparently in multiple editions.)

Well, I found it on Amazon Instant Video and since I'm laid up for a few days with a back injury, I needed something to do. Time for a "Blast from the Past" movie review that's not related to Myopia: Defend Your Childhood. In the immortal words of the Heath Ledger Joker, here we go!

The Plot

College freshman and math major Clark (Tanya Dempsey) is looking for a cheap place to stay. She's invited by Zak (Jamie Gannon) to squat with him and some others at an abandoned hospital near campus. Said hospital has been abandoned for a reason--back in the 1940s, a series of grisly (and unsolved) murders took place.

Occultic shenanigans ensue. Does the mysterious Robert (Thomas R. Martin), who has been living in the basement unbeknownst the others, know what's going on? Can our heroes find out more before they all end up dead?

The Good

*The beginning features some discussion of the titular monster's origins and the wider occultic world that fuses both Christian and Lovecraftian elements. I'd have loved to see more on the cosmology.

*The filmmakers know that it's better to leave stuff to the imagination than show your hand (or monster) too early. In the beginning of the film all we get of the monster are its screams and brief glimpses and it's more than a little spooky. There are few if any full-body shots of the creature.

*There are some legitimately tense and scary moments in the film. I was actually surprised to find this.

*The movie starts with a bang with the Shrieker's first appearance in the 1940s. When we get to the present day, things get started pretty quickly. Clarke moves into the abandoned hospital and meets her fellow squatters, the Shrieker makes its first modern appearance, and Clarke meets the oddball Robert within the first fifteen or twenty minutes. It's rarely if ever boring.

*Some of the characters are pretty amusing, like the aspiring revolutionary Tanya (Alison Cuffe) or the property- and guns-rights enthusiast David (Parry Shen). Given today's concerns about representation, the depiction of David as something other than a wimpy nerd or a karate master might be attractive to some. I found Tanya and David's contrasting politics amusing.

*There's a joke involving the characters comparing their situation to the musical Rent I actually found amusing.

The Bad

*The acting in general really isn't much to write home about.

*There are some transitions of questionable quality, including what look like commercial-break edits from the television version. There are also some obviously reused shots. The film could've used a better editor.

*The film's run-time is a little over an hour. It would have been better if there was more to it. They could have fleshed out the cosmology and characters a bit more.

*In the prologue introducing the mythology, one of the ancient alchemists looks like they're sketching the Lament Configuration from Hellraiser. Umm...would it have been that hard to come up with some original Evil Eldritch Writing? Especially when they do have plenty of that elsewhere in the film.

The Verdict

Good bones, so to speak, but a little bony. Just rent it or watch it on TV. 6.0 out of 10.

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