Sunday, June 16, 2019

A Message From Our Stepfather


Modern Dad Gone Off The Deep End: The Stepfather (2009)

The Stepfather (2009)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Penn Badgley, Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward

Before I get to see 1980s Terry O'Quinn as the Stepfather, I saw late 2000s Dylan Walsh try walking the shoes of the titular family-murdering identity-hopping psycho as this reboot was my introduction to the entire Stepfather slasher-thriller franchise. Glad to say it did little to hinder me from seeing the rest of the movies, though objectively none of the movies from the Stepfather franchise are "good", so comparing this to the original is like comparing the words cola with softdrink: both meant the same thing despite looking different.

The movie starts with a man grooming before making his way downstairs to go about his morning business. Christmas carols play in the background while he reads the paper and eat a peanut butter toast, only for us to get a glimpse of some bloodstained tools in the sink and, one by one whilst accompanied by ghostly screams, the remains of the family he just murdered.

So the man is our eponymous Stepfather, a nameless serial killer obsessed with the idea of being the father of a perfect family, killing off those he deems imperfect. After hightailing out of his latest crime scene in Utah, he ends up in a grocery store at Oregon days later, charming his way to a woman named Susan who must be feeling brave that day as she asks David out for dinner after just minutes of meeting him.

Six months later, Susan’s eldest Michael returns from military school for the Summer and learns his mother is readily engaged to David during his surprise party. At most, his soon-to-be stepfather does come off like a good guy until the neighborhood gossip stops by early next morning to tell Susan that David looks like a man she saw at America’s Most Wanted and, during lunch, the man botches the name of his daughter from a former marriage. Needless to say, Michael grows suspicious of David and, slowly and surely, he'll soon find himself and his family in grave danger.

The Stepfather (2009) follows the trend of deranged individuals trying their hardest to mask their insanity and appear -by their standards and/or definition- perfect or okay, something we've seen dozens of times before predating the original Stepfather trilogy with movies such as The Bad Seed (1956), The Horrible House on The Hill (1974) and Bloody Birthday (1981). It has all the common tropes; the titular character looks alright on the outside but, in reality, is really a murdering psychopath. A main character notices the cracks and investigates further, at times questioning their own sanity. Side characters gets harmed or snuffed out. Climax happens, all is revealed, they brawl out and usually the door is left open for a possible sequel or a downer ending.

The only couple of things The Stepfather (2009) has going for are that it has the slick and sleek look thanks to its modest budget and modernized setting, as well as the talents doing their darnest to make their characters work despite a few hammy moments and an insufferable amount of dumb commonplaces. (Or, for actress Amber Heard's case, reduced down to plain eye candy) Comparing this to the rest of the Stepfather franchise, it does boast the most kill count too, though considering a lot of these were bloodless suffocation-themed murders, its more of a footnote than a decree.

Not a lot to say about this one aside that it's a passable thriller with a simple -borderline predictable- story. If you're a fan of movies like Orphan (2009), The Good Son (1993), The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992) or, y'know, half of the movies you'll find in the Lifetime channel, you've probably know what to expect from this one.

1 boy seen murdered, cause or method unknown
1 female seen stabbed on the back
1 boy seen murdered, cause or method unknown
1 girl seen lying dead on a pool of blood, cause or method unknown
1 elderly female thrown down a flight of stairs, smothered
1 male smothered to death with a plastic bag
1 female drowned in a pool
Total: 7

Sunday, June 9, 2019

This Madness In Your Head!: Deadly Manor (1990)

Deadly Manor (United States/Spain, 1990)
Rating: **
Starring: Clark Tufts, Greg Rhodes

There's a lot of things in life that test my patience: 12 Noon traffic. Dumb and impatient customers at work. Slasher movies from the 80s that takes an hour of padding before getting any action going, which will be made way worse if the copy one happens to get is a direct VHS rip...

Six "teenagers" in a van and motorbike are driving through backwoods country enroute to some lake for the weekend when, after a bit of frustrated discourse and repeatedly looking through maps, it is starting to appear that they got themselves lost. They soon stop to pick up a hitchhiker who confirms that they are indeed off track as he knows the camp they're looking for, however mother nature and lady luck have different plans for them as before they can drive back, heavy rainstorms suddenly sets in. 

Luckily for them, there happens to be a remote manor house nearby that appears to abandoned, but borderline-supernatural spookiness are abound as one of the kids feels something evil is living in the there and the mansion's decor (including coffins in the basement, human body parts in pickle jars and a photo album filled with pictures of naked corpses) doesn't help say otherwise. (All it needs is Uncle Fester Addams and viola~!) Still, most of the group decided to camp in the mansion for the night, with the only one gal opposing to the idea of sleeping next to pickled scalps hiking back to the road, only for her to get caught by someone swiftly ending her with an offscreen throat cut. 

Eventually (and I use this word questionably), the group starts to die at the leather gloved hands of an assailant who (by the looks of it) is a real stinge when it comes to creativity as most of their kills are offscreen throat slits and knife stabbings. A real disappointment of a payoff for all of the padding this movie did to get this far.

Released in the early 90s when the slasher's Golden age were thought to be done and out, Deadly Manor (1990) looked like it aimed to better itself from being just another backwoods bodycounter by scaling up both sleazy and gothic imagery as much as it could, evident from its use of creaky old candle-lit murder mansion and random sex scenes that may or may not have happened. The film, however, succeeds instead on sliding down as an oddity of unprecedented cheesiness and cliched horror movie dumbness as characters spat out ridiculously hammy lines and does every textbook example of what not to do in a horror film unless you are really asking to be knifed down by a porcelain mask-wearing nutbag. 

I have no problems loving bad slasher movies, particularly the cheesy kind like Slaughter High (1986) and Jason X (2001), but what does movie have that Deadly Manor (1990) lacked is momentum, which meant I have to sit through an hour worth of characters just being dumb and cheekily written for the sake of building dreary tension that doesn't work quite well. Granted they threw in a red herring about the hitchhiker having a shady past for effort's sake but most of us can tell that this is an old throwaway that gets resolved rather unceremoniously. Thankfully, the last act rally up well with the villains giving out deranged monologues for both exposition and tongue-n-cheek reasons, as well as cashing in a last minute bloody kill. And, what the hell, why not have the final girl join in the fun and have her try talking some psycho-babble sense into the knife-happy slasher, too? That always worked out.

While Deadly Manor (1990) sought to be an atmospheric and dark psycho-thriller, its undeniable that its dumbness dropped it more than a notch down to shlocky slasher shenanigans. Then again, it has a solid motive behind the killer's insanity and resulting massacre, albeit a challenge to sit and wait for, made the film watchable on a level so its not a total lost. Probably a fair viewing for those with the patience of a god.

1 male and 1 female seen slaughtered
1 female had her throat cut offscreen
1 male knifed to death
1 female had her throat slashed with a knife
1 male found with his throat slashed
1 male knifed to death
1 male had his throat slashed with a knife
1 male shot dead
Total: 9

Saturday, June 1, 2019

...And Now I Got To See The King This Saturday.

All I could say is: They did it. Legendary/Toho improved what was lacking from Godzilla (2014) and this is the most fun I have watching a Godzilla movie since Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (1995), my first Kaiju movie!

I don't care what others see, think or feel about this movie, especially them so-called critics. I personally don't think they understand why this franchise kept on going (maybe a bit? I'm sure some of them do) but so long as my opinion matters (somewhat), THIS is one of the most perfect kaiju movies I've seen in a LONG time, delivering what I love about the Japanese Daikaiju genre: unsophisticated dialogue, easy plot and huge monsters beating the hell out of each other! It hits right in the nostalgia factor and I couldn't be happier and I'm sure true daikaiju fans would feel the same, too!

So, do I recommend this to my fellow horror and/or genre enthusiasts? Well, yeah! Of course! If you're one of them people who has to learn to loosen up and just enjoy the mayhem? This is a right place to start! It's CG's the best the big guns can offer, the cheese factor is surprisingly balanced and it definitely has the energy to keep the action going! A giant monster film for the giant monster fans!

Monday, May 27, 2019

Take The World: Brightburn (2019)

Brightburn (2019)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn

While I've read a fair share of comic books as a kid, none of them had as strong of an impact to me as the original Marvel Zombies limited series back at 2005. Not only did this very book introduced me to superheroes beyond familiar names like Spiderman, Wolverine or Captain America (pretty much opening floodgates of superhero comics for me to dive into and try), but it also catered to my love for zombie movies back then, giving me something out of the ordinary when it comes to the shambling undead.

To see these oh-so-beloved heroes as something worse, as gruesome super-powered flesh-eating monsters born out of an incurable infection, more or less taught me that, when things go downhill, the heroes we love can become the worst case scenario. This what 2019's Brightburn is. A super-powered worst case scenario.

Twelve year old Baron Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) is experiencing a lot of strange things lately: he sleepwalks to the barn at night, hear voices in his head and finds out he has superhuman strength and invulnerability. It isn't long before he finds out he is adopted, that the parents he knew all this time (David Denman and Elizabeth Banks) found him as a baby inside a crash-landed space craft. Unfortunately for us, this isn't Smallville, Kansas and Baron happens to have a concerning fascination for human body parts as well as a nasty habit creeping on girls he likes. This isn't a superhero story. No. This is a supervillain's. Soon, those who crosses Baron's path or threaten to expose his dark side will know his true power as Brightburn.

Writers Brian and Mark Dunn pen this unique slasher/superhero hybrid about an unpredictable and corrupted young boy discovering his otherworldly origins and while it does show how dangerous and unstoppable said boy can be with his powers scarily (and gorily) well, the final product felt lacking on character development, ironically predictable and easily comparable to classics like The Bad Seed (1956), given that movie's bodycount was modeled after Friday the 13th-style stalkings with DC comic's Superman's powers as murder weapons.

A lot of missed opportunities could have delve further into the plot and answer some vital questions, more of it concerning Brandon's sudden acceptance to be a death avatar in a cape since he starts out as this intelligent and loving boy who dearly loves his parents. This route may have gave more weight to the scenes wherein our parental figures try to understand their son's murderous streak or simply outright denying it but, on the other side of the coin, the absence of reasoning why we suddenly have Superman-Gone-Way-South here adds to the creepiness of Brightburn (2019), cementing it fittingly as a unique slasher horror that delivers the messy goods along its young alien villain.

As a slasher flick, it exceedingly subverts conventions while -again, ironically- building around them; we still have a masked killer out prowling around, stalking his victims and killing them with relentless brutality like any good slasher, though the superhero elements gave each kill that extra punch not just because of the detailed gore work (both practical and CG), but also on the fact that they're needlessly overpowered, a clear sign on how our killer kid lacks self-control over his powers, either due to him still figuring out his limits or him simply enjoying the power he can unleash. Not to say that the stalk-and-slaughter antics here could genuinely make you feel real dread or fear, but I wont deny that they can be intense.

The movie is far from perfect, relying heavily on typical slasher and child-go-psycho movie tropes that, yes, I am sure many of which we've seen before, but Brightburn (2019) wins me over with its atypical choices, degrading superhero platitudes and, well, for just how good it looks for a film made around an estimated budget of $7,000,000. So if you happen to the that one guy who wonders what would happen if god-like powers fall in the hands of someone who isn’t selfless and moral like a certain Mr. Kent, this is definitely one of many good films to answer that. (Next comes to mind is Chronicle (2012)) If the ending has anything to go by, though, this may not be the last we have seen of Brandon Brightburn Breyer...

1 female attacked, later found with her gut ripped open
1 male crushed inside a dropped truck, jaw smashed open and bled to death
1 male shot through the head with the killer's heat vision
1 male hit by the killer in flight at top speed, slaughtered apart upon impact
1 female beaten through the house, dies from wounds
1 female dropped to her death
268+ victims killed in passenger jet crash
Images (c) Google

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Curious Case of A Camp Counselor: You Might Be The Killer (2018)

You Might Be The Killer (2018)
Rating: ****
Starring: Fran Kranz, Alyson Hannigan, Brittany S. Hall

Meta-slasher gets another contender in the form of this surprisingly enjoyable backwoods kill-a-thon (formerly a Twitter thread) starring Fran Kranz of Cabin In The Woods (2013) (another awesome meta-horror and probable companion piece to this flick, among many) as a hapless camp counselor in the middle of a classic forest-set cat-and-mouse chase with a masked maniac. Or is he?

Waking up blood-caked at night and surrounded by the bodies of his fellow Summer camp employees, Sam (Kranz) finds himself running and soon hiding in a barricaded cabin from a killer who's probably still out there, hacking up anyone at arm's length. Worse, however, is that he can't recall how any of this even started, so he dials up the only help he can get in a slasher situation: his bestfriend Chuck (Alyson Hannigan of the American Pie movies and Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV fame), who works behind the counter of Rings of Saturn, a local comic book shop and who's a happens to know a lot about horror cinema. Particularly the bodycounting kind.

Using her knowledge of tropes and cliches slasher movies are guilty of, Chuck asks Sam for as many details he can recall so she can piece things together and guide him out of this scary mess. From one flashback to the next, Sam's problem further worsens when everything that happens so far (and the matter of fact that he's in possession of a wooden mask and a bloodstained, gator jaw-adorned machete) all leads to the likeliest situation, much to his dismay: he might the killer.

Why and how is this movie's little mystery for us and, whilst the answer comes pretty quick (about twenty minutes or so into the film), the craziness of it all is just fun to watch thanks to the awesome chemistry of this movie's two main casts despite their characters' only interaction was through a phone call, as well as the non-linear flashbacks that help build the anticipation of what could come next and how all of this would end.

As a meta-slasher, jokey winks and nods are a plenty with You Might Be The Killer (2018) as it references its fellow slasher movies from the well known (Fred Krueger gets a name drop and Jason Voorhees' opening revival at Friday The 13th Part VI is suggested as a bright side for Sam. Come to think of it, Friday The 13th got a lot of love in this one!) to the obscure. (Maniac Cop (1988)'s titular killer gets his ugliness compared and I think they referenced either Basket Case (1982) or Sisters (1972) when they brought up a possible conjoined twin killer. That would have been terrible!) The killcount gets an onscreen scoreboard that's actually quite helpful in keeping us up with the flashbacks and the conventional plotting of the sub-genre gets criticized often in snide yet smart deliveries that carry the movie through, pointing out the flaws and improbabilities many horror characters make that are often overlooked for the sake of entertainment. (Not that said flaws and improbabilities are always an issue, mind you. They are, for most cases, what made the slasher sub-genre such a guilty pleasure to watch!)

Once in a while, the movie does subvert some expectations (most of it about Sam trying to survive being killed off himself from the very people he could have chopped to pieces), but at the very heart of it, You Might Be The Killer (2018) is a backwoods slasher and a decent one at that; the cursed mask campfire tale is a fair variation in the sense that instead of a killer being out haunting the woods, it's an object that has the power to possess and act out murder. It's a lore that isn't tackled much when it comes to slasher films so I'm all aboard this idea, especially when the resulting massacre is gory and savage fun, topping up a fairly hefty bodycount. The killer -or rather the evil mask- could have used some more work on its simplistic design as it look less like a wooden mask and more of something intentionally made out of resin fiberglass. Or painted vinyl.

After our main casts figure out what is happening and attempting to stop the mess while the survivor count is still passable, the last act of the film plays out the classic slasher final third wherein the final girl (or girls) gets chased and stalk before our unwilling killer gets one more chance to control himself. This is where the film falters for me as it slowly runs out of steam with the meta-humor and stretches out the final act in an intense yet overly foreshadowed conclusion. I guess I was looking for something out of the ordinary to keep in tone with the movie's strange yet welcoming diverted story, but at the least the bittersweet last minute twist saved the film for me and honestly put a sincere smile on my face.

Ultimately, this is a slasher feature two-people act with Kranz and Hannigan powering through to the end with their comic charisma. You Might Be the Killer (2018) is still flawed with it lacking much development for the rest of the casts, some of the jokes falling flat and, worse of all, suffering from a weak final act, but looking at the bigger picture, its bloody machete is in the right place and does well enough to be quick and quippy. Packed with classic backwoods slasher tropes and well-timed comedy, this is very much a worthy watch for casual and hardcore fans of summer camp massacres. Don't miss out on this one.

1 male ran through the gut with a gator jaw machete
1 female had her throat cut with a gator jaw machete
1 male hacked with a gator jaw machete, gutted
1 male had his head chopped in half with a gator jaw machete
1 female drowned in a pool
1 male impaled through the chest with a gator jaw machete
1 female had her neck repeatedly crushed with a refrigerator door
1 female stabbed with a gator jaw machete
1 female decapitated with a gator jaw machete
1 male had his arms lopped off with a gator jaw machete, stabbed
1 female had her face repeatedly hacked with a shovel
1 male stabbed on the gut with a gator jaw machete
Total: 12