Archive for the Doomed Tourists Category

The Distracted Critic: SEVENTH MOON (2008)

Posted in 2013, Asian Horror, Demons, Doomed Tourists, Enigmatic Films, Evil Spirits, Paul McMahon Columns, Supernatural, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , on May 1, 2013 by knifefighter

SEVENTH MOON (2008)
Review by Paul McMahon, The Distracted Critic

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SEVENTH MOON is a movie that slipped past me back in 2008. It was part of the Ghost House Underground series released by Lionsgate. If memory serves, that specialized line of movies was the main gist of its advertising, so I’m not surprised I never realized Eduardo Sanchez (THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, 1999, and ALTERED, 2006) directed it. I was excited to learn of the film’s existence while I researched his film LOVELY MOLLY (2011) last November, and have looked forward to checking it out.

Eduardo Sanchez is becoming a favorite director of mine. He knows how to develop scary situations and is good at creating characters you can care about. He does that here, too… at least for a little while. The action starts in late afternoon and lasts until dawn. The instant the sun set on screen, though, the most frustrating movie experience I’ve had in a very long time began. But, before I get ahead of myself…

The film opens with a quote, as all Sanchez’s movies have so far. “On the full moon of the seventh lunar month, the gates of hell open and the spirits of the dead are freed to roam among the living.”—Chinese myth.

We meet Yul (Tim Chiou) and Melissa (Amy Smart, MIRRORS, 2008, and both CRANK movies, 2006 & 2009), an American couple on their honeymoon in China. They are wandering a crowded street during the festivities of The Hungry Ghost Festival, marveling at the actions of the locals who are burning papers in the street. The papers signify sacrifice (in order to have the wish written on the paper granted, they have to sacrifice it). After Yul has a debilitating share of wine, they leave the area and meet up with Ping (Dennis Chan, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, 2012), their chauffer.

Ping starts to drive them to Anxian, where Yul’s family lives. Yul falls asleep almost immediately. The sun sets. Melissa falls asleep, too. Ping stops at the top of a hill and Melissa wakes up. He apologizes for getting lost. “These roads are tricky,” he says. He points to a small village down the hill and says he will go and ask for directions. An hour later, Melissa wakes Yul and tells him what’s going on. He, of course, decides they should leave the car and go look for Ping.

At first they think the village must be deserted. Then they find a crowd of animals tied up in the center of town. They knock on doors and shout questions about Ping. In response, the hidden residents yell out the same words over and over. Melissa asks what they’re saying, but Yul’s Cantonese isn’t very good and all he can say for sure is that they’re calling something to join them. Mel and Yul return to Ping’s car and find that he left the keys, so they start it up and try to drive back to civilization.

It isn’t long before Yul swerves to avoid a naked man running across the road. The car bogs down in mud. He climbs out to push while Mel drives. It takes the added motivation of a ghostly shriek from the dark woods to get him to shove the car free. As she drives, Melissa blames Yul for everything that’s happening because he’d been the one that wanted to come to China.

Mel tries to swerve as another man, this one clothed, runs into the road. She strikes him, and then insists on getting out of the car to help. He is more wounded than the car can account for, but he is conscious and says in Cantonese that the Moon Demons are coming. Mel and Yul get the injured man into Ping’s car, but as soon as Yul climbs behind the wheel, four naked men jump on the car and start pounding on it.

One of the better lit images in the film, a shot of what is called in the credits: 'Pale Men.' Yup. That's what they're called.

One of the better lit images in the film, a shot of what is called in the credits: ‘Pale Men.’ Yup. That’s what they’re called.

Yul guns the engine and drives in reverse because the road is too narrow to turn around. Predictably, he drives off the road and crashes.

Mel immediately realizes that the naked men will follow the car’s path through the brush so she leads Yul and the injured man away from it. The three of them freeze and listen to the Moon Demons thumping on the car, and after a while, the injured man tells them they must find something alive to leave behind for the Moon Demons to kill. That way, they will leave them alone. He might have given Yul a sidelong glance, but it was impossible to be sure, because the thing was so ridiculously dark.

Apparently, these things glow when caught in headlights. This is the clearest nighttime image I could get from the nighttime sequence of the film.

Apparently, these things glow when caught in headlights. This is the clearest nighttime image I could get from the nighttime sequence of the film.

I’ve enjoyed Sanchez’s work before, as I said, but this film is plagued by shockingly poor decisions. The first is his choice of lighting the film…or should I say, his choice of NOT lighting the film. While I realize the majority of the film’s action transpired in a remote area of China that was without streetlights or any other kind of electricity, the night this all happened was supposedly a full moon. Surely the lighting could have been fudged just a little bit? As it was, the majority of the film was nothing but a mass of dark shadows offset by squiggles and blotches of darker shadows. It was literally impossible to make out what was happening on screen. With a make-up effects man as experienced as Mike Elzalde (DREAMCATCHER, 2003, PAUL, 2011, ATTACK THE BLOCK, 2011 and the upcoming NOTHING LEFT TO FEAR), I’d think you’d want to showcase the work you paid for. Apparently not so much.

The second poor decision is the use of a hand-held camera for the entire movie. There is no reason for this at all. The shaky camera work was an important part of the story in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT because it was supposed to be shot by an amateur film crew (i.e., the main characters did the work). There is no such situation in SEVENTH MOON. Not only is the shaky camera dizzying and hard to follow (especially since nothing is lit properly), it doesn’t stay with one point of view. It jumps all over the place, inside and outside of the car. There are far-off establishing shots and other shots so dark and undecipherable, it seems as if they might have kicked the camera under the car seat.

I’d like to comment on the actors performances, but I have to be honest and admit that I couldn’t see much. There was a bit of screaming and a LOT of heavy breathing, though, and I’ll assume it was all done in the right places. The story, or what I could discern of it, wasn’t memorable. It lacked the element of humanity that’s been present in Sanchez’s other works. Instead of working through problems and confronting personal fears as in BLAIR WITCH, ALTERED and LOVELY MOLLY, in this one it’s just a couple of characters who aren’t very well developed trying to survive the night. It seemed that these characters continually made foolish choices because that’s what they were created to do.

It disappoints me to have to recommend that you ignore a film by Eduardo Sanchez, but truth be told, there’s nothing to see here. At all.

I’m giving this one 0 stars, and although it’s misleading, I’m giving it 0 time outs, as well. Truthfully, I itched to walk away from it for most of the running time, but I knew that if I did I would never go back.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

TAKEN 2 (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Complete Waste of Time, Doomed Tourists, Gangsters!, John Harvey Reviews, Just Plain Bad, Sequels, Unnecessary Sequels with tags , , on October 8, 2012 by knifefighter

TAKEN 2 Takes the Lazy Road to Sequel Money
Movie Review by John D. Harvey

When I posted to Facebook that I was going to review TAKEN 2, Rogan Russell Marshal (who wrote ATTIC EXPEDITIONS (2001) and FREEZER BURN (2005)) posted a comment reading (in part) “Harvey, don’t you think you can review TAKEN 2 just based on the previews and clips? (I’m not really kidding… it’s rare that I think a picture reveals itself so thoroughly, so quickly…).”

What is on its face a cynical, semi-snarky comment turned out to be painfully prophetic, except for the fact that the previews and trailers for TAKEN 2 give one at least a sliver of hope that the movie might be marginally enjoyable even if it’s entirely predictable. You know going into the theater that the first TAKEN (2008) established a formula for any sequel (someone gets kidnapped, Liam Neeson kicks ass, everyone lives happily ever after, roll credits). But, the hope is that along the way the writers and director will deliver some new fun in the form of great action, some smart comedy beats, or perhaps even some new character development that adds a fresh perspective or twist to the formula.

Yeah … so there’s none of that in TAKEN 2.

TAKEN 2 is a shining example of a movie sequel where everyone involved in its making felt solely obligated to filling a 90-minute bag with 90 minutes of lazy crap, collecting their paychecks, and then going home. It’s huge shame, because I (like many people) thoroughly enjoyed the original TAKEN.

The plot (such as it is…) goes like this. In the aftermath of the first movie, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) goes to Istanbul, Turkey, to work a private security gig for a billionaire. Once finished, he invites his young daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) to fly over for a few days of sight-seeing. Lenore has recently separated from her husband, thus making it possible for Bryan to get his nuclear family put back together again.

Little do they know that the Albanian crime family/syndicate that Bryan shot to bits in the first movie has also come to Istanbul to seek revenge on both Bryan and his family. Beyond this point exists a series of low-octane, stock chase sequences, choppy fight scenes that look like the cameraman was having some sort of massive seizure during the filming, and plot turns that do not even try to maintain any form of credulity or sense even in the context of a pulpy action/adventure film.

Perhaps one of the silliest sequences (amongst a long list of such…) in the film involved Bryan and his daughter attempting to pinpoint a vital but unknown location within Istanbul via the use of a map, shoestring, the direction of the wind, and lobbing not one but SEVERAL live hand grenades within the confines of the densely-populated city. And, apparently one can set off a bunch of hand grenades in Istanbul without a massive reaction from the local police or military. There’s something you won’t find in a Frommer’s Travel Guide!

As far as the acting goes, across the board everyone dials in their performances. Both the written dialogue and delivery is ham-fisted and on the nose. And the bad guys are nothing to write home about. In the original TAKEN, the Albanians were portrayed as brutal, scary Eastern European thugs, whereas in TAKEN 2 the same enemy has become cartoonish and clumsy. Also, the Albanians’ Muslim faith suddenly gets inserted into the mix, bringing forth a subtle xenophobia that is both lazy and pandering.

The first TAKEN succeeded because it was smartly written, brutal, efficient, and gritty. Meanwhile, TAKEN 2 fails utterly because it is lazy, clumsy, outlandish, and (unintentionally) comedic. I can’t even recommend it as a rental.

Perhaps a good sign is that when Liam Neeson was asked by Jon Stewart on THE DAILY SHOW if there was going to be a TAKEN 3, the actor immediately slashed his hand at his throat in an obvious “no more” gesture. This suggests that even Neeson recognizes TAKEN 2 didn’t do any favors for fans of the original movie.

TRAILER: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpaT8NzkLgE

RUN TIME: 1hr 31min‎‎

RATING: PG-13‎‎

DIRECTOR: Oliver Megaton

WRITERS: Luc Besson (screenplay) and Robert Mark Kamen (screenplay)

CAST: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Rade Serbedzija, and Leland Orser

© Copyright 2012 by John D. Harvey

John Harvey gives TAKEN 2 ~ NO knives!

CHERNOBYL DIARIES (2012)

Posted in 2012, Animals Attack, Cannibals, Cinema Knife Fights, Doomed Tourists, Mutants! with tags , , , , , , , on May 28, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: CHERNOBYL DIARIES (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A spooky, abandoned building at night. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES explore, waving flashlights)

MA: And to think, I could be sitting at home, watching TV.

LS: Oh, come on. This is fun. Exploring abandoned cities.

(Suddenly, there’s a loud clicking)

MA: What’s that?

LS: Our Geiger counter! The radioactivity here is going through the roof!

MA: You still think this is fun?

LS: Sure I do!

MA: Well, I think we should get out of here. Those radiation levels are dangerous.

LS: But we’ve got a movie to review.

MA: And we couldn’t have done it somewhere safe?

LS: Of course not! We’re Cinema Knife Fighters. We don’t play it safe!

(There is a loud howl coming from one of the floors above them)

LS: What was that?

MA: I don’t want to find out. Why don’t you start our review, so we can get out of here.

LS: Okie doke.

Our movie this week is CHERNOBYL DIARIES, brought to us by director Bradley Parker. This is his first movie as director. Previously, Parker made his name as a visual effects guy on a variety of films including FIGHT CLUB (1999), the Vin Diesel action film xXx (2002) and LET ME IN (2010). And it shows. CHERNOBYL is visually interesting. But the person who is getting a lot of credit in the marketing campaign for this one is Oren Peli. He’s the guy behind the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and also was one of the creators of the recent ABC series THE RIVER (which, unfortunately, didn’t last beyond its first, short season). Peli wrote the screenplay for CHERNOBYL DIAIRIES, based on a story idea by himself, Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke. Peli is also one of the producers. And, to be honest, this movie looks a lot like an Oren Peli movie, even though Parker directed.

MA: And it’s a neat idea for a horror movie. The story grabbed me right away, and I was more than willing to go along for the ride. I just wish it had been more thrilling.

LS: Like a lot of these kinds of movies, the story is pretty simple. A guy named Chris (Jesse McCartney), his girlfriend, Natalie (Olivia Dudley) and their good friend Amanda (Devin Kelley) are traveling around Europe and decide to pop in on Chris’s older brother, Paul (Jonathan Sadowski), who now lives in Kiev. The plan is that they will be going to Moscow to check out the sights, with Paul as their guide. But, Paul gets other ideas. After talking with his friend Uri (Dimitri Daitchenko), an ex-Russian military guy who now runs an “Extreme Tourism” travel agency, Paul suggests that instead of going to Moscow, they take a trip to Chernobyl instead.

For those who don’t know, Chernobyl was the site of a nuclear accident twenty five years ago, and the facility, as well as the nearby town, Pripyat, which was where the Chernobyl workers lived, have been abandoned since the incident. Uri offers them a chance to explore the deserted landscape, something he claims to only offer to special travelers. Of course, when the group agrees to it, they find out that they’re not so special, because another couple, Australian Michael (Nathan Phillips) and his new Norwegian wife, Zoe (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) is tagging along as well.

Uri takes the group of them into the heart of Pripyat, now a ghost town, after sneaking past some military check points. Pripyat has a very eerie quality to it as the young tourists explore its buildings. Uri tells them as long as they are not there for more than a few hours, they won’t be affected by the radiation (which has gone down to manageable levels over the years). And everything seems to go well, until they attempt to leave, and find out that someone or something has tampered with the van’s engine, and they are stuck here, in the middle of nowhere.

As the night goes on, things get more and more dangerous as animals, and other more formidable predators, come out when it’s dark, and the kids find themselves under attack.

(There is a loud crash.)

MA: What was that?

LS: How should I know? What am I, a mind reader?

(The door crashes open, and a large WINNIE THE POOH bear runs through the doorway.)

POOH: Oh, bother. I’m all out of radioactive honey, today. Where did I put my honey? Think, think, think.

LS: Can you think somewhere else? We’re reviewing a movie here.

POOH: I do believe I placed it next to Rabbit’s 8 foot long radioactive carrot. Yes, that’s where it is. (POOH skips by them right through a wall, leaving a huge Pooh-shaped hole in his wake.)

MA: Eight foot carrots? Oversized Pooh bears? We’ve got to get out of here!

LS: Keep your shirt on. We won’t be here long enough for any of this radiation to do any damage.

Where was I?

MA: The folks in the movie were under attack.

LS: Yes, but just who or what is this threat to their lives? And, with no way to contact the outside the world (cell phones don’t work, no one answers Uri’s walkie-talkie, and the nearest checkpoint is over 12 miles away—and, worst of all, NO ONE KNOWS THEY’RE THERE!), will they be able to get out of this place with their lives?

(A door crashes open again, and this time YOGI BEAR and BOO-BOO enter.)

YOGI: Okay, Boo-Boo, we’re almost there.

BOO-BOO: Yogi, I don’ t think we’re anywhere near Jellystone Park.

YOGI: The power of positive thinking, Boo-Boo. Follow me! (They exit through the Pooh shaped hole.)

LS: What’s with all the bears anyway?

MA: I guess bears live around here.  Don’t you remember the huge bear that nearly mauled the folks in the movie?

LS (whispers): Shhhh, I was playing dumb on purpose. I was hoping they’d be surprised.

MA: It’s so noisy here. Maybe we should go to another floor to continue this review? Or better yet, why not go outside?

(They enter another room.)

LS: Like Peli’s other films, I thought CHERNOBYL DIAIRIES did a good job of ratcheting up the suspense through most of the movie.

MA: Really? I thought the suspense was lacking in this one. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of suspenseful moments in CHERNOBYL DIARIES, but they weren’t as intense or as disturbing as I expected them to be.

LS: I like that just about anyone can die at any time. And even though Parker is directing, he uses a lot of Peli’s tricks, like having us focus on the main characters as they talk or argue, while strange things are sometimes happening in the background. With these movies, you have to pay attention to the background as well.

MA: Yes, be on the lookout for strange things happening in the background!

LS: The cast is pretty good. While no one here is a movie star, a couple of the cast members may be familiar to you, like Olivia Dudley, who recently appeared in the horror anthology film CHILLERAMA (2011); Nathan Phillips, who was backpacker Ben in the 2005 horror flick WOLF CREEK—another tale of tourism gone bad, and a favorite of mine—and SNAKES ON A PLANE (2006); and especially Jonathan Sadowski, who looked very familiar to me right away, and who was in the 2009 remake of FRIDAY THE 13th, but who was also the lead in the TV series $#*! MY DAD SAYS, with William Shatner.

MA: Yep, I liked the cast too, and that was one of the reasons this story worked so well for me, in spite of the fact that I didn’t find it as scary as I hoped. The characters in this movie are likeable. There wasn’t anyone I wanted to see become food for the pack of wild dogs that kept hounding them. Or the worse dangers…

I enjoyed Jonathan Sadowski a lot as Paul. I liked his take-charge on-the-edge personality, and I was grateful that he didn’t come off as a jerk, which I think is a testament both to Sadowski’s performance and Peli’s writing.

I also enjoyed Devin Kelley as a Amanda, and she made for a strong female lead. And I thought Nathan Phillips did a standout job as Michael, the Australian traveler. There was something very sincere and genuine about his performance, and I think the same can be said for all the actors in this movie. They come off as real people.

Again, a lot of the credit here for these characters should go to Oren Peli’s screenplay. The dialogue is excellent.

LS: Despite the fact that I thought the movie was effective and had a few nail-biting moments—

MA: Too few.

LS: —it’s also true that there were parts of this movie that reminded me a lot of the remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006), especially the scenes in that movie that took place in a strange, abandoned town that had been once been the site of nuclear tests.

MA: Oh, absolutely! It’s THE HILLS HAVE EYES IN RUSSIA for sure.

(There is a knock at the door. A HILLS HAVE EYES mutant enters.)

MUTANT: Are you guys looking to rent an apartment here too?

LS: No! We’re trying to review a damn movie. Go away!

MUTANT (wanders back out into the hall): I hear the rates are very reasonable!

LS: Scram!

CHERNOBYL moves at a brisk pace, the characters seem to be constantly moving, and , as I said before, you can never be sure who will live, and who will die. And I liked the ending a lot. Yet, I did find myself feeling a little disappointed as the mysterious threat revealed itself.

MA: Same here.

LS: I was hoping for something a little more..well…surprising. In some ways, CHERNOBYL DIAIRIES really isn’t offering us anything we haven’t seen before, but it does it in a visually suspenseful, tension-filled way, that worked for me. And the location is great. I just wish there were a few more surprises. That said, I give it three out of five knives.

MA: I agree with everything you said, except I was a little more disappointed than you in both the ending and the intensity of the scares in this one.

I definitely liked the beginning of this movie. The premise caught my interest immediately, and you can’t go wrong with the setting, Chernobyl. I mean, this part of the film is extremely refreshing.

I liked the characters’ trek into Chernobyl, or Pripyat I guess, since that’s the actual town they travel to, and at this point the film has done an excellent job of setting the stage for the scary things to come.

When they find themselves stranded there overnight because their van won’t start, because it appears someone tampered with it, which in itself is creepy because no one else is supposed to be there, the suspense grows and at this point I was really enjoying this one.

But a funny thing happened along the way. I realized the thrills and chills here weren’t all that thrilling and chilling. Oh, they were okay, and some of the scenes were fun, but I didn’t exactly find them nail biters.

For example, at one point they’re searching the abandoned city when they come across a pack of very scary looking wild dogs, and these dogs start chasing them, and the folks run away. I’m thinking, “Don’t run!  You can’t outrun dogs! Hide or something!” But they run, and then I’m thinking, this isn’t going to turn out well. Someone’s going to become wild dog food in a few seconds. Brace yourself.

LS: I was thinking the same thing. You can’t outrun dogs, especially over a long expanse of woods like that…

MA: Now, I’m not going to give anything away, but this scene doesn’t exactly end in a flurry of nail biting seat squirming sequences. Again, the scene is okay, but there’s no need to look away, and there certainly weren’t any loud screams in the theater at this point.

LS: And I wish they’d shown us more about those cool mutant fish!

(A giant version of the three-eyed MUTANT FISH from the beginning credits of THE SIMPSONS pops up, standing upright on its tail fin)

MUTANT FISH: Me, too. Those fish were cool!

(MA and LS scream, and the MUTANT FISH scuttles away)

MA: The same can be said for several scenes when Paul and the others are searching through abandoned buildings. There is plenty of mild suspense here, but very few of these scenes jumped out at me as being masterful.

LS: And there were the usual scenes where characters go in to certain rooms and you’re like “Don’t go in there!” But in this case, it makes sense. They’re not just going into dangerous situations out of curiosity or because they’re dummies. They’re going to save members of their group who have been kidnapped. Although I don’t know if so many people would be this brave in real life!

MA: I did like the one sequence where Amanda gets separated momentarily from Paul and Michael, when they’re searching a building, and she’s trapped, hiding on her hands and knees from an unknown threat that is there in the room with her. I have to admit I was getting ready to nibble a nail during this scene.

I also didn’t like the ending. Compared to the rest of the movie, the ending isn’t anywhere near as creative. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before, and I think the writers dropped the ball here. It seemed a convenient simple way to wrap up an otherwise inspired storyline.

LS: I liked the ending. I admit, it’s not totally original, but it worked for me. It just seemed like the logical conclusion, after all that came before it.

MA: Logical, but a letdown.  This is definitely a case where the threat is more interesting when it’s unknown than at the end when it’s known.

CHERNOBYL DIARIES is a great concept, it takes full advantage of its excellent location, and it gives us likeable characters in a well-written storyline. However, it suffers from a mediocre execution and a disappointing resolution. After a refreshing set-up, it needed to have a much wilder, scarier, and intense second half, or at the very least something creative, but we get neither. Instead, CHERNOBYL DIARIES takes a path we’ve all seen before and doesn’t do anything new with it.

I enjoyed this one, but I didn’t love it. I give it two and a half knives.

So, now that we’re done, can we go home before I become a walking slab of radioactive bacon?

(There’s a loud SIZZLING noise)

LS: You do like to exaggerate. Radioactive bacon! And here I was thinking that for our next review we’d take an extreme tour to chase down tornadoes.

MA: Ha, ha! Good one! You can do that one solo!

(Suddenly, HOMER SIMPSON appears from out of the shadows, the guys scream!)

HOMER: D’oh! I didn’t mean to scare you guys. I just thought I should say something, since I’m a nuclear expert. You  two are completely safe here. So don’t worry at all. You will not get contaminated!

LS: Then why is the skin on your face sizzling?

HOMER: Ha ha! So’s yours! You two should look in a mirror. This is so funny! Hee hee.

MA:  Um, I’m not laughing!

(HOMER notices something in the corner)

HOMER: Is that a donut? (he wanders away from the guys)

LS: I admit, it looks grim, but we’ll find our way out of here.

(There is a howl and a loud crash from the floor above them.)

MA: All right, for one last time. What is that?

(Suddenly, the ceiling is ripped away, and a huge, radioactive PORKY PIG peers down menacingly at them.)

MA: Whoa! How’s that for some radioactive bacon?

LS: I guess you weren’t exaggerating after all!

MA: Let’s get out of here!

LS: I think I see the exit. Quick, run this way!!

(MA & LS flee, as PORKY PIG looks at the camera and shrugs.)

PORKY PIG: I was only going to say, “Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!”

(HOMER SIMPSON comes up from behind PORKY)

HOMER: Would you like to share a donut? (sniffs) Someone’s cooking bacon! Yummy.

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives CHERNOBYL DIAIRIES ~ two and a half knives!

LL Soares gives CHERNOBYL DIAIRIES~three knives.