WARNING: THIS BLOG CONTAINS BODYCOUNT. HIGH RISK OF SPOILERS. ENTER IF YOU DARE.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Cannibal Pilgrim Traditions: The Last Thanksgiving (2020)

The Last Thanksgiving (2020)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Amanda Arrants, Jake Balser and Annie Collins

When it comes to holiday themes within slasher movies, Thanksgiving doesn't get as much love as Christmas, Halloween or even Easter. Not only do they lack in numbers, but only a handful of them really stands out such as the cheesy killer twin flick Blood Rage (1987) and the infamous cult classic homicidal turkey movie ThanksKilling (2008). Fortunately for us, we have folks out there contributing to the slowly but surely growing number of Thanksgiving frights. Folks like writer/director Erick Lorinc who graces Turkey Day with this rough little gem about small town diners getting terrorized by cannibalistic families.


In The Last Thanksgiving, the entire staff of Derry’s Famous Fish and Grits find themselves working during Thanksgiving with the rickety promise that they can go home early if no other customers would come in that evening. As luck would have it, not only does a customer (Horror icon Linnea Quigley! Nice!) show up to order dinner, they also have to entertain a man named Kurt Brimston who walked in looking for work, forcing the diner gang to stay a little longer. Unbeknownst to them all, their night's about to get worse as there's a family of psychotic cannibals cruising around town, looking for victims to hunt and eat as a part of their own twisted Thanksgiving family tradition. Conveniently for these creeps, Derry's just happens to be still open that night... 

Although it has the usual low-budget production pitfalls of awkward acting and dodgy writing, The Last Thanksgiving holds enough of a nifty premise and, too, a competent amount of gore and cheese to be at least a serviceable effort as a manic holiday slasher. The plot is simplistically straightforward, with us following a small group of troublesome diner staffs and the members of a deranged yet normal-looking cannibal family going about their day during Thanksgiving before the two parties eventually clash and the bodycount begins. Its as formulaic as most slashers tend to be, though its creative do-it-yourself aesthetics and the interesting directions it took to work the holiday theme into the story rather than mindlessly shoehorning it in do come off rather charming in their peculiar ways.


The only matter to mind here is that there isn't a lot of likable characters within the diner group, not with their paper-thin douchey motives and stereotyped personalities meshing horribly with subpar onscreen talent that involves a lot of annoying, aimless yelling, thus reducing most of our supposed protagonists down to standard kill count meat one simply cannot wait to get snuffed. Now I say "most" as a few did get a little better (or at least more tolerable) over the course of the film, particularly our lead heroine Lisa-Marie Taft who spend the first half of the film being basically a cynical big bitch to just about everyone within radius. Once the killings starts and she gets a bit of an emotional meltdown, the gal eventually mellowed down. Still stereotyped personality-wise though, but agreeable nonetheless. 

Thankfully our villains fare a little better albeit the low rent Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) persona they're trying to emulate, complete with that one dumb, mute and deformed big brother who always wearing a mask and is the muscle of the family. They're the more memorable bunch as the casualness in their interactions while plotting and acting out their massacre often comes as cheeky as it is creepy, befitting the tone of their entertainingly maniacal backdrops as, according to the film's last act monologue, descendants of a pilgrim girl who murders Native Americans and serve them as food to her fellow starving settlers. It's silly and over-the-top but, as a fan of cheesy B-flicks, it all just works for me, especially when these villains can still dish out a range of decently gory kills, from the truly gruesome to hilariously strange. (Like, if you think a pit of boiling gravy-like liquid to throw people in is too random of a murder method, how about decapitating the still-moving bony remains of a poor fella to ultimately kill them off?) 


 As a potential Thanksgiving piece for one's seasonal horror pickings, I say The Last Thanksgiving sits dang well as a holiday guilty pleasure with a bit of personality. It may not be that polished, but this little movie slayed and served a satisfactory amount of Turkey Day horrors and bodily carnage for one's enjoyment. 

Bodycount:
1 male gets a bread knife through the jaw, stabbed to death
1 female set ablaze
1 male gets a whisk stabbed into his eye
1 female had her scalp torn
1 female hacked in the back with a meat cleaver
1 female jabbed to death with a broom handle
1 male had his head split in half with a meat cleaver
1 female decapitated with a commercial dishwasher door
1 male dismembered with an electric knife
1 girl had her throat cut with a meat cleaver (flashback)
1 female gets a thrown hatchet to the head (flashback)
1 male ran through with a hedge trimmer (flashback)
1 male and 1 female electrocuted in a bath tub with a live radio (flashback)
1 female had her head crushed between a sliding door (flashback)
1 male decapitated (flashback)
1 male stabbed through the head with a fire poker (flashback)
1 female knifed (flashback)
1 male had his throat torn out from his gun shot-mutilated mouth
1 female gutted with an electric knife
1 male boiled in a pit, decapitated with a hatchet
1 male gets a pitchfork through his head
1 elderly female burned inside an oven, left for dead
Total: 22

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Rotten Cranberry: ThanXgiving (2006)

ThanXgiving (2006)
Rating: 0
Starring: Ari Lehman, Suki Peters and Jaxon Stanford

...The flying fuck did I just watched here?

I heard about ThanXgiving all the way back at 2008 and I recall wanting to see it very badly then, thinking it's a rarity as it has barely anything about it online. Welp, I finally have my chance recently thanks to some shady video sharing site and I think I now understand why this shit has little to none online presence and how that's for the better.

As far as I can tell, the "story" of ThanXgiving is about a group of filmmakers going into the woods around the Traunton Riverbend camp grounds to shoot a horror movie, but the production is as problematic as this film's very existence as everybody seems to have some beef with one another and one of them even bled to death during the project when his leg got caught on some spikes and had to be amputated because...

Any way, filming continues (?!) and during an evening around a campfire, a local played by Ari Lehman (Yeah, Friday The 13th (1980)'s "lil' Jason Voorhees" Ari Lehman. I'm just as surprised as you are) joins the crew and tells them that a lot of people have been disappearing into these woods and many suspect it's the work of a deranged group of killers. And sure enough, our troubled filmmakers soon encounter a family of hillbillies who are hospitable at first until, that is, all the weird shit starts happening and everybody is getting in touch with their murderous side.

Mixing documentary and standard filming presentation with an obnoxiously surreal amount of editing effects, horrendous audio quality and truculently grained picture format, ThanXgiving is probably one of the hardest horror movie to sit through for the dumb reason that it's nearly incomprehensible as a whole. Its direction feels a lot like just random horror shit happening left and right, with a sense of structure that's one random home invasion footage away from falling atop the "Am-I-on-acid-right-now?" tree and hitting every branch on the way down. Nobody here acts normal too, so it's hard to figure out which crap is happening for real and which is just footage from the damn movie the characters are supposed to be filming, thus further adding to the overall aggressively confusing nature of the film.

It's disappointing, really, as I can tell this should have been a very easy plot to follow with a generous helping of blood and gore to boot. Perhaps the people behind this film wanted to make something more than just another backwoods killer-on-the-loose type and if that is the case, I wholly respect that, but the level of ineptitude done in this movie is just too much that it ain't even hilarious. In fact, it makes me mad! So MAD that someone out there thought this indecipherable garbage is good enough to be called a movie! Like, dude, ThanksKilling (2008) is more intelligible compared to this and that movie is a slasher with fucking killer turkey! Killer! Turkey!  

All in all, I'm thankful this Thanksgiving that I'm able to muster enough brain power to still write this review after the blow ThanXgiving did to my brain. Heed my warning, do not give this travesty a time of your day. Don't. Just don't.

Bodycount:
1 male had his chest flayed open
1 female had her throat crushed with a tree branch
1 male had his leg amputated with a machete, bled to death
1 male brained to death with a hammer (film within a film)
1 female ran neck-first through a line of barbwire, presumably killed
1 female seen dead in a lake
1 female hacked to death (film within a film)
1 male dismembered with knives 
1 male knifed in the head, disemboweled
1 female had her throat cut with a sickle
1 male had his throat cut with a sickle while being drowned
1 male falls into a lake and gets electrocuted with live cables
1 female had her neck crushed
1 male strangled with a line of barbwire
1 female seen hanging dead, gutted
1 male decapitated with an axe
1 male dismembered with knives
Total: 17

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Sog and Clog: Terror At Tenkiller (1987)

Terror At Tenkiller (1987)
Rating: *
Starring: Michael Shamus Wiles, Stacey Logan and Michele Merchant

Wow, I think I owe the grade school drama group back at my younger years an apology: anything they made then is gold compared to this.

In need of a break from her increasingly abusive hubby-to-be, Lesley joins her friend Janna for a vacation down at Lake Tenkiller where they relax, swim and enjoy the scenery. They also apply for Summer jobs there as waitresses at a local diner that's constantly short on servers, a problem that has everything to do a knife-wielding loon prowling around at night, offing girls because reasons. It ain't long before the killer spots Lesley and Janna and care to even fancy a guess what he's planning to do with them? 


A tired mess, Terror At Tenkiller (1987) is really nothing more than long padding scenes of people talking, people talking to the phone and a killer being a terribly acted creep, with streaks of murders here and there. The entire thing feels and looks cheap seeing the movie's limited budget, thus the myriad of production hiccups such as dim lighting, atrocious pacing, an annoying electronic musical score among a few. Any notion of excitement in its direction is absent as the movie's horror elements basically trashed any sense of mystery and suspense by barely bothering to hide the killer's identity at all (Like, they revealed it about 30 minutes into the film. Heck, the victim even shouted his name!) and Summer-stock acting from every party involved simply doesn't cut right no matter what angle you look at it.


Kills are also mostly dry, with the only semi-decent gore effects done being one dude getting his arm cut off post-mortem and another involving someone's back getting stabbed in close-up. Past this, Terror At Tenkiller (1987) is just inane. Ridiculously inane. Other people might get a chuckle out of this (heck, I sure did at some moments) but for my patience and insanity's sake, one viewing is enough. Please.

Bodycount:
1 female had her throat cut with a hunting knife
1 female stabbed in the gut with a peeling knife
1 male stabbed in the gut with a hunting knife, arm cut off
1 female knifed in the back
1 male found with a throat cut
Total: 5

Friday, November 19, 2021

Hippie Grounds of Horrors: Camp Utopia (2005)

Camp Utopia (2005)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Jessica Jordan, Collin Stark and Alexandra Westmore

Shot in 2002, released in 2005, Camp Utopia is everything you would expect from a low-budget, do-it-yourself backwoods slasher from start to finish. It follows five teenagers roughing it out in the same woods where in 1969, a commune of hippies lead by musician-turned-guru Timothy Bach set up a small refuge called "Camp Utopia", only to be slaughtered one night by Bach himself after he took some very bad acid. That was 30 years ago  and the horrors of that massacre is about to happen again upon our doomed campers...
There really isn't much to deal about Camp Utopia (2005); the story is a carbon copy of your basic madman-in-the-woods slice and dice, willed into existing through a nearly-absent budget, inept writing and questionable acting. Its direction is predictable to no one's surprise (like, you can really already tell who the killer is from the beginning of the movie) and as a slasher, it's mostly dry when it comes to its kills with the exception of the somewhat decent flashback showing a drug-infused cult leader massacring his own followers. Basically, the movie is a cheap mess, but it is a cheap mess I find hard to completely dislike.

Despite the production looking, sounding and feeling like it barely bothered at all, the unintentional hilarity it brought along at least helps lessen the awkward blow of the movie's low budget. Camp Utopia (2005) is entertaining in its badness in turn, especially whenever the movie tries to be deep and thoughtful with its talks of how the modern generation, with its obsession with technology, is trash and everything is better back in the old Hippie days, only for the bad acting and writing to ham it all up. For many, this might not be enough to make up for the film's majorly uninspired run but if you're not in a demanding mood and would like to see something easy enough to digest and poke fun at, then this a workable saving grace. 

Not really going to win the entire crowd over, but the movie is endearing in its crazy bad way and I'll leave it at that.

Bodycount:
1 female decapitated with a machete (flashback)
1 male seen hacked on the head with a machete (flashback)
1 male had his throat slashed with a machete (flashback)
1 male dies from a machete wound (flashback)
1 male dies from throat cut (flashback)
1 male brained with a rock, fell off a cliff
1 male shot to death with arrows
1 female brained with a branch
1 male found decapitated
1 female seen dead
1 female stabbed in the chest with a hunting knife
Total: 11*

*Note: Despite the number of hippies seen getting hacked, stabbed, sliced and dismembered by Bach in the flashback scene, I'm only counting those we clearly saw die as the film itself confirmed only five fatalities from the massacre.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Of Glamor and Gore: Crystal Eyes (2017)

Crystal Eyes (Mirada De Cristal) (Argentina, 2017)
Rating: ***
Starring: Silvia Montanari, Anahí Politi and Erika Boveri

Buenos Aires, 1984. At a back alley runway show, supermodel Alexis Carpenter shows how much of a rotten diva she is by verbally abusing other models, scalding her make-up artist's face with hot coffee after a confrontation about her primadonna attitude, and then finally assaulting the audience with spat champagne as she jugs an entire bottle while strutting a wedding dress. This display of limelight meltdown would soon become Alexis' own undoing as the wasted wine spills unto a nearby fuse box, causing it to spark and igniting the egotist model to a blazing death in front of a shocked audience.

One year later, Lucia L’uccello, editor-in-chief of the country's top-selling fashion magazine, is about to run an issue dedicated to Alexis and her legacy on the anniversary of her death, thus she organizes a photoshoot starring her top models Eva Lantier and Irene del Lago in Alexis' original dresses. But on the night before the shoot, the dresses got stolen and from then on, those involved in the magazine are getting slaughtered one by one at the hands of a sinister mannequin-like femme fatale. Has Alexis come back from the grave somehow, seeking revenge? Or is somebody else equally depraved responsible for the increasing bodycount?

Written and directed by Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano, Crystal Eyes (2017) is a simple yet dedicated love letter to stylized 70s Italian gialli and crazy 80s slashers under the backdrop of haute couture's glamour and grit. Its relatively basic plot is virtually a barebone stroll through the usual hack-and-slash murder thriller, paced quickly enough to get the action flowing between its few slow moments and filmed vividly with as many Mario Bava and Dario Argento-inspired cinematography, particularly taking cues from Blood and Black Lace (1964) and Suspiria (1977) as lurid tints of blues and pinks, expressive editing and solid camerawork dominate the film for that fun, macabre arthouse look.

The direction does stride on a campy note, paired with a script that has its tongue firmly in its cheek and onscreen talents ranging from okay to overacting. Its a factor that basically held the film's supposed murder mystery back from being anywhere effective or deep, but the romp of entertainment this kitsch approach brings is fortunately not lacking, especially with its crazy, neon-colored murder set-pieces involving a killer that not only dresses and masks up like a showroom dummy, but also moves and poses (yes, poses) like one while killing! The predominantly female casts are also a real treat to watch, all brilliant in managing a wide variety of performances from sympathetic menaced models to fame-obsessed despite the hammy writing done for these characters and the overall tone of the flick.

Top it all with catchy 80s disco beat and retro-recognized hairdos and clothes, Crystal Eyes (2017) is, at the gist of it, a playful and substantial homage to both giallo and slasher cinema that highlights the good, the bad and the outrageous from both subgenres through an enjoyably undemanding plot. If you like shlocky yet stylish, giallo-lensed bodycounters like Stagefright (1987) and Murderock (1984), then you ought to give this Argentinian horror vogue fondue a try! 

Bodycount:
1 female caught on fire
1 male had his throat cut with a razor
1 female repeatedly stabbed with a hand drill
1 female killed offscreen, later seen beheaded
1 female stabbed to death with a glass shard
1 female drowned in a bath tub
1 female murdered offcamera
1 male bled to death from a wounded throat
1 female impaled on a crystal bird ornament
1 female found strangled with an IV chord
Total: 10

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Deadly Habits Down At The Colorado Rapids: Savage Water (1979)

Savage Water (1979)
Rating: *
Starring: Gil Van Waggoner, Ron Berger and Bridget Agnew

You know you more or less fucked up when the horror movie you're watching opens with a foreboding voice monologuing about the beauty and savagery of the Colorado river, only for it to start singing what I assume is the movie's own opening country song, guitar twangs and all. 

I'm going to need the bottle for this one...

In this rarity (cannot imagine why) of a slasher title, we follow a group of tourists from both in and out of American soil in a white water rafting holiday and, I stress you not, a big chunk of this movie is just these folks enjoying the soggy tour through the rapids. Their guide prep talks about the dangers of the rapids and its surrounding wilderness, they raft, camp, talk, eat, talk, sleep, talk, did I mentioned they talk? Like, we literally have a scene where two dudes in short shorts is just standing next to a portable toilet tent, talking about the lady inside using it. It doesn't help that the dialogue here are also poorly written, ineptly acted and ran through low quality audio, further numbing my senses until I begin to ponder if the "horror" of this horror flick may have more to do with it existing.

We eventually got our first kill about halfway or so into the plot, with one poor sap getting pushed off a cliff and landing as a bloody mess in a pool being used by some bathing girls. Even then the endlessly tiresome conversations and now awkward camping scenes never ceased, taking more of the movie's precious time away from properly building up any workable tension towards the murder spree and the mystery behind the identity of the killer hiding within the group. It's just bad low-budget celluloid all the way, bearing little excitement with its lackluster kills and overcooked "character development", with perhaps the only good things I can get out from all of this are unintentional hilarity and the worthwhile nature shots of the Grand Canyon and Colorado Rapids, minuscule points to clamor over when everything else about this late-70s grindhouse wilderness murder mystery is just one big gaffe.

I guess I should have heeded the signs that the universe was trying to protect me from seeing this film when my first copy of Savage Water (1979), released by Vinegar Syndrome, got scratched to hell by a malfunctioning disc player and that was around the time the company pulled the movie from distribution due to some issues with the rights. It wasn't until last year that I managed to get a digital copy of the film from a generous contact, only to lose that copy when the hard drive I stored it at crashed. Another digital copy was handed to me a few months later by a different contact, who also gave me the weird eye before wishing me "good luck, you sad strange little man". So many opportunities given to save myself from this fecal mound and I took none of them. Learn from my mistake and don't bother with this.

Bodycount:
1 male pushed off a cliff
1 female falls to her death while mountain climbing (flashback)
1 male falls to his death
1 female knifed in the back
1 female fed with ginseng leaves, succumbs to a heart seizure
1 male shredded with a boat motor propeller
1 boy drowned in the rapids
1 male had his climbing rope cut, dropped to his death
Total: 8

Friday, November 5, 2021

The Sparrows Are Flying Again: The Dark Half (1993)

The Dark Half (1993)
Rating: ***
Starring: Timothy Hutton, Amy Madigan and Michael Rooker

In 1963, aspiring young writer Thad Beaumont finds himself under constant blackouts, headaches and seizures accompanied with, strangely enough, the sound of wild sparrows. As his condition worsens over time, he's soon set up for surgery where the doctors discover, much to their horror and amazement, the source of the boy's pain: a growing teratoma inside his skull, formerly a twin absorbed in utero. 

Decades after the removal of this parasitic mass of eyeball and teeth, Thad grows up to be a creative writing professor, a loving husband to his wife and a proud father of two infant children. It's a good life, though he further make ends meet by writing hyper-violent novels about a “high toned son of a bitch” named Alexis Machine under the pseudonym "George Stark", a dirty secret only his wife and agents know about. So when an opportunistic dink finds out about Thad's private life as a trash novelist and blackmails him for a large sum to keep it his mouth from flapping, the author ponders about and ultimately makes the choice: out himself out as "George Stark" and metaphorically kill off the persona as a publicity stunt, fake tombstone and all

Something "George Stark" isn't happy about.


No soon after the mock burial, those involved with the stunt starts to get killed off, starting with the photographer who gets bludgeoned to death with his own prosthetic leg and then the blackmailer who is later found de-tongued and de-groined. Investigating the killings is Sheriff Alan Pangborn who suspects Thad as the one responsible for the deaths seeing his fingerprints were found in the scenes, but is unable to completely pin the crimes on the author as Beaumont is able to give solid proof that he's elsewhere during the murders. 

Stranger things are abound, however, when Thad starts to think the killer hunting down his colleagues is none other than "George Stark" himself, describing him down to the mannerism and hairstyle which perfectly fits the eyewitness descriptions of the killer. Has Thad somehow willed the pen name into a murderous existence, now out for revenge for "killing" him off? Or is the author finally succumbing to his darker id?

Reading through most of Stephen King's horror novels, his 1989 outing The Dark Half, which was written in response to the time he himself was outed to be Richard Bachman, a supposed "real" author who wrote darker, more cynical horror novels compared to King's usual gothic, psychological style, is technically the closest to the man penning slasher literature with the book's macabre story of a murderous nom de plume out to torment and kill the people surrounding an author's life. The film adaptation, produced and directed by Night of The Living Dead (1968)'s George A. Romero, playfully maintains the duality of the book's tone, mainly the horrors of the unexplainable and the brutalizing slasher flick cynicism lensed with dark humor, done here with a mostly straight face that's occasionally cheesed from time to time. 

At most, The Dark Half (1993) is pretty well made as a production looking into its sleek visuals and adequate special effects, especially during the finale of the film wherein we get a gruesome death involving birds. Talent-wise, leading actor Timothy Hutton plays both Thad Beaumont and George Stark in a cheeky dual role, though I do find him more memorable as the psychopathic Stark with his Elvis Presley-esque get-up, drawl Mississippi accent and grimly fun lines, a far stronger presence compared to his approach on the Thad Beaumont character who predominantly feels like a walking stereotype of a mild-mannered yet awkward family man. Cult favorite Michael Rooker is also here, doing a swell enough job as the determined Castle Rock sheriff Alan Pangborn, though unlike in the book where he developed a much closer relationship with the Beaumonts, his character feels mostly removed from the plot and acts more like your typical horror trope law enforcer.

If there's any real issues to speak here, it would be The Dark Half (1993)'s problem with its pacing; while there is a good build-up towards and within Stark’s killing spree, the narrative soon falls a bit uneven when it comes to the ongoing investigations into the murders, as well as the last act leading to the eventual confrontation between Beaumont and Stark. It's mostly talks of psuedo-metaphysics regarding manifestations and will, implemented in time with Beaumont sitting it down with a decaying Stark in an attempting to literally write out the other from existence in a scene that feels too talky and drawn out than necessary. Fortunately, the supernatural aspect of this third act is a welcome take (albeit it lacks of solid explanation to how all of this happened to begin with) which I like further when it all ends with an impressively gory and creative demise to note.

On the whole, The Dark Half (1993) is simply an okay movie. A pretty good swing on a story that runs on basic slasher bodycounting and supernatural-lensed pop psychology, doing enough scares and thrills to be at least an agreeable watch despite the flaws. Though I won't mark this as one of the best Stephen King adaptations, nor is it a slasher title worth losing sleep over, it is certainly among the better horror titles out there that you can check out, nothing more, nothing less.

Bodycount:
1 male beaten to death offcamera with his own prosthetic leg
1 male found slaughtered, castrated and his tongue cut out
1 female had her throat cut with a razor
1 male had his head kicked against a building heater
2 males found murdered
1 male had his throat cut with a razor
1 male had his throat cut with a razor
1 male seen murdered
1 male pecked apart by birds
Total: 10