I'm flabbergasted. Speechless. I've written almost a dozen introductory paragraphs for this film, and deleted each and every single one of them. I'm caught with my pants down, though not in the literal sense, unsure where to start my (hopefully) lengthy diatribe on 'The Terror Experiment.' I just watched the film, all whopping 78 minutes of it, if you don't count credits. I feel as though I've aged ten years in the process. My head hurts, throbs, actually, from the experience. I couldn't look away. I couldn't escape or bow out early. I feel as though I'm the victim of some cruel hoax, punished for my willingness to watch the film, since I knew it involved a pseudo-zombie outbreak. I'm no fan of fast-movement when it comes to these types of creatures or people, and may use this particular film as an example of why the slow turtle wins the race. I kept asking myself, over and over as the minutes seemed like hours, "why Jason London? Why are you doing this to me?"
'The Terror Experiment' may be one of the worst film experiences I've had in my life, and I'm no stranger to direct-to-video movies. From a first-time screenwriter (D. Todd Deeken) and a director whose career is defined by television movies (George Mendeluk), featuring a no-star cast loaded with recognizable names (who may surprise you that they're still in the business, and not telemarketers and/or corpses), this film is true to its name. It's an experiment in terror.
A terrorist organization called the CCA has attacked an unnamed federal building in Lafayette. We know this only because of the words on the emergency response vehicles. Anyways, a man set an explosive device on the roof of the building before he went inside and did a suicide bombing. A gas has been set free in the building as a result. Anyone who breathes it becomes infected, their adrenal glands going into overdrive. A group of survivors above where the dense gas was set off are trying to find a way out of the building, but the building has been quarantined.
A simple way of describing this film would be if some untalented hack watched the remake of 'The Crazies' and then either '[rec]' or its American rip-off 'Quarantine' and tried to see what kind of offspring a mixture of the two would bring. I'd understand this film if it were written by someone who had never seen a single film other than those listed above, and never left his house. I'd not go so far as to forgive it, but I'd understand the shortcomings.
Much like I did with the review for 'Kill Katie Malone', I want to isolate problems with this film with their own paragraphs, mostly because I don't want anyone to skim over these issues and get surprised by how truly pathetic this film really is.
Tension - Horror/survival films require a heavy dose of tension to work. Survivors must battle whatever threat they're facing, as well as issues within their own group. Elementary stuff, really. Yet, this framework is missing. Through over-explanation, we're never threatened by this gas that is creating, and due to the underdevelopment of each and every character, we are not concerned if they live or die. We know from the earlier scenes who we should expect to live the longest, based on how much screen time they've had. Throw in excessive convenience, inconsistent rules for the infection/disease, and a leisurely pace that doesn't stress the urgency of a situation, and you've lost your core audience from the start.
Infecteds - Yes, I did write that word as a plural. 'The Terror Experiment' doesn't have a clever name for the survivors to call their dangerous counterparts. Nope, even a doctor in the group (one who espouses exposition at vital times, that wonderful man) calls them this. See, there's a reason why my spell-checker is calling me an idiot right now: "Infecteds" makes as much sense as calling them "Diseaseds." Now, these people unfortunate enough to be infected(s) don't make any sense. Are they raging lunatics, as we see at first, or are they sleepy? Why do they lie in wait looking dead, then come at you full force? Why can a few of them speak, but not the others? Can body shots kill them? None of this is explained.
Conspiracy - A major theme of this film is conspiracy, as the terrorist group looks to uncover American plots for chemical warfare. Additionally, there are numerous references to September 11 that are done in very poor taste. There are people out there called "Truthers," who believe that the US government was involved with the terrorist attacks, particularly the fact that the Towers collapsed. This theory is espoused through the film, and is directly paralleled, and, quite honestly, it's a little insulting to the people who died due to the way it is brought up as fact. I don't go into horror films looking to be preached to, and while people will believe what people believe, it's the way this is used, not the fact that it's brought up, that makes it in very poor taste in this film.
That crazy thing called reality - 'The Terror Experiment' doesn't abide by the same rules that you and I do. It's like a 'Looney Tune' horror film. Guns have infinite ammo, like some kind of cheat code was enabled, and this is not an exaggeration. A gun is taken by one of the infecteds (such a stupid name...), after it has already fired off probably over 100 shots, and this zombie creates a dilemma to those above trying to get to the ground floor to try to escape the building. This creature, every time we see it, is firing the automatic weapon, and there are numerous cut-aways to it, to remind us of its presence. The fuck, man? The solution? Grab a fire hose, wrap it around your body, and jump down the center of the stair well. Don't let it fall down first to see if, by chance, the stairwell is shorter than the hose, leading to a nasty death. No, don't worry, it's the exact length. You're safe.
Cop outs - A major plot point in the film sees Jason London trying to save his daughter, who was in daycare in a lower floor, one of the ones that got gassed. At one point, it seems as though the brat is dead, and I almost wanted to applaud the film for having the cajones to even hint at such a scene. But, alas, a few minutes later, all that time spent worrying is dismissed with a simple line saying "Oh, gee, the kids were evacuated first. They're safe. It's protocol." So, wasted time, wasted subplot attempting to create urgency and loss. Nope. Cop out.
Amazing coincidence - As mentioned in my brief synopsis, an explosive device is left atop the building. It looks like C4, with a wire exposed, waiting for a piece of metal to strike it, the piece of metal being held upright by a balloon (which would eventually sink and make contact). An interesting device, sure, but the problem here is the way it goes off. The minute there's a helicopter above the roof, with the survivors begging for it to land to evacuate them, the device explodes. It's as if the terrorist knew exactly what scene this would happen in, and timed it just right. This type of writing takes a viewer right out of the film experience, especially since nearly a dozen people were on the roof, and could have seen said balloon, and wondered "gee, that looks out of place. I wonder what that box is."
Romantic subplots - What film would be complete without some character falling in love? You know, like that candlelit dinner in 'Predator?' Well, Jason London's character, who repeatedly reminds us about his ex-wife, and Alicia Leigh Willis' character have this...thing. See, rather than worry about survival, they lock eyes, lust filling the air like Taco Bell induced flatulence, and before they make the daring jump down the stairs, the blonde looks up at her rugged hero and tells him she wants to tell him something. Her lips, glistening with liner and desire, prepare to swallow his face whole...and praise your favorite deity that at this point one of the infected(s) bursts through and forces them to jump. A romance that goes from zero to one hundred, with no sign of development. Cliche.
Now, that all sounds bad, I should hope, but there are many more reasons this film is an absolute flop. The acting in this film is awful, with stilted one note characters who we are led to hate by their wooden, sometimes inhumane dialogue, silly plot twists, too many unbelievable or predictable moments, and too many over-the-top, unrealistic reactions from those inside and outside the building. We're told there are other buildings being attacked at the same time in a coordinated effort, and it's hard to not want to be anywhere else instead of the building we're stuck in. This film makes you feel like a survivor. Watching it may help you qualify for some kind of reparation. This is bad filmmaking, through and through, and it ends on the most laughable of notes, as a tape from the bomber plays, with two very unfortunate sentences: "I hope this makes you think. I hope it changes your life."
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The Terror Experiment' comes to Blu-ray on a Region A locked BD25 disc. The menu and packaging both have a typo concerning the tech specs of this disc. Please be sure to check out the audio section of this review for an explanation of this mistake.
The video for 'The Terror Experiment' isn't exactly something that screams quality. Presented in 1080p using the AVC MPEG-4 encode at 1.78:1, the film does everything in its power to look ugly. While extreme close ups are extremely detailed, the boosted contrast levels make for wonky, inconsistent textures and a lack of detail on faces. In well lit shots, black levels are solid and very appropriate, but as the film wears on, they get truly nasty, with serious crush issues as well as tint concerns. Detail can be hard to focus on due to the exaggerated shaking of the camera or the poorly lit conditions that make artifacting quite easy to notice on any object that permeates the darkness. Movement can sometimes stutter, while edges ring heavily at times. This disc had potential, but there are too many elements working against it, piling on to make the video suffer something nasty.
The packaging and menu for 'The Terror Experiment' inform us that the disc sports a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track as the audio option for the film. This is a lie. The film only has one audio track, and it's a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that stinks up the place something rotten. This track has no pop for gunfire, no bass for explosions that rock the film (including what should be a really, really big one at the finale). No exaggeration, there's not a single bit of rumble to any portion of the film. Rear channels only sporadically pick up any of the hustle and bustle that should come from all angles. Dynamics can be iffy, with randomly muffled dialogue, there's no volume spikes or bumps, and the score is as amateurish and distracting as they come. Throw in some serious ringing in the laboratory scenes (and a few hallways to prove that it isn't supposed to be that way), and you have a serious failure. Either the disc is defective (testing other discs showed lossless tracks working perfectly fine on my equipment), or no one cared to check the actual specs of the disc. Either way, mega fail.
The only extra on this disc can be found in the setup tab, as there is no supplements/extras tab to be found. There's not even a trailer for the film.
Some readers may feel I'm being too harsh on this film, but I don't see a single redeeming quality to 'The Terror Experiment.' It's dumb as a box of Truther rocks, boring, and painfully long, even with its truncated runtime. It scared me to read this film had a five million dollar budget. It's an ugly looking disc, and one of the worst sounding ones on the market to boot. The only redeeming quality of this entire Blu-ray has to be the trailers that preface the menu. It's that freaking bad.