Friday, January 13, 2023

The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of its Parts: Himeanole (2016)

Himeanole (2016, Japan)
Rating: ****
Starring: Gô Morita, Gaku Hamada and Aimi Satsukawa

Awkward and hilarious, disturbing and depressing. Yep, not your typical love story...

Starting up pretty light, we follow an uninspired assistant cleaner Okada (Gaku Hamada) as he discovers that his older co-worker Ando (Tsuyoshi Muro) is deeply infatuated with Yuka (Aimi Satsukawa), a waitress working at a nearby coffee shop. Ando, being the awkward person that he is inside and out, finds it hard building up the courage to tell Yuka how he feels, so he ropes in Okada to help him ease the way to her heart and the two soon learn that the waitress is having a spot of trouble dealing with a stalker. The two guys help Yuka avoid the creep, they became friends and things seem to be heading for the better despite Ando's ulterior motives to win Yuka's heart.

And then Yuka feel in love with Okada. Which the boy did not saw coming but welcomes either way. Not wanting to shatter Ando's fragile state of mind and emotion (and due to threats of being chainsawed to death), however, the young couple decided to date in secret, not knowing that the stalker they were avoiding all this time may have been closer than they imagined and it's only a matter of time before the freak finally loses it...

Curiously, all of this is just the first half of the movie and it is around this time that Himeanole (2016) fittingly opted to play it's credits, making way to the rawer meat and bone of the story. (Yeah, Friday the 13th (2009) has a contender for the longest opening act!) Shifting most of the focus away from Okada, Yuka and Ando, the second half follows the disturbed exploits of one Morita (Gô Morita), Okada's former high school classmate and Yuka's stalker, as he's forced to murder some of the people he's blackmailing after they attacked him in his apartment and then setting everything on fire to hide the evidence. Now wondering aimlessly in the city, Morita stalks, rapes and murders his way into houses, plays pachinko (Japanese arcade machines) for potential earnings and suffer from various flashbacks detailing the bullying he endured during high school which led to his current murderous and monstrous state.

As more people fall victim to Morita's unrelenting brutality and depravity, the closer he gets to reaching both Yuka and Okada, the two people he's aiming to end the most.

Based on the manga Hime-anole by Minoru Furuya, Himeanole (2016) is a weird yet fascinating craft that offers a palette of tone and emotions, navigating from the silly and awkward, to the devious and vile. It toyed with expectations by initially making itself look like an observational comedy drama about two weirdos trying to win the heart of a cute dream girl, a situational gag wherein our trio grows to be likable individuals despite their flaws and oddities, only for it all to twisted into a dark and emotional backlash of betrayals, murders and rapes stemming from a damaged man's trauma and abuse, all of it senseless and shocking.

What works to the film's advantage is its wonderful set of casts playing their roles effectively; Hamada and Tsuyoshi make an odd pair of friends, but both don their characters with a good balance of charm and sympathy that the friendship is endearing in their chemistry despite the troubles they're inadvertently causing to one another. Aimi Satsukawa does a well enough job to be the sweet cute girl any guy would want, which made it easy for us to understand why Ando fell hard for her to begin with. And, of course, we got Gô Morita as, well, Morita, probably the most memorable slice of talent in this number as he played his card as a disturbed serial killer and rapist with a frighteningly realistic angle, so much so that it's awfully conflicting to feel sorry for him even when the story decided to give us flashbacks explaining why he ended up so deep into the muck. All I got to say is when Himeanole (2016) became a horror film, Gô Morita owned it!

Production values of the film is great for most parts; the wide array of scoring branches from the whimsy to the haunting befitting the two faced-tone of the story. Camera work also found a way to play with the shift as it starts out static and focused at the mostly innocent first half to emphasize its calmness before gradually devolving into shaky, hand-held cinematography to show how out of control the second part has become. The minimal use of CG on the killings, too, gave the murders a more savage note, adding further horror to the already nightmarish crime spree. The rapes, thankfully, are toned down to offscreen assaults, though there is that matter of "less is more" being used here as the acts building up to the sexual violence have enough grit and intensity to them that the implications are just as horrifying.

Honestly, Himeanole (2016) is plenty of things; a real test of patience and gut, a say on bullying and guilt, a tour de force on unorthodox direction, all of these despite shuffling about some of the usual horror pitfalls like useless law enforcers and questionable character choices. I strongly recommend this for those who are more adventurous with their horror selections, those seeing to outdo themselves from the usual paint-by-number scares and bloodletting, looking for a real hidden gem to satisfy that urge!

1 male killed offscreen, implied beaten with a baseball bat and strangled to death
1 male stabbed in the neck with a pen, brained with a steel pipe
1 female beaten to death with a steel pipe
3 victims mentioned killed in a burning building
1 female murdered offscreen
1 female found strangled to death with a power chord
1 male knifed to death
1 male had a knife pushed into his chest
1 male shot to death
1 male repeatedly knifed, had his head ran over with a van
Total: 12

Thursday, January 5, 2023

TV Terror: Wreck (2022)

Wreck (2022, United Kingdom TV Series)
Rating: ****
Starring: Jodie Tyack, Oscar Kennedy and Louis Boyer

First few moments of this six-part series? Your classic lady-in-peril act as cruise ship entertainer Pippa Walsh sees herself getting hunted and stalked by a goon dressed up as (get this) a duck in a rain slicker. Running through empty corridors and hiding under stacks of chairs. Pipa soon gets cornered by our quackie killer mascot and, instead of giving the nutjob in full animal suit the satisfaction of knifing her to death, opted to drop herself overboard the ship while flipping the bird at the bird.

One month later, Pippa's younger brother Jamie is hired to work at the same cruise ship, The Sacramentum, taking in the identity of his friend Cormac who, much to Jamie's surprise, has snuck in to the ship as well with hopes of winning back his former lover Rosie. He'd done this to keep his real name a secret and do his own investigation under the staff and guests' noses on what really happened to his sister since he isn't buying the whole "suicide" angle her employers are sticking to. In the midst of this, he befriends a sassy co-worker named Vivian, falls in love with a cute Filipino boy Olly and uncover a possible suspect to Pippa's disappearance within the senior staff.

For the first two episodes, Wreck (2022) runs this course as a slasher comedy as we follow our hapless protagonist through his shipbound misadventures playing amateur detective while juggling varying odd jobs as the cruise's lackeys, as well as finding time to be smitten by a cute crew member who may or may not reciprocate his feelings back, unbeknownst to him that the killer duck mascot will rear their feathery hide again, knife at hand to claim another victim. This time, however, the slain fella happens to be the staff Jamie suspected at the beginning of his little detective work, putting him back all the way to square one.

By the moment the third episode rolls in, the charted course shifts away from stalk-and-stabbing masked killers and more towards a conspiracy level mystery involving Filipino drug smugglers, records of other crew members disappearing over the years and hidden passages to ancient rooms kept for sinister purposes through out the rest of the mini-series, so much so that by the near end of the it all, it is revealed that something bigger than a lone murderous loon is at play. 

The series is certainly a wild ride with its shifting focus and tone, starting out goofy fun with its duck-suited killers running amuck and offing people off a boat, before delving into investigative thrills and criminal chills of hardened dealers and cover-ups, and then ultimately settling back to a horror plot inspired by Eli Roth's Hostel (2005), showcasing a good dose of even more brutal slayings and a decent splash of gore. It could have been a twisty and confusing mess as a whole, but it's mostly kept in good track thanks to its likable, well-rounded barrage of hokey characters and witty script keeping the transition of the story effectively fluid and intriguing.
The kill count is relatively low due to this, but the charm of its casts' heightened antics and its energetic premise of a cruise liner being this isolated, loose cannon scape full of secrets and crooks greatly make up for it, especially when it's done with a gusto of striking camera work and expressive color and lighting. Production, in turn, is one of Wreck's strong points, but there are still a few misfires to be found here, particularly how some of the jokes failed to hit and how the ending cost itself a satisfactory conclusion to its entire whodunnit gig by leaving us with an opening for a follow-up season. 

Still, these are small messes to sit through compared to Wreck's wave of bold appeal and lively atmosphere as a mish-mash horror thriller. It's ostentatiously fun and youthful in its vigor, a fair TV gem for genre fans to binge in a single weekend!

1 male repeatedly knifed, bled to death (S1, E1 - Ship of Dreams)
1 male shot through the head with a harpoon (S1, E3 - Showtime!)
1 female shot with a crossbow, stabbed through with a sword (S1, E5 - Needle in a Gaystack)
1 male repeatedly knifed in the gut (S1, E6 - Water off a Duck's Back)
1 female gets a chainsaw to the face (S1, E6 - Water off a Duck's Back)
Total: 5

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Short Shear Terror: Happy New Year (2019)

Happy New Year (Thailand, 2019) (Bangkok Dark Tales segment)
Rating: ***
Starring: Yeepun Napat Banchongchitpaisal, Adisorn Tonawanik

As a B-grade horror comedy anthology, Bangkok Dark Tales (2019) mostly comes cheap with its scares and thrills, riding on clichés and popcorn cheesiness to make itself passable enough to at least merit a glance from curious horror fans who could honestly do better. It's composed of three horror shorts taking place in an office, a theater and a rented house, and while the latter two is pretty much a goofy and kooky supernatural affair (with varying levels of god-awful cheddar), the first segment teases a paranormal foe before curving the path towards a familiar slasher plot involving a woman in peril, a madman in a hoodie and a bloody fire axe.

With her productivity dropping, a businesswoman named Gam is forced by her boss to work late overnight during New Year's Eve, her only company in the entire office being two new interns helping her with the workload and one pathetic looking security guard who may have a creepy obsession with her. It also happens to be a few weeks after a colleague of her's, Mr. Suthipong, died from overworking and Gam happens to sit next to the late man's worktable, leading to some chills creeping down on her back and a nightmare or two about Suthipong as the night goes on.

But Gam, as well as the rest of the unlucky shmucks stuck with her that night, will soon find out there's more to fear that night other than delayed paperwork and superstitious scares; an axe-wielding figure wearing Suthipong's Christmas hoodie have made their way into the office and starts stalking and attacking Gam, leaving a trail of murders and unforeseen revelations along the way.

As a short featured in Bangkok Dark Tales (2019)Happy New Year is a promisingly strong opener and undoubtedly the best segment out of the three as it has a good build-up to the carnage and executed its crazy surprises with a decent pace and tone despite dipping into some cheese on occasions. With a good focus on its mystery and thrills, the serious direction towards its plot works wonderfully, something the rest of the shorts failed to do as their balance of horror and comedy lacks any solid idea and bedrock, hence feeling a tad too all over, if not messy at its worst.

Seeing Happy New Year as a slasher short on its own, I do like the EC comics "Tales from The Crypt" vibe it's going for; the matter that our leading girl doesn't strive to be likeable is already setting us up with something we don't usually see in our typical slasher stories. Gam is snobbish and stern, looks down on her underlings despite being an underling herself, the whole short has this foreboding heaviness looming over her as you know damn well something is going to get back at her in the end. And wouldn't you know it, in comes a masked slasher in a red festive hoodie who not only does a real number on her colleagues turning them into gnarly bloodied bodies for her to find, but they even pack a simple yet classic modus that doesn't get too complicated, fitting snugly with all the loose ends, as well as the song and tune of the entire short. 

Granted it's nothing too spectacular, Happy New Year is just this fun little short gem that doesn't dent much of what's already done in a horror story, but is a welcome one nonetheless, especially if it comes bearing spooks, gore and twisted twists!

1 female decapitated with an axe

Monday, December 26, 2022

Christmas is Terminated: Christmas Bloody Christmas (2022)

Christmas Bloody Christmas (2022)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Riley Dandy, Sam Delich and Jonah Ray

Do you see yourself as that one person who needs blood and carnage to balance out all the cutesy and saccharine sweet feel-good mushiness from sentimental holiday movies filling up your cable channels and streaming services every Winter season? Well, fortunately for your freaky arse, director Joe Begos of the scifi slasher Almost Human (2013) and bloody siege thriller VFW (2019) is bringing holiday fears with a good ole' slasher that's crass in class, proud to be loud and jolly to be bloody!

All Tori (Riley Dandy) wanted to do after working her Christmas Eve shift at a record store is score a good time with some dude she met at Tinder. But after finding out that the guy is married with kids and is living with his parents, she decided to ditch the lame shmuck and instead accepts her friend and colleague Robbie's (Sam Delich) invitation to hang out and paint the town red. After stopping by to visit some buddies working at a toy store and getting piss-assed drunk at a bar, the two soon made their way to Tori's house for steamy sex and obnoxiously loud conversations about each other's taste for records and horror sequels, unaware that a life-sized animatronic Santa called "RoboSanta+" suddenly have gone haywire and, channeling its inner circuitry as an intended military-grade killer robot, starts murdering off any people it comes across as it makes its way to end Tori.

One half killer Santa slasher, one half festive Terminator (1984) knock-off, Christmas Bloody Christmas (2022) has the makings to be an outrageous exploitation throwback breathing some variety to yet another axe-wielding Santa trope and it succeeds in this with its on-the-nose yet unapologetically manic execution, delivering a rather wild yet worthwhile B-grade holiday horror flick that's as entertaining as it is clunky at parts. 

The first thirty minutes can be a chore to sit through, being a crude hangout story following two adults acting like unsupervised teenagers with their hooting and hollering, drug snorting and beer guzzling. It is annoyingly immature, wearying and foul at its worst, as there's only so much swear-littered dialogue and grating blunderings one could take before the charm of it all is lost, but I will be lying if I didn't say I got some chuckles out of it (especially around their riled-up talk about horror sequels. Glad to see that mess Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000) still has its fans) and I have to give praises to the actors for doing a swell job delivering a genuine feel to their roles. Things eventually got better once RoboSanta+ finally lumbers their way to Tori's residence, stopping by and breaking into a neighboring house first for a grimly effective home invasion-cum-family massacre before forcing their way to Tori's and everyone gets an axe blow or two to places that definitely hurt.

The kills here are gloriously practical and rubbery yet gory, a lovely throwback to 70s and 80s slashers, much like the film's grainy visuals and candy-colored lightning, as well as its retrowave synth score. The killer robot Santa itself is a decent take on a popular holiday horror staple, bearing a passable explanation for its durability and strength, and too has thrown enough hints here and there as to why exactly it's splitting people in halves with an axe, but still leaving enough to the viewer's imagination regarding its specific interest on hunting down Tori. I do love the fact that it started out looking so much like your average Saint Nick with a murderous streak before gradually getting more and more damaged the further it struggles to end our final girl, revealing the flashy machinations inside it with some goofy but otherwise fitting make-up effects. 

And by struggle, I mean struggle! The final face-off is where the whole Terminator gig kicks in, running through the last third of the film and it's every way as harebrained as it is badass. It came to a point where our robot Santa is nothing but a metal endoskeleton with sparks and wires hanging out damaged and yet it still manages to be quite a challenge to put down as the menace survives every form of abuse Tori inflicts at it. This is where our lead turns from a screechy party girl to a gore-drenched heroine and I gotta say that the endless barrage of attacks from the mecha-maniac is only as good as the trappings and counter attacks its intended victim hurl back against it and this last act certainly delivers on that department, so long as you don't mind it dragging on a bit with all the robo fake-outs.

Without a doubt a slasher film for the undemanding, Christmas Bloody Christmas (2022) may suffer from a couple of clods in its writing, but as a straightforward bodycounter made to be entertainingly ridiculous and gruesomely bloody, I say it has done its best! If you get to switch off that big melon resting between your shoulders, feel free to see it as it can be a good watch. Just, maybe, prepare some booze and ready your finger towards the flashforward button... 

1 male split in half with an axe
1 female repeatedly beaten against a glass counter
1 male gets a thrown axe to the back, head stomped
1 female hacked on the face with an axe
1 boy hacked with an axe
1 female had her neck broken
1 male killed offscreen with an axe
1 male had his head cleaved with an axe
1 male hacked on the head with an axe
1 male has his head blown off with a shotgun
1 male killed offcamera, mangled body hurled and seen
1 male shot on the head with a shotgun
Total: 12

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Santa's Lakehouse Slay: Yule Die (2010)

Yule Die (2010)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Malinda Asbhy, Nathan Betts and Jared Borum

Considering young Emily was attacked at a hijacking gone wrong by a crook in a Santa get-up one Christmastime ago, it's more than understandable that she's a little Santa-phobic, freezing up the moment she sees the jolly ole' fat man within premises but is doing her best to get over it by writing Christmas letters to him, as well as talking to her mum and a fatherly family friend named Nick about her fears. This year, however, she'll find herself reliving that nightmare when, due to the news that the creep who attacked her just busted out of prison, Emily and her mother decided to spend their holiday at a lakehouse owned by Nick and someone suited up as Santa Claus starts prowling around, murder in mind and ready to take victims...

Despite falling over and over around the common budget-affiliated pitfalls of shot-on-video titles, Yule Die (2010) surprisingly made itself to be an interesting little shlock that paced itself quite nicely, build a workable dark tone for the second half of the plot and feature an effectively creepy looking Santa slasher with a gore quota to match. Yes, the acting and audio is laughable at its worst (save for Shana Mangrum who played our lead girl. Quite a passable talent for a kid starring on basically a camcorder movie), the video is grainy in quality and a good chunk of the script involving some family drama between Emily's mom, dad and the family friend can get hammy, but the film thankfully didn't pull any punches when it comes to its horror scenes and actually have the guts to give us well executed "prowl and stab" moments with decent lighting style, camera, blood work and brutality, leading to a good enough killer reveal and a fitting downer ending. 

Frankly, I can see why Yule Die (2010) is a relatively rare slasher to stumble across as its low budget pretty much weighed it down into obscurity, but if you see yourself looking up this title, I do recommend it. It's an undemanding movie with a basic plot and a shaky production quality, but I have to give credit when credit is due as this film at least made itself intriguing and bloody enough to be a popcorn-friendly holiday creeper. What else can I say but give this slay a little ride.

1 male hacked to death with an axe
1 male beaten to death with a brick
1 female had her throat cut with a ceramic shard
1 male repeatedly stabbed and carved with a kitchen knife, shot to death
1 male lands back-first on an axe
Total: 5

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Sammy is Coming To Town: He Knows (2022)

He Knows (2022)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Shawn C. Phillips, Lynn Lowry and Julie Anne Prescott

'Twas the night before Christmas and somewhere in the house, 
little Christina was staring at a masked killer, ready to pounce;
With their rubber mask grinning, a smile twisted to cause despair,
The crazed killer brained daddy's head in, repeatedly beyond repair;

No children was nestled that night, none snugged in their beds,
Panic was all over as the maniac came for their heads;
But only one child survived this home invasion madcap,
Lil' Christina lived, while her brother Johnny disappeared from the map...

Twenty years after this grisly incident, Christina is now a single mother and a troubled artist, keeping her nose to the grindstone providing for her daughter, Stephanie, whose custody is shared with Christina's ex-husband Steve, who mostly spends his time living a drug-fueled party life with his friends. For her family's sake, Christina tries her damnedest to move past the childhood scars left by the night that masked maniac mangled her father's head and kidnapped her brother, but little did she know that said same psycho, dressed as an elf and going by "Sammy", is back in town to wreck havoc upon its people once again, slaying those he deems have been very naughty and deserving a knife stab or two.

Right off the bat, He Knows (2022) is a very low budget production, a typical do-it-yourself deal with a lot of things working against it, from the amateur line of talents filling its casts to its clumsy editing hobbling the story's pacing and direction, from the awkward scripting attempts of drama and depth between the killings to the horrible sound design that varies between muffled due to ambient noises to hilarious dubbed over. Not a lot of characters here are that likable to make matters worse, with a lot of them being drug addicts, bimbos and/or alcoholics who are I guess tailor-made just to be slain by Sammy the Elf as the killer supposedly targets folks worthy of Santa's Naughty List. 

On that note, I would say that the film at least delivers on its slasher elements; Sammy The Elf is honestly a fun little devil, with his creepy grinning mask and a whole deck of festive gear to fit his elf motif. His supposed legend is intriguing at its best, told here via narrated comic book panels wherein Santa, sad that he and his (sexily drawn?!) wife doesn't have a child of their own, so the elves made one for him via magic (Dark magic, coz elves are apparently evil in nature. Who knew?) and things didn't go too well as Sammy turned out to be too murderous on how he handles naughty boys and girls. With that, the kills and attacks here are (albeit still within the confines of a low budget) a messy, bloody bunch that's actually handled pretty okay, with the right amount of mean-spirited Christmas fear, dumb dark humor, a good dash of blood and some unexpected surprises, particularly with the reveal in the near end in which we find out some truth of what's going on and who's behind the mask, all the while still hinting something bigger working in the dark. 

To be truthful, He Knows (2022) can be a decent run with the right mindset; though its flaws doesn't do much of a favor for its semi-decent story, its concept, cheese factor and workable low-budget horror scenes still makes this film a fine little holiday horror number to see out of curiosity. Yes, there are better titles out there, but what's the harm of treating yourself to a little dip of guilty poison for the kick of it?

1 male brained to death with a bowling ball
1 male stabbed to death with a hunting knife
1 female jabbed in the neck with a syringe
1 female brained with a baseball bat
1 female brained with a baseball bat
1 male had his throat slashed with a tire iron
1 male found with candy canes stabbed into his eyes, throat cut
1 female stabbed to death with a hunting knife
1 male knocked neck-first into a broken bong
1 female had her throat cut with a hunting knife
1 female shot dead
1 male repeatedly shot, stabbed in the eye with a fire poker
1 female found dying
1 male stabbed to death with a hunting knife
1 male stabbed in the neck with a garden shear
Total: 15

No, really, why is Mrs. Claus drawn so young and hot?! 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Masquerading Madness in Venice: Veneciafrencia (2021)

Veneciafrencia (Spain, 2021)
Rating: **
Starring: Ingrid García Jonsson, Silvia Alonso and Goize Blanco

In this giallo-inspired horror thriller, a group of five Spanish tourists visit Venice for what's supposed to be an extravagant bachelorette party, only to end up caught and tangled in a web of socio-political tensions and random murders committed by a madman in a court jester's outfit when one of them suddenly disappears the day after they all attended a secret rave. With a premise like that, Veneciafrencia (2021) could have had a rich world and intriguing plot points to center a bodycount flick around with its talks of mass tourism ruining a beloved country and the lengths some people would go to dispose what they deem as a "plague" that's ruining their beautiful city. Unfortunately, the movie can't seem to decide whether it wants to be playful with the idea or be straight with it, resulting to an erratic direction that further loses its worth as it focuses on a gang of charmless characters in a set-up not too far off from Eli Roth's Hostel franchise.

The pacing and tone are just all over, in turn, as the movie pretends to be something deep and witty as a by-the-book conspiracy thriller for some moments, only to be gutted down by its own cluster of hammy horror and crazy killings as a slasher flick in the next. It's a clumsy hodge-podge juggle that's unnecessarily complicated in its execution seeing there's really no sense of mystery regarding why the villains are doing all of this as it's basically plastered all over the scenes involving our casts interacting with many of the locals. This, unsurprisingly, results to the story's flow just bogging down with pointless police procedurals and investigations, making its hundred minute-long barrage of bland characters and tired clichés eventually lose its steam in its last act with an unrewarding conclusion to boot.

On a more positive note, Veneciafrencia (2021) does succeed in making its slasher scenes memorable in a goofy yet gruesome way, with a couple of murders happening during public daylight as our killer chortles at gathering crowds of tourists that everything horrible he's doing is just an act and these idiots simply eating up this claim without any sense of hesitation. It's absurdly silly and a tad too convenient, with all forms of logic and realism thrown out, but keeps rather a quirky energy in its viciousness, a welcome take for a bloody good time even if most of the kills were from random bystanders. Aside from that, the film also benefits from looking quite stunning with its location shots and camera work, showcasing the beauty of Venice in and out of the horror scenes and the stellar production work done behind the film.

With more miss than hits, Veneciafrencia (2021) is a good enough horror film that could've been better if it found a way to balance out its commentary themes and splashy slasher hook in a way that would benefit one another. Give it a try if you like, though expect a hobbled path. 

1 male bludgeoned to death with a camera
1 female dragged away, killed offscreen
1 male repeatedly ran through with a sword
1 male repeatedly ran through with a sword, decapitated
1 female had her throat cut with a sword
1 male seen crushed on a dock by a cruise ship (video)
1 female had her hands and back hacked with hooks
1 male shot
1 male and 1 female found dead from cut wrists
Total: 10