The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Attack of the Herbals (2011)

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Kevin at MTI Video approached me about screening and reviewing some of their movies, many of which are Direct to Video.  I was definitely up for it, and he wanted me to start with this film.  It looked like a great horror comedy, and some of my all time favorite movies, like Bad Taste and The Evil Dead, are horror comedies, so I was excited to check this one out.  Let's see how it did.

Attack of the Herbals is about a Nazi experiment to make super soldiers by putting a special serum in an herbal tea.  They abandoned the project when they couldn't control their subjects, and dumped a crate full of the stuff into the sea, where 70 years later it landed on the coast of Scotland.  Enter Jackson MacGregor, who's kind of a stuck-up jerk, and who's forced to return to the small Scottish lobstering town of his grandparents after his wife leaves him for another woman.  Things aren't well in the town, and he's not helping, which is bad, because his grandparents own the local post office, and a money-hungry land developer is trying to make them sell it because they're losing money.  That's when his buddy Russell comes to him with some herbal tea he found washed up on the coast.  This can't be a good idea.

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Man, I wanted so bad to like this movie.  It felt like a very earnest low-budget film, and it also felt like it was influenced by a lot of the older horror-comedy film makers I love.  The first five minutes in the old Nazi compound were fantastic, and I had great expectations.  Then the movie proceeds to grind to a halt for the next hour or so.  Ugh, it was such a disappointment!  I kept thinking something was going to happen, and all we got was Jackson MacGregor's pretentious scowl.  Here and there there was a moment of humor, but no horror.  By the time we get to the horror, on some levels it's too late, and on others, it was needed to prop up so much that wasn't happening for the hour before it, that without it being the greatest horror comedy of all time, it was doomed to fall short.  I looked at director David Ryan Keith's imdb bio, and this is his first feature length film, so I think that's where the problem lies here, going from a short to 90 minutes, and trying to fill that added time.  Unfortunately it didn't work for me here.

One thing I did enjoy was the great cinematography, which was also Keith, and on that score this didn't feel like a no-budget film.  The problem was, with that long stretch of nothing really happening, that cinematography was wasted on things like Russell and MacGregor carrying on a banal conversation.  We needed that cinematography making its money on some sweet kills, some rising tension, and some comedic horror punchlines.  That's the thing, from a technical standpoint a movie can be great, but the story is everything, and in either a comedy or a horror film, the story needs to play out like a musical, with a kill or comedic bit happening every fifteen minutes or so.

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One of the weird things about that hour where nothing much was happening, was that we had a lot of plot exposition that didn't really add anything to the plot.  For instance, MacGregor and Jenny's relationship was never explored, just hinted at, then suddenly they're thrown together at the end.  We also don't know exactly why MacGregor is such a douche.  I'm not sure these things would've been so bad though if we'd had some kills sprinkled throughout, but because we didn't, this dialog needed carry the film.  You'd have to be an Oscar winning script writer like Woody Allen if you hoped to pull that off.  Why put that on yourself, when you can just kill some people.

I should point out as an American, that there is a rule regarding various native speaking English language accents that allows more leeway for this kind of talking over action approach to movie making.  Scottish ranks high on that list, probably after English/Welsh and Australian/New Zealand, meaning a five-minute stretch in American or Canadian English that has nothing going on in it, can be a ten or fifteen minute stretch in Scottish English.  And I definitely started to feel it at the 20 to 25-minute mark that the film was losing me, as the novelty wore off.  That's the thing, with us Americans, you can get away with so much more with your Scottish accents and we'll still love it, and you still lost me.

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I want to finish with how this movie is being marketed.  I keep hearing "zombie" film, and while these people go insane, they aren't exactly zombies.  I feel like people are trying to cash in on the zombie craze, and they're sucking in everything that could possibly fit, so something like this is mislabeled.  Hey, if this gets a no-budget movie like this into more hands, especially hands like mine from across the pond, more power to you.  You gotta do everything you can.

And that makes it all the harder that I can't recommend this.  It's not available at RedBox or Netflix, but you can buy it from Amazon.  There's potential here, and it had its moments, but overall I'm staring at an hour with no horror and only a few comedic bits, which just isn't enough to carry a film like this for me.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1948521/

3 comments:

  1. Overall a fair review, especially in respect to the exposition & pace of the first 40 minutes, and the ending definitely peters out. But surely you found the wheelchair chase gloriously funny? Danny the Pincer?! Russell's totally gormless, almost Homer-esque obliviousness to the awful events unfolding around him?! The gratuitous yet oh-so-delicious swearing?!?!

    The whole thing is clearly tongue wedged-in-cheek from the outset, revels in its own stupidity and the cast play with joy and verve, and that sense of fun comes across throughout. For me, AOTH easily passed the "six out-loud laughs" test of a good comedy.

    BTW I declare a partisan viewpoint, I'm from the area and Steve Worsley (Russell) is a good friend of mine, so I'm totally open to the idea that maybe I've just god blood-spattered spectacles...

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    1. First off I just want to say I appreciate the tone of your comment. It's refreshing to have someone who doesn't agree with everything in my review coming with a thoughtful take as opposed to being like "you don't know what you're talking about!"

      Second, you're right to bring up the cast. I mentioned in my review that I thought this was a very earnest film, and I think the cast are included in that, but I probably should've elaborated on that more. It's the main reason why I wanted to like this more than I did, because I thought everyone, cast and crew, were doing the best they could to make the best movie they could, and I always have respect for that. Also, I can't believe I forgot to mention the Russell character, because he was one of my favorites in the film, so I'm glad you brought that up too.

      Finally, with regard to the film's funny moments, I liked them, but by then the movie had lost me to a large degree. Also, the wheelchair chase was something I'd seen in Seinfeld, and the Danny character something I recognize from other great horror comedies. I'm not saying it's bad that they're derivative, or that they weren't as funny, but they were all that was there. I think it also would've been nicer if these things had been sprinkled throughout the film, they would've had a better shot anchoring it from there.

      As someone who's from the area, maybe you got more of the jokes that I may not have gotten; on the other hand, I feel like there were some that were left on the table. Like, I've only been to Edinburgh, which I loved, but what is Aberdeen like? Maybe a joke is that MacGregor goes to the big city, but that big city is just Aberdeen, yet he still tells everyone how "in Aberdeen they have..."; instead of what we got, which was none of that, just MacGregor left and came back and he's not a nice person. I like tongue in cheek too, but just tongue in cheek isn't enough on its own, it needs to be good content too.

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  2. All fair, all good. Everything you've said is thoughtful, constructive, well-considered and objectively offered - just how good criticism should be.

    There is a LOT of the character of the North-East of Scotland in the film, and the personality of the place is very, very different to other places in Scotland such as Edinburgh (much more cosmopolitan) or Glasgow (friendly and welcoming [if you can understand a word that anyone is saying!], although with a strong undercurrent of social tension). All in all, Aberdeen's a pretty parochial place! That's probably a feature of geography - it's a fair bit more isolated from the other big cities (though 150 miles away might not seem like a big distance to someone from outside the UK...), and let's be honest, even though it's Scotland's third-largest city, Aberdeen's not much more than a village anyway (approx 300k inhabitants, which is tiny by any non-Scottish measure of population!)

    In terms of socio-demographic background, Aberdeen's generally very affluent because of the North Sea Oil industry, but at the same time very "blue collar" and can be pretty rough - more pubs per capita than any other place in the UK, I think! Aberdonians are generally pretty dour by outward nature (well-balanced - chip on both shoulders), and stereotypically, they're tight-fisted and mean (there's an old gag that goes: Q: "What's the difference between an Aberdonian and a coconut?" A: "You can get a drink out of a coconut.") Get beyond the grim-faced, steely exterior though, and there's a community with big hearts, warmth and generosity and folk who are loyal to a fault.

    I personally loved the fact that all of the above comes out in AOTH - for me, the soul and humour of the North-East is reflected in every breath of the film. There are a number of jokes in AOTH that are very Aberdonian in tone; while they are for me the biggest joy in the film, I think they might go over even other Scottish people's heads, let alone people from "For'n Parts"!

    Finally, I actually took "the Big Smoke" to be London - which is a soul-sapping, lonely hell-hole at the best of times! (I went "ex-pat" and lived there for ten years there myself, so I can well relate to MacGregor's descent into becoming a lonely, selfish w@nker! I moved to Australia nearly 5 years ago, so mostly over all the damage and scars that London caused now, I hope...)

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