WARNING: THIS BLOG CONTAINS BODYCOUNT. HIGH RISK OF SPOILERS. ENTER IF YOU DARE.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

So I was supposed to see someone Get Out, but ended up in an Island

I actually marked my calendar for these films, but due to a little money issue for a time (which I will no longer talk about coz the people behind my check fixed it. Thank. God), I new I could only see one.

For the first two and a half months of 2017, I kinda noticed that a lot of horror releases were...meh. In fact, there isn't a lot of horror films I'm too excited to see this year except The Wolves at the Door and Terrifier, and those that I had seen, mainly Rings, Bye Bye Man, Don't Hang Up, Pitchfork, Don't Kill It and Galaxy of Horrors, I only got to enjoy Don't Kill It and Galaxy of Horrors. The rest were...ugh.

For March, we had Kong: Skull Island playing at the second week of the month but, unfortunately, I didn't have enough cash to spend then to see the big ape go rampage for my entertainment, so when I found out that Get Out, that one movie with a really intriguing premise and great reviews to follow, is gonna screen at March 15th, I knew I had to see it! I may have missed one premiere, I'm not gonna miss another!

So, as I write this, it's hours after I got back from the cinema and....I didn't get to see Get Out. Turns out, it might have been a limited screening for my country, or that I didn't look hard enough, but these two malls I went to today all have Beauty and the [DATA EXPUNGED] Beast playing! ALMOST ALL! I say "almost coz, of course, they also had to have  Logan and some other movies I didn't really care about...except Kong! Holy Frick, the second mall had the last screening for Kong! More or less, I ended up watching the movie I missed and didn't get to see the movie I wanted for the day. It's still a win scenario for me coz, the movie was just awesome in a monster brawl-out kind of way!

Kong: Skull Island is the second movie in Legendary's Monsterverse series, the first being 2014's Godzilla, a welcome return of the king. In Kong, most of the mythos for the big ape have been rewritten to give more focus on him being a part of an ecosystem full of super species and by that, I meant we get to see some really neat beasts! From hostile ones like a swarm of saw-beaked pteranodons and giant Daddy Long Legs, to calmer critters like giant water buffaloes and, of course, Kong. This is where Skull Island becomes an improvement over the last entry in which Godzilla was "teased" for far too long that a lot of fans seem to point how how there's barely any Godzilla in a Godzilla movie. (Meanwhile, a Filipino man writing this could say the same for the non-90s Gamera movies. Lord knows how on earth did those got popular but I guess people's tastes differ) After 20 to 30 minutes into the movie, after all of the key characters are introduced, the mighty ape wasn't shy to make a full appearance and simply show how he's King and God in his island.

After this rampage, copters torn down and people slaughtered as Kong protects his turf, we get this patterned back-and-forth focus between two groups; one lead by Samuel L Jackson as an Air Service captain who wants to get even with Kong for killing his men, the other lead by Tom Hiddleston as a tracker who ventures through the island hoping to meet with the others which, along the way, discovers with his group that Kong is worth protecting. I will admit that as bland as these characters are, they're a bit of an improvement with the human casts from Godzilla 2014; the Kong humans are not deep and I was underwhelmed by some performances and screentime (I want more John Goodman, please!), but they are slightly more colorful compared to one or two faces from Godzilla. (John C Reily was just cool here as a WWII American survivor who befriended the island's natives) There's also the fact that since this movie focuses more on a controlled number of characters instead of, I dunno, an entire city, I do get to feel for some of these characters a lot easier, though isn't to say that I still expected a lot of them to be monster chow by the end of the movie. (A lot of them were that disposable.)

Still, I think Kong: Skull Island did a great treatment for whatever story was present and stick with what really matters in monster movies, which is, well, giant monsters, giant monsters and giant monster fights. The last fight was just as epic as Godzilla's battle with the two MUTOs in his movie, and though I'm not that "wowed" by the kind of creature they came up for Kong to do a final fight with (it's a lizard with two legs...a tough lizard, but a lizard with two legs nonetheless), at least it was a worthwhile brawl and just brought out a level of badassery that only a titanic ape can do.

If you are planning to see this movie and are just as big of a fan of giant monster movies as I am, I say wait til the end of the ending credit. You are in for a big exciting surprise! As for the rest of you guys, I definitely had fun with this one and in case you are interested, I ain't gonna stop you! It's really nothing else but people walking through an island surviving giant things that'll eat them, but if this is right up your alley then go ahead! It's worth the watch!

(Until then, I guess I have to wait until Get Out comes out in DVD...again)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Million Dollar Murder: The Case of The Scorpion's Tale (1971)

The Case Of The Scorpion's Tale (Italy, 1971) (La coda dello scorpione) (AKA "Scorpion's Tail")
Rating: ***1/2
Starring:  George Hilton, Anita Strindberg, Alberto de Mendoza

After her husband dies from a mid-air plane explosion, Lisa Baumer discovers that she is her late spouse's beneficiary to a million dollar life insurance, an inheritance that seemingly puts her in the middle of everybody's attention and greedy side.

First, the lover she is secretly seeing in London blackmails her into handing a share of the sum or else he will reveal her adulterous affair with him, making the policy invalid. Just as Lisa was about to give in, she later finds him at his apartment dying from a stab wound. Rightfully concerned by this, she then books a flight to Athens where she hopes to safely cash the insurance in full, only to be stalked and threatened by her husband's own mistress, Laura, who believes Mrs. Baumer had something to do with the accident.

Thankfully, Lisa finds a trusting accomplice of sorts during her stay in Athens, an insurance case inspector, Peter Lynch, who she is starting to get sweet on. Meeting him, however, did little to ensure her safety as, after arranging a flight to Tokyo, Lisa gets brutally murdered by a psychotic killer, who then proceeds to make off with the entire million. The murder quickly gets the attention of Lynch, as well as of tabloid reporter Cleo Dupont and police investigator Mr. Benton, and it's now up to them to uncover the truth before the killer strikes again.

An engaging thriller with a fair amount of twists, turns and bloody good violence, The Case of The Scorpion's Tail has one of the more classic giallo set-ups. One that involves a crime full of possible suspects and red herrings, some of who are destined to be bumped off rather brutally. The array of intriguing characters, in turn, are quite bountiful in numbers, enough to make likeable impressions and throw off our leads and fellow viewers whenever they believe certain leads were made. This, however, made the first third of the film a tad slow as it lays out the key players, though I find this a necessary pacing issue as it effectively sets the tone of the movie, allowing us to understand the predicament and dangers our throwaway lead was getting herself into. Eventually, the film's linear direction got everything going with the investigations once our lead got murdered and the cash stolen, and by then we are treated to a workable amount of sleek eye-candy camera work and stylish set-pieces, many of which being the murders.

With a stronger focus on plot, Scorpion does not boasts a high onscreen kill count, but it does make up the executions done for whatever the attacks and murders cooked up for the story, ranging from using laughably obvious fake exploding model airplanes for a tragic disaster, to the rather thrilling cat-and-mouse stalkings courtesy of our killer. (dressed in a full black body suit. Interesting choice) The best among these was the double murder of two suspects, taking place at their own mansion; one got snuffed out after the killer stabs their way through the door with nothing but a knife (!), while the other puts up a daring fight against his assailant, leading to a rooftop scene with a dose of the macabre as worn-out doll parts littered the place. And though these murders rarely went to gorier territories, whatever chance they get to be bloody, they can get bloody! (Keep an "eye" on one scene involving a broken beer bottle)

Scorpion neatly ends itself with a decently surprising climax, packed with a claustrophobic twist and a cliched villain monologue that mostly made sense. (The key term is mostly) A stronger highlight around this part would be the stalking sequence between a lead and a surprise antagonist, perfectly capturing a chilling isolated feel as they stalk and hide from one another atop a lone cavernous rocky island, an overall great way to end an equally great giallo.

With enough unexpected turns and curious characters to either suspect or root for, I can proudly say that true giallo fans deserve a hearty round of The Case of The Scorpion's Tale. Put on your scorpion cuffs and give this one a run!

Bodycount:
A number of people killed in an exploding plane
1 male dies in an exploding plane
1 male found dying from a stab wound
1 female had her throat cut, disemboweled with a knife
1 female had her throat cut with a knife
1 male falls to his death
1 male gets a broken bottle to the eye, knifed to death
1 male shot dead
Total: 7+

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Smart Man, Mad Man: Hollow Man (2000)

Hollow Man (2000)
Rating: ***
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Elisabeth Shue, Josh Brolin

From the get-go, it is possible that this modernized Invisible Man was never intended to be a slasher, but with the bodycount at the later act as well as numerous stalk-and-murder scenes scattered throughout, it just goes to show how much mayhem one invisible sociopathic and homicidal maniac can do.

A group of scientists led by one Dr. Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) is developing an invisibility serum and a counter-serum for the military, and seeing that both worked on their prior animal subjects, Sebastian is nothing but confident about what's technically his greatest achievement, so much so that he decided to do human testings without the authority of the oversight committee and volunteers to be their first human guinea pig.

When the serum successfully rendered Sebastian invisible, he begins to abuse his new state from pranking his colleagues to spying on them. Fearing that he might get out of hand, they decided to try the counter-serum on Sebastian in hopes of returning him to his visible state, but fails due to complications. With Sebastian getting more erratic with each day passing, two of his co-scientists, Dr. Linda McKay (Elisabeth Shue) and Dr. Matt Kensington (Josh Brolin), decided to inform one of the committee of what happened; not wanting to jeopardize his experiments (as well as going a little cuckoo from his isolated state and personal quarrels), Sebastian decided to clean the slate and murder just about everybody else involved in the experiment.

Directed by Scifi maestro Paul Verhoeven of the Starship Troopers and RoboCop fame, Hollow Man primarily focuses on the psychological and emotional effects of pride, power and instinct, showcased here as an experiment-gone-wrong with a foreseeable plot and a small group of characters that did little to make more out of the story. In fact, the only ones that seems to have some depth (read, some) were the three main researchers played by Elisabeth Shue, Josh Brolin and Kevin Bacon, the latter being the titular Hollow Man and the center of the story.

Much like most mad scientists, Sebastian Caine is an arrogant and pessimistic character with low regards on anyone other than himself and is quick to abuse his new found condition as if he had all of these intentions for a while and just waiting for the perfect opportunity to do it. From simple jokes to unsettling silent stalking, from home invasion and rapes to actual murder, the story is really nothing less than us following Caine slowly embracing his new invisible state, while at the same time, abhorring it as it isolated him from the normal world and (after his own team decided to alert their officials) also became the very thing that might destroy him and his reputation as a proud scientist.

The movie passes through this descent to madness rather quickly, factoring more on his misdeeds before finally shifting into a slasher of sorts where he locks his own team inside the lab and starts killing them one at a time. It’s shallowly entertaining as the simplistic murders were elevated thanks to some okay special and visual effects, intense direction, hectic pacing, and a blazing finale. With this, Hollow Man is an easy film to enjoy only (and only) if you look at it as a popcorn movie.

There’s really no depth here other than a man going maniacal after being given a power nobody else possesses, a typical mad science horror story with a small dash of methodical murders. Being a Hollywood production also meant that Hollow Man is no short of workable visual and audio quality, but it is a bit estranged as a Verhoeven film since the man is known for directing much more epic scifi masterpieces and this movie just felt too “commercial” as it hardly match up with the exploitative and outlandish nature of most of the films he directed.

So if special effects and clich├ęd evil science plots are a thing of fun for you then Hollow Man shouldn’t disappoint.

Bodycount:
1 dog smashed against a kennel
1 male drowned in a pool
1 female garroted
1 male thrown and had his neck torn against a metal pipe, bled to death
1 female had her neck snapped
1 male ran through with a crowbar
1 male falls into an exploding building
Total: 7

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Change: Switch Killer (2005)

Switch Killer (2005) (AKA "Trans-American Killer")
Rating: ***
Starring:  Cara Jo Basso, Eric Bishop, Monique Chachere

Sometimes the trashiness of a bad movie can be said movie's own life saver, especially if there isn't anything else going in the plot department.

Tired and frightened of her boyfriend's iron fist treatment, closet lesbian and stripper Jamie escapes her abusive partner, Bobby, and drives to Las Vegas in hopes of starting anew. Time passes and it seems little changed in Jamie's favor as her new girlfriend, Brooke, mistreats and cheats on her, and a mysterious woman appears to be dropping by strip clubs, knifing anyone that comes across her path. What does this serial killing femme fatale had anything to do with Jamie, you ask? Well, with a title like "Switch" Killer (Or it's more obvious alternate, "Trans-American" Killer), you do the math.

Sleazy and crazy from beginning to end, Switch Killer harks back to old-school slashers like Driller Killer(1979), Maniac (1980), and Las Vegas Bloodbath (1989), in which we explore the gritty and dirty urban jungle known as the city underbelly while it is under attack by yet another elusive serial killer. Switch Killer is basically no different with its overly abundant amount of gratuitous nudity, and stripper shenanigans, though it did try to do a little bit of downtown drama following the struggles of our obvious final girl, Jamie. Sometimes it works, thanks to actress Cara Jo Basso's fair portrayal of the down-in-luck-and-love lead, but the tone can get uneven with the movie's hamminess and the inevitably more noticeable sleaziness courtesy of the many random T&A nakedness, so the drama is basically hit-or-miss.

Still, this does little to damage the trashy slasher fun Switch Killer offers since the movie's technically putting all of its focus on that; despite the 65 minute running time, the remaining 20 plus minutes is really nothing more than a hodge-pode of an overly long ending credit, a cool music video and a hilarious fake informercial about mankind's most favorite gas powered killing machine: the chainsaw. The 40 minute mid-feature, in turn, comes with a relatively quick-steady pacing and a lot of workable slasher scenes, simple murders that hits a perfect balance of being bloody and slightly creative, with an oddly insane (and possibly offensive) villain committing them all in the name of love. (Or something crazy like that) Perhaps the strongest of these murders (and possibly the best part of the movie) is when Bobby finally confronts Jamie, showed how much he "changed" for her and gave chase around the neighbourhood until they crash a backyard New Years party. What follows include Bobby going batshit stabby at everyone at the party, Jamie arming herself with a chainsaw to battle her ex, and one of the greater final girl-vs-killer fight to come out of a low budget slasher.

Switch Killer is a definite movie equivalent to a bag of cheese-flavored chips; it has a big look to its quality despite offering little in reality. It's hardly all that smart and engaging, but one would probably knew what they were getting themselves into and more or less just dove in to start consuming the cheesy junk just for the sake of entertainment. It's whether one will prefer sticking with said junk or not that is the real query here and while they figure that out, I certainly found a new guilty pleasure in this movie. What say you?

Bodycount:
1 female repeatedly knifed, ran over by a train
1 female knifed, had her throat cut
1 female stabbed on the head with an air pump
1 male knifed on the chest
1 female knifed to death
1 male had his throat slashed with a knife, caught on fire
1 female knifed
1 male knifed
1 male knifed
1 female knifed
1 female had her gut sliced with a knife
1 male knifed
Total: 12

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Poke Me With A Fork: Pitchfork (2016)

Pitchfork (2016)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Daniel Wilkinson, Brian Raetz, Lindsey Nicole

The last two slasher movies I saw that advertised their killers as "the next face of horror" were The Gallows and Charlie's Farm. These two movies, while not entirely great, were at least good enough of a watch thanks to Gallows' near-perfect blending of paranormal found footage and slasher tropes, and Charlie's Farm's acceptable practical grue and a workable monster of a villain. Thinking I might hit the same luck with Pitchfork, I gave this movie a chance despite noticing some questionable quality from the trailer itself, as well as seeing the increasing number of mixed reviews in the web. What can I say? Experience is the best teacher, right?

Pitchfork follows Hunter, a young man who just came out in the open gay, visiting his home town and meeting his family for the time since he left for the city. And since his father isn't too keen on having a gay son (or so I think. Kinda hard to assume since he and our protagonist hardly interacted), Hunter also tagged along his gang of rowdy friends as his emotional support and, as low budget slasher laws demand it, one of their means of supporting their queer pal is to hold out a party inside a nearby barn, turning it into a Southern rave and inviting ho-down hungry townies for dances, booze and the occasional premarital sex. As night falls deeper, it wasn't too long before we are introduced to Pitchfork, a lean feral man in brown shorts and fur mask, with a pitchfork for a left hand and a clear intention to kill anyone that just so happens to be in the way, which spells nothing but bloody bad news for Hunter, his family and everybody else.

There's not a lot to say about Pitchfork other than it is yet another low budget slasher done mediocre, with a plot actually missing out the opportunity to make use of what could be an interesting gay coming-of-age element and instead stuck with the typical paint-by-number bodycounter. Any potential drama concerning the lead's gender preference are discarded once the partying and murdering starts, favoring the familiar route of teens being teens and masked slashers being masked slashers which I guess could have been forgivable if said route was any better.

You could say the film suffers from disposable characters who, for some reason, resembles late 80s/early 90s horror movie victim with near-stereotypical wardrobe choices, making it easy to spot the jock, the nerd, the token blacks and the possible final girl among many other tropes. I guess this was an attempt to make the story feel timeless, throwing back to the era wherein slasher victims simply exist as meat for the carnage, but with the kind of acting quality seen here, I can't help but find myself distracted by the wooden or (occasional) over acting and the overly simplified characterization of our thespians.  At times I chuckle out of the sheer silliness of what these characters do (like one scene wherein both Hunter and Pitchfork do charging poses against one another, a cool moment if done at the right time), but there were more moments that left me staring blankly at the movie, feeling nothing for just about anyone on-screen.

Now, if the problems were only bad acting and an unfairly easy story, I would have still given Pitchfork a better rating as a slasher since it is pretty cheesy fun so far. Sadly, the film just had to have most of the guys killed off by the hour and leave me annoyingly disappointed by going down the dreaded "torture porn" route, courtesy of Pitchfork and/or a pair of sadistic nutcases thrown in just for the last act for reasons I can only imagine as a tribute to the original 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre, only less gritty and more desperate. So much so that the supposed intense torture scenes still have that cheesy tint to them, breaking any sense of dread this unnecessary and tired curveball was supposed to have.

Add an even cheesier mid-ending credit scene that's probably meant to be a pitch for possible franchising, and Pitchfork more or less lost control of its own story by the end of it all. It's sad, really, as I really wanted to like the decent-looking killer this movie is advertising for us, but there's really nothing all that great with the story done for him. Despite the attempts to do something more than just teens being slaughtered, the overall product just felt too uneven and overworked, probably one of the few times a slasher could have benefited from being simple. 

Next face of horror? Well, Pitchfork, not quite. You have a long way to go...

Bodycount:
1 female stabbed on the face, killed offcamera
1 female stabbed with a pitchfork
1 female knifed on the neck
1 male stabbed on the head with a pitchfork
1 male gets a thrown axe to the back
1 female stabbed on the chest with a pitchfork
1 male and 1 female murdered offcamera
1 male knifed on the chest
1 female stabbed to death with a pitchfork
1 male stabbed to death with a steel rod
1 male stabbed on the temple with knives
1 female cannibalized
Total: 13

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Have You Checked The Kids? Again? And Again?: When A Stranger Calls Triple Bill Review

From saying forbidden names to invoke a killer, to inspiring murder methods or modus of deranged maniacs, it's fair to say that urban legends have been good influences to a great deal of slasher movies, from the likes of masterpieces such as Candyman (1992) or the underrated Urban Legend (1998), to oddballs like The Hook of Woodland Heights (1992) or the strange sorta-anthology Amusement (2009).

Among these tales that may have happened to someone you know who knew someone you know, one story involving a babysitter and a man upstairs appears to be a repeating influence, inspiring villains from Wes Craven's Scream, Black Chirstmas (1974), the new throwback slasher Fender Bender (in a way with a cellphone) and possibly many more horror sickos out there to call their victims creepily before going for the kill. Apart from this, the legend is also the main plot element of a strange little franchise. One that barely shed any blood but works really hard on the creep department. One that simply follows what happens... When a Stranger Calls!

When a Stranger Calls (1979)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Rutanya Alda

Young Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) wasn't expecting much from her evening babysitting the Mendrakis children. Both kids were already asleep when their parents left them under her care, leaving her with hours to kill before the folks return. The night unfortunately turns chilling when a raspy caller starts phoning the household and asking Jill if she checked the children. The further the night goes, the more erratic the calls become, so much so that Jill eventually phones the cops and was advised to have him talk long enough for them to trace. This only leads to a shocking revelation as the calls were coming from inside the house.

Jill survived as the police managed to get there in time to save her, but the same can't be said for children as the caller already made his way to them, tearing them to pieces with nothing but his bare hands. All of this in the first 20 minutes into the movie and it is rightfully considered by many as the best sequence not just from the film, but also one out of many horror flicks out there, with its well-escalated tension and perfectly timed reveal working perfectly with the already nightmarish scenario.

After this lengthy scare, the plot jumps ahead seven years and we now watch our killer, Curt Duncan, trying to live a normal existence after escaping his asylum, shifting the film's gears from a potential slasher to a slow-burning hybrid between a cop thriller and a character study. It's a route that gambled with the audience's expectations, particularly those who were expecting the same stalk-and-murder hijinx many slashers this film influenced later in the years, and though I am one of the many who didn't enjoy this shift per se, I cannot deny the few good points this curveball had to offer.

For one, I have to give credit to the late Tony Beckley for his portrayal of our titular Stranger, giving us a rather pathetic and depressing look into a psychopath's world which may have been influenced by Beckley's ailing health as he struggles with cancer during filming. Seeing our supposed villain at his lowest, seeking empathy, a cold brew and a bed to sleep on for the night is not a struggle we normally see and we almost feel bad for him, especially since we can see at some extent that he is trying.

The cat-and-mouse element was even turned against Duncan when John Clifford (Charles Durning), the cop that saved Jill-turned-private investigator for hire, starts to hunt him down with an intent to kill instead of returning him to the asylum. Think Dr. Loomis to Michael Myers from John Carpenter's Halloween except, well, we can really tell Duncan is human and desperately needs help rather than to be put down six feet under. Should the film found a more satisfying way to work this inverted slasher set-up, I would have liked Stranger more, but its monumentally dragging pace, one-note atmosphere, and near-absence of relatable characters made it hard for me to follow.

You could say that too much of the gloom went into the middle act that it almost felt like one long sulking session and barely anything else. This turned Stranger into a chore to sit through that not even it's last act, in which Duncan finally snaps back to his old habits and somehow found a way to terrorize Jill again and threaten her new family, seems to be all that worthy of the trouble. Not to say I didn't enjoy the last 15 to 10 minutes of the film, certainly not with its level of creepiness and chilling twists, but so much of the downbeat middle act drained any good opportunity to be excited about this last confrontation between Jill and Duncan that it just felt compromised. (I mean, if Duncan's going to resort hunting her down anyway, why waste an entire hour with him working his way to a random lady he met at a bar? Sure would have been nice to catch up with Jill post-babysitting peril a tad better too, instead of just throwing her in right out of the blue!)

As a whole, When A Stranger Calls just didn't work too well for me. Though I love the opening and the ideas this film had for its boogeyman, the sudden tone shift and lack of any exciting material to go with said shift just killed the entirety. Still, I cannot disregard this movie's earned respect and fan following, especially with the strong leverage it has on a lot of slasher flicks, which is kinda impressive for a film that barely counts as a slasher. As that one guy who always believe in the saying "to each his/her own", this seems to be my case with this "slasher" classic.

Bodycount:
1 boy and 1 girl implied mangled
1 male shot dead
Total: 3

When a Stranger Calls Back (1993)
Rating: **
Starring: Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Jill Schoelen

Fourteen years after director Fred Walton brought big screen scares with nothing but a phone, a voice, and an unnecessarily long yet interesting look into a psychopath's depression, he returns to the directorial chair to give 90s TV a direct sequel to his chiller classic When A Stranger Calls. Whether this is an improvement or not seems to be subjective.

Much like the original, When a Stranger Calls Back begins with another babysitter-in-peril act, this time with late 80s/early 90s scream queen Jill Schoelen as Julia, the tormented sitter. While busy killing time while her wards are sleeping, she gets a strange phone call and, later, a man suddenly appears at the doorstep, claiming his car broke down and needs her help. While Julia tries to lie her way out from interacting with the man any further, their conversation grows sinister and things around her house starts to reappear in different places without her noticing. Julia soon realizes that someone had broken in and, much to her horror, abducted the children.

Five years later and Julia is now a young college student, unable forget the events of that fateful night and will learn, much to her horror again, that it might be far from over as someone apparently broke into her apartment and left a single piece of child's clothing for her to find. Sure that the same man from years ago is back and stalking her, she goes to the police who are more than sure to shoot her claims down as paranoia, save one Jill (Carol Kane), the survivor from the last movie and the campus' director of women services, who sees a bit of her own past struggles on the girl's predicament. While agreeing to look after Julia and teach the girl how to defend herself, Jill also tagged along an old friend, retired investigator John Clifford (Charles Durning), to look into the stalking case and see if there might be something they can do to further help her. Unknown to them all, the stalker is closing in and isn't too happy with this new set-up. So much so that he might as well just hurt Julia...

Much like the first movie, I wanted to enjoy When A Stranger Calls Back but couldn't all the way due to a lot of set backs, the first of many being the opening in which Schoelen was terrorized by the titular stranger. For some  reason, I just couldn't find it that interesting to watch a girl be "harassed" by someone behind a door, even with the added "scares" of things turning up in places they weren't supposed to be. The phone calls from the original movie work because it's pretty simple yet the twist regarding where the caller is originating from managed to heighten the creep factor from 0 to 10 in just a matter of seconds. Here, conversing with an unknown stranger is creepy and there is a bit of shock value regarding said stranger's whereabouts, but it didn't have the same simplistic yet powerful impact as the urban legend-based scare of the original.

Much of the story after the opening followed the same format of the first film, again dropping the potential slasher plot and shifting the genre to a crime thriller about a possible stalking case. This means no blood, (surprisingly) no implied murders for the most part, and a lot of these scenes simply concerns Jill helping Julia defend herself by teaching her all sorts of defenses such as shooting a gun, while Clifford starts to investigate what happened that night the children were taken. It's should have been fine and dandy for me, but it felt overly long due to the absence of the stalker and that many of the supposed stalkings occurring were simply implied through Julia's cries and suspicions, thus killing a lot of the film's intensity and perhaps teased itself too much.

Thankfully there's a decent focus on our leads that I actually enjoyed, this including a stronger and more mature portrayal of Carol Kane's Jill, as well as a more approachable and likable Charles Durning with his more grounded and less vigilante-esque John. Unfortunately, I can't say I felt all that invested with Schoelen's character however as, while I find it understandable that her Julia had to be an emotional wreck after the events that transpired many moons ago, it felt like the story just used her to get a point to Jill, that history is repeating itself, before discarding her for the rest of the second act and pretty much had the story focus on Kane's character. (Think Psycho's man girl shifting from Marion Crane to Lisa Crane, only "Lisa" gets introduced earlier.)

I also felt a lot of disappointment regarding the stalker once we finally get to see him. He definitely has unnerving scenes (the hospital "visit" being his creepiest) and I did find his "disappearing gimmick" rather note-worthy in a way that I can barely recall any other horror psychos out there pulling off something like that, but he's basically just another shadowy loon, hardly fleshed out and
ended a little way too easy after all that lengthy build-up. Not impressive at all.

I understand attempts and, again like the first movie, I actually like a few ideas played here. I like how the two main casts from the original grew up in the right direction here. I like the outlandish traits our villain mastered. Just wishing they could have pulled it off a little better, perhaps evened out the  thriller elements with some proper scares once in a while to actually make the troubles our stranger were doing seems all that worthy of being worked up upon. But nope, The ball dropped pretty low for me from the very beginning, but at least I get to see When A Stranger Calls Back try to keep it somewhat watchable. Sometimes that's rather enough.

Bodycount:
1 boy and 1 girl mentioned passed away
1 male shot dead
Total: 3

When A Stranger Calls (2006)
Rating: ***
Starring: Camilla Belle, Tommy Flanagan, Katie Cassidy

Much like most "remakes" that happened in the 90s/2000s, When a Stranger Calls circa 2006 was less about re-telling the original 1979 thriller classic of the same title to a new generation of movie-goers. Instead, it was more of casually nodding to said original while building it's own story which, in this case, is a slasher. A bloodless, partially tedious yet satisfyingly okay-ish slasher.

When a Stranger Calls '06 follows Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle), a teenager who is currently grounded for going over the minutes of her cellphone plan and will be taking a babysitting gig at the Mandrakis' lakeside fortress mansion this one night as a part of her punishment and as a mean to save up for her bills. With the children already asleep by the time she got there, her phone taken away as a begrudging agreement with her parents and her friends partying at a bonfire elsewhere, Jill is simply sullen and bored out of her wits, but it all soon takes a sinister turn when a random caller starts to reach her repeatedly, asking her if she checked the kids.

For a while, Jill thought it's just someone fooling around (and seemingly so when her supposed bestie drops by, trying to make peace for kissing Jill's boyfriend), but with the house keeper suddenly disappearing and the alarm keeps going off, she soon learns that something's amiss and the increasingly violent calls are coming from someplace she least expected...

Unlike the original, which was a slow-burning thriller with a strong psychological aftertaste, When a Stranger Calls '06 has a structure resembling a classic slasher, less in the sense of bodycounting and exploiting blood, guts and gratuitous nudity, but more on building tension and a focused cat-and-mouse antic the subgenre is commonly known for, at least around the next half of the film's run. Until then, replacing the gore and T&A is a copious amount of teen-centered dilemma, problems that pander to the teenage demographic this film was aimed at and do nothing but tests the patience of the rest. This being said, those expecting limbs flying or blades stabbing will be disappointed by the movie's dryness, even though one can see one or two opportunities the movie could have spilled just a little blood, while those wanting nail-biting terror may have to sit through Jill being the millennial teenager before the creepy calls finally goes graphic, the classic twist is revealed and the stranger finally makes an appearance.

Personally, I have no problem going through the teen drama as Camilla Belle played Jill pretty well. The only real issue I have with Calls '06 is the effectiveness of the twist; even if, let's say, you never heard of the Babysitter And The Man Upstairs urban legend the plot was inspired from, the movie not only ruined the reveal by incorporating it to the opening credits-slash-opening murders (which, on a hindsight, is pretty chilling on it's own, a lot to say for something that lets us hear the murders instead of showing it), but some of the film's trailers also blatantly gave this away. This overselling killed off whatever fun can be made out of this movie's only worthwhile gimmick, making the transition from drama to thriller feel rather lengthy despite the near-90 minute run and might as well be the very reason why this movie didn't work out too well, a shame because everything that happens after the reveal is pretty workable.

Taking advantage of the ridiculously large house and it's isolated state, Calls 06' pulls off what can be one of the more entertaining cat-and-mouse act I've seen in a PG-13 horror flick. The added fact that we have additional survivors frighteningly clinging unto Jill's guidance also heightened the intensity of the stranger's attacks, as we root and hope for the safety of not only our lead girl, but also for these little surprises.

I also love how the movie's lighting, camera work and editing managed to make a seemingly everyday loonie more menacing, keeping his face hidden underneath shadows and behind tainted glass until that one chilling moment wherein both Jill and this stranger lock eyes, one filled with worry while the other filled with rage. The stranger here may not be all that memorable in any standards, either as a slasher villain or as a personality, but at least he had Lance Henriksen (Pumpkinhead (1988)'s Ed Harley) voicing him, and the actor used kinda looks like Kevin Spacey from Se7en so that has to count for something, especially since Spacey was friggin' unnerving at that movie.

Overall and over time, I learned to accept the flaws When A Stranger Calls 06' have and it kinda earned a spot as one of my many guilty pleasures. It may not have an impressive kill count, or kills for that matter, but whatever counts in this thriller counts pretty okay and sometimes that's all I could ask for. Worth a rent or for keeps!

Bodycount:
1 female, 1 boy and 2 girls mangled offcamera, screams heard
1 female murdered, method unknown
1 female found dead inside a greenhouse
Total: 6
~~~

And there you have it. Apparently I'm one of the few dumb ones who prefer things the old-fashioned way, even if said old-fashioned way lacks most of the very elements I enjoy from a bodycounting gore-spilling slasher flick. As a franchise, When A Stranger Calls is an interesting series, one that shows how one plot can influence many from a certain horror subgenre and how flexible the slasher formula can be. Granted it's not the best series to cater for my taste of slasher fun, at least each entry has something to offer and I am glad I gave each a try. 

Now with that done, I wonder when are we going to have a horror franchise focusing on the Humans can lick too urban legend?