We here at BOP are an eclectic group, and our tastes in movies run from the serious cinephiles to the foreign-film aficionados to niche film lovers. Thus was born the idea for this weekly column, devoted to horror films of all shapes and sizes, but concentrating on those B- and C-grade films that mainstream reviewers disdain, but are the bread-and-butter of every spook movie lover's viewing. So come with me as we venture beyond the slimy wall, uncovering the treasures - and burying the time-wasting bombs - that await those who dare to love the scare.
The Fallen Ones
Horror films, just like any film genre, seem to go through periods of topic convergence. Recently we've seen a resurgence of the zombie film, as well as animals-eating-people movies; a couple of years ago there was a slew of demonic possession and substantiation flicks; before that there was a slasher renaissance; and right around the millennium there were a number of supernaturally-caused apocalypse movies.
Another popular subject of late has been fallen angels, either with or without an accompanying war amongst the heavenly host. Some of these have focused, wholly or in part, on nephilim, which are the offspring of angels and human women and were, according to some of the apocrypha, giants. The Fallen Ones, another from the Sci-Fi Originals stable, follows the giant theory of nephilim, and also throws in an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it gambit for good measure.
The film begins by helpfully providing the uninititated viewer with a definition of nephilim, and continues to be instructive by showing us its version. It also provides us with details on the apocalyptic prophecy and the more manifest titular fallen one, an angel named Ammon. Ammon is the one who fills the viewer in on the dealio: His child must be put to sleep, but when he is awakened, the world of Man will come to an end and the fallen angels and nephilim will again rule the Earth. Oh, yeah; they'll apparently also keep some human women around as brood mares of sorts, but everybody else goes bye-bye.
As the opening takes place in ancient times - a specific era isn't mentioned - we of course have to fast-forward to the present, and an archeological dig that is ensuring there aren't any artifacts in the path of a planned oil-drilling project. Of course, the archeologist comes upon an artifact - there wouldn't be a movie otherwise - that just happens to be our nephilim, mistakenly classified as a statue. So the drilling project is stopped whilst the find is explored. This set-up also introduces us to the main characters on the side of Humanity, Yea!: the head of the oil company and long-time friend of the archeologist; the new geologist, who will soon be both the romantic interest and damsel-in-distress; the geek who knows tons about nothing of interest to anyone less than 200,000 years old; and a rabbi whose specialty is translating hieroglyphics and ancient languages. We also get the requisite Major Psychological Trauma What Our Hero Must Overcome, this time courtesy of the Demons of Major Guilt, which we know will be exorcised in the process of preserving life as we know it. Add a goodly number of Red-Shirts, a sprinkling of semi-mystical beings who seem intent on appearing and disappearing in the most unnerving manner, the better to whup ass and vanish folk, our aforementioned fallen-from-grace seraphim in his present guise, the old resurrected-true-love ploy and more details on that end-of-days prophecy, then add water and presto! Instant plot!
Actually, I'm making a bit more fun of The Fallen Ones than is warranted, for although the story arc does hew to the time-honored traditions of the wakening-an-ancient being/curse flick - yet another horror sub-genre - it blends together the requisite elements in an appealing fashion that isn't in lock-step with the genre's conventions. The tight plotting, character development - accomplished to a surprising level with an economy of screen time - and smart dialogue lifts The Fallen Ones a notch or six above the formulaic. The script also takes a veiled jab or two at religious fanaticism of all makes and models. The switching of heroic roles that takes place during the climax between the two obvious - and a quite unexpected - champions is a nice touch, as is the twist on one of the hallowed end-scenes of this genre that sends a frisson of chill up the spine of even the most grizzled of spook-movie watchers.
The film is further bolstered by a cast that is almost uniformly excellent, starting with Casper Van Dien as our tortured archeologist, giving a bit of thespic heft to a role that could easily have devolved into little more than a collection of dimpled smiles, chiseled features and convincing evidence of testosterone poisoning. Then there's the redoubtable Robert Wagner - slumming a bit and having a grand time - as the oil company chief who's like a father to Van Dien's character and is a father to our damsel; and a surprisingly effective Tom Bosley as the rabbi and ancient linguistics professor who is the first to discover just what has been unearthed and what will come to pass unless our hero can put a stop to it. I am moved to give special praise here to the method the script selects to provide Our Hero with said crucial info; it's a nice example of utilizing a character quirk that seems at first blush a simple throwaway meant to establish a bit of eccentricity, but is later recalled oh-so-ingeniously to impart that vital save-the-world info. And I've no idea of Bosley's heritage, but his Jewish accent sounded quite authentic and was never dropped, so if it was adopted for this role, my hat's off to Mr C for displaying a hitherto unknown talent. And while the damsel-in-distress could have been picked up from Central Casting, the gentleman who plays the not-very-angelic Ammon, Navid Negahban, combines dark good looks and Continental charm with just the slightest hint of malice, truly a celestial being to be feared.
And since the special F/X budget on most Sci-Fi Originals seems permanently fixed at $1.98, I feel compelled to call out the times when somebody on the production realizes that it's not such a bad idea to spend a shilling or two on your CGI. Not only are the nephilim effects quite good, but the rendering of Ammon as the fallen angel is stunning. Think of the skeletal crew of the Black Pearl decked out with the wispy cloth of your standard-issue wraith and then ratchet up the menace by a factor of ten. Chills-
down-the-spine time on this one.
Plus, stuff blows up real good during the climax. Can't go wrong with a really good explosion, I always say. And while I usually can do without the almost-requisite "It's over now. Or is it?" ending - not to be confused with the false ending of the slasher and AEP flicks, which is not only de rigeur but can be quite cleverly employed - I will give The Fallen Ones extra points for putting a nice coat of shiny paint on the old chestnut, and actually raising a few hackles at the thought.
All in all, The Fallen Ones is one of the better entries in the Sci-Fi Originals stable, and more than worth the two-hour-less-commercials time investment. And while the good-to-horrendous ratio still needs a deal of work, if the production arm of the Sci-Fi Channel keeps putting out quality work like this and the recently-reviewed DinoCroc, I might have to change my stock tone when preparing to review one of their offerings.
Then again, with Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy! on the horizon, I don't think I'll be worrying about that any time soon.
I see by the shadows falling from my bust of Pallas that our time is up. Until next time, then, when we will once again venture Beyond the Slimy Wall.