The Task / Scream of the Banshee

In “The Task,” half a dozen collegians are kidnapped (presumably) by clown-masked goons and taken to a field outside the abandoned Pennyville State Prison. Turns out, some months ago, they all auditioned for a reality TV show. This is that show, and all they have to do to garner $20,000 a piece is to spend one night in the pokey; to amp up their fear, the producers spin a tale about the warden who once went nutso there and who presumably haunts its halls.

You can see where this is going. Where that might be enough for most horror movies, “The Task” has the foresight of putting another layer atop things, by having each contestant forced to carry out some assignment (hence the title) that relates to his or her greatest fear, which they conveniently revealed in the audition phase. For instance, the token African-American man (Texas Battle, “Final Destination 3”) is scared of being buried alive, so he has to lie in a pool of feces, whereupon the warden appears to lock him in.

The warden is the bald, strong, silent type, like the pro wrestler Kane in “See No Evil,” of which “The Task” is reminiscent. Only within the film, he’s not part of the plan, naturally, so the folks in the control room — including cute producer Connie (Alexandra Staden of the misbegotten “My Name Is Modesty”) think they, too, are being played by the network.

The best thing about director Alex Orwell’s film is that it openly pokes fun at today’s vapid youth, just dying to be on TV for a chance at their 15 minutes. (For a more inventive and more effective take on this theme, check out 2001’s little-seen, no-budget “Slashers.”) I'm not convinced that “Task”’s twist is just that or a cop-out, but viewers going in with little-to-no expectations should be satisfied by its slickness and sickness.

There is no need to watch the disc’s behind-the-scenes featurette, unless you just want to see Battle utter the line “You know what I'm sayin’” four times within a record 14 seconds during an interview.

There’s also no need to watch “Scream of the Banshee,” notably only for being Syfy’s 200th original film. College-aged kids also figure into this one heavily, studying under the tutelage of archeology professor Whelan (Lauren Holly, “Crank: High Voltage”). Together, in a basement at the university, they find a glove that appears to date back to the Templar Knights. They also find a mysterious vibrating box. When they put the glove on the box, out pops a severed head — “maybe of a deformed person or a wild animal," says Whelan.

Close, girl: It’s a banshee. True to the flick’s title, its scream breaks computer monitors and causes ears to bleed. Once you hear its scream, you're screwed 'til you die. Said banshee causes vivid hallucinations and flings his/her tongue around like Lin Shaye did so memorably in "Kingpin.”

Sadly, there’s nothing memorable about this movie, which reeks of by-the-numbers lameness and no imagination. That’s too bad, because — for a Syfy film especially — the creature design is awfully good. “Banshee” also stars a crazy Lance Henriksen and the ending from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." —Rod Lott

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