In 2004-2005, several films were released that were shot almost entirely against green or blue screens. The most high-profile of these were the major studio Jude Law sci-fi adventure Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and– perhaps more importantly– Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City. This technique generated a lot of excitement at the time, although Sky Captain was a box-office disappointment. Sin City, on the other hand, showed low-budget filmmakers that there was a lot they could do with a little green screen and a lot of passion. One of those aspiring filmmakers was no doubt Wisconsin-based filmmaker Drew Maxwell, who happened to found his production company Lightning Rod Studios in 2005. His second feature film, shot nearly entirely on a large green screen set, was originally released as Carnivorous in 2007. Carnivorous has now been released by MTI Home Video on DVD as Hell’s Labyrinth, but unfortunately the (seemingly appropriate) title change does not improve the film itself.
Kate Walker (Leah Rose) is on the run from a dangerous ex who is threatening to kill her. She gets a flat tire in a remote forest and crosses paths with a creepy guy (Chris Flieller) in a black truck who chases her down and knocks her out with a shovel. She wakes up in a metal box, and when she gets out she finds herself in a large chamber along with several other people who also met the man in the black truck. None of them know where they are or how they arrived in this place, but they’re quickly set upon by large demonic creatures that wipe out half of their group before they can even exchange insurance information. A few other survivors join Kate on the run, and they meet Ian (Ryan Schaufler), a man with a weapon and a strange artifact that can keep the demonic creatures at bay. Ian claims he can get them out of the labyrinth, but with an army of monsters and a seemingly endless array of deadly traps, their chances seem remote at best.
As a proof of concept that someone can indeed make an entire feature film on a shoestring budget by shooting largely on green screen sets, Hell’s Labyrinth works. Unfortunately, that’s just about the only level on which the film works. The look of the environments is extremely dark and the action is often difficult to make out, especially during one of the film’s frequent, lengthy “tracking shots” leading up to a scene featuring actors. The labyrinth the characters are trapped in looks like a Quake knock-off, and the monsters are about on par for that as well. All of the monsters are completely identical as well, which is just as well since they have no real personality other than “big, mean and spiky.” There is an odd mix of decent practical blood and makeup effects and awful Photoshop, the most egregious of which is a severed head that is inexplicably shown repeatedly, just in case you didn’t catch how bad it looked the first couple of times it was on the screen.
In keeping with the video game look and style of the film, most of the cast seems like they were pulled directly from the same pool of talent used in 90s FMV classics like Night Trap. Lead Leah Rose is fine, but she is the exception among a cast that all seem eager to devour as much of the CG scenery as possible. Ultimately, Hell’s Labyrinth is held down by the standard-issue problems that plague most low-budget productions, but it’s still an admirable feat to pull off a fairly ambitious full-length feature using such limited means. Still, Hell’s Labyrinth is an easier film to admire than to really enjoy.
MTI Home Video releases Hell’s Labyrinth on DVD on April 24th.