Friday, 21 March 2014
Underground Lizard People
Writers: Jared Cohn, Ed Erdelac
Producer: Joe Accardi
Cast: Caitlin Gold, Clint Byrne, Lauren Klemp
Year of release: 2011
Reviewed from: YouTube
Not quite an hour long, Underground Lizard People gives every impression of being a student film, and probably is, but it’s still worth a watch. It’s well-directed, well-acted, atmospheric, creepy and slickly professional. I mean, it’s not going to set the world alight, but there are worse things you can do with 55 minutes of your time.
Five New York students are going into a set of abandoned tunnels to film a documentary – and yes, that’s not the most original set-up, I’ll grant you. But these are generally sympathetic, rounded, believable characters, even if what they’re up to is a bit dumb. Jason (Clint Byrne) is the main protagonist, accompanied by camera-man Jack (Colin Walker) who fancies himself a ladies man but is really kind of a dick. Sound-girl Lynda (Lauren Klemp) is helping as a return favour for Jason’s help in editing her own student film. Cheryl (Courtney Hammond) is described as the ‘executive producer’ – she’s not part of the ‘Communication Arts’ department but is a member of some sort of student Fortean society which has bank-rolled the project (although it’s difficult to see what costs are involved). The final member of the quintet is Jason’s girlfriend Rachael (Caitlin Gold) who has no purpose on the team – she’s majoring in costume design.
What’s not believable is the lack of preparation. No-one seems to have come dressed for urban exploring – Rachael is actually wearing pumps and a short, strapless dress, although at least she’s not in heels. Lynda – asthmatic, claustrophobic Lynda – is shocked at the idea that there might be rats around. Really? You’re going filming in an abandoned railway tunnel and you’ve only just realised there could be rats? That might work if she was an airhead bimbo but she’s not. Like the others, she’s presented as reasonably intelligent.
Jason doesn’t seem to have briefed his team at all and it’s only once they’re underground that he mentions the legends of lizard people, blamed by conspiracy theorists for the disappearance of a gang of surveyors 18 years earlier. Although we’re not actually very far underground at this point, reverse shots clearly showing the tunnel entrance about 20 feet away.
Writer-director Jared Cohn plays a surprisingly well-spoken (and beard-free) bum whom they find reading a Lonesome Dove paperback by candle-light. An intriguingly ambiguous character, it’s really not clear how trustworthy he is – which is good.
About halfway through we get our first glimpse of a lizard person, or at least a lizard person’s arm. From then on the tension and horror gradually increases and we get more glimpses of the lizard people, who are effectively portrayed and photographed. They’re not reptilian monsters, more bums with dark green-brown, scaly skin, scary teeth and contacts, and animalistic tendencies. You know what, I think that, given the micro-budget, they actually work. Any more ambitious make-up would end up looking rubbish, but this has been judged just right.
Some parts of the film are seen through the lens of Jack’s camera, complete with little red ‘rec’ light, but this is far from being ‘found footage’. The whole thing is topped and tailed with some very effective talking heads of assorted witnesses and experts, including a former CIA guy shot in silhouette.
Ed Erdelac, writer-director of horror western Meaner than Hell, shares script credit, from a story by exec-prod/co-prod Ron Dubey. Among the cast, all of whom acquit themselves well here, Gold has about two dozen credits including ‘pregnant zombie’ in something called Eat Me; Byrne went on to handle camera on Larry King Now; Klemp was in a short Twilight spoof; Walker seems to have mainly done stage work; and Hammond has done a couple of shorts.
David Gregory’s Plague Town, I Sell the Dead, ZombleBees(!), and Debbie Rochon’s Model Hunger.
Underground Lizard People turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I was expecting a cheap and cheerful student film by a bunch of nobodies and found instead an enjoyable horror picture from the guy who made Atlantic Rim. A lucky dip indeed.
MJS rating: B+