Saturday, September 30, 2017
Starring: Deborah Kara Unger, Stephen Dorff, Johnathon Schaech
Looking back at notorious groups and communities started by the likes of Charles Manson, Jim Jones or that one bald Heaven's Gate guy who believes aliens will save everyone's souls via suicide, one can agree that brainwashed cults are pretty terrifying for the lengths they do to show their devotion, which nothing short of an obvious reason why cult themed horror flicks are still a staple to this day, albeit in varying quality in terms of scares, thrills and seriousness. Among all of them, though, how many ever tried tackling the subject of deprogramming a cult member?
Set in the 1980s, Jackals starts with a cold opening of someone's point-of-view, quietly breaking into a house and entering the sleeping owners' room to steal some cash. The intruder, finding a pair of scissors, then proceeds to snip a few strands of hair from the sleeping couple, only for both of them to wake up and prompting the intruder to stab them to death. Now with a need to satisfy their bloodlust, the intruder next enters the couple's daughter's room, only for her (and us) to realize that the murderous figure is her brother; this, sadly, did little to save her from being strangled to death by her own kin.
One credit sequence later, we watch another family waiting in a backwoods cabin for someone to bring back their teenage boy. That someone is Jimmy, a military trained "deprogrammer" who's supposed to have the skills to undo brainwashing, something the family needs right now as their estranged boy, Justin, joined a notorious murder cult.
Now for Jimmy, kidnapping, drugging, driving back with and restraining Justin in the cabin is the easy part. To deprogram him, however, proves to be a challenge as not only is Justin utterly convinced that his real family (as in the cult) is out there, but his real "real" family isn't all that functional themselves; through the course of the movie, it shows that Mr and Mrs Powell separated after one of them was caught cheating, Justin's brother Campbell has a short temper, and Justin knocked up his girlfriend Samantha, who is now taking care their baby girl, Zoe. Their situation worsens, unfortunately, when the cult itself decided to show up and surround the cabin, intent on killing those responsible for kidnapping their "brother" and getting him back.
See, I like this concept. Perhaps there are already films tackling cult deprogramming before Jackals but this one is a first for me and I love the fact that it's even one bit slasher flick and another bit siege movie. One can imagine an intense psychological mind game between the deprogrammer and the cultist while a family fights off a murderous group from the plot alone but, perhaps, I expected too much.
Sadly, while the psychological aspects is there in the film's flow, some directions it took made its outcomes too obvious and almost borderline the film into tedious territories. Without giving away much, let's just say that a supposedly important player in the cast gets killed off too soon (and not so spectacularly, if I may add), leaving the rest of the "group" to deal with the brainwashing matter on their own and failing miserably multiple times. Perhaps it's the movie's attempt to toy with the audience's hopes that the drama brewing within this "group" would chip into the psyche of a cult member and somehow reverse whatever bullshit they are believing (plus there is that one teeny-tiny moment where Justin seems to recognize his mother), but, again, seeing how everyone in this "group" handle one another through the film, the results are painfully obvious and it could have been handled better. (In case you don't know who the "group" consists of, see paragraph# 5. Spoiler alert.)
This left Jackals more recognizable as siege and backwoods slasher hybrid of sorts, which would have been fine if the slasher antics are anywhere as good as the opening act, and the siege was more, what's the word? Perfectly timed? For me, what made movies like The Strangers (2009), or Them (2006) work so well is that their suspense has a build-up; we get to know the characters and their situation first before the movie creeps up the scares and shocks until its chaotic climax. Jackals, on the other hand, reveals the full extent of what the family is dealing with a way lot early and basically left them (and us), alternately waiting for one of two things to happen for the rest of the run: a dumb plan or an attack.
To be fair, some of the plans the family throws around to survive the night wouldn't sound so dumb (and dare I say might have even lead to some decent thrills and surprises) if the movie hadn't rushed itself. If you ever saw Adam Wingard's You're Next and recall that one scene where a character plans to run out for help only to meet a deadly piano wire neck-first, I find that nasty death one of the better executed kills from that film since there was very little hint that the trap was already there. In Jackals, we have a similar situation where one of the characters decided to make a run for their cars while another distracts the cult, giving enough time for at least a chance for the plan to work. By that time, though, we are more or less made well aware of the odds the cultists have over the family, so let's just say the painful results later didn't have the same impact as seeing a lady prepping herself to a sprint, only to get her throat sliced open by a nearly-invisible wire.
This is just some of the few examples of Jackal's missed opportunities for some good surprises and shocks thanks to it's mishandled execution, something that unfortunately affected to what I was hoping would make up for these flaws: the slasher sequences. Now, as a slasher, Jackal's opening killing spree is perhaps it's best set of murders as the rest tried to take a more dramatic approach seeing this is a cult; instead of crowding around the house and simply use their number to muscle their way in to get their "brother", the cult leader (simply referred to as "Father", who wears a bitchin' Anubis mask and leather trench coat) would rather intimidate them into handing the teen over and send out his underlings one by one (or by a small group) to siege the cabin and kill whoever gets in the way. Nice approach, but the killings were tame and whatever action they got going were pretty forgetful. The only time they decided to do something a bit more complex than dropping someone dead or strangling them was at the near end as the cult inevitably got the upper hand, but it felt late in the party and all interest I once have at the beginning of the film is gone.
So I've been negative about Jackals so far, was there anything I enjoyed about it? Welp, apart from the cool-looking Father and his animal-masked flock of killers and the first 20 to 30 minutes of the movie, and that one scene involving one of our casts hiding underneath the cult's cars, not a lot really. The acting felt stone cold for a whole lot of the run s if the casts aren't even that invested in the story, most of the script is technically just our family pleading and begging Justin to remember and snap out of it as if it'll work in a snap of a finger, and the ending looked like as if nobody knew how to finish this damn movie and just cliffhangers everything. I want to believe Jackals would have been a fairly fun ride if it was handled differently, but truth be told, it is what it is now, a poorly paced and directed backwoods slasher-siege-cult monstrosity, and there's nothing much I can do but move on and see the next 2017 horror offering that I might enjoy. Perhaps another cult-related movie with a talking doll and Jennifer Tilly...
1 female stabbed on the throat with scissors
1 male stabbed with scissors
1 female strangled
1 male brained to death
1 male bled to death from a gutted belly
1 male strangled to death
1 male dropped to his death
1 male hacked with a pickaxe
1 female had her throat slashed with a knife
1 repeatedly stabbed, hacked with an axe
1 male dies from shock (?)
(Y'know, it suddenly occurred to me: why exactly did the family have to do this in the middle of the woods? I mean, surely, a more crowded area like a town or a city would do, right? Heck, since this involves a cult member, why not drive all the way back to a town, convince a priest to borrow the church for one or several nights and just do the deprogramming there?
Or why didn't Mr. Jimmy brought along some help in case things go South and sour real fast? I mean, heck, I'm sure a couple of army buddies would love to kill off a cult member or two in case they decided to pop up...
Starring: Finn Jones, Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor
A few months ago, I recall writing about my uncertainties with the then-upcoming Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel simply called Leatherface, a concept that kinda looked pointless to me since I really don't see the need for one, nor do I believe many people were even asking for it. Still, the higher powers above (as in probably the executives at Lionsgate) managed to wrangle up horror director duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, famous for their slashers Inside (2007) and Among The Living (2011), to direct the project so should this merit enough attention and probability that it'll be good?
Yes. But all for the misleading reasons.
The film opens with a circa 50s Texan farming family celebrating their youngest member's birthday. The family is quickly made clear to be our infamous Sawyer clan as they ask one teenage Drayton to serve the first slice of their (oddly chunky and sinewy) "cake" to their unexpected guest: a bruised and tied up thief. As both a bloody rite of passage for the birthday boy, Jed, and punishment for the thief for stealing some hogs, matriarch Verna Sawyer hands the kid the family chainsaw and coaxes him to slice the man open. Jed's a tad too squeamish on killing, however, prompting grampa Sawyer to finish the job with a sledgehammer.
Sometime later in a morning, a young teen couple was driving by the Sawyer property when they swerves to a stop after nearly running over an odd looking calf in the middle of the road. The situation goes eerie when girlfriend sees that the animal is really Jed wearing a cow's head for a mask and, after the childs bolts off into the fields and much to her boyfriend's protests, she follows to check if the boy's alright. Of course, the whole jig was a trap to murder her and, needless to say, the Sawyer boys made a quick killing out of the girl with a dropped tractor engine.
Unfortunately, the girl just happens to be Texas ranger Hal Hartman's daughter and though he cannot charge the boys for murder without any proof, he did manage to accuse Verna of child endangerment, which ends up with Jed being taken off her hands and into an asylum.
Ten years after this, at the Gorman House Youth Reformatory, newbie nurse Lizzy enters the facility in hopes of making a difference for the crazies, especially the children. Easier said than done though as some of the institutionalized are violent deviants, but she remains slightly optimistic as she did encounter some kinder nut cases, more precisely one troubled but caring Jake and a huge bipolar Bud.
That night, all hell breaks loose when Verna walks into the asylum, demanding to see Jed. As it turns out, she scrapped enough money to buy a lawyer and paperwork allowing her to check up on her boy, but when the head of the institution refuses, she decided to get even by unlocking the doors and releasing all of the patients in a murderous frenzy while she looks for her son. Out of the carnage escapes murderous thug Ike and his equally insane girlfriend Clarice, who tagged along Bud (who saved Ike from an electroshock session) and kidnaps Lizzy and Jake as leverage.
Now, this is where the movie is supposed to work its little gimmick; technically, one of the three boys here is supposed to be Jed Sawyer, heavily treated to the point that he doesn't remember who he was and brainwashed into believing an alternative ego. This is a fine game to play and all but the execution itself doesn't seem to be anywhere that interested playing it with us.
Truth be told, the so-called mystery of who will become our infamous chainsaw-wielding Leatherface isn't that strong, with the only connections this film made with the slasher franchise was the "Sawyer" name, the bone furniture and decorations at the last act of the film, and that one scene before the ending credits where Jed, reunited with his family, making his first mask, all of which making up a third of the film. Instead, throughout the movie, we watch Ike and his girlfriend rampage through rural Texas with a killing spree and other devious activities (like necrophilia. eugh), all the while Jake and Lizzy repeatedly attempts to escape them and a murderous posse of police, and Bud simply just stands there being a lumbering oaf who follows orders, if not being mistreated for being, well, an oaf. In fact, one would have guessed that once the word broke out that some mental nuts who may or may not include Jed Sawyer escaped, Verna and her clan will get out there and start joining the hunt in hopes of getting their youngest member back, but nope; the Sawyers simply sit back at their old barn feeding pigs murdered victims and just waiting for Jed to magically find his way back home, only doing something after one of the more snitchy cops decided to tell on them.
This meant that, among all of the movies in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, Leatherface felt a bit forced as a prequel and the least like a slasher, or a horror movie for most of its parts, and more of a very violent crime drama in the vein of Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects (2005) or even Natural Born Killers (1994), complete with a vengeful law enforcer who's out to get Jed and make him pay for killing his daughter, doing (and himself murdering) whatever he can just for that chance. Cut off Leatherface's ties with the Texas Chainsaw franchise and it could have been an original thriller of its own in-movie universe. (Heck, if I remember it right, Drayton didn't find killing all that fun and prefers to be in the kitchen in the 1974 movie. Maybe he figured that out later in his adult life?) Now, does this make it a terrible movie?
Well, to be fair, there is enough horrific imagery and chaotic madness to satisfy some viewers, that I can tell. It's nothing new given the comparison I've made between this and Rob Zombie's opus The Devil's Rejects, but Leatherface has to be commended for capturing the gritty 70s grindhouse exploitation feel, highlighting violent crimes and abusive authority figures as a mean to scare, if not upset us, and it still knows its slasher roots to deliver enough bloodshed and bodycount for those eyeing for something red and sticky.
The film's copious amount of murdering are done away with impressive practical effects, though it is noticeable that the murders have a tendency to stick more along a realistic tone from simple strangulation and beatings, to violent shootings and stabbings, all committed by a series of people against one another rather than by a single killer. (or cannibal group acting as one) Those who are expecting a series of chainsaw deaths would be disappointed (or not) as those were reserved to the very last act of the film. Those scenes did made decent slices of human meat but a bit lacklustre seeing how the boy who ended up being our Leatherface doesn't look anywhere as threatening or impressive.
Instead, the threat factor goes to Ike and Clarice, whose vulgar and sadistic nature made them more interesting villains than the Sawyer clan and the vengeful sheriff combined, showing no boundaries on their crazy, nor any remorse on the crimes they commit. I even would go and say that these screwed-up lovebirds could go toe-to-toe with the ranks of Natural Born Killers' Mickey and Mallory on the crazy couple category if given the chance but, seeing the supposed focus of the movie is a pre-TCM Leatherface, their unrestrained craziness made it too obvious that one of them ain't Jed, thus giving them the same odds of being killed off as the rest of the casts. (Who were pale in comparison to these two, this including Lizzy, our supposed final girl who does very little to get herself out of this nightmare. Not a good sign, people.)
With a decent looking production value and edgy plot flow, Leatherface is a half way decent movie for those who loves bloody crime thrillers and horror fans who are open to out-of-the-box ideas in their movie franchises. I guess the point of this movie being a prequel to the Southern fried classic proto-slasher gave it enough open probabilities to do more than just another slasher movie and I respect that, but I guess I've seen (and re-watched) enough "on the run and on the road" serial killer flicks to feel this film's approach to be predictable and underwhelming. Still, don't let me stop you from trying this movie out, but keep the expectations low for any prize winning "barbecues".
1 male brained with a sledgehammer
1 female crushed by a dropped tractor engine
1 male strangled and punched on the head, killed (?)
1 male pounded to death (?)
1 female strangled with her own hair
1 male beaten dead through a window
1 male beaten to death
1 female repeatedly slashed on the mouth with a razor
1 male stomped to death
1 wheelchair bound victim thrown through a window, falls to their death
1 male stabbed on the neck with a steak knife
1 male shot
1 male shot on the head
1 female shot on the face with a shotgun
1 male found hanged dead and rotting
1 male had his head stomped against a tree stump
1 female shot on the head
1 male shot on the head
1 male beaten to death against a car door
1 male repeatedly knifed, fed to pigs
1 male eviscerated with a chainsaw
1 female decapitated with a chainsaw
Total: 22 (?)
Saturday, September 9, 2017
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
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?)
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