Monday, October 12, 2009

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: The Brothers Hickox

Mainstream cinema has the brothers Scott – Ridley who once gave us fun stuff like ALIEN and is now working on a Robin Hood movie with Russell Crowe and Tony, who used to deliver grade-A entertaining cheese like THE LAST BOY SCOUT and is now working on an unwanted remake of THE WARRIORS.

I'm not sure who the trash film equivalent would be, but I'm thinking the Hickox brothers – sons of director David Hickox (best known for the 1973 cult flick THEATER OF BLOOD with Vincent Price and Diana Rigg) – would have to be in the discussion.

Anthony burst upon the scene with the entertaining WAXWORK (1988), a fun blend of house of wax mischief, monster mash mayhem, and 80s schlock. Unfortunately, his post-WAXWORK filmography has been dominated by junky sequels (WAXWORK II, HELLRAISER III, WARLOCK: THE ARMAGEDDON) and good ideas gone bad like SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT.

Set in the town of Purgatory, SUNDOWN revolves around a town full of vampires split into two factions: human-hunters hungry for blood, and domesticated creatures of the night who exist on synthetic sangre. Eventually, the schism erupts into a full-scale civil war. A good idea that should've at least been an entertaining time-waster, SUNDOWN fails almost completely because for every one good idea in the script there are about six really shitty ones.

As for the cast, it's a crap-shoot as well: Deborah Foreman (the director's then-girlfriend who was also in WAXWORK and celebrates a birthday today) is cute; Morgan Brittany is vacuous; David Carradine, may he rest in peace, is asleep; and Bruce Campbell is still on the set of EVIL DEAD II. Only Maxwell Caulfield leaves an impression of what the flick could've been. And who thought I'd ever be saying that?!

While SUNDOWN – and much of Anthony Hickox's post-WAXWORK career has been disappointing – his brother James is doing his part to add some luster back to the family name. Though he got his directing start with a straight-to-video installment of the CHILDREN OF THE CORN series (COTC III: URBAN HARVEST for those of you scoring at home), Hickox scored big with this viewer thanks to Joe Bob's holy trinity of blood, beasts and breasts and a little flick called BLOOD SURF (aka KROCODYLUS).

Blood SurfBog (Dax Miller) and Jeremy (Joel West) are "blood surfers," extreme sports nuts who travel to shark-infested waters to ride a few waves. After ladling in some chum and slicing the tops of their feet, that is.

Documenting the dangerous antics of the two surfers are big-breasted camerawoman Cicely (Kate Fischer) and hat-wearing lame-o Zack (Matt Borlenghi), her producer/financier boyfriend who hopes to peddle the resulting show to a television channel.

As the foursome flies into Palm Island, Hickox hints at what's to come by having them discuss a certain blockbuster shark movie while the theme evokes just enough of the infamous JAWS score to jumpstart our memory banks, but not enough to get them sued. Then again, do you need foreshadowing when a flick is called BLOOD SURF (aka KROCODYLUS)? I think not.

Desperate to have his stars surf the waves at a notoriously shark-infested beach, Zack arranges transport with Sonny (Cris Vertido), a local who charters adventures with his wife Melba (Susan Africa) and big-breasted daughter Lemmya (Maureen Larrazabal). Had that crew bailed there's always Capt. John Dirks (Duncan Regehr) – a low-budget Quint complete with scruffy beard, crazy eyes, and theme-appropriate flashback sequences. It should come as no surprise that Dirks used to run charters around the island, too, but the last one didn't turn out so well. All his clients were eaten by, well, I think you know what they were eaten by.

Of course, I might've picked Dirks just for the presence of first mate Arti (Taryn Reif), a thin, wisp of a blonde with a predilection for shaking her tailfeather in bars and taking off her top whenever the mood strikes. Like hourly.

Arriving at their destination, Bog (who has the good looks of Dean Cain and Ben Affleck) and Jeremy don't fail to deliver and surf up a storm as CGI sharks shadow their every move. The sequence is pretty ambitious for such a low-budget outing, and can even be watched along with production storyboards on the feature-packed.

Upon reaching the relative safety of the shore – though not without a shark scare in which Zack shows his true colors, which appear to be yellow and, um, yellow – the adventurers pair off with their respective love interests: Sonny and Melba, Cecily and Zack, Jeremy and Lemmya, and Bog and The Surf. We know Bog loves The Surf because even though the waters are shark-infested and we were treated to a giant, unexplained, explosive spray of blood and sea water he's itching to ride those waves as the sun goes down.

And it's here that BLOOD SURF kicks into gear. Hickox croc-teases us through the first 30 minutes or so, placing our leads in peril, offering up glimpses of giant shadows and scaly tails in the watery depths. But, up to this point, he never pulls out all the stops and delivers the price-of-admission sequence we're all looking for.

Don't fret. By the time the script by Sam Bernard and Robert L Levy strands our crew and brings the 90-year-old, 31-foot creature designed by John Carl Buechler (GHOULIES, MINER'S MASSACRE) out of the water, BLOOD SURF hits the accelerator and doesn't know when to let up.

Several quality twists and sequences follow, including: "Big Mick" (as the croc is referred to) tossing a victim in the air like a peanut; jungle booby traps right out of a 1980s cannibal flick; use of the great "Damn you to hell!" line uttered by a dying croc-snack; explosions, suspension bridges, croc-eye closeups, female bonding, and even a little "croc-teasing" that gets the juices flowing, even in a giant, scaly reptile that's pushing a hundred years old.

If you're a fan of the science-gone-awry/big-monster flicks that clogged video store shelves in the 1980s and 90s, BLOOD SURF is a more-than-worthwhile purchase or rental. It's no surprise that director Hickox cut his teeth working on schlock like MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, WAXWORK, HELLRAISER III and WARLOCK II. The flick shows a genuine affection for the exploitation genre, complete with bared breasts, blood, guts, out-of-leftfield twists and explosions aplenty.

The ultra-cheap DVD even includes bonus materials like raw footage from the shoot and production storyboards that can be viewed separately or during key sequences. Far more entertaining than big-budget hogwash like VAN HELSING, BLOOD SURF is one of the most enjoyable B-movies I've seen in the last year.

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