Sunday, January 28, 2007

Some Things Are Better Left Unfound

I'll blog about B-Fest later in the week, but let me take this time to recommend a cool new horror movie. ABOMINABLE received quite a bit of positive buzz last spring when it played in a handful of theaters last spring. It ended up basically debuting on the Sci-Fi Channel last May, but it deserved much more. This would have been a fun movie to see in a packed theater. It's not a particularly original or clever film, but it's very well conceived and constructed, and it utilizes its low budget extremely well. If you ignored it on television, thinking it was akin to the Sci-Fi Channel’s never-ending display of stupid, cheap monster flicks, add it to your Netflix queue. The debut feature of director Ryan Schifrin, who recruited his father, legendary composer Lalo Schifrin (of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and DIRTY HARRY fame) to do the score, ABOMINABLE deftly combines REAR WINDOW with FRIDAY THE 13TH to form an old-fashioned creature feature with heavy dollops of gore, suspense and recognizable genre veterans.

On the advice of his physician, Preston Rogers (Matt McCoy, who has been dependably acting on television and in genre pictures since the '80s) returns to the mountain cabin where he was living when he and his wife were involved in a tragic mountain-climbing accident that killed her and left him permanently disabled from the waist down. Adding to his reluctance to go back to the empty home that carries sad memories is his nonchalantly neglectful staff-assigned caretaker, Otis (Christien Tinsley, the film’s special makeup effects artist making his acting debut). Otis temporarily leaves to pick up some groceries, leaving Preston with little to do but watch his neighbors: five sexy young women enjoying a bachelorette weekend. Depressed from the accident and numb from the meds prescribed by his doctor, Preston’s will to live is rejuvenated in a highly unusual manner when he witnesses what he believes to be a monster of some sort abduct one of the girls. Analogous to the fabled Sasquatch, this ain’t no HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS cuddly. Whatever it is, it’s mean, strong and awfully hungry, as it rips through most of the cast, leaving the wheelchair-bound Preston and blond Amanda (Haley Joel), one of the neighbors, to fend it off.

Little about ABOMINABLE is original or especially clever—Schifrin’s DVD commentary is a laundry list of his influences, including Romero, Spielberg, Raimi, Lucas and many other filmmakers—but it’s assembled quite well and relies on old-school makeup effects and good performances to earn its scares. McCoy, well cast in the James Stewart role, spends much of his screen time alone, staring out a window or typing on his computer keyboard. Despite the handicaps placed upon him as a result of his character’s incapacities, McCoy manages to express the right emotional beats and eventually teams up with Joel as an active, not a passive, hero. Adding delightful color to the proceedings is a roster of character actors instantly recognizable to fans of this type of film, including Dee Wallace Stone (THE HOWLING) and Rex Linn as a couple terrorized by the creature, Jeffrey Combs (RE-ANIMATOR) as a redneck store clerk, Paul Gleason (THE BREAKFAST CLUB) as a jerk sheriff, Phil Morris (whose father, Greg Morris, was a regular on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE) as a deputy, and Lance Henriksen, who worked one day, as a gung-ho hunter who faces the creature while armed with a shotgun.

Most of the film takes place on one location, but Schifrin keeps the camera moving and the setups looking natural. Thankfully, he refrains from gimmicky cinematography and Avid farts, allowing the woody atmosphere and creepy nighttime shooting to provide suspense. It also helps that his monster is a well-constructed man-in-a-suit Bigfoot that looks convincing even in close-ups. Seen only fleetingly in the early-going, the monster, created by Tinsley and played by 6’8” Mike Deak, is an impressive achievement even later in the picture, when Schifrin shows it from head-to-toe performing several chases and stunts. Its perpetually angry expression perhaps strains disbelief, although the monster’s physical resemblance to Jack Elam (!) seems too obvious to be coincidental.

Also of consequence is Lalo Schifrin’s fully orchestral score, which is rich and suspenseful and adds immeasurably to ABOMINABLE’s goosebump quotient. Why he isn’t working more often on studio features is one of Hollywood’s most unfortunate mysteries. The music certainly adds class to the occasionally exploitative goings-on, which includes some surprisingly grisly gore (particularly a shot of the monster biting a victim’s face off) and even a welcome shower scene performed by Tiffany Shepis. ABOMINABLE appears to be a monster movie made for horror fans with a fondness for the old-fashioned.

ABOMINABLE was Paul Gleason's last film. He died of lung cancer just after it opened in Los Angeles. I visited his grave when I was in Los Angeles in October and was touched to see that his headstone references both his acting and his baseball careers (he played minor league ball as a young man). His role in ABOMINABLE is a small one, but he embodies it quite well, a riff on his iconic BREAKFAST CLUB principal, which is the subject of a neat in-joke in Schifrin's movie.

Having a famous father certainly has its perks. Not only was Schifrin able to land some name actors and top-level production facilities, but he also got the great Drew Struzan to design ABOMINABLE's one-sheet, which you can see above (or click it to get a larger view). It's too bad few theaters got to display it.

1 comment:

katie said...

boo - blog about b-fest!!!