Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Old Chief N'halla: The Ghost Dance (1980)

The Ghost Dance (1980)
rating: ***1/2
Starring: Julie Amato, Victor Mohica and Henry Bal

One Dr. Kay Foster and her boyfriend, a former Native named Tom, supervises the excavation of a tomb belonging to N'halla, a shaman who once try to fend off white men by starting his own religion that revolved around murders, torture, and brainwashing white women into being his wives. As artifacts and mummified bodies are taken out for her study and discuss with her class, little Kay and her boy-toy knew somebody else had taken interest to their dig.

At nightfall, a medicine man sneaks in the digging site and, after killing a guard with a "snake-in-a-box", steals a few artifacts that will summon a dead man's spirit and inherit its powers. After a trippy possession sequence, the spirit of N'halla took control of the medicine man to continue his spree, picking off a few locals and soon anybody else who got in the way as he travels to the university where his original mummified body was brought to.

Like most Native based slasher movies, The Ghost Dance tends to focus on the supernatural or religious aspects of its subject before treating us with bloody delights; here, the film shifts from possession story to murder mystery before finally going full slasher on us, managing to keep the story interesting despite some slow scenes.

Due to this, the film is mostly story driven and what I came to appreciate about this film is that its scripting fleshed out its two main leads quite effectively; Julie Amato's Dr. Foster character is a true authority who never lost her cool even if the undead shaman starts appearing in a ghostly fashion. The character Tom Eagle, played by Victor Mohica, also had an interesting development as a skeptic who lost his faith after seeing a ritual gone wrong, but soon to be challenged spiritually when the supernatural threatens his loved one. The bond between these two kept this movie away from slasher mediocrity, focusing more on a stable characterization rather than having them as easy throwaways.

The murders themselves are okay; while very few were creative and not all were uber gory, they're still juicy and acceptable especially if its goes along with some intense stalk scenes and imaginative build, like how our killer can transform into animals to attack his victims or as an eerie ghostly figure which worked well with the film's simple yet creative cinematography.

"Patience is a virtue" as they say and The Ghost Dance is a finely crafted and subtle film that is a material testament to this saying, finding both strength and weakness from it. Just like its brother "Scalps (1983)", Ghost Dance is a slasher film for the appreciative and the clever, chock full of thrills well executed waiting behind the waves of schlock teen slashers and torture porn that seems to have overrun our video stores for curious new fans to strike gold. Seek it!

1 male bitten by rattlesnake
1 female had her neck slashed with knife
1 female ravaged by dog
1 female impaled to a spear
1 male had his face slashed with knife, later had a glass shard forced to his gut
1 male had a knife thrown to his back
1 male stabbed on the gut with knife
1 male burned to death
1 male killed with scalpel offscreen
total: 9

(note: In a flashback, a boy had his gut forced open by a medicine man and appears to be disemboweled. Though the medicine man claims it was a medical procedure, its unknown whether the boy survived the ritual or not.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"He's gorier than an average bear!":Grizzly (1976)

Grizzly (1976)
starring: Christopher George, Andrew Prine and Richard Jaeck

When an 18-foot tall grizzly bear starts attacking and eating hikers at an American national park, Chief Ranger Michael Kelly is put into the case as he accounted that all bears were moved away from the park.

He suggest keeping all campers at the low lands, prohibiting anyone from hiking but this did very little to stop the attacks as the bear starts prowling the camp grounds and continues to make chow out of the campers. Thinking of a way to turn this situation into a media sensation, park supervisor Charlie Kittridge places a bounty on the animal's head and sets hundreds of amateur hunters to make sure the deed is done, only to discover that the animal is stronger and tougher than they could have imagined. With no other options, Kelly calls up Guide and Vietnam Vet Don Stober and Naturalist Arthur Scott to finish the menace before it makes mince meat out of them all.

If you're wondering why Grizzly kinda sounds like Jaws, this is because it is Jaws only with a bear, in the forest, and boasting a higher bodycount. Funny thing about this is that it rips off the Stephen Spielberg movie so much that the whole plot parallels Jaws' to every detail: Jaws kills a swimming teen in the opening, a Grizzly mauls two hikers; Jaws had its hero argue about closing the beach, we got a park ranger arguing to close the park. We got an initial attack in Jaws that triggered hundred of hunters to hunt down a shark for a bounty, we got one with a bear here. It's plot among plot that borrows (or copy) heavily from Jaws, but I surely don't mind as, among the other Jaws rip-off we have from the past, Grizzly is amazingly watchable.

While Jaws spends the first half a slasher film before becoming an ocean adventure, Grizzly somehow pitched the slasher formula to its fullest and gives us a backwoods horror like no other; a killer Grizzly bear may not be so original in this day and age (not with other titles like Grizzly Park existing out there) but none did this well on the killing department, most of which quite gruesome, some not so special in terms of gore effects but otherwise acceptable enough for a few cheap laughs. (Horse beheading anyone?)

And speaking of laughs, the hammy nature of the direction can also ensure an unintentional laugh or two, like the fact that a killer bear is smart enough to know that a cabin can be broken down to get the tasty screaming morsels inside, or the fact that our heroes is packing big heat (cough*Bazooka*cough) just to hunt down a wild animal.

Our cast are also quite good in a B-grade level; there's nothing about this film that says Oscar winner, but the likes of Christopher George, who would later appear in future horror and action classics such as Day of the Animal (1977), Graduation Day (1981) and Pieces (1982), somehow gave a great performance as a skilled park ranger troubled by his inexperience towards bear attacks that's reminiscent of our Jaws' Martin Brody.

Grizzly is not perfect, but its nowhere that a bad film either. Its a cheesy 70s horror treat, an backwoods adventure mixed with slasher sensibilities with a fairly decent attempt for a Killer Animal movie. Its too bad that this film never got the franchising it needed. A sequel was actually shot, but never released due to distribution problems and bad publicity due to leaked footages and negative reviews of said footages, which is a shame. I would really like to see an 18-foot killer Grizzly tear down and mangle concert goers in a forest...

1 female had her arms lopped off
1 female had her face clawed open, mauled to death
1 female mauled to death (mostly offscreen)
1 female bashed repeatedly on the temples against trees
1 bear cub eaten (mostly offscreen)
1 male crushed by a collapsing lookout tower
1 female bear-hugged to death
1 horse had its head clawed off
1 male found with his back clawed open
1 male bear-hugged to death
1 grizzly bear blown apart with bazooka (!)
total: 11

Monday, August 29, 2011

Medal of Bloodshed: Swimming Pool (2001)

Here in MoB, we salute those terrifying murders that gets embroiled to our noggins, whether the movie is good, super good or super trash.

By the time teen slashers are the "IN" during the 90s, countless imitators crashed the success of the teen slashers, bringing out new waves of slasher films, aimed for the youth of the new millennia. One fine example of this is Germany's own "Swimming Pool" or "Der Tod feiert mit" in original German. While the film succeed as a slightly better than average teen slasher, it does feature one of the most creative (and painful) kills in teen history.

After her boyfriend got the sharp edge of the machete through his chest, our poor damsel finds herself sliding down a water slide to her doom as the killer plunges and sticked a machete in the middle of the slide's opening. As the girl draws close to the blade, she got no choice but to succumb to the inevitable, and got the damn thing between her legs. Ouchies.

Cry Me A River: CRY_WOLF (2005)

CRY_WOLF (2005)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Julian Morris, Lindy Booth and Jared Padalecki

PG-13 horror mostly makes me cringe; though there are exceptions, the abundance of tame gore, recycled plot and overused teen smarts taking the good name of horror overdone can get a bit testy if done improper and/or lazily. So when I finally decided to watch CRY_WOLF (just for a review), I was surprised at how engaging it got despite the lack of proper scares and extreme violence, playing out more as a thriller involving a lie gone wrong than an actual hack-a-thon.

Owen Mathews is the new kid in Westlake Preparatory Academy, coming all the way from Britain. He finds himself invited by a group of high school stereotypes to play a game of Cry Wolf, where he had to guess which one of them is the wolf through means of wit. Owen plays his cards right and wins game, (quickly) earning the respect of his new found friends.

All the while, the murder of a local girl has been spreading around campus, giving the rat pack an idea to hype-up their game and try to flesh out a chain mail containing the killer’s motives and what they look like.

The mail spreads easily via instant messaging, with nearly every student and staff believing it, but it seems like someone has taken this mail to heart as a figure wearing the same orange ski mask and camouflage suit described in the chain mail starts stalking Owen, taking every chance to kill him. Is someone trying to kill Owen for vengeance, or is he somehow being eaten alive by his own guilt?

With an ending somewhat reminiscent of a beloved classic “April Fools Day (1986)”, I understand why so many people were pissed off by CRY_WOLF but, if you think about it, it made a lot of sense and fits the theme of the plot. Unfortunately, the film’s poor marketing lead to the public expecting an ultra-violent slasher film with its trailer when, in reality, the movie is a stylized, out-of-the-blue, thriller with an unexpected, if not unoriginal twist.

Admittedly, the experimental approach worked for me as it concentrated on the psychological aspects of stalking and paranoia, keeping everything far from predictable by giving their own distinctive style of suspense that attempts to build up to a shocking finale. It's a good movie, but nowhere as acceptable as any “real” slashers out there as its whodunit approach could used a little more work.

To keep it short, its not for everyone as the slasher perspective lacks that needed punch in the gut, but its interesting enough to keep you watching.

1 female shot on the face (offscreen)
1 female stabbed to death with hunting knife
1 male found stabbed to death with hunting knife
1 male seen being stabbed to death with hunting knife
1 female found stabbed to death with hunting knife
1 male shot on the heart
1 male shot
Total: 7
(note: only two of these murders are for real)

I blame you, Instant Messaging!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Steroids + One Maniac =: Destroyer (1988)

Destroyer (1988) (AKA "Shadow of Death", "The Edison Effect")
Starring: Deborah Foreman, Clayton Rohner and Lyle Alzado

An interesting little cheese-fest, Destroyer is a simple B-movie that, despite its shortcomings, somehow made itself a fun title to spend one weekend night renting.

Hardened serial killer of 23 women, Ivan Moser is sentenced to death via electric chair, a fact he pays very little attention to as he spends every last hour of his supposed execution day fixated at a TV game show. At very moment he is strapped in the chair, though, a short from the electrical system breaks into a fire, leading to an all-out prison riot and the whole place getting burned down. Moser was presumed dead from the fiasco.

Or is he?

Fast forward eighteen months, stunt woman Malone, along with her boyfriend David who's a researcher working on Moser's case file, are part of a filming crew working on a low-budget Women-in-Prison flick "Death House Dollies". The film is being shot in the same prison house Moser was electrocuted at and is directed by some guy played by Psycho's Anthony Perkins.

The filming was going just fine until some people starts disappearing (and dying) behind the camera when it turns out Ivan Moser survived the thousand voltage death chair and was living within the walls of the prison. When half the crew goes out for lunch, Malone's one of the few to come back later and finds creepy messages written for her spelled out in blood and the rest of the crew slaughtered. With an unstoppable powerhouse of a maniac now after her, its only a matter of time before she might end up in Ivan's crummy, bone-breaking hands.

I will admit the movie is flawed. Released in the late 80s, Destroyer is as tired as a fat kid in a ten yard run with its cast (including Anthony Perkins, who I too have to admit saddens me to see a legend in a low-budget vid like this) running stale characters lacking any real personality and decent lines. They're forgettable personas already lined up for the fire and by the time they die, we hardly cared at all. Besides this, the rest of the movie is really predictable as every aspect of a B-Movie slasher is followed so religiously, there's barely any surprises here.

The murders could have used some more over-the-top slicing to them, at least show off the killer's "macho-character" with heavy-duty tools like flamethrowers and jackhammers! Sadly, the two slayings involving these weapons are the only two original kills here as the rest are either done offscreen or featured murders that had been done a million times already.

The film also tried to cook up something unique for their killer but the resulting ingenuity lacked any solid explanation or execution. The box called him a genetic freak, a ploy used to explain the Moser's under-discussed survival under the electric chair but there's barely any scenes making any reference to this. He is simply there, slightly burnt, enjoying his TV whenever he is not killing and we are simply left with that.

The last third of the run involved a lot of chasing between Ivan and Malone; the chases are fine, its just as good as any other climatic cat-and-mouse scenes I've seen but it gets tiring eventually albeit some good stunts, mulling over the fact that so much of this act could have been given to more memorable sequences or gory deaths. And in a lame attempt to shock us, we got the whole "shock-dream" ending, just like in Carrie (1976). (Geez, don't we all have enough of those already?)

All in all, Destroyer isn't a bad film, but it is far from good. It's common enough not disappoint but, at the same time, too common to be remembered for anything special. I strongly suggest just renting this: if you find it a good watch, then you'll have the memory of it stuck on your head forever! If it sucks, then at least you don't have the burden of trying to rid a thing no one would buy.

1 male had his neck crushed (dream/flashback)
1 male burned alive with welding torch
1 male gets a jackhammer to the gut
1 female strangled with sash
A number of crew and actresses presumably killed, blood seen all over the set.
1 male seen hanged
1 male head found in a copy machine
1 male electrocuted to death in an electric chair
3 males and 1 female found dead
1 male bashed on the head with a rock
1 male immolated
Total: 13+

Dun dun duuuun!!!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Crime of Profit: Psycho (1998)

Psycho (1998 Remake)
rating: as a carbon copy: ****/ as a movie: **
starring: Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche and Julianne Moore

Yes, this film is an indeed waste of money.

The story is pretty much the same as the original except with different actors, different time, more blood and in color. Marion Crane still stole the cash, she still got stalked by a creepy cop, she still pulls over to Bates Motel, she still had snacks with Bates, she still took a shower, the shower scene happens, Bates still cleaned up after mum's mess, Arbogast still investigated and got murdered, Lila and Sam still went on to investigate in turn, they still angered Bates, Lila hid in the cellar, Bates searches the house, Lila saw the rotting body of the Real Mrs. Bates, "Norma Bates" appears and nearly killed Lila, Sam saves the day, Bates got captured.

What was indeed the point? What was the aim? Why start a project that's just as good as the original because it IS the original only in color.

If only they had its own originality, some variations, then we would try to like it more. But instead, the only thing that's different is that Norman masturbates while he peeps on Marion in the shower, his disguise and "mother" dresses looked different, and the murders are accompanied with dream-like images which I never understood.

If there is no original, then this film would have been the masterpiece itself. People would had praised it for a new approach for a slasher/thriller film but sadly, there is an original, there is a film to compare to, and as a result, the film fails in every aspect except for the choices of actors and actresses to play the roles. (yes, Vince Vaughn may not be our Anthony Perkins, but at least he's trying...trying)

I'm just being generous here because I saw this film first before the original. You have to understand it's harder to grab hold of such classic as Psycho (1960) than municipal edible wastes like this remake in my home country at that time. (The Philippines) I can't give it a very low score because I enjoyed it, but I only enjoyed it as a copy and nothing more.

1 female knifed to death
1 male knifed to death
1 elderly female body found
total: 3

Original Psycho review