(On-demand, August 2012) Unaccountably, I had never seen Species until now, nearly seventeen years later. For some reason, I had filed away this title as a throwaway B-grade monster movie, not worth the trouble to seek out. But the future is now, and the film is only a few buttons away from on-demand viewing! While Species is, in fact, a B-grade monster movie, it’s a slickly-made one, with a few good ideas and some noteworthy elements. Take your pick of the various names featured in the credits: H.R. Giger’s nightmarish creature design (leading to a few “have I really seen this?” moments), a scene-setting performance by young Michelle Williams as a young alien on the run, Michael Madsen’s cocky turn as a special operative, Forrest Whittaker’s good take on a bad “empath” role, Ben Kingsley as a government operative, or Natasha Henstridge’s asset-baring first big-screen performance. In Science-Fiction terms, Species is borderline incoherent nonsense, but it springs from a fairly clever conceit of remote alien invasion via radio-signal DNA sequencing. (Other written-SF stories have tackled the idea, but it’s still relatively original for Movie-SF.) There are also a few nice things to say about the themes of the film, which combine a few rough ideas about predation and reproduction with more standard horror-film tropes. Plot-wise, the film remains a monster chase, but the team of monster-hunters is shown effectively, and the rhythm doesn’t really falter until the last act’s fairly standard subterranean heroics. Species’ dynamic night-time chase sequences show that the film had a decent budget, making the B-movie exploitation elements seem all the more noteworthy. While some of the film is still stuck in the mid-nineties, it hasn’t aged all that badly and rewards casual viewing even today.
(On-demand, August 2012) Sequels are almost expected to be markedly worse than the original, but even with lowered expectations, it’s remarkable how quickly Species 2 goes rancid. The original may not have been exceptional, but it had some basic competence on display. This isn’t the case here, and it’s exhausting to point at all the reasons why the film is so awful. Despite a few good ideas and an intriguing opening-up of the plot far beyond the original’s scope, Species 2 quickly shoots itself in the foot thanks to terrible writing, no control over tone, overuse of exploitation elements and little conceptual coherency. Perhaps the single funniest aspect of the film is seeing Michael Madsen and Mykelti Williamson play their roles as if they were in a comedy film: Madsen almost seems to be parodying his own role in the original (unlike Natasha Henstridge, who plays it straight) and their ham-fisted antics make for a strange counterpoint to the deadly-serious acting by James Cromwell and Justin Lazar as they try to work out father/son dramatic issues in a film that’s really more interested in sex and violence. The gore and nudity seem far more exploitative here than in the original, to little effect when the rest of the film is so uneven. Some interesting set design can’t compensate for flat direction, a repellent quasi-joking attitude toward serial sexual violence, and gag-inducing dialogue. Cataloguing Species 2’s plot-holes would require more effort than a film of this nature deserves, and that stands as a damning overall assessment. It’s easy to find more than a few recent straight-to-DVD movies that were better than this theatrical release.
(On DVD, January 2012) I enjoyed The Bleeding for all the wrong reasons. Let’s be clear: this is not a good movie. It revels in clichés, terrible cinematography, dull plotting and unsuccessfully tries to ape much better films. Still, it’s aimed at horrors fans, and I can recognize the wolf-whistles aimed at that particular constituency. A vampire movie loaded with hot cars, heavy weaponry, occasional female nudity and death metal music, The Bleeding desperately wants to please the sometimes-insular horror film fan community, and nearly every misstep that the movie makes is due to blatant fan-service. The protagonist’s over-the-top narration is so grotesquely filled with pretentious tough-guy talk that it borders on parody; a sudden dismemberment scene is designed to please the gore-hounds; the female character ecstatic over the protagonist’s car is designed to appeal to a specific kind of movie-watcher. If you have some current or past affinity for that crowd (male, white, 18-to-34, undiscriminating horror fanatic, often single; I’ve been there) then The Bleeding will find a place in the happy place of your brain, even as you recognize that it’s terrible. More seasoned audiences will still be fascinated by the film’s attempt to re-create better films, and why the attempts don’t work: Stone-faced Michael Matthias tries hard to be Vin Diesel (and you can almost imagine how Diesel would play that role more forcefully), but the script gives him some lines of dialogue that have to be heard to be believed. Michael Madsen, at least, has a little bit of self-aware fun as a gun-toting priest. Kat Von D shows up briefly (but not as briefly as Armand Assante’s one-scene cameo) while Vinnie Jones growls a standard-issue villain and DMX shows up for a hilariously convenient bit of exposition. The script is terrible in a quasi-charming way, being made almost entirely of macho posturing and onrushing exposition. The cinematography isn’t confident enough in itself and feels forced to bathe everything in super-saturated monochrome. No doubt: The Bleeding is bad… and yet, at the same time, kind of entertaining. You already know if you want to see it, don’t you? The DVD contains three inconsequential featurettes, plus The Bleeding’s own trailer –which is even funnier after seeing the film!