Triskaidekafiles

Triskaidekafiles is a love letter to cheesy cinema from the 80s and 90s, with the occasional dip into other eras.  if you're a fan of MST3K, Elvira, Joe Bob Briggs, or just bad horror movies in general, Trisk is the place for you.

Totem (1999)

TOTEM

WRITERS: Original story by Charles Band
    Written by Benjamin Carr

DIRECTOR: Martin Tate

STARRING: Jason Faunt as Paul
    Marissa Tait as Alma
    Eric W. Edwards as Len
    Tyler Anderson as Robert
    Sacha Spencer as Roz
    Alicia Lagano as Tina

QUICK CUT: A group of people find themselves at a mysterious cabin in the woods, trapped by a mysterious forcefield, and mysteriously forced to mysteriously kill each other for mysterious reasons and in a mysterious order.  Oh, and also, mysteriously enough, this is not the movie you're thinking of.

THE MORGUE

    Alma - Our kinda sorta leading lady, the last person drawn to the cabin, and the audience identification character.  She's the brains of the group, and does the most to figure things out.

    Paul - The voice of the group, who answers most of the questions that can be answered, and supplies most of them for Alma and the audience.

    Robert - He's a Native American, and the rest of the cabineers try and use him as their mystical knowledgable shaman trope, but he's having none of that bullshit.  Until he starts spouting out mystical mumbo jumbo.

    Roz - She THINKS she's the brains and thinks she's clever and smarter than she is, as she keeps trying to circumvent the various prophecies and order to things, but fails miserably.

    Leonard/Len - He's the take charge strong type of guy that wants to do things and confront things head on...which is unfortunate for him.

    Tina - Says too little and dies too quickly.

 Totem?  I barely knew 'em!

Totem?  I barely knew 'em!

THE GUTS: Okay, okay, the mischief of the Leprechaun is done, I made it through April Fool's Day and all of Desiree's and Blaine's machinations.  I am diving back into the Full Moon pool for some not so classic trash.  And what better movie to do that than with Totem, about a group of people who end up in a cabin in the woods.  Because THAT hasn't been done before...

And remember, Trisk is now affiliated with Full Moon Streaming, so you can and should totally go and signup to watch Totem and mock it along with me.

Boy, talk about tossing you right into the plot.  Totem just shoves you right in at the deep end, with hopefully explanations to come.  Spoilers: Weak, contrived explanations.  We jump right out of the gate with Alma running around lost, until they run right into a cabin, where Paul declares, "And here's number six!"

Funny, she doesn't look a *thing* like Teresa Palmer...

 Meet your cabin fodder for the evening.

Meet your cabin fodder for the evening.

So the new girl nearly passes out, exhausted from all the running, and the people already there try and catch her and us up on the plot.  They've all ended up in the cabin, after a mysterious feeling drove all six of them to drop everything and make their way SOMEwhere, and that somewhere was here.

That has to be the most contrived excuse for something happening since "A wizard did it."  They're all just in this movie because something made them come?  They all are here just because they ran here?  I didn't SEE any cars outside.  I sure hope they all lived nearby, at least.

Oh, and on top of all that, none of them can leave, because if they get far enough away, they encounter a field that stops them from escaping.  Gee, that doesn't sound like some other house in the forest movie...

So, introductions are made, and Alma decides to make her attempt at getting away.  She asks if they've tried every direction, and the one she JUST so happens to picks actually lets her travel further than the rest.  OH of course, we should have tried east.

 She traveled so far, it suddenly became night.

She traveled so far, it suddenly became night.

Alma finds a small graveyard, with a totem pole in the middle of it all.  Well, a pole with figures on it, carved out of stone instead of wood, and not really very much like any other totem pole ever seen before, but they're dumb kids from California or whatever, so good enough.

"This thing looks old.  A lot older than these graves.  And a lot older than that cabin!"  It's old!  Old as balls!  Great deductive reasoning there, Alma.

And what's Leonard's first instinct?  Let's smash it!  Because vandalism in a graveyard is always the right answer.  But the totem pole has other ideas, and repels all of Len's attempts to do anything.

 It's really more of a totem support beam...

It's really more of a totem support beam...

Since they're sure it's a totem pole, they all turn to Robert, the lone Native American in the group, and he takes great offense.  His tribe didn't carve totem poles, and his family hasn't really lived on the reservation in generations, plus not all Natives are your mystical shaman encyclopedia.  Love smashing that trope.

And I swear, if Pinhead pops out of that thing...you'll understand when you're older.

They finish up trying to smash it, and head back to the cabin, because where else are they gonna go?  Alma pokes around a bit, finds the invisible barrier, and corrects a few assumptions about it.  Everyone thought it was a big circle around the cabin, but instead the focal point at the center appears to be the graveyard.  Which I'm pretty sure that doesn't work with the geometry they've established, but if bad math is the worst this movie has to offer...

Everyone gets a fire going, and Tina decides she needs to use the outhouse.  See, if I had designed this place, I would've put the outhouse RIGHT outside the invisible wall, just to make them suffer and mess with them more.  But then, if I was involved with this movie, that is the LEAST thing that would be different.

Paul tries to go with her to protect her, just in case, but she decides to go it alone, and doesn't need his help peeing.  Well, I'm sure going outside alone is probably gonna end well...

Roz pops up to take everyone down to the cellar, because you ALWAYS go down to the cellar in a dwelling in the jungle movie, and shows them a dried pool of blood, and a severed hand.

 It looks like Ash has already been here...

It looks like Ash has already been here...

Alma also finds an old bible with a photo from 1899, that just so happens to be of six people.  No one notices this amazing coincidence.  And that's around when Paul realises that Tina isn't back yet so goes hunting for her.

Instead of going to the bathroom, she's wandered off to the graveyard, where Paul finds her.  And they find out that there are a number of graves there with a curious thing about them; they all have the names of the six people currently trapped by the cabin.

As if that isn't weird enough, back at the cabin, the gang starts to wonder where the other two are, and start to wonder if the force that brought them to the cabin also made them not question people going off alone.  Except for questioning it just now, I guess.

 Don't worry, Greys have a habit of coming back.

Don't worry, Greys have a habit of coming back.

They hear a banging on the door, and let Paul in.  His ears must have been burning!  Oh, and he's also carrying a bloodied Tina.  Gee, thanks for showing us.  Something finally happened and I missed it.

Paul tries to explain what happened, but oops, he doesn't really know, except for find Tina covered in blood, and before we can get any answers, something howls and scrambles around the cabin.

Oh, and it turns out Tina's only mostly dead, and starts spouting a language no one understands.  Well, no one except Robert.  So much for not being mister Indian shaman.

There's a lot of mumbling about killers being killed, and victims dying, with blessings and returnings, and something about masters being chosen and awoken and something about the first master of three.  I'm sure this is all very important.

 She says in the event of her death, I get to have all her POGs.

She says in the event of her death, I get to have all her POGs.

Robert hears some more things outside and decides to go check it out, now that his translation duties are done.  Alma follows him, and the rest stay behind thanks to whatever magical force is doing magical forcey things.

The two head back to the graveyard...yes, it's pretty much scene in cabin, scene in graveyard, go back, wash rinse repeat.

When they get there, they notice one of the totems has gone missing, now that one of them is dead.  Also, Alma asks why there's only three figures, but six people, and that leads back to Tina's mutterings about three to do the dying, and three to do the killing.  And that sounds like a rock ballad waiting to happen.

 Tunneler needed some way to make rent money in between Puppet Master flicks.

Tunneler needed some way to make rent money in between Puppet Master flicks.

So it's back to the cabin to clue the others in, and they find dead Tina has been chained up.  Well, I guess since she's talking in her eternal sleep, that's not unreasonable.

They figure that whatever happened 100 years ago didn't work, the ritual was stopped, and for whatever reason, these six have been chosen and brought here to take another stab at it.  Well, I hope they either succeed or stop it for good, because I do not need a Totem 2099.

But before we can wonder about any of that stuff, the totem that came to life busts in, and freezes everyone except Paul, who waves a stick at it until it goes away.  Well, that was anti-climactic.  The creature really just showed up to screech, and Paul didn't really do anything.  There was barely any interaction.

 Puppets of Toulon, you have taken our secret of eternal life, and we have come to reclaim...wait, wrong movie, sorry guys.

Puppets of Toulon, you have taken our secret of eternal life, and we have come to reclaim...wait, wrong movie, sorry guys.

Once it's gone, they wonder why they couldn't move, and realise that it came to life because someone killed Tina, and they were all in the cabin, except for Paul who carried her back.  Which makes him the killer in the vague prophecy, and one of the three masters.

Paul decides he doesn't want to hear any more accusations, and that if he has power over the creature, maybe he can leave, because leaps in logic.  But as he's standing in the doorway, he gets grabbed and disappears.  I hear if you play Totem in reverse, you can listen to Charles Band saying, "Paul is dead.  Paul is dead."

Speaking of logic, Roz suddenly gets the urge to leave, and makes her way for the door.  No one does much to do anything to stop her, because reasons.  This movie is the most bald-faced example of things happening for plot reasons.  They even make that PART of the plot!

They even make people NOT going to help her or questioning going alone as part of the plot.  It's frustrating and yet somehow cuts through all those shouts from the audience because it's the story.  It's pretty ballsy of a movie to take the position that every plot contrivance is happening from outside forces you never deal with.  From why they are even in the movie to begin with, why they go outside alone, why they kill people, why they don't question what's going on...  Totem: the movie that dares you to ask why things are happening, so it can shout back in your face, "BECAUSE I SAID SO."

Anyways...  Alma tries to stop Leonard from going to investigate, knowing that one of them must kill Roz, and if they all stay, then she's nice and safe, in theory.  But Leonard goes anyway, continuing to fulfill the prophecy.

So, Leonard heads out, and soon gets conked by a shovel, falling onto the totem pole, where he gets impaled by one of the creature's spikey bits.  It's a good turn on events, and plays on the assumption that all the girls will be the victims.  Even the characters themselves believe that, even Roz herself, thinking that because she killed Leonard, that they were now safe.  Um...pssst, the prophecy never said WHO must do the killing and dying...

 Buffy!  Buffy?  Buffy...

Buffy!  Buffy?  Buffy...

Which is just about the right time for Tina the infodump zombie to wake up and start spouting things in ancient Summerian again, or whatever.

After she declares that the second master has arisen, Leonard and his puppet pal show up to stare in the window and not do much else, because heaven forbid this movie does something.

So that brings us down to the last two, and since a killer can only kill once, either Alma is going to kill Robert, or Robert is going to kill Alma.  Place your bets!

 Look!  Look!!  That's a puppet wrangler who didn't stay hidden!!

Look!  Look!!  That's a puppet wrangler who didn't stay hidden!!

Robert tries to kill himself, to muck with the prophecy, but whatever is controlling them won't let them.  These people are the real puppets, aren't they?  They can't do what they want, they kill when they are needed to, they move when told...no one in this movie has any sense of agency.  They're just there because the movie told them to be there, they're only doing things when the plot says they can, and you're just waiting for the plot to tell someone time to die.

But Alma is sure there must be a way to get out, since the ritual was stopped 100 years ago, as evidenced by there being no age of fire and blood.  She finds some pages in the bible that is conveniently about their situation, and reads up.

There's lots of talk about burning things, and everyone assumes they mean the stone totems.  "But that doesn't make any sense!" says Alma.  Lady, don't try and find sense at THIS point in the movie.

Roz takes Alma to the other room so they can talk privately, and she tries to kill the other girl.  She figures if she kills a second person, THAT will screw with the prophecy.  Man, these rules are randomly strict and openly loose at times.  Because when Robert tries to ruin things, green force fields stop him.  But when Roz tries, it goes pretty well.

 HEY BART WANNA CHECK OUT MY NEW ROPE NECKLACE??

HEY BART WANNA CHECK OUT MY NEW ROPE NECKLACE??

But that's when one of the totems show up to do its master Sutekh's bidding...er, sorry, wrong movie again!  But they just look so similar!

Anyways, it shows up and grabs Roz, so at least I guess they kinda stopped her from ruining things.  It starts to drag her away.  And takes.  It's sweet.  Time about it.

This whole thing is short horribly.  Closeups on Roz, extreme close ups of the totem's nose.  Hands grabbing, lightning flashing, no real sense of them being in the scene together.  Full Moon has fallen a LONG way from interacting with puppets in a believable way.

We don't so much see Roz being dragged off, as we see her laying out the window, then cut away, then see her further out, then cut away, then see her gone.

...And then it cuts to old footage from something else, and fire.  With a weird voiceover explaining more things.  Because reasons.

 Hey, who put on another movie?!  ...THANK YOU!

Hey, who put on another movie?!  ...THANK YOU!

So yeah, we get a weird random dream sequence made up a 1950s movie called The Vikings that gets shoved into the movie for no particular reason other than random exposition.  The entire story behind this movie is delivered either by a dead person muttering a dead language or random mysterious voice decreeing the plot from on high.

That is some world-class level of bad storytelling and how not to movie.

But I guess there's details in there that's important.  These things date back longer than 1899, and seem to pop up regularly to try and destroy humanity with a burnable army of the dead.

It's weird when Robert gives Alma a knife, to protect herself, because no one wants to kill anyone, but anyone might kill someone, but he doesn't want to kill her, so he helps her so she can kill him, but that's still with the prophecy and argh.

 She wears her heart-stamped dagger on her sleeve.

She wears her heart-stamped dagger on her sleeve.

Our two remaining plot devices lounge around for a bit, until Alma remembers the dream, and the bible, and figures that for whatEVER this is all about, all the bodies need to remain intact.

So they look over at the not quite dead Tina and decide to set her on fire, a la a viking funeral.  Or a Phoenix, because Tina Gray.

But before they can get very far, the pair of totems burst in to stop any sort of burnination from occurring, since that would be terribly inconvenient.  You would think since they want to usher in an era of blood and fire, that they'd be okay with it, but noooo.

 Hug me!  Love me!  LOVE ME!!

Hug me!  Love me!  LOVE ME!!

Would this be a bad time to remind the movie that it established that the totems froze people unless they were the killers/victims/masters?  That would've made this a lot easier.

I really shouldn't have to remind a movie of its own attempts at rules.

Amidst all the fighting to get rid of the totems, Alma accidentally stabs Robert in the shoulder.  Oops.  Still counts!  Accidental murder is good enough for the prophecy, it seems.

Robert leaves the cabin because he's dead, and for some reason, Leonard reappears, leaving behind a streak behind him like he's the Flash or something.  What?  What was that?!

 Mister Spock, noooo!

Mister Spock, noooo!

I wonder where everyone could be going??  OH right, the graveyard, because we only have the two sets to choose from.

Robert stands over the last totem so he can bleed on it but good, and the blood somehow brings the thing back to life.  Because why not?  It worked on Vampire Diaries and Silas...

And so we have our three 'killers' tied to a tree, where Roz seems to have lost it and can't stop laughing, and the three victims are all standing around, with Robert leading them and chanting the same stuff he translated from Tina earlier.  And see!  I told you Greys come back!

  Stone by day, warriors by night. We  betrayed the humans we had sworn to betray ...

Stone by day, warriors by night. We  betrayed the humans we had sworn to betray...

But Robert's reciting all this plotty stuff!  You said you didn't know anything about any of this mystical mess!  You lie!  You are a liar!  You are a lying liar who lies!

So Robert spouts off stuff, and Alma tries to reach him, in the usual, "There must be good somewhere inside you!" speechifying, and it seems to work as his makeshift tomahawk starts to glow green.

He cuts them down, and they try and run away, but Leonard cracks Roz in the head with the shovel, proving that revenge is sweet indeed.  While Alma and Paul are...grabbed by a zombie rising out of the ground.  Well, that's a random plot point.

 Quit your screaming!  It's loud enough to wake the dead!!

Quit your screaming!  It's loud enough to wake the dead!!

And while Roz is getting her own comeuppance, Tina uses the hatchet to kill Paul, making everything come nicely full circle.

Robert pulls the zombie off of Alma, which somehow makes Leonard the Flash...disappear.  And then the totems disappear.  And apparently everyone else disappears.

Uh?

 Screw this, I'm outta here.

Screw this, I'm outta here.

And just when you're expecting the movie to maybe offer up any kind of explanation at that point, maybe some exposition explaining anything, maybe some sort of final scene wrapping things up, but nope.  The movie just suddenly ends, with a blooper of Tina getting blood in her face.

Well, once again, THAT was anti-climactic.  Totem: The Anti-Climax of Movies.  Totem: The Movie that Keeps its Plot to Itself.  Totem: Only 68 Minutes and Still Too Long.

They don't even have the budget to show anyone else disappearing, just Leonard and the totems.  So, what just happened?  I presume they stopped the age of fire and blood, since we're still here?  Just because Robert smacked a zombie in the head?  They couldn't have given us a little bit of a denouement?  Anything?  Instead of just halting the instant a zombie is killed?  The storytelling of this movie was *terrible*.  It goes because it goes, then it stops because they stopped making movie.

 Even they don't know what they just watched.

Even they don't know what they just watched.

I will put up with some bad plots, but come on.  These people were brought here for no good reason, just six random people, with their graves SOMEhow already there.  The plot bounces back and forth from various twists and turns.  I *think* the totems are supposed to be the masters in the end.  The victims are killed, but aren't dead because they need to kill their killers.  They can't do anything to stop the ritual, except when they can, and the whole thing just stops because the movie says it stops.

What the hell, Totem?

There's no real bad guy to speak of.  Characters get killed because of prophecy.  And it's other people in the group that do the killing, because prophecy.  But then the dead have to kill their killers because prophecy.  But they're not really dead, but their killers are still killers, because magic.  Oh, and there's also puppets because Full Moon.  Finally there's also random other zombies that crawl out of graves at the very end for some reason, that get conked out with a rock, and the movie ends.  Because garbage.

AUTOPSY REPORT

Video: Typical late 90s Full Moon direct to video look.  It looks cheap, but its adequately shot, as these things go.  The production values could be higher, but it's not like trying to watch Blood Beat.  But then...what is?

Audio: Same as above.  Workable but always room for improvement.

Sound Bite: "I stopped the ritual!  He's dead!  If one of the killers is dead, then that means the ritual can't be completed!"  Yeeah, slight problem with that logic, Roz...

Body Count: I really need to stop watching movies where dead people just don't stay dead.  Again, I'll be counting the dead victims as dead, because they're supposed to BE dead as part of the ritual.

1 - 22 minutes in, and Tina is carried back into the plot, already dead off camera.
2 - Leonard heads to the graveyard and gets stabbied on the totem pole after receiving a shovel to the face.
3 - I guess technically Robert dies from a chunk of glass in his neck.
4 - Roz gets her head bashed in with a shovel by a dispassionate Len.
5 - Tina uses a hatchet to kill her killer, Paul.

Best Corpse: Screw it, no one wins this time around.

Blood Type - C: There's actually an okay use of blood, which Full Moon seemingly had drifted away from during this period, but was slowly returning to, after they failed at being the family friendly horror franchise.  Still, it's really just a lot of blood here and there.  And those cheap puppets with obvious wires, take points away.

Sex Appeal: For a David DeCoteau film, people keep their shirts on a surprising amount of time.

Drink Up! Every time someone doesn't do something because the movie requires them to.

Video Nasties: This clip kinda sums up everything wrong with Totem.  Silly acting, over the top scenery chewing, and a lot of mumbo jumbo that they try and rattle off and have sound important, but just sounds confusing and overly self-aggrandizing.

Movie Review: Can I just bash my head on the keyboard for ten minutes?  Would that be a sufficient review for ya?  Where to even begin...  The whole why of the movie is simply 'because'.  Which sums up the reason everything happens.  The ever present mysterious force that makes people do things when they need to do them.  These characters aren't people.  They aren't characters.  They literally are plot puppets.  You don't care about anyone because they have no personality, and they're just their as plot devices.  And the plot is a mess, as I've covered repeatedly.  And while I can see my usual, "Well, there's a decent kernel of an idea in there SOMEwhere!" it's really not executed well at all, and we've seen movies where it has been.  Heck, almost every other domicile in the thickets movie is better than this.  And I only say 'almost' because I haven't seen every single one to say definitely that this IS the worst version of the cottage in the timberland trope.  But I feel pretty damned confident.  You know it's bad when even I won't give credit to a decent idea.  One out of five victims.

Entertainment Value: This could go either way.  There's a lot of WTFery going on here, which can be entertaining, and it IS on some level.  However, for the most part, instead of being entertaining badness, this movie is just frustrating.  The badness is instead that sort that completely hurts itself, and it is just terrible.  It's a fine line to walk, and instead of going down the so bad it's good route, it just gets worse, and worse.  It's almost worth watching to see how not to do things, and just to see it, but I still say don't.  Two out of five killers.

I am still boggling at a movie being only 68 minutes, but still being way too long.