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John’s Horror Corner: Cube (1997), a deadly maze of traps with a mystery-driven premise that likely inspired many subsequent filmmakers.

September 6, 2019

MY CALL: Ahead of its time and its budget! Memorable death scenes, an interesting premise, and the film is mystery-driven. I’d actually call this a Sci-Fi/Thriller, but it should still satisfy your horror itch. MORE MOVIES LIKE Cube: The plot richens with Cube2: Hypercube (2002) and Cube Zero (2004). For more elaborate death scenes that cultivate abundant tension, try the Saw (2004-2017) and Final Destination (2000-2011) franchises. And for another treacherous mystery/thriller, you can’t go wrong with Identity (2003).

A disoriented man (Julian Richings; Channel Zero, The Witch, The Colony) awakens in a well-lit cube-shaped room with six hatches, each hatch leading to an apparently identical cubic chamber. He wanders aimlessly into the next chamber and meets an awesomely deadly fate (in the most heavily discussed scene of the film).

Co-writer and director Vincenzo Natali (Splice, Haunter) really developed something special here and stretched his budget impressively. Looking like something from the core maintenance shafts of the Event Horizon (1997), this mostly single-set film is given a sense of scope and diversity by altering the lighting (color) in each chamber and occasionally altering the camera angle to confer viewers a sense of the three-dimensionality of this complex.

With no recollection of how they got there, a doctor (Nicky Guadagni; Silent Hill, Ready or Not), a cop (Maurice Dean Wint; TekWar), a prison-breaking escape artist (Wayne Robson; Parents, Wrong Turn 1-2), a math-savvy student (Nicole de Boer; Forever Knight, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), an office worker (David Hewlett; The Shape of Water, Splice, Haunter) and an autistic savant (Andrew Miller) find each other in this vast network of chambers and must work together to survive its death traps, learn the purpose of this deadly maze, and escape with their lives. Of course, as they get more scared, starved, impatient and fewer in number, they start turning on one another.

The eclectic combination of people, snatched from their everyday lives and dropped into this killing field, reminds me of Predators (2010) and The Belko Experiment (2016). And like these movies, Cube’s inhabitants find themselves questioning why they were chosen for this fate, who’s behind it, and what is the goal of it all. Was this built by the military, by aliens… is this some sort of government experiment, or the machination of some rich psychotic Bond villain…?

The Saw (2004-2017) films focus on the terror of solving each individual death trap (one after another), whereas Cube is more similar to the Final Destination (2000-2011) franchise in its effort to solve the bigger picture: how to escape the death cycle itself. In fact, this film focuses more on the mystery of the cube megaplex than the death scenes. So if you think you’re in for a death scene extravaganza, I’d turn you instead to the other aforementioned franchises.

The opening death scene—a man getting instantly “cubed” by cross-hatched razor wire—is one you’ve likely seen reiterated in other movies (e.g., Ghost Ship, Resident Evil, Wrong Turn 3). It’s satisfying, surprising, and deliciously gory as the squares of the victim topple over like a bloody butcher’s building blocks. Then the face-melting acid death scene is just plain mean, grimy and gooey. And while both scenes are quite memorable, they are the only two you’ll ever discuss after seeing the film.

Having not seen this 1997 film in over 15 years (when I watched all three in 2004 or 2005 after part 3 came out), I must say, it holds up really well despite being of very low budget (365K CAD). The death scene special effects are handled well, and the film relies very little on those effects for our enjoyment of it, because it’s more mystery-driven. Anyone who enjoyed Cube or simply wants more explanation of the story should definitely continue to Cube2: Hypercube (2002) and Cube Zero (2004), which will give you more answers (but not all).

10 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2019 10:09 am

    Great film, so original for its time, with a terrific premise as well and gruesome scares!

    • John Leavengood permalink
      September 7, 2019 6:43 pm

      And it still impresses me now. Solid film!

  2. September 8, 2019 9:23 am

    I’m another that thinks this is a great movie. A gross-out meets mystery meets horror meets scifi. It was very well done considering it was contained to a cube. Cubes?

    • John Leavengood permalink
      September 8, 2019 11:55 am

      I’m told that this was basically a single-set film. Who’d’ve thought that changing the lighting hue from one cube to the next would be so effective in conveying the space? I need to revisit the sequels. But, as I recall, they were less impressive. :/

      • October 13, 2019 4:41 pm

        Less impressive but most pretty good. The lighting was amazing and the pacing phenomenal considering the enclosed space it all had to be done in. I was not aware it was a single-set film, but that does make sense.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      October 13, 2019 5:17 pm

      Speaking of “less impressive” sequels, if you happen to listen to our podcast keep an eye out for the eventual release of our Final Destination series. I’m watch FD4 tonight and it is terrible (at least compared to its predecessors) and FD3 is distinctly ranked below FD1-2 in my eyes. Are you a fan of those films?

      • October 14, 2019 8:25 am

        I was a fan of the series and tossed a few into my queue to watch again a couple of weeks ago but haven’t had a chance yet. What happened in which one is kind of scrambled in my mind but I did like 1 and 2 much better than 3. They still have a lot of potential, hate to hear 4 is terrible. Maybe that is the one I started and turned off.


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