Monday, 6 January 2014

Attack of the Sabretooth

Director: George Miller
Writer: Tom Woosley
Producers: Phil Botana, Tom Parkinson
Cast: Robert Carradine, Stacy Haiduk, Nicholas Bell
Country: USA
Year of release: 2005
Reviewed from: Finnish DVD

So there we were, on holiday in Scarborough. Down on the front, there was a cheapo-cheapo tat shop selling all sorts of odd stuff. I bought a really cool Tron Legacy rucksack. No, seriously. They also had a bunch of Finnish DVDs, all carrying a sticker saying ‘DVD plays in English’. There was all sorts of crap there. In the end I bought Men in Black: The Series and The Real Ghostbusters for TF Simpson, and I treated myself to Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia and this little Sci Fi Channel gem.

All of which preamble really just leads to this: Attack of the Sabretooth is absolute bollocks. It is so bad, in such fascinating ways, that it actually becomes entertaining, as such things are often said to do but so rarely in fact, actually, you know, do. It really looks like the people who made this either didn’t know what they were doing, or didn’t care, or both. For example, the story takes place on a private isle within the Fiji group of islands. It was actually shot in Fiji, but clearly not on the idyllic atoll shown in aerial establishing shots: a ring of sand maybe half a mile in diameter surrounding a cluster of palm trees dotted with the occasional cabin.

The actual fictional location is big enough to have a half-built 500-bedroom hotel and enough additional space for a proposed zoo and theme park, plus some exterior scenes feature characters trekking across wide open grasslands with imposing mountains rising in the background. We see characters arriving by seaplane, wading through the surf from plane to beach - which would be in keeping with the stock footage atoll - but given the size and complexity of the buildings on the island, there must be a proper dock.

This is typical of the film as a whole: a complete disregard for massive contradictions and inconsistencies which only serve to reinforce the one-note characters, crappy dialogue, lacklustre direction and half-hearted design on offer. Sometimes it seems like there are scenes from two or more films here which have just been randomly shuffled together, except that the various contradictory stories do interconnect.

Oz-based, Huddersfield-born Nicholas Bell (Dark City, Crawlspace, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark remake and Zordon in the first Power Rangers movie) stars as rich businessman Niles who owns the island and is in the process of turning it into a high-class resort, Primal Park. (In Italy, the film was released on DVD as Primal Park: Lo zoo del terrore although on TV it was titled Wild 2: La caccia è aperta - ‘hunting is open’. Wild 1, or Wild: Attacco sulle montagne, was the 2002 picture Sabretooth directed by James Hickox, starring John Rhys-Davies, which has no narrative connection with this one but does share a writer, a producer and apparently the same CGI cat. Anyway...)

Niles has invited dozens of wealthy Pacific types to his size-changing island to encourage them to invest in Primal Park, although it’s not clear (a) how they all got there or (b) where they’re staying if the hotel complex is unfinished. His pitch amounts to little more than plying them with champagne on the beach and making a pathetically brief speech which wouldn’t persuade anyone to invest in an ice cream van on a hot day. It is notable that the handheld microphone he uses carries on working even when he holds it at arm’s length.

Elsewhere on the island, in what is referred to as a ‘zoo’ but is clearly more of a safari park, live Niles’ prime attractions, a pair of genetically recreated smilodons. It is amusing that while the film gets so much else wrong, it goes to the trouble of having Niles explain at one point that these are what are incorrectly known as ‘sabretooth tigers’, a point of pedantry which seems irrelevant compared with the film’s many other lapses in logic, consistency and reality in general. Niles has developed these cats - or rather, his scientist employee Sachariah (Maori actor Rawiri Paratene: Whale Rider, Man-Thing) has - but for some reason he is keeping them secret and does not reveal their existence to the various millionaires he wants to invest in his project, despite the sabretooths being the focal point of the park’s marketing.

The park’s logo is a silhouette of a sabretooth with the slogan ‘Primal Park: genetic miracles reasonably priced’. So if Niles is going to sell this place to punters on the basis of the genetically recreated big cats, why is he not letting the potential investors in on this; and if he wants to keep it a secret, why does he advertise it in his logo? Also worth noting is that the silhouette in question has been drawn by someone who has apparently never seen a cat, sabretoothed or otherwise, since it is completely the wrong shape. It looks like a capybara with a stick of celery drooping from its mouth.

Just in case that logo was too subtle, above the boarded-up entrance to the hotel is an enormous - I mean, huge - gold statue of a smilodon. And here’s what’s really weird. Although the CGI cats (when we eventually see them) are not great, they’re also not terrible. They at least move well and have shadows; they’re about the quality of CGI creature you would expect to see on the Sci Fi Channel. Yet the giant gold statue, which doesn’t have to move, which doesn’t even have to rotate because the camera is locked off, is the most piss-poor bit of CGI that I have seen in a very, very long time. It’s one step up from a cartoon.

So anyway, as well as geneticist Sachariah, Niles also employs a number of security staff, one of whom is Savannah, played by the utterly gorgeous Stacy Haiduk (Steel and Lace, Yesterday’s Target, Kindred: The Embraced, Superboy). Card-carrying member of the Stacy Haiduk Lustful Thoughts Society here; I’ve had a crush on this lady since I originally watched seaQuest DSV back in the 1990s. She’s not only still hot, she is also a much better actress than this crap deserves.

In a prologue, we saw one of the other security guards patrolling a fence which has notices on it saying it is electrified but clearly isn’t. He puts down his rifle (we never see a tranquilliser gun in the whole film) and settles down to enjoy a battered copy of NZX, a digest-sized porn mag which, a swift google reveals, is a genuine publication: “New Zealand’s largest selling adult magazine ... featuring genuine Kiwi men and women ... combination of high production quality with pictorials and articles featuring LOCAL amateurs ...crammed full of high quality colour glossy images of ‘typical’ New Zealand girls next door - the very girls you may meet on your next night out!, plus contact adverts and lots, lots more.” Let no-one say I’m not prepared to do my detailed research when writing these reviews.

For no reason - I mean, absolutely no reason - this guard tears a page out of the mag which is then blown away when he is distracted by his walkie-talkie. A succession of shots show the page being blown over the fence and then further and further into the jungle beyond. Two things do we notice here: first, that there is absolutely no other evidence of this breeze; not a leaf or a blade of grass moves. Secondly, this must surely be the nadir of computer-generated imagery: think of the technological developments which have taken place over the past decade or two, leading to the position where film-makers can use their computerised special effects to digitally create a windblown page of a scat-mag. Jurassic Park had CGI dinosaurs, Primal Park has a CGI nudie photo.

For no reason - and once again, I mean absolutely no reason - this security guard decides that he must retrieve the page. Why? Even if there’s some rule about litter within the fenced-off area, it’s just one sheet of paper in a jungle and there’s nothing to connect it with our man. It could have blown in from anywhere. Which leads us to the inescapable conclusion that this particular high quality colour glossy image (which we never get a really good look at, though we can see the girl is not nude) must be of the absolute sexiest New Zealand girl next door who ever lived. And maybe this particular issue of NZX is an out-of-print collector’s item so that it is easier for the guy to retrieve the missing page from the habitat of a dangerous wild beast than to simply order another copy. Though we’re still left wondering why he would have torn it out of the mag, halfway round his security patrol.

Eager to maintain his complete (if damaged) collection of gentlemen’s illustrated literature, the guard unlocks a gate in the fence, strolls through and fails to notice that it hasn’t closed properly behind him. He follows the wafting computer-animated art pamphlet until he is surprised by something large and fiercesome, represented by a digitised POV shot which would make sense if this was the Predator or something else capable of viewing an animal’s heat signature, but cats tend to use the whole ‘eyes and ears’ thing.

Typing all this up, it’s astounding quite how much nonsense we have just in this splash panel prologue, not least the crappy fencing. A single, six-foot-high metal fence, whether electrified or not, is not really a good way of fencing in large, agile carnivores, especially if that fence has gates at regular intervals which open and close using electronic locks rather than good old-fashioned sliding bolts, just one of which would have rendered this film’s narrative non-existent and allowed viewers of the Sci-Fi Channel to enjoy a blank screen for an hour and a half, which would probably have got better ratings and certainly got better reviews.

When the security guard fails to check in, Niles’ possibly gay assistant Alan (Nathaniel Kiwi - really?) goes to check out what has happened to him - and meets a similar fate. Then another security guard goes to look - and he also falls prey to the POV carnivore. In both of these instances, the guy finds the opened gate, goes through, doesn’t bother to close it, follows the tracks to the spot where the first guard got eaten, sees the bloody, dismembered corpse(s) and is still caught by surprise, mauled by the smilodon without letting off a shot. Really, these guys are just the worst security guards in the world. Their only job is to ensure that two large carnivores don’t escape from a fenced-off area of a private island, and they not only can’t manage that, they fail in truly epic ways.

This leaves the entire island staff as: Ms Haiduk; Brian (Brian Wimmer: Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Tank Girl, The Evil Beneath Loch Ness), a maintenance joe she’s knocking boots with; Sachariah; and the assorted non-speaking waiters and Polynesian musicians respectively serving and entertaining the venture capitalists on the beach. When Savannah realises that the cats have escaped, due to an island-wide power outage, she warns Niles that they should evacuate the beach and tell all these visitors to lock themselves in their rooms, but he doesn’t want to frighten the investors. She then tries to warn people herself using the same PA system that Niles used, which is surprisingly still working despite the lack of electricity. Of course, the fact that the power outage has opened up all the gates is completely irrelevant given that one of the gates has been open anyway since the start of the movie.

Up to now, what we have is a crappy and ill-thought-out rip-off of Jurassic Park with a hint of Jaws. But there is an entire subplot going on which completely contradicts what we have seen and been told, while making no sense at all in and of itself. You see, it’s no good making a film like this unless there are young people to whom ‘the kids’ can relate. Hence, back in the first act, the folks we saw arriving by seaplane were five American students who are here to carry out a scavenger hunt in order to gain entry to their college fraternity/sorority. They are welcomed on the beach by Niles himself (I think he is the uncle of one of them) and he takes them, past considerable numbers of extras to the hotel (is it built/open or not?) saying “Let me show you where you’ll be staying.”

Sipping cocktails by the pool, the quintet of stereotypes - jock, geek, bimbo, gothette and token black girl (but not too black, obviously...) - open their envelopes. They have just 24 hours, starting from - well, whenever they feel like it, clearly - to find the following: a conch shell (feasible), a spear decorated with shells (unlikely), the bowl from a cotton candy (ie. candy floss) machine (highly unlikely), a ‘cannibal fork’ (what?) and a box of M80 firecrackers. A swift google reveals that a cannibal fork was a ceremonial wooden fork developed by ancient Fijians to enable chiefs to eat the flesh of their enemies without touching it with their hands. Now generally made for decorative purposes and sold to tourists.

That doesn’t really matter anyway because neither the fork nor the firecrackers are found. The conch and the shell-spear both turn up in a not-yet-open souvenir shop, while an unassembled candy floss machine is improbably found among a pile of unopened cardboard boxes beside a swimming pool. Atypically, the unopened boxes actually make sense in terms of a facility which is not yet open, but one can’t help thinking that stocking the souvenir shop would be one of the last actions before opening the place up, not something done before the building is even finished.

But that’s just mild stupidity compared with the idea that as a frat house pledge these students have to fly to Fiji, charter a seaplane to a private island, stay in a resort which isn’t opened yet and find five things which may not even be on the island. It’s quite clear that that screenwriter Tom Woosley has just chucked these off-the-shelf characters into the film without giving a moment’s thought to whether their presence makes the tiniest shred of sense. The five actors forced to cope with this inept script, incidentally, are Billy Aaron Brown (Headless Horseman, Jeepers Creepers II) as the jock, Parry Shen (Shrieker, Rolfe Kanefsky’s The Hazing, Hatchet I and II) as the geek, Aussie actress Cleo Coleman (briefly a regular in Neighbours) as the TBG, Natalie Avital (Shallow Ground) as the goth and Amanda Stephens (Between Floors) as the bimbo.

It was, incidentally, the geek who turned off the power so that they could all sneak into the unfinished building, which is still boarded up and is presumably somehow not the building they (and everyone else) are staying in. After some time the cats start hunting within the building, which is remarkably well-lit for somewhere with no power, and rip the head off the bimbo who attempts to defend herself by pitifully chucking the shell-spear. It’s a shame you didn’t find the M80 firecrackers, love.

One of only two clever, original or indeed ‘good’ moments in the film is when the geek sees the smilodon chomping down on the bimbo. Backed up against a wall, he is splattered with copious quantities of blood so that when he runs away, his silhouette is visible in the blood splatter. I liked that bit. He then hides in some sort of chest freezer from which he is eventually extricated. Later, the jock gets his head ripped off but the cheapskate production have apparently used the same crappy fake-head for both the bimbo and the jock, just sticking it in a different wig, meaning it looks nothing like either of them. Before this, the jock had met up with a girl named Sharona (Bonnie Piesse: Aunt Beru in the Star Wars prequels!) who seems to have no connection with anyone or anything and becomes cat-food when they try to make out in the souvenir shop. The two of them meet, incidentally, on a moving walkway which, like the PA system on the beach (and many of the lights) has no problem functioning during a power outage.

The surviving students prowl around the building with Brian who manages to destroy one of the tigers by releasing gas from a canister and then chucking a Zippo lighter behind him. A subsequent shot of the charred corpse shows a hilarious black, vaguely cat-shaped thing with its legs sticking in the air. This was presumably specially made for the production by the same props people who created the aborted smilodon phoetuses seen in jars in the genetics lab, all of which have huge, prominent fangs, which aside from the general low quality of the props, raises its own problems. Because, while I (like most people) have never seen an aborted smilodon phoetus, I can’t help thinking that animals which have large, external tusks - like elephants and narwhals - tend to develop them as they get older rather than have them at birth, on account of the likelihood of ripping open the mother’s uterus. And I’m prepared to hazard a guess that smilodon cubs were similarly born without huge, protruding, razor-sharp canine teeth.

With one cat dead, there’s now just one more to deal with - except that Sachariah reveals that there is a third cat, a huge beast with non-functioning back legs which wasn’t aborted for some reason and has been kept secret even from Savannah and Brian, because the best way to ensure effective security is to not tell your security managers what they are actually guarding. The second ‘good’ bit of Attack of the Sabretooth, the only vaguely clever piece of dialogue in the entire movie, is the explanation that because this third cat has to drag itself around, he should be really easy to escape from unless he actually corners someone.

We learn something else about the cats at this point, which is an explanation of why they are killing so many people, and leaving bits of bodies all over the place. I hope you’re sitting down, because it is stated that these three sabre-toothed tigers are all... bulimic! They are killing people, eating them, then vomiting them up again and going looking for more food. They are smilodons with eating disorders.

Attack of the Sabretooth (which was originally announced as Night of the Sabretooth but changed its title because everything takes place in bright sunshine) may be an utterly asinine, clichéed, nonsensical, inept piece of crap, but in terms of originality I suppose one must give props for the threat of an enormous, prehistoric, paraplegic, bulimic cat. Not too many of them about, even in my DVD collection.

Eventually Niles (remember him?) who has entered the boarded-up building through the front doors, manages to escape from the feline Ironside through those same doors which have now become inexplicably locked, but the smilodon’s relentless hammering against the now-locked-again doors causes the whole building to wobble until eventually one of the golden fangs drops off the massive shitty CGI smilodon statue, plummeting down towards Niles and impaling him in quite the worst effects shot that I have scene for many, many years.

Brian blasts the cat with his gun and our survivors (well, some of them) exit the building, confident that all three cats are dead. This is because they saw the charred remains of one, they have just stepped over the body of another having seen its brains blown out, and Brian is reasonably sure that he probably got the third when he was blasting at it and it “must have crawled away to die”.

Well, that’s all right then.

No indication is ever given of what happens to all the investors eating canapés on the beach or indeed whether they ever realise that anything is going on. The film just suddenly stops.

Well, actually there is a coda, tagging onto another subplot which I have ignored up to now because it is almost entirely irrelevant although it does allow the casting of token name value (Stacy H notwithstanding) Robert Carradine. He plays Grant, Niles’ ex-brother-in-law and business rival, who turns up with his new squeeze Autumn (Susanne Sutchy: Romero’s Bruiser plus religious sci-fi/horror oddity Left Behind II: Tribulation Force). Niles wants to piss off Grant by not letting him invest in Primal Park. Grant isn’t bothered about the park anyway but is secretly planning to ruin Niles by stealing all his scientific secrets, to which extent Autumn is not actually his girlfriend but a professional safecracker. When they find themselves alone in Niles’ office (through a series of events which they could not have planned), Autumn opens the safe and Grant makes a copy of the data-stick therein containing all of Niles’ trade secrets. Oh, worth mentioning that the little palm-computer thing which they use for this, like the computers in the lab and the security office, has a background display of cascading green numbers. Because that was in The Matrix so it must be a computer thing, right?

Let’s just pause here to give you some information about Robert Carradine, youngest member of the acting clan founded by John of that ilk. His brothers are/were David (Kung Fu, Kill Bill), Keith (Deadwood, Dexter) and Chris and Bruce (neither of whom did much, to be honest). The IMDB lists 19 credits for Bobby C including Blackboard Massacre, Orca - Killer Whale, Revenge of the Nerds I-IV, The Tommyknockers, Body Bags, Escape from LA, the remake of Humanoids from the Deep, a TV pilot called Martian Law(!), Bob Cook’s Lycanthrope, Fred Olen Ray’s The Kid with X-ray Eyes, something called Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire, Timecop 2, Ghosts of Mars, Slumber Party Slaughter, Bikini Spring Break and My Dog’s Christmas Miracle. On the basis of which we can see that (a) he has based his career to some extent on his father’s, and (b) Attack of the Sabretooth is, despite all its faults, far from his worst film.

Grant and Autumn head out across the grassland, for no apparent reason, and get eaten by the remaining cat which evidently didn’t crawl away to die but also isn’t still in the building that it was in a few moments ago. Unless we are supposed to think that there is still a fourth cat which even Sachariah didn’t know about.

Good God alive, this is jaw-droppingly awful film-making, even by the low, low standards of the shite that I tend to watch and review. No effort or care has been taken by the film-makers; it’s just an exercise in box-ticking which is evidently enough to secure a Sci Fi Channel broadcast and assorted DVD releases around the world.

The man who must hang his head in shame whenever Attack of the Sabretooth is mentioned is director George Miller. Now, you may be aware that there are two Australian film directors of that name. There is George Miller, who directed all three Mad Max films plus Babe I and II, Happy Feet I and II, The Witches of Eastwick and Lorenzo’s Oil. He has been nominated four times for an Oscar, eventually winning for Happy Feet. He may have directed films about dancing penguins, talking pigs and Tina Turner’s hair, but he has never had any involvement with prehistoric, paraplegic predators with eating disorders.

No, this is the other George Miller, sometimes known (although not here) as George T Miller; T presumably standing for T’other. After spending the ‘70s and early ‘80s directing Aussie TV series, he moved into features with The Man from Snowy River, Les Patterson Saves the World, the oxymoronic NeverEnding Story II, seal comedy André, dog/dolphin buddy movie Zeus and Roxanne, a couple of Christmas TV movies, a version of Robinson Crusoe starring Pierce Brosnan, a 1999 Hallmark mini-series of Journey to the Centre of the Earth and canine sci-fi comedy Cybermutt. Attack of the Sabretooth was his 24th and last feature, directed when he was in his sixties, after which he presumably retired. He was never nominated for an Oscar (although André was shortlisted at Fantasporto one year).

Tom Woosley, who wrote the script and shares story credit with producer Phil Botana, can’t be blamed for things like non-matching stock footage and terrible CGI golden cat statues (unless that fell within his other role as ‘co-executive producer’). He can however be very much blamed for the film’s complete failure to know where it’s set or what it’s about. His only two other produced credits are the previous sabretooth film, Sabretooth (as mentioned above) and the truly awful skeleton warrior rubbish Army of the Dead. I’m sorry, but if this guy can’t fashion a decent script out of either sabretoothed tigers or skelly warriors, he should just give up. Which, by the looks of it, he has. He is actually an accountant by trade, although he describes himself on LinkedIn as a ‘freelance entertainment professional’; his most recent IMDB credit is ‘office production assistant’ on Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell.

Botana produced Russell Mulcahy’s Talos the Mummy, Babe knock-off My Brother the Pig and The Evil Beneath Loch Ness but hasn’t brought anything to the screen since the two Sabretooth pictures and is now Business Development Manager at a biotechnology company. It’s quite impressive that this pile of crap killed off the cinematic careers of its director and its writer and its producer.

Far more interesting is the other credited producer, Tom Parkinson. Incredibly, this is the same guy who produced Disciple of Death and Crucible of Terror back in the early 1970s! Even more incredibly, before working in films he played sousaphone in the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band! He is, therefore, a god among men and I would be sorely tempted to revise all my views of Attack of the Sabretooth and proclaim it a modern classic, were it not for the fact that it is, with the best will in the world, terrible beyond belief. Born in India to British parents with a family background in owning music halls, Parkinson moved to New Zealand in 1975 and three years later was NZBC’s Head of Television, from where he went over to the other side, founding the country’s first commercial broadcaster. Some of his productions made it back to the UK, including Hunter’s Gold and The New Adventures of Black Beauty. Although Attack of the Sabretooth was Parkinson’s last narrative production, he did come out of retirement six years later for Billy T: Te Movie (sic) a documentary about Maori comedian Billy T James.

On the technical side, cinematographer Mark Melville has a number of genre credits including Hyperion, Triloquist, Murder Dot Com, Hellborn, Urban Legends, Phoenix, Star Hunter, Millennium Man and some episodes of forgotten superhero series Nightman. Back in the day he was gaffer on Nemesis and Dollman; now he mostly works in Italy. Special effects are credited to ‘Thomas T Parkinson’ whom I am assuming is someone different to Tom Parkinson, though I can find no other effects credits anywhere for either name.

Editor Cindy Clarkson keeps all mention of this film off her website - and who can blame her? She’s not too squeamish to admit that she cut martial arts silliness Warriors of Virtue 2, the Tom Parkinson-produced sequel to a movie about kung fu kangaroos - without the kangaroos. But Attack of the Sabretooth? Not me, pal. Must have been some other editor with the same name. And production designer Brent Hargreaves was last heard of art directing Eeling, a short film about a woman who is seduced by an eel.

There really is nothing to recommend Attack of the Sabretooth except as something to mock. If it had just been about a rich guy genetically cloning smilodons which get loose when he has important guests on his private island, it might have worked. Not well, but it might have worked. Or if it had been about a bunch of college kids breaking into somewhere which turns out to have genetically recreated big cats, that could have worked too. But bolting the two together in defiance of their incompatibility, and then adding in stupid ideas like the crappy fence, the massively important porn mag page and the prehistoric feline bulimia? Dude, there’s a limit. There is a line and that line has been crossed.

MJS rating: D-


  1. I just watched this movie, it's pretty dreadful. So dreadful in fact, that it's actually quite entertaining. It actually made me laugh several times with it's bad story line and terrible special effects. Just a good job i saw it on TV and didn't actually pay good money for it.

  2. How do I get a copy of this?

    1. Amazon or eBay, I guess. Looks like the US disc is still in print. You won't regret it. Well, actually you will...