"To catch a mad dog, you must think like a mad dog. Only madder."
I saw Urban Legend when it was released in theaters, in the wake of the Scream-inspired slasher boom of the late 90's. It wasn't great, but it was entertaining enough, and gave me the feeling that great things were in store for its Aussie director, Jamie Blanks. He was obviously a lover of the horror genre, had a good eye and an enthusiasm that shone through in his theatrical debut. A couple years later, he returned with Valentine, which apparently was mutilated beyond recognition by the studio to the point where he was wholly disheartened with corporate moviemaking. Having no desire to see a flick where the director's vision was so thoroughly watered down, I skipped it; I figured it'd be better to wait for his next flick and hope that this time he got to do it his way. Well, 6 years later, Blanks has returned with Storm Warning, set and filmed in his native Australia. Was he allowed to get down and dirty and give us a true horror movie? Or would his intentions be thwarted again?
Storm Warning is a simple story, much in the vein of Texas Chainsaw and others of that ilk, and as such it's fairly easy to set up. Big city lawyer Rob (Robert Taylor) and his wife Pia (Nadia Fares) decide to take a trip to the coast, rent a sailboat and go fishing for the day. Of course they get lost and end up washing up on an island miles away from the mainland. They wander aimlessly until, just as a nasty storm hits, they come across a seemingly abandoned farmhouse. Rob insists there's no one there and they go inside to find a phone. Which is when the house's occupants arrive and demand to know what Rob and Pia are doing traipsing all around their home. Brothers Jimmy (David Lyons) and Brett (Mathew Wilkinson) are dirty and aggressive, yet seemingly terrified of their little-seen "Poppy"(John Brumpton). It's not long before Rob and Pia realize that they're captives of these ill-tempered yokels, and not long after that the assaults - pychological, physical and sexual (the trifecta!) - begin. Things are about to go from bad to worse for our helpless yuppie heroes, but how long will they remain helpless?
Storm Warning is an unpleasantly brutal and tense affair but a finely crafted example of this type of thriller. Blanks gets us to the farmhouse by roughly the fifteen minute mark and from then on it's all about ratcheting up our unease and the danger level for the protagonists. Which goes pretty high, as it turns out. Some of the things that occur - especially in the last third of the flick - are fairly ludicrous, I must admit. But it's still cool to watch and none of us are watching this kind of movie to pay a great deal of attention to logistics anyway. It helps that the characters are defined well enough, by both the actors (the flick is really quite well acted, especially by Fares and Lyons) and the script by Aussie genre vet Everett DeRoche (he's in my all-time hall of fame merely for writing Road Games, to be honest). Blanks continues to show that he's got the know-how to make a solid horror pic; it helps that this one is more of a no-frills affair and less gimmicky than something like Urban Legend. It's a gritty and hardcore little piece of asskicking, never more so than when the tables are turned and Pia and Rob decide to fight back, Straw Dogs style.
For the proud gorehound, THIS is where the flick earns its stripes. Sure, there's only a few characters, so there's only so much opportunity for the wet stuff. But allow me to inform you: when it comes? You will know it. You will FEEL it. I'm a fairly hard cookie to crumble when it comes to this stuff, but I couldn't help but wince involuntarily at some of the shit that we see here; it's not so much the level of gore - although it's certainly messy and more than copious - it's more the intensity in which it's presented to us. It's got an impact to it that made me jerk upright in my chair and drop my jaw. Again, this is all merely my reaction to it. But I bet there's some of you that can't help but say "Jesus Christ!" from time to time here. So yeah, it's great fun, especially in this unrated cut.
Dimension Extreme's DVD looks great in its widescreen transfer, sounds great in the DD 5.1 Surround. Aside from the teaser trailer and full-length trailer, the only extra is an absolutely loaded commentary track, featuring not only Blanks, DeRoche and lead actor Taylor, but also the cinematographer, lead FX artist, production designer and a couple of the executive producers.
Storm Warning is a hardcore little flick, I'll tell you what. After checking this out, there is no question that Jamie Blanks got to go as nuts as he wanted with this one. I'm sure after having to deal with a bunch of studio bullshit, it felt great to roll up his sleeves and mix it up with this smaller venture, where he could get his hands good and bloody. Now, Blanks isn't in the same league as his idol John Carpenter, but the man is obviously trying (even going so far as providing the pounding, effective score), and that's something. He's continuing to deliver on his early promise, and I can't wait to see his upcoming remake of the Australian 70's man-vs-nature movie Long Weekend, from DeRoche's rewrite of his original script. Here's hoping he gets better and better.