From director Jamie Blanks (he of Urban Legend fame and who is, at the time of this writing, in the process of remaking Long Weekend), and writer Everett DeRoche (who wrote Road Games and both the original and revamped versions of Long Weekend) comes this latest entry in the Australian horror movie pantheon, Storm Warning.
The film follows the misadventures of a city lawyer named Rob (Robert Taylor of Vertical Limit) and his French artist wife Pia (Nadia Fares of War), a couple who decide to take the Volvo out to the shore, rent a boat and do some fishing. When bad weather moves in, Rob navigates the boat to shore but loses his bearings and the pair wind up stuck on a small island off the shore. They leave their boat and decide to go look for help, but they soon realize they're not going to get it once they spy a trio of outback hillbillies beating on a man in a red track suit. The pair takes shelter in a rundown farmhouse nearby, but when Rob discovers a massive marijuana crop in the back shed he puts two and two together and figures it might have something to do with the assault they just witnessed. Before they have time to flee, the three hillbillies - Brett (Mathew Wilkinson of Ghost Rider), Jimmy (David Lyons) and their father Poppy (John Brumpton of Romper Stomper) - show up, shotguns pointed at our hapless couple.
Rob and Pia plead with the men to help them, to get them back to civilization, but these three miscreants have got other things on their minds and they're looking at Pia with hungry eyes. Rob and Pia wind up the captives of three madmen and their flesh eating Rottweiller and soon find themselves in a fight for their lives.
Storm Warning is guaranteed to draw some fairly well founded comparisons to both Wolf Creek and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and there's really no denying some of the similarities between the three films. The plots are more or less interchangeable as are the antagonists and the settings (each one takes place in a creepy, rundown farmhouse in the middle of nowhere that's inhabited by lunatics). Storm Warning does very little to differentiate itself and as such, we definitely get a feeling that we've been here before as the movie plays out. That said, even if the film is formulaic, it is reasonably well made. Performances are above average for an indy horror movie and the film is well paced and very nicely photographed. The lighting, the sets and the outdoor location shooting are all quite atmospheric and they help to give the film an effectively grimy atmosphere.
Also worth noting is the gore quotient. While it might take Storm Warning a little while to get there, once it's all hit the fan and it's time to wrap things up, Blanks and company go for the jugular. Describing the scenes in any detail would only spoil things but let it suffice to say that this film gets nasty and it isn't afraid to spill buckets of blood and guts to shock us.
Keeping in mind that originality has never been a staple of the slasher genre and that horror films, like many other genres, have a tradition of borrowing from one another particularly when a trend proves successful, and you can forgive Storm Warning for some of its obvious cribbing. Yes we've seen this before and yes we don't have any trouble figuring out where it's going very early on but it's still a fun ride getting there and if you go into this one with expectations in check and look at the film as fun, schlocky entertainment you'll probably walk away pleased. Original or inventive the film is most definitely not but horror fans could certainly find far worse ways to kill eighty-five minutes.
Storm Warning debuts on DVD in an anamorphic 1.78.1 widescreen presentation that looks quite sharp throughout. Colors are good and there are no problems with compression artifacts and only some slight edge enhancement. The image is clean throughout, only a few instances of fine grain are noticeable. Flesh tones are realistic and lifelike and there's a nice level of detail in the foreground and the background of the picture. A little bit of aliasing and shimmering can be seen in some spots but that's really a minor complaint, the film looks very good for the most part.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound is strong throughout with the rears used fairly aggressively during the last half hour of the film. The generic sounding score bounces around the mix nicely and does a decent job of emphasizing a few of the jump scares in the picture while dialogue stays clean and clear. There are no problems with hiss or distortion and the levels are well balanced. Optional subtitles are available in Spanish and closed captioning is provided for the feature only in English.
Aside from a trailer and a teaser for Storm Warning and a few trailers for other Dimension Extreme horror titles, the only other supplement on the DVD is a commentary track from director Jamie Blanks, writer Everett Deroche, male lead Robert Taylor, executive producers Mark Pennell and Pete Ford, cinematographer Karl Von Moller, production designer Robby Perkins and special effects artist Justin Dix. The cast and crew talk about the similarities between this film and Wolf Creek and they explain how theirs came first in a sense, talking about set backs and what slowed the picture done. They also talk about some of the nastier bits in the picture and discuss the acting and the location shooting. They also talk about what in the film is CGI and what is real - some of this may surprise you! It's a good natured track with some fun banter between participants. Surprisingly enough, no one really talks over anyone else (a common problem on a commentary with this many participants) and it's all quite easy to follow. This track won't change your opinion of the film at all but there are some fun and interesting stories told in here that makes it worth a listen despite a few moments where the talk does grind to a halt. Animated menus and chapter stops are also included and inside the keepcase is an insert advertising other Dimension Extreme DVDs.
Storm Warning is pretty derivative stuff but it delivers a few surprisingly nasty gore scenes and despite its unoriginality does contain a fair bit of well played suspense. Dimension's DVD looks and sounds very good and the commentary is a welcome bonus. Not a modern classic by any stretch, the film is still worth a watch for those who enjoy Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired survivalist horror. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.