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Thursday, March 29, 2012

THE TERROR EXPERIMENT -- DVD review by porfle

Throw together various elements from zombie flicks and urban disaster thrillers with a little "Die Hard" action and some conspiracy-theory stuff for good measure, then put it all in a trash compactor and smash it down to the size of a low-budget direct-to-video potboiler, and you've got THE TERROR EXPERIMENT (2010). 

With some rather seedy-looking old building in need of landscaping standing in for the federal building in Lafayette, Louisiana, we find a homegrown terrorist carrying out his dastardly plan to expose a secret bio-weapons project by detonating a concussion bomb in the laboratory.  This releases a gas which turns everyone below the sixth floor into an adrenaline-charged, kill-crazy zombie and puts everyone above the sixth floor into a distinctly awkward position. 

These survivors have three choices--either make their way out of the place through the gas and the zombies, or stay where they are and either get attacked or blown up when the government's last-resort cover-up plan is implemented.  Our hero, a computer geek named Cale (Jason London), desperately wants to get to the fourth floor daycare center to rescue his daughter, with the help of female P.I. Mandy (Alicia Leigh Willis) who is there for a job interview.  Among the others in their ragtag group are young office drone Ryan (Alexander Mendeluk), annoying executive Williams (John Chambers), and a white-haired doctor named Andzari (Jerry Leggio) who is involved in the secret project.

The low-budget nature of the film is fairly obvious from the start, but hey, no need to hold that against it.  Director George Mendeluk does what he can although he never quite manages to make THE TERROR EXPERIMENT look any better than an episode of a low-end TV series.  After a nice build-up which juxtaposes mundane everyday office life with the terrorist's infiltration of the building, the initial post-explosion chaos is itself executed in pretty chaotic fashion with sloppy editing and dizzying Shaky-Cam.  Subsequent zombie attacks and other bursts of action are done in similar fashion and are sometimes a bit hard to follow. 

As cubicle dweller Cale, London is sort of a James Spader-type who believably steps up to whatever has to be done survival-wise, while beautiful blonde Willis as Mandy goes from P.I. to machine gun-toting action babe about halfway through in a way that I found quite stimulating. The rest of the building-bound cast do okay as long as they aren't called upon to emote very much.

Meanwhile down on the ground, upright police chief Grasso is played by C. Thomas Howell, who is finally looking his age and seems to have morphed into a dependable character actor.  Grasso wants to go in and rescue the survivors, but sleazy government types Agent Wilson (Judd Nelson) and Dr. Wexler (Robert Carradine) are all about containing the problem and hushing the whole thing up.  Carradine is his usual bland self while Nelson, who gets special "and" billing in the opening credits (as in, "and Judd Nelson"), is so stiff that he could've used a dose of that super-adrenaline stuff himself before shooting his scenes.

With a somewhat overactive musical score nudging things along, the story is dotted with a few lively run-ins with the zombies which take place mostly in the emergency stairwell and occasionally get a bit bloody (the most graphic scene contains a briefly-seen disembowelment). 

There's also some rooftop action when a rescue helicopter is taken out by a bomb left behind by the terrorist.  Mandy gets to go Rambo (alas, all-too-briefly) against some of the maniacs and Cale has a less than conciliatory reunion with his ex-wife Carol (Serah D'Laine) in the daycare center.  The building's built-in countdown to self-destruct gives it all a certain edge until the modest CGI-explosive finale.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  The sole extra is a director's commentary.

I can't knock THE TERROR EXPERIMENT too much--it's a passably entertaining low-budget quickie that generates a certain amount of suspense and lowbrow fun in its own earnest, albeit shoddy-looking way.  But it's nothing you'd want to go out of your way to see unless you're really starved for something to watch or are a diehard Judd Nelson fan, which, come to think of it, are pretty much the same thing.

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