Thursday, December 23, 2010

Predator: The Quietus (1988)

Directed by: Leslie McCarthy
Written by: Leslie McCarthy, Mike Sullivan
Starring: Mike Sullivan, Mark Gover, Darryl Marchant, Cordelia Roche

A bit of cryptozoological background before we begin.  Starting in the 1970’s, sightings were reported of a large, possibly supernatural “phantom cat” in Exmoor National Park, near the counties of Devon and Somerset in the U.K.  It was a minor member of the cryptid fold until 1983, when a farmer from the small town of South Molton claimed that nearly 100 of his sheep had their throats ripped out by the beast within a three month span.

The possibility of supernatural goings on is obviously bullshit. It’s also highly unlikely that a single big cat, or even a group of them small enough to avoid all but the occasional sighting, would slaughter a hundred sheep in three months (predators don’t kill for fun, and big cats of the puma or leopard variety that the Beast of Exmoor is described as typically drag their kill into a tree or other hiding place to eat it), so the farmer was possibly exaggerating for publicity, or some sicko decided it would be fun to further the Beast of Exmoor legend by destroying some poor man’s livelihood. 

However, some time in the 60’s a law was passed in England making it illegal to privately own big cats, so it’s possible that someone let their pet panther loose in the park, where some people saw it, and even after it died (they have about the same lifespan as a medium sized dog, 12 to 15 years), the legend of a ghost cat stuck in folk memory.  After all, what’s more fun to talk about over a few pints, a guy’s pet wandering the woods or an otherworldly feline spirit fond of dining on people who stray into the woods after dark?

It’s almost inevitable that a cryptid is going to have a movie made about it at some point, and while a puma, corporeal or otherwise, isn’t exactly my idea of a great horror movie monster, the woods and moors of England are about the creepiest place I can think of to have such a movie take place.  That is, unless the makers of said movie don’t have a clue how to make a movie that anyone would want to sit through.  There’s only so far you can coast by pointing your camera at a spooky woods and letting the spooky woods do all the work.  At some point, you have to put a bit of effort in yourself.  Unfortunately, the makers of today’s movie not only tried to coast on the woods’ spookiness, they appear to have actively tried to derail it in virtually every scene in every way they could think of.

A series of cattle mutilations and disappearing teens in the sleepy little towns around Exmoor prompts a big New York tabloid magazine called, originally enough, the Enquirer, to send star reporter Kelly O’Neill to Exmoor with a semi-retired big game hunter and/or poacher bounty hunter (they never really do make up their minds what he does) Daniel Kane (writer Sullivan, keeping the choice manly man role for himself) to track the beast down and bring it back dead or alive.

There’s a lot of wandering around in the woods, intercut with seemingly random scenes of some punks dirt biking and drinking in a cabin, a couple of ineffectual police officers, and two old Irish drunks.  This has an effect something like if you were building speed on an on-ramp to get onto an interstate highway, and right before you merged into traffic, your passenger yanked the emergency brake.  The movie builds momentum, slams on the brakes, and then desperately tries to ramp back up to the action before it gets creamed from behind by a semi truck.  The editing technique used for this flick is akin to putting together a super detailed 1,000 piece airplane model with a nail gun and a sledge hammer instead of glue and tweezers.

The best line of dialogue in the whole movie comes from the old fellows’ introduction scene.  Kelly has just asked Daniel to take her to a “real English pub, I’ve heard so much about them”.  Really?  What?  That the buildings are older and they serve better beer than American bars?  Not a ton of difference other than that.  Anyway, Mr. Rooney and Mr. Clancy (who talks in the most hilariously stereotypical Irish lilt I’ve ever heard, where he can’t seem to control the pitch of his voice) walk in and have this long two shot about how much they love drinking.  Kelly says, with the most genuinely innocent excitement, “Look, Daniel, that’s real Irish charm!”  Hotshot New York tabloid reporter, instantly reduced to the level of a wide-eyed toddler at her first sighting of the terribly exciting phenomenon of…old guys in a bar drinking Guinness.

There is one other character I’ve not yet mentioned, and he’s easily the most…well fine, he’s the only interesting thing in the movie.  His name is Wilbur Sledge (Marchant, who according to IMDB has no other credits to his name although I swear I‘ve seen him in something else), and he wanders around the forest followed by an invisible synthesizer orchestra spouting faux-Shakespeare twaddle about nature.  He looks like the result of a genetic experiment to combine the DNA of Nick Cave and Christian Bale, and he appears to be the only person in the cast besides the two old duffers with any actual acting ability.

Daniel and Kelly end up staying at Wilbur’s place until the monster eventually attacks them.  Daniel gets his arm clawed open before killing the beast with his hunting knife, and we end with Kelly, Wilbur, and the cops sitting around his hospital bed.  But wait, the movie saved all the really confusing stupid shit for last!

Those dirt bike punks in the woods are led by a guy named Badger, who turns out to be Wilbur’s stepbrother.  They inherited a huge tract of land in Exmoor (as to how one is bequeathed property in a national park, your guess is as good as mine), and Badger was responsible for the killings because he was trying to protect the sanctity of the land…by letting his tribe of similarly named wildlife punks, Weasel, Star-Nosed Mole, Chinchilla, Vole, and Chipmunk, shred up the ecosystem with their dirt bikes?  Uh huh. 

Oh, but most importantly, everyone is adamant that Badger was NOT the monster, even though we saw him turn into it just minutes before it attacked Daniel.  They keep saying the monster may or may not still be out there, and we hear its breathing and the movie implies it eats a little kid right before the credits roll.  So, did Daniel’s wound turn him into the monster?  Is there another monster?  Did the director change his mind at the last minute and decide that Badger was not, in fact, the monster, but forget to cut out the scene that shows him turning into what looks like a Weevil from Torchwood with Rod Stewart hair?  Oh, and while we’re asking questions, movie, WHAT THE FUCK IS A QUIETUS!?  As far as I’ve been able to find, it’s a homeopathic tinnitus treatment, a spell from Harry Potter, the name of at least three famous Romans, a record by metal band Evoken, a song by metal band Epica, and has a bevy of uses in literature from Orson Scott Card to Shakespeare.  However, not a single one of the definitions I could find had anything to do with space monsters wearing bad 80’s pop star hair.  I guess we can add that to the pile of things the filmmakers didn’t put any thought into when putting this crappy movie together.  Like every single other thing in the movie.

P.S.  I know Rod Stewart was around before the 80’s, so you can hold all your angry e-mails about Small Faces.  The 80’s was simply the crux of his awful hair.

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