“Oh, it’s you,” I say to myself as I squint at my computer screen while watching my review copy of Needlestick. Michael Traynor is more than likely a great guy in real life and there’s no doubting his ability as an actor, but I still hold a grudge against him for nearly killing Glenn three times on “The Walking Dead.” I say this, of course, in jest, but it goes to show the power of strong characters and how one performance can stay with an actor for a long time. Luckily for Traynor, he gets to play the hero in Needlestick and he does a fantastic job in his role as Everett Barnard, too. And he’s not the only extremely talented performer you’ll see checking into Needlestick. Scream King Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Pumpkinhead, Scream 3), The Blacklist‘s Harry Lennix, The Bold and the Beautiful‘s Katie Savoy, Judging Amy‘s Jack Noseworthy, Alara Ceri, Jordan Trovillion, George Pogacich and Linda Boston are all here for the madness.
Needlestick brings the realm of mad scientists into 2017 and it does so in a genius way. There isn’t any cackling, lightening machines or hokey chemistry sets. There isn’t any cheesy accents or white lab coats that blind your eyes. Lance Henriksen plays a logical yet deranged doctor who will do anything to see his research come to fruition and it comes to a head when he makes a medical breakthrough that will change the world. Unfortunately, he has a few more tests to conduct and he isn’t ready for his discovery to hit the press just yet; so he locks down the hospital and traps his staff inside as unwilling participants in his research study and to keep them from communicating with the outside world. Now they must work together if they want to make it out alive, but when the building that’s sheltered their careers becomes a deathtrap, a Needlestick will be the least of their worries.
One of my notes reads: “old but new.” I definitely can see references and inspirations from classic mad scientist movies that I poked fun at before. I was under the impression that this subgenre died out a long time ago, but I’m glad to see Needlestick bringing it back to life in a less monster-y Frankenstein sort of way. There’s still a lot to do with this source material and this movie raises a lot of questions in an interesting and realistic way. How many instances of medical malpractice of this magnitude are covered up by the government? How many experiments are going on behind our backs in the very hospitals that we stay in when we’re sick? I can’t say enough that Needlestick brought the mad scientist subgenre into 2017 enough because I love the way it was carried out. It’s the perfect mix of horror, science fiction, and psychological terror at the thought of its reality and it’s smooth, cohesive and it isn’t overbearing. It was the perfect way to enthrall the audience without being hokey.
I’d like to point out that Needlestick doesn’t take place in a small, doc-in-a-box hospital that you can find in every county. It takes place in a full sized, fully staffed hospital and I’m in awe at the scale of production here. I can only wonder how the team behind this movie managed to nab an entire hospital setting and use it to their advantage. Even if it was comprised of different sets – either built or other locations – it’s still a feat that few in the independent industry are willing to attempt. It shows that the director of this flick is capable of bigger and better things if he was able to pull this off with the budget I found online. From the grand and creepy opening shot to the action in the hallways – Needlestick pulled out all the stops. The entire crew gets a round of applause for their efforts here, which resulted in a polished, high caliber feature that raises the bar for any independent movie that tries to shoot in a hospital setting in the future. Well done.
When I look for any criticisms, I can only find two things… and I know the first one is going to get my head chewed off because you’re not supposed to “come for” a legend. My biggest complaint about Needlestick is the original scores don’t do it any justice and actually dull some of the suspense and serious nature of the scenes. The scores were created by Harry Manfredini, who we all know from composing Friday the 13th, Swamp Thing, The Hills Have Eyes 2, Slaughter High and Wishmaster. I love Harry’s previous works, but I feel like he missed the mark here. Also, addressing the suspense again, I think Needlestick missed its opportunity to up the horror and up the psychological punches when it really needed to. It certainly has some gory moments and scenes that kept me on the edge of my seat, but it never really went there. My review would have been a little higher had it given me one moment that made me shout, “oh, shit!”
Still, it’s an impressive production filled with stellar performances, action, drama, suspense and gore. Completely modernizes the mad scientist genre in a believable way. I don’t know if I would watch it again in the future, but it satisfied my needs for this viewing. Needlestick is written, directed and produced by Steven Karageanes. It was co-produced by Dwjuan Fox and Edward Stencel with cinematography by Bryan Greenberg. FINAL SCORE: 6.5 out of 10.