Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Video Tape Evidence Exhibit 1: Evil Things (2009)

Evil Things (2009)
rating: ***
starring: Laurel Casillo, Morgan Hooper, Torrey Weiss

What makes a good found footage film? A feel of authenticity, perhaps? The more it looks real, the better the chance it could cook up something creepy and, maybe, even something scary. And while many tries to pull off the creep factor with something unexplainable like ghosts, zombies and even unseen witches in the woods, sometimes a simple plot with a straight direction is all we need to make a Found Footage workable.

Evil Things took this approach as early as possible by opening the film with what appears to be a notation claiming that this is actually a smuggled evidence from an actual investigation involving some missing college students. The tape showcases five teenagers on their way to a friend's country house deep in the snowy woods, to relax and have fun. What they weren't expecting, however, is that they're going to be followed  by a shady looking van with occupants who seem to have taken a deadly interest on them.

First starting out as a creepy stalking, the group managed to scare the driver away during one encounter and continues to their destination thinking all is now fine. But after one day of nearly getting lost in the woods, they soon found out that whoever was in that van already trailed them, infiltrated their house and began a deadly game of cat and mouse...

The film's pretty short in terms of plotting; nearly everything about this film is something you've probably seen before, from the lengthy conversations to questionable acting. A lot of drawn out scenes are done to fill up the running time and the scares are pretty much basic, however what I do like about Evil Things is that, with its simplicity, it still managed to emphasize the dread and uneasiness of the characters.

The cast are pretty likable despite a few bad eggs. I somehow find them humanly relatable, something I believe helped the movie be a bit more tolerable for the most parts. Sure, they seem lacking on the thinking department once in a while, almost to the point that they are pretty much your usual horror-variety slasher victims, but a majority of their choices have a level of realism to it, albeit flawed.

The last few minutes of the movie is when the whole thing just goes for the chaotic as, one by one, the gang gets attacked by someone or a group of someones who finally got these kids right where they wanted them. The lack of explanation to why the villain/s are doing this kinda works for me, as it adds much to the dreadful atmosphere the finale is putting out for us without dropping a single blood on camera nor does it with overly dramatic set-pieces. Evil Things is simplicity in its finest and most solid, quite an impressive feat given the obvious limited budget these people had to work with!

On a nutshell, Evil Things isn't anything new as a found footage horror flick, but for when it tries to be creepily atmospheric and intense, the build-up to these scenes are quite worth it. A decent addition to fans of found footage, as well as something worth a look for the rest of us horror junkies.

1 male attacked, presumably murdered
1 male and 1 female presumably murdered
1 female presumably murdered
1 female attacked, presumably murdered
Total: 5

Friday, May 19, 2017

To Survive an Axe man: My Little Sister (2016)

My Little Sister (Italy, 2016)
Rating: *1/2
Starring:  Lucia Castellano, Alberto Corba, Astrid Di Bon

Oh look! A slasher in the woods! Quaint, is it?

Not much.

In this oddly titled offering from Italy, couple Sheila and Tom are venturing into the woods to meet and catch up with some friends for a fun camping weekend, only to find their friends missing and a random axeman showing up to give them the usual "stay-here-you'll-die" doomsayer spiel which, of course, the two did not heed. It wasn't too long before our maniac, also oddly named "Little Sister", shows his ugly masked face and starts hunting the couple, which soon leads to a formulaic and nearly repetitive stalk-escape-stalk-kill gig that gets really boring quick.

To be fair, My Little Sister did came up with one neat twist to a would-be familiar trapping; it was a neat take on a classic slasher scene in which a victim tries to impersonate "Little Sister's" dead family member ala Jason and Ginny Field in Friday the 13th Part 2, though instead of having it work in favor of the victim at some level, the whole shtick instead backfires and ends up with another victim dying at both "Sister's" and the impersonating character's hand. Apart from that though, I mostly remember being bored by the painfully dull execution of pretty much everything else about this film as it reeks low budget from every corner of the production such as lighting, audio and special effects. Obviously not a great sign this movie getting on my fair side.

The paper-thin story being a challenge already, I at least expected some good tension and plot development from My Little Sister, but the movie definitely overdid the intensity to the point that it all felt overly stretched into nothingness and whatever character our leads have felt more of the same throwaway slasher victims that barely made an impact for me once they bite the big one. There was a neat reveal at the end showcasing what lead into the creation of "Little Sister", but the tag-along twist it came it was hardly that surprising, certainly something we all could have seen an hour before the damn movie brings it up again.

At that, I will say My Little Sister may have sent Italian horror back a few years. It's boring, mostly predictable, and it's really nothing more than one big chase scene between a random horror victim and a random slasher with a stupid name and mask. For those who enjoyed it, I believe this Sister is yours, not mine.

1 male had his face flayed off
1 female eviscerated with a bushwhacker
1 male found rotting dead
1 male hacked with an axe
1 male bled to death from axe wounds
1 female stabbed with a pair of scissors
1 girl hacked with an axe
1 female ingests acid
Total: 8

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Pocketful of Rye: Formula For A Murder (1985)

Formula For A Murder (7, Hyden Park: la casa maledetta ) (AKA Formula Per Un Assassinio) (Italy/US, 1985)
Rating: ***
Starring: Christina Nagy, David Warbeck, Carroll Blumenberg

Our intro? A guy dressed as a priest handing a doll to a girl, only to give chase and implied to have broken the girl's back during this attack.

Twenty five years later, our opening victim, Joanna, is now a wealthy and wheelchair-bound heiress who plans on using a good chunk of her money opening sports centers for paraplegic people, as well as donate some to her local church. This benevolent goal, however, isn't sitting too well for some people, to the point that they are willing to start murdering in hopes of getting their hands on the moolah. But who could it be? Joanna's live-in caretaker with an obvious lesbian attraction? The motorbike-riding priest who is seemingly unaware that another priest was murdered earlier in the movie? Or perhaps it's Joanna's doctor who seems to know more about our lead girl's paraplegic conditions?

Well, if you stick around about 30 minutes into the film, not only will you find out who's behind the killings, but Formula's plot switches from a potential whodunit to a crime thriller with afternoon soap opera theatrics and a small dosage of bodycount horror.

As a giallo, Formula For A Murder isn't really a good one; while the early curveball definitely threw away any good opportunity of a decent mystery, there is still a good chance the movie could have been more interesting should it deepened its characters and took its plot a bit more seriously, but instead it decided to stick with a straightforward story that really isn't all that original (I believe the whole "scare the heiress dead to get their moolah" shtick was done before in Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) and The Spiral Staircase (1946) kinda did the terrorized disabled lead a tad batter) and campy as heck.

Formula may as well shown some of the ongoing signs that pure breed Italian gialli were slowly losing their touch by the 80s, but it did make up for the lack of strong sleuthing and plot development with trashy exploitation craziness such as murder attempts involving bloodied dolls, TV soap heart conditions that are triggered by extreme fear but not when making love (?!), and unexpected betrayals which ultimately leads to a good old-fashioned 80s slasher stalk-and-stab with a killer that just keeps on going despite the fatal punishments unleashed against them.

Perhaps it is better that these trashier tropes have a significantly stronger presence in the overall final product seeing we pretty much knows who and why all of the gruesome stuff is happening, as at least Formula For A Murder tries to be entertainingly crazy and hammy. It does succeed at that quite fairly and I find myself satisfyingly enjoying the preposterous twists and turns on a what should have been a too conventional giallo. So long as blood works are flowing, the over-the-top villains are plotting, and the tone be cheesing from this film, I am glad to say that I am a part of an audience who are content to have seen this cheddary guilty pleasure and I will have no quarrels seeing again in the future.

1 male had his throat cut with a knife
1 male bludgeoned and hacked to death with a shovel
1 female slashed to death with a razor
1 male dies from his wounds
Total: 4

Thursday, May 11, 2017

An Eye A Day Keeps The Blindness Away:Child Eater (2016)

Child Eater (US/Iceland, 2016)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Cait Bliss, Colin Critchley, Jason Martin

Convinced to babysit Lucas, the son of her father's recently widowed friend, young Helen expected nothing else but the usual night of scary movies and scheduled bedtimes. However, Lucas appears to be uneasy that evening as he have been spotting a strange old man prowling around in the woods nearby his house. Of course, Helen dismisses the issue as merely the boy's imagination, but all of that changes when Lucas disappears from his room and an old legend, the almost blind and cannibalistic Child Eater, returns to feast on fresh young eyes in his insane and desperate attempt to keep his sight.

Now, Child Eater is less of a dead teenager slasher movie in the likes of Friday the 13th (1980) or Halloween (1978), and more in line with monster films with a very slasher-inspired villains like Darkness Falls (2003) or Jeepers Creepers (2001). There were actually a lot of chances that the film could have gone with the classic slasher route, mainly with the very fact that it features yet another babysitter in peril (the typical final girl choice) with an added bonus of an Ahab/doomsayer hybrid with vengeance in mind against the monster, but instead Child Eater decided to focus more on building its mythos and setting its tone through a lot of creepy imagery and stalking scenes.

I personally find our titular shriveled freak and his mythology as one of the movie's greater elements, with few contrasting explanations given to who and what he is working their magic to keep the ambiguous creepiness of our monster as much as possible, despite a stronger emphasis on the Eater being an obvious supernatural foe. Furthermore, it's also quite interesting to see evil on two legs keeping its kills on a tooth and nail level of savagery. I honestly have no problems with this as I already have my fair share of decent slasher titles in which their villains are more in touch with their beastly side (such as The Unnamable (1988) and Humongous (1981)), though I will admit, the kill count could have used a couple more bodies.

With all of these being said, I could like Child Eater for the villain alone, but this monster comes with a movie full of characters that we are supposed to feel for and, to be frank, I find it hard to do just that; though I will admit there was some effort in the acting department, I just can't help but feel distracted by some of the casts sounding and looking like as if they are reading their scripts in front of them, which is obviously not a good thing if the movie has a stronger focus on story and dialogue. A few important characters such as our lead girl Helen and kid-in-peril Lucas did manage to be more tolerable, but not enough for me to actually feel for them as they hardly broke any new grounds as classic horror thespians.

The budget is relatively restraint, with most of it likely used for the little special effects this movie features which, I admit, are delightfully gory and ambitiously modest to look at. Pacing is slow at first with all of the development taking place, but at least the stalk and chase-heavy last act made the wait worthwhile. In the end, Child Eater barely made a dent as a new age monster/slasher hybrid, but I will give its many attempts to do so their due as I can tell they really tried and the resulting product has potential. So if you like a good indie horror with villain that tops pretty near high at the creep-o-meter (and possibly open to the fact that the title can be a tad misleading) then I say go for this movie and give it a try.

1 male had his eyes gouged, brained
1 male had his eyes and tongue mauled off, killed
1 female mauled off-camera
1 female ran over by a car
Total: 4

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

"He may have been your father, Quill, but he wasn't your daddy."

Seen Guardians of The Galaxy Vol 2 last Saturday and, God damn, Yondu was awesome!

If you hadn't seen it (and you are not sick, not in jail, and/or a big Marvel fan), what the heck's wrong with you?!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Dead Co-Ed: What Have They Done To Your Daughters? (1974)

What Have They Done To Your Daughters? (LA POLIZIA CHIEDE AUITO)(Italy, 1974) (AKA "The Co-Ed Murders)
Starring: Giovanna Ralli, Claudio Cassinelli, Mario Adorf

As of writing this, I noticed that my blog barely (if not never) covered any giallo titles for the past few years and find this rather unacceptable and sloppy of myself since I pictured this site to review anything under the slasher family, this including slasher-friendly thrillers and Italian gialli. Well, thanks to this little film, I recently caught the "yellow" fever once again and I think it's only fair that I cover this giallo hybrid to express my gratitude for its unintentional help.

After an anonymous tip leads a squad of police to the naked hanging body of a fifteen year old girl inside an old room, police inspector Valentini and assistant public prosecutor Vittoria Stori ponder on the possibility of this being an average case of a suicidal teenager taking her own life. Things get a tad stranger, however, when autopsy reports indicate that the girl was not only pregnant, but also had some very wild trysting prior to her death. The apparent suicide soon becomes a possible murder when the girl is also later recognized as the girlfriend of a young man under police surveillance after being involved with a recent street riot. As the investigators proceed to look further into the case, more suspicious characters are introduced and a motorbike riding killer starts a bodycount with his trusted meat cleaver, bent on keeping a dark secret hidden at all cost.

As the middle entry of director Massimo Dallamano's Schoolgirls in Peril trilogy (The other two titles being What Have You Done to Solange? (1972) and Rings of Fear (1978), though Dallamano only wrote the latter as Rings wasn't filmed until after he passed away) What Have They Done To Your Daughters? sets itself apart from your traditional Italian "yellow" thriller as, though many traditional aspects of a giallo such as a sleaze and violence are clearly present in its narrative, it has a stronger focus on police procedurals and near-realistic investigations more commonly found in cop thrillers (or poliziotteschi as the Italians call them) than purely exploiting its subject matter of teenagers being slaughtered or taking part on an outlandishly hedonistic secret. Daughters, in turn, has a lot of moments in which its writing and direction has a tone of seriousness and felt very grounded, tackling not only a believable execution of a murder mystery but also a controversial political conspiracy that has a level of subtlety to it. (Read. "A" level)

Daughters is still not one to lack on some decent bodycount horror among the typical action/cop drama elements of car chases and methodic police work. Though some of the more important murders occurred offcamera, we still have a fair share of workably intense stalking sequences, disturbing imagery and a few bloody killings thrown in the midst of the investigations, working pretty well with the flow of the plot as, the more our leads get closer to finding the truth about the murders, the more visceral and active the horror elements become.

On a personal note, I love the choice of wardrobe our killer dons whenever they are on the hunt as it somewhat works in favor of the two film genres merged in Daughters: it's both a classic giallo villain garb (full black suit with leather gloves) and it's fitting for a high octane action sequence. I also love the fact that the killer was never properly seen without the get up which adds to the mysterious and secretive nature of the plot. Sadly, the only thing that kept me from loving this giallo anymore than I should was the lackluster ending; without giving away much, I felt cheated that after all of the growing build up, the plot simply decided to either snuff off or let go the guilty ones way too easy, without giving any proper closure to the mystery and the crimes committed. I understand that this might be on par to the genre deconstruction director Dallamano was aiming for, but I see very little reason not to close the entire thing with a much more satisfying and better constructed conclusion.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed What Have They Done To Your Daughters? as a workably "okay" giallo/cop thriller mash-up. Despite the lack of onscreen sleaze and gorier bloodshed, Daughters make up for these little shortcomings with an interestingly focused plot, a solid direction, developed casts and a groovy score by composer Stelvio Cipriani. May it be a giallo or a poliziotteschi, it's just the right kind of movie to get me into the Italian bodycounting mood!

1 female found hanged
1 male dismembered offcamera
1 male gets a meat cleaver to the head
1 male stabbed to death with an ice pick
1 male seen dead with wrist slits
1 male shot
1 male shot dead
Total: 7

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ee By Gum: Inbred (2011)

Inbred (Germany/United Kingdom, 2011)
Rating: ***
Starring: Jo Hartley, James Doherty, Seamus O'Neill 

So, what do you get if Herschell Gordon Lewis's Two Thousand Maniacs! takes place in jolly ole' modern Yorkshire instead of the Southern side of US of A? Why, this offensive and gory splatter flick that's definitely not for the sensitive and easily cringed, of course!

After a bloody movie-within-movie opening involving a work hand with a sharp axe, we follow four troubled youths and two social workers handling them as they visit the rural town of Mortlake for a weekend of team-building and community rehabilitation. And as most horror movies involving city peeps venturing into rural folk territory, the people of Mortlake isn't too keen of having a bunch of juvenile delinquents and two naive slickers skulking around their small town, though some of these townies are willing to put up with the bunch, particularly the village leader of sorts, Jim.

This looked like the case for a while until the kids got into an argument with three townies and resulted with one of the social workers severely injuring his leg and bleeding to death. Next thing everybody knew, a head gets decapitated, a few laughed about a misunderstanding and the town of Mortlake now has a "show" to watch that involves the torture and murder now five city victims-to-be.

Inbred undoubtedly fits the bill of an exploitation smoothie as the story mixes in many low brow horror movie traits from slasher film characterization, torture porn cabaret shows and the oh-so-offensive hicksploitation dark humor as mentally and ethically challenged deformed Southerners serve as our powertool-wielding idiotic villains. And with the protagonists hardly counting as anywhere sympathetic or deep (then again, what are we to expect from a cast full of delinquents and careless adults?), the movie more or less finds itself in a position of being simplistically stupid that offers very little in terms of build-up or message, but makes it up for it with a gorgeously blended practical and CG gore effects and all the morbidly blacker than black humor to wank a horse with.

I love how the mean spirit of the entire town gets played out in Inbred; you know dang well you should be disgusted and angry for how the townsfolk treat those they see didn't belong in their little world or even how they all think their backwards way of life is still acceptable in this day and age, but their cartoonish interpretation and whacky reactions to the most vile acts put upon both their victims and themselves are simply too outrageous to be taken seriously. This isn't to say that the movie is anything short of upsetting and distressing scenarios such as a desperate attempt to save a man being mocked at by our villains, or one of the victims' chances of survival being gambled on as if its nothing, but the splattery slapstick (or "splatstick") tone of the movie has a gruelingly stronger impact over the real horrors a more serious movie could have been focusing on and I believe that made Inbred an odder kind of trashy bodycount movie, which is obviously going to be in the middle ground of being either loved or hate.

For those expecting nothing but blood, gut and more blood n' guts then Inbred has it covered with a wide array of gory demises from chainsaw dismemberment, explosive shotgun killings and even a literal shitty death. Those wanting more than this, however, will be sorely disappointed as our meat bag victims are slowly reduced to screaming meat bag victims whose luck appears to be getting worse the more it appears they had a chance of surviving. It's not a horror film anyone could simply enjoy, but if you love shock-dwelling splatter movies of the bygone days of drive-ins and exploitation cinema, then Inbred certainly deserves a spot on your collection. 

1 maled axed on the mouth (film)
1 female axed on the head (film)
1 male seen dead
1 male had his head chopped off with a cleaver
1 male had his head stomped by a horse
1 male filled with manure until he explodes
1 male ran over by a van
1 male shot on the head with a shotgun
4 males ran down with a van
1 male has his head blown off with a shotgun
1 male shot in half with a shotgun
1 female had her legs sawed off with a chainsaw, head shot with a shotgun
1 male killed offcamera
1 female decimated by a landmine
Total: 17