“The Manowar Symbol”: Dr. Lauren and Darren Review “Human Zoo” (2020)

Dr. Lauren McIntyre is a horror obsessive, tattoo connoisseur, natural Goth and cat wrangler. Lauren is currently using lockdown furlough time to paint a set of miniature Lovecraftian Cultists. Say hi to her on Twitter: @noddinggoth

Darren Gaskell is a horror obsessive and “enthusiastic” karaoke performer. Darren is using the very latest technology to play old ZX Spectrum games. Say hi to him on Twitter: @darren_gaskell

*** WARNING: OUR REVIEW CONTAINS SOME MASSIVE SPOILERS, A NUMBER OF SWEARS AND DISCUSSION OF UPSETTING CONTENT. IF YOU’RE OKAY WITH ALL OF THAT, READ ON! ***

Stay safe! Dr. L & D x

HUMAN ZOO (2020)

Starring: Robert Carradine, Jose Rosete, Rachel Amanda Bryant

Writers: John E. Seymore, John D. Crawford (from an original idea by Selfin Morose)

Director: John E. Seymore

Darren: Right. Human Zoo, a movie about a reality show which drags in a load of contestants to participate in a game called Solitary Confinement.

Dr. Lauren: Not to be confused with the 2009 film Human Zoo, which I ended up reading about by accident on imdb.

Darren: Oh, okay. Did it sound better than this one?

Dr. Lauren: No!

Darren: Oh. In which case, I’m not going to check that one out.

Dr. Lauren: To be honest, I couldn’t quite work out what it was about. Didn’t sound any better than this, though.

Darren: [L-O-N-G SIGH] Where to begin?

Dr. Lauren: The concept for this one sounded all right.

Darren: That’s true. I like plots about reality game shows that go bad. I don’t know if you’ve seen a movie called “Series 7: The Contenders”?

Dr. Lauren: It rings a bell.

Darren: It’s really good. A bit over the top but it’s fun. This was never going to be in quite the same vein as the subject matter is a bit darker, but…

Dr. Lauren: Is Series 7 a bit like Battle Royale?

Darren: Yes, it is, kind of.

Dr. Lauren: Yeah, I have seen it.

Darren: I was thinking that Human Zoo couldn’t get the same sort of mileage out of the plot. Series 7’s more expansive and takes place across a city whereas this is obviously one room where each of the people is imprisoned. Even so, I think it could have been taken in various different directions other than the one they decided upon.

Dr. Lauren: They could have taken it in any other direction and it would have been better. I was thinking there was no way this could have been an actual reality TV show. For a while, I thought it might end up like the segment in Cradle Of Fear where they’re capturing people and using them in a snuff thing. I think there’s people bidding on the Internet and they all end up dying. I mean, Cradle Of Fear is not great…

Darren: It’s not.

Dr. Lauren: But….it was miles better than this.

Darren: I’ve seen Cradle Of Fear as well and in a previous conversation we had I described it as “appalling”. And yet, I enjoyed Cradle Of Fear more than this.

Dr. Lauren: Cradle Of Fear has its moments and there’s something I do quite like about it. As much as I love Dani Filth though, he is a terrible, terrible actor.

Darren: Yeah. For me, there was that curiosity about Dani Filth. Concept was quite interesting, let’s see what he does with it and then I was like “Oh God, this is really bad”.

Dr. Lauren: Dani Filth is supposed to be a demonic entity receiving messages about what dark bidding to do via a fishing line.

Darren: Anything to do with dark bidding, I always think of What We Do In The Shadows and “Leave me to do my dark bidding on the Internet”.

Dr. Lauren: Anyway, I digress. Human Zoo. Fucking hell.

Darren: It starts off like a documentary, it’s shot in a low budget TV way, very flat. I quite liked the way they introduced the characters because apart from the one guy at the start who says his name, you’re not instantly given too much about who the other people are. At the point where the production assistant is talking about who’s gone through and she’s reeling the names off, there’s music playing over it so you don’t get to know who they are which I found quite intriguing. I thought it was a good way of doing that. And then it just throws all of that away. The rest of it….it’s so dull.

Dr. Lauren: Yeah. I checked out the cast list because I thought one of them that didn’t end up getting through to the final show was Tati Gabrielle from Sabrina and I thought “Jesus Christ, she must have been having a bad week when she took this” but it turned out it wasn’t her. Anyway, the long and short of this is that most of the people in it are listed at listed as “Contestant 1213” and things like that.

Darren: Which gives you an interesting distance but in another way it’s a lot of clichéd characters who are each stuck in a room on their own.

Dr. Lauren: From the outset, they were all just awful or completely boring and forgettable.

Darren: It takes a long time to become clear to them that something really bad is going on.

Dr. Lauren: Wouldn’t you think something was wrong from the second the creepy guys who sexually assault people come and put a bag over your head?

Darren: Well, yeah. The contestants allow this sort of stuff to go on while those guys are watching them taking a shower. There’s a little bit of push back from them but that just didn’t seem realistic to me at all.

Dr. Lauren: Was it some sort of comment as to how people will do anything to get on reality TV?

Darren: Maybe. If that’s what they were trying to do, fair enough. That just didn’t come across. It felt leeringly unpleasant rather than anything else.

Dr. Lauren: It was horrible.

Darren: It’s also just too repetitive. Rather than have just a couple of characters go through it and have different reactions, you get pretty much everyone going through you get the same thing. They go in, they stick the bag over the head, they take them to the shower. The next one, they go in, they stick the bag over the head, they take them to shower. And this is played over and over and over again. You don’t need to show everyone going through that same thing unless you’re going to show a massively different range of reactions, which you don’t get here.

Dr. Lauren: So we’ve got, like, ten contestants here?

Darren: Maybe even more. There’s loads of them and instead of focusing on the one that you think may come of the fore later on, they just throw everyone in to get their two minutes on camera. There’s not necessarily any character development, it’s just various people whingeing a little bit about their treatment before they’re bunged into the cell.

Dr. Lauren: Everyone was given one thing about their character so there was Yoga Guy, Helicopter Pilot Lady, there was the woman who’d obviously been on TV or film before, one had got a kid, there was the angry one…

Darren: There was Cat Lady.

Dr. Lauren: Cat Lady, there was Token Black Guy, Chatty Asian Man….oh, there was Aggressive White Muscle Guy.

Darren: There’s always got to be one meathead in there. He satisfied the meathead quota in this movie. And you think that even the meathead is going to do something a little out of character by the end, maybe think of a way out of there but no, no, it’s just a load of people getting steadily more irate and then going slowly mad as it goes along.

Dr. Lauren: So, just for the context for anyone following this, everyone goes to an audition, they’re whittled down to the final contestants, they’re made to shower in front of creepy people, they get a bag put on their head and they chucked into an eight by eight cell. Which is where the rest of the film is set, in each person’s eight by eight cell. There is no walking away from that. The stuff in the cells is the second and third act. No deviation from that.

Darren: It’s from about 25 minutes in or so. It’s 109 minutes long.

Dr. Lauren: I kept thinking “Surely they’re going to break this up with something else” but they never do.

Darren: Part of it is to try and drag it out to make you experience the same level of boredom as the characters but there is a point at which it’s just treading water, which unfortunately is quite early on. I think this movie could have done with half an hour removing.

Dr. Lauren: Thinking of something positive, the performances weren’t necessarily bad.

Darren: No. Given what they’d got to work with, which is not a lot, the acting is pretty decent. There’s a couple of people in the cast that have appeared in a few other horror movies. Jessica Cameron and Heather Dorff are in there and they’re fine. So the film’s nodding to other horror titles by their inclusion. More niche ones but it’s still a nod. Then you get Robert Carradine in there as the producer. He was obviously on set for about ten minutes. When he showed up, I was like “Bloody Hell! Great! Robert Carradine!” and then he reads the rules to them off a clipboard and then he has a bit of a look at the cells via a laptop. And he’s looking at the reactions of the prisoners and you’re thinking “Yeah! What’s he gonna do? What’s his motivation?” and then he never fucking appears again!

Dr. Lauren: It’s fairly obvious from that point on that this is not a reality TV show. It’s not going to be on TV. I was thinking that it was either Robert Carradine’s character doing something for his own sheer enjoyment or it’s going to something like Hostel where people on the Internet are suggesting awful things to be done to the contestants. As it transpires, almost nothing else happens in the film. I was waiting an hour and I said to my husband that I could not think what the ending could be which would have made the journey worth it.

Darren: I agree. I thought there had to be something I’d missed along the way and there’d be something clever at the end which would take you out of what you’d been thinking all along. So there I am, I’m waiting and I’m waiting and I’m waiting and….I’m still waiting.

Dr. Lauren: I’m still waiting too. They’re told that the last contestant left is gonna win a shitload of money, a million dollars. They’re in these cells eating basic rations and they’re told that if they want to quit they have to make this “X” sign. It reminded me of the thing that people do at Manowar gigs. Anyway, they do the Manowar symbol to get out and people start doing this after a couple of days but they’re left in there and still given their basic rations so obviously they’re being kept in there for a reason. Now, I was wondering if when every person quit, someone was going to come in and do something horrible to them.

Darren: I thought that would happen. I thought that would be one of the reveals, that when someone quit they’d either take them away and you’d not know what happened to them or they’d actually come into the cell, do away with them there and then and drag them off. It’s probably a fairly obvious thing to do but at the same time it would have chucked a bit more interest into the plot than you actually got. It’s pretty much an hour and ten minutes, maybe longer, of people reacting slightly badly to not being let out. It seems to consist of throwing around empty water bottles and no one goes properly apeshit until near the very end. A couple of people lose their shit in the last ten minutes but mostly they don’t seem to be that perturbed by the fact that they’d made the Manowar sign and still hadn’t been let out.

Dr. Lauren: After they’d clearly asked to come out and it had been a long time and then they’d been given their next day of rations, so it should have been obvious they weren’t being let out anytime soon, why didn’t anyone try to escape? It was obvious, even to me, that those cells were made out of plasterboard and had been screwed together. Surely you’d think that they’d partitioned out a big room into all of these cells.

Darren: Bit of MDF, you’d just go straight through it.

Dr. Lauren: Even if you ended up in somebody else’s cell, that would have been something that would have happened. The meathead guy would have tried that.

Darren: Yeah, you’d think that the meathead would have tried to punch his way through the wall but it never even crosses his mind. We’re writing another version of the story here. If one of them got through to someone else’s cell then there’s two of them together and they could plot how they might escape but no, there’s just a lot of rubbing your face in people’s isolated misery.

Dr. Lauren: Yes.

Darren: Also, I know it’s called Human Zoo but did they have to take the zoo metaphor to the point where people are throwing shit at the camera?

Dr. Lauren: Ha ha! Oh, God….

Darren: It’s gross, yes, but it’s also quite unconvincing.

Dr. Lauren: I got confused a bit. A lot of the female characters looked quite similar. There were three women who’d got long brown hair and three women who’d got medium-length blonde hair and I was getting all the blonde ones and all the brunette ones confused. One of the brunettes started throwing shit at the camera and there were bits of poo on the camera. Sometimes the camera would be showing and there was no poo on it and sometimes there was. I thought that it was just me getting the characters wrong but then that girl complained about having shit on her hand and there was no shit on the camera. The continuity was fucking terrible.

Darren: In terms of continuity regarding the shit, you didn’t even see the camera trying to self-clean. They might have done the shit bit for dramatic effect, possibly filmed it out of order and then no one went back and said “Hold on, wouldn’t the shit still have been there?”.

Dr. Lauren: Sometimes it was there and sometimes it wasn’t. Also, did you notice that although most of the film was shot from the corner of the cell but then it would throw in handheld camera shots as if there was someone else in there with them?

Darren: Yeah, that was really distracting and took me out of the film. Well, it didn’t take much to take me out of it anyway but there’s a close up of one of the characters from the side and I thought “Where’s that coming from?”. It’s clearly not in the cell but it would have had to be to get that shot of the contestant.

Dr. Lauren: There would have been a person in there moving their camera around.

Darren: It seemed…

Dr. Lauren: Slapdash.

Darren: Yeah. They’d thrown it all together in a really frustrating way. At one point there was a line from one of the angry brunettes, I’ve written it down….here’s the quote: “I don’t understand. What is this for?”. And at that point, I was thinking “Yeah, you and me both, love”. I don’t understand what it’s for, either.

Dr. Lauren: That was her comment on the film.

Darren: I think she was expressing the audience’s feelings at that point. There’s no attempt to resolve anything at the end. It just finishes.

Dr. Lauren: I was looking at my watch thinking there’s only 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 2 minutes to go and wondering how it was going to finish. There are a couple of deaths in it, one which is fine, the other is ludicrous.

Darren: Yeah. I know which death you mean. My reaction was “No. NO. HOW?”. How could they have done that? That was ridiculous. They probably thought that no one had died up to that point and some of them had to go. One is feasible as it happens as a result of something else but the other one….for fuck’s sake, no! I’m sorry.

Dr. Lauren: And then it just finishes. That’s it.You don’t find out what happens to anyone. You don’t find out why it was happening.

Darren: It stops. You’re none the wiser about why it was set up in the first place, you don’t know what happened to anyone.

Dr. Lauren: You know in one of the animated scenes in Monty Python And The Holy Grail where the animator has a heart attack part way through the animation and it just stops? It’s like someone died part way through filming this.

Darren: Maybe the fact that it just stopped was that it was bleak and you were just left to fill in the blanks about how it all ended but even then you’re given absolutely nothing to work with, it just stops dead. They might have been aiming for the viewer to be really disturbed by the thought that it was all still going on, My feeling was more like “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? 109 MINUTES AND YOU’RE FUCKING PULLING THIS SHIT ON ME?”.

Dr. Lauren: I was so cross at the end because nothing happened. Basically, it’s 20 minutes of getting to know not much about some fairly horrible people and then an hour and a half of watching them getting pissed off, upset, mentally degenerating in these crappy, crappy cells and then nothing happens. The director may have wanted to go for a slow burn but no, it was dull, there was nothing of interest and then it ended and I feel like I wasted two hours of my life.

Darren: Don’t get me wrong, I love a slow burn as long as there’s something worthwhile at the end of it. I’ll put up with an awful lot of shit if the ending of a movie is good but I was fucking incensed by this. I wanted to go and break stuff at the end of this.

Dr. Lauren: I was texting someone just afterwards, I mentioned that I’d watched it and it made me think that the only positive I can really take from this is that I’ve watched it and now I can tell people that they don’t have to.

Darren: I’ve already told Alison [Darren’s long-suffering wife] about the screener. She was interested to know what I thought and I told her it was fucking dreadful.

Dr. Lauren: It made you appreciate Dead By Dawn.

Darren: That’s the thing. When we started this not so long ago with Dead By Dawn I did actually say something along the lines of how it might be a masterpiece compared to some of the films we end up seeing. And this is the one. This is the one.

Dr. Lauren: I do remember saying in our review that Dead By Dawn might have been one of the worst films I’d ever seen but it did have a lot more about it than this one. My opinion of it still tracks but at least in Dead By Dawn something happened.

Darren: Yeah, it did have characters and plot and a bit of action. As far as this one goes, they probably didn’t have a lot of money but you can do interesting things with no money. There’s no imagination to this at all, it’s two hours with people being abused and not reacting very well to it. I’m not the most sophisticated of horror fans but I need something more than this to hold my interest.

Dr. Lauren: It’s so dull. There’s no character development, there’s no tension other than an attempt to build the tension by introducing some music on a loop which gets louder and louder and louder towards the end of the film and it’s really annoying. You don’t find anything out about the characters apart from the one thing like this one does yoga, or this one’s got a cat called Dave…..I’m just astounded that someone can create a film that long with so little in it.

Darren: Okay, so the budget for this movie, apparently, was $150,000. I assume that $149,000 of that was Robert Carradine’s salary.

Dr. Lauren: They spent the rest of it on plasterboard and grey T-shirts and blue shorts.

Darren: All I can say is that I’m a pretty big fan of Robert Carradine and it was nice to see him again but it was not nice to see him so under-used. It’s like they put him in there to say “Hey! Look who we got in this movie!” “What do we do with him?” “Oh, we’ll work that out when we come to it.” “Just have him look at a computer.” “Right.” It gives me no pleasure to rant about this because I thought the idea was a good one but it’s so ineptly done.

Dr. Lauren: I can think of a lot better ways to spend $150,000.

Darren: If you think of, say, A Ghost Waits, which I believe was made for $45,000. And if you think of the CHASM of quality between A Ghost Waits and this, you have to think “What the fuck did they spend the money on?”. Apart from Mr. Carradine’s salary.

Dr. Lauren: And plasterboard. So, what score would you give it?

Darren: Obviously, it gets 1 just for existing and then the scale is all the way through to 5. It’s a hard pass for me, I’m very sorry, it’s a 1. I really did not like it at all.

Dr. Lauren: I was debating whether or not to give it a 1.5 like Dead By Dawn but I think I’m going to have to give it a 1. I will say that if anyone is thinking of watching Human Zoo, please don’t.

Darren: Part of me thinks that people should watch it, because I’m at a loss as to what people can get out of it. If people can get something out of it that’s great and I’d be genuinely interested to know what that is because there was absolutely nothing here for me.

Dr. Lauren: No. It’s not good. Please, people, if you’re reading this, don’t watch this film. Don’t let me and Darren having had to watch this film be in vain. Please stay away from it. Do something else with your time. Spend it with your loved ones. Bake a cake. Literally anything else.

Darren: Or, if you’ve got $150,000, make your own movie. And spend the budget on anything other than plasterboard and one actor. Love your work in general, Robert Carradine, just not this.

THE SCORES

Dr. Lauren – 1 / 5

Darren – 1 / 5

About celluloiddeej

Film fan, horror festival goer, karaoke enthusiast, cat whisperer, world traveller, complete idiot. Invite me on your podcast if you can stand the Yorkshire accent.

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