Wednesday, August 5, 2020

I Am He That Liveth, And Was Dead: Random Acts of Violence (2019)

Random Acts of Violence (2019)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, Jay Baruchel 

For a long time, indie comic artist Todd Walker (Jesse Williams) has been making a decent living off his series Slasherman, which chronicles the savagery committed by a welding masked maniac, based on the (in-universe) real life serial killings of six that took place between the late 80s to the early 90s. This success, however, isn't doing much for Todd anymore as he's starting to find the work too much for his mind to bear any further, thus he plans to end the series with one last issue, given he gets past his own case of writer's block. 

In hopes of helping Walker find a strong finale for Slasherman's story, friend and publisher Ezra (Jay Baruchel, who also directed and a part of the writers of this movie) comes up with the idea of holding a press tour in the very town where the murders took place, a controversially bold move that may inspire the struggling artist to dish out one more carnal book to end all carnal books. Tagging along is Todd’s aspiring artist assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson) and Todd’s writer girlfriend Kathy (Jordana Brewster), who is doing a book about the real life Slasherman’s victims, all of them unaware that the trip's bound for the worst when someone who's obsessed over Slasherman comics starts enacting a killing spree around the same town, inspired by the books' violence.

Based on the 2010 graphic novel of the same title by Image Comics, Random Acts of Violence tackles the old arguments of violence in media and exploiting real world horrors for entertainment, which would have been a relevant and insightful topic for a slasher movie to grasp, if only it knows what grounds of the criticism it'll focus on or, at least, build around a fair and strong argument concerning the thoughts. For a good while, the writing and direction of Violence offer scenes of Williams' character being put under fire for creating such violent comics in understandable concern, countered by Walker sharing his own beliefs that media is not always responsible for the creation of sickos, that art is just art and what society’s vile deviants do with it is their own doing. These are again very compelling debates, but by the time we hit the hour mark, the movie shifts its gears to regular exploitation bloodlettings many slashers are known for, ditching the all the argumentative build-up for something cliched, littered with one big plot hole (so big it's kinda amazing) and, yes, chunky red violence. 

Perhaps that's the main idea of the whole movie, that whichever side of the coin you stand on, you will eventually see its shade of imperfections once it's flipped against you. That behind every sense of order and control is raw chaos that inspires it. Whether this is the case or not completely falls into the audience's perspective, but one thing is certain and that's the straight horror elements of Violence are mostly top notch.

There's an atmosphere of near-realism in this movie's early dose of killings, with set-pieces intensely building up to murders that interestingly doesn't shower the movie with much onscreen bodycounting despite the decent number of victims and how brutal they can get. Among the slayings are bloody stabbings, beheadings, eviscarations and, most disturbing of them all, a family massacre, all of which executed in a manner that disparagingly implies their graphic nature without mostly glorify it, leaving us viewers nothing but our imagination to fill in the gaps as the screen cuts to black, or we see our protagonists' faces twist in terror. Tinted lighting and sound design also play a pretty big role in the film's horror scenes and Violence's giallo-inspired cinematography and editing got it covered on that department well enough, especially around the plot's first trio of murders and its artsy climactic reveal.

On note to the movie's twist, Violence, again, drops off the semi-serious tone in time and appears to cheapen its way into the finale by basically pulling a Happy Birthday To Me (1981) - style revelation on us, complete with victims' bodies arranged into sitting on chairs while the villain gives their delusional expositions as to why they're doing this, hammering down the details so we'd definitely understand their point. Admittedly, it is a fun reveal and in par to all the other ridiculously cheesy slasher motivations, dare I say it's pretty unique in the sense the killer's willing to die for the sake of what they believe is the ultimate fanboy move. This may sound like the killer stepping down from a creepily random Bible verse-spewing psycho to a serial killer with a comic book obsession but, by all means, it's not all the way bad. The talent behind the killer even pulls it off quite effectively.

It's clear as crystal that Jay Baruchel wrote and directed Random Acts of Violence as a possible in-depth look into horror media and its relationship with real life tragedies as both an influence and the influenced, doubled as a slasher movie of the partial-meta kind. Should the story kept its focus more on the psychological and ethical aspects touched by the plot, I'm sure Violence would have been an entirely different monster to be reckoned with. But for what it is right now, it's not gonna win every horror fan out there, but I'm sure there are an appreciative bunch out there who will love it for the thrills, the spills and the chills.

1 male knifed to death, later found mutilated and arranged as a macabre art piece
1 female killed offcamera, later found mutilated and arranged as a macabre art piece
1 female killed offcamera, later found mutilated and arranged as a macabre art piece
1 female had her neck snapped, later found decapitated
1 male shot dead (mostly offcamera)
1 female shot dead
1 boy shot dead (mostly offcamera)
1 male shot on the head with an automatic rifle
1 female hacked on the head with a carving knife, gutted (flashback)
1 female found gutted
1 male repeatedly stabbed with a hunting knife, throat cut
1 male burned to death inside a blazing house
Total: 12

Sunday, August 2, 2020

A Girl And Her Family's Death Curse: Someone Behind You (2007)

Someone Behind You (Du saram-yida) (South Korea, 2007) (AKA "Voices")
Rating: **
Starring: Jin-Seo Yoon, Gi-woong Park, Ki-woo Lee 

Here's a novel idea: a bloodline cursed with death as one family member of a generation gets to be killed by just about anyone close to them, or be the one to kill a fellow family member (or in some cases, members) out of pure spite. Highschool student Kim Ga-in witness this curse in action one fateful day, inflicted upon her aunt on her wedding as she gets pushed off a balcony by her fiance and then later stabbed to death by her own sister whilst recovering at a hospital. Now, it appears that it's Ga-in's turn to be snuffed and she has no choice but to try uncovering the origins of this curse to stop it, or face the murderous rage of her classmates, teachers, friends and even family.

Someone Behind You (2007) has an admittedly unique set-up for a psychological bodycount plot and there are moments where this idea's used to decent effect, particularly the tragic misfortune befalling upon the auntie character and Ga-in's own relentless attacks at school and at home. Even if we can easily tell where certain scenes are leading to, which are often savage attacks, they play the right amount of paranoiac terror and effectively highlights the violent hopelessness of curse's nature.

Regrettably, nearly everything else in this film is a misfire, from the lackluster characterization of the rest of the casts, to the incomprehensible twists that spoil any good build-up the story has or was having. You can honestly tell this movie wanted to do more than just another long-haired ghost creeper and/or haunted trinket horror, but the grander scale of Someone Behind You (2007) can be described as rather confused and tired, still walking through familiar footings of Asian horror scares while basically threading water and slowly leading way to no actual plot development, whatsoever. It's quite disappointing as the first half of its run has all of its chaos structured to escalate with all the right tropes, trappings and violent assaults, only to be followed by a direction that's grasping at straws and hoping whatever sticks stick, even if it doesn't add up or it feels like it came out of nowhere. It raises questions with answers that are more or less non-existent, replaced by twists that's unnecessarily convoluted as it is hardly subtle.

If there's anything else I could praise Someone Behind You (2007) for, it's the decent enough production quality that makes the movie looking a bit more worthwhile than your average B-flick shlocker. Unfortunately, if almost everything else in this movie couldn't ground itself to actual course and purpose, then it's lacking a point and that frustrates me. Still, its grittiness may still appeal for some so I cannot easily dismiss this as garbage, but it's certainly not for everyone.

1 female seen knifed on the neck
1 female stabbed to death with an IV catheter
1 male knifed to death (dream/flashback)
1 female thrown to an incoming bus (flashback)
1 elderly male hanged 
1 male found with throat cut
1 female found stabbed to death
1 male and 1 female burned to death (flashback)
1 male impaled with a rapier, hunting knife to the back
1 female knifed on the gut
1 female knifed on the chest
Total: 12

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Meat Pies and Rare Tigers: Dying Breed (2008)

Dying Breed (Australia, 2008)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Nathan Phillips, Leigh Whannell, Bille Brown

It's been years since her sister was found dead after traveling to Tasmania and Zoologist Nina puts it to herself to honor her and bring closure to the loss by continuing her late sibling's research on the Tasmanian Tiger, a supposedly extinct marsupial. Joined by her boyfriend Matt, his best friend Jack, and Jack's latest female companion, Rebecca, the group travels to the same wilderness where the tiger's tracks were recently found, running afoul with some locals who may or may not have sinister intentions. Not too long, someone starts stalking the four, hungering for the taste of raw meat. 

Dying Breed (2008)
is one of them titles that did all the right things but I can't really put myself to enjoying it any more than I could; I, for a start, like how it plays around with character dynamics and plot building as we do get plenty of scenes with our four main casts just hanging around, experiencing local sensibilities and feeling each other's vibes. It helps when the script accompanying their performance is fortunately competent enough to give us more than your one-dimensional meat bags waiting to be slaughtered. This leads to, in turn, a slow burn of sorts wherein we're teased a bit with false scares and hints to past atrocities that's glaringly obvious to what it's implying, eventually stepping into bloody bodycounter territory which brings me to my next point.

At the end of it all, the plot basically devolves into another inbred cannibal slasher-type that ties in Tasmania's true crime figure Alexander Pierce, an Irish convict transported to the island when it was then known as Van Diemen's Land, allegedly cannibalizing on his fellow inmates during multiple escapes in order to survive. The effort of exploiting this figure by throwing in this idea of a clan breeding for the sake of keeping bloodlines alive is well appreciated, but it's really nothing new. Not with the likes of the Wrong Turn movies or The Hills Have Eyes remake films going about with inbred mutants killing and eating people. With this, the payoff is simply too standardized, if not underwhelming for my liking, but it still comes with decent-looking murders and a downer ending that's effectively disturbing so, frankly, not a complete loss.

With its lush cinematography still pleasing in an aesthetic sense and its direction pacing the plot fluidly, you got to give credit when credit is due and Dying Breed (2008) has the good worth of being watchable at least. Yes, lacks anything new to be excited over (that and a convincing CG Tasmanian tiger), but that doesn't disregard the production's efforts to keep this movie afloat and be moderately enjoyable. If you're not looking for anything too complex and would just like a simple slasher with a plot flow, buckets of blood and basic thrills, you can start off with this little number.

1 male had his neck bitten open
1 female found tortured and drowned
1 female had her neck snapped
1 male hacked on the head with a cleaver
1 male had his neck caught and crushed by an animal trap
1 male axed on the chest, falls off a bridge
1 female had her throat cut
1 male cannibalized
Total: 8

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Snowflake's Just Whacked: Triggered (2019)

Triggered (2019)
Rating: ***
Starring: Meredith Mohler, Jesse Dalton, Sam Furman

Social Justice Warriors. The easily-offended culture of modern times. A horror story of its own if I say so myself, so why not mold a slasher movie out of it?

Annoyingly and aggressively woke teen Callee Bishop (Meredith Mohler) finds offense at almost everything, from assuming an unborn baby's gender to using chopsticks as hair accessories. She's desperately trying to get everybody to side with what she sees as reasonable views of fair and appropriation, though it often (and unsurprisingly) leads to people just rolling their eyes out, or giving her dumbfounded looks. Callee, more or less, just wants some attention and the opportunity for one comes crashing in soon enough, in the worst way possible. 

After accidentally braining a girl dead in the school's bathroom during detention, Callee and her gay bestfriend Ian (Jesse Dalton) devise a plan to pin the manslaughter to the Jackson Ripper, a slasher currently hacking up babysitting teens around town. The two also pose as victims of the staged attack to cover their tracks, as well as milk out some of that sweet small town fame as survivors, which of course starts to get into Callee's already big head and transforming herself into a local celebrity. It isn't long before the Jackson Ripper got wind of this so-called attack, though, thus Callee's plan backfiring horribly as the slasher now sets their eyes on finishing them.

Not gonna lie, this one's a tough cookie to sit through. Not because it's thought-provokingly deep or ultra-violent, but rather it gets across its point of satirizing easily triggered snowflakes all too well, so much so that it's first half hour centering on Callee felt like an actual hour. Or three. Mohler really nailed her part as one of them irritating irritable creatures bound by hate and aggression for things like non-Asians eating sushi or public schools doing prayers because, God forbid, said prayers are gonna offend some people. I commend her for the effective acting, but the matter that she's the protagonist and we have to listen to her character's exaggerated self-righteous bullshit really tests one's patience and self-control to not press the remote's fast-forward button. Or just stop the movie all in all.

Through some higher power's good grace however, once Callee commits her act of accidental murder and ropes her only friend into it, Triggered becomes more tolerable of a watch and actually spins an interesting turn in direction. Apart from the usual breakdowns of internet fame and its downsides, the film also found a way to evolve the Ian character into the second main lead, focusing greatly on his attempts to swoon the closeted jock he's crushing on, all the while taking in the brunt of the guilt and anxiety from the crime they just committed. It's mostly teen drama, coming-of-age comedy and a small slice of thriller of the blackmail variety, with the slasher elements getting juggled in and out until the last act where it finally gets to be played straight. For a movie with a running time of almost two hours, this again may test a lot of viewers but I personally don't mind sitting through it as the slowly devolving friendship between Callee and Ian, and the latter's growing independence from his "friend" make for an intriguing watch.

This being said, the slasher bits are in par with your usual low-budget slashening affairs; the kills are bloody and fair in body count, though the effects are limited to splashy red make-up work and stylized editing. The killer's masked and cloaked get-up is heavily inspired by the same slasher wardrobe worn by the Red Queen killer from the 1972 giallo The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, only with a blonde wig. There is a decent reveal that ties most of the events nicely (read, most), forwarding to a conclusion that's altogether satisfying as it is insane with its abundance of unlocked door cliches, someone going Mama Voorhees and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)‘s Amanda Wyss as one of the final girls.

Director Christopher Wesley Moore is no stranger to films with touchy subjects, with his previous 2016 slasher offering Blessed Are The Children tackling abortion and his other 2019 horror entry A Stranger Among The Living centering on the psychological and supernatural aftermath of a school shooting. It seems fitting on his end that Triggered (2019) satirically and comically covers the attention-seeking hypocritical madness of modern Social Justice and I'm glad I gave it a shot. Albeit partially unbearable and overly long, it still offers topical curiosities and a bloody good enough payoff for the trouble, poking fun at misguided people whose aggressive goals to better the world push the cause further back than forward whenever it's not playing around the classic slasher scenario. 

If you see yourself as a composed and stoical horror fan with enough time for plot and character driven stories, you may want to keep give this a look.

1 female seen with throat cut
1 female knifed to death
1 female brained against an edge
1 male knifed through the jaw
1 male hacked to death with an axe
1 female gets chopsticks stabbed into her ears
1 male bludgeoned to death with a frying pan
1 male hacked to death with a hatchet
1 female found dead with a throat cut
1 female brained to death with a hammer
1 female gutted with a knife, stabbed in the back
Total: 11

Monday, July 27, 2020

Random Thought Of The Day: Child's Play 3 (1991)

So, is Child's Play 3 (1991) implying that for the past eight years since Chucky got killed in the previous movie, nobody bothered to remove his gnarled-up mass of fleshy bleeding plastic? 

Were they too confused on what to make of it?

Thursday, July 23, 2020

I Want Some Bloody Drama: Framed (2017)

Framed (Spain, 2017)
Rating: **
Starring: Daniel Horvath, Àlex Maruny, Enric Auquer 

A new streaming platform called Framed is sweeping the globe in popularity for its supposed easy accessibility, thus it isn't surprising that it has a dark side as those with much more ill intent can use it to stream their sick deeds such as live porn, terrorist acts and axe murders over the internet with ease. (Oh, and some guy eating his own shit. No, really)

Somewhere in Spain is a group of teenagers gathered to celebrate a friend's final night with them before they go working abroad. What these youngsters weren't prepared for, however, is getting their night turned against them as three psychos break into the house to play a cruel game of cat-and-mouse, ending in torture and death just for the thrills of the psychos' audience via Framed.

With this, Framed is practically another one of those cautionary horror flicks warning us about the dangers of viral fame and social media, satirizing one's shallow need to get attention through likes, faves and viewership, even if it meant being famous for infamy. It's a tale told dozens of times and over, though this movie tries to sweet talk us with a torture porn-cum-home invasion approach that, frankly, just feels like a gorier take of Michael Haneke's superior Funny Games. (Both 1997 and 2007 version, they're pretty much the same movie) It's not really gonna win much for originality and perhaps it's the matter that I've seen enough home invasion flicks that Framed's take on a brutal torture show feels overly stagnated for me, although I will commend the countless times this movie subverted my expectations, as well as a few inventive torture set-pieces.
The dark humor in the writing does bring out the mean spirited tone of the story, especially when it comes to scripting the leading villain (who's simply credited as Invasor 1) who comes across like a social media-obsessed mix of Patrick Bateman from the American Psycho franchise and Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of The Carribean film series. In fact, he's probably one of the movie's stronger elements, as actor Àlex Maruny really went all out swagging a threatening, controlling, unhinged yet flamboyant slasher with a vision for the carnage he is inflicting. 

Tally in an impressive looking production quality despite the supposed minuscule budget, leading to gore effects reaching top-notch visceral carnage and some so-so editing, and you still got this watchable, empathetic and very draining horror film that may not dent the face of a movie sub-genre, but you got to hand it some notice for its effort. Not my tall glass of social media horror satire, but I'm sure there's an audience for Framed out there 

1 female taken, presumably killed
1 male brained to death with a baseball bat
1 male seen having his eyes gouged (clip)
1 victim beaten to death with a retractable club (clip)
1 dog stomped to death
1 male had his neck bitten open
1 male hacked on the neck with an axe
1 female eviscerated with a buzzsaw
1 female eviscerated with a buzzsaw 
1 male stabbed on the chest with a machete
1 male shot 
1 female shot dead
1 male knifed to death
Total: 13

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Halloween School Girl Spirits: Pumpkin Night (2016-2020)

Pumpkin Night ("パンプキンナイト") (2016-2020 Manga Series)
Rating: **1/2
Author: Seima Taniguchi
Artist: Masaya Hokazono
Number of Issues: 4 Volumes

So I found out about this manga series after watching a video about it in Youtube, described as your run-in-the-mill cheesy 80s slasher in Japanese comic book format. 

Spanning over a total of 33 chapters (plus a side chapter and an epilogue), Pumpkin Night follows Naoko Kirino, a heavily disfigured girl who escaped a mental hospital by slaughtering countless patients and staffs. As the now Jack-o-Lantern headed slasher "Pumpkin Night", she methodically stalks, tortures and kills five of her former classmates, bullies who broke her body and damaged her mind after they pulled the one prank that went too far during one Halloween party.

For the first nineteen chapters, Pumpkin Night is your ultra-violent revenge slasher horror that borderlines into torture porn and splatter flick territory for the gruesome detailing put to each kill drawn, courtesy of artist Masaya Hokazono. At times, the kills can get pretty disturbing for the amount of brutality subjected to the targets, whether they're alive or already dead, but there are occasions wherein it can get too silly to be taken seriously, particularly on the matter of how some of these deaths can get too cartoonish to be even considered possible. (Like how a pumpkin scooper will be strong enough to scoop off a good chunk of skull!) 

The story accompanying this violence is cheesy and simple enough; it's your classic Slaughter High (1986)-type plot where a bullied teen returns as an insane and utterly sadistic slasher, with an execution that has the plot going through loops of cliched character and plot developments, often ringing in one or two genius moments (Naoko pulling off the ole' switcheroo on a body of a murdered classmate at a hospital, so she could listen in to her victims discussing what to do about the killings), as well as its share of creepiness. (One of the teens finding Naoko, without her mask, all scarred up and grinning, inside a crowded elevator with them) Most of the chapters tend to focus on the build-up of a murder, setting the scene up for a torture porn-esque death trap that, at times, tends to go on forever if not side-stepping into flashbacks that detail what lead to all of this, which more often than not involves Naoko's bullying. 

Around the second half of the story is when Pumpkin Night lags around the idea of political power play and re-introduce side characters as the new main ones. Without spoiling much, one of the major players got killed off in a gutsy move on the author's behalf around these parts, so the Pumpkin Mask persona evolves from a killer straight out of a bad slasher movie to something like the titular character from The Phantom of Paradise (1974) if Tim Burton had his way designing it. Not a bad turn, admittedly, as these last chapters did still play around the identity of being a slasher film-inspired manga, but it felt rather empty and drags the story away from a quicker and more satisfyingly simple conclusion for the sake of adding more bodies to the count. I mean, I get it, the author probably didn't want Pumpkin Night to always get the upperhand as she's practically slaying people like a kid crushing ants with their thumbs, but its needlessly complicated and prolonged, especially if the end result is still the same overpowered killer knifing and burning armed muscle-bound thugs left and right with ease.

For the trouble's worth, at least the ending has this hilariously over-the-top final kill, with promises of a possible more supernaturally-inclined sequel at its epilogue. Pumpkin Night, all in all, is no great manga in regards to its cheap and messy story, but it has the B-grade charms of a violent horror movie whose main purpose is to dish out as many graphic (and juicy) kills as possible, regardless the plausibility of it all. If you love slashers like Truth or Dare: A Critical Madness (1986) or, Heaven help you, The Summer of Massacre (2011), then give this cheesy trash reading a try! 

1 female seen nearly decapitated (chapter 1)
1 male seen with a missing jaw (chapter 1)
1 male seen impaled and disemboweled with a wooden plank (chapter 1)
9 victims seen slaughtered (chapter 1)
1 male found with his skull sliced open, brain scooped out (chapter 1)
1 female had her eyes torn out with a pumpkin scooper, ran over and mangled by a truck (chapter 1)
1 male gets a knife through the head (chapter 2)
1 male gets a metal pole skewered through his nose (chapter 4)
1 female knifed through the head (chapter 5)
1 female gets a metal pipe shoved through her mouth, impaled through head (chapter 5)
1 female knifed in the eye (chapter 6)
1 male has his head slaughtered with a bonesaw (chapter 6)
1 male and 1 female gets thrown surgical tools to the backs, slaughtered (chapter 6)
1 female electrocuted with a live wire (chapter 6)
1 female repeatedly stabbed in the eyes with a syringe, head crushed with a folding chair (chapter 10)
1 male gets his throat sliced with broken syringes (chapter 10)
1 female knifed through the head (chapter 15)
1 female impaled on rebars, bled to death (chapter 19)
1 male knifed, had his jaw broken off with a claw hammer (chapter 19 bonus comic)
1 male found murdered, body left in a canal (chapter 20)
1 male repeatedly assaulted with a knife, smothered with a pillow (chapter 25)
3 males set ablaze (chapter 28)
1 male flipped unto the pavement, skull cracked (chapter 29)
1 male knifed on the groin (chapter 29)
1 male caught inside an immolated car, burned to death (chapter 30)
1 male had his head cracked with a knife handle and gets a bottle of acid shoved into the wound, decapitated (chapter 33)
Total: 36