In an age over-saturated with slick American teen drama series with a supernatural theme – many still characterised by the enduring influence of BUFFY and all of them hoping to be as long running as SUPERNATURAL – HEARTLESS is a distinctively Danish take on the form. Played commendably straight and without the smart-arse, self-aware humour that tends to dominate its U.S. equivalents, it’s an absorbing, if sometimes ponderous, eight-episode serial that has scope for further seasons.
In the early going of episode one, we witness photogenic teen twins Sofie (Julie Zangenberg) and Sebastian (Sebastian Jessen) luring and feeding in an almost vampiric fashion from an unfortunate young man in a nightclub who, as a result of their necessary act, promptly bursts into flames. The siblings have to feed on the life force of other people in order to survive and fatal consequences result if their feeding reaches a certain level. Sebastian, the more sensitive of the duo, wrestles with his own conscience of their activities, and together the twins set out to find out who and what they really are. They revisit the orphanage from which they originally ran away as infants, and discover that their mother attended an ultra-strict, rural boarding school. Joining as second year students, they learn about the dark history of the school itself – with the sadistic modern hierarchy carrying on old traditions of persecution and torture - and its inextricable links to their own bloodline.
Shot in muted tones and colours with the central school permanently enshrouded by mist, HEARTLESS is an atmospheric series built around a premise that inevitably echoes significant earlier American genre works. Sebastian (who tortuously reins in his need to feed wherever possible) gets the come-on from various girls at the school but his perfectly normal lustiness blurs with the unavoidable needs of his monstrous self when aroused, a la CAT PEOPLE. (The notion of a tortured, handsome male lead unable to fulfil romantic relationships due to the threat he poses, is of course, a throwback to BUFFY and ANGEL). The concept of family members with a desperate compulsion to feed on humans and a peculiarly incestuous relationship with each other has echoes of Stephen King’s far sillier SLEEPWALKERS. There are also CARRIE-inspired sub-plots involving the telekinetic powers of key secondary characters.
It could very easily be reincarnated as a generic, slick U.S. series, but the execution here is very Scandinavian. The tone is sombre and understated, with an underlying erotic charge and a real effort to minimise FX and melodrama in favour of a realistic approach to the potentially outlandish material. The backstory, including flashbacks to 17th century witch-hunts linked to the school principal’s three daughters, is effectively integrated into the contemporary narrative, and the performances are strong all round: the two leads are striking. For those that crave such things, there are occasional intrusions of predictably bad CGI fire and some fleeting, gratuitous shower-room nudity, but HEARTLESS has a beguiling style of its own, even when retreading age-old plot threads like the old “Only love can break the curse…” chestnut that we have seen in sundry earlier genre projects.
DVD REVIEW – SHARKNADO: THE 4TH AWAKENS – *
Directed by Anthony C Ferrante. Starring Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, David Hasselhoff, Ryan Newman, Gary Busey, Tommy Davidson. Comedy/Horror, USA, 85 mins, cert 15.
Released on DVD in the UK by Kaleidoscope on the 5th September, 2016.
More industrial strength idiocy from The Asylum, the world's leading purveyors of unconvincing shark-based rubbish. No budget too low, no idea too dumb: even if the first SHARKNADO had been any good at all (and it certainly wasn't), a fourth trip to the well reveals a depressing attitude of contempt: the Friday night sixpack and takeaway audience knows it's rubbish but laughs along with it in MST3K fashion; the makers also know it's rubbish but as long as it's selling they don't really care, and they're not going to actively raise their standards and risk making a decent movie by mistake. Well, I'm very sorry, but I just don't get the joke.
In order to fully appreciate the deep intellectual profundity of SHARKNADO: THE 4TH AWAKENS, I actually sat and watched the second and third instalments on Netflix the previous evening on a tiresome double-bill. The JAWS series went from Great to Good, Bad and Awful, but the SHARKNADO series flatlines at a much lower level than even JAWS: THE REVENGE, because there's only so far you can go before the wink to camera collapses on itself. Having defeated sharknados in Los Angeles, New York, Washington and Orlando (and outer space), the oh-so-hilariously named Fin (Ian Ziering) is back battling shark-infested tornados, sandnados, bouldernados and lightningnados, with the assistance of a global system of tornado-zapping machines.
Tara Reid is back as Fin's wife April, last seen flattened by a lump of space shuttle debris at the end of the third film but revived (as a cyborg) by her plainly bonkers Dad (Gary Busey), following a Twitter hashtag battle between #AprilLives and #AprilDies. No, really, that's how they write screenplays these days. David Hasselhoff is also back from the moon (don't ask) as Fin's dad for narrative reasons too pointless to go into - but in many ways that's the whole problem. The Sharknado franchise had only a tenuous connection with the real world right from the start, but you can just about get away with endearing silliness as a one-off. However, as successive instalments have sought to out-stupid the earlier ones, it's quickly reached the point where it couldn't get any more stupid if it did a crossover with My Little Pony.
The CG effects are mostly terrible, apparently pasted onto the screen in Microsoft Paint, but who cares? The endless clunky movie gags (randomly riffing on THE WIZARD OF OZ, CHRISTINE, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and NETWORK) don't work, but who cares? Lloyd Kaufman, Wayne Newton, Carrot Top and Dog The Bounty Hunter show up for bits, but who cares? This is no longer a SHARKNADO sequel, it's another SCARY MOVIE entry and no better than the very worst of that franchise. Constructed bad movies, like constructed cult movies, always miss the mark: these things can only happen by accident. Deliberately pandering to the so-bad-it's-great audience chortling at dumb dialogue and rotten monster and gore effects, SHARKNADO: THE 4TH AWAKENS never thinks to aim higher, because who really cares? Like Spinal Tap's critic dismissing their Shark Sandwich album, I'll settle for the (slightly less offensive) cheap shot of Junknado.