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Monday, March 17, 2014

HAZMAT -- movie review by porfle

If you're looking for an effective weapon to wield in the war against insomnia, you could do worse than the stalker-slasher snooze HAZMAT (2013).  Watching it may be slightly more fun than counting sheep,  but not much more exciting. 

It gets off to a good start with an amusing fakeout.  What we think is a flash-forward to the suspenseful conclusion--with two frantic young ladies in a showdown against the hulking killer who is pursuing them--turns out to be the final reveal of a reality-TV show based on Shannon Dougherty's "Scare Tactics" (here known as "Scary Antics"). 

If you've ever pondered how easily the actual show could go wrong, with unsuspecting people suddenly plunged into what they think are real-life terror situations by their so-called "friends", you'll find the initial premise of the story intriguing.  On-air host "Scary" Dave (Todd Bruno) gleefully sets up his latest prank within an abandoned chemical plant which, years before, was the scene of a horrible fire whose victims' ghosts are said to still haunt the labyrinthine hallways. 

So, what do you do if your best friend's dad was one of the 138 employees killed in the fire?  Simple--you set him up to be terrorized in those very corridors by a fiend in a hazmat suit, all courtesy of the good folks at "Scary Antics."  It seems the target of this hilarious "punk", Jacob (Norbert Velez), has allowed his father's death to make him a little too "weird" and "creepy" to suit friends Adam (Reggie Peters), Melanie (Gema Calero),  and Carla (Daniela Larez), so they're hoping the traumatic experience will prove theraputic. 

No way would it transform the tightly-wound Jacob into a crazed killer instead, right?  Wrong!  When Jake witnesses a hazmat-suited actor from the show pretending to kill Adam, it pushes him over the edge and he decides to add a new wrinkle or two to the scenario. 

Finding another hazmat suit in a locker and borrowing a nice big fire ax from its perch on the wall,  Jacob goes from zero-to-Jason so fast you'll wonder how this guy got so far in life without totally going berserk already.  In fact, it's so convenient to the story for him to go this quickly and overtly coo-coo that we don't buy it for a second.  One minute he's all jazzed about taking his "friends" on a tour of the crumbling ruin where his dad died, and the next minute he's suited up in his serial killer costume doing that distinctive Michael Myers head-tilt as he watches his victims die from gaping ax wounds to the chest. 

Meanwhile in the TV crew's office HQ, "Scary" Dave and his would-be love interest,  makeup lady Brenda (Aniela McGuinness),  witness the whole horrible situation transpire from behind a barricaded door and wonder how the hell they're going to get past Jacob and out of the building.  (It seems there must be at least twenty or thirty hidden cameras in addition to Jacob's helmet cam, which he stole from the show's own hazmat-suited guy.) 

Cowardly sound guy Gary (Giordan Diaz) becomes the character I most identify with since, well, he's a coward.  Unfortunately, the more the cast are called on to emote, the worse the acting level gets.  By this time the shaggy dog story has degenerated into them watching Jacob stalk the others on a monitor, and making the occasional unsuccessful escape attempts themselves. 

Producer-writer-director Lou Simon (THE AWAKENED), who looks like a movie star herself, is competent enough behind the camera to make a passable-looking low-budget horror flick, especially noteworthy since it takes place almost entirely inside a dreary old building.  Still, the best part of this one visually are the opening titles.  Even gorehounds will be disappointed by the half-hearted effects. 

 I watched a barebones screener so I can't comment on any extra features the final DVD from Uncork'd Entertainment may contain.  The film is in 16x9 widescreen with Dolby Digital surround sound.  The street date is April 1, 2014.

If you've seen countless other films in this genre which merely tread water without adding anything new or unique to the mix, then you know just how tedious and uninspired it can be to watch it all over again.   HAZMAT has practically no story, especially when the various twists and surprises you're predicting eventually fail to materialize and the whole thing just comes to a jarring halt without much interesting happening at all. 

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