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Sabretooth (May 24/03)

As far as cheesy straight-to-video horror flicks go, Sabretooth isn't half bad. It's got a semi-interesting storyline, a couple of worthy characters to root for, and a few instances of decent gore. And really, there's not much more you can ask of such a film.

Sabretooth opens with a clueless janitor savagely murdered by an unseen animal, which somehow proceeds to escape from its captivity - even though said janitor left the only door out closed. We cut to a group of five campers, led by Casey Ballenger (Jenna Gering), that are preparing for an intensive two-week hike out into the mountains. They're the typical bunch for a movie of this sort - a stereotypical black guy, a goofy nerd, a hot-to-trot vixen, etc. - but really, it's fairly obvious they only exist to act as targets for the titular sabretooth. And as we soon learn, obnoxious billionaire Anthony Bricklin (John Rhys-Davies) and a power-hungry scientist named Catherine Viciy (Vanessa Angel) are behind the creation of the long-since-extinct sabretooth. When they eventually figure out they're going to need help tracking down the beast, they call on grizzled animal hunter Bob Thatcher (David Keith) - but fail to mention exactly what he's tracking.

The film smartly establishes a lot of characters as potential victims (and there's even an isolated sequence featuring a couple living in a cabin), because movies like this require a lot of deaths just to keep things interesting. And though the film clearly didn't have much of a budget to work with, some of the death scenes are enjoyably creative (when a character mentions the sabretooth can fit an entire human head in its jaws, it's not much of a surprise when it actually happens). But despite the surfeit of possible meals for the beast, there are long stretches in which not much happens. Either the campers are trying to make their way out of the woods, or Thatcher's group struggles to find the sabretooth.

And, of course, this being a low-budget horror flick, Sabretooth is plagued by some seriously inept acting (hindered by dialogue that's oftentimes laughable). Aside from Rhys-Davies and Keith (who's actually pretty effective as the been-there-done-that hunter), the remaining actors don't have a lot to offer. As the stereotypical black guy, Lahmard Tate's performance seems to boil down to tough-guy preening and acting as stereotypically black as he possibly can (which is actually pretty surprising, given that his brother is the excellent Larenz Tate). And leading lady Gering seems to have been hired simply because she does a nice job of filling out a pair of short shorts and a tank top (though, to be fair, she's not quite as bad as she could've been).

Some mention must also be made of the sabretooth itself, which is brought to life via computer effects, puppetry, and even a guy sporting furry arms (no kidding!) While the latter two are kind of effective, the use of computers to bring the sabretooth to life just doesn't work. The beast looks more cartoonish than if it had been hand-drawn, but fortunately, it's never on screen for more than a few seconds at a time.

In the realm of straight-to-video horror, you could certainly do worse than Sabretooth. The film would probably best be enjoyed among friends, with copious amounts of booze handy.

out of

© David Nusair