Tuesday, November 25, 2008

BACTERIUM (2007) d. Brett Piper

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

From a very early age, most kids fall in love with goop. Whether it is mud pies, cow pies, pies in the face or the pie you made by mixing together every ingredient in your grandmother’s pantry, children thoroughly enjoy creeping crud and other loathsome lumps of lowly sludge. It is only as adults that some people develop a deep and abiding disgust for gooey substances and shun scum whenever they can. However, many people maintain their love affair with ooze, which often times translates into a desire to see it up on the Big Screen in the form of a “creature feature” horror film. When monster mania swept The Film Industry in the 1950s and 60s, people got a chance to see all manner of slimy beasts on The Silver Screen and on Drive-In Screens, from THE BLOB to CALTIKI THE IMMORTAL MONSTER and to THE CREEPING FLESH. Even though that fad died down to a great degree by the 1970s and 80s, slippery sludge demons from beyond all reality still can be compelling baddies in flicks and Shock-o-Rama’s BACTERIUM is no exception. While it may not measure up to predecessors like THE BLOB, it is all B-Movie and it is able to deliver on a fair amount of its promise.

BACTERIUM is the story of three friends, Beth (Alison Whitney), Jiggers (Benjamin Kanes) and Brook (Miya Sagara), who are out enjoying a day of paintball competition and unwittingly stumble into a bacteriological experiment gone awry. While sniffing out an abandoned house, they run afoul of Dr. Phillip Boskovic (Chuck McMahon), the scientist responsible for foisting upon the world a dangerous super-virus and who is now racing against time to find a solution to this flesh-eating pathogen’s insatiable hunger. The U.S. military quarantines the house with the thought of sterilizing the contagion and then sends in Dr. Karin Rayburn (Shelly Dague). Before any steps can be taken, the virus mutates into an unforeseen and more lethal form and then begins to multiply, forcing those in positions of power to take drastic action.

BACTERIUM is unlike a fair number of EI Cinema feature films and that is to its benefit. The movie has a fairly well-written story that combines many wonderfully predictable plot devices that give it a simplistic “Greek Tragedy” sort of feel, but mixed with the narrative disasters you know are coming, there are the occasional plot twists that are surprising and that keep the film from being dull or derivative. While BACTERIUM clearly has its roots in classics like THE BLOB and THE THING, many scenes with bio-hazard suited soldiers and scientists recall lesser known gems like George Romero’s THE CRAZIES and there are bikers and a biker gang battling with militia infantry that is reminiscent of Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD. Added in for good measure is some occasional humor, some of it slightly subtle in form, while other moments had a sledge-hammer quality, but all of it softening the mood and keeping BACTERIUM from taking itself too seriously. What also helped this flick immeasurably was its fairly tight pacing. The story moved along at a good clip and while it was no rocket ride, it didn’t need to be. There was a very effective blend of guns, gore, grisly goo, grins and girls to solidify its B-Movie foundation and please any lover of old-style creature features of yore.

Another strong characteristic of BACTERIUM is that despite being a seemingly typical low-budget EI Cinema production, the acting was surprising passable. While Alison Whitney, Benjamin Kanes and Miya Sagara are not likely to be the next “A-listers”, they delivered their lines effectively and with a degree of professional skill. They also played their parts in a believable fashion. Instead of being sneering, too-cool hipsters or beer-swilling frat-house rejects, or trying to be obnoxious caricatures of 50s personas, they played it straight and were regular folks put into a situation that was far from regular. As a result, I didn’t hate their characters as I too often do with most performances today. It also didn’t hurt that the young ladies’ looks were a cut above the usual stable of EI Cinema actresses. Good looks and decent performances were the hallmarks of what made B-Movies of long ago as successful as they were. BACTERIUM’s camera-work was steady, stable fare. I could see what was happening and while the “shot on video” look to the film always tends to leave an impression that whispers “cheap”, the sets, props and d├ęcor were utilized effectively and the production did not scream “cash-strapped” as is too often the case with PopCinema. For goodness sakes, they even had a helicopter that was used twice and some CGI Government Science labs that looked pretty neat. While the most of the creature special effects were not “Industrial Light & Magic” caliber, they didn’t need to be. THE BLOB’s special effects were not on the same level as FORBIDDEN PLANET, but that did not keep it from being a Drive-In classic and a favorite on late-night television. All that is necessary is for the viewer to suspend their disbelief and find a way to get sucked into the story. BACTERIUM was able to do that.

BACTERIUM may not have been swimming in loads of bonus features, but what is there is very good. There is a 23 minute “The Making of Bacterium” featurette that is very enjoyable. It is a mix of cast & crew interviews/anecdotes juxtaposed with production sequences so that a viewer gets a real sense of the process from pre-production and idea genesis to the end of the project. There is a 4 minute “Bacterium Blooper Reel” segment that is worth a look. There is an audio commentary with producer Michael Raso and writer/director Brett Piper that is very worthwhile. Finally, there is a very small Shock-o-Rama trailer vault that actually contains only four trailers. Usually, the casual dvd lover is bathed in EI Cinema trailers to the point of watching “straight on ‘til morning”, but for some reason, the plan was to exercise restraint. It worked, for just as the film is better than the average PopCinema feature, the dvd extras reflect that higher quality and are something a little out of the ordinary.

There have been many times after I’ve watched a terrible film that I feared that filth unnameable would erupt from me in greater amounts than anything I had just witnessed in the movie, but this time I actually felt like pulling out all of my old “creature features” and watching them all over again. BACTERIUM is not the best of that wonderful sub-genre, but it can proudly take its place on the B-Movie “tablet of limited fame”. Many people will probably pass this film by because the title isn’t terribly lurid and the box art isn’t licentious. The description on the back sounds a lot like things we’ve seen before. If those people who “walk on by” do just that, they will miss a chance to see a flick that does feel a lot like low-budget drive-in fare that was proliferated across the outdoor cinemas of this fair land. If PopCinema could consistently produce other films that have redeeming qualities like BACTERIUM, a lot of movie-lovers would probably see “their hearts grow three sizes” and stop being so Grinchy when it comes to that company’s merchandise.



Mark said...

Great review, I'm sold. Bacterium, here I come. Love the site, by the way. I'm gonna link you to our blog Lazlo's Closet - must spread the horror goodness. Again, really cool site. Take care.

b piper said...

It does my old heart good when the rare reviewer "gets it". Couldn't ask for a more spot on review.