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.

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.

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!

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?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

It's old news, but...

I can't pass a reaction to this...

Image result for sobbing gif

Shop Smart and Drop Dead: Intruder/Night Crew: The Final Checkout (1989)

Intruder/ Night Crew: The Final Checkout (1989)
Rating: ****
Starring: Elizabeth Cox, Renée Estevez, Dan Hicks

From your friends at The Evil Dead franchise, one of the best late 80s slasher in existence!

It was closing time at the Walnut Lake Market when the fresh-out-of-prison ex-boyfriend of one of the checkers shows up and angrily confronts his gal for leaving him. The argument goes sour and the con went for the hysterics, prompting the rest of the staff to break up the fight, scuffle with the angry jailbird and scare him away. Cops are soon called and, with the threat seemingly gone, the night seems to be going for a calmer note, that is until the store owners break the bad news to their young employees that the store will be sold and they are all going to lose their jobs within a month.

Rightfully upset at first, the gang eventually tries to come in term with the store's fate and the fact that they'll be job hunting soon, continuing with their night restocking goods, cutting up produce and counting the day's profits. Unknown to them, this might as well be their final night as someone with a large butcher knife is doing his own little hunt, eager to put his weapon through and in places that'll bleed...

Story-wise, Intruder is the kind of movie that tries to make something out of the basic slasher formula which, by the time of this film's release in the late 80s, was already struggling to find a strong following as multitudes of direct-to-video titles and big name horror sequels kinda churned the subgenre way too many times to be considered fresh and enjoyable, if not degraded in quality. In a way, the movie does succeed at sparking something worthwhile with it's execution, making use of many crazy visual gimmicks and black humor borrowed from the Evil Dead movies, a gory and cheesily fun supernatural franchise in which Intruder's director, Scott Spiegel, had been a part of in more ways than one. It's a welcome influence that does the movie good in terms of dishing out popcorn friendly nightmares, focusing on the grim and bloody that fits any slasher from the golden early 80s, all the while tapping in a few late 80s cheese for those extra chuckles.

With some pretty decent character moments during the early parts of the film past the opening angry Ex attack, I also like how the movie took time to slow down and catch up with the casts who are enjoyably likeable with their bond and zany personalities. The gang are mostly devoid of the cliched horror victim labels ("mostly" as they constantly break the "don't investigate the weird noise" rule) and they actually act like regular and relatable working young adults, something that adds effect to their cathartic demises once the titular intruder begins his chopping spree and give us some of the best stalk-and-murder set-pieces to be featured along many late 80s bodycounters.

Using gruesome effects that are some parts hammy, many parts practical and overall disturbing, the bloody deaths are also the best reason to see Intruder. There's a sadistic temperament to how these murders were executed and shot, with many of the scenes working on a momentum to keep us anticipating when will the blade enter flesh, if not lingering on candid shots of severed heads being crushed or sliced in half, screaming expressions frozen unto them. It's the kind of gore and shock value that made censors squeamish and many concerned parents shocked by it's unrelenting brutality, so much so that even in this day and age, I often find myself in morbid awe with one or two of the movie's head oriented killings.

I knew about Intruder through my first HorrorHound magazine, in which the issue talked about their top 20 underrated slasher titles, among many other bodycount related topics such as a healthy insight into giallo cinema and a retrospective covering John Carpenter's Halloween and it's franchise. Intruder was ne of the 20 underrated titles and you could say this has a nostalgic impact on me as one of the few titles I managed to see early on during my "slasher renaissance" (I was a zombie and kaiju nut prior to my then newly found obsession for dead teenager flicks) and one that earned my liking for doing a lot of splattery things right on my book. This is still, of course, subjective, as many may not agree with the film's practically basic plotting or slow moments, nor can they all be easily swayed by the movie's crazy camera work (and to personally include my own nitpick, I would have actually given this movie a higher rating should they actually stuck with the cooler title "Night Crew: The Final Checkout"), but as I often believe that every movie has it's audience and Intruder's strong cult following is a fair proof of that and I am dang proud to be a part of it.

As one of the last great slashers to be released in the 80s, Intruder does a majority of slasher fans proud for trying to breath some life back to the then-dying horror subgenre and still hold up pretty well after all these years. Should you wish to try and seek out this movie if you hadn't yet, I may warn you about the many cut versions released out there with loads of the gore severed out of the print, but in this day and age, I'm sure you can figure that out and I do hope you have fun with Intruder as much as I did. If not, well, I do think my band saw hadn't sliced meat for a long time now and it may need victims...

1 female stabbed with a butcher knife
1 male had his head chopped with a butcher knife
1 male ran through the gut with a butcher knife
1 male had his head crushed with a hydraulic press
1 had his face shoved to a meat hook
1 male had his head bisected through a band saw
1 male stabbed on the back with a butcher knife
1 male found decapitated
Total: 8

Yep, still a cooler title.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Hills Have Caste: NH10 (2015)

NH10 (India, 2015)
Rating: ****
Starring: Anushka Sharma, Ravi Beniwal, Siddharth Bharadwaj

It's not too often that I find myself sitting down with a Bollywood slasher nowadays and I could blame this on the fact that I don't always have the patience to watch 2 to 3 hours of familiar hack-and-stab which could have been easily squeezed into measly 90 minutes, nor do I have the willingness to reach for the fastforward button from time to time just to run past the musical numbers and get into the really juicy bits. However, this isn't to say I am not willing to try a title once in a while, especially if these risks lead to something as great as this gritty thriller, NH10.

After encountering a gang of muggers one night she drove home alone, a shaken Meera decided to travel with her husband Arjun to a resort outside their city as a mean both to ease herself  from the incident and celebrate her birthday with her loved ones. En route, however, the couple witness a group of men attacking and hauling up a girl and a boy into their van in front of an entire crowd on broad daylight. Sicken that no one tried to stop this, Arjun decided to play hero and tails the van in hopes of scaring the group into letting the young couple go, only for him and his wife to get caught as they stumble upon a brutal honor killing, with the men responsible having no plans on letting any witnesses leave alive.

What soon follows is a lengthy cat-and-mouse chase between a family of hooligans and our two leads, a premise that may not sound too original with the many survival horror flicks out there like Australia's Wolf Creek (2005) or UK's overrated Eden Lake predating this film. Now, I will not say that this is an issue for me as, should it was, I would've bashed all of the backwoods slashers out there for being too similar with Friday the 13th, but instead I will have to acknowledge the elephant in the room which is some concerns I have with one of our protagonists; though the talents portraying Meera and Arjun, Anushka Sharma and Neil Bhoopalam respectively, did a decent job with their roles as a couple who just wanted to do the right thing and getting paid for it with death and torment, I still found one of them disappointingly falling in the dumb horror victim trope with their decision to tail a van full of kidnappers, not really knowing what these men were capable of. Granted their intentions were good, the fact that the men they are sizing up were hardened enough to beat a pair of teenagers in front of a frightened crowd without much hesitation should have said enough that these guys were not to be screwed around and the issue could have been handled better. Nevertheless, at least the other lead was worth rooting for at a certain point and, this being a horror movie, we wouldn't have something to watch if everyone acted smart, right?

Thankfully and ironically, what instead made the ordeal workably scary (in turn making the story interesting) was the kind of villains used; inspired by real life cases of honor killings (essentially the  2007 Manoj-Babli honour killing case), the killers featured in NH10 were are not a clan of powertool-wielding cannibals, nor are they mute masked maniacs killing for fun, but is instead a family governed by a radical religious mindset which they believe puts them in the right and that their heinous crimes are acceptable among their community. You could say they are another variation of religiously inclined killer cults found in movies like Children of the Corn (1984), Southern Gothic (1988) or the near-Apocalyptic End of The Line (2007), but unlike these films in which their radical brutality borders being cheesy and/or outlandish, NH10's approach to its antagonists were comparibly more subtle and sticks pretty close to a level of believability, possibly reflecting the same kind of heinous nightmares that could have occurred to the incidents that inspired this movie.

Working well with the villains is the survivalist element of the story, which in turn takes a pretty decent advantage of the rural desert location and the steady yet well-paced direction that takes up enough time emphasizing the near hopelessness of their predicament. With hardly any soundtrack and an evident lack of cheese and humor, it's brings out the right kind of bleak tone and harrowing intensity as we see barely anyone who can aid our leads, and should there be any, we often can tell they're not to be trusted.

Once the second act begins, this is when NH10 begins to exploit it's horror premise as, by then, one lead is forced to leave the other behind due to a grave injury and embarks on an otherwise hectic race against time to find help. The "slasher" elements eventually kicks in these parts, though done in a reversed role similar to You're Next (2011) and I Spit on Your Grave (1978), with a wronged survivor finishing off their tormentors in a manner not uncommon to many new age slasher movies. Blood and guts are spilled, much to my delight, but I can tell some may see this as a curveball approach to what could have been a more thought out climax, tackling the honor killing social commentary perhaps a tad better rather than finishing the film with a typical hack-a-thon. Still, it's bound to cater to some people (such as, again, myself) so I wouldn't consider this that big of a flaw, especially if the last minutes pack all the juiciest kills and, by then, we probably have see enough misogynistic spatting and sadistic backwards zealousness to properly root for our survivor in their immediate thirst for vengeance.

NH10 is certainly my kind of horror thriller and one I am quite happy to see effectively out of Bollywood. While sort of lacking in originality and the social commentary was kinda dropped at the last minute, the execution was strikingly intense enough to forgive any shortcomings and I couldn't ask for a scarier and more thrilling Indian horror flick than this title. I say give this one a taste should you ever have the chance and buckle up for an exploitation ride, Bollywood style!

1 female shot on the head
1 male beaten to death with a steel rod
1 male shot
1 male shot
1 male stabbed on the eye with a pen
1 male found dead with a head wound
1 male ran down with a car
1 male crushed to death against a wall with a car
1 male crash lands head first to a stone step
1 male stabbed to death with a steel rod
Total: 10

Friday, January 27, 2017

Nightmares From A Sleeping Mind: Sleepwalker (1984)

Sleepwalker (Britain, 1984)
Rating: ***
Starring: Joanna David, Bill Douglas, Nickolas Grace

Not to be confused with Stephen King's 90s monster flick Sleepwalkers, this odd 80s mid-feature slasher hails all the way from Britain and tells the story of two couples going out for dinner, in which they discuss their businesses and personal lives in a not so chummy way. The night soon ends with the group staying over their host's home for some drinks and shut eye, only to fall victim to a hatchet wielding murderer who might be one of them.

While the plot sounds considerably easy, Sleepwalker's execution is anything but as the overall result almost didn't feel like a slasher until the last few minutes in which the murders finally happen, spending a good span of its 50 minute run focusing instead on the characters and their interactions with one other. It's a direction as tricky to follow as the characters' discussions and those expecting a bloodbath from the first minute to the last will get their patience tested as these scenes can get a tad too drawn out and tedious.

I cannot deny, however, the brooding atmosphere created throughout the flow of the short, as little hints were given to what may come at the end and the lengthy conversations somehow help build the uneasy and brooding tone the further we follow the story, turning what should have been a normal gathering into a series of passive aggressive verbal attacks littered with cruel insults, emotional abuse and hidden agendas. Watching these scenes can indeed be a chore and a nightmare of another kind for some, but the payoff was kinda well worth waiting through basically one large red herring as the shocking graphic killings comes strangely satisfying. (if not also laughable with the the victims' "theatrical" acting) and the twist, though nothing entirely big, just worked for me with its simplistic shock value and how the last few shots were quite disturbing in a surrealist way.

Sleepwalker is certainly an strange one with it's Grand Guignol-esque production, utilizing an artsy visual style with its use of nightmare logic, blue gel lighting and obscure camera work, best seen once the carnage finally takes fold. It's more the reason why I like this short and though I still stand on my claim that the lengthy banters could have been trimmed shorter, I can definitely recommend this to my fellow slasher completists and lovers of rare and obscure cinema, particularly those patient enough to experience something that walks between the lines of familiar and not-so-familiar horror tropes. Uneasy at first, brutal at the last, Sleepwalker can surprise and entertain in most of the right buttons.

1 male disemboweled (dream)
1 male cut to death with a knife
1 female hacked on the head with a cleaver
1 male hacked on the chest with a cleaver
Total: 4

Friday, January 20, 2017

Halloween Monster Crash: The Barn (2016)

The Barn (2016)
Rating: ***
Starring: Mitchell Musolino, Will Stout, Lexi Dripps

Three demonic killers. Two unlikely heroes. One town to save from eternal damnation. Exciting? Could be.

Opening in 1959 Halloween, at the small town of Wheary Falls, we watch as a pastor gives his good blessings to his young mass-goers before they go trick-or-treating, warning them that a certain barn not too far from town is off limits. Naturally, one of the kids blows this warning off and, encountering the sinister forces that reside in said barn, pays the grave price of getting a pickaxe buried into her head.

Thirty years later at the neighboring town of Helen's Valley, bestfriends Sam and Joshua are two fun-loving teenage pranksters who, after being scolded by their town's church head and Sam's father for a Mischief Night gag-gone-wrong, are starting to dawn on the inevitable fact that their years of being immature delinquents are numbered once high school ends. Thinking they should end their last Halloween with a bang, Sam and Josh plans to attend a rock concert a couple of towns over the following night, as well as have some fun trick or treating for some sweets along the way.

Inviting a few friends to tag along, the duo's trip makes a momentary stop at Wheary Falls where Sam's expertise on all Halloween related easily recognizes our infamous barn. In the light of the holiday and to temp if the legends are true, the group makes a fatal mistake of beckoning the three demons, unleashing them from hell to murder and devour their unsuspecting victims once again.

Shot to resemble a late 80s horror movie, The Barn certainly captures the same nostalgic low budget affair that granted enough cheese and grue to keep fans of vintage horror satisfied, if not bumping into a few issues here and there.

The first hour of the film bleeds pure slasher-monster hybriding, with your typical kids splitting up and screwing with each other, leading to dumb choices and sex scenes paid gravely with a sharp tool down their gullets. Perhaps the only deviation that made The Barn stand out for me is that it spent enough of its running time building around our two teenage heroes with as much charm as any awkwardly geeky protagonists in a cheesy horror flick, with a side of religious crisis, low-key coming-of-age babble and a nerdy look into Halloween as a holiday which can be a hit-or-miss. Actors Mitchell Musolino and Will Stout plays Sam and Josh respectively in a style that comes in between fair and wooden, but their characterization and scripting works well with the tone of the movie so their pressence and interaction with the rest of the cast (who a few tried to be more than two-dimensional in terms of scripting) were a decent watch even when the monsters finally come out.

And speaking of monsters, the slasher elements got kicking after a third into the film and for a while, I enjoyed what I was seeing. By doing a childish ritual involving three knocks and a rhyme during Halloween, the titular barn turns into a portal between Hell and Earth, unleashing a trio of demons who each comes with their own unique lore: The Boogeyman is a ghoulish miner armed with iron fingernails and a mean pickaxe that he also uses to tunnel from Hell and back, Hallowed Jack is a pumpkin-headed axe-wielding creature that can revive itself by possessing jack-o-lanterns, and The Candycorn Scarecrow is a living husk man with razor sharp candy corn for teeth. I love how each of these killers look so different from one another and how whenever they are on screen, it bounds to deliver blood deaths and delicious gore, so much so that I am willing to believe that a good chunk of the budget went to the practical effects used for these manic moments. I do, sadly, wished there were more scenes in which our monsters get to kill off folks individually rather than as a group, as I felt their lore were disappointingly underused to the point that the film could have go on without it, in turn almost simplifying these villains into your everyday slashers that just so happen to have really cool designs. (and for some of them, immortal on a condition)

This, sadly, is only one of the two main concerns I have with The Barn and the other was the last half hour. After a wonderfully brutal (and wonkily scored) massacre that leaves a good bulk of the town's population dead and eaten, the film then tries to have our two protagonists properly act out their roles as heroes and fight the monsters they unknowingly unleashed. This should have been a pretty rad direction and I was hoping that it could lead to some decent fights and perhaps more bodycount, but the action instead were as cheap as the budget could allow it, with some of the choreography being a chore to sit through and most of the monsters getting defeated way too easy for my taste. If that's not bad enough, there was also an unnecessary twist thrown in to give the film a more supernatural/religious taste, something that I felt slowed the film down and wasted too much time that could have been used on better scenes featuring our heroes, the monsters, or both.

Still, I can't really say that I hated the last 30 minutes or so of the film, since the last fight was as close to the kind of man-vs-monster brawl out I was wishing to see and the ending has this bittersweet touch to it. In fact, these little gripes didn't deter me much from enjoying The Barn, not with its likable leads, cool monster concepts and the generous amount of splattery grue. It's quality definitely shows the kind of monetary restrains the producers had to work with but, again, the tone, style and gimmick of the movie as a late 80s horror throwback managed to use these restrictions in the movie's advantage and I love overall results, more even when it managed to snag some fun cameos like Linnea Quigley (Of Night of the Demons (1988)) and Ari Lehman (the original Jason Voorhees). Perhaps not as much as I wanted to love it when I first saw its trailer, but with a better budget, The Barn could have been a greater movie for me.

The Barn was well worth my patience as a decent monster/slasher hybrid, a fair and fun addition to my ever growing collection of all things bodycounting. With the kind of ending we are given at the end, I do wish there will be more of Sam, Joshua and, of course, our three Halloween demons, but until then, I say give this one a shot should you ever get a chance! Perhaps you'll like it more than I did. Perhaps you already do!

1 girl gets a pickaxe to the head
1 male bashed to death with a rock hammer
1 female had an arm slashed off with a sickle, skewered
1 female hacked on the head with an axe
1 female clawed through the head
1 female hacked with an axe
1 male had his face flayed off
1 male had his throat cut with a knife
1 male impaled with a pitchfork
1 male hacked on the head with an axe
1 male stabbed on the eyes with drumsticks
1 male had his face crushed with a length of chord until eyes popped out
1 male hacked with a pickaxe
1 male drowned in a bob-an-apple barrel
1 female bitten on the neck
1 male scalded with boiling soup
1 male had his heart ripped out
1 male slashed on the gut, disemboweled
1 male clawed on the face
1 male knifed on the head
1 female had her head crushed
1 female decapitated
1 female gets broken glass thrown and pierce into her face
1 male had his neck broken
1 male stabbed on the eye with a stalk
A number of victims killed offcamera
1 male disemboweled with a knife
1 male found with his carved carved and hallowed
1 male stabbed with a crucifix dagger, caught in a burning barn
Total: 25+

(Note: Due to the supernatural nature of the demons, I left them out from the count)