Director Kevin (VOODOO MOON) VanHook’s latest film made it’s debut on the Sci Fi channel back in July and like so many other of those productions the DVD ups the blood and bad language just enough to make it worth a view. The film is more like PREDATOR meets…well…any Vampire film will do here—as the production follows a crack military squad as it does battle with the undead in sweaty jungles of South America.
Casper Van Dein (STARSHIP TROOPERS) plays Hawk the leader of the group. According to his commanding officer—played with a certain degree of “who cares” by former Wonder Woman Lynda Carter—Hawk has something of a God complex. This must be what accounts for Hawk’s incredibly poor decision making when it comes to the lives of his men. What this could hardly explain is how Van Dein—who was fairly convincing in STARSHIP TROOPERS—got cast in a role that he seems so outwardly perfect for yet can’t manage for one minute to provide an even remotely compelling performance. The whole of the film hinges on his fight against the Vamps. But, he’s so annoying and one dimensional I was praying for one of those big bloodsuckers to just rip his jugular apart and put this project out of its misery.
It’s hard to throw Van Dein to the wolves for wrecking a film as haphazard as this one. And, his performance is scarcely the only throwaway here. Kevin Grevioux (UNDERWORLD) is menacing, but the dialogue that he’s saddled with does little to help his character of Grieves rise above muscle-bound meathead. As I mentioned before Lynda Carter looks tired and bored and likely to want to be anywhere else but in this movie. Ray Park (X-MEN) is once again saddled with a part that allows him to flip around the screen but deliver little more that a half-dozen lines and Danny Trejo (FROM DUSK TILL DAWN)—a man who commands attention in even the poorest of projects is utterly wasted in a cameo as a riverboat captain who seems to be the only one that gets the futility of it all.
VanHook showed some problems with his last film VOODOO MOON, but that was salvaged—if only partly—to some excellent supporting turns from a veteran cast of character actors. SLAYER is hardly populated with that degree of talent—although I must say that Tony Plana (AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN) makes the absolute most of the script with his turn as Javier, a local hotel owner with an interesting past of his own.
Effects wise, the rivers of red run deep here in the Amazon, and the crew of Autonomous F/X do their best to keep the fountains flowing. The Make-up design is pretty respectable—and even though there is a bit too much of that campy overspray that filmmakers have had a hard-on about since Tarantino employed it again in the KILL BILL films—the overall effects work is well done. I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least point out a pyrotechnic sequence in the film that comes off as a bit amateurish and rather laughable. When Van Dein’s character sets up an ambush for an unsuspecting vampire crowd, the commandos detonate an entire jacket of C-4. The subsequent explosion which should have been sufficient enough to level everything in a 100 yard range looked more like the cloud of smoke left behind after a few fireworks had dropped their payload.
The final stake through the heart of the film comes in a shocking denouement as the Vampire leader reveals that deforestation has forced the bloodsuckers from their natural feeding habitats and into the unsuspecting Amazonian villages. Reconciling their murderous rampage as an “us or them” ideology is so left field that I almost had to pick my jaw up off the floor. Was I just preached to in a low budget vampire film about the ills of industrial society? It took me a minute to check the box art—I wanted to make sure that Al Gore wasn’t actually bankrolling this production. Sadly it appears that Gore didn’t front any of the cash, which would have ultimately made for the most entertaining part of SLAYER.