Monday, January 15, 2018

It's January 15 again, you know what that means?

Yep, I'm 26 years old now!

Twenty-Six years old and still ticking. Four more years and my real life might finally begin...


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Burn, Dance, Slay: Stripped To Kill (1987)

Stripped To Kill (1987)
Review: **
Starring: Kay Lenz, Greg Evigan, Norman Fell

Whether you call it a strip club or a gentlemen's club, in a horror movie (or in this case, a thriller with slasher undertones), such a place of business may as well be a murderous psychopath's hangout should they ever need a day off from stalking lone teenagers at night, or whenever they're in need of another victim to strike terror at. Movies like Mardi Gras Massacre (1978), American Nightmare (1983), Last Dance (1992), and Zipperface (1992) are some fine (and not fine) examples of this titillating attempt to merge strip show fetishism and bodycounting, but I'm just gonna go out of the blue, pick between the flabs of this sub-genre fab and cover this Roger Corman produced 1987 entry instead.

A dancer from a seedy strip club called Rock Bottom gets a call during her shift from someone she agrees to see later at a park. There, she gets attacked and pushed off a small bridge by an assailant obscured in shadows before getting doused with kerosene. By luck, Cody Sheenan, an undercover detective dressed as a bag lady (for some reason), was chasing a petty thief when she tripped over came upon the dancer's body. Though Cody tries to save her, the assailant somehow got around to set the stripper ablaze, thus setting an investigation into motion.

Intrigued by the attack, Detective Heineman suggests Cody to go undercover once again to get more info, this time as a dancer at Rock Bottom. After somehow winning Amateur Night with an awkward strip show, Cody got in and suspects a weirdo who always had a hand in his coat pocket as the perpetrator. Whether Cody's is right or wrong with her hunch is up for her and Heineman's debate, but when another dancer bites the big one, it is at least clear that someone's out to depopulate Rock Bottom of its girls and Cody may need to hurry and figure out who the killer is before she's next.

I find it hard to keep a straight face while watching Stripped To Kill despite all its indications that it is supposed to be a straight thriller. Its supposed mystery is undoubtedly weak thanks very little twists and turns made to at least keep the story engaging enough, and the fact that it's lazily padded with countless pole dance sequences that, while fun at first, gets awfully tiring when some of them seems to go on forever. The murders are okay to say the least; nothing overly dramatic save the first murder so don't hold your breathe expecting splattery and/or memorable murders from this strip show bodycounter.

Even so, Stripped To Kill is not unwatchable; the cheese is certainly a grace given to this film and the story did get a lot more interesting at the last third when the killer's identity gets revealed and a long chase through the night quickly follows. From a small apartment to the open streets, to the hoodlum-infested park and finally all the way back to Rock Bottom, the entire third act is where it gets the most slasher-esque, complete with a kinda Scooby-Doo inspired unmasking and a killer's motive that hardly made any sense but chuckle worthy for how simplistic it was.

Not gonna say this is a recommendable movie as it is likely to be forgotten for about, I dunno, 2 to 4 days tops, but if you get the chance to see this shlock, I say give Stripped To Kill (1987) a try and expect not too much from it. It's a cheap thriller with slasher undertones that centers on a gentlemen's club, what else is there to say?

1 female thrown off a bridge and doused in kerosene, set ablazed
1 female garroted
1 male found murdered, method unknown
1 male shot
1 female shot
1 male caught on fire
Total: 6

A Nightmare In Tokyo: Nightmare Detective (2006)

Nightmare Detective (Akumu Tantei) (Japan, 2006)
Rating: ***
Starring: Ryûhei Matsuda, Hitomi, Masanobu Andô

From cult fave director Shinya Tsukamoto of Tetsuo, The Iron Man (1989), comes this graphic thriller/slasher hybrid about metaphors, nightmares, suicides, and a whiny emo who's apparently our titular "detective". Oh, joy?

A series of gruesome suicides connected to a mysterious phone number had detective Keiko Kirishima considering the possibility of the supernatural when the brutality of the deaths are far beyond what can be considered normal, no less the fact that each victims did it to themselves while they were asleep. This leads her to look for and find Kagenuma, AKA our Nightmare Detective, a young man who has the ability to hear thoughts and enter dreams.

Though reluctant to aid Kirishima at first, Kagenuma eventually agrees and, upon entering the dream world, discovers that the owner of the phone number is a fellow simply referred to as "Zero" and he has a unique ability to both convince his targets to kill themselves subconsciously and go after them himself in their dreams to end their lives for real. Can our Nightmare Detective figure out why Zero is so obsessed with misery and sorrow? Can Kirishima resist the urge to end herself as she draws nearer Zero's influence? Can anybody (and I mean, Anybody?!) slip a happy pill in our protagonist's drink so he can be less depressed and whiny so I can root for him a tad better? ...Anybody?

Structured like the love child of a threesome involving a serial killer drama, a gory slasher and a psychological art flick, Nightmare Detective comfortably follows the trappings of a police procedural thriller and a violent slasher flick first before melting the plot away with the director's well known experimental Avante-Garde approach to filmmaking. This meant the further the story goes, the more artsy and metaphorical it's narrative becomes, something that may or may not cater to everyone but still an approach that gave this slasher/thriller hybrid a unique taste.

For a decent half of its run, the film pretty much caters to horror buffs and gore hounds with a surreal set of murders that almost resembles those from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, particularly the first three movies where some of the deaths were made to look like suicides. Instead of showcasing the killer, however, Nightmare Detective went for the creepy and unsettling route of keeping "Zero" hidden around these parts, depicting him through shaky POV shots and loud shambling noises, if not glimpses of the form he takes in each attack. A lot of these scenes work for the direction and imagery used, such as tackling claustrophobic fear during the entire first kill as it takes place from an empty street before chaotically moving its way to a small and freakishly shadowy apartment where there's little to go and hide.

The following attacks soon made their way to bigger locations, but the cinematography done to these scenes (unusually voided of other people and shot with either a grayish tint or scratchy filtering) befits the nightmare logic this movie is attempting and its increasing level of violence and gore is just the right adding element to reach out for those hungry for some latex guts and splashy blood work. If there will be anything of a flaw around these parts, though, I could say it'll be the occasional pacing done between each death in an attempt to follow up on the investigation that, in all its truthful, doesn't really do much. We can already tell this is beyond normal and any little characterization made for Kirishima and Kagenuma didn't stray much from the usual soapy topic of bad pasts and personal outlooks on life, either. Most of the depressing talk from Kagenuma himself, which made him a hard character to root for with this pessimism being a distraction, but I can at least say that he does make a few valid reasons why he is this way, making him rather an interesting character to observe and that's it.

Once the movie gets to its hour mark, the horror elements are still present (with Kirishima getting stalked and chased by Zero in his most eldritch form) but a good deal of the remaining plot focuses on a more expressive and literal look into the mindset of our killer, a trippy run of non-linear flashbacks, random thoughts and philosophical remarks that all somehow found a way to find significance to the events transpiring. It's a rather nontraditional take on the classic final fight between heroes and monsters but visually intriguing for its worth, if not a bit overly stylized and a sappy with its bittersweet notes of existential meaning and of one's purpose.

Nightmare Detective, in its whole, is an okay film. It's a lot easier to digest story-wise than some of Shibuya's filmography and it even has some genuine scares and splatter to boot, a clear product of his experimental filmmaking and a conventional genre story. If you like to see something in between a traditional  horror story and art show level psychology, then this movie is a good place to start.

1 male dies in his sleep
1 female slaughtered to death (dream)
1 female found stabbed on the neck with scissors, bled to death
1 male repeatedly slashed, disemboweled (dream)
1 male repeatedly stabbed on the throat with a boxcutter
1 male repeatedly stabbed on the throat with a broken bottle, falls from a floor
1 girl lands neck first on a nailed board (flashback)
1 male lands in and got shredded by a car engine (dream)
1 male dies from a stab wound in his sleep
Total: 6 (9 with dreams)

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Leather and Porcelain: Blood Widow (2014)

Blood Widow (2014)
Rating: *1/2
Starring:  Danielle Lilley, Brandon Kyle Peters, Christopher de Padua

Y'know, if I had a penny every time I see a new slasher movie boasting their villain would become the next face of horror, evil or some shit like that, only to have said new face of horror, evil or some shit like that fail to fulfill that claim, I'll be... Probably a buck or two richer. Bottomline, we see this a lot in recent slasher flick releases just to sucker in some gullible fan thinking the movie'll be great but the brutal truth is most of these new slasher villains will never get to be the new face of horror if their movies altogether suck. Hard. Really hard.

Blood Widow is one of these new age slashers that thinks it has a potential cult icon in its hands: a porcelain masked female killer wearing, from afar, what look like an S&M supervillain costume. It's cute, I'll admit that. Even a bit sexy with them hips, but what in the holy hell is a villainess like her doing in a movie like "Blood Widow"?

The story is perhaps one of the most basic backwoods slasher flicks I ever lay eyes on and I'm not saying that in a fun way. Nor in a satisfied way. But more in an "oh God, is that really all there is about this movie? Just 'another group in the woods getting cut up in pieces by masked loon treatment'?" way. The only variety I am seeing here is the aforementioned nagging element that the villainess wears what appears to be a comic book supervillain outfit for some darn reason (though they did mention she was abused as a kid. Maybe this was her dad's S&M suit?) and that the reason why our victims-to-be are in the woods is to throw a house warming party, giving them an excuse to act like teenagers despite, I dunno, being in their twenties? (Yeah, there's always something about the outdoors that have young adults killing 1/3rd of their brain activity to do stupid shit like accidentally vandalizing a killer's lair and marking themselves as targets for said killer, doesn't it?)

It's simplicity meant that it's pretty straightforward to what it wanted to do and I find myself hoping Blood Widow would at least deliver some satisfying onscreen murders to remember our titular killer by. (Y'know? The very reason why she is dressed in a way that says "Franchise me! Franchise me! I'm a masked female slasher so franchise me!?")  Well, while the kills do have awesome grue and the count is moderately sizable, the fleshbags being mutilated are as dull as a 20 year-old used nail file and since anyone really mattered here, the genericness of the plot hits harder on the boring factor, making it's moderate feature-length running time feel like hours and I find myself caring very little whether miss porcelainface leatherskirt hacks them to death or not. (Yes, I know slashers aren't really known for deep writing and character development, but is it so much to ask for at least one or two interesting victims?)

I don't want to sound like a snob for what's simply a routine slasher movie that actually does deliver what it should be delivering, but Blood Widow felt and look like it was hardly trying. I wanted this female killer and her story to work as we don't get a lot of memorable femme fatales in the slasher genre, but if all we get is the same stroll down the cheap bloody woods and a paper thin killer whose only identifying factor is a suit, then even I can't pretend to be shallow enough to enjoy this.

Do as you like with Blood Widow. From what I can tell, some people out there are much forgiving than I am with this movie, so I think I'll leave you to see this if you want, while I enjoy the company of other slasher women bumping people dead in the woods. Now if only I could make up my mind which to see: Friday the 13th (1980) or Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)...

1 male had his throat cut, hacked to death
1 female disemboweled with a kukri, head crushed with a Buddha statue
1 male and 1 female beheaded with kukris
1 female ran through the head with a sickle
1 male had his arm hacked off with a kukri
1 male beheaded with a sickle
1 female hacked on the head with a hatchet
1 male had his fac ripped off with a hook-tipped flail
1 male hacked on the head with a sickle
1 female beaten to death with an axe handle
Total: 11

Short Shear Terror: Last Night (2015)

Last Night (2015 short film)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Jeanna Kapetanis, Carlos Javier Rivera, Dawn Hamil

Funny story, this review comes with!

It was around June while browsing IMDB for slasher flicks that I may (or may not) watch and cover for this blog when I saw the post for Last Night (2015). The image used for the page was eye-catching enough- that of poster featuring a worn-out anime girl mask - so much so that I decided to try looking it up online for a quick lookie-look and only found a set of trailers.

After half-ass commenting where I can watch the film, the short's director Will Phillips responded via Youtube a month later that he can get the film for me. It's a response I never really saw coming and a request I didn't really think was worth their time, but true to the man's word, he emailed me a link to his film at August 2017...and I'm only finding out about it recently.

So, to Mr. Phillips and all the good folks who are (or by this time, were) expecting a review of their film 5 to 6 months prior, my apologies for the delay. Work life and life in general got in the way and I never really thought you'll take the request of a (as of writing this) 25-year old Filipino nerd who unhealthily ingests horror flicks as sustenance. Please don't sue me.

The short is pretty basic in terms of story; a trio of teens appears to be prepping up for a wild night, only for something else to happen that involves masked killers and a home invasion. It's nothing altogether new to be honest, playing it straight as any slasher short could to the point it is predictable. Still, I love a short that shows style once in a while and there were a couple of scenes that I can tell were Halloween (1978) inspired in regards to cinematography.

I also noticed a lack of dialogue, with gimmicky text speak animated on the screen making up at least half, if not most of the conversation taking place. I'm guessing this is a way for the short to build up atmosphere through body language since the movie's small running time pretty much meant the action gets rolling pretty soon. If this is the case, then it is fairly impressive, even if some of the slasher action brought out some chuckles from me. (Why are the two anime girl-masked killers so choreographed in their murder? It's not like anyone would be awake and watching them in that room while they both go creepy on their sleeping victim.)

Long story short, Last Night's a fair ride of a slasher flick. The lack of onscreen blood work did made this short feel a tad dry but, structure-wise, it's relatively okay.

1 female knifed
1 female knifed
1 female hacked with an axe
Total: 3

They'll Need A Bigger Bug Spray: The Millennium Bug (2011)

(Let's start the New Year with a New Year horror movie!)
The Millennium Bug (2011)
Rating: ***
Starring:John Charles Meyer, Jessica Postrozny, Christine Haeberman

As a kid, I love monsters, and I still do. As a teenager, I love slashers, and I still do. Put these two sub-genres together in one flick and you'll have one giddy adult me trying it out, hoping to all gods and devils in existence that I'm not wasting another hour and a half of my life with a dreck my gut warned me not to watch. Thankfully, said gods and devils (and my fat gut) was on my side when I finally decided to see The Millennium Bug, a modern cult classic in the making.

The story starts a few hours before the year 2000, a time where more impressionable people feared the possible apocalyptic breakdown of society that'll be the cause of a computer bug called Y2K. Hoping to escape this nonsense as well as spend some quality time together, the Haskin family – teen daughter Clarissa, her father Byron, and her new (young) stepmother Joany – drives to the mountains of Sierra Diablos for a late night camping trip.

Unknown to them, the Crawfords, a hillbilly clan living in that very mountains, have grown tired of having deformed babies over the years inbreeding so when they spot the Haskins nearby, they abduct them and force Clarissa to a macabre wedding with their resident bachelor Billa. As the Haskins fight their way to escape this gruesome situation, it turns out a family of deformed inbreds is only a part of their problem when an actual Millennium Bug, a gigantic insectoid, awakens from its thousand year slumber in the same woods to breed and feast. Make a wild guess what's in the menu...

A debut feature for director Kenneth Cran and the "aptly" named company No CGI Films, The Millennium Bug can be described as a melting pot of backwoods hicksploitation horror and atomic age creature flick, done in a way harking back to classic Japanese kaiju "suitmation", meaning lots of miniature sets, hokey camera perspectives, and a menacing monster suit. This itself should say a lot about this film being cheesy and crazy as heck and you're definitely right on that department, but that's the big charm of The Millennium Bug. (no pun intended...or is there?) It captures the bygone days of midnight monster features and 70s style drive-in exploitation to a tee, and while its wildly zany direction, crazy dialogue and insane tone offer little time for our protagonists to properly develop and may as well made our human villains too loopy to be considered threatening, if not scary altogether, it does make up for the movie's moderate budget and befits the loony story, bringing out B-grade campiness that can definitely satisfy, if not fairly entertain fans of good "bad horror flicks".

All this being said, The Millennium Bug wonderfully divides and paces its attention between the backwoods human horror that are the Crawfords and the titanic monstrosity that is the title creature, before merging the two in the final act. Instead of going straight as a monster movie, the story pulls a Jaws (1975) build-up on us by hinting the bug and what it can do before giving the full reveal halfway into the run, all the while filling in the wait with classic hick terror of evil hillbillies ruining everybody's night with murder, rape and bad banjo music. Now, the movie could have given every minute to the bug and its pointy tendrils eating anything warm on its path, but I personally find this set-up rather interesting since it does give us an unusual sideline for a monster flick, even if said sideline is more or less a backwoods slasher plot with what appears to be rejects from a 80s/90s Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel. I guess it'll depend on who's watching whether these cartoonishly evil clan are relevant in the story or not, but I just happen to be the kind of guy who can't get enough of bad slasher flicks and it's not often I get to see backwood inbreds fight off a giant bug, all the while both antagonists menace a poor hapless family.

On that note, true to the movie's "no CG" claim, most of the gore and special effects are done practically, from vicious shotgun murders to giant prehistoric larvae attack. While I find some editing done to "enhance" these effects slightly questionable (I think I heard a cartoonish "squish" sound when one of the victims got analed by a tendril. And then there's the obvious blue screen effects), I am still impressed by the work done for the Millennium Bug's rampage, as well as the monster's very design and mysterious mythos, considering  its scale and the budget.
In fact, I can tell most of the movie was shot around man-made sets and it undoubtedly has that Evil Dead II vibe to it all, much to my nostalgic enjoyment and amazement with what big imagination can do to something so little.

In itself, The Millennium Bug is flawed, but I can't help but feel that these flaws are intentional. It is definitely made for the old school monster fans among the horror community, those who probably can stomach gross-out gags, tons of goo, free-flowing gore and rubbery monster action. If you're one of these people, then why not join in the fun and give The Millennium Bug a try? If you're just curious how backwoods slasher clans would react to a 50-foot possibly prehistoric carnivorous bug? You don't me to tell you twice to join us!

1 male devoured by monster
1 baby shot
1 male found stabbed in the eye with a bone
1 female gets a thrown axe to the face
1 male shot through the head with a shotgun
1 male devoured by monster
1 male stabbed to death with a wooden dildo
1 male impaled by a monster's tendril
1 male devoured by monster
1 male devoured by monster
1 female mangled by monster, decimated by dynamite
1 monster had half of its face blown off by dynamite
1 female found being eaten alive by monster larvas
1 female attacked by monster larvas, presumably killed
Total: 14

Friday, December 29, 2017

Hiker's Guide To Surviving A Voorhees: Never Hike Alone (2017)

Never Hike Alone (2017)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring:  Drew Leighty, Vincente DiSanti, Katie Schwartz

I made it my rule in this blog not to cover too much fan films for reasons that not a lot of them makes the right impact for me despite how fun and interesting some of their ideas are. Maybe it's the quality of the work (no offense), maybe it's the unfinished look that some of these films have thanks to their short running time (again, no offense), but I guess it all rolls down to the fact that I'm a bit obesssive compulsive with this blog's contents. As in, I'll watch a fan film just to pass the time and/or have fun, but since it's not part of the real canon, I'm not gonna cover it.

Of course, I will make some exceptions. Especially if the resulting work looks anywhere as good as this little number from writer/director/actor Vincente DiSanti.

Vlogger Kyle McLeod is on a solo hiking trip through the backwoods when he finds a deserted camp near a beautiful lake. After browsing through the ground's remains, he soon finds a rotting body within one of the derelict cabins and it becomes clear that he just stumbled upon a place where people like him are not welcome. And thus enters Jason Voorhees, an old legend in a hockey mask there to make sure Kyle leaves this land in pieces.

Funny thing about Never Hike Alone is that I never knew what I was getting myself into. I never read up about it save its ambiguous synopsis on Youtube, nor did I watched any of its trailers or promos. All I knew then was it's free, it has a pretty cool title, and it sounds awfully lot like a generic backwoods survival/stalker horror, so imagine my surprise when I find out I was watching a Friday the 13th fan film, one that's competently put together, a bit unique plot-wise and remains entertaining from beginning to end.

From the get-go, Never Hike Alone plays the fan film card pretty low key as it starts typically like your average modern backwoods horror thriller with a bit of found footage element thrown to it. This approach had the movie juggling first and third person perspectives from time to time as we follow Kyle through his adventure, a narrative style that nicely builds up the anticipation to where exactly the plot will lead to, all the while giving the McLeod character a bit of personality as a thrill-seeking type.

It wasn't until when the weather-worn Camp Crystal Lake sign made an appearance that the movie begins to transition to familiar stalking grounds, pacing  itself to give our lead some time to set himself within the mythos of the Friday the 13th franchise. Quite interesting, though, is that once hockey masked juggernaut Jason Voorhees appears in the flesh and begins his tireless assault on our hero, Never Hike Alone resembles less of a hack'n stab bodycounter and more of a backwoods survival type.

The film eventually did get to have victims pile up but this came into play at the near end and it's mostly made up of false endings and offscreen killings. This meant calling Never Hike Alone a slasher can be a long stretch and it could even be a very big drawback for those expecting Jason hacking people dead left and right for every ten minutes. The way I see it, though, it's poetic: since our protagonist enthusiastically hikes for his vlog and is a bit of a survivalist, what better way to try and test his survival skills by putting him in a situation that's beyond normal?

On that matter, the second half of Never Hike Alone is like the last third of a good Friday The 13th movie, where a final girl (on in this case, final boy) tries their best to end the pursuit, only to have the pursuer get back up, seemingly unscathed, and proceed with his attack. Alone does this not only with wonderful camera work and great atmosphere, but also with an understanding to how the franchise works, especially how Jason does his stalkings: no traps, no magic, just pure backwoods revenant horror, leaves and rubble breaking underneath his footfall, his movement hulking and silent.

I would say our big guy's portrayal here resembles somewhere between Ken Kirzinger's at Freddy VS Jason, and Derek Mear's of the 2009 reboot. The only real peeve I have for this Jason, however, is how he looked unmasked and often his "signature call" was used: the make-up is fine and all, but his face just looked too zombie-like and it's completely in contrast to the rest of his body save a few rotting patches here and there. Plus, I'm sure his "call" isn't his way of breathing, because that's how it sounded like here. Thankfully, these are very small flaws from an otherwise wonderful performance from DiSanti himself (yes, he wore the mask, too. I did say he acted) and I learned to get over these pretty quickly.

From what I heard, the project was originally just 22 minutes long but due to a successful Kickstarter funding, Never Hike Alone managed to earn enough moolah to stretch into a near-feature and even snagged actor Thom Mathews, Tommy Jarvis of Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives, for a badass cameo role. It's definitely a variety from your usual Friday the 13th slasher flick with its lack of bodycount (though some "kills" were gooey-satisfying), but I am glad to see this franchise from another, more thriller-based angle. What else can I say but good show, Mr. DiSanti! We may not get our promised Friday The 13th movie this 2017, but you certainly satisfied my craving for another of Jason Voorhees' reign of terror!

1 rotting head found
1 male had his head crushed (dream)
1 male axed on the gut
1 female killed offcamera
Total: 4
Nice Dissolve!