Like most of you out there, I’ve had my share of disappointments when it comes to horror movies. You hear the hype, see the trailer, read about the care that’s gone into a film, and then finally, you see it…and it sucks. Other times, you get drawn in by a fantastic poster or cool DVD art, usually accompanied by a cleverly-written little blurb…but then you get it home, and after the first ten minutes you’re yelling at the screen (and yourself) because it’s such a POS blight upon horror filmdom.
Although it’s sadly nowhere near as common an occurrence, there are those times that this formula goes in reverse; you sit down to a film, figuring you’re just going to waste some time (or you gotta review it), so it doesn’t matter that you expect it to be terrible…and then you find yourself glued to the screen, dialed-in to the story, and it turns out to be far more than you’d hoped for…it’s these moments we live for as horror fans.
One such film that hit me in that respect is Abominable, a cheapie by Ryan Schifrin from back in 2006 that was premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel. Now, that network (now called SyFy) is known for poorly-CGI’ed, generally overacted, and typically silly horror films, but hey, I’ll own up; I love watchin’ ’em (go ahead, you can admit it, you like at least some of them, too). That said, this flick is not at all what I expected from it’s questionable beginnings; the movie boasts not only a who’s-who cast of horror icons, but manages to reach beyond its means…but we’ll get to that.
Preston Rogers was an accomplished mountaineer along with his wife, but an freakish climbing accident six months ago claimed her life, and left him wheelchair-bound. Since then, he understandably can’t come to terms with his losses, and is irrationally terrified of mountains now. For therapeutic reasons, his doctors suggest that it’s time he try to face his fears, and recommend that he spend the weekend in his and his wife’s mountain cabin, lying in the shadow of the cliff that has irrevocably changed his life. He has a nurse assigned for his care-taking, Otis, who seems to be pretty cynical, and his bedside manner makes it pretty obvious he’d rather be doing something else with his weekend. Accentuating this, within a half hour of arriving, Otis heads into the nearby town to buy soy milk, the one thing he forgot to purchase for the trip, despite Preston’s protests of not wanting to be left alone so soon in that house. Trying to keep himself busy (and his mind off that mountain), Preston watches out the windows, where he notices a crowd of lovely college girls have rented the house across the way…but he also notices some horrid, hairy thing lurking in the shadows…something that destroys the utility pole, disabling the phone lines (and of course, up here in the mountains, cell phone reception is all but non-existent). Helplessly, he watches as the monster begins stalking and brutally killing the girls, one-by-one, out of sight of the others.
Frantically trying to email the police (who think he’s a head-case and hallucinating) and find some way to warn the remaining co-eds, Preston suddenly finds that he’s drawn the attention of the giant creature…and with Otis still a no-show and no help in sight, what hope does a man in a wheelchair have?
As I said, I was very surprised with the quality of this flick; director Schifrin used a lot of old-school know-how, practical effects, and beautiful framing to craft a monster movie with a through-line of suspense that was remarkable. I’ve heard the comparison to Hitchcock’s Rear Window, with which the similarities are obvious, but the conscientious use of the monster and gore (neither too much nor too little of either) along with the palpable tension was brilliantly done. I mentioned the all-star horror cast, which includes Jeffrey Combs, Lance Henriksen, and Dee Wallace as different townfolk around the area, all combined in their respective elements to make the film memorable and cohesive. Matt McCoy, in the lead role of Preston, brought a sympathetic character with genuine expressiveness, and an inner strength that he finds that tends to inspire the audience; conversely, Christian Tinsley as Otis is appropriately bored and in some ways detestable, yet still manages to pull off a grudging likeability. The lead girls, Joel Haley and genre fave Tiffany Shepis, breathe convincing life into their roles, with Haley pulling off a “final girl” vibe in the growth of her character as the film progresses.
I’ve also got to throw out a special mention of the late Paul Gleason in the small role of the Sheriff; look for a bit of an in-joke for the John Waters generation with his character. The creature itself, as well as the blood and gore (which, though used judiciously, is still pretty plentiful) denies the small budget of the film. Pretty much all practical FX, the beast and the carnage it leaves in its wake are very impressive and deliciously gruesome; a scene near the climax will kind of catch you off guard, and the payoff is awesome. The sound editing (done by Skywalker Sound; how he managed that, I dunno…but good for him!) is top-notch, making great use of at least my surround sound system, and the music (composed by Schifrin’s father; economy at its finest!) is well-rounded and appropriate. Hell, the poster was even done by Drew Struzan, the artist responsible for such memorable film one-sheets as Raiders of the Lost Ark, John Carpenter’s The Thing, the Star Wars films…I could go on.
All in all, a pretty impressive pedigree for a low-budget Sci-Fi flick.
Schifrin utilizes a lot of creativity, copious talent on the part of himself, his cast, and his crew, and good, old-fashioned chutzpah to take a tiny budget and make it look like a high-end production.
One final note: You Fellow Fans out there have heard me lament in other reviews about how I’m “waiting for that one, genuinely scary bigfoot flick”; well, I’m remiss in the fact that I didn’t think about this one when I was writing those, and I’ll have my dish of crow for that; however, I’ll just have a small bite, for there is a caveat that I’ll fall back on to defend myself: although I enjoyed Abominable a lot, it’s still not what I have in mind when I describe that “one” flick. There are several bigfoot-themed films that I’ve enjoyed (Sasquatch, Snowbeast, etc.), but so far, none have fit my bill for my dream sasquatch picture; I’m looking for a more mythical and folkloric treatment of the legend; Abominable, as some others have been, is just an old-fashioned monster-flick good time…not a damned thing wrong with that, though.
Like I always do, I’ll hedge my bet by saying that, sure, some o’ you fine Fellow Fans won’t enjoy this one as much as I did; as with any example, this one is not the be-all-end-all of horror flicks, but it does, in my opinion, have a real charm to it. If you’re the type that likes a fun, throwback monster movie, with the added benefits of an actual storyline, skillful filming, and well-written and acted characters, you should give this little flick a go.
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