Saturday, September 9, 2017

Wish Waster: Wish Upon (2017)

Wish Upon (2017)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Ki Hong Lee

Guys and Girls! Girls and Guys! 
Come on Forth and feast your eyes! 
My wonderful melting pot, she lives again! 
Mixing Wishmaster and The Omen!
Out from its brew, a movie so mediocre,
Called Wish Upon, God, I wished I choked there!

Young Clare is your typical PG-13 horror flick teenager; she saw her mum kill herself when she was a wee bit smaller (for reasons obviously connected to the horrible things later), her father's a garbage man, and she's bullied by rich posh kids for being poor. This is basically everything to it about her until she was given an ancient Chinese music box that claims to grant 10 wishes.

Out of sarcasm (and probably sweet sweet revenge), Clare first wishes one of her bullies to rot alive and, wouldn't you know it, next day comes with a news that her worst bully gets inflicted with a flesh eating bacteria. (like the one in them Cabin Fever movies. Quickly! Somebody push her into the town's water reservoir! Anything to make this film more interesting!) After a couple more wishes turning real like magic, Clare soon realizes that the music box is indeed granting whatever she asks it and she, for a lack of a better term, exploits it.

Of course, as any horror movie dealing with wish granting, there's a price for her newly acquired riches and power as friends, family and pets start to die horribly after each successful wish. Will Clare stop herself from ultimately destroying the lives of many, or will she, more or less (and pardon my French), fuck it up.

Wish Upon is technically a modern take on the Monkey's Paw story, stuffed with a collection of clip notes from The Omen and Final Destination movies in regards to its death scenes and a bit of (low-key) slasher for some stalking subplot that ultimately lead to nowhere, all in that "diet horror" flavor that comes in oh so many PG-13 horror movies. The story's tone, in turn, strongly resembles a more intense and bodycount friendly take on a Goosebumps TV series episode, skipping the gory stuff for most of the horror scenes and finding a way or two to squeeze in posh girl sensibilities like unrequited boy crushes and popularity wars. I certainly have no problem with this kind of approach, but this is something we've seen for a good lot by now and there really isn't much this movie is offering elsewhere.

The talents involved are okay for most parts, though the genericness of the characters they play did nothing but help make this film more tiresome than it should be. There's a bit of a(n almost) nice turn in the later act wherein the powers of the evil wish-granting music box starts to get the better of our heroine, ending up with her starting to go cuckoo in maintaining her new life and scaring her friends (and one random romantic interest that came out of nowhere) in the process, but this little plot devise only lasted for a couple of minutes, which was a shame since a terrible excuse of a character study would have been more preferable than a methodic route that's paved with blood, death and predictable teen drama that goes more outlandish (and dare I say cartoonish) even for a film about an evil magic box. (time and space travel involved. twice!)

Because of its overly familiar story and stereotype characters, there's barely anything remotely scary or thrilling about Wish Upon in a high grade cinematic sense, no matter how much it tries to re-capture the exciting Goldberg-esque "howdunit" deaths (which were the more "okay" aspects of the movie) or the "down the rabbit hole" spiraling of its lead character's life. (Again, a sorta missed opportunity!) It does reek of cheese and unintentional hilarity during some of its more serious scenes (like a certain bathtub death), though they were only good for a few seconds of chuckles so I couldn't even say that the movie's so bad it's good.

To simply put it, Wish Upon is forgettable in all aspects of the word. I can honestly say that watching any one of the Final Destination and/or Wishmaster movies (even the terrible ones) would have made a more entertaining movie night and I guess I'll do just that. If you do happen to enjoy this movie then, well, to each their own, I guess. Just tell me when you're ready to sit out of your baby highchair and I'll introduce you to some real horror flicks...

1 female hangs herself
1 dog found eaten by rats
1 male slips in a bathtub, hits his head and drowns
1 female had her hair caught in a drain disposer, neck snapped
1 female trips unto a horned statue, impaled through the face
1 female crushed inside a falling elevator
1 male killed (flashback, unknown method)
1 male slashed by a chainsaw
1 female hit by a car
Total: 9

Make Them Dead: Chromeskull: Laid To Rest 2 (2011)

Chromeskull: Laid To Rest 2 (2011)
Rating: **
Starring: Brian Austin Green, Thomas Dekker, Mimi Michaels

Riddle me this: if  you get your face burned and torn away by an extremely strong glue, exposing your skull in the open, would you survive getting your now-skeletal face caved in with a metal bat, probably pulping a good part of your working brain in the process? Yeah, I don't think so, but apparently, so long as you have a shady underground organization working to cover your sorry murdering arse, you can have your noggin re-constructed into functioning properly again (...How?), guaranteeing you "shark jumping" abilities just so you can live another day to star in your own slasher franchise.

No idea what I'm talking about? Well, say hello to Chromeskull: Laid To Rest 2, the follow up to the 2009 direct-to-video slasher mini hit, earning its place for its awesome gore effects and cool looking killer. With the first film satisfying the shallow side of my horror fandom, I will admit that I was one of the many who went giddy like shit after seeing the sequel's teaser but, oh God, how little I knew that it'll all be... "eh".

The movie starts where Laid to Rest ended, with our chrome skull mask-wearing killer "Chromeskull" lying faceless, bludgeoned and bleeding to death in the middle of a convenience store. Just as the cops arrive to inspect the carnage, a group of paramedics swoops in to deal with the matter, but they're not with the boys in blue, oh no. They're with ole Chromey, made crystal clear after they shoot the responding officers dead and painstakingly helps Chromeskull recover from his supposed demise. (...Again. How?)

While all of this is going on, Preston, Chromeskull's right-hand (or something), decided to tie up loose ends and murder the one that literally got away (The final girl of the last movie. No big lost, though. I guess she's finally "made dead"!), hoping this act will impress the maniac he is working for. Unfortunately, the murder triggers an entirely different reaction from Chromeskull, placing this supposed right-hand on a more expendable position.

Fast-forward three months later, Chromeskull is up and walking around (No, really. How?), ready to slaughter another innocent. This time, his project is a nearly blind girl named Jess, who he abducts and stashes back in his hidden domain for a planned torture session. Unknown to him, the police investigating this kidnapping quickly picks up that this is related to the massacre that happened three months ago and they decided to bring back the only survivor of that slaughterfest for further help. This, however, is only one of the problems Chrome has to deal with as Preston, tired of feeling underappreciated for the dirty work he does for the organization, continues to overstep his boundaries as Chromeskull's handler and it is soon clear that he's not gonna play second bananas to the killer anymore.

Personally, I have no problem with world building in a slasher franchise since it gives all those involved with the project an opportunity to create a fresh, if not exciting universe around what could have been easily regarded as plotless exploitation. Sometimes, this world building can get a bit out of hand (Jason Voorhees going to Manhattan (sort of) and space (definitely). Freddy Krueger going Looney Tunes on his later murders. Chucky becoming a troubled father and husband. Michael Myers is remade by Rob Zombie), but there are film franchises that try to workably evolve its universe in each movie entry, such as the likes of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and its follow-ups.

Chromeskull kinda falls in between; I wanted to like its twist that our killer is backed up by a well-paid organization dedicated to serial killing, but I really wish they did more with this concept than just make it the reason Chromeskull survived his (very) fatal injury, as well as just a mean to bring more characters into the franchise. Sure, we do see some parts of the organization doing their tasks such as supplying Chromeskull his victims and even making him his weapons, but I guess what I'm saying here is that what was shown felt more like footnotes than an actual article; it's bits and pieces of "what" works within the organization but never "how"? and "why", which would have made some of its plotline, particularly Preston's whole dramatics of becoming the next "Chromeskull" more engaging and understandable to watch.

But no. Chromeskull instead tries to mess around with multiple narratives from different character perspectives in a mush attempt to create some kind of coherent story, but it barely works since a lot of these characters are a hit-or-miss; Preston, for one, just acts like a pouty sourpuss with a fixated murder urge and nothing more. Now, what if we took some time to find out why he wanted to earn Chromeskull's respect and approval in the first place? Perhaps that way, I would have cared more about this character, or at least get my attention long enough  to see if he even will succeed in his goal. But nope, Preston's basically just this movie franchise's version of a disgruntled postman going postal and we're left with that.

Another dropped opportunity of a character would be Tommy, the other (well, only at this point) survivor from the first film who returns here to help the cops. Sort of. He is re-introduced here as a bitter young man still coping from the loss of his friend and under attack by one angry British roomie, only to be roped in aiding the cops with the lastest Chromeskull attacks. The film could have also tried focusing on him, maybe give him a storyline wherein he is forced to fight his demons (or demon. One chrome-face demon) after the kind of trauma he suffered, but alas. Tis was not meant to be, and he mostly spends his time in the background, only to do some sort of heroism at the end which kinda felt empty.

It seems that the only thing Chromeskull has going for is gore and, just as the first film, the kills here are fantastically gruesome on their details. From disembowelment to heads messily getting halfed, the only thing that kinda improves the slayings in this movie is the unusual variations of Chromeskull's signature daggers, which apparently can come in a brass knuckle form and some weird "buzzsaw throwing star" abomination. It is interesting to note that the movie actually took a while to get into the real mean bodycount, a massacre in the last act as local police and detectives get sliced and diced left and right, with the first hour spent dragging us along a "plot" involving murder corporation power struggles (which wasn't really struggling much) and the kidnapping of a girl with a defect that is lazily and simply "there". This being said, the massacre in the end can be well worth the wait, but there is a good chance that it can also leave you feeling a bit uneven with the rest of the film and even more "shallow" seeing that it did try to do more than a simple slasher movie.

The movie ends with a scene that teases a possible 3rd entry, but with the way this sequel is handled, I can't say that I'm that excited. The first movie was good on its own, a dumb popcorn movie with gore, a masked killer out for blood, and that should have been enough. Chromeskull: Laid To Rest 2, as much as I find its attempts to flesh itself out commendable, didn't feel solid enough in its efforts to earn my approval, but this might just be me since I'm reading a couple of horror junkies out there actually liking this. Maybe I'm just a guy who appreciates simplicity, or maybe I'm an idiot. Eitherways, Chromeskull? You should have been Laid to Rest. Period.

(Because, seriously. Bashed. Skull. Even if you survived that, you're more likely be a vegetable after that.)

1 male shot offcamera
1 male shot
1 female gutted with a dagger
1 female gets a thrown dagger through the temple, ear sliced off and bled to death
1 female sliced open with a dagger, stabbed in the mouth
1 female sliced with a customized "dagger star", shoved mouth first unto blades
2 females found rotting dead
1 male had his head sliced in half with daggers
1 male punched on the temple with customized "daggered knuckles"
1 male had his neck repeatedly sliced with daggers, decapitated
1 male stabbed on the back with a kitchen knife
1 male had his throat cut with a dagger
1 male shoved face-first to a hatchet
1 male pushed to meat hooks, neckcut with a machete
1 male gets jump leads attached to his ears and dunked to a tub, electrocuted and had his head bashed
1 female shot in the mouth
Total: 17

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Make Her Dead: Laid To Rest (2009)

Laid To Rest (2009)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring:Bobbi Sue Luther, Kevin Gage, Lena Headey

From its own opening credits in which a crazy montage of women being gored, flayed and stabbed in multitude of ways plays from what we can assume our killer's collection of snuff flicks, all the while guitar tunes grit through the screaming and pleading, it is evident that Laid to Rest is one splatter-friendly film that might just deliver. Might.

After that ruckus, we start the plot with an amnesiac girl waking up from a coffin in a funeral home, where she is soon made aware that a figure in black, bearing a chrome skull mask and a camcorder mounted on his shoulder is out to, in her words, "make her dead". (Random lady fail English? That's unpossible!) Narrowly escaping her attacker, the girl later gets picked up from a nearby road by a local named Tucker, who lets her stay with him and his wife for the night while they sort everything out in the morning. This, however, only leads to the killer, dubbed Chromeskull (for obvious reasons), to track down his target and begin a stabbing and slicing spree against just about anyone who happens to be around and/or is getting in the way.

And it's pretty much just that. The girl (later named Princess because of a random flashback), her good Samaritan-turned-fatherly bodyguard Tucker and Stephen, a geek who unfortunately gets roped into all of this chaos, going around town trying to find help while Chromeskull makes a killing out of random people as he chases after the trio. Many would argue Laid to Rest's paper-thin plot is a considerable big issue to endure and I say this is justifiable; a chase movie with a killer and a gory bodycount could work as shown in films like The Hitcher (1986) or the obscure 1990 Midnight Ride, and this film definitely shows it has the budget to do more with its crisp picture quality and fair-enough audio work, but it instead went in with the easy route and one can only go so far from introducing multitudes of characters in one minute only to be savagely filleted in the next in a repeated pattern before it can get a bit predictable or even tedious to follow at some parts.

Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how much stupidity and convenient writing you can digest), an assortment of dumb decisions and horrible luck somehow managed to lengthen and twist Laid To Rest's simplistic (or lack of) story. From Princess going back to the funeral home in hopes of jogging her memory (and getting more people killed. Of course) to a modernized take on the "phone is dead" scenario that most middle-in-the-woods homes seem to suffer with, ultimately leading to no cops showing up until it's too friggin' late, the damning number of these contrivances is nearly comical that one can't help but laugh at how much trouble and death a single bad decision ends up to. This factor, though, weighs little in the dumb department compared to who should have been our sympathetic lead girl, whose attempted excuse for being as troublesome as a goddamn toddler is that she lost her memory. I guess the film was trying to make her sympathetic through what's technically a handicap, but yeah, I'm no doctor but I don't think Amnesia works that way. I could be wrong, of course, but the matter of fact is that it gets pretty annoying later, especially if what she does often result to anyone who do so much as rub their skin against her getting the pointy end of the dagger.

And speaking of which, perhaps the very thing that made Laid To Rest a worthy viewing would be the insanely gruesome practical effects work by Almost Human Inc., which made sure a staggering percent of the murders committed here are as insane and gorily chunky as possible, with death rattles, gross detailing and sickening editing and sounds thrown in for maximum effect just for the gorehounds within us. All of these are bettered by the killer introduced to commit them, a silent yet enraged Chromeskull whose origins are little, if not altogether unknown (though there are hints of his medical background as he was shown performing quick surgeries on himself), and murderous motives made extremely clear with its simplicity: to record and kill, just to taunt the officials who've been after him for quite some time now. This lack of origin somehow effectively fits with Chromeskull's abundance of body language as he personifies a threat that is simply "there", but with a personality that's intensely and creatively unpredictable.

In the end, Laid To Rest is simply a modern popcorn B-flick, something you can pop on to poke fun at and/or cheer for the insane graphic violence it offers. It's not going to give anything more than a cool killer and his wonderfully gorific bodycount to keep its audience glued to the screen, so if you're up for a junk food slasher that's all taste but no depth, this is a perfect film for you!

1 female seen being shoved into a coffin, presumably killed (opening credit)
1 female slaughtered with daggers (opening credit)
1 female slaughtered with daggers (opening credit)
1 female had her eyes thumbed (opening credits)
1 female seen with words carved on her belly (opening credit)
1 female flayed open with a dagger (opening credit)
1 male impaled with an iron rod
1 female ran through the head with a dagger
1 male had his face sliced off with a dagger
1 female sliced on the gut, torn open
1 male found slaughtered
1 male found slaughtered
1 female decapitated with a dagger
A number of female bodies found murdered and rotting in a barn
1 male had his head blown off with a sawed-off shotgun
1 male had his throat repeatedly sliced, decapitated
1 male gets tire sealant poured into his ear, head melted from the inside
1 male stabbed on the chest with a dagger
Total: 17+

Children of The Lake: Bodom (2016)

Bodom (Finland, 2016) (AKA "Lake Bodom")
Rating: ****
Starring:  Nelly Hirst-Gee, Mimosa Willamo, Mikael Gabriel

On June 5th, 1960, Finland's Lake Bodom became the grisly site of a brutal crime as four teenagers camping there got attacked by something or someone. It's one survivor couldn't tell much what exactly happened that night, leaving a chilling mystery that lives on to this day, surviving through many speculations ranging from the one survivor being the murderer responsible, to it being the work of a violent 15-year old.

In this film, high schooler Atte is fascinated (or more fittingly, obsessed) by this unsolved murder spree that he devises a plan to recreate the event in hopes of either solving the mystery or at least getting some new insights. In order to do this, he convinced two girls at school, Ida and Nora, to join him and his friend Elias to the lake, though he didn't let on to the girls what he is planning until they finally arrived at the site. Though rightfully upset, the girls settle down eventually and even try to at least enjoy the outdoors with their escorts, but as these "teenagers at infamous campsite" flicks go, something is bound to go wrong at nightfall and the teens find themselves hunted. Just like 40 years ago...

From a quick glance, Lake Bodom is easy to picture as your classic backwoods slasher type but I am glad to say this isn't the case for most parts. True, it has the backbone plot of teens going to the woods to enjoy themselves, but there's a strong self-aware tone to this backdrop and the characters themselves behave very little like your run-in-the-mill slasher victims, each appearing to bear their own personal crosses and are subtle down because of this, effectively selling themselves as near-realistic depictions of teenagers with uncertainties (either emitting them or feeling them) rather than over-the-top caricatures.

For a moment, Lake Bodom even tricked us into believing it will devolve into a cliched slasher narrative, but through a series of unexpected yet perfectly timed twists, not only did Bodom managed to keep itself fresh but it also made its story more intriguing to follow as it switches back and forth from being a dead teenager horror movie to a crime thriller curve-ball and you can't fully tell what's bound to happen next. It's during these twists that Bodom shows its accomplishments as a horror/thriller hybrid, showcasing quality directions and effective nail-biting sequences and stunt work, giving the audience something worth their time and money from what could have been just a simple bodycounter.

I guess if I'm going to produce any kind of nitpick, it'll be the low killcount, though I don't believe this will be a real problem as Bodom's focus is evidently on developing plot and characters to produce its scares and thrills, rather than exploiting gore and blood for shock value. It's a nice change of pace and plotting for a modern slasher, making this film feel something of a throwback to a good 90s teen thriller with a commendable production quality and I will personally say there's always a room for that in this day and age.

With this, I give Lake Bodom a strong approval for not only die hard slasher fans, but the horror fandom in general. It's both simplistic and complex, predictable and unexpected, an odd symbiosis of contrasts that works wonderfully in a slasher/thriller hybrid that's well deserving of its praises and more. Don't you dare miss this.

1 male stabbed with a hunting knife, bled to death
1 male stabbed to death with a hunting knife
1 female stabbed to death with a hunting knife
Total: 3

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Eat Bloody Tampons: Tonight She Comes (2016)

Tonight She Comes (2016)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Larissa White, Jenna McDonald, Frankie Ray

As a life lesson, my mother taught me not to set my expectations too high on the good chance that what I am building around up here in my head will be completely different to what I'll be getting in real life, just to save myself from any disappointment. Now this is a pretty basic and universal fact to keep in mind and I mostly take this approach to a lot of things like new meals, meeting people, jobs, books to read and, of course, films. But since I am human, I'm still prone to forgetting this and often a times I expected fun gory good times from movies like Tonight She Comes, especially if it comes with a rocking poster art and a decent-enough trailer.

Oh, how wrong I was...for most parts.

Tonight starts with a little reminder that the movie should be played loud "as hell" (a spot-on recommendation as the film's 75.5 % insane dialogue) before showing us a pregnant Kristy running from something- or someone- in the woods at midnight. She tried phoning for help to no avail and it seems she doesn't want whatever is growing inside her as she starts stabbing her womb (which is carved with Satanic symbols, mind you) with a glass shard.

After that spectacle, in comes the following day and we now follow Kristy's two gal pals, Ashley and Lyndsey, on their way to the same woods for a camping weekend, and they are soon joined by, through a series of mistakes and dumb luck, a local teenage mail boy and his peeping tom friend. The two parties basically bonded over booze, drugs and pranks, and all seems to be going well until one of them stumbles upon Kristy's non-pregnant, woundless and naked body. After that, all hell breaks loose, and then some.

On a nutshell, Tonight She Comes is set up like your typical backwoods-type, with dumb teenagers driving to the woods to do some fun, only to encounter something deadly out to kill them all. What this film did with this backdrop, however, is anything but typical as it throws in a good dash of demonic/witchcraft horror, along with off-kilter black comedy and gross-out splatter gags, an attempt that only half-worked with more misses than hits.

You see, there is being sincerely funny through wit and there's being obnoxiously annoying by trying too hard. Tonight dangerously leans close to the latter as it milks dry whatever exaggerated cliches it can grab hold to, mainly the fact that its characters are mostly drunken perverted idiots and that there's supposed to be a lot of blood at work (because, y'know, horror!) in the hopes that it'll be funny. Personally, you can only force so much dumbassery with your characters before it borderlines into irritating, juvenile and boring, plus dedicating an entire sequence to a single gross-out gag just felt lengthy, one-dimensional and overcooked to the point it lost whatever comic factor the filmmakers were aiming for. This left Tonight very tedious and cheap to watch, a bloody mess of scripting, acting and editing, which is a big damn shame since the mythos they built around the killer is so full of potential, it's almost the only good thing you can get from watching this wreckage.

I like the fact that the killer is a ritual gone wrong and that she is a tad pleasing in the eyes being completely naked par a cake of blood all over her. She gives off an aura of both alluring mysticism and savage slasher horror, capable of withstanding mortal attacks and lashing out a few impressive murders, but she's never really used all that much and she's mostly just there walking around like a dazed zombie. The murder count of Tonight, in turn, doesn't really deliver much despite some few decent executions (a sleeping bag bashing and some eyes thumbed. Ouch), all blame falling on how far apart they are from each other, how senselessly boring the scenes between them are, and how they are mostly wasted on such poorly constructed meatbags that this movie deems as "characters".

Perhaps if it took better time to write a more solid narrative and, I dunno, worked on some actually funny splatter gags, I bet Tonight She Comes would have been the next Evil Dead II (and I got a feeling this is what the producers were aiming for) but, no. It stuck around with grade school level dialogue, desperately and repeatedly shoves one joke on us that quickly lost its touch, and pretty much just gave up on the climax as everything simply falls apart to a bloody but pointless pile of mush. If you are eyeing to see this film expecting a fun horror movie, you're only going to get that for the first ten to fifteen minutes so, no. Don't bother. Go watch all Evil Dead movies and TV series instead. Same horror comedy promises, better execution.

1 female repeatedly bashed to a tree
1 body seen under some sheets
1 male shot with a shotgun
1 male bled to death from a cut wrist
1 female had her face burnt with ritualized blood, bitten on the neck
1 male found with his face pulped with a telescope, groin mangled
1 male murdered with a glass shard
1 driver presumably murdered, blood splatter seen
1 female had her eyes thumbed
Total: 9

(P.S. For the marketing shmuck who dared call this shit It Follows meet Cabin Fever? I think I have a working jackhammer here with your name on it. Why don't you come down here and bend over, you lying horse shi-)

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Bottom Barrel Scraps Vol 2

Coz sometimes, there is such as thing as too long reviews for movies that are so bad, dull and/or boring, they don't deserve them.

I Hate You (2004)
Rating: 1/2
Starring: Marvin W. Schwartz, Bill Santiago, Chuck Corbett

Welp, this is one Sunday afternoon back at 2013 I'm not getting back. I Hate You follows a comedian with a morbid sense of humor venting out his frustrations as a failed comic by murdering random people during his free time. It's supposed to be this satirical dark comedy that's kinda reaching out for a meaning behind the carnage but all I saw was a lot of uninteresting talk, unfunny jokes and unengaging drama packaged with a series of bloody yet uninspired murders.

It isn't relatively long but the lifeless portrayal of a supposed comedian anti-hero made I Hate You a very tiring film to watch and I couldn't be happier by the time it is finally over. I Hate You, too, movie. I Hate You, too...

1 male stabbed to death
1 female beaten to death with a pipe
1 female brained with a hammer
1 female repeatedly stabbed on the gut
1 male brained with a hammer
1 female killed with a hammer
1 male stabbed to death with a hunting knife
1 male brained with a rock
1 female killed offscreen, method unknown
1 female stabbed to death with a buck knife
1 female seen with throat slit
Total: 11

Night of The Clown (1998)
Rating: 1/2
Starring: Lisa Cook, Todd Jason Cook, Chad Eubanks

How do you save money from casting other people to act in your micro-budget movie? Why, play six different roles and use the good ole' "they are sextuplets" plot element, of course! But will this guarantee a fun horror comedy as a result? Welp, if the story is shit to begin with and the final products looks more like a film project that never meant to see daybreak then, no, it just shows how cheap your movie is, how too routine its writing can be and probably will make some folks like me question your talent as a filmmaker. If you really wanted to know what went down in this dreck, though: a woman is visited by her husband's identical brothers to discuss about some inheritance from a pickle company, only for the boys to get offed by a loon in a clown costume. Big dumb supernatural reveal, this way come!

1 male had his eyes whacked off with a golf club
1 male stabbed to death with a dagger
1 male ran through the back with a mannequin arm
1 male decapitated with a machete
1 male decapitated with a machete
1 male decapitated with a machete
1 female decapitated with a machete
1 male disemboweled with a leaf blower
1 male blown apart
Total: 9

Victims! (1985)
Rating: *
Starring: Ava Kauffman, Robert Axelrod, Lonny Withers

The best thing about Victims! ? Its opening sequence featuring a killer in a terrible grandma drag hacking random women to death, only to be tackled down in broad daylight by a heroic citizen after knifing a victim in public. Do you wanna know why this is the best part? Cos this is the ONLY reason Victims! keeps getting roped as a slasher. The rest of the movie has nothing to do with that massacre and is instead a lint-budgeted rape-and-revenge/survival thriller hybrid centering on a group of girls in a desert (supposedly studying rock formations, but all I see they do is frolic in bikinis and swim in a lake) getting harassed by a pair of jailbreak-fresh robbing rapists. The acting in this is just abysmal, slaughtering away with it any sense of shock and intensity the film might be wishing for us to see. Audio is probably the worst thing about Victims as I can't really tell what's everybody gawking about most of the time, this including around the dialogue-heavy ending. Can you just imagine sitting through an entire movie with barely audible audio? So much fun...

1 female gets an axe to the head
1 female hacked to death with a meat cleaver
1 female knifed to death
1 male shot
1 male bludgeoned with a shotgun
1 male falls to his death
1 female shot (flashback)
Total: 7

The Shaman (1987)
Rating: 1/2
Starring: Avind Harum, Michael Conforti, James Farkas

And now, a rarity of a movie deserving its rarity. The Shaman follows the titular bad guy convincing a frustrated writer to become his prodigy because... magic powers say so. Said prodigy initiation involves killing some people and we do get a couple of (boring) murders, but the rest of the film eventually becomes this test of patience, alertness and probably how long one can keep their sanity watching this film as the shaman brainwashes the parents of two children into doing his murderous bidding too, which kinda questions why our supernatural(?) bad guy here is having such a hard time making a prodigy out of a whiny writer. The obvious low-budget is obvious, the atrocious talents involved are just laughable, and the story is as muddled as an elephant's watering hole, which makes its 80 or so minute running time feel like 80 years. How exactly did I end up seeing this, I can't recall, but I bet it was some sort of evil ploy to shorten my life coz I just wasted a piece of my life seeing this turd...

1 male had his throat cut with a knife
1 male stabbed with a knife
1 male had his throat cut
1 female stabbed with a dagger
1 male shot with a shotgun
Total: 5

Butcher Knife (1987) (AKA "Doctor Bloodbath")
Rating: *
Starring: Albert Eskinazi, Irmgard Millard, Joan Simon

You know you're in big trouble when a 56 minute movie felt like 3 to 6 hours long. I might be exaggerating but I honestly recall trying to keep myself awake more than one time just to stay focused on this movie for the sake of this review, a life choice I now question along with what's left of my sanity.

Basically, the movie's about a doctor who runs a pregnancy counseling center driven mad into killing the patients he performed abortion to (deeming some of them as 'murderers', oh the irony) as well as his mother fucking ugly hag faced I mean God! Look at those eyebrows! I swear I thought she was a man in a drag wife who have been cheating behind him.

The production is inept at best, with everything from editing and camera work to acting and even lighting more or less a sad excuse for film making. I can tell some people will get a good laugh at how bad this movie is, but apparently I couldn't put myself to enjoy the madness perhaps out of my own standards. I will give Butcher Knife some credit on the bloody killings and a few oddball script though, but the overall final product will forever be a chore to watch.

1 female knifed to death
1 female hacked to death with a meat cleaver
1 female stabbed to death with a screwdriver
1 female bludgeoned with a hammer
1 female stabbed to death with a butcher knife
1 female stabbed to death with a butcher knife
Total: 6

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Dissipated Spirits: A White Dress for Mariale (1972)

A White Dress for Mariale (Un bianco vestito per Marialé ) (Italy, 1972) (AKA "Spirits of Death"
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Ida Galli, Ivan Rassimov, Luigi Pistilli

Before directing the depressing 80s cult slasher flick and Video Nasty Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, Romano Scavolini directed this barely discussed 70s giallo about trauma, murder and bashit insane masquerade parties.

As a child, Mariale saw her father turn a gun to himself after he murdered his wife and her lover after catching them canoodling under the sun. Now as an adult, Mariale is married to Paolo, a wealthy man who goes through many lengths to keep her drugged and stuck inside his ancient Gothic pallazo, in an apparent attempt to cut her off from the world. But it appears that Mariale have successfully made contact without her husband's knowing, as her friends suddenly arrive one day in response to her invitation. Now with no other choice but to entertain these guests, Paolo lets in Mariale's former lover Massimo, a racist husband named Gustavo and his black wife Semy, and a polygamous trio, Joe, Sebastiano and Mercedes to his crumbling abode.

While Paolo gives a tour around the pallazo (both parts renovated and not-so-renovated), Mariale confides with Massimo about her rough living conditions under her husband and his brutish manservant, though it seems she's not that keen on bringing all of this up with the rest of her friends and it even looks like she's not all up there. The situation becomes further surreal when an indoor storm breaks in the pallazo's cavern-slash-basement and the gang's primal and hedonistic nature seemingly awakens as they all dress up in Renaissance clothing and partake in unrestrained lewdness.

By this point, A White Dress for Mariale cemented itself as a giallo of the more artsy and psychedelic kind as all sorts of strangeness and uneasiness break into one wild mess, this including a lengthy dance scene with a nearly naked Semy and a traumatized character being "calmed" down with homosexual sex. It's pretty confusing and a tad too bizzare for its own good, but it kinda works well in the sense that it introduced a feeling of uncertainty and tension to the film's final third, in which both the characters and plot gets back in track and transitions into a more standard murder mystery, or at least it tries to.

An issue I have with Dress is that not a lot of its characters are that likable. I understand that not all movies had to have relatable characters to work, but with most of the male casts here depicted a brutes and the women are often seen sexualizing themselves, it does make them a little chore to watch, albeit still pretty interesting for most times with their random antics, cheesy overacting and uber-sexual kookiness. Since I find it hard to feel for most of our thespians, (save Giallo heavy hitters Ida Galli, Ivan Rassimov and Luigi Pistilli as Mariale, Massimo and Paolo respectively, the only characters I can enjoy without looking at them oddly) it leaves many of the killings at the latter act feel kinda empty despite being adequate enough with its blood work, a point that doesn't help the somewhat predictable twist reveal introduced in the end.

What really works in Dress would be the surreal Gothic touches and eeriness it sets throughout the film. The plot may have taken a toll from the wildly bizzare nature of the narrative (or putting it more bluntly, the middle act which felt more like an overly long fever dream of political incorrectness) but it does make this giallo stand out a bit above straight-faced Italian mysteries, even more given how effectively lasting the tone it sets, as well as some of the artsy visuals tend to work in favor of the direction's psuedo-supernatural aftertaste.

Not exactly a fine giallo in terms of grounded mysteries or wholesome plot development, but A White Dress for Mariale is definitely an entertainingly trippy one. I would say those who are new to gialli movies should save this one for a later time as its insanely wild nature can be overwhelming, but veteran Italian thriller fans can certainly find a thing or two to enjoy from this giallo.

1 male shot
1 female shot dead
1 male shot
1 male brained to death with a hammer
1 male stabbed with a dagger
1 female repeatedly beaten with a staff, drowned
1 male mauled apart by dogs
1 female murdered offcamera
1 male slashed to death with razor
1 female shot with a shotgun
1 male shot with a shotgun
1 male shot with a shotgun
Total: 12

The Eyes Shall See: Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971)

Short Night of Glass Dolls (La corta notte delle bambole di vetro) (Italy, 1971) (AKA "Paralyzed", "The Short Night of the Butterflies")
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Ingrid Thulin, Jean Sorel, Mario Adorf

To some horror fans, the term giallo is likely be associated with violent 70s Italian murder mysteries under the works of Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci or Dario Argento, which will become a strong influence to the existence of slasher movies, mainly because some gialli practiced the use of splashy yet methodic murders for their bodycounts, something that would become the key element to their more stalk-and-stab grandchildren. However, once in a while we get subtle oddities of a giallo that are much closer to noir thrillers than a bodycounting dead teenage flicks. Oddities like Perfume of a Lady in Black (1974), Death Laid an Egg (1968) and this title here, Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971).

From the very start, Glass Dolls catches our attention with a strange premise; on an early morning at a park in Prague, a body of a man is found by the park keeper who, assuming it is a corpse, phones the ambulance to pick it up. Upon arriving at the hospital, the body is identified as Gregory Moore, an American journalist, and somewhat baffles the nurses as one of them points out that it suffers very little rigor mortis. The reason for this is quite terrifying as it turns out Gregory is in fact still alive, but paralyzed in a death-like catatonic state and his situation will soon turn deadly as he is eventually deemed dead and to be dissected for a medical class.

Desperate for answers, Gregory has no choice but to try and recall what lead to his predicament and it is here we see what went on days earlier: while visiting the country, he fell in love with a local girl named Mira and promised to help her escape from Prague. She, unfortunately, disappeared after attending a social event, prompting Gregory and his two colleagues to investigate this when local police failed to do any form of progress on the case. What Gregory didn't expect is that this isn't the first time such a disappearance happened and there are people at high places working to keep it all a secret and they're not afraid to dispose a body or two.

Since it has a stronger approach on building an intriguing mystery than exploitative kill counts and sleaze, Glass Dolls does a commendable effort in bringing the serious out of its surreal plot as it begins with trailing through what could have been a standardized crime thriller, only to end up with a nightmarish scenario that greatly and effectively plays on paranoia. It can get a bit over-the-top with a few hiccups of cheese and the fantastic littered here and there, but the execution of its mystery in a near-whole is realistic at most and captivating enough to follow through even if the ride can get a tad bumpy, if not overlong at times.

The film looks and feels wonderful with its artsy use of visuals and haunting scores, both used quite often here to emphasize the dream-like quality of the story, as well as act as visual and auditory pieces to many recurring themes. Its editing and direction can leave the movie a bit too brooding for its own good, especially around the first half where our characters were given some form of development before they begin looking into or falling victim to whatever is going on within the city. It can get a while to get things going in turn, but once the movie crawls its way to its climax, the surrealist nature eventually sobers down and patiently works its way to a possibly grim conclusion.

Talents involved were okay-ish for most parts, including Jean Sorel as our now-victim-then-cocky-journalist Gregory Moore who does a good run on his slow character transformation, and Barbara Bach as the mysterious Mira who is more or less a pretty face before she becomes a simple name that just drives the plot to wherever it needed to go. Suffice to say, not a whole lot to discuss about acting as it's hardly that bad, but it's not that spectacular either.

Since the murders are often offcamera and whatever gets to be shown onscreen aren't all that creative, those expecting the same kind of brutality or showmanship on the killing department may need to look elsewhere, or at least try to loosen up. For its worth, Short Night of Glass Dolls is a recommendable giallo title for those who love a good mystery on their Italian thrillers and don't mind a little tameness and strangeness along an incredible setting.

1 male seen dead
1 female body found near a river
1 male thrown off from an overpass, falls to his death
1 female seen dead underneath flowers
1 male murdered with a switchblade offcamera
1 male stabbed on the chest with a scalpel
Total: 6

The Naked Clown: Among The Living (2014)

Among The Living (Aux Yeux Des Vivants) (France, 2014)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Anne Marivin, Théo Fernandez, Francis Renaud

Filmmakers Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo are among the few people in the horror community I keep an eye out for mainly due to their movie Inside (2007), a new wave French slasher centering on a pregnant woman fighting off a deranged maniac who wants to cut out and steal her baby. It is extremely graphic and a wonderfully intense piece of modern horror that managed to unnerve me, so much so I consider it as one of the best slashers out there. With this being a fact, I obviously wanted to see more from Julien and Alexandre and, so far with Livid (2011) and that gruesome ABCs of Death 2 short X is for Xylophone, they're doing okay....ish.

From that, we now look into their third feature, Among The Living, which opens one Halloween night in France where a soldier suffering from PTSD gets savagely attacked by his pregnant wife (Inside (2007) actress Beatrice Dalle in a cameo) apparently out of frustration from taking care of both him and their seemingly deformed son. After failing to kill off both her spouse and boy, however, the matriarch decided to end it all by stabbing her own womb instead before slashing her own throat in front of her family. Not wanting anymore trouble to fall on him and his son, the disturbed husband flees the scene with his children (Yes. Children. The now-dead fetus, too), driving away into the night.

Some time later, three young troublemakers, Victor, Dan and Tom, skip the rest of their school day after causing too much ruckus and set off to do some more juvenile fun instead such as setting angry farmers' barns on fire in revenge for almost breaking one of their limbs, or simply relaxing on a row boat at a small lake. But this time, the lads see something peculiar as a tow truck they never seen before drives by and enters an abandoned movie studio, with a car on tow. Following the truck out of curiosity, the boys are horrified to find a woman bound and gag inside the trunk of the car, and a large man in a rotting clown mask emerges to take her away.

After a failed attempt to rescue the woman, the boys are later found by cops (sent to look for them after the barn burning incident) and their story of masked men kidnapping women naturally fell to deaf ears knowing their history for trouble. Their respective families are also quick to dismiss the event as another tall tale, something no short of a deadly mistake when the masked man somehow followed them all home and starts to methodically snuff them dead one by one.

From the sound of the plot alone, I wanted to like Among The Living a bit more than what I do right now, since it is technically a slasher with a child murder taboo-breaking. For most parts, it does exactly that with the clown masked man, now stripped nude and going sortah frontal on us (you'll know what I mean by "sortah" once you see it), stalking and killing the children who bore witness to his crime, mostly taking along whoever else happens to be in the house with them. This is usually a nice set-up to build some intense and distressing scenario and Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo definitely show they still got the directional flair to do suspense, shocks and creepy imagery, but I can't help but feel underwhelmed.

I could try to be as shallow as possible and just simply enjoy the horror offerings provided, but the first act of the movie did an otherwise okay job building around the three boys that I really wanted to see more of these kids and their lives. Granted we are given some expositions and even a little glimpse of what's going on in each of their little worlds, they did little to further flesh out the children, which is a big negatory for any main characters as the ambiguity of whether they will make it out of the ordeal alive or not often lies to how well liked and relatable they are. Once the killings begin, the kids and more or less everybody else who get roped in the chaos are easily reduced to slasher flick victims, with half of them dying less-than-spectacular deaths, adding insult to my injuries.

This leads to another issue of mine with Among The Living; now, I understand that a good deal of these killings may have been done in a certain way for artistic flair, but I have mixed feelings with the continuous series of offscreen kills around the middle part of the film, something I find odd since the movie had no problem showcasing blood, guts and aborted fetuses at the opening, as well as continue bringing us onscreen carnage after these portions with the offcamera slayings. To be fair, I do find half of these offscreen deaths quite creative and darkly comical as they used an ominously brightening glow and an intensifying heart beat to imply the character's end, but I wouldn't mind seeing some of these characters get their a brutal comeuppance (Like a certain abusive father) and I personally believed a lot important players were killed off too soon.

Still, as mentioned prior, Among The Living possesses some of the more effectively creepy and intense scenes for a slasher flick, like a good ole take on the popular "clown doll" urban legend and one torture porn-ish murder involving a broken arm cast, a chisel and a foot. The whole tone of the movie even deviates itself from a common slasher as it has that dark fantasy air of sorts with its gypsy-inspired soundtrack, humanoid monsters and devilish cavern-turned secret lairs. Whenever it wanted to be brutal, it does tries its best to be as brutal as it can be, but I can tell there's a stronger priority on atmosphere here.

The killer (soon killers) committing these atrocities is an interesting fellow too, being a disfigured man (?) who has no problem going buff while he prowls and murders. The last time I recall we have a nudist killer would be the butt-naked serial murderer Warren Stacy from the cop thriller/slasher hybrid 10 to Midnight (1983) and, to some extent, the titular Mary Hatchet of the underrated guilty pleasure Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet (2009), but what sets our nudie killer apart from these guys would be the fact that he prefers to murder using nothing but his strength, impressively seen when he easily breaks a plaster cast and re-breaks an arm. He is eventually joined by his own father (revealed early on as the same father at the opening slaughter) who brought out the more stabby n' slashy killings, with a nice touch of chemical weapons to boot.

Altogether, its issues led Among The Living being dry and uninspired respectively in the blood and story department, but when it comes to creep factor and tone, it still found a way to make a lot of that work despite the lackluster story. I honestly believe this film would have done better if it focused more on building its character and paced its killings a bit, but it's here, existing, so we might as well try to enjoy it. If you love odd French horror films or at least appreciates an atmospheric one, Among The Living might be right up your alley. If you prefer a warmer, stickier and redder slasher flick, you may wanna try something else. Like Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo's extreme first feature opus.

1 pregnant female knifed her own womb, throat cut
1 female killed offcamera, method unknown
1 boy killed, method unknown
1 male shot (?), later found mangled
1 boy killed, method unknown
1 male beaten, later paralyzed with a chisel and choked on killer's foot
1 female shot
1 male poisoned, crushed with a rock
1 male had his face sliced off with a sword
1 male stabbed with a sword, shot on the head
Total: 10

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Don't Wait To Buy Land. Kill For It: Dream Home (2010)

Dream Home (Hong Kong, 2010) (AKA "Victoria No. 1")
Rating: ****
Starring:  Josie Ho, Ching Wong, Helen To

In this dark mix of satirical drama and deliciously bloody bodycounting, we start things off with a security guard catching forty winks while someone armed with construction tools slowly slips a nylon tie around his neck. With one sharp tug, the guard finds himself awake, soon to be out of breath and desperately looking for something to cut off the tie while our perpetrator stands cautiously nearby, watching all of this unfold. The garroted guard eventually finds a box cutter and tries to slice the nylon off, only to end up digging deep into this neck and gouging himself to death.

After that attention-grabbing debacle, we flashback sometime earlier and follow one Chang-Lai Sheung, a twenty-something Hong Kong woman working two jobs in order to save enough to rent an apartment with a view of the Victoria Harbor. Her dedication to acquire such a specific settlement stems from both a childhood dream and the struggles she went through as a working adult, wherein she and her family suffers through the eighties and nineties Hong Kong property boom in which poorer families were forced away from their homes (often through criminal means) in order for their land to be used in constructing luxury flats. 

While we watch these little non-linear snippets of Sheung's past showcase her slow obsession to better her and her family's lives, we are also treated with present day interjections of a mad killer brutally murdering flat occupants in a manner so worthy of the slasher sub-genre. What's intriguing about this killing spree is that the film eventually identifies the killer as none other than Sheung herself in an early reveal that hits us no soon after the twenty minute mark. While this may have ruined any potential mystery between the connection of the building flat massacre to Sheung's plight for a flat with a sea side view, it does instead help cement the fact that Dream Home will be more of a character-heavy narration early on, with the only question in mind would be how far will our lead go to get what she wants?

To be fair, a lot of the drama thriller portion works; rather than bombarding us with an hour or so of straight life tragedies before serving us the gory helpings of sliced up teens and unexpected victims, Dream Home's time-jumping almost bite-sized approach to the events that lead to the massacre help even out the pacing as well as not overdo the sappy soul-sucking realism that is the economy and the things it brings out of people who cannot keep up with it. It also helps that Hong Kong singer and actress Josie Ho was pretty good as an inexperienced killer who gets beaten around nearly as much as her victims, though excelled far better in her role as a victim of society shouldering what can be looked at as a (twisted) Herculean task in today's market.

When it comes to the slasher bits, I can guarantee Dream Home will be a gore hound's wet dream; while some of the murders were obviously CGed (like a certain eye-popping scene that looked a tad too cartoonish to be anywhere realistic), a good deal of the gore and blood still used old fashioned corn syrup and really nasty practical and make-up works. These deaths range from simple knife killings to methodically torturous vacuum suffocation, some intentional while others are accidental, but they all have that mostly justified mean-spirited streak to them as most of the victims aren't so innocent to begin with. I guess it was a way for the film to ease us into rooting for the killer, but one or two kills may keep us from entirely forgetting Sheung isn't too well in the head at this point, particularly one murder involving a pregnant woman who miscarries during the attack. I also love the fact that this film found a way to enhance the intensity of these killings by confining them in small spaces which the further the plot goes, the tighter and more claustrophobic they become.

If we are going to look for any drawbacks, I could try squeezing out some issues I have with some of the flashbacks taking a bit while to get going, but I learned to understand and accept it as necessary for building up to the massacre and Sheung's character. I could also try pointing out the absurdity of the whole massacre as an over-the-top solution for such a contrasting realistic problem but Dream Home is half slasher flick and slashers, by most parts, are supposed to be exaggeratedly hardcore and bloody. (I mean, if slashers were to remain uber-realistic then Friday the 13th's Jason Voorhees isn't a walking meat-tank of a killer and everyone in John Carpenter's Halloween would have figured out that, after guns failing to work on him in 4 to 5 movies, they could at least try decapitating Michael Myers. (Coz, if done right, I'm really sure the big guy isn't gonna do his famous "robotic sit-up" with his noggin missing)) I guess what I'm getting at here is that Dream Home is a movie meant for genre fans and the only issue I can see here is whether it'll be for one's taste or not. If you're a horror fan who's open to something a bit dramatic once in a while then this Asian slasher has a lot to offer for your on-screen bloodlust. If you're not a horror fan, or at least is a horror fan who is not into over-the-top gore and upsetting deaths, then why on the green Earth are you doing reading this blog?

1 male garroted with a nylon tie, neck with a boxcutter
1 female gets a screwdriver ran through her head
1 pregnant female gets a vacuumed seal bag over her head, smothered
1 male had his neck broken against a night stand
1 female passed away, cause unknown (flashback)
1 male stabbed on the neck with a broken bong
1 female had her head slammed through a toilet
1 male suffers a mesothelioma attack, suffocates (flashback)
1 male repeatedly ran through with a knife, castrated
1 female shot, impaled through the head with a broken plank
1 male throat cut with a knife, bled to death
1 male shot through the temple
1 male shot in the mouth
Total: 13