Directed by: Robert Lee
Starring: Costas Mandylor, Michael Ironside, Alexandra Paul, Eric Breker, Pascale Hutton
Yes, folks, it’s time to watch the Big Apple get devastated again. This time in so inept a way that it makes Aftershock: Earthquake in New York look like a high-end production.
Disaster Zone: Volcano in New York borrows the basic plot from Volcano, only this time the volcano isn’t just a naturally occuring phenomenon, but inadvertently “created” by a scientist named Levering, who has been drilling a deep shaft down through the Earth’s crust in order to harness geothermal energy. Somehow, this triggers volcanic eruptions that threaten New York City. It’s up to a group of brave tunnel workers – Local 147, the Sandhogs – to save the city by diverting the lava through the underground tunnels out into the sea.
The very manly Costas Mandylor plays Matt, leader of the Sandhogs. He’s beefcake handsome and really boring. The expert geologist (Alexandra Paul) brought in to investigate the strange deaths of some tunnel workers turns out, in classic disaster movie fashion, to be Matt’s ex-wife. She’s nice but bland. The other characters are mostly padding, except for bad guy Levering. He is played by Michael Ironside, who gets a few funny character moments as the pressure from his backer to shut down the operation causes Levering to go mad. After being set on fire by flames shooting out of the drilling shaft, Levering collapses on the ground and we assume he’s dead. A couple of scenes later, he’s back walking the streets of NYC. Last time we saw him his entire body was on fire, but apparently he not only survived but had time to pop home for a shower and a change of clothes, because now he looks fine. Well, except for a burn covering one half of his face. He ends up lumbering around down in the tunnels like some kind of Frankenstein’s monster, seeking revenge on the tunnel workers for some not quite lucid reason.
The script is crap, direction seems pretty non-existent and the editing is kind of slapdash. However, what gives Disaster Zone its own flavour and makes it somewhat enjoyable despite its general worthlessness are some weird and/or ridiculous scenes. We get three casualties in the first 15 minutes, one of them being a tunnel worker getting sprayed by water that has turned so acidic that it actually eats through his flesh, causing his bowels to spill out as he collapses. Later, a worker at Levering’s warehouse lab falls down the drilling shaft into hot molten lava – and a few seconds later the shaft melodramatically spits out his charred skull. This stuff wouldn’t be out of place in a B-horror. Another dumb highlight is a scene where a man in some suburb opens a door and gets sprayed by lava before the whole house explodes. Didn’t see that coming, did he? And I will fondly remember the poor guy who goes fishing in the middle of the night as lava erupts at the bottom of the sea, heating the water enough to boil the fish. The guy stares at the bubbling water in confusion. Then his boat explodes. I don’t understand why, but it’s a nice and slightly surreal moment.
Made for the SciFi Channel, this movie is deliciously bad in just about every respect. What stops me from enjoying it as much as I should is the truly atrocious camera work. Every second of these 90 minutes the camera shakes, zooms, weaves, jiggles, whip-pans and jerks this way or that. This spastic aesthetic isn’t uncommon in cheap TV movies and I suppose the intention is to emulate documentary style footage to create a sense of urgency. This fails miserably, of course, instead inducing nausea in the viewer.
Oh yeah, and one final thing: During the second half of the movie we get some views of Manhattan, showing the widespread devastation that we haven’t really been treated to in the actual plot. These shots sport some very dodgy CGI, which makes it all the more jarring as the editor inserts some actual, grainy stock footage of lava flows and burning buildings. Most jarring of all is one aerial shot, showing the entire lower Manhattan engulfed in massive clouds of smoke. Yes, the filmmakers have included what appears to be actual 9/11 footage in this low-rate disaster flick. How’s that for good taste?