Studio: Gravitas Ventures
Director: Steven Karageanes
Writer: Steven Karageanes
Producer: Dwjuan Fox, Edward Stencel, Steven Karageanes
Stars: Lance Henriksen, Michael Traynor, Katie Savoy, Jack Noseworthy, Jordan Trovillion, Alara Ceri, George Pogacich, Harry Lennix
A doctor desperate to protect an astonishing discovery unleashes a madman on the medical staff trapped in a research hospital.
Dr. Alexander Crick is on the verge of uncovering an enzyme capable of “curing” age as though it were a disease. There are only two roadblocks. The first is that Crick can’t extract the fluid he needs without killing his patients. The second is that his hospital boss who has been in on the cover-up, Ray LeGro, found out Crick is surreptitiously seeking another partner. Before he can feel Crick’s knife pierce his own back, LeGro decides to double-cross the mad doctor by exposing him as a criminal and stealing the research.
Dr. Crick isn’t going down easy. With the help of his toadie lab assistant Boris and lumbering henchman James, Crick has one final night to silence the head honcho, finish his experiment, and blow up the building to hide the dirt on his deeds.
Standing in Crick’s way is idealistic intern Everett. Everett has his hands full with the soap opera drama of an ex-girlfriend still on the staff, a chief resident who seems like a love interest but is billed as a friend, a suicidal patient in need of some saving, and a sassy nurse providing comic relief. Once the facility goes into lockdown, Crick unleashes James to forcibly recruit test subjects, and everyone has to unite to survive if they are to make it until morning alive.
“Needlestick” is kind of like “Frankenstein” reimagined as a slasher film. That analogy sounds cooler in concept than it comes across in this case.
Filmmaking isn’t easy. “Needlestick” reportedly lost a lead three days before shooting and the distance between rolling camera in 2012 and releasing in 2017 suggests a challenging route to completion. Seeing that this is also writer/director Steven Karageanes’ first feature makes it additionally difficult to have to say, “Needlestick” is a clunky movie.
That clunkiness starts with a script that can’t sit still long enough to make sense of the main story when it still matters. Stale lines such as, “the prodigal son returns” and a heap of “who is sleeping with who” subplots are some of the distractions failing to invite interest. Another issue involves inconsistent characterizations.
Generally in mad doctor scenarios, the desire to advance medicine motivates murder. Victor Frankenstein couldn’t create his creature without stealing a few corpses, and similarly warped scientists blinded by God complexes and humanity-altering discoveries can’t cut corners without dropping a few bodies.
Crick’s assistant Boris is one such doctor. Like Crick, he should see murder only as an unavoidable means of moving their all-important research to its necessary conclusion. Instead, Boris is depicted as gleefully licking his lips like a serial killer while he watches doors crush people or Crick’s brainwashed beast going on the attack. Boris and Crick occasionally pause to revel in this surrogate killing like psychopathic predators, which conflicts with how they are presented as academics in competition for a Nobel Prize.
Speaking of the Nobel Prize, another silly scene involves Crick taking critical time away from his plot to destroy the hospital and its staff so he may prematurely draft an award acceptance speech. It’s a comical inclusion cheapening his character, much like his speech during a climactic confrontation when Crick laments, “this whole ‘um’ generation whining and complaining … ’80 hour work weeks, oh my God! I don’t have enough friends on Facebook.’” Yes, a limp jab at social media culture is the crux of Crick’s monologue meant to convey menace.
Clunkiness continues with how the story is set up. “Needlestick” drips exposition in pieces when it doesn’t offer anything to the atmosphere.
The film opens on a disjointed montage of moments taken out of context before proceeding properly with “Earlier That Day…” text. Instead of suspense, confusion is the main effect achieved by the movie’s odd use of stilted scene placement and insistence on cutting things together so the throughline isn’t immediately clear.
One “Needlestick” moment deserving ten stars however, involves a needle to an eye. Ocular trauma is neck and neck with torn fingernails for onscreen torture guaranteed to make audiences squirm in their seats, tense up, or turn away. Eyeball piercings usually cut away right before impact too, but “Needlestick” goes the whole nine yards and it looks terrific.
While this single sequence of a syringe puncturing an iris summons some sort of viewer response, the rest of the movie has trouble convincingly conveying horror. Harry Manfredini’s dated score is overdramatic. Acting best described as somewhere between robotic and sleepwalking hardly helps matters either.
“Needlestick” has a number of names worth noting starting with Lance Henriksen and continuing with Michael Traynor of “The Walking Dead” and Jack Noseworthy and Harry Lennix of too many movies to mention. Considering that these four men alone share over 400 credits between them, it’s disappointingly shocking how subpar all of the performances are, as if the collectively disengaged cast is acting under duress.
B-movie film fans know better than to put expectations above average for DTV horror starring Henriksen. But the presence of additional worthwhile names is an optimistic reason to think, “Needlestick might be better.” Regrettably, it isn’t.
Review Score: 35