The shot-in-Manitoba horror thriller Trench 11 is set in the final days of the First World War; an international squadron of Allied soldiers is sent to investigate an abandoned underground facility in the Ardennes Forest, where the Germans have been conducting sinister secret experiments.
You might think movies about people fighting their way out of top-secret, locked-tight experimental facilities were a relatively new horror subgenre, going back perhaps to the first Resident Evil in 2002.
Starring Rossif Sutherland and Robert Stadlober
● 92 minutes
★★★1/2 stars out of five
But they go back even further to 1985, the year of an obscure but influential Hal Barwood movie titled Warning Sign and the less obscure George Romero Living Dead entry Day of the Dead.
Trench 11, directed by Leo Scherman, offers an interesting fresh take on the premise by putting it in a comparatively primitive context. In the early part of the 20th century, there really were terrible new technologies being invented in the growth industry of mass murder, including the machine gun and mustard gas. Scherman, who co-scripted the film with history expert Matt Booi, posits that an unhinged German scientist named Reiner (Austrian actor Robert Stadlober) has developed a biological weapon that could destroy the world’s population.
Under the inevitably priggish command of English officer Capt. Jennings (Ted Atherton), a small force of Americans and a traumatized Canadian tunneler named Berton (Rossif Sutherland) head out to a massive underground bunker to figure out why the facility was built and then mysteriously abandoned.
Unfortunately, a contingent of German soldiers is simultaneously dispatched, ostensibly to finish the job of destroying it.
But both parties are equally endangered by the remaining occupants, afflicted by a creepy parasite that inflicts non-stop murderous rage.
The film punches the horror-movie buttons with some efficiency, including a few memorably gruesome killings. Since the bulk of the film is set inside the multi-levelled bunker, Scherman progressively imbues the proceedings with claustrophobic dread.
Yet the film is much smarter than the average slasher. The rage-inducing parasite is a rather elegant metaphor for the madness that afflicts the participants of war. (It ultimately falls on two men on opposite sides of the conflict to try to join forces in defeating it.)
Sutherland, possessed of a certain hangdog charisma, makes for an unconventional hero, but an interesting one.
He gets strong support from a cast of actors both national, international and local (the latter contingent including Adam Hurtig, Jeff Strome and John B. Lowe).
Pity the four guys who created the music for the film didn’t get the memo that the movie is set in 1918. In a movie that takes apparent pains to saturate itself in century-old production elements, an all-electronic music soundtrack rings especially dissonant on the ears.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.