Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Frank Morris Massacre: Terror on Alcatraz (1986)

Terror on Alcatraz (1986)
Rating: ***
Starring: Aldo Ray, Sandy Brooke, VerĂ³nica Porche Ali

How often do we get a slasher movie set on Alcatraz Island? Apart from the underrated cheese-fest Slaughterhouse Rock and this title, not much. But what sets this title a tad more interesting is the plot itself and horror legend Aldo Ray! (of Haunts (1977), Don't Go Near the Park (1981) and Terror Night (1987), among others)

Ray here portrays a slightly unhinged Frank Morris, as in THE Frank Morris who some of you history buffs may recognize as one of the escapees from the real life event known as the June 1962 Alcatraz Escape. It's been decades since he got out and money's getting a bit low on his end due to being, well, in hiding for all of these years. But after recalling he scribbled some information about a key back at his prison cell, (which in turn will open a safe with loads of money in it), Frank bolts back to San Francisco.

After killing a former guard that he had a beef with back in prison days, Frank boards a boat to the island, joins a tour and slips away unnoticed to skulk around. Unfortunately for him, five partying teens find the run down prison as a great place to sneak in and party their heads off, so what will a man with an IQ of 133 do in a situation like this? Device a plan to slip away? Take their boat and drive it back to shore? Pretend to be a guy who fell asleep in the tour and ask these kids for help?

Nope. In true slasher film cliche, he decided that it's better to hack them dead with a meat cleaver and be a mindless maniac for the majority of the film.

Terror on Alcatraz is an odd duck; it's basically two plots mashed together, one focusing on Morris' plan to get rich and another is your typical slasher fare. They don't mix in too well, with the get-rich scheme being tossed aside in the middle to make room for the killings, only to be brought back in by the last third of the film, completely ignoring that he had just murdered a bunch of kids. Due to this, the pacing's a tad off and the characterization of all of the characters, may it be Morris or the no-name teens he is hunting, are mishandled. 

Quite sad actually as the teens have their interesting notes but that's as far as they go for depth; one is a young coke-head lawyer, another is the rich son of a land owner, two big-titted bimbos, a know-it-all, and one sorta-crazy security guard who has some Native American blood running through his veins. The latter is the most notoriously portrayed in the film as he jugs a lot of alcohol and dresses his face with red war paint after he figured out there's a maniac on the loose. (Only to die easily moments later. Um...) Not sure what this film is implying but it just seconds my claim on how bad the scripting was for this B-flick.

Most of the personality goes to Aldo Ray's character but not in a way any proud historian would ever find appealing; Frank Morris in real life was known for many burglaries, but murder? Hard to picture. He's basically a man of plans but the movie portrayed him as a blood-thirsty thug with a sexist and sadistic streak. If anything, he is much closer to Otis B. Driftwood of both House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects, with their "kill first, think later" way of carnage. The only difference is that Morris unexpectedly switches personality from time to time, wherein he can be savage killer in one moment, and then back to being just an obnoxious, money-hungry escapee in the next.

Then again, as bad slashers go, Terror on Alcatraz is stupidly fun for what it is. The gore splatters in bright red and death rattles are plenty (if not overly exaggerated), the villain has a unique motive compared to your typical slasher and, I have to admit, the overacting gave my sides something to laugh at. There's also the fact it utilizes its backdrop effectively despite the budget, but with a better script and more imagination, perhaps they could have done more than simple meat cleaver murders.

For this film, cheesiness matters and for the right audience, it should be enough. Luckily for it, I'm the kind of guy who loves a good balance of cheese in my films. I can overlook the fact that the editing and scripting sucks so long as they can show me a guy moaning to death after getting his skull split open with a cleaver. End the film with a unexpected twist and a cool gore scene, and you have me recommending this obscure slasher for viewing whenever you get a chance to see it!

1 male impaled on a broken plank
1 male hacked on the face with a meat cleaver
1 female drowned in a barrel of water
1 male hacked on the head with a meat cleaver
1 male found hanged
1 male found shot on the gut with a shotgun
1 male knifed on the gut
1 female strangled to death
1 male knifed, later had his arm crushed off by a steel door and left for dead
Total: 9

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

30th Century Golddiggers: Leprechaun 4: In Space (1996)

Leprechaun 4: In Space (1996)
Starring: Warwick Davis, Brent Jasmer, Jessica Collins 

There's a old saying that whenever a franchise goes on making movies, there will come a point that they'll ran out of ideas and just chuck the whole plot in space. Now this is usually a joke but there was some series that thought this is a sell and did exactly just that. So far, I've seen three horror villains given this treatment; Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th, Pinhead of Hellraiser and, in this review, the maniacal Leprechaun of, well, the Leprechaun franchise. 

Some time into the future, the pint-sized devil kidnaps and plans to marry a princess from an alien planet to make him an official royalty, thus granting him...a title, I guess. (What for, though? I'm sure his immortality and magical powers should have been enough to cover any world dominating scheme!) At first the princess reasonably turn down his offer, but after being persuaded by the leprechaun's promises of gold and jewels, she eventually gave in to the idea. 

All of this is soon interrupted when a hired military mercenary group was sent to rescue the princess and destroy the dangerous "alien". A gun/laser fight soon broke out and a grenade was tossed, which the leprechaun heroically covers to save his future wife and got blown to bits. Thinking they've won, they haul up with the princess and a few of the Leprechaun's gold, flying off to a ship that's being resided by a  perverted geek and the professor in charge of the operation, who, by the way, resembles a bald German guy's torso implanted on a dalek from Dr. Who.

Of course, we know our bad guy's far from dead and the leprechaun magically regenerates himself from one of the marine's dick (don't ask) and wrecks all kind of havoc across the ship, searching for the princess and his gold.

Now, bear in mind, the Leprechaun franchise was never serious to begin with so please, do not ask why the Leprechaun is in space. Let's just say that he's so evil and demonic, he can out live us all and be greedy for all eternity; this being said, Leprechaun in Space is a B-movie slasher parody of many scifi conventions and movies like Alien and The Terminator 2.

With it's odious plotting, Japanese paper-thin characters, and terribly weak script, this sequel simply continues the same bad movie trashiness the prior three Leprechaun movies are known for, although I must admit this entry pushed it light years ahead of itself. This is more of a cartoon than a horror movie, a big joke in space under the vein of having a murderous snowman at the Bahamas ala Jack Frost 2: Attack of the Killer Mutant Snowman, only this movie is a tad better as a slasher. That being said, one of the fun part of Leprechaun is Space is that, from squashed faces to horrible mutation, some of its horror elements looks pretty impressive to say the least, which is something considering its budget obviously looked shoestring tight.

The wit, however, is where the film fell flat; odd to say, the Leprechaun here is less whimsical and more of a straight-forward Freddy Krueger clone as he lost most of his rhyming talents and went ahead in speaking normally for once. This slight change does have its redeeming quality as he can be seen more in the same heights (not literally) of a real slasher villain, although this comes with the price of what makes the Leprechaun character so devilishly endearing in his prior a films. Not only that, but some of the exploitative elements, while simply played out for laughs, it didn't have the same kick one would get on a good B-grade film and pretty much felt just there. I put the blame on the high camp factor, but whether this is a good or a bad thing is up to you.

None the less, I had fun; it's a dumb movie but it's the fun kind of dumb. The kind that gets shoved down a unicorn's bunghole while it's galloping, totally weird yet magical at the same time! Not the kind of film everyone would surely enjoy, but a selective view that appreciates a shlocky silly movie just to have a good time will definitely enjoy the brainless effort that is Leprechaun In Space!

If not, then you are missing the point of this movie...

1 male hacked to death with a light saber
1 male had his groin ripped open
1 male stripped to the bone by flesh-eating bacteria
1 male crushed by a falling metal crate
1 female falls to her death
1 male had his face flattened by a flying dish tray
1 male electrocuted
1 male frozen by liquid nitrogen, blown to bits
Total: 8
My sentiments exactly!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Break the Chain, Lose a Life: Chain Letter (2009)

Chain Letter (2009)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Nikki Reed, Keith David, Brad Dourif 

Chain letters. Those annoying spams that's mostly written by some bored tween who's idea of a scary death sounds like a cheap C-list Asian horror. On a hindsight, they used to be creepy when cyberspace was fresh out of the open and when these letters were better written, almost resembling real news bits. Now, with the rampant development of technology, these letters became simple wastes of time that are meant to be thrown to our junk mails.

This 2009 slasher played around with this fact with a deadly twist: what if by ignoring a chain letter that promises your death, you die for real?

Some teens receive a chain mail from an anonymous web persona that calls itself "The Chain Man", instructing them to pass the mail to five others within 24 hours or else they'll meet a terrible fate. As any of us would do in this situation, some of the kids simply ignored this as junk mail but, little do they know, there is indeed a mad man out there hunting and brutally slaughtering those who failed to pass the mail. As the death toll rises, local detectives start looking into a possible connection between these murders to some anti-technology cult that may had recruited a disfigured and completely homicidal soldier who was tortured back in Iraq for owning an American phone (?!)

For truth's sake, the plot had me looking; like a modern day Candyman (1992) where victims pay the price for not believing something preposterous, Chain Letter attempts to update this trend by infusing technophobia to the standard teen-killing spree of the 80s/90s slasher with a good eye for gore.

We got some good acting despite some really cheap characters, fun cameos like Brad Dourif as a Sociology Professor, a sensible social commentary that does had its point, and an intimidating killer that boasts creativity within its weapon of choice (Plus, he's played by Michael Bailey Smith, Pluto of the impressive The Hills Have Eyes 2006 remake!) The problem? Whoever was writing this story have no idea how to do the rest of the gig right.

After the first few killings, the film shifts into an investigative thriller that hardly makes sense as the connections between these teen murder and the anti-tech cult just felt forced, dragging what might have been a simple yet fun slasher movie into a messy pile of cinematic mush that have no idea what it wanted to be. The movie just went on with the chain letters and good gore, skipping a climax and tossing away any reason for the teens to fight back, thus leading to an unsatisfying ending that's gleefully messy but hollow none the less.

I can understand that the producers might have been trying something new and unpredictable on their hands, but they simply tried too hard. The killer's motive was fine, but was there really a need to chuck a sub-plot involving a cult of radicals that hate scientific progress? Was there a need for one of our teen casts to start investigating this matter if she isn't even going to do anything to save her friends or herself? Was there a need for the Chain Man to hoist a victim with chains just to cut his heels with a knife?

That last part, seriously. The killer's big; he could have just kicked the kid's leg joints to the opposite direction before he starts grinding the boy's face with a length of chain. I'm pretty sure it'll work the same way. (Killers and their gimmicks...)

The bottom line is Chain Letter (2009) could have been good if they just kept it modest. Technology in a slasher film is not impossible seeing we have fun titles like Chopping Mall and Laid To Rest (2009), but the trick here is focus. This ride lacks it, so here we are stuck with a half-working bodycount engine that's worth a watch if you really have nothing else to do.

1 male had his face mutilated with chains
1 male crushed in half by a falling car engine
1 female had her head split open with a  toilet lid
1 male snared with a hooked-tipped chain, hooked through the jaw
1 male set on fire
1 female chained between two cars, torn apart
1 male presumably killed
Total: 7