Ape vs Monster (2021)

Between the Shōwa era Godzilla films becoming widely available for home streaming via The Criterion Channel & HBO Max and Adam Wingard finally delivering a decent MonsterVerse film in Godzilla vs Kong, I’ve caught a touch of kaiju fever this year.  Whenever I’m soul-tired and not sure what to watch, I find myself throwing on a giant monster movie to blankly stare at, the same way a lot of pandemic-fatigued audiences have been looping old episodes of The Office & Friends ad infinitum.  It’s hasn’t exactly been a bad or unhealthy coping mechanism as far as I can tell, but I will say I hit a new low in the indulgence recently when I watched the generically titled Ape vs Monster.  A rushed, made-for-TV cash-in on the Godzilla vs Kong box office success, Ape vs Monster has absolutely no redeeming qualities worthy of discussion besides the temporary novelty of watching two more CG creatures fight for my half-interested “amusement”.  I wish I could say I didn’t enjoy the experience.

A chimpanzee launched into space as a failed Cold War science experiment crash-lands back to Earth decades later, covered in a glowing green ooze that exponentially mutates it to kaiju-size.  A nearby Gila monster drinks the same ooze (intercut with the same insert shots of the moon looking spooky over their shared desertscape setting) and grows to the same towering scale.  They fight.  Meanwhile, lady scientists and macho military men bicker at the creatures’ feet about the ethics of euthanizing them before the fight changes venue to a nearby city.  One of the scientists also reconnects with her estranged father for a vague motion towards pathos, but who in the audience could possibly care?

Ape vs Monster is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a made-for-TV Asylum mockbuster “starring” Eric Roberts, at least in terms of its unenthused tone, awkwardly performed dialogue, and lingering shots of nothing that long outstay their welcome to stretch out the runtime.  Still, there is something special about its slapdash kaiju creature effects.  The studio’s cheap-o CGI has an absurdist cut & paste aesthetic to it that’s difficult to look at directly without your brain leaking out of your nose.  The Gila monster looks like a discarded video game prototype adapted from the American Godzilla film from 1998.  Meanwhile, the ape monster doesn’t look like anything in particular, and the longer you stare at its awkward magnificence the less its primatial design makes any sense.  Watching the two computerized abominations struggle to make tactile, physical contact is like trying to explain the finer details of a half-remembered dream; the audience doesn’t actually care, but that doesn’t make it any less surreal.

If anything has become clear to me as I’ve been indulging in disposable kaiju novelties in recent months, it’s that I don’t need much out of a movie to enjoy myself beyond a goofy-looking onscreen monster.  That’s clearly the only saving grace of Ape vs Monster, which delivers two fascinating-looking goofballs and not much else.  The movie does have the gall to tease a queer-bait romance shared between lady scientists on opposite sides of an ongoing Cold War, but it’s frustratingly uninterested in following through with that impulse.  I even thought I was mistaking the Russian character’s sultry accent for queer tension at first, until one of the would-be couple’s macho military-man adversaries complains “Those two seem . . . unusually chummy.”  If it had committed to staging a lesbian romance at the feet of its disgraceful CG kaiju creatures, it might have had something special on its hands.  As is, it’s thoroughly unremarkable beyond the accidental surrealism of its monster designs, which is only to be enjoyed by the easily amused — i.e. me.

-Brandon Ledet

The Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence (2015)




I’m calling it now, folks. The Human Centipede 3 is the single least enjoyable motion picture I’ve ever seen in my life. I pray that never changes. This is a franchise that’s been known for its vile, misanthropic humor & shameless navel-gazing since its meme-like inception in the late 2000s, but I’ll admit to actually enjoying the first couple titles in what’s likely to remain cinema’s least prestigious trilogy of all time. Unfortunately for my eyes (but perhaps fortunately for my soul), I could not carry that mild enthusiasm into the third and, as the merciful title promises, hopefully final work.

I assume most people who would bother reading this review in the first place would be fully aware of the franchise’s central conceit, so I’ll do my best to spare you the (literally) shitty details here. Instead, here’s a brief overview of its, um, artistic trajectory. First Sequence, released wide in 2010, boasted the tagline “100% medically accurate.” In a way, it’s difficult to argue the point. It’s a small, quiet torture porn horror where the titular poop-eating science experiment fails immediately & miserably due to infection, as any reasonable person would expect. 2012’s Full Sequence upped the ante significantly & almost retroactively made its comparatively dull predecessor a joy to watch. Its tagline reading “100% medically inaccurate,” it tells the story of a mentally disabled, sexually perverse superfan of First Sequence recreating the film’s experiment in a warehouse and, major surprise, it actually kind of works. His centipede is longer and more durable despite the disgusting conditions of its environment begging for a life-ending infection to take hold. Full Sequence is not only meaner & more disgusting than the first film; it’s also much more satirically pointed, revealing an indictment of its own audience for being the sick fucks who would want to watch not one, but two of these atrocities in the first place. I saw the film at a packed New Orleans Film Fest screening at Chalmette Movies and was both tickled by the darkly comic depravity I had just witnessed & strongly tempted to ask each attendee what’s wrong with them for showing up in the first place on their way out the exit. The Human Centipede 3: Full Sequence thoroughly ruined all of that questionable goodwill.

The all-important tagline of Final Sequence is “100% politically incorrect.” I hope you can already see the problem there. Long gone are the morbid fascination factor of the first film and the unexpected satirical edge & audience hatred 0f the second. In their place is a desperately unfunny, try-hard “political” comedy of legendarily hideous & vapid proportions. The same intense focus on gore & human cruelty that’s consistently present throughout the franchise is in tact here, but Full Sequence finds entirely new, unwelcome ways to disappoint & disgust. In some ways it’s director Tom Six’s greatest achievement yet, as it is a truly depraved work surely no decent human being could enjoy without failing a litmus test that calls into question their capacity for empathy, compassion, maturity or potential for spiritual growth. If someone ever tells you that The Human Centipede 3 is their favorite film, do the world a favor and push them into the nearest incinerator. Anytime a property claims that its goal is to be “100% politically incorrect” prepare yourself to witness some vile, misanthropic shit that’s toxic at best in its societal & spiritual value. Final Sequence surpasses even that low bar of depravity, sucking all joy out of its entire franchise & anything else unfortunate enough to lie in its vicinity. By the time I made it to the end credits (no small feat, that), I had to fight back an urge to alternate between screaming & chugging hard liquor in a scalding hot shower.

Inexplicably, though, it’s not necessarily the “100% politically incorrect” humor that makes the movie such a chore to survive. It’s the lead performance by actor Dieter Laser that sinks the film decisively before it even gives itself a chance to offend the audience with an onslaught of rape jokes & racial slurs. Laser delivers what is, hands down, the single most annoying lead performance in the history of the motion picture as an artform, if not the history of scripted theater. He is loud, brash, incomprehensible, devoid of value. His work here should be legally deemed criminal with some kind of mandatory penalty leveled on him as a penance (though, hopefully not one that takes inspiration from the film itself). Did I mention that Dieter Laser is profoundly awful in The Human Centipede 3? Good, because he’s shit, or perhaps something even more difficult to stomach.

For those of you paying close attention to this franchise (God help you), you may recall that Dieter Laser played the Nazi-esque doctor in First Sequence who invented the human centipede torture meme in the first place. Both he & the actor who portrayed his copycat in Full Sequence are recast here as the heads of a prison in the fiercely Republican state of Texas despite this being a universe where the first two films exist & are available on DVD. As the warden & assistant warden of George H.W. Bush Prison (topical humor! funny!), these two evil fucks attempt to please their right wing governor (played by Eric Roberts of A Talking Cat?! & Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs fame) by implementing methods of discipline that wouldn’t fly on Adult Swim’s Superjail!. Laser explains openly, “I believe in bringing back medieval torture methods” when he’s not busy screaming racial epithets at the top of his lungs. His assistant does him one better by suggesting a recreation of Tom Six’s visionary work in First Sequence & Full Sequence. Their centipedal masterwork isn’t realized until the final fifteen minutes of Final Sequence, a choice that withholds whatever perverse pleasure could possibly derived from the spectacle of seeing the longest human centipede yet in favor of boring/annoying the audience with Laser’s beyond-grating lack of subtle nuance or basic dignity. You know exactly where the film is going and yet it drags is little insectoid feet getting there so that you can spend more time “enjoying” political commentary that relates conservative Texans to Nazis in the first two minutes & doesn’t bother expanding its scope from there. What a godawful piece of trash.

I’ll admit that I didn’t watch this film in the best environment. Instead of heckling it with friends on a late night or quietly squirming in a crowded film fest screening like the fist two, I swallowed this shit while enjoying my breakfast alone on a Sunday morning. I doubt a better venue would’ve helped much, though. Outside a couple stray one-liners like “We don’t get to deal with their shit no more. They just got to deal with each others'” and a doctor’s fretting that the experiment is “in serious conflict with [his] Hippocratic Oath,” there’s truly nothing of value here. Even the intense gore, which includes an up-close, believably real castration, pales in comparison to the depravity of Full Sequence. On its list of achievements, Final Sequence boasts the two most disgusting rape scenes I’ve ever seen in my life (two low points I hope to never experience again), only to pull back & reveal that one of them was all just a dream, an empty exercise.

Tom Six, who appears as himself in the film & is aptly described by Laser’s cruelly unbearable warden as “a poop-infested toddler” knows a thing or tow about empty exercises. His one true accomplishment in Final Sequence is making the longest centipede yet to appear in the series, but no one could possibly care, considering the rotting pile of garbage he births it in. Six appears smug here, proud of his work & its cultural impact, directly referencing a South Park episode his magnum opus inspired. He forms a makeshift human centipede Ouroboros here, fashioning a cinematic monster that greedily feeds on its own filth. Everything feels off, a complete failure overflowing out the sides of Six’s pull-up diaper. Only porn star Bree Olson seems comfortable with the production value & “political incorrectness” on display and for some reason Six feels the need to mercilessly punish her for it. A final scene of Dieter Laser screaming unintelligibly into a bullhorn aimed at no one in particular, perhaps a long-dead God, suggests that Six knows exactly what a shitty monument to nothing he’s constructed here, but that doesn’t make the nihilistic exercise worthwhile in the least.

Trust me, folks. I’ve been known to enjoy many a shitty movie in my time, but my claim that Final Sequence is the worst film I’ve ever endured is not a challenge or a low-key recommendation or a thinly-veiled dare. This is a hateful, empty work meant to be enjoyed by no one. No one. If you can avoid giving Tom Six even the microscopic revenue of a hate watch on Netflix I highly recommend toughing out a life without having seen a spiritless, self-obsessed work of misanthropic masturbation that might forever define of sewers of needless, failed horror cinema . . . if you can manage to bear the thought. At the very least, I’ll envy you.

-Brandon Ledet

Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs (2015)


three star


As the less fortunate among you surely know by now, The SyFy Channel usually churns out its CGI mockbusters to siphon off money from the especially content-hungry in anticipation of major summer releases. While there’s no accounting for certain titles like Sharknado or Lavalantula, which have no “real” cinema counterparts to speak of, SyFy will usually pull a stunt like preempting del Toro’s kaiju love-letter Pacific Rim with its own mech suit cheapie called Atlantic Rim or riding the MCU’s Thor‘s coattails with some generic atrocity called The Almighty Thor, etc. My curiosity, then, was recently piqued while scrolling through Netflix after midnight when I noticed that SyFy had produced a film last year titled Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs. The most obvious comparison point to that title would be Jon Favreau’s better-than-its-reputation Cowboys & Aliens, but that film’s from all the way back in 2011 & Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs aired in 2015, so the timeline didn’t make much sense to me.

It wasn’t until I was a good 20 minutes or so into Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs (thanks to a complete lack of willpower) that I remembered, oh yeah, there was a CGI dinosaur movie that came out last year. It was called Jurassic World and starred one of Hollywood’s up & coming leading men and made a ridiculous amount of money all over the world, despite apparently being less memorable than a box office flop that came out five years ago. By the time I had this epiphany I was too far into Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs to bail, though, and I just sort of gave into finishing it the same way your body gives into the numbness of freezing to death when you plunge into icy waters.

Truth be told, Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs isn’t all that bad when judged by the perilously low standards of SyFy mockbusters. The characters are laughably wooden & the entire premise is just as try-hard as they come, but damn if I didn’t laugh every time some dope was eaten by a CG dino. In a world of cowboy cliches that range from fallen rodeo hero to power-hungry sheriff to country music video skanks of all genders, a CG dino is more savior than monster. The wicked creatures are released early on from their dino treasure trove inside an active mine shaft thanks to a shitty little CGI dynamite charge and are thankfully violent at every given opportunity: chomping heads, removing guts, biting people purely out of malice instead of hunger. The mine shaft works like some kind of bizarre 3D dino printer, emanating countless copies of the same generic, raptor-like dinosaur that move in quick jerks like a video game glitch and bleed explosive methane, because why not? The movie drowns in its own mediocrity when there’s no dino mayhem on display, focusing mostly on a romantically-charged rivalry between the sheriff & his rodeo cowboy nemesis that no one could possibly care about, but the plot is mostly an inconvenience at best. The dinosaurs are easily the more interesting half of the dino-cowboy equation, but the movie knows it & does its best to disperse their murderous chaos evenly throughout the production.

I was just shy of abandoning all hope on Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs when a second round of explosions happened to set loose a new, more varied batch of dinosaurs. This is when the cowboy gimmick really pays off. Our rodeo hero lassos himself a wild one & ends up riding a stegosaurus like an ornery bull. There’s even an exploding T-Rex. Where else are you going to see that? Don’t answer that. Look, the production value is essentially on par with a softcore porno, the gore is goofy but never quite gruesome, and the plot feels like one beat in a screenplay instead of a finished product. Even SyFy’s signature celebrity stunt casting is lackluster here, featuring Eric Roberts of such prestigious works as A Talking Cat?! & The Human Centipede 3. If Roberts’s IMDb page is to be believed, he appears in roughly 4,000 projects a year, so that wasn’t much of a get by any measure.

Still, I chuckled at far too many dino attacks in this film to brush it off completely. This must be how the poor people who enjoy watching Birdemic must feel. I wasn’t excited when Cowboys vs.Dinosaurs left the door open for a sequel, but I honestly would be more likely to watch that then giving Jurassic World a second look. If you want to consider that an insult to one movie instead of a compliment to the other, that’s up to you.

-Brandon Ledet