Serials! I love 'em. What was once standard movie fare in the silent era is enjoying a resurgence on the internet as of late. These feature short chapters of a longer story, released on a consistent basis until the story is played out. Each chapter would find our hero(es) in some impossible scenario from which there appeared no escape. Hanging from a cliff was one such example, and is the origin of the word 'cliffhanger'. This plot device ensured the audience would return to see what happened, and is still used today. It's also a great way to market a film.
Last week I received an email from one Joshua Sikora who told me about a couple of new serialized movies he was producing on the aptly named webserials.com. He mentioned that he got some good press from YouTube, and was excited to compete with the larger-budgeted fare being released by those with bigger pockets. Interested, I gave Joshua's movies a look-see, and was nicely surprised.
The two films are of different genres, namely horror and sci-fi/comedy. The first is entitled Project X (not to be confused with the Matthew Broderick monkey movie), and is a modern day creature feature set in a power plant. The second is the very serially-named Cataclysmo and the Time Boys, where two very different soldiers of the future go back in time to stop whatever screwed it up. Both are right in the middle of their 24 episode run, with new episodes released every Tuesday or Friday depending on the show.
Project X (subtitled The True Story of Power Plant 67) is your basic monster movie modeled after Ridley Scott's classic, Alien (1979). Something horrible is loose in the plant, feeding on electric power and killing anything that gets in its way. The cast is good and there is real character development before the monster shows up! I also liked director Sikora's directing choices. He knows how to point a camera and move it, as well as get some good performances out of his actors. The set looks authentic (shot in a real power plant), and the monster moves too quickly to be seen, or spends a lot of time in the shadows for a "less is more" approach, which works well.
The movie is scary at times, creating genuine suspense despite some typical horror film trappings. The best episodes so far are 6 and 7 ("In the Dark" and "Dead End") where the people get their first close encounter. Sikora uses the dark and audio stingers for some good gotcha! moments. I had to snicker when the one poor sap sent to investigate the phone outage is whistling (what could that mean?), or when the group locks themselves in the control room and none of the men advise one girl to get away from the door. Despite a few eyebrow-raisers, I look forward to see how Project X resolves itself.
Cataclysmo and the Time Boys is an over-the-top comedy about how our future is overrun by gun-toting gorillas, and how two men are sent back in time to stop the mysterious Cataclysmo, which apparently brought about the whole mess. These two men are super soldier Johnny Zanzibar and plucky sidekick Bucky Stallion. Both actors (Brian Walton and Chris Hartwell) seem to be having a great time chewing the scenery and hamming it up. Hartwell especially plays his goofy role to the hilt, stealing almost every scene he's in. Walton does his best Snake Plissken impression, and is a good tough guy.
The good news that Cataclysmo is funny, and I did laugh. The chemistry between the two leads is solid, and I loved the gorillas. In fact, I got the impression that when the plot was lagging, the gorillas would show up to the save the scene. When in doubt, more gorillas I always say!
The bad news is that once our heroes hook up with the cute Samantha (Erin Sullivan) in Episode 6, there seems to be a conflict of acting styles. The two guys are way out there, and Sam is very down to earth and real (and why she doesn't kick their butt when they grab her iPod, I'll never know). Perhaps in the future we all act zany? Whatever the reason, it doesn't derail the show, but seems curious nonetheless.
Both shows have one thing in common: slick production values. They both have custom opening sequences which are excellent and scored just right, setting the mood perfectly (I really liked the Cataclysmo open). The video is shot well, and the effects work is top notch for a low budget and small screen. The audio is professional, and everything is lit well. Kudos to all involved.
So check out webserials.com and the two shows currently featured. They are an entertaining snack that will get you addicted and eagerly awaiting the next installment. Here's hoping Sikora and company continue with this obvious labor of love, with more episodes and new movies in the future. And more cliffhangers, please!