Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Your Classic Scarehouse Kill: Haunt (2019)

Haunt (2019)
Rating: ***
Starring: Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Lauryn Alisa McClain

From Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, the directors and writers who brought us the okay but overhyped monster movie A Quite Place (2018), comes this simple Fall-set slasher that's surprisingly generous in modest thrills.
In need of distraction from her abusive boyfriend, Harper (Katie Stevens) is coaxed by her two best roomies' into joining them in their Halloween night escapades at a local bar, where they meet and befriended Nathan (Will Brittain) and his two buddies. To keep that night's buzz going, the now group of six set their next course to a nearby remote "extreme haunt" advertised on a random flyer, not knowing that the masked and costumed people running it have no plans on letting them leave alive once they step in.

Haunt (2019), in its simplicity, run it course as a back-to-basics bodycounter at most, with masked killers hunting teens and ending them through all means sharp and pointy thus one can expect all the familiar slasher tropes of an arguably thin story (there was an attempt to fatten it up with a mystery, but obvious red herring was obvious), predictably bad decision making (Again, why split up? After witnessing an obvious murder?) and lackluster character dimensions. (The only one to get some backstory and development is our obvious final girl, while the rest are practically sacrificial lambs to the slasher dressed up as humans. To be fair, they were all well acted at least, both the kids and the killers)
Nothing strong in terms of actual scares too, mind you, as there are some parts of the movie where the slow and steady direction overstayed its welcome, most of which leading to either false scares or overseen curve balls which obviously didn't help the film regarding its fright factor. Nevertheless, taking notes from scare house slashers like The Funhouse (1980) and Dark Ride (2006), the film does the favorable grace of utilizing its tumbledown "extreme haunt" premise to a fault, giving us a fair twist to what would have been a familiar stroll down dead teen lane as our casts are forced to go through and/or survive everything from simple trick rooms turned deadly to crawl-in raggedy death traps. With the way these set-ups are shot, a good amount of Haunt (2019)'s cinematography has that claustrophobic and/or barren isolated tone in mind, giving the film the creepy atmosphere and tight tension most run-in-the-mill slashers desperately need, their effectiveness here varying but present nevertheless.

The killers can also be treated as one of the movie's strengths, albeit lacking a stronger motive behind their killings. Without spoiling much, they're malicious for the sake of being malicious, seen without subtlety to their appearances behind the cheap Halloween disguises and the little whisper-croaks they say before going for the kill. This lack of proper explanation to what they want and why definitely gave them a mysterious edge and strong presence, though I'm sure there will be others who will not share this opinion with me. Still, sometimes I will work with what I can get regarding a slasher villain and Haunt (2019) supplied an intimidating bunch for its run, dishing out real carnage.
At the end of it, Haunt (2019) does what it sets itself to be and seeing the gruesome practical effects used on a few memorable kills and the clunky traps laid upon our victims, I can say the film did well enough. Not too extreme, not too simple, it still has the pitfalls you would expect from the everyday dead teen horror, but crafted enough personal twists and freaky imagery from its modest production to give us this welcome sleeper hit. For a slasher-y festive Halloween watch, try pairing this back-to-back with 2018's Hellfest!

1 female burned on the face with a hot iron poker, disappears and presumably killed
1 female jabbed on the head with a hot iron poker
1 female stabbed though the head with a pitchfork
1 male brained, face peeled from the lips with a hammer claw
1 male shot on the head with a shotgun
1 female stabbed with a pitchfork
1 male had his head bashed in with a sledgehammer
1 male shot on the head
1 male brained with a sledgehammer
1 female repeatedly bashed on the face with a metal door
1 male brained with a bat
1 male shot with a shotgun
Total: 11

Sour Halloween Candy: Babysitter Massacre (2013)

Babysitter Massacre (2013)
Rating: *1/2
Starring:  Erin R. Ryan, Marylee Osborne, Joni Durian

Not wanting anymore bad blood among friends before they all ship out to college, Angela plans one last Halloween slumber party with her former babysitter club gal pals, the first they will have after an incident one Halloween night seven years ago that ended with one of them abducted and now considered deceased in absentia. Unbeknownst to them, the masked figure responsible for the kidnapping returns to finish what they started, taking their sweet time depopulating the neighborhood of one teenager at a time.
Feeling a whole lot like a throwback to late 80s do-it-yourself horror films, Babysitter Massacre (2013) introduces thin plot, heavy boobs and cheap gore through a production value of a couple of hundred thousand Dollars that undoubtedly shows and fails to be that entertaining.

In writing, Babysitter Massacre (2013)'s everything basic teen drama quirked up with that old "broken friendships being mended" party trick that tries its hardest to be significant and, truth be told, that dead horse of a plot line could not and will not save this film; while slashers aren't usually known for grandeur plotting, a lot of the good ones at least have a sense of direction and consistency within its character interactions, whilst Massacre here just resorted to filling in the gaps with countless annoying conversations and girly gossip that either goes nowhere or in circles, lacking no chemistry within its self-absorbed overacted girls.
Now, that's only half of the plot. The other half is where the slasher jig gets danced with two left feet, doubling down on gratuitous and voyeuristic T&A but lacking any memorable kill scenes due to majority of it taking place offcamera and those that does appear on screen are fast-cut edited and acted so cheaply, it's just embarrassing to watch as it led so much of the action a lot to be desired. Like no one would moan as if they're experiencing La petite mort while their fingernails are getting ripped off! Underplayed much? Surely, but the bad news crew doesn't stop there once we get a look at the killer's get up: a white featureless cloth mask that covers his entire head and a black jumper suit. I mean, yeah, it would look creepy in writing and probably in concept, but the way the film's shot, so crisp yet lackluster, the killer just look awkward and ridiculous, with me half expecting them to trip unto something or start breathing frantically as they realize there are no holes on the damn thing over their head. Blood and Black Lace (1964) made it work because it is artsy, Babysitter Massacre (2013) couldn't since it's just to trashy. And boring. And obviously cheap.
I guess if you can take anything from this movie, Babysitter Massacre (2013) can be hoot to poke fun at. After all, the ham it packs stinks up the whole movie to the point that it is so laughably bad, if you would look at it as a Z-grade shlock that deserves to be ripped apart for how inept it is, you'll certainly have a good time doing that and wouldn't feel bad about it. Plus, boobs. And butts. In and out of lingerie. Some people would approve, others wouldn't, all-in-all cheap exploit.

This is a hard pass. There are good do-it-yourself horror flicks out there and this movie ain't one of them. Not even close.

1 female implied killed with pliers
1 female had her fingernails pried off with pliers, throat cut with a knife
1 female hacked to death with an axe
1 male found murdered
1 female had her mouth and ear cut with a straight razor, throat sliced with a knife
1 male repeatedly knifed on the gut
1 female gutted with a knife
1 female had her neck crushed
1 male seen dead from face wounds
1 female scalded with boiling water, knifed on the head
1 female found stabbed to death
1 male found with throat cut
1 male found with throat cut
1 female found stabbed to death
1 male found with his eye stabbed out
1 female pepper sprayed, choked on her own vomit
1 female beaten with a hammer, claw buried into her chest
1 female strangled, neck crushed and snapped
1 male knifed in the gut, caught in house fire
1 female knifed, caught in house fire
Total: 20

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Got to see "Mr. J" today.

And the hype is real, Joker (2019) is one of the most compellingly beautiful films ever to be released in recent years, working so well as a dark character study of a broken man turned anarchic icon who wanted nothing more than to matter in the midst of real world troubles of poverty, mental illness and abuse, set in a glaringly realistic take on 1970s Gotham and starring Joaquin Phoenix in an Oscar-worthy performance.

Just a bit disappointed that no one walked out on the theater I was at. That would have been interesting. (A-Hyuck!) Nevertheless, if you are yet to see this, just keep in mind there will be no heroes in Spandex here. Nope. This is pure psychological crime drama with some shocking violence and thought-provoking moments, so if you're easily triggered, here's a puppy.

Otherwise, good luck and Keep Smiling!

Friday, October 4, 2019

Fashion Bug: Snapshot (1979)

Snapshot (Australia, 1979) (AKA "Day After Halloween", "The Night After Halloween", "One More Minute")
Rating: *
Starring: Chantal Contouri, Robert Bruning, Sigrid Thornton

In a probable attempt to cash in the stalker-stabber hype started by John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), this Ozploitation gets retitled as Day After Halloween during its American theater release and then The Night After Halloween for its video US release, even though the film itself have nothing to do with the Carpenter slasher classic, nor does it even take place in November 1st. Nope, what we have here is a thriller. A drama thriller. About fashion modeling and the grim exploits one can find themselves spiraling into with the profession, executed in grand Gouda with high brow acting and disco tunes.

In short, a dated feature length TV soap with nudity.
The story revolves around Angela (Sigrid Thornton), a meek hairdresser who finds herself unsatisfied with her working and living conditions, coaxed into doing fashion modeling by her (apparently famous) glamour friend Madalyn (Chantal Contouri). Though hesitant at first knowing how strict her mother is, Angela eventually gave in to the idea and starts doing nude photos for Madalyn's photographer friend who's handling a "Bermuda Cool" cologne ad campaign. Things go somewhat okay-ish for Angela until, after a couple more modeling gigs, she gets conned into doing shadier photo sessions, particularly the sleazy kind, and everything goes downhill here.

In addition to this, there's also a subplot of Angela's ex-boyfriend going stalker on her, mostly implied through a looming ice cream truck that keeps following her and her friend, as well as indications of break-ins that have Angela's clothes ripped or her finding butcher shop pig heads on her bed. (Eat yer heart out, Jack Woltz. Or, maybe not. At least your horse head had blood in it...) I guess this the "horror" part that this movie tries to market as a "conspiracy of terror" but, truth be told, its hardly exciting and the end result is pretty laughable by all standards pertaining to thriller cinema as the stalker is just a cringy whiner and there's minuscule blood shed because killcount? What killcount?
If you're in it for the cheese then you're in luck because Snapshot (1979) has the hammiest lines and soundtrack lyrics, the latter even includes a theme for Angela herself, done with a subtlety rivaling Narcissus's ego. I'm absolutely sure this didn't help sell this movie among horror enthusiasts but it may have been worth a chuckle or two for those genre film fans hunting down a bad movie to poke fun at. Aside from that, this Ozploitation cheapie is a lost cause and it ain't worth a fright junkie's attention given its slow pacing, lack of likable characters, overblown fondue fountain and, oh right, the story being really nothing more than a rising model's sudden fall into sleaze, drugs and booze which you may or may not have missed at this point. There are a few good hits of interesting set-pieces and notes that did help me stay patient with this film but the overall dramatics is an overwhelmingly drag so I ain't too please with this as an entertainment piece. Not one bit.

So, a "Halloween slasher" Snapshot (1979) is not, but a boring movie about a stupid little stick figure with poofy lips who has the worst of luck of being taken advantage by multiple sleaze bags and a fucking ice cream truck. Horror!

1 male set ablaze
1 male crushed against a wall with an ice cream truck
Total: 2

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A Basic Freak: Candy Corn (2019)

Candy Corn (2019)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: P.J. Soles, Tony Todd, Courtney Gains

As a Halloween tradition, a group of small town teens bully the local outcast Jacob Atkins, whose father owns and operate a clunky carnival and freak show called "Sideshow Spook House Spectacular" under his face-painted persona "Dr. Death". Jacob mostly keeps to himself and quietly braves the bullying but this year, he decided to finally fight back, only to be rewarded with the bullies giving him a beating that eventually kills him. Distraught from losing his son and angered at those responsible tailing it from the scene, Dr. Death swears to get even and revives his son with an ancient spell, turning the boy into a masked revenant out for blood.

Being a throwback of sorts to the good old 80s slashers, (probably the revenge-themed Southern gothic Pumpkinhead (1988) to be more precise) Candy Corn (2019) could have been a nod-and-wink type that throws its bare bone plot in a vat of cheese and self-awareness as most slasher throwbacks nowadays do, but it instead goes through a more sullen and serious story-driven approach which has its ups and downs.

For the positives, Pancho Moler of Rob Zombie's 31 (2016) and Courtney Gains of Children of The Corn (1984) did a spectacular job as Dr. Death and Sheriff Bramford respectively, two fathers whose agendas bloodily cross with one another as the bullies' ringleader happen to be Bramford's son. Their sour interaction sounds and feel often natural, but Moler pretty much chewed the scenery whenever he's on screen, with his Voodoo doctor get-up and air of unquestioned authority over the small cavalcade of misfits working for him, one of which happens to be played by Tony "Candyman" Todd. Other notable faces include P.J. Soles from the original 1978 Halloween appearing as a cheery police receptionist and Sky Elobar of the love-it-or-hate-it The Greasy Strangler (2016) (I hate it), seen here as yet again another greasy looking slob existing only to pad up the killcount.
The film's flaw, oddly enough, would be that the main teens responsible for Jacob's death (and one random girlfriend) are either unlikable or uninteresting, a crud move for any revenge themed slasher, especially one that is as plot-focused as Candy Corn (2019). It makes a good bulk of the story tedious to sit through and mostly predictable, part of the blame falling on the cliched and shallow scripting made for these teens, so much so that they felt like the random encounters slasher villains would kill just for the sake of boosting up the kill count, only here they've been given a shred worth of personality and faux focus. Sad, really, since most of the kills inflicted upon them are somewhat decent with their effects, both practical and digital, but the lack of real personality and depth to these kids made the murders lacking that justified punch, another con for the film.
Perhaps if its execution was less straight-faced or at least evened its focus, Candy Corn (2019) could have smoothened down the clanks its serious dramatic approach have caused and ran a bit better and tighter. Thankfully, the movie does have the grace to look and sound good with all the chilly Fall vibe and vintage John Carpenter-inspired synths at work, so as forgettable as it is, the movie is far being completely unwatchable. Not a lot more to say but, if you think you're in the mood for a simple dead teenager film then this is a film to consider. Not a complete recommendation, but worth at least a viewing.

1 male beaten to death
1 male disemboweled
1 male had his spine torn out from his back
1 female corpse found rotting under a bed
1 male found bleeding from his ears, dies
1 female had her tongue torn off, killed
1 male brained with a lead pipe, head carved off with a knife
1 male had his arms torn off, teeth pried off
Total: 8

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Slashers, Snuffs And Stefania Stella: Fatal Frames (1996)

Fatal Frames (Fatal Frames - Fotogrammi mortali ) (Italy, 1996)
Rating: **
Starring: Stefania Stella, Rick Gianasi, David Warbeck

So here we have an Italian giallo released midway into the 90s, couple of decades past the spaghetti crime thriller's golden years. It has all the workings of a stylish 70s Italian murder mystery, taking cues visually and thematically from films like Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento, as well as star giallo familiars like Ugo Pagliai of The Red Queen Kills 7 Times (1972) and Suspiria (1977)'s Alida Valli, plus Western horror icons Angus Scrimm, Donald Pleasence, and Linnea Quigley in cameo roles. Promising, right? Well it would have been if the whole damn thing wasn't a two hours long of dull "tribute" to the giallo sub-genre as dampened as an overused cutting tool.

Still bummed after finding his wife decapitated in their own apartment, American music video director Alex Ritt (Rick Gianasi wearing a mane that would many any stallion jealous. Or confused) decided to take a music video job at Rome to help launch Italian singer Stefania Stella's career overseas and, too, take his mind off all things relating to his recently deceased life partner. Trouble, unfortunately, say nae to that and just happen to be right around the corner as a figure cloaked in black and brandishing a machete decided to terrorize Rome by hacking to death one of the dancers Alex wanted to meet later that night.

With Alex witnessing the crime, he immediately flags down the cops who proceed to find absolutely nothing. No body. No blood. No weapon. Confused but puffing up air of assurance, our long haired protagonist tries his hardest to convince everyone that there is indeed a murderous figure out in Rome slicing girls apart, but only to come out suspicious with his short temper and refusal to cooperate any further with the police. The officials, after receiving a tape recording of a murdered woman, would soon find out that Alex could be telling the truth and ties the kill with that of a certain "Videokiller", a serial slasher who have been terrorizing the US soil by slicing up women and video taping their handiwork, before sending the records to the cops. Has the "Videokiller" found their way to Rome to start a new killing spree? Or is it a copycat who somehow struck a demented motive to terrorize Alex for reasons unknown?

Looking through the bog that is Fatal Frames (1996), the movie definitely has most of the familiar elements associated with an old school giallo such as a fedora and glove wearing killer with a fetishistic motive, a focus on police work and amateur snooping, and red herrings getting offed in bloody yet stylized ways, complete with slow mo's and tinted lighting. These bits of spaghetti mystery goodness would mean well with a competent story but that is where Frames more or less tripped and fall over and over, resulting to a subpar interesting but overall idiotic plot that I'm sure could have been done and over with a bit sooner given that the characters and the production itself would stop doing one dumb decision to another.

Basically, there's a reason why Frames has a running time of two hours despite having a considerably straight-forward story compared to the giallo titles it is inspired by. The direction can be sum up easily as repetitive, cycling from unlikable an uninteresting characters getting shook up by a murder before going into the police procedural route to our long-haired lead trying to bitch his way out of the predicament, only to fall witness to yet another murder that mysteriously cleans itself up.  Making matters worse are the random intermissions of Stefania Stella music videos that's supposed to be alluring, but all they did was wig me out from the sheer amount of ego it reek, as well as halt the movie for no other reason than just to showcase some 30 something "Pop Sensation" and her very confusing assets with little pay off that matters. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Scripting for the film may as well added more dents to the far from sterling production here, seen from the number of actors with possible little grasp of English (Stefania being one of them, gods help me), reciting concerning dialogue in robotic tones. Heck, even the stars this movie managed to snag from the States couldn't help delivering their dialogue like toddlers in their first school plays, like Angus Scrimm from the Phantasm series doing a bit of ghoulish exposition as a spooky cameo ranting about our inner urges to "Kill! Kill! Kill!" Halloween franchise's Donald Pleasance also has a minor role here as an FBI agent, though his lines are dubbed over by someone else probably due to the matter that he allegedly died during this movie's filming. (Making this his last film to star in, and that one nod to John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) bittersweet in its hilarity)

What saved this film from being a total car wreck for me were the cheesiness of these performances (I welcome anything that brings me unintentional laughter!) and the crazy twist ending that is needlessly over-complicated. Director Al Festa’s background as a music video director is undoubtedly shown here through the many stylish shots and editing (and the number of focus shots on his wife, Stefania. Yeah, now you know why she's almost in every screen here), but the net result here is still a laughable giallo littered with questionable and wasted performances, too many distractions and a padding problem that could have been fixed through rewrites. Fatal Frames (1996) can be a dreck, but, at times, it is a visually competent looking dreck.

1 female slashed and disemboweled with a machete (snuff)
1 female slashed and nearly decapitated with a machete
1 female seen slaughtered, nearly decapitated with a machete
1 female seen decapitated with a machete
1 female seen slaughtered, nearly decapitated
1 female seen slaughtered
1 male found dead with a gut wound
Total: 7

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Farewell, Sid Haig...

July 14, 1939 - September 21, 2019. 

Rest in Peace, Captain.

I guess, in your honor, a lot of us could really go for some tooty fuckin' fruity now...