get that same damn “you're in a theatre” logo bit which
but which didn't portend ill for Ghost
Rig. So we have a fifty/fifty chance, here. The movie proper
starts out with a quote from Nietzsche (quotes from philosophers are
always useful to bring Joe Sixpack into the theatre), “If you
gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” If
you're talking about the movie The Abyss, don't forget the part about
being boring and stuffy and overly preachy.
And we open (after the title, “June 1944”) with a German soldier walking down through a castle-like corridor. His footsteps echo throughout the place, and there are other knocking noises (which may be the music?). The place looks ancient, and abandoned. He goes into another, more ruined section and passes a sign which reads “Achtung! Lebensgefahr.” My German is pretty nonexistant, but the first bit means “Attention” and “Leben” I thought meant “living.” Maybe this is “Attention! Living room,” in case someone shows up to install cable or something.
He continues on, into a bit of the castle-place which is totally decrepit, held together with what looks like old sheets of metal, piled haphazardly against the wall. Showers of dust periodically rain from above as he continues to walk, and the knocking becomes more rapid. He goes on, past some worklights strung into the structure.
There's a quick close-up shot of a guy wearing a bandana over the lower half of his face, and from his motion it is apparent that he is doing the knocking. But we leave him to go follow our German soldier again.
He comes upon the knocking guy, and the knocking guy is hammering boards together to create a barricade across the remainder of the corridor. The German soldier (in an English accent) informs the knocker that “Everyone else is out” and the knocker orders the soldier to “lend a hand!” The soldier, and another guy (who was off-camera) both heave boards into place and start hammering.
As he starts to help, the lights start failing. Everyone jumps at this, but they continue to work. The soldier doesn't seem to know what's going on.
Until the deep groaning noises start, from beyond the barricade. Everyone except the soldier is galvanized, frightened by the sound. They all snap to, rifles at the ready, and beat a hasty retreat. Except for the soldier, who hesitates, then follows.
And we track into a dark opening in the baricade, which swallows the camera, and we get our credits. Some nice music (by Russell Currie, never heard of him) with distorted images of cadaverous faces and eyeballs. Charley Boorman is a name I recognize, and Jason Flemyng is always fun to watch (he was seen in these pages in George Romero's Bruiser).
We get some faces covered in bandages (also distorted). Clive Dawson is our writer. And Rob Green is the director.
And then, a title, “Four Months Later,” with a subtitle of “German divisions face the advancing Allied Forces.” We, uh, move up through the ground into a very pleasant looking forest. In the distance are bomb and combat noises, and we find some soldiers moving through the forest. I'm pretty sure these guys are Germans. Yeah, they have the right helmets.
They're moving quite cautiously through the woods. One of them uses field glasses and spots a “bunker.” Say, could this be our titular abode? Let's guess yes. Another soldier takes out a white cloth, and the rest of them move toward the bunker.
At the bunker, a kind of grizzled guy opens some sliding observation panels and peers out. The Germans hold up a white flag and call out (in American-accented English) “Hold your fire!” and approach the bunker. (I mention the accents here only because the uniforms say one thing, and the accents another; it is entirely possible, of course, that the folks in the prologue were Englishmen pretending to be Germans, and these are Americans pretending the same.)
“We're coming in!” shout the soldiers, and we cut to an overhead, long distance shot, and a title informs us that this is the German-Belgian border. Okay, um, that's good, I suppose.
The soldiers get into the entrance bit of the bunker, but then the grizzled guy opens the door and jams his gun into (I guess) the leader's throat, but he is eventually persuaded to let everyone in. There's a very young soldier (companion to the grizzled guy) who is quite ready to shoot and everything.
Well, despite all the British accents, the soldiers identify themselves as members of a Panzer division, ambushed by “the Yanks,” and weary from fighting same. So, I'm going to assume they hired English actors to play German soldiers. As a reviewer, it's the only sane thing to do here.
So, it also turns out that the very young soldier is the only one here with the grizzled guy. The other soldiers are a bit miffed to find out that these are the only two folks, and that there aren't any supplies either.
“Kids and old men in charge!” they complain, as they send the old guy to call the command center. Then, they hear some noises outside, and look out and see some other soldiers moving around in the forest.
One of the guys inside names some of the soldiers he sees (he even names the wounded man they're carrying), which kind of leads me to think they're also Germans...but then the guys inside start firing on the guys outside. Or not. They're definitely firing, and kind of blindly too, but maybe they're shooting at whoever is pursuing the new group of soldiers. Let's be broadminded here. Heck, we've already got English actors playing German soldiers, the least we can do is be accomodating.
Outside, among this new group of soldiers, there are these...whizzing kind of sounds, sort of like the richochet noises you or I might have made as children playing war. It's a tad cartoony, like bees or something, but heck, I'll play too.
And yes, it seems the guys inside the bunker, are laying down covering fire for those outside. We get some sad slow-motion bits of the outside guys being shot, and thus dying, but....
Well, let's be a bit above board here. These folks are soldiers fighting for Nazi Germany. While it is possible to understand patriotism, the feeling of King and Country and all, still...these guys were fighting for Adolph Hitler. And it's difficult to feel much sympathy when they get shot (especially since we don't know them anyway--I mean, they just showed up). In a standard World War II movie, we would (at best) have scenes with their wounded bonding with our wounded, until the tragic end, and we could confirm our shared humanity, etc. But the Allies would be the winners of the battle. I mean, as it was, and as it should have been and will be.
This, however, is a horror movie. (Or at least its box indicates this. Oh, I'm trusting the box! I'm doomed.) Anyway, I'm going to speculate here, and guess that nobody we've met is going to make it to the end credits.
Anyway. The guys inside open the bunker, and let the guys outside inside. So now all the guys are inside guys. One of the new arrivals, a harsh-looking bald guy, puts on his hat, and asks the grizzled guy if he's in charge.
Grizzled guy and young soldier doff their hats and confirm. Bald Guy is apparently the senior officer present. He criticises the Grizzled Guy for being late with the cover fire, then says he'll contact area control, and advises Grizzled to shoot anything ouside that moves. He then orders “the vents” opened.
We cut to a couple of guys talking about the firepower they faced. One says it was only a few guys, easily defeated if the two groups had stayed together, the other thinks they were lucky to escape. The argument goes on a bit with no real resolution.
Jason Flemyng comes in and says that Bald Guy wants to see one of them (the guy who argued they should have stayed and fought). There is a very weird shot, as Stay-And-Fight comes up to Jason. The camera pans down to Stay-And-Fight's iron cross, then up to the two of them. Stay-And-Fight sniffs Jason. Then he goes on. I guess this shows that SAF is good at being a Nazi, and that he doesn't like Jason.
The wounded guy, brought in with the second group, sits up and asks the guy tending him, “What is this place.”
The tender answers, “Anti-tank bunker.” Wounded guy settles back down into his bunk.
And we cut to the outside, where we see the trees, and get some Blair Witch type noises.
And inside, on the radio, Bald Guy is telling someone, “But the situation IS critical!”
However, the voice on the other side (which we don't hear) tells them, basically, to sit tight.
No one's happy about this, as they're low on ammo and such, and can't hold out against an assault of any great firepower. There's a bit of arguing about who ambushed them, an infiltration unit or an advanced line. The point is that they don't have a lot to defend themselves with. (Just as an aside, not harping or anything, they all call Bald Guy “leftenant” in the English pronunciation.)
One of the guys says that the attacking troops, based on their behavior, are “trying to be heroes” (--just for one day), so they won't be taking prisoners. They discuss the fact that this limits their options, but they also note that, being in an anti-tank bunker, it's going to be hard for anyone to break in. Still, they'd like some better options.
“There's always the tunnels,” says Youngster.
Ooo, tunnels, cool, seems to be the consensus, and they go to the entrance.
Grizzled talks about them a bit, saying there's nothing down there but rats, and when asked if there's ammunition down there, he says he hasn't been very far in the tunnels, “they're not safe.” Everyone else seems to think popping down there is a pretty great idea.
Bald Guy, though, seems to sense a tremor in the Force, and orders everyone to stay out of the tunnels unless absolutely necessary. He even reminds one enthusiastic guy that he (the guy) is still on guard duty. This has the expected effect (ie, enthusiastic guy says “Yes sir!” and unhappily goes off to his duty).
However, one guy really wants to go into these tunnels, despite being warned by another guy that “we lost half our men” and “we have to stick together” and such. Still, the guy opens the door, which opens (of course) with an ominous creak.
And we cut to some other soldier (hey, it's Jason) looking out through the bunker's observation port. Another guy shows up to relieve him, and they chat a bit about how Grizzled shouldn't be here (as he seems somewhat off his rocker), and so on, and how some other guy's application to the SS was turned down (“Not pure enough,” offers Jason). Relieving guy says he would have done the same as Jason, given half the chance.
“What do you mean?” asks Jason, and the guy says, you know, every man for himself, and all.
Jason doesn't like this, and stalks off, and relieving guy thinks, oh, I have not made a pal today. Personally, I find myself not absorbed. What's wrong with this movie that it doesn't want to just come out and say something, complete a thought as it were?
Back to another part of the bunker, some soldiers are talking about the tunnels. One says that they wouldn't have made them so extensive unless they had a good use for them.
“I told you what I know,” says Grizzled. Someone else complains about Grizzled's problem with spirits, if you know what I mean, but someone else says it's not relevant.
Well, let's hope it's not relevant. We barely have names for some of these people, and—what am I saying? We don't have names for any of them.
Bald Guy asks Grizzled where he got something (I assume he means a scar, but he could be talking about an autographed poster), and Grizzled says, “Oh you know, the Front line...” and trails off.
Bald Guy asks Youngster about his war experience, and everyone laughs thinking, Oh, he's just a callow youth, how could he experience anything?
A sympathetic guy offers Youngster a cigarette (“You'll be telling stories like a veteran before long” he says), which Youngster takes, and he says, “I do know one story. I know what happened in those tunnels.”
Encouraged to go on, he continues, “It's just something i've heard. There was some kind of...uprising...with the slave workers, building the tunnels. They had to stop working....”
And Grizzled interrupts, “Yeah, I'll tell you what happened. Just don't call me a liar when you hear it.” He is also told to go on.
“The OT closed this site because, they didn't like it in there. Nobody likes it in there. The local folktales probably didn't help matters.”
“What are you talking about?” asks Bald Guy.
“People around here have...unpleasant stories, about this place,” says Grizzled. “He knows,” he says, nodding at Youngster.
“Ghost stories,” says a soldier.
“I told you, you wouldn't believe me,” says Grizzled. “But you haven't been in those tunnels, in the dark.” Noting their laughter, he says, “Yeah, you can laugh. But tales don't last hundreds of years for no reason. Remember, these woods are ancient...older than Germany. They used to burn witches here. Because the place is evil.”
He then tells a story about the Black Death, which spread through the village which used to be where they are now. One day, he says, a stranger arrived, which some thought was a priest, “but if he was, he was a priest of the unholy,” Grizzled explains, “perhaps, he was Death himself.”
He says that this stranger turned the villagers against one another, “friends became enemies—didn't take long.”
He then says that the stranger drove the villagers to rid themselves of the plague victims in their midst. The stranger urged the villagers into a frenzy, and they drove the sufferers through the woods, where they were beaten to death, and buried in a huge common grave. “Not all of them were dead, as the hole was filled in,” he illuminates, then stops.
During all of this story, by the way, Bald Guy looks increasingly uncomforable, like, “Man, this is going to give my guys nightmares, I hate this.” But he doesn't say anything.
Wounded Guy feels sick, though, and he goes off to vomit on his own, which after all is a pretty private function anyway. As he gazes into the drain of the sink, another solder (who thought Grizzled's story was pretty weak and Old School), talks about (I think) the well-known (or ought to be) Katyn massacre.
But Wounded gets interrupted, first of all by some flashbacks (which show folks smoking, though looking guilty, in the sunlight) and then by another guy. Wounded talks about how there is “something about this place” which “doesn't feel right.”
To his comrade's questioning, Wounded says that with the others dead, “it's just the seven of us.” (Which helps me a lot with characters, thanks Wounded.)
Concered guy tells Wounded to “Get some rest.”
Wounded says, “God with us,” and there's an ominous flourish on the soundtrack. When he leaves to get this selfsame rest, the music flourishes up a bit more, and we pan up to a bit of masonry over the doorway, which reads “Gott mit uns,” which I think I can safely translate as “God with us.”
This foreign language stuff is easy! Good thing it looked to have been written in magic marker, then, or I would have thought it was Lovecraft talk or something, and I'm really bad at that. Just ask Yog-Sothoth! (I had to work on his term paper, and well, it was kind of a disaster).
And we cut to the forest, at night, then the forest, again at night, with a lot of rain. And then, to a dead guy in the wet forest, then to the wet bunker, then finally inside, when the wetness starts dripping from the ceiling, and makes a guy remember (in flashback) some fields where the sunlight was bright.
Well, no matter, as he wakes up, and is called over to the watch site, because another guy hears some harmonica music. “Don't they ever sleep,” says flashback guy. (Harmonicas always indicate Americans in WWII movies.)
We cut to some Nazi guy in his bunk, having bad dreams. But we pan down to some other guy, who has Nazi flag pennants (honestly), and then we pan to some dark footage, which resolves itself into Bald Guy, having bad dreams as well.
No, wait a moment, this isn't bald guy, it's Wounded Guy (you can tell—if you pay attention—to the pattern of his wounds). Well, we zoom into his eye, and we're expecting his eye to pop open (either with Evil or Knowledge of Evil) and (after some footage of pleasant greenery in the forest, with bad elf laughter on the soundtrack), his eye opens.
But not until we've been treated to a scene where Nazi soldiers are beating someone to death with their rifle butts (see earlier concerns about Nazis as “sympathetic protagonists” and the difficulties with this concept). We seem to shift briefly to a viewpoint from the “being beaten” perspective....but then Wounded wakes up.
Well, Wounded takes all this reminiscing pretty hard (and seems to see himself as the beaten party). His eye rolls around the assembled sleeping folks. And he gets out of bed. And he--
--he slips into the area where the heavy iron door of rationalism has blocked the investigation of those Damned Tunnels, which Seduce Men and Yet Kill Them. And he opens that door.
And we get a nice close-up of Wounded, as he closes the door behind him. And, we guess, heads NOT back to a good ole nap in the bunk, but further into an unrest of HORROR in...the bunker!
Let's pause a moment and check our supplies. Well...so far, we have lots of commendable atmosphere. Can't go wrong with atmosphere, I always say, or would if I remembered to say it. What we don't have is much horror. I'm sure it's coming, and I have the patience of a saint (have you seen some of the titles I've reviewed?), but we're thirty-three minutes in. Time, methinks, to thank Atmosphere for a job well done, and cue Horror to wait in the wings for his upcoming appearance. Actually, past time for that, but I'm trying to be generous and understanding here.
So...Wounded goes into the sealed off bit of The Bunker (and very thoughtfully, so as not to let the Horror out prematurely, closes the door behind him). He also makes sure that the guy tending his wounds doesn't notice him.
And he starts to descend the stairs. He sees somebody in a cloth cap (and Nazi uniform, yes) saying, “Werner, I am here, Werner.” This is through an almost closed door, so Wounded's perspective doesn't reveal much.
He takes out a little penknife that he had hidden awy, and cuts his bandages off. He has a brief flashback to the same over-exposed bit (Nazis beating someone to death) as before, then he makes the sign of the cross over himself, and prepares to enter the room. He sure seems to know something is up. He also closes this door behind him. (He's sure considerate about not releasing Horrors, I sure have to give him that. I'm also kind of hoping that there are actual horrors to be released, though.)
Cut to Bald Leader Guy, hearing low voices which wake him up. He sees one of his men, and asks him what's happening. The guy says he can't find “Morris,” which I am guessing is Wounded. (Man, Cockney accents and names like “Morris”? Is this some kind of post-modern double-plus-good conceptual drama or something? Or, perhaps more to the point, what the Hell?)
He then says he can't find “Kreutzman” (a pretty Germanic name) either, so I am left in the same state of confusion as before. If you're a regular reader of these reviews, this won't be an unfamiliar confession. And if you're a regular reader...hello!
Bald Guy asks who's on watch, and is told a couple of names, also, that it's a shift change. He asks something else (it seems to be something along the lines of, “What do you mean, you can't you find them?”) and Some Guy says, “I mean, they [Wounded and Etc] must be in the tunnels.” And he sure emphasizes it when he talks, too. And Bald Leader Guy just leaps out of bed, pokes several of the other bunks around him, and so assembles a task force to deal with this whole Missing Guys-Bad Tunnels thing. We hope. I mean, much as we love atmosphere (and we do) a bit of story-telling helps a lot.
Bald Leader Guy orders some folks (including Jason) to search for rhe missing folks. Jason says he won't be too long, unless “You don't trust me to be back?”
Oooh, musical sting, if this was a bad show from the 80's. I confess I don't know what Jason means, maybe he's just going to desert this chicken outfit, or maybe he's just worried about being killed to death.
Bald Leader Guy doesn't let on though, so Jason's trepidations are his alone. Though, give the film credit, Bald Leader Guy looks Ruefully at his unform, tosses it against his bunk (as if to say, nertz to you Nazis, I wanted to be a lumberjack) briefly, but then, there seems to be litle time for such Nazi subtle-ties (have you seen the Nazi ties? They're not only subtle, they're quite lovely, and they're on sale) as we've been treated heretofore.
Into the tunnels with Jason and some other guy. Jason notes the water dripping from the ceiling, notes that this is from “nitrate deposits” and further posits, “This place was never finished properly.”
He and the other guy decide to split up, to cover more ground, and I am hard pressed to think of a single movie where this proved advantageous. But maybe we'll all be surprised. Anyway, Other Guy shows Jason something that looks like a wristwatch, says it belongs to Wounded, and that if Some Guy knew about this, he'd send Some Other Guy down after it. Don't ask me, man, these are all Germans who have British accents and they have similar uniforms. They should wear jerseys like sports team people, so we could see their names on them and be able to go Rah Rah Sis Boom Bah and other such hep lingo.
I think it'd probably help.
Anyway, Jason says he won't say anything about the wristwatch, and I am sure to Hell hoping it shows up in the slavering jaws in a zombie down the road or I will not be in a happy mood.
This bit of plot dispensed with, the two decide to meet again in ten minutes. And personally, I'd like to submit a request for something to happen during those ten minutes. Just something little. Like lunch.
Cut to Bald Leader asking Youth where Grizzled is, and Youth says that he's probably wandering around the tunnels, as “he sometimes gets confused.”
Bald Leader assumes that Grizzled is showing Wounded around the tunnels (well, you get your fun where you can) but Youth says no, he (Grizzled) always told him (Youth) to stay out of the tunnels, and he (Grizzled) treated these very tunnels as if he owned them.
Some guy makes a cynical crack about “ghost stories” meant to keep everyone out of the tunnels. Noted.
Youth mentions to Bald Leader that Grizzled always acted as if... (“--as if?”demands Bald Leader), as if there was something in there he didn't want Youth to know about. Like lunch.
“What?” asks Bald Leader, and Youth has no answer. (Sounds like part of a headline.)
Back below, our boys are searching through the tunnels. Some of them opens a door and goes into a kind of chamber full of pipes and valves and what-not. There's also a desk with blueprints. They seem to show lots of tunnels.
The other guy is in a tunnel with a few rats in it. He sees the sign from the beginning of the film, marked “Achtung! Lebensgefahr” and the Skull-and-Crossbones. There appear to be old cloths on the walls, and more rats on boxes. (This guy, by the way, is not Jason, so I'm think he'll be the recipient of some horrible surprise.)
As he gets closer to the sign, we sort of hear some faint moaning, then some groaning (probably from the timbers), and a bit of ceiling falls on him (just enough to scare him). He also saw the shadow of someone against one of the cloth hangings. He raises his rifle, and asks if this shadow is Wounded.
As the groaning increases, he backs away from the wall, and someone puts a hand on his shoulder (from behind). He seems relieved (he's sure it's Wounded), but he doesn't turn around to see the person's face, and then he gets a knife in the gut. And no, we don't get a good look at the perp, but his hand was too healthy looking to be a zombie.
In a great deal of agony, the guy backs up against the wall and groan-yells very loudly. In the boiler room, Jason hears this and rolls up the blueprints. He sticks them into his jacket and goes looking for the other guy. And you know what happens to his flashlight? You'll never guess. It goes out on him! What do you mean, you guessed that? You've seen this movie before, haven't you! Oh—flashlight going out happens in a lot of movies? Well, I never knew that.
Back to the stabbed guy, he is in generally bad shape, shaking and shivering and kind of not liking the wound in his chest. It seems pretty painful and not at all movie-like. We then see the shadow again, cast against the rough walls of the tunnel, and it's clear something is coming to see whazzup.
It's Wounded. He kind of stands in the background.
Back to Jason, he lights a match and listens to the various whispering noises around him. He doesn't seem real happy to hear these. Then Bald Leader and someone else show up, and surprise him, and he almost shoots them, but then Bald Leader shows how he got to be boss by asking Jason where the other guy is, in totally Boss tones. Jason says he doesn't know, he couldn't go any further because his flashlight failed. Bald Leader pulls it out of Jason's belt and turns it on, and it works fine. Jason protests that it wasn't working.
Bald Leader asks if Wounded has been found, but Jason says the tunnel system is huge. He also says they have bigger things to worry about. “The Americans.”
“They could have come in through the other side,” offers the guy who came in with Bald Leader. I guess he means the Americans are making spooky noises and such. “Yes, but it hardly seems relevant. Isn't this a horror movie?” says the reviewer. Hey, that's me!
Grizzled shows up for a false scare. Then, everyone goes to the boiler room and they get the generator working. Bald Leader questions Grizzled but the flame of relevancy burns feebly in their words, and I shall let their embers go into the night.
Just then, they hear gunfire from upstairs. Everyone except Grizzled runs upstairs and they start shooting a lot. But it turns out there's no one there to shoot at. No one's happy about the waste of ammo. They don't have a lot left now. Bald Leader tries the telephone again, but to no one's surprise, the line's dead.
So, they all go down to start pouring over the blueprints that Jason found. I do believe WWII was the origin of that fascinating pastime, “Follow the Blueprint!” before Parker Brothers turned the game into “Mouse-Trap” and made everyone's lives miserable while they wallowed in riches.
One guy thinks the Americans are in the tunnels, that's how the line got cut. He thinks if there were a lot of them, they'd have stormed the bunker by now, so it has to be a “managable” number. He thinks Wounded and Stabbed Guy are dead and should be forgotten. Jason objects, but the guy basically says Jason was a coward.
Someone asks Grizzled where the best place is in the tunnel for a trap, and he says the whole place is a trap.
Excitable Guy says “whatever's in there, we can handle it.” Don't you mean, WHOever? Like saying “if” when speaking of the Great Pumpkin's arrival, such misued words can spell your doom.
I mean, let's hope. Something should happen, here. Let me amend that: something should happen that's relevant to the plot. Sure, they could find a chicken and chase it around talking about the great omelets they're going to make, but that would make me lose even more patience than I already have.
Bald Leader says that if the Americans are inside, they must have gotten in through the back way. Oh, really? What if they tippy-toed past you through the front door? You'd feel pretty silly then. Anyway, he orders everyone to go outside and secure the back door. Which, I should point out, they don't know the location of. Oh well, if it gets the plot moving....
Well, now we're in the tunnels, so maybe I misheard about going outside to do this. Bald Leader has this closed-eye look, once again like I hate being a Nazi, but again it passes quickly and they all flatten themselves against the walls at the slightest sound. Once again they're going to split up. And they start moving out.
Keifer Sutherland Kinda Guy (I'm trying hard not to just say One Guy, Another Guy, etc) wonders why Jason puts up with Excitable Guy's ribbing. He says Jason should tell Excitable “what really happened at the ambush.” Jason incredulously asks why.
Keifer says, “You know, sometimes I think you enjoy being hated.”
And everyone moves out. Gosh, that makes everything so much clearer. I can see it all now! No...no, I guess I can't. But I can see the rest of the movie. Oh joy. I'm so glad they're throwing all these little things out and not adding any of them together. It's like dropping a plate of food on the floor—you don't know where to start!
Cut to the outside, and it's raining like crazy out there. Okay, apparently that's enough of that. Now back inside the upper bunker, with Youth peering out into the dark, rifle at the aim.
Grizzled pops up and they banter a bit. Now that I think about it, just about every scene Grizzled's been in has a lot of talk that adds nothing. You bastard, Grizzled.
“The danger's not even out there,” he says, referring to the big ol' outdoors, “it's in those tunnels.” Yes, but there is a lot of rain outside, and if you go outside and aren't careful, you will get a bad cold and will have to stay home in bed and you can't play soldiers anymore.
Quit being all elliptic about the tunnels, Grizzled. How about, “They're full of zombies-ghouls-ghosts-robots-aliens-masked Mexican wrestlers-old newspapers-injectopods”?
Anyway, Grizzled says his son (who died at Normandy) talks to him, and apparently tells him about how bad the tunnels are. Yes, let's spread the blame.
“You think I'm just a crazy old man, you all do!” Count me in too, Grizzled. “But there's something about those tunnels! They make you see things!” Well, yes, they do. This movie, for example.
Grizzled says when he's in the tunnel, his son comes back to him. But tonight, he says, it was different. “When he came back...others...were with him.”
Back to our folks in the tunnels. Bald Leader and Excitable find a room full of munitions. Well, this would seem to be a spot of luck for them. Unless it's like Jason's flashlight and it's all an illusion. No, worse, it's for cannons and things like that, and they don't have any cannons. Excitable is against leaving it for the enemy, and Bald Leader says they'll deal with that later.
Elsewhere, Jason and the ones with him are moving through cloth- and tarp-draped areas. Yup, rats are there, too. They move on.
Back with Excitable and Bald Leader. Excitable says “Cover me!” and checks out a little corridor, then leans against a big door covered in chains and locks. He hears (I think) wind noises on the other side, but it's covered in cobwebs. He listens for a bit more, checks the lock, then returns to Bald Leader. He notes that the doors are sealed, but there's someone on the other side. “As long as they're not in here,” says Bald Leader.
Excitable thinks there must be another way in, an air vent or “escape shaft” and wants to go on looking, Bald Leader says they should wait here as planned for the others. Excitable says the others have probably already surrendered; Bald Leader notes that he has not and he's in charge. But Excitable sees something.
He runs into a room with a few rats in it, and a silhouette in front of the camera that looks like Stabbed Guy. Yep, and he's dead all right but no matter, he has a whole bunch of cute pet rats to keep him company. They've chewed a bit on his face but they're very affectionate, they do that.
And we shift to the other bunch of guys moving through the tunnels. They find an opening that used to be covered by boards, but now just sports the remnants of them. Jason thinks it might be a way out. Keifer says for the other two to check it out, he'll cover their backs. Jason notes, “Something smashed through here,” but fails to note the direction. He and Helmet Guy go inside.
They come across a whole wall full of skeletons. They seem to feel this vindicates Grizzled's “story” but if I recall all he ever said was that the tunnels were Bad. He didn't say anything about skeletons.
As we see a bit further, we see that the tunnel from here is literally filled with skeletons, top to bottom; it's quite impressive, in a film that so far has done little to impress. They play their flashlights along the length of the grotto, until they find...Wounded. He's all curled up in a little pocket among the skeletons, and when they yank him out, he objects most strenuously.
In fact, he starts raving both loudly and incoherently. I'm sorry, but the overall impression is of a Curly Howard driven over the edge by Moe's incessant boinkings.
He notes that “they” killed “him” and Jason and Helmet deduce he means “they” killed “Stabbed Guy.”
But Wounded gets a hand-held, heavily processed shot of people in a brightly lit field, all blindfolded and with signs around their necks. The signs are in German so I can't help you, the reader, exercise your imagination. They seem to be wearing uniforms, and some of the signs are like “Deserteur,” “Frighling,” “Boycertops,” and one that looked like “Lobster.”
Then we see happy Nazi troops taking pictures (with rather improbable-looking small cameras) and joking and posing and such, intercut with dead bodies.
All this is apparently Wounded's memories. And as they cease playing, we get some breathy sounds from within the tunnels, and Jason and Helmet look up at this.
Helmet points his flashlight up at...something. Looks like weeds, but it could be an egg sac for all I can tell. They hear someone speaking the “Our Father” in Latin, and decide that getting gone sounds good.
Wounded goes into a rave. He sees more happy-tinted footage, though this one includes some soldier being unhappy and being restrained by others, and back in the tunnels, Wounded seems to lose it for good, ranting and raving good, real good, and he shakes off Jason and Helmet, dashes back through the opening, knocks down Keifer and runs through more tunnels. He sees a soldier who has a cut throat, but this is presented like an animatronic in a theme park. Then he sees a bunch of Nazis taking his picture, and he really doesn't like this at all. He reacts worse than Sean Penn ever did, screaming and running off.
Jason and Helmet see to Keifer's condition, it seems he'll be okay with rest, relaxation and a new iPod, but then, troubles start anew as the lights start flickering.
Elsewhere, Bald Leader and Excitable find themselves beset with funny noises and flickering lights. “They're playing games with us,” Excitable avers, still thinking the Americans are doing all the spooky stuff (by “all the spooky stuff” of course, I'm talking theoretically). And they both start that time-honored horror movie convention of backing up, watching where they've been, rather than where they're going. I know I've complained about that before, so I won't reprise that here.
But then, they turn around as someone (or...heh heh heh...someTHING) starts walloping on that sealed door real good, so good some of the chain links start falling off like starfish from the side of a fishing smack.
Well, from believing the others had surrendered, Excitable now wants to fight for their sake. He stands before the (a lot less chain-filled) door and says he'll fight. Now, Bald Leader wants to leave everyone to their fate and run, but Excitable won't do it.
However, we wouldn't want to develop that plot thread too much, it might become part of a story! So we go back to Wounded, rushing through tunnels willy nilly. He starts screaming, and wouldn't you know it--
--but Bald Leader and Excitable hear that screaming, especially noting that it's coming toward them, and they start shooting, and they shoot up Wounded, thinking that he's some kind of zombie. Well, he might become one now. Also, they shoot something else, something electrical, cos the lights start flickering again. Because, well...just because.
Then, a bunch of crap falls from the ceiling and semi-buries Bald Leader. But Excitable is too excitable to really notice; he seems glad to see Wounded finally fall, splat, to the ground.
Back with Jason and his bunch, they all hear the gunfire and decide to go back to the bunker.
Excitable, meanwhile, is creeping forward to see if he actually killed what he was shooting at. And, I suppose, to see what's become of Bald Leader. (He hardly seemed to notice Bald Leader getting kazango'd.)
Folks, I am a patient man. No, really, I am. Honestly. But we're now exactly ONE HOUR into this thing. I love atmosphere. Really, atmosphere is great. But you've got to have something else, anything else (preferably a story)! What we've had is a bunch of arguing and infighting, tons of irrelevant conversations, a bit of creeping about in tunnels, a pretty great looking skeleton farm, and the odd stabbing or shooting. And I do mean “odd” as in rather later than sooner. It's a horror movie. Well, that's what the box looks like.
I suppose we'll find out that they're all already dead, and they've been in Hell for the past hour, like some kind of Twilight Zone thing. Wouldn't surprise me.
Well, Excitable moves forward a bit, and without even looking at him, takes the Bald Leader's hand in a comradley gesture. Bald Leader shakes and shivers like a man not long for this world, and sure enough, as Excitable squeezes his hand, he goes slack. Poor Bald Leader, had we but world enough etc, I shall hoist one in your name, sirrah.
Well, a look of grim determination on his face, Excitable goes to see the thoroughly shot Wounded. He then starts laughing hysterically. I suppose it's the very irony of the situ (killed the man they were looking for) that strikes him as hysterical, but note this: if they ever decide to do another Batman movie with the Joker, this guy would be perfect for the laughing. Lots and lots of it, very hearty too.
Back upstairs, Youth decides to go down to the tunnels, despite Grizzled's pleas that he (Youth) can't help them, and besides, the shooting has stopped. But to no avail. Youth goes off, and Grizzled is at the bottom of the stairs watching him go, and then he sees the lights start to flicker a bit. He also sees a figure at the end of the hallway, and recognizes this figure as his son, who, you will recall, is dead but talks to him anyway.
“Werner, Werner, what's happening?” Grizzled asks. He tells his son that he tried to stop the others, but they wouldn't listen to him. And he happens to put his hand on his knife, and his palm is now covered in blood.
To an extremely brief flashback of the stabbing murder, Grizzled seems to come to the conclusion that he is the stabber. He's fairly upset about this.
The figure comes closer, and Grizzled runs back into the bunker and locks the door behind him. Soon, though, someone on the other side starts pounding on the metal. He runs to the upstairs part and closes that door, then seems to notice that the windows are wired shut with hand grenades. So, he goes into the furnace. Mmmmmkay.
Of course, pounding on the other side of the door are Jason, Helmet and Keifer. They'd like to be let back in please.
Actually, it's some kind of escape hatch that Grizzled is in, and he goes up, opens the hatch and he's on the roof now. He drops to the ground. On top of some barbed wire. Ouch!
He looks up, and sees a soldier approaching him in the torrential rain. He doesn't like this and tries to disentangle himself, without a lot of luck. All the while the music is swelling and Grizzled is getting more and more upset.
Finally, I guess he barb-wires himself to death. That's the look of it anyway. And we cut back to the inside.
Youth is creeping along the tunnels, and suddenly finds Excitable's knife at his throat. Exctiable wants to know why Youth isn't on guard duty, Youth explains about the shooting, he thought he could be more help here than upstairs. Excitable asks him if he's ready for real responsibility, and Youth says sure.
Excitable tells him that he (Youth) has to do everything that he (Exctiable) tells him to do, without question. Youth is okay with this.
Excitable explains that the enemy are inside the tunnels, playing tricks on them in order to pick them off one by one. He explains that Bald Leader is dead and that the others “can't be trusted.”
He concludes, “We give the enemy nothing!” (We certainly don't give them a horror movie.)
And we're back with Jason and Pals. Helmet has the idea that the Americans have put gas in the tunnels, to make them all hallucinate. Jason says that would “explain a lot.” Well, yeah. The other explanation is that they're, in theory, all in a horror movie. Which needs to get on the ball a bit. Please.
There's some more general discussion of the situ and how it's kind of uncertain. Then, we get creepy music and we start tracking down one of the tunnels. And we're back in the munitions room, with Excitable and Youth. It looks like they're going to turn it into a big bomb. Youth asks how they themselves will escape, and Excitable says they have bigger things to worry about. He then says, “They're coming again.”
We cut to Jason and Pals, and we hear the muttering noise we've heard on the soundtrack since the beginning, but I'm tired of paying it heed since it leads to nothing. Fool me once, movie, shame on you. Fool me twice....
One of them mentions the noise, another says he hears it, and that seems to settle it for them: it's the Americans playing tricks. They decide, somehow, to blow open the door and go out into the open, fighting. Jason tosses a grenade at the door, and it blows up.
Excitable hears this and says it was a booby trap (maybe he was the one who wired the windows upstairs) and that the Americans are “coming in both ends, now.”
He offers Youth some pills, and they both down some, and then Excitable lights the powder fuse leading to the munitions room. “If it moves,” he orders Youth, “shoot it.” And they both run off.
Jason and Pals discover that the explosion of the grenade jammed the door tighter. Needless to say, they don't find this a welcome development. They decide to find the other entrance.
They move stealthily along the corridor, and as they pass one tunnel branch, Excitable shoots at them. They shoot back.
Meanwhile, the fire has reached the artillery shells.
Rounding a corner, we hear (sigh) monster noises and Helmet sees (sigh) lots of shadows of figures. He tells the others that “they're everywhere,” and that “we don't stand a chance.”
Jason takes a peek and sees nothing, but Helmet has had enough and he holds his hands up and shouts “I surrender!” and walks into the corridor...where he meets Excitable, also surrendering.
Excitable is asked if if he's found a way out, and he says, “Nobody's getting out...not them, and not us.”
But, of course, it turns out Excitable is, well, excitable and he declares the three of them traitors as Youth comes out and aims a rifle at them. Excitable says he's taken command, and he says to Youth that the other three are the reason the Nazis are losing the war; they are “cowards, who don't want to fight!”
He then seems to indicate that he wants Youth to shoot the three of them. “They don't deserve to wear that uniform,” he says, “prove that you do!”
Youth says he can't do it, so Excitable whips out his pistol and shoots Helmet (who at the moment is not wearing his helmet, guess I forgot to point that out) right in the head. He then aims his pistol at Youth and tells him to finish the rest of them
Right about then, though, the munitions room explodes and throws everyone around. This, naturally, spoils everyone's aim and the three sane soliders manage to escape together. Excitable shoots after them with his pistol, but to little avail.
The three run into some more tunnels (if you can imagine that) but the ceiling starts to cave in on some of the avenues, so they find themselves trapped in a kind of nexus.
Keifer leads Youth through the broken barricade. Jason stays behind and starts firing into the fog.
Several ghostly Nazi soldiers start walking slowly through the fog. Jason aims, then hesitates. As the move into slightly better light, he sees that they all have blindfolds on. He takes aim again, fires, and Keifer and Youth pull him in behind them.
I wasn't going to hammer it home, myself, but Jason gets a couple of those overly saturated flash-backs of guys with blindfolds. Like what Wounded saw, earlier.
They build the barricade up a bit, lamenting that it won't hold, then go further into the recesses.
And we cut to Excitable, advancing through the tunnels with pistol drawn and at the ready. He lowers his gun as a handheld camera moves in on him (accompanied by ghoul noises), we get a very quick flash of a scarred face, and then we cut to the other three.
They've reached the end of the tunnel, but Jason suggests digging their way out. He has a shovel, actually, I suppose part of his pack. Youth points out that they can't see a thing, so Keifer lights a flare.
And you probably guessed it too, we're back in Skeletown. They all pause to absorb this a bit. Jason looks up at where he wants to dig, gets another quick flash of a blindfolded face, and hears an unearthly squeal.
At the barricade, for a moment it looked like the blindfolded hordes were smashing the planks, but it turns out to be just Excitable. I'm going to guess either that he's a) totally bonkers or b) under the thrall of the dead, the way Grizzled was. Hey, perhaps the dead need a thrall, and since Grizzled is dead, they pick the next person who is a tad unhinged. (Remember, Grizzled was sad because his son was dead.)
Well, Excitable advances on them, gun drawn, and Keifer tells him to drop it. Instead, Excitable takes aim, and Keifer shoots him with his flare gun, and he like, lights on fire and starts yelling (this seems a natural reaction) and running around like, well, like a guy who is on fire.
The other three start frantically digging. And the wood shoring up the tunnels starts burning as well.
But Jason breaches the surface, and starts up. He then hauls up Youth and sends him through the opening first. He then intends to send up Keifer, but guess what? No, guess, you'll never guess! It turns out Excitable wasn't quite dead after all. In fact, he's feeling better. He could recover completely. Actually, he thinks he's okay to come with everyone, except he doesn't want to do that, he wants to kill everyone. And he's got this half-burned face, something of an issue I'd imagine.
Well, Jason jumps on him, and they wrassle a bit, with Excitable and His Half-Burned Face (not a bad makeup effect, by the way) doing pretty well with his knife. Looks bad for Jason, but then we see a quick shot of Keifer (not quite dead, in fact feeling better, etc) who looks at the shovel they were using for digging. I suspect he'd thinking of another use.
Well, Excitable stabs Jason (though apparently not really seriously), and is about to cut his throat when Jason rips of his (Excitable's) ear. This has the necessary effect, and Keifer sure enough starts whacking on Excitable with the shovel, and gets stabbed for his trouble.
Jason (at, it has to be admitted, Keifer's suggestion) takes the opportunity to clamber up through the opening.
Well, if any scene can be said to have saved this movie, this is it. As Jason climbs up toward the light, skulls and skeletal limbs start coming out of the ground to pull him back. But the way it's shot, it looks almost as if this isn't supernatural at all, it's just the loosened earth, loosening the bodies as well, making them shift from their burial places and, almost as an afterthought, use their limbs and such to drag Jason with them as the grip of gravity pulls them down. It is really a remarkable and effective sequence, and congrats to the film-makers for coming up with it.
It would be a bit better if we didn't have to wade through the other 77 minutes to finally get here, but then, you can't have everything, can you. Well, I can't.
But Jason can have something, it seems, for a hand reaches through the light and grabs him, and pulls him up into the forest, and of course that hand belongs to Youth. (Sounds like another headline.)
Now up in the sunlit forest, Jason flops on the ground for a moment, then pulls out his last grenade and tosses it back down below.
Another interesting series of shots, as Half-Burned Excitable (sounds like a bartender special) looks at the grenade and struggles a bit, but we see a shot of the dead, blindfolded soldiers and when we see that, Excitable seems to be a simple burning corpse with no movement at all. And then, another shot of Excitable's face as he looks at the grenade, probably thinks Oh Excrement, and we cut topside.
As Youth and Jason rush away, there's an explosion behind them.
We then see a panoramic shot of a beautiful vast forest, then we cut inside. Youth sees another bunker, then turns and goes back to Jason, who is lying against a tree. He says something like “Safe,” and Jason hands him an orange handkerchief (with blood on it) and tells him to walk staight toward the bunker and don't try to hide. Youth asks if Jason is coming with him.
Jason seems to think that he's had one more second chance than he's due. Jason says that he (Youth) has “been given a chance. Now do as you're told. Go!”
Youth looks at Jason for a moment, then goes off toward the bunker. He approaches it slowly, carefully, as the camera follows him past rows of barbed wire. Until it, and he, come to stop to examine the dead body wrapped in the wire. Yes, it's Grizzled.
Youth stares a moment, then sees the American troups coming out of the woods. He hastily waves the handkercheif Jason gave him.
Back to Jason. He looks to be in a flashbackin' mood, and so he is, as we get some more over-saturated footage from earlier times. It appears to be Bald Leader and the rest of the men (yes, we can see Jason and Keifer among them) approaching a group of blindfolded troups, who all have the sign “Deserteur” around their necks. One of these prisoners is frantically chanting the Pater Noster.
Bald Leader and his men move toward these guys, and draw their rifles, and fire. They all collapse, except for the Pater Noster guy. His sign reads “Feigling,” and no, I don't know what that means.
Then, more shots ring out, and he falls as well.
We get some more shots of a guy taking pictures, and some officers with revolvers make sure the dead are dead.
More atmosphere shots. Jason goes to look at the dead. We pan across several of them. One guy is clearly shooting the bird. (Well, why not?) And a few more shots. Etc.
Back to Jason in the here and now, he sticks his knife into the ground, and buries something small. (We don't get a good look at it.) He then stands up, and walks off.
We then get a long close-up of the knife in the ground, and we pan down the blade, and then underground, and we pass an Iron Cross (which I'm gonna guess is what Jason buried), but we keep going down. Down, and down. Into...the end credits.
Well. Uh. How about that. I was expecting something else down below, but heck, at this point, I'll take end credits. Oh please, please give me end credits!
So, what have we learned?
Remember Hellboy? That film seemed to want to cram a trilogy of films (the stunt sequences, plot developments, world-threatening plots) into a single film, and I for one thought it was overstuffed. A chocolate truffle is a great thing to eat, two is even better, but a whole box just makes you feel sick like you never want to eat another chocolate truffle ever.
This film, I think, suffers from the opposite syndrome. Trying to stretch what would have been an incredible thirty minute short into ninety. The padding just shouts out its own nature. The fact that all kinds of things are brought up and never resolved—hell, never even dealt with—makes me think the film-makers are just trying to create atmosphere without having anything behind that atmosphere. It's all fine and dandy to have all these little asides and remarks and such that try to bring depth to the characters (example, all the talk about how Jason “did something”) but you have to have something solid to back them up, to put them into a substantive narrative. Putting a lot of marks on a piece of paper doesn't necessarily mean you've created a drawing.
I will give the film-makers credit for creating a wonderful atmosphere. The atmosphere is the best thing about the film, but there are some other high points as well. The acting is consistently good (Grizzled overplays a bit, but then that's part of the character). The skeleton farm is a great set, and the escape sequence is very well played.
The main problem with this film is that there isn't really much of a story here. I suppose you might call this “an exercise in psychological tension” but it doesn't hang together as a narrative. I'm reminded of a kind of similar film, The Keep from the mid-80's. There, you also had Nazis who were trapped in an old castle and being killed off, the only difference being that there was a creature in the castle who was killing them. We still had lots of atmosphere in The Keep, but it was hung on the spine of an overall narrative.
Here, we've got some guys in tunnels who get freaked out over scary noises. We know, at the end, that all these guys were members of a firing squad shooting deserters, and some of them felt guilty about that. But the number and condition of the skeletons in the tunnels makes it unlikely they were the firing squad victims. So where'd they come from? Grizzled's stories only seemed, at the time, to be another touch of red herring details designed to make the film spookier, but perhaps he was implying that the whole area is some kind of magnet for evil. Who knows? None of it is really spelled out at all.
There's a fine line between being mysterious and being confusing. This film never really became confusing, but it never really cohered into a whole, either. As I said, it would have made an outstanding film at half its length, but at the current running time it stretches its atmosphere over far too much territory.
This may be an example of Hellboy's chocolate truffles, only instead of events, we get a flood of mysteriousness. Some mystery is good; more is better, if you can sustain it over a story. But a lot of it, simply for its own sake, just adds up to confusion, and it makes it impossible to care about anyone. You need to know characters to care about them; just shoving them in front of the camera and having them say lines, no matter how well they do it, isn't going to engage audience sympathies. We don't know these people. And at the end of the film, we still don't know them. We've had mysterious hints here and there, but none of them are followed through. When the soldiers die, we should care about them. But here, there just fodder for the atmosphere.
It seems strange the the one overwhelming success of this film—the atmosphere—could be its failing, but I can't see it any other way. Ghost Rig managed to have atmosphere, but it also had a story, that progressed from one scene to another toward a conclusion. You couldn't remove many scenes from Ghost Rig without damaging the story; here, you could chop out whole sequences and it wouldn't make any difference.
I don't know where to stand on this film. On the one hand, it's clear the cast and crew put a lot into making this movie; it's handsomely done and well-acted. On the other hand, the entertainment value didn't match any of their efforts. I suppose if you want to see atmosphere and nothing but atmosphere, here's your film.
Finally, I have to note this: dammit, the box promised me a horror film. And I didn't get one.
--December 8, 2004 – March 8, 2005