Sunday, May 22, 2022

An Argento Blind Act: Black Glasses (2022)

Black Glasses (Occhiali Neri) (Italy, 2022) (AKA "Dark Glasses")
Rating: ***
Starring: Ilenia Pastorelli, Asia Argento and Andrea Gherpelli

Last we saw of Dario Argento in the horror business, it was 2012 and he decided to do a creative take on Dracula, this including shooting the entire project in 3D and giving the titular vampire lord the ability to turn into a man-sized praying mantis for shits and giggles. Unsurprisingly, that little stunt sets a new low for one of Italy's horror maestros and we didn't see another horror flick from him until a decade later, in what can be described as the man's attempted return to form. And the key word here is "attempted".

In Black Glasses (2022), modern day Rome is terrorized by a serial killer who is slaughtering their way through sex workers with a cello string. One such high-end escort, Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli), gets a very close call to being another corpse for the bodycount when, after attending a client who got a tad too handsy on her, she suddenly finds herself being attacked by an obscured assailant. As she made her way to her car and speeds off, her attacker catches on with their cargo van, leading to a pursuit that ends with Diana crashing through another car.

The accident leaves our leading call girl blind after her spine suffers a hemorrhage. She also learns that the occupants of the other car, a Chinese family, is survived by a single boy named Chin (Xinyu Zhang), now under a church's care home after the crash killed his father and slipped his mother into a coma. As Diana learns to cope with her condition, she finds help through a friendly educator named Rita (cult favorite Asia Argento), gets a trained guide dog and tries to make amends with Chin by visiting him at the care home.

Chin, tired of the racist kids he have to put up with, decided to run away and stay with Diana. The two soon bonds and will eventually have to rely on one another when our killer, keeping a close eye on the one who got away, starts to stalk them with the intent to finish what they started, murdering anybody who got in their way in the meantime.

From start to finish, Black Glasses (2022) practically runs on cheap thrills and basic slasher tropes which is something you'll either loathe or tolerate depending on how well you take your B-grade celluloid. Frankly, there is a lot of opportunities for the film to go a little deeper in its story considering the number of angles the plot could've focused on like Diana adjusting to her blindness or being a surrogate mother to an orphaned boy, but all of it was rushed and shallowed to make way for a more standardized slasher plot, complete with uselessly inept cops, a stalk and chase sequence in the woods and a moderately sizable killcount. (Curiously, though, for a film wherein the protagonist is a prostitute, we don't get a lot of onscreen sleaze here. Some boobs, yes, but that's it)

Any hinted mystery regarding the killer's identity also gets the short unexplored end as halfway into the movie, we're unceremoniously treated to a reveal that isn't really all that surprising, even more when the killer's motive behind their killing spree is so underwhelmingly staple. This leaves us to a whole final act of Diana and Chin running, limping and hiding in a countryside backwoods from the psycho, which does takes its sweet time bringing in as many shenanigans as possible (random snake attack, a couple of hunters getting into a brawl with the killer) before treating us with a climax that have our villain squaring off with Diana's guide dog (Carnivorous flies and chimpanzees in Phenomena (1985). Ravens in Opera (1987). I'm starting to see a pattern here, Argento...) at the sacrifice of a good spot of suspense that's unrealized throughout.

It may all sounds like an uninspired mess and you're probably right about that in many aspects, but Black Glasses (2022) does make itself worth its time with its slick pacing, efficient enough performances from its casts, a rocking electronic synth scored by Arnaud Rebotini and a better-looking production value all in all. Its outrageous premise is simply fun for how hammy it is, garnering some unintended humor, all the while delivering on the red stuff whenever the film felt like giving us a gruesome death so I wouldn't call it a complete loss as clunky as this movie in properly developing its plot and characters. 

It's entertaining in its efforts and if you're not looking for much, then I can safely say that this flick should do fine as a mid-tier horror genre offering, a somewhat sincere reflection to what Dario Argento used to do best.

1 female garroted with a cello string, bled to death from throat cut
1 male had his head crushed in car crash
1 male hit with a van
1 female knifed in the back
1 female strangled with a rope
1 female implied to have succumbed to her injuries from a car crash
2 males beaten, implied killed
1 male mauled in the neck by a dog
Total: 9

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Court Cases and Courtships: Hanging Heart (1983)

Hanging Heart (1983)
Rating: *
Starring: Barry Wyatt, Jake Henry and Francine Lapensée

It appears everyone has the hots for Denny (Barry Wyatt), may it be his lady co-stars in the experimental homoerotic play he leads or Elliot (Jake Henry), the middle aged lawyer renting a room with him. Life for our little actor goes very hairy one day though when, after making love in the theater with one of the actresses, Denny becomes the prime suspect after a caretaker found him holding her lifeless strangled body. He gets thrown in jail, gets roughed up a bit, witnessed two inmates getting what-what in the butt, but gets released on bail with the help of Elliot, who then proceeds to defend him in the case, much to the anger of the police and lead prosecutor.
From that point on, Hanging Heart spends less as a slasher movie and a lot (and I mean a lot) more as a psychological courtroom drama reeking of nasty cheese, misplaced dark humor and tons of homoerotic themes and imagery. The only time the film ever remembered it's a bodycounter flick is during a couple of murders involving the other cast and crew at the theatre as the killer dons a slasher-friendly get-up of a creepy black wig covering their face and long black coat with matching gloves inspired by Italian gialli. Apart from that, we're mostly forced to sit through Denny breaking down as he gets repeatedly blamed for the killings, defend himself in court while opposing parties antagonize him, relive a childhood trauma involving a horrible child rape and a matricide, all the while interjecting scenes of him and his bare ass in the showers, behind a mental psych gown, as a hallucination of a crucified Christ, etc., for interested parties to ogle at or ponder about its clumsy implications of equating homoeroticism and homophobia with assault and mental illness.

Any attempts to build up its own mystery is lackluster at its worst considering its blatantly obvious red herrings and the unsurprising revelation at the end. If anything, Hanging Heart's all in all direction can be summarized as a test to how much bull the producers and writers can pull off to get the movie pass an hour (and overstay its welcome for another hour) as the overall story just barely made sense. (I mean, I really doubt a suspected killer can be released through bail as often as Denny did, or can anyone be that luscious of a man that almost every woman would look past the supposed crime he committed just for a chance to ride him) To simply put it, this film is one huge mess; its this lack of solid structure and consistency in tone makes it all the more of a chore to sit through and it's little to no wonder why it didn't even get a release in its native land, the good ole' US of A, and instead got video releases overseas. 

Bottom line, Hanging Heart is dry for a slasher, boring for a thriller, offensive for a homoerotica and too cluttered to be a working drama. Not a big loss if one simply decided to skip over this, frankly...

1 female strangled with a pair of pantyhose
1 female strangled with a pair of pantyhose
1 female strangled with a belt (flashback)
1 male strangled to death
1 male shot in the mouth
Total: 5

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Down, Dirty, Dead: X (2022)

X (2022)
Rating: ****
Starring: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega and Brittany Snow

After his effectively depressing and intense religious cult, found footage horror The Sacrament (2013), it has been a while since we saw director Ti West step foot into horror again, ain't it? Well, boys and girls, the man has returned with something a little spicy, creepy and all around messy. A certified rated X.

Set in 1979, a small film crew plans to secretly shoot a shoestring budget adult movie at a rented farmhouse all the way down at countryside Texas, hoping to cash in to the rising popularity of home video markets. When the gang arrives, the farm's married elderly owners are more or less capricious towards the group, either hating and envying their unruly youthfulness or low-key stalking them out of creepy leering interest. As problems arise between the film crew regarding the mediocre content of their film and some of them willing to shed their modesty to join in the smut fun on-camera, little do they know that by nightfall, these will be the least of their worries when someone's sexual repression and mental stability breaks into a murderous madness and they're making sure no one from that farmhouse will get out alive.

Raunchy, gory and occasionally uncomfortable, X (2022) presents itself as an exploitative and gritty throwback to vintage grindhouse cinema, blending the simplistic carnage of bodycount horror (mainly of Tobe Hooper's works ala Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)) with the sentimentally haunting creepiness of hagsploitation films and the fearless, rebellious raciness of 70s porn flicks. 

Though the plot is pretty straightforward (as in its the typical group-goes-to-place-only-to-be-hacked-down-to-pieces-by-killer jig), its slowburn stroll towards the premise's characters and underlying themes of coveted youthfulness patiently covered enough depth behind the smut and savagery that the resulting murders and the handful of nightmare imagery earn their striking shock value; we get to see sides from both the protagonists and their antagonistic counterparts that aren't typically explored from a paint-by-number slasher film, in which X (2022) both breaks and plays the norms around horror character tropes and gives us a slightly inventive reworking of what we normally expect from these types of casts in turn. 

For one, the clichéd "sex means death" story element reeks high among our casts of smut enthusiasts as their pornographic debauchery fuels our antagonists with murderous rage, seeing the exploits as a mockery to their religious lifestyle, yet the writing in the story's slower moments fleshed out a little more from our doomed film makers, hinting lives they wanted to escape and opportunities they're intrigued by despite their couth nature and skepticisms which paints sex on a more positive outlook, rather than condemning it. The same can be said to our killers who we could've easily classify under the typical "fire and brimstone" psychos blaring 24/7 religious TV propaganda; they degrade their guests as whores and degenerates on one end, however the film made it clear that their hate stems from the fact that they miss their own opportunities to be carefree and hedonistic, their own carnal desires now out of reach due to their age and a strict Christian upbringing. It's a warped concept of oppressive religious ideology that isn't exactly new, though welcomed here for how it's applied.   

For a relatively small casts, every member pretty much nailed their roles and kept everything their characters do in tone to the movie's flow and atmosphere, especially Mia Goth who showed a range of talent by donning two contrasting lead roles: as the headstrong yet vulnerable aspiring actress Maxine Minx who appears to be drowning her past with sex, drugs and a dream in showbiz, and as Pearl, a sexually frustrated hagsploitation biddy, wielding a knife or a pitchfork on one hand and a caressing, yearning touch on the other. In regards to the slasher goods, a serviceable deal of the kills are gruesomely gory and those that aren't make up for it with imagery and tension, one of which even standing out as a nod-and-wink tribute to Hooper's Eaten Alive (1976). Cinematographer Eliot Rockett films amplifies the deaths and creepiness with stylized angles and lighting, elevating simple scares and murders with a bit more flair, and the make-up and effects done by Netherlands-based MimicFX Studio among many others just add that extra horridly squeamish touch that keeps a slasher flick exciting! The score done is also hauntingly fitting, managing to turn orgasmic moans and angelic hums into a foreboding suite of dangers to come.

X (2022) is certainly more on the patient side given its pace on plotting, but one cannot argue with the resulting carnage and grue once shit really hits the fan, as well as the intriguing themes and character dynamics we get along the way. At that, I can honestly say this is one of Ti West's stronger movies and one of the best slashers to come out in modern horror! And with its prequel Pearl to be released soon, you can bet your sweet Johnson I'll be keeping an eye out for it!

1 male knifed in the neck, stabbed to death
1 male stabbed in the eyes with a pitchfork
1 male body found rotting in a basement
1 male shot on the chest with a shotgun
1 female eaten by an alligator
1 female shot on the face with a shotgun
1 male suffers a heart seizure
1 female had her head ran over with a van
Total: 8

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Terror Tripped and Failed: Terror At Black Tree Forest (2021)

Terror At Black Tree Forest (United Kingdom, 2021)
Rating: 1/2
Starring: Cassandre Wallace, Will Jones and Amanda Bourne

I heard about Terror At Black Tree Forest (2010) all the way back around my college years through the website Retroslashers when it was still running. It's a supposed throwback to backwoods stalk-and-stab types featuring bag-headed killers and, at least from what I read, it's awfully mediocre. Yet, here I am finding out not only did this film somehow got sequels, but it also have a 2021 United Kingdom remake! Well, as of writing this, I've yet to see the first three original Black Tree Forest movies but, after seeing this cinematic disaster, I'm not too keen on seeing any them if the whole thing is going to be THIS bad!

The film opens with a couple looking over a lake, reminiscing about their first meeting and first kiss with some confusion from the two as they remember everything differently. They soon head back to camp, got lost in the woods until dusk and find themselves on the murderous side of a shmuck in a sack mask.

Come the day after and we now follow a group consisting of a Caroline Travers, stoner Molly Wade, goofball dudes Simon St John and Will Andrews, and Jane Mellows, the newest addition to their little pack. They do the usual kids-go-to-the-woods jig of setting up camp, joking around, exploring the surrounding forest, get creeped on by mysterious figures in the background and (wouldn't be a slasher flick without this) telling ghost stories around a campfire. 

As the night goes on, our bag-headed killer eventually starts a good run of killing these people one by one, as these films normally do. Now, see, I wouldn't have any problems with this paint-by-numbers stalk-and-stab approach given that everything else about this film wouldn't be so problematic, but Terror of Black Tree Forest (2021) just have to line itself up a whole load of dumbfuckery; first of which, these are probably the most densely annoying cast of characters I have to sit through as once their numbers start dwindling down, we have one or two of these dumbasses refusing to believe that something is wrong and that all the splattered blood and screaming happening around them are just a part of a prank. Yeah, sure, I would get it if one would see it that way with the first sign of danger, but the writing and direction really milked this plot point. Like really, really milked it, to the matter that most of the dialogue around the third act is just a roundabout of "This joke isn't funny anymore" before someone fires back "It's not a prank" and then gets a response of something like "Yeah, sure". 

I bet if I smash one of these guys' face in with a sledgehammer, another would berate me and my victim about our poor taste of a prank and nags the twitching corpse next to me to stop acting and get up. Oh, wait, you know what? That did happen in the film: one guy gets a fucking knife ran through his head, two girls run off, only to stop and have an argument with one another at how this is the worst practical joke they ever experienced. Hell, the dumbfuck even walks over to the killer after spotting them, thinking the figure who just knifed a guy's eye out is in on the joke. You can guess what happens after that smart move. The fucking idiot... 

With this level of writing in mind, the direction and pacing can sum up as tedious, and the scares and suspense are very lacking. Any slice of gore here do look impressive for a small budget production, but when most of the victims are as dumb as someone walking into a bonfire to dry up after swimming in a lake full of gasoline, it kinda takes away the thrill of the blood spill. Add on the killer's motive being shallow at its worst and comparable to a teenager looking for attention so, yes, this movie just keeps getting suckier until the last minute.

What else is there to say but Terror At Black tree Forest (2021) is just embarrassingly awful, infuriating even, and that I'm highly hoping that the entire franchise isn't around this level of bad.

Dear God, please, don't let them be this bad...

1 male knifed to death
1 female strangled with fairy lights
1 male knifed through the throat
1 male knifed through the head, exits out of an eye
1 female gets a knife thrown to her chest
1 male found dead with a throat cut
1 female stabbed in the gut with a knife
Total: 7

Sunday, April 3, 2022

A Little Slice of Cheese Pizza: The Pizza Man (2001)

The Pizza Man (2001)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Sara Rogere Carter, Sherman Golden and Allen Kemp

Special thanks to Junkyard Cinema back at Twitter and Youtube for sharing this rare slice of do-it-yourself slasher cinema with me. And now to flagellate myself with it because, well, I'm a sadomasochistic completist who just couldn't resist a hard-to-find title, even if it's going to be torture for my brain and eyeballs.

From what I can gather, The Pizza Man (2001) is mostly about a thug named Rico first, a killer pizza man second; the whole "story" is basically this Rico fella (who refers to himself in the third person) throwing a house party with his ghetto chums, his whiny "bee-yotch" girlfriend Sharon and two other girls who are in it for the bodycount as they smoke weed, deal crack and eat pizza. Meanwhile we got this escaped mental patient who used to be a pizza delivery man loose in the city killing people left and right with a buzzsaw on a stick, eventually making his way into crashing Rico's party.

Now, when I say The Pizza Man is a do-it-yourself horror film, I mean it is a do-it-yourself horror flick in the sense it hardly has a budget to speak of; its lack of proper lighting meant that it's incomprehensible even by grainy shot-on-video quality standards, which is made worse with the fact that the film mostly takes place at night and its last act involves a power loss. I don't know about you but I don't particularly find long scenes of flashlights wandering around exciting, nor are they gripping or worth my time. Its audio also often than not muffles out, further making a sit through of this title less of a minuscule chore and more of a suffering ordeal, one wherein its lack of budget killed off any potential of the end product being exploitatively cheeky and fun with its concept of a murderous pizza guy out stalking and slaying the people he delivers to.

Combine that with the matter that it has no real plot to work with, a direction without some shred of flair or style to it, and an editing so atrociously abrupt that it butchered the flow of the flick, then you might as well entertain yourself with a pop-up book sober as you'll certainly get more excitement out of that than this mess. Mercifully, The Pizza Man is only 48 minutes (credits included) so the suffering technically isn't too long and there is some cushion of cheese from the casts' bad acting that does make this film slightly tolerable. And by slightly, I mean I readied three cans of beer to numb my senses once I'm starting to find the film's corniness delving into annoying territories and it was dumb of me to assume I just needed three...

Bottom line, if you think you can withstand the full assault of a zero-production horror quickie like The Pizza Man (2001) and enjoy it, I'm partly worried about you but, hey, so long as you're happy! I, as a completist, do not regret seeing this as it is a rare find, but let's just say I now understand the reason behind its rarity and I think it's best to keep this one obscure.

1 female ran through with a circular saw
1 female killed offscreen, later seen with a head wound
1 male beaten to death
1 female had her throat cut
1 male and 1 female killed with a circular saw
1 male found decapitated
1 male killed offscreen with a circular saw
1 male killed with a circular saw
1 male seen murdered
Total: 10

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The Hitman Blues: Safe House 1618 (2021)

Safe House 1618 (2021)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Matison Card, Jasmine Day and Maddie Steele

In this mish-mash of psychological thriller, crime drama and home invading slasher horror, three sisters kidnap and murder a senator's scumbag son in revenge for a past crime he committed. Tagging their getaway driver along, the trio lay low at the titular safehouse until the heat of their vigilante killing blows over, unbeknownst to them that the senator, well aware that they're the ones responsible for his boy's death, has sent a hitman against them, a supposed professional killer with a murder count high enough to be called a "grim reaper". (all the while wearing a suit made from tape and garbage bags, mind you)

A commendable plot, one that has the full potential to be an interesting sub-genre hybrid if only the execution itself is anywhere as good; once the sisters and their accomplice settle in the safe house, the movie opted to drag this experience to a slow burn crawl as we get into the psychological troubles of living with the crime they committed, the trauma that started the vigilante killing and good old-fashioned cabin fever with a side of some guy tripping on drugs for padding's sake, I guess. In fact, the killer gets introduced twenty minutes into the nearly two-hour running time and the asshole mostly spent his screentime skulking around, murdering one guy who knew one of the girls and ordering an copious amount of take-out salads as he waits for more need-to-know information of the girls' whereabouts.

Add in the pain of sitting through the casts' underwhelming acting chops, obnoxiously artistic editing and a weak sound design, the film was nearly a lost cause for me if it wasn't for the alright last act where the hitman finally makes his to the girls and starts eliminating them one-by-one. I say "alright", not "great", as while I do find it nifty that the kills were a mix of standard slasher stabbings and action thriller gun shots via rifles with silencers, I still cannot get past the fact that this "professional" goes around doing jobs looking like a do-it-yourself slasher villain with his attire of ski masks, goggles, black garbage bags, duct tape and dishwashing gloves. You gotta be snorting a lot of cheese to think this would look badass onscreen. 

For a little film made with about eight grand, I again commend its high concept story but I'll be damn lying if I say the experience was painless and exciting. For fans of low budget filmmaking may find a cozy stay with Safe House 1618 (2021) but, personally, I think I'm gonna feel more at home with something exploitative, cheeky and not overly draggy.   

1 male had his arms slit open, bled to death
1 male shot on the head
1 male stabbed to death with a buck knife
1 female shot on the head (flashback)
1 male had his throat cut with a kitchen knife
1 female shot on the head
1 male attacked, presumably killed
1 female shot
1 male ran over with a car
Total: 9

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

A Ghostfaced Legacy: Scream (2022)

Scream (2022)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette

A sequel with elements of a reboot. A "Requel", if you may. To see a Scream film made with this treatment in this day and age without the late Wes Craven can be a bit of a stretch, frankly, but rest assured it does work. Mostly.

Taking place where it all began, Woodsboro, California, the scene starts with practically a tradition with these Scream movies as we follow a girl, Tara Carpenter, alone at home and answering a phone call. The further the conversation goes, the more it becomes clear that whoever is on the other line has a sick game in mind, one involving horror movie trivias and deadly consequences. One wrong answer later and Tara gets attacked by someone dressed up as Ghostface but, a first in the franchise, she survives.

The following morning comes, Tara is recovering at a local hospital and her estranged older sister Sam, driving all the way from another state while towing along her geeky boyfriend Richie, comes to comfort her. It appears this is the first time Sam is stepping back in Woodsboro after years of avoiding it and this all may have something to do with a dark family secret she's trying to keep to herself. (I'll throw you all a hint: she hallucinates a ghostly vision of Billy Loomis, one of the two killers from the first Scream movie)  

Another attack soon happens one night, this time finally claiming a life, and Sam finds herself also targeted by the Ghostface killer when she got real close to being the next murder victim during another hospital visit. It isn't long before she and, too, Tara's little circle of friends figure out that whoever is behind the mask is targeting people linked to the original 96' Woodsboro Massacre, comparing the recent killing spree to a real life horror legacy sequel that forces survivors retired sheriff Dewey Riley, news anchor Gale Weathers and long time "final girl" Sidney Prescott to come out and aid these kids in stopping a madman on the loose. But with the killer seemingly one step ahead of them all, do they even stand a chance against a maniac who knows the rules and breaks them?

Much like the rest of the movies before it, Scream (2022) takes a stab on horror film conventions as both a gimmick and a plot point, tackling this time the tropes of legacy sequels and how it's basically a mixed bag of rehashed plotlines that somehow still exist within the continuity of the original work, taking place further along the timeline and focusing on new characters all the while the original ones are still present in the plot. In turn, the film opted to play the legacy part here with a near literal sense as the main set of teen characters all have ties to the ones from Scream (1996) and, curiously enough, they only talk about the events of the first film while mostly completely ignoring the sequels that came after. (I say mostly coz we do find out the fate of fan favorite movie geek Kirby Reed. It's a blink or miss moment but, spoiler alert, she's okay, folks!) 

Plot-wise, Scream (2022) basically runs the typical standardized murder mystery slasher plot the franchise is known for, with characters trying to survive a mad slasher while pondering about the identity of their attacker in order to stop them. What sets this film apart from the rest, though, is that its execution is notably darker; the humor is more bleak, the atmosphere is dreary and the fact that some of the rules are being broken here and there meant that anybody can bite the big one. The kills here are also a lot more gruesome compared to the previous titles, simply savage with a few of them hitting a bit harder in the gut seeing who ended up in the knife. 

This said, I am a little disappointed by the lack of creative scenarios for the movie's share of scares and flair; we do got one intense moment of a mother getting a call from the killer who taunts her of what they'll do to her kid at home but apart from that, most of the stalk-and-stab scenes are played with a stronger emphasis on gore factor rather than striking premises. It also doesn't help that the new generation of characters are a little limp in substance and depth despite the near two-hour running time and all the steady pacing given to properly develop them, making the film lacking of strong, interesting casts to completely root for outside the franchise's recurring lead trio of Sidney, Gale and Dewey. 

Still, these are minor huddles for a workable plot that does manage to pull some good tributes to the franchise within its bundle of twists, turns and shock value, elements that help simple slasher flicks go a long way, or at least far enough to be an acceptable one. Throw in some satire on toxic horror fans and their gatekeeping ways and, too, a little discussion about the line of "elevated horror films" of today and I find Scream (2022) a stable enough sequel/remake hybrid albeit its shortcomings, one that I openly welcome warmly as a new chapter to Woodsboro's long running history with bloody horror and murderous mayhem. 

1 male jabbed in the neck with a hunting knife, bled to death
1 female stabbed to death with a hunting knife
1 male gets a hunting knife through his throat
1 male found dying from a throat cut
1 male eviscerated with hunting knives
1 female shot on the head
1 male slaughtered with a hunting knife and repeatedly shot
1 female burned on an open stove, shot on the head
Total: 8