Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Hunt is On: Wolf Creek (2005)

Wolf Creek (Australia, 2005) (AKA "Boogie Creek")
Rating: ****1/2
Starring: Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi

Ah, the memories I had with this movie. It was a few weeks after Grandmother passed away that I finally get to see this film on cable TV and seeing I was house-sitting for the family as we prepare to move in to gramma's house some days later, I get to see this alone. Late at night. Uncut. What I was able to learn that night was, clearly, this film was made to scare and disturb.

Based on a real murder case known as the Backpacker Murders, Two English tourists, Liz and Kristy and their Australian friend Ben are on a trip to the land down under, partying their nights away as they journey across hot desserts and wildlife to see a 30,000 year old crater known as Wolfe Creek. Upon reaching said destination, however, they find themselves under the complications that their car won't start and stranded as day passes to night. They are soon rescued by a Mick Taylor (John Jarrett), an outback hick who tows them to his home and invited them to stay overnight around his camp until help arrives in the morning. Needless to say, if Mick's eccentric nature was not a clear sign of a problem, the tourists will soon find out his real intentions as rotting corpses are found and a hunting rifle is drawn at them.

There's some ingenuity regarding, if not as a whole, Wolf Creek's direction and characterization; while we never get to know our leads that deeply, they are however likable as their sincere nature and fun-filled mission are crossed between shots of scenery and wildlife as they travel and experience everything Australia has to offer but in a sense of simply hanging out with your friends and have a good time. It's a nice alternative to scripting character development for making a character root worthy, especially once we get our first hint of trouble: Mick's thousand yard stare.

Now, apart from these chaps, we also Jarrett's character drawing some memorable light, even more than all three of them combined and for a good reason; despite looking like a Crocodile Dundee knock-off, the serial killing hick is perhaps the film's biggest strength and one of the most genuine addition to slasher villains that will haunt ages. On the exterior, he looks like a grungy yet well-meaning hick who just wants some company over his lonesome trailer, but once he catches you off-guard, he's more than happy to bring you hell in any way imaginable.

Knowing his sudden presence is too good to be a true good Samaritan, we anxiously wait for him to snap; when it did happen, it was all too suddenly as we're re-introduced to our casts in media res of a horrendous situation, gagged, beaten and assaulted. Around this part, it's all familiar footings as Mick engages to a cat-and-mouse game to the unfortunate backpackers, torturing and hunting them at the dead of the night. Some old cliches are found around this act but they're thankfully overshadowed by a level of intensity and realism of the situation, creepy even as Mick's witty comebacks has a bit of sick naturalism in it. (though his sudden ability to reappear in the right moment in the right time is sheer movie magic) There's also some nice grainy visual that utilizes night shots of vast plains and rocky mountains, coming up as a bit of a taunt at the victims as if showing how helpless they are in their predicament.

While there is a bit of wait before all this chaos happens, it's well worth it; the movie is notorious, unsettling and brutal, pulling off the most terrifying acts of depravity and torture despite the miniature kill count. Genius actually as with only two leads trying to escape we get to focus more of our attention to them, thus amplifying the tension; just goes to show that a slasher can sometimes work without a high bodycount just so long as the thrill pumps it running and fear, may it be the casts' or ours, keeps it alive. (And judging from the appalled "normie" critics, I think this movie pulled its job quite perfectly!)

It's not gonna be everybody's cup of rainwater but for those who had the guts to sit through this nightmare better brace themselves; sadism, degrading assault and complete hopelessness are waiting to greet you at Wolf Creek.

1 female corpse seen headless and rotting
1 female got her spine severed with a bowie knife, killed
1 male shot through the eye with a rifle
1 female shot with a rifle
1 male corpse seen crucified to the wall, rotting
Total: 5

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sing Until You Scream: Stage Fright (2014)

Stage Fright (Canada, 2014)
Rating: ***
Starring:  Minnie Driver, Meat Loaf, Allie MacDonald

Musicals. Loved by some, hated by most. Especially by movie-goers of our bloody standards.

People singing at the drop of a hat while something horrifying is happening around or even to them is more of a comic than straight horror so it's very rare to have a film that works on both sides unless you are looking for cheese. Plot are usually thin for these kind of movies so there's a risk of the movie falling apart as a whole if it fails to make any kind of impression whether it's the songs, story or direction.

Now, I myself is a fair fan of musicals and I don't mind the cheesy songs so long as they're catchy and memorable, and seeing that I'm sort of used to the cheese, I don't mind the hammy lines and the overacting just as long as they don't overdo it. Far as I can tell, however, the only worthy horror musicals out there are REPO! The Genetic Opera, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Little Shop of Horror (1986) as they perfectly mixed humor and horror with a catchy tune that deserves our ears, so I am crossing my fingers with this new entry, promising blood, laughs and bloody good numbers.

Coming from the same great guy who brought you the short The Legend of Beaver Dam, Jerome Sable, Stage Fright tells the story of Center Stage, a performing arts summer camp that helps aspiring theater actors, directors, musical conductors and the likes reach the greatness of their skills and talents. This year's production happens to be an infamous piece known as the Haunting of The Opera, wherein ten years ago since it was last produced, a lead singer (Minnie Driver) was brutally murdered by a masked assailant leaving her children under the care of the play's producer, Roger McCall (Meat Loaf)

Just so it happens, however, that said children works at the camp under their father's supervision and employment as cooks and the mere news of the production sparked the passion for singing in one of their hearts, much of the disapproval of her brother and some of the divas. After a successful audition, Camilla (Allie MacDonald) gets a chance to play the lead, meaning her dreams might indeed come true despite the competition. That is until somebody wearing a prop mask began killing the actors and staffs in bloody ways, apparently out of hatred for musicals.

Stage Fright is passable slasher that did deliver the goods but not without going through the bad; the first third seems to be true on its claim as a slasher musical comedy with a splashy red opening kill followed by a funny and corny song about being different yet loved by everybody in camp (since they're all into musicals and stuff) but after our lead got a part in the play, the film stopped and lagged around with some uninteresting character development and shots of a maniac looming around in the air vents. (in typical Phantom of the Opera fashion) Some jokes and songs are tosses around in, but they're not as catchy or crowd pleasing than the first few in the batch.

It wasn't until the first kill in the camp that the ball got rolling again, revealing the killer in his KIZZ inspired kabuki mask and a rock-and-roll high note. My problem with this though is that it's around a quarter before the hour mark that this happens, meaning those who are a little impatient with their grue or a tad intolerant with musicals might be tempted to switch off the film.

To be honest, even the kill count isn't much to be desired and so is the gore. We get one shoved light bulb, throat stabbing and a very bloody evisceration but the rest are pretty tame and simple murders. Still, acting is right on the mark, the cinematography and score is simply beautiful and energetic, and the last few minutes of the movie is pretty cool with some workable twist and surprises played straight with much intensity and creepiness, even if you saw some of it miles away.

All in all, Stage Fright needed some polishing but otherwise it is a nice debut feature for a production used to making shorts. It is predictable, perhaps some more murders and a few tweaks on the pacing would've improved it but fans of slasher and musicals (if there are more out there), you may have a keeper here!

1 female repeatedly stabbed on the throat, knife to the mouth
1 male shoved mouth-first to a lamp bulb, electrocuted
1 female found with nails driven to her face
1 male stabbed with a pair of scissors
1 female has her throat cut with a saw blade
1 male knifed to death
1 male eviscerated with a buzzsaw
Total: 7

Happy Easter Everybody...

Mmm. Candy.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Surfs Up, Chicklette!: Psycho Beach Party (2000)

Psycho Beach Party (US/Australia, 2000)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Lauren Ambrose, Nicholas Brendon, Thomas Gibson

Let's say you got a huge melting pot and you put in a bit of Scooby-Doo inspired whodunit and retro-ness, a 60s teen drama with a lot of surfing, and a series of 80s slasher-style killing spree. The result? More or less, you'll get this fun and very weird dead teenager film!

Set in the loving, sunny and sandy 60s America, young Florence Forrest just wants to surf; while most girls around her age are interested in boys and sex, she wants to ride the waves with the dudes and just have a good time. But hindering her from her saltwater tide-riding dreams would be the occasional bullies, Florence's overbearing mum who's past as the town tart hadn't gotten over her yet, and the fact that Florence herself has multiple personalities, triggered whenever she sees a certain shape or pattern.

Oh, and did I forget to mention there's a gloved killer out offing people? Well, yeah, there's that, too, and they already took out one girl on a crowded drive-in theater a night before so it's inevitable that a manhunt will happen.

But fate seems to finally open up to Florence whilst the chaos; consulting a surfing legend known as The Great Kanaka, a gang of rowdy, lovable (yet interestingly pale) beach boys gave it a shot teaching her how to surf. Things are going fine, with Florence even earning a surfer's name, "Chicklette", that is until the bodycount began to rise and her over-sexed counterpart "Ann Bowman" suddenly surfaces and smittens some boys, including The Great Kanaka himself! 

Could there be a reason behind the murders? Are there any connections? What is it behind Florence's multiple personalities? And did character in this film ever noticed those breasts on that supposedly male cop?

Based on an off-Broadway play of the same name, Psycho Beach Party is something of a John Waters version of a 60s teen film (possibly Gidget (1969)?). Camp is skyrocket high on this film and nailed everything a vintage beach film should be; hammy lines, cheesy acting and even some humorously questionable special effects are used on some scenes just to authenticate the nostalgic feel of the film, but what I applaud on Psycho Beach Party is that it managed to ring in some good casts and build enough likable characters to have us watching in interest.

Unfortunately, while it got the 50s surfer film part right, the rest of the mix didn't go in too well; the psycho-drama didn't sink in thanks to this movie's upbeat and spoofy tone, so any sense of empathy or plight are either uneven or totally absent. Murders are also simplified and mostly strays away from the red stuff but some are a bit comical enough in a satirical sense and morbid sense to be forgiven.

It's more of a matter of taste and audience that makes Psycho Beach Party works; some may find the lack of any real depth for most of its characters and the point that the script may not work quite as well on the big screen as it does on a play, but I'm sure there will be those who will appreciate the uber-high level of cheesiness and nostalgia the movie reeks off and dwells in so generously, even if it had not reached a considerable success. Least to say, everybody involved in the production tried and I'm a sucker for unique dead teenager films that really worked for it. So that being said, I'm more than willing to overlook any flaws for the silly entertainment this film has to offer. It's not a perfect spoof or hybrid in anyway, but it passes with flying, -er I meant, surfing colors.

1 female gets a throat cut with a knife
1 male found dismembered
1 male knifed on the chest, castrated
1 female found beheaded
1 boy thrown off a swing set, killed
1 male shot to death, falls to his death
1 male knifed
Total: 7

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Because they were home: The Strangers (2008)

The Strangers (2008) (AKA "The Faces")
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Scott Speedman, Liv Tyler, Gemma Ward

Back in 2006, France released Ils (or Them for you non-French), a home invasion thriller that borrowed some slasher elements and yet was able to create something intense and utterly realistic. Cliches such as investigating noises in the dark as well as renting cabins deeply isolated in the woods may still be present, but at least the directors knew how to make the cast work and their choices realistic.

In 2008, a similarly plotted horror film called The Strangers came out, also focusing on a couple in a cabin deep in the woods only to be terrorized by intruders that night. What sets this from Them though is that the clichés are more exploited, or at least it appears to be.

The film opens with the aftermath; three bodies are found bloodied by two Mormon boys in a lakeview cabin. A car outside is burnt to scrap, and signs of struggle and attack was found all over the house.

We then see a couple at a wedding party, hours prior to this discovery; James Hoyt and Kristen McKay spends the night in Hoyt's backwoods cabin in hopes of proposing to Kristen. This unfortunately lead to a rocky strain to their relationship when she rejected him and left the two in a state of awkwardness and disappointment.

The silence was broken, however, when a girl came knocking on the door asking for someone they didn't know and then leaves when she realizes she's on the wrong house. Brushing this incident as a random encounter, James leaves Kristen to buy some cigarettes after phoning in a friend to pick him up. This proves to be a mistake when strange things started happening around the cabin in his absence; things are moved, phones ends up burnt in fireplaces, more strange knockings; it soon reveals that the girl they encountered before has returned. And she brought friends.
Do you see him?
Managing to survive their first assault, Kristen hides away until James came back and finds her cowering. Though skeptical and writing the attack as sheer paranoia, James soon realizes that there are indeed people outside terrorizing them, making it clear that their intentions are far from friendly.

As a whole, The Strangers felt more like the climax from a slasher movie drawn out to a feature as in most cases, the last third of a film from that sub-genre always involved our leads discovering the murders and tries their best to outwit and survive their attackers. The Strangers did this though with a disappointing drawback; by making the two leads undergo a troubled relationship early on the film, the sense of empathy and tension was rattled. We can't root for these people since we no longer feel frightened for their future but rather we're now merely observing ordinary people that may or may not deserve what's coming to them due to their sad and/or disappointing choices.
And why not just run them over with your car?
Of course, I'm not saying they deserved being terrorized in their own home by three deranged intruders but any further reason to root for them or find any interest for these casts is troubled.

There's no real story, too, as most of the movie's emphasis were more on the stalkings and psychological torture the intruders are unleashing to their victims which further frustrates some (or rather most) viewers due to their cliched responses from these attacks. What was working for the movie, however, is its slick look and well handled direction when it comes to evoking tension and shock scares from these scenes.

The film kept a gritty and retro-looking exploitation-like feel as the villains has no backstory and their identities are obscured all though the movie; though in today's day and age, you can simply browse through the web to see what these killers really look like without their masks, the effect of their lack of identity and motive sinks in quite nicely as a sense of catharsis can be felt out of the sheer randomness of their crime. Add the fact the film was based on real cases of home invasions and unsolved murders, and you probably will have the urge to check your locks before going to bed after seeing this movie.

It's not a perfect thriller but The Strangers knew what it wanted, just failed to see how to make it work properly. If they had given us a more worthy cast or set character for these killers to take on, we would have something better to talk about in this review. For fans of plot-less yet scare-driven thrillers, you could give this one a shot.

1 Male shot on the face with a shotgun
1 male knifed to death
Total: 2

Saturday, April 12, 2014

101 Maniacs: Admin's Top Slashers 60-51

*As of 2014*

Inspired and tempted by this delicious countdown,  Here be my personal Top 101 Slasher movies that really stood out the most!

Note: These are in no particular order (save the last ten) and they're all personal picks, so, nope. Your faves or your orders does not matter here! Muahahaha!...ha!

60. Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007)
Upping the Wrong Turn franchise's game with loads more gore and smut, Dead End follows a group of teenagers competing in a Survivor-esque reality game show only to be hunted down for real by a family of deranged, inbred cannibals.

Bloody Best Bits: The opening murder pretty much sums up what to expect in this one, plus there's every scene Henry Rollins is in as a badass an ex-marine.

59. Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
A mockumentary for the slasher kind, Behind the Mask is perhaps one of the most original horror movie to be released on our time and stands proudly of it! Following the life of an aspiring masked killer, a student film crew slowly realizes that they can't just stand back and record while their subject begins to mutilate teenagers.

Bloody Best Bits: Every little bit where our titular psycho shows or explain to us how a certain cliché or gimmick can be done in real life. So far, I'm jotting down notes. (haha!)

58. Final Exam
As students in randomville, USA prepares for their final exam (as the title suggested) an equally random slasher shows up and starts to thin down the teen count. Well known for this simplistic plot, for having a slasher out of nowhere, and following everything by the book lesliewith much flair and atmosphere. A perfect Beginner's Slasher!

Bloody Best Bits: How far will you go to cheat on your exam? How about faking a terrorist attack?

57. The House on Sorority Row
When a group of sorority girls accidentally murders their cruel house mother and tries to hide every evidence of the crime from guests they invited for a party, what they didn't expect is that said house owner has a son. And he's crazily pissed off for what they did on dear ole' mumsie.

Bloody Best Bits: The near end. The great reveal.
56. April Fools Day
A Ten Little Indians-inspired plot had a group of teenagers invited to an island home for Spring break only to fall victims to harmless April Fools Day pranks and a deranged killer. Quite infamous for its twist (even if this wasn't the first slasher to do this) but never the less a fun, fresh and slick cult fave for the fans.

Bloody Best Bits: One scene shows what would happen if you don't stop horsing around on a boat. It's ain't gonna be pretty!

55. Night Crew: The Final Checkout/ Intruder (1989)
Employees working in a convenience store suddenly find their night shift to be their last, not just in their employment due to the owners selling the place, but probably of their lives as well when a butcher knife wielding intruder broke in and began murdering them. Hailed as one of the best slashers to be released at the end of the 80s decade, and for a good reason!

Bloody Best Bits: Am I the only one who noticed the large number of head-related fatalities in this movie?

54. Cold Prey II
While the first Cold Prey may be the best Norwegian horror for some, most slasher fans will agree that it's sequel (the first one at least) had done something most franchised entries fail to do: outdo the original! When the local police discovers a survivor of a killing spree walking alone with a bloody pickaxe, they soon made a fatal mistake of bringing in ALL of the bodies found in the scene. Hospital stalkings, here we come!

Bloody Best Bits: an "Oh Shit!" moment from our survivor when she walked in to a room where the killer's being revived by doctors who didn't know any better.

53. Bad Dreams
When a comatose 70s baby woke up a teenager on a clinic, not only will she be having problems adjusting to her new life but she'll also face the wrath of a derange cult leader, calling her from beyond the grave to join him in the afterlife. (or else) People call this a Nightmare on Elm Street 3 clone, I wouldn't blame them. But burnt specter and clinic premises aside, Bad Dreams works well on its own with unique twists and a really downbeat tone.

Bloody Best Bits: The Elevator scene. Fuckin' Creepy.

52. Jeepers Creepers
A slasher/monster hybrid that brings out the scares and thrills, old school style~! When two bickering siblings came upon an entire cave decorated with preserved corpses, they soon find themselves hunted down by a seemingly inhuman killer. Obviously, that turned out to be quite true.

Bloody Best Bits: There's something about empty hallways with echoing screams that's downright unnerving. See if you could stick to the end to experience that!

51. Pieces
A series of chainsaw murders began plaguing a campus in Boston and it's up to local detectives to figure out who's carving down the students. Completely cheesy all through-out with no sign of slowing down!


50-41 Coming up next week!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Surviving: Them (2006)

Them ("Ils") (France/Romania, 2006)
rating: ****
starring: Olivia Bonamy, Michaël Cohen, Adriana Mocca

Home Invasion scares me a lot. May it be a scene or the subject of a movie itself, the idea of having someone breaking inside your house to terrorize you for whatever reason they can think of is pure terror.

Them, or Ils, is another entry to the suspiciously growing number of French horror films featuring Home Invasion. High Tension, Inside (2007), In Their Sleep (2010), if I'd known better, the French seems to have a fetish for this stuff but comparing this title to the rest, Them is quite tame on the blood work, focusing instead on delivering tight scares through simplicity.

The plot is easy to follow; a couple on their vacation house suddenly find themselves terrorized by someone that broke inside their house. What first started as a series of unusual occurrences such as TVs being turned and left on, strange noises and one stolen car, it soon escalates violently as the intruder begins to stalk and harm them in their own home.
Enjoy each other while you can, lovelies.
What settles Them as a worthwhile viewing is that you could actually feel some grit and nihilism around the entire run despite the obvious horror clichés. The opening has us watching a bickering mother and a spoiled daughter getting stranded in the middle of an nearly isolated road; five minutes after this, the car won't start, the phone has a bad signal and the killer turns out to be hiding on the back seat. Further into the movie, more of the classic dos and don'ts such as wandering into an attic alone or yelling whilst on the run from a maniac nearly grounded Them as a stereotyped slasher but thankfully, these are gripes outnumbered by positives.

While it the direction is slow-burning, taking at least a good third before the couple realizes the break-in, what worked here is the low cast count; by having only two leads and taking time to play around on what these couple are up to in their lives, we do get to see a bit of realism from these characters as ordinary people that you can meet in any day, not one-dimensional stereotype cartoons that plagues almost every horror movie made.

Once the horror starts, they get frustrated, confused and worn-out as something they never expected is suddenly happening to them for no explicit reason. It's all natural coming from them and the film's lack of explanation for these attacks comes out bone-chilling given the twists revealed later on. (Although, it's no surprise there's more than one of these hoodies. The title gave it away)

Shot in a grainy and hand-held quality, Them sports some great camera work and naturalistic shots. The last third of the film effectively utilizes these elements as it took place out in the woods and into an unused sewer tunnel, a claustrophobic final back-drop that's as intense as it is suffocating with low, flickering lighting and maze-like turns. It a brief chase scene reminiscent from those commonly found in slasher movies, ending with a uber-simplified and creepy final shot that makes you think twice whenever you see an empty lot.

Not by far the bloodiest home invasion flick, but otherwise workable for it's simplicity and steady tension. Best served side-by-side with a little something titled The Strangers (2008)!

1 female disappears, presumably killed
1 female strangled with a garrote
1 male pushed off and fell to his death
1 male bludgeoned to death with a dead branch
1 male hacked on the chest with a hay hook
1 male snared away with a garrote, killed off camera
1 female killed off camera with a hay hook
Total: 7
Thank to you, movie, I always looked back at empty lots like this...