Well, thanks to some shopping waaaay out in the hinterlands of the Internet, your Favorite Catgirl Princess has her first Ukrainian horror movie review for you all. “Shtolnya” which I’ve been told translates to mean “The Pit” in Ukrainian, but this lil’ Catgirl’s gonna have to take their word on that one…
Yep…. Neko-chan doesn’t have that many Region 5 goodies, so when I chanced upon this one, it took only a little bit of research to confirm that, yes… it was a horror film, and yes, it actually has English subtitles!! Could I bear to pass it up? Not on your life.
The synopsis reads like this: “They were the students of archaeology who ought to serve their academic internship. Their task was to search. Incidentally the students find the lost entrance to the pit which was a myth among the scientists. Disregarding evil omens they meet, the students decide to descend underground and discover its mystery. But they don’t know there are things one shouldn’t search…”
OK…. Well, I’ve bought movies from far away lands with less information available on them than this… So let’s dig in find out what “Shtolnya” is really all about, shall we?
Well… this one doesn’t waste any time getting right to things. Probably ’cause this one is a fairly short movie at only 80 minutes or so… We start out on a basketball court, and there’s the standard old conflict…. a harmless geek versus the “jocks”. We see just what sort of real jerks Bita and his buddy Den can be… you just know that’s gonna make us sorry for poor Shorty who seems to be the focus of their cruelty. Yep… you already know who this lil’ Catgirl is voting for the top of the body count list.
Right after the coach reprimands the boys we switch to the hallway at the college?… errrr… ummm.. high school?… ummm? Neko isn’t really sure, and neither will you be, as the movie sort of captures that limbo of existence with a bunch of characters that could be straight out of any 80’s horror film made right here in the West…. To say that they are cardboard is perhaps a bit mean, but truly accurate. We have the stereotypical Jock, Bita (played by Sergiy Stasko), his best bud Den, the club savvy guy with the car (played by Pavlo Li). “Shorty”, our geek and all around decent guy (played by Oleksiy Zabegayev). Joining them are prerequisite blonde popular girl Katya (played to perky perfection by Olga Storozhuk) along with her tag-along BFF, Viki (played by Svitlana Artamonova). Add a bearded old professor (played by Mykola Kartzev) and a trip to a dig site near the old area once the stomping ground of an ancient cult of devil worshiping pagans, and we got the basic formula for any number of films.
This, I think is both the strength and the weakness of the film….. Seriously. If it weren’t for the cast all speaking Ukrainian, these guys would all be easily mistaken for the kids in any Slasher film made 20 years ago. Almost nothing about it gives you a feeling for the Ukrainian setting at all. On the other hand, this also makes the film readily accessible to those who might otherwise be intimidated by having to read subtitles as well as figure out the unfamiliar customs of the locals. I watched this one with Carolyn, and she felt immediately comfortable with it, not needing any of my usual explanations as to what the heck might be going on.
Anyway…. the kids all pile into Den’s car for the long drive out to the dig site after Katya sticks up for Shorty and tells the two neanderthals to cut out their crap and get with the program. We have a few moments of character development on the drive…. long enough to see how badly Shorty pines for Katya… and long enough to heave a brief minute of fear as a bird does the whole kamikaze thing right into the windshield of the car. It’s the bloodiest moment of the film, and probably the one real scare to happen.
At the site, they meet up with the professor who tells them about the evil cult. How they got suppressed by the church, their members scattered and their idol taken for the museum of Kiev. But wait!! It seems the Nazi’s manage to find their way into this story….. during the war they overran this part of the old Soviet Union and so the idol and all the treasures from the museum were secretly hidden away in a maze of tunnels that honeycomb the entire region. Unfortunately, nobody knows just where they ended up, and it’s the professors dream to find the idol and return it to the museum. The kids find the entrance to the old tunnels… but they are locked up and Bita and Den are dead set against letting the professor steal all the glory of the find.
That night, something prowls around their campsite and the girls and Shorty get coerced into not telling the professor about the tunnels…. you know where this is going. Next day…. the professor is nowhere to be found, but strangely enough the lock to the gate on the tunnels is broken, and Bita convinces them the professor has abandoned them to grab the treasures for himself!! With that, it’s into the tunnels to search for him, doing the whole “breadcrumbs and mapping” thing to keep from getting lost. But you know it’s doomed to failure… because they aren’t alone at all.
From this point forward it’s the standard plot…. lots of bumbling through dark tunnels after they get lost (of course..), as one by one our kids are knocked off. One by booby trap…. one by killer rats…. and so forth. Neko isn’t gonna tell you who dies and how, but you can pretty much figure out, it’s gonna be a much smaller group that crawls outta here. The best part had to be when our heroes try to yell for help through an old ventilation pipe to the surface and manage to have a guy less than 5 feet from the pipe…. but wearing ear protectors and running a generator and chainsaw…. boy, does that suck.
Eventually… the survivors all get to find that the ancient cult still exists… even though it’s just one guy… and he’s got the idol in some creepy underground temple, and he needs a perky cute human sacrifice for his god. Naturally perky Katya fits the bill just fine. Will she get saved from this terrible fate? Will she and Shorty hook up and make it out alive? Remember… this one uses an old, old plot. so there really isn’t any other way to go.
So… how do I rate this one? Well… it’s got a trusty plot that has been around the block more than a time or two, but it didn’t get that way because it doesn’t work. The acting is nothing special… but then, it’s not terrible either. Carolyn herself asked me why this one hadn’t shown up over in the US on DVD… it seems like a natural, requiring no editing or translation at all to make it work… just a good english audio dub. She liked it well enough… and I found it a nice lil’ popcorn cruncher worth an evenings watch. I give it a middle of the road 3 “Meows” out of 5 for doing it’s job, if nothing else extra.
The Ukrainian DVD is Region 5, PAL formatted, with letterboxed image and decent subtitles in both English and Russian. There’s a “Making of” feature, a ridiculous number of Trailers on board for other films…(one of which is some nifty Russian Submarine war movie I just gotta find…) and a small stills gallery and character bios.
Trailer? Yep… there’s a Trailer available, but it took some looking to find it. (It didn’t help that while researching this one I kept bumping into a Ukrainian Urban music group with the same name as this film…. D’ohhh!!) Still…. Neko is anything if not persistent, so here it is…. enjoy!!