The Tower

the_tower_movieLensed partly at the MacDonald Block (an Ontario Government building in Toronto), a co-production of Hamilton’s CHCH-TV and with provincial trillium logos aplenty, the only way The Tower could be more Canadian was if it condescended to Americans and referenced the ’72 Summit Series.

It’s fitting that this was filmed on Ontario government property as The Tower is a film about failed green energy technology.

The edifice in question is completely energy self-sufficient and is the headquarters of the mysterious Sandawn Corporation.

In order to conserve, or how mobster Tony Soprano would put it in New Jersey-ese, “con-soive,” the tower draws heat energy* from wherever it can find it.

So far, so good.

However, when there’s a system malfunction, the device sets its sights on human beings — and with wonderful, if cheesy results — where people disintegrate and disappear into the low budget ether. (This is made-for-TV Canadiana from 1985.)

This will resonate with anyone who’s ever blown a fuse. It’s a darn great conceit.

The first sign of trouble is when one of the building’s secretaries is availing herself of the state-of-the-art tower’s corporate swimming pool. She’s zapped trying to change the Jacuzzi settings.

Mr. Sandawn, the graying CEO, is a serial philanderer and the subject of a kidnapping plot by a male/female criminal mastermind duo, there if only to add to the body count and offer an excuse to get people into the structure off-hours. Ditto for the security guard Jerry, his girlfriend, a couple of frustrated ad men working late, and Sandawn’s suspicious missus. It actually works in the film’s favor that this building is mostly abandoned, as hundreds of salary-men rushing to the exists would’ve undermined the frights.

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Anyway, when one of the ad men is burned in the leg and has to be hustled down a stairwell to escape, the building’s survivors are compelled to try and figure out a way to de-activate the tower’s killer BTU-sucking energy system, dubbed “LOLA.”

In our book, Death by Umbrella! The 100 Weirdest Horror Movie Weapons, we have a section called “Deadly Machinery,” which is the closest thematic category to this cheapie oddball we could find. Even though that chapter’s devoted to killer laundry presses, trucks, curling irons and propeller and other such conveniences, The Tower would have fit right in.

In horror films, particularly the nature-run-amok genre, events are set in motion by evil corporations. Here, it’s corporate social responsibility gone horribly wrong.

The tower is highly original, fun Saturday afternoon sci fi fare.

*** (out of 5)

[*Editor’s note: Writer/director Jim Makichuk tells us that the story was inspired by a building in Calgary that actually did draw heat from its occupants]

Shakma

SHAKMAThere are many phylogenetic similarities between humans and baboons. So much so that in 1984, a baby born with a rare congenital defect survived for a time with a transplanted baboon heart.

But it was probably a monkey brain that was responsible for the silly Shakma, an alternately violent and moronic nature-run-amok movie with a premise stupider than even some of the less evolved members of the genre.

Med students are prepping for an elaborate off-hours role playing game in a university research hospital, a healthcare colossus apparently stripped of telephones and lacking in basic security. The game is some kind of knighthood/damsel-in-distress test of wits, employing costumes and walkie-talkies, and most peculiarly, overseen by the school’s dean! The participants even bet on the outcome, because as we all know, medical students are known for having endless downtime and loads of disposable income.

One lab animal, from which the film’s title is derived, is the subject of a corticotropic study, the peptide involved in stress responses. And boy, is this baboon stressed. Left for dead after a trial gone awry, the Old World Monkey twitches back to life and begins to hunt down the eggheads who wronged him.

What follows is occasionally engrossing, frequently dull, and at times ludicrous. A metaphor for life perhaps?

Roddy McDowall, sans reference to Planet of the Apes, is the dean Dr. Sorenson, in a thankless role sitting in an office blathering into a walkie-talkie. Christopher Atkins (the love interest of Brooke Shields in The Blue Lagoon) is Sam, our apparent hero. Ari Meyers (Kate & Allie) is pining after him despite looking like jail-bait. She’s dressed like Desdemona by way of a flamenco-restaurant. There’s a black guy who, after the chatting up of his girl is interrupted, returns to court her with the “now…where was I?” cliche. He also does a truly terrible Scotty impression from Star Trek.

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There’s a few other victims as well, none of whom is consequential or interesting.

Soon, the angry grey beast is hurling itself at the med students and prof, all of whom are reduced to barricading themselves in labs, cabinets, closets, and stairwells. Hiding from one animal in a 10-storey building is a feat apparently beyond the capabilities of these future men and women of science.

Not as violent as it could’ve been, Shakma is extremely bleak and often lackadaisically paced.

As one jokester on social media put it, “You know what this movie needs more of? More slow walking down hallways.”

Shakma is also known as Panic in the Tower, which makes it seem like some 70s inferno disaster movie. It’s certainly a disaster, but not in that sense.

**1/2 (out of 5)

[CHECK OUT OUR SHAKMA / MONKEY SHINES PODCAST!]