Saturday, January 20, 2018

TV Terror: Slasher (2015)

Slasher (2015 Series)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Christopher Jacot, Jim Watson, Paula Brancati

I remember when Harper's Island (2009) was the only slasher-themed TV series I got to see and now, from later to present 2010s, they're kinda everywhere. From the awful likes of Scream Queens and the okayish murder mystery that is MTV's Scream The TV series, the selections are plenty but very little get to be anywhere as exciting as, let's say, the revenge epic that isthe first season of Wolf Creek, but I will give kudos for these series for trying capture both the thrill of a good bodycount and the theatrics of an engaging TV drama. Much like this Canadian mini series simply called "Slasher".

The first of eight episodes starts like your classic slasher set-up: in the late 80s, at one Halloween night, with a man and and his pregnant wife being macheted to death by someone in a medieval executioner's wear. By fate, however, the now-dead couple's expected baby survives the ordeal, gets rescued by the police and returns to live in the same house 28 years later as Sarah Bennett, a talented artist and a loving wife to journalist Dylan Bennet.

Hoping to get closure by living in the same neighborhood her folks used to live in, Sarah instead gets roped to a series of serial murders happening around town, perpetrated by someone donning the same Executioner garb worn by her parent's killer. But with the actual Executioner, a former priest named Tom Winston, captured the very night he committed the infamous Halloween double murder and is currently behind bars, it's everyone's wild guess who's behind the mask this time. It is clear, though, that this garbed loon has a bone to pick with the entire town and that includes Sarah herself.

In writing, Slasher has more in common with serial killer thrillers than the titular sub-genre, with most of the action focusing on the identity of the new Executioner, a mystery that branches out to other sub-plots that'll likely tie up to the recent killings, such as an incident of domestic abuse that left a man missing, a revenge plot involving a cinder block gone wrong and even a possible kidnapping case. It kept the plot going to say the least, with the moderately large cast getting fleshed out in each episode and, interestingly, would either grow better or worse as an individual when their past sins and/or regrets are brought into light. Some cliched characterizations are inevitable (I mean, it is a slasher after all) and a few may even overstayed their welcome, but they were mostly tolerable to be fair, something I really wish I could say the same for our protagonists.

While it's bad enough to follow a movie where the leads barely have any chemistry and often have you feeling a bit intense seeing them in the same room, try having this flaw chucked in a series of eight 45 minute episodes. The result is multiple dragging moments between Sarah and Dylan, a couple who we should be feeling and rooting for, but with one of them hogging up most of the spotlight and doing the dumb pitfalls a slasher victim should be avoiding, while the other is simply just "existing" there, what should have been an engaging couple driving the story forward together was reduced to a relationship as complex as a footnote.

Sadly, they're not the only issues I have with Slasher; the main mystery itself, for one, wasn't entirely bad with its few twists and decent directions once in a while, but it can get very slow and a bit too tangled up for my enjoyment, which didn't help soften the mind-numbing lackluster reveal at the season finale when they had one of the many underdeveloped characters be our killer all along. Not gonna tell a lot about this person but all you need to know is that their reasons for the murders were rushed and they barely made a lasting impression without the mask and suit.

Thankfully, whatever slasher moments Slasher have, it was at least worth the small minutes of my time; The Executioner, as a silent killer, just looks awesome and I love the torture porn-twist of some the murders, not pulling back on the blood, gore and even nudity. (death by exposure, anyone?) Basing these killings on the Seven Deadly Sins isn't entirely new for any matter (my guilty pleasure Class Reunion Massacre (1978) hilariously attempted this, and then there's the serial killer thriller SE7EN), but it did lead to some engrossing backdrops on each victim as to why they deserved their deaths and more than not, these backdrops are far more interesting than the main "who's the Executioner?" game the entire town is playing.

Not gonna lie, I may have expected a lot from this series seeing the numerous praises it was getting for the time and, for the first two episodes, it was justifiable. But the deeper I go, the more people gets killed and the more sub-plots brought into light, Slasher simply got too busy with itself that the main mystery felt overshadowed. Still, it has blood, guts, and a few good side stories latched along, so I guess it wasn't a total waste of my time.

As I am writing this, I just checked out two episodes from season 2 and I'm liking what I am seeing so far. (It's definitely much closer to being a slasher!) Here's hoping it'll be an improvement...

1 male ran through and sawed down with a toothed machete (S1, E1)
1 pregnant female stabbed on the throat with a machete (S1, E1)
1 female had her hands and feet cut off with a hunting knife, bled to death (S1, E1)
1 male shot on the head with a shotgun, skeleton found (S1, E2)
1 male inhaled rat poison (S1, E2)
1 male, 1 female, and 1 girl suffocated to death from a broken heater (flashback) (S1, E3)
1 female chained to a cinder block and dropped into a lake, drowned (S1, E3)
1 male bitten to death by snaked (S1, E4)
1 female paralyzed, stripped naked and exposed to an open field whilst coated in honey, eaten by animals (S1, E5)
1 male hanged (flashback) (S1, E5)
1 female decapitated with a hunting knife (S1, E5)
1 female injected with botched drugs, killed (S1, E6)
1 male cremated alive (S1, E6)
1 male sliced through with a buzzsaw (S1, E7)
1 female pushed down the stairs, broke her neck (S1, E8)
1 male strangled to death (S1, E8)
1 male stabbed repeatedly with a hunting knife, throat cut (S1, E8)
1 cat had its head crushed (S1, E8)
Total: 20

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Many Deaths of Tree: Happy Death Day (2017)

Happy Death Day (2017)
Rating: ***
Starring:  Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine

From what I can tell, you can love, hate or "eh" Happy Death Day and its little idea of crossing Bill Murray's Groundhog Day with a PG-13 slasher. For a completist like me, it's concept of a "time loop" slasher isn't relatively new looking back at movies like The Slayer (1982) (sort-of), Camp Daze (2004) (AKA "It that shall not be uttered"), Salvage (2006), Timecrimes (2007) and the criminally underrated Triangle (2009) and I should felt "meh" about it for this reason alone, but I found other things to enjoy about this time-travel bodycounter to warrant it as a good watch.

The film starts with our heroine, local sorority brat Tree Gelbman (yes, "Tree"), waking up with a nasty hangover in the dorm room of one of the nicer guys at Bayfield College before waking the walk of shame all the way back to her own dorm, all the while being a snob to most people including her ex, her dad, her roomie, and the sorority house president. (Though the latter could be justified) Her whole morning is nothing but a long wait until evening comes and she's out to party again, only this time, while on her way through a short tunnel, Tree encounters a hooded figure in a grotesquely cartoonish baby mask and gets the foul end of a knife.

Tree then wakes up from the event, alive and well, and starts her usual morning while a bit disturbed from what she assumes is a dream. The day goes the same, a bit too the same that Tree gets a nagging feeling she went through this before, so much so that on her way to the same tunnel she got killed at in her nightmare, she has the urge to take another route. This time, returning to the sorority house, Tree gets a surprise party thrown by her campus sisters and was about to go down and dirty with a random guy when, much to her horror, the same baby-faced killer appears to do her (and random guy) dead. Just as Baby Face plunges a broken bong down into her, Tree screams...

And wakes up alive and well. In the beginning of the very same day.

By now, Tree (and us, the audience) figures out that she's in a time loop that restarts whenever she bites the big one. Why is she in this situation? Nobody knows, but it is made very clear that someone out there hates her enough to stab her, drown her, brain her, hang her, pretty just do anything that'll make her stop breathing and existing. Worse even is the fact that Tree gets more and more frail in each loop, so it's only a matter of time before Baby Face finishes her off for good.

Seeing this is a PG-13 offering from Blumhouse Productions, I can't say it does a lot as a slasher flick, or even a horror movie for that matter with the murders, while nicely set up, dry around blood and gore department and the killer coming out more funny looking than threatening after the first time around they're seen skulking in the shadows. It's general direction focuses more as a mystery. however. One that centers around an odd phenomenon that itself centers on one random girl who just happens to be one of the big jerks at campus. Is it silly? Yes, but that's one of  Happy Death Day's charms that gradually saved this from being a one-trick pony.

Being one part comedy meant it has to deliver some laughs and the writing here, thankfully, works quite well on the funny factor. It's not "choking-on-own-spit" level of haha, mind you, and some of the jokes here can be a hit-or-miss, but I find most of them hitting my funny bone more than once, loving the snarkiness of it all, the satirical stab on the slasher sub-genre (I mean, how often do we get to root for the nasty ones to survive in these films? Apart from Jessica from Sorority Row (2009), that is...) and even some meta-humor about the oddity our lead is going through.

And speaking of lead, Jessica Rothe is simply great as Tree. She wonderfully handles her character's transformation from a nasty type to a hardass survivor of her own death(s) with much wit and gusto, and it is worth noticing how the tone and pacing of the film slowly changes along the further Tree evolves in each cycle, bringing out layers upon layers of depth and reason as to why she's like this. With this dimensions comes some sentimental moments, gladly far from overly dramatic and it realistically help flesh the more human size of what could have been another body for the bodycount, another reason why Happy Death Day is such a fun watch.

As a whodunit (of the stranger kind), Happy Death Day has a fairly wide range of possible red herrings and twists seeing it'll be a lot easier to tell who wouldn't want to kill Tree. And for a while, the movie embraces the sheer silliness of this idea with Tree basically tackling and attacking anyone she suspects will be her killer before she comes to the realization that she needs to think this through and, well, not make herself too convenient for a masked maniac to stick a knife into. The implied time limit also gave this angle a sense of urgency for the characters and it's around the last third of the film when most of the good albeit predictable curve balls where thrown, with a reveal that I at least didn't expect.

In the end, Happy Death Day is just a fun, may it be as a comedy, a murder mystery and/or a teen slasher. It's ideas are far from original but at least the film had fun with the concept and even gave us some warm life lessons along the way. Rewatchable? Maybe. But if you hadn't seen it yet, I urge you to try it if you can!

1 female knifed
1 male knifed to death
1 female stabbed with a broken bong
1 female impaled with a knife
1 female knifed in the gut
1 female drowned
2 females hit by a bus
1 female brained with a bat
1 female brained with a bat
1 male repeatedly knifed
1 male hit by a car
1 female immolated in a car explosion
1 male found murdered
1 female shot
1 male had his neck broken
1 female hanged
1 male shot dead
1 female poisoned
1 female falls to her death
Total: 20...ish

Monday, January 15, 2018

It's January 15 again, you know what that means?

Yep, I'm 26 years old now!

Twenty-Six years old and still ticking. Four more years and my real life might finally begin...


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Burn, Dance, Slay: Stripped To Kill (1987)

Stripped To Kill (1987)
Review: **
Starring: Kay Lenz, Greg Evigan, Norman Fell

Whether you call it a strip club or a gentlemen's club, in a horror movie (or in this case, a thriller with slasher undertones), such a place of business may as well be a murderous psychopath's hangout should they ever need a day off from stalking lone teenagers at night, or whenever they're in need of another victim to strike terror at. Movies like Mardi Gras Massacre (1978), American Nightmare (1983), Last Dance (1992), and Zipperface (1992) are some fine (and not fine) examples of this titillating attempt to merge strip show fetishism and bodycounting, but I'm just gonna go out of the blue, pick between the flabs of this sub-genre fab and cover this Roger Corman produced 1987 entry instead.

A dancer from a seedy strip club called Rock Bottom gets a call during her shift from someone she agrees to see later at a park. There, she gets attacked and pushed off a small bridge by an assailant obscured in shadows before getting doused with kerosene. By luck, Cody Sheenan, an undercover detective dressed as a bag lady (for some reason), was chasing a petty thief when she tripped over came upon the dancer's body. Though Cody tries to save her, the assailant somehow got around to set the stripper ablaze, thus setting an investigation into motion.

Intrigued by the attack, Detective Heineman suggests Cody to go undercover once again to get more info, this time as a dancer at Rock Bottom. After somehow winning Amateur Night with an awkward strip show, Cody got in and suspects a weirdo who always had a hand in his coat pocket as the perpetrator. Whether Cody's is right or wrong with her hunch is up for her and Heineman's debate, but when another dancer bites the big one, it is at least clear that someone's out to depopulate Rock Bottom of its girls and Cody may need to hurry and figure out who the killer is before she's next.

I find it hard to keep a straight face while watching Stripped To Kill despite all its indications that it is supposed to be a straight thriller. Its supposed mystery is undoubtedly weak thanks very little twists and turns made to at least keep the story engaging enough, and the fact that it's lazily padded with countless pole dance sequences that, while fun at first, gets awfully tiring when some of them seems to go on forever. The murders are okay to say the least; nothing overly dramatic save the first murder so don't hold your breathe expecting splattery and/or memorable murders from this strip show bodycounter.

Even so, Stripped To Kill is not unwatchable; the cheese is certainly a grace given to this film and the story did get a lot more interesting at the last third when the killer's identity gets revealed and a long chase through the night quickly follows. From a small apartment to the open streets, to the hoodlum-infested park and finally all the way back to Rock Bottom, the entire third act is where it gets the most slasher-esque, complete with a kinda Scooby-Doo inspired unmasking and a killer's motive that hardly made any sense but chuckle worthy for how simplistic it was.

Not gonna say this is a recommendable movie as it is likely to be forgotten for about, I dunno, 2 to 4 days tops, but if you get the chance to see this shlock, I say give Stripped To Kill (1987) a try and expect not too much from it. It's a cheap thriller with slasher undertones that centers on a gentlemen's club, what else is there to say?

1 female thrown off a bridge and doused in kerosene, set ablazed
1 female garroted
1 male found murdered, method unknown
1 male shot
1 female shot
1 male caught on fire
Total: 6

A Nightmare In Tokyo: Nightmare Detective (2006)

Nightmare Detective (Akumu Tantei) (Japan, 2006)
Rating: ***
Starring: Ryûhei Matsuda, Hitomi, Masanobu Andô

From cult fave director Shinya Tsukamoto of Tetsuo, The Iron Man (1989), comes this graphic thriller/slasher hybrid about metaphors, nightmares, suicides, and a whiny emo who's apparently our titular "detective". Oh, joy?

A series of gruesome suicides connected to a mysterious phone number had detective Keiko Kirishima considering the possibility of the supernatural when the brutality of the deaths are far beyond what can be considered normal, no less the fact that each victims did it to themselves while they were asleep. This leads her to look for and find Kagenuma, AKA our Nightmare Detective, a young man who has the ability to hear thoughts and enter dreams.

Though reluctant to aid Kirishima at first, Kagenuma eventually agrees and, upon entering the dream world, discovers that the owner of the phone number is a fellow simply referred to as "Zero" and he has a unique ability to both convince his targets to kill themselves subconsciously and go after them himself in their dreams to end their lives for real. Can our Nightmare Detective figure out why Zero is so obsessed with misery and sorrow? Can Kirishima resist the urge to end herself as she draws nearer Zero's influence? Can anybody (and I mean, Anybody?!) slip a happy pill in our protagonist's drink so he can be less depressed and whiny so I can root for him a tad better? ...Anybody?

Structured like the love child of a threesome involving a serial killer drama, a gory slasher and a psychological art flick, Nightmare Detective comfortably follows the trappings of a police procedural thriller and a violent slasher flick first before melting the plot away with the director's well known experimental Avante-Garde approach to filmmaking. This meant the further the story goes, the more artsy and metaphorical it's narrative becomes, something that may or may not cater to everyone but still an approach that gave this slasher/thriller hybrid a unique taste.

For a decent half of its run, the film pretty much caters to horror buffs and gore hounds with a surreal set of murders that almost resembles those from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, particularly the first three movies where some of the deaths were made to look like suicides. Instead of showcasing the killer, however, Nightmare Detective went for the creepy and unsettling route of keeping "Zero" hidden around these parts, depicting him through shaky POV shots and loud shambling noises, if not glimpses of the form he takes in each attack. A lot of these scenes work for the direction and imagery used, such as tackling claustrophobic fear during the entire first kill as it takes place from an empty street before chaotically moving its way to a small and freakishly shadowy apartment where there's little to go and hide.

The following attacks soon made their way to bigger locations, but the cinematography done to these scenes (unusually voided of other people and shot with either a grayish tint or scratchy filtering) befits the nightmare logic this movie is attempting and its increasing level of violence and gore is just the right adding element to reach out for those hungry for some latex guts and splashy blood work. If there will be anything of a flaw around these parts, though, I could say it'll be the occasional pacing done between each death in an attempt to follow up on the investigation that, in all its truthful, doesn't really do much. We can already tell this is beyond normal and any little characterization made for Kirishima and Kagenuma didn't stray much from the usual soapy topic of bad pasts and personal outlooks on life, either. Most of the depressing talk from Kagenuma himself, which made him a hard character to root for with this pessimism being a distraction, but I can at least say that he does make a few valid reasons why he is this way, making him rather an interesting character to observe and that's it.

Once the movie gets to its hour mark, the horror elements are still present (with Kirishima getting stalked and chased by Zero in his most eldritch form) but a good deal of the remaining plot focuses on a more expressive and literal look into the mindset of our killer, a trippy run of non-linear flashbacks, random thoughts and philosophical remarks that all somehow found a way to find significance to the events transpiring. It's a rather nontraditional take on the classic final fight between heroes and monsters but visually intriguing for its worth, if not a bit overly stylized and a sappy with its bittersweet notes of existential meaning and of one's purpose.

Nightmare Detective, in its whole, is an okay film. It's a lot easier to digest story-wise than some of Shibuya's filmography and it even has some genuine scares and splatter to boot, a clear product of his experimental filmmaking and a conventional genre story. If you like to see something in between a traditional  horror story and art show level psychology, then this movie is a good place to start.

1 male dies in his sleep
1 female slaughtered to death (dream)
1 female found stabbed on the neck with scissors, bled to death
1 male repeatedly slashed, disemboweled (dream)
1 male repeatedly stabbed on the throat with a boxcutter
1 male repeatedly stabbed on the throat with a broken bottle, falls from a floor
1 girl lands neck first on a nailed board (flashback)
1 male lands in and got shredded by a car engine (dream)
1 male dies from a stab wound in his sleep
Total: 6 (9 with dreams)

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Leather and Porcelain: Blood Widow (2014)

Blood Widow (2014)
Rating: *1/2
Starring:  Danielle Lilley, Brandon Kyle Peters, Christopher de Padua

Y'know, if I had a penny every time I see a new slasher movie boasting their villain would become the next face of horror, evil or some shit like that, only to have said new face of horror, evil or some shit like that fail to fulfill that claim, I'll be... Probably a buck or two richer. Bottomline, we see this a lot in recent slasher flick releases just to sucker in some gullible fan thinking the movie'll be great but the brutal truth is most of these new slasher villains will never get to be the new face of horror if their movies altogether suck. Hard. Really hard.

Blood Widow is one of these new age slashers that thinks it has a potential cult icon in its hands: a porcelain masked female killer wearing, from afar, what look like an S&M supervillain costume. It's cute, I'll admit that. Even a bit sexy with them hips, but what in the holy hell is a villainess like her doing in a movie like "Blood Widow"?

The story is perhaps one of the most basic backwoods slasher flicks I ever lay eyes on and I'm not saying that in a fun way. Nor in a satisfied way. But more in an "oh God, is that really all there is about this movie? Just 'another group in the woods getting cut up in pieces by masked loon treatment'?" way. The only variety I am seeing here is the aforementioned nagging element that the villainess wears what appears to be a comic book supervillain outfit for some darn reason (though they did mention she was abused as a kid. Maybe this was her dad's S&M suit?) and that the reason why our victims-to-be are in the woods is to throw a house warming party, giving them an excuse to act like teenagers despite, I dunno, being in their twenties? (Yeah, there's always something about the outdoors that have young adults killing 1/3rd of their brain activity to do stupid shit like accidentally vandalizing a killer's lair and marking themselves as targets for said killer, doesn't it?)

It's simplicity meant that it's pretty straightforward to what it wanted to do and I find myself hoping Blood Widow would at least deliver some satisfying onscreen murders to remember our titular killer by. (Y'know? The very reason why she is dressed in a way that says "Franchise me! Franchise me! I'm a masked female slasher so franchise me!?")  Well, while the kills do have awesome grue and the count is moderately sizable, the fleshbags being mutilated are as dull as a 20 year-old used nail file and since anyone really mattered here, the genericness of the plot hits harder on the boring factor, making it's moderate feature-length running time feel like hours and I find myself caring very little whether miss porcelainface leatherskirt hacks them to death or not. (Yes, I know slashers aren't really known for deep writing and character development, but is it so much to ask for at least one or two interesting victims?)

I don't want to sound like a snob for what's simply a routine slasher movie that actually does deliver what it should be delivering, but Blood Widow felt and look like it was hardly trying. I wanted this female killer and her story to work as we don't get a lot of memorable femme fatales in the slasher genre, but if all we get is the same stroll down the cheap bloody woods and a paper thin killer whose only identifying factor is a suit, then even I can't pretend to be shallow enough to enjoy this.

Do as you like with Blood Widow. From what I can tell, some people out there are much forgiving than I am with this movie, so I think I'll leave you to see this if you want, while I enjoy the company of other slasher women bumping people dead in the woods. Now if only I could make up my mind which to see: Friday the 13th (1980) or Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)...

1 male had his throat cut, hacked to death
1 female disemboweled with a kukri, head crushed with a Buddha statue
1 male and 1 female beheaded with kukris
1 female ran through the head with a sickle
1 male had his arm hacked off with a kukri
1 male beheaded with a sickle
1 female hacked on the head with a hatchet
1 male had his fac ripped off with a hook-tipped flail
1 male hacked on the head with a sickle
1 female beaten to death with an axe handle
Total: 11

Short Shear Terror: Last Night (2015)

Last Night (2015 short film)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Jeanna Kapetanis, Carlos Javier Rivera, Dawn Hamil

Funny story, this review comes with!

It was around June while browsing IMDB for slasher flicks that I may (or may not) watch and cover for this blog when I saw the post for Last Night (2015). The image used for the page was eye-catching enough- that of poster featuring a worn-out anime girl mask - so much so that I decided to try looking it up online for a quick lookie-look and only found a set of trailers.

After half-ass commenting where I can watch the film, the short's director Will Phillips responded via Youtube a month later that he can get the film for me. It's a response I never really saw coming and a request I didn't really think was worth their time, but true to the man's word, he emailed me a link to his film at August 2017...and I'm only finding out about it recently.

So, to Mr. Phillips and all the good folks who are (or by this time, were) expecting a review of their film 5 to 6 months prior, my apologies for the delay. Work life and life in general got in the way and I never really thought you'll take the request of a (as of writing this) 25-year old Filipino nerd who unhealthily ingests horror flicks as sustenance. Please don't sue me.

The short is pretty basic in terms of story; a trio of teens appears to be prepping up for a wild night, only for something else to happen that involves masked killers and a home invasion. It's nothing altogether new to be honest, playing it straight as any slasher short could to the point it is predictable. Still, I love a short that shows style once in a while and there were a couple of scenes that I can tell were Halloween (1978) inspired in regards to cinematography.

I also noticed a lack of dialogue, with gimmicky text speak animated on the screen making up at least half, if not most of the conversation taking place. I'm guessing this is a way for the short to build up atmosphere through body language since the movie's small running time pretty much meant the action gets rolling pretty soon. If this is the case, then it is fairly impressive, even if some of the slasher action brought out some chuckles from me. (Why are the two anime girl-masked killers so choreographed in their murder? It's not like anyone would be awake and watching them in that room while they both go creepy on their sleeping victim.)

Long story short, Last Night's a fair ride of a slasher flick. The lack of onscreen blood work did made this short feel a tad dry but, structure-wise, it's relatively okay.

1 female knifed
1 female knifed
1 female hacked with an axe
Total: 3