Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Pop It or Die: Cherry Falls (2000)

Cherry Falls (2000)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Brittany Murphy, Jay Mohr, Michael Biehn

In the small, sleepy town of Cherry Falls, a bag-haired psycho is murdering teens. And not just any teens: virgins!

When word of a virgin-slaying madman gets around the community and more "clean" kids are getting killed off, most of the teen population decide to organize an orgy to ensure their survival. All save one Jody, the daughter of the town's sheriff and a local highschooler.

Looking into the murders in a more mature and productive manner, Jody goes through rocky personal relationships and friends falling victim to the killer, only to discover the town's own little skeleton in the closet that's unsettling as it is grim.

In total inversion of the typical "virgins die last" rule, Cherry Falls would have been a nasty piece of work that broke a lot of taboos and delivers a fresh take on a typical 90s slasher. Unfortunately, the censors just have to crash the party and slaughters everything to a tameness of implied orgies and offcamera killings. A tad shame since the plot is certainly something that's worthy of mention due to its originality and ballsy theme, a first of its kin to do something as mean spirited as murdering teenagers who are just being responsible for their own good.

Much of the film has its focus on the whodunit factor, which in turn answers a lot for its tame display of death and copulation. The mystery isn't a tough one to decipher but the revelations did call for something unsettling, much of it involving the killer's motivation for their murder spree. (And a perfectly credible one, if I may add) The somber tone of these reveals help put the movie's last third to an unexpected crazy turn, throwing out the moody aura to give way for something awfully chaotic, complete with a slasher going frenzy with the knife and half-naked teeners stampeding for their lives.

Acting from the cast also helped keep the film as interesting as possible; Brittany Murphy takes the role of our lead with much sweetness and realism of an actual teen girl. Michael Biehn originally turned down his role as the town sheriff when he dismissed the script as that for another slasher (and it is in a way) but otherwise gave in after much coaxing and delivers a likable performance as a dad who really loves his daughter and a sheriff who loves his town.

Everybody else is weird for the sake of weird; to be frank, I understand teenagers these days are more open to their love life, but was it really appropriate to talk about spooning each other right after some of your classmates got killed off by a maniac? And given that said maniac is only targeting virgins, the best solution is to organize a fuck-fest? Okay, so you're alive today because the killer did not smell virgin from you, but what does that say about unwanted pregnancy? Or STD? Not wanting to be the sore thumb here, but I'm pretty sure most of us slasher fans would like to see some of these idiots get killed onscreen.

If they've stuck with the original script, Cherry Falls would have made slasher history for the new millennium. The end results, instead, is a slasher movie that had potential but grounded to the point that it can be easily dismissed as just another dead teenager film. Well, make no mistake, Cherry Falls may not look like much from what the director originally intended, but it has enough of the first draft to make it stand out among any slashers of any generation.

What else can I say? Pop it or die!

1 male stabbed to death
1 female stabbed, nailed to a tree and bled to death
1 female murdered, later seen hanging dead from a ceiling
1 male found with throat cut
1 male found murdered with words carved on his forehead
1 male axed to death
1 male axed on the head
1 male falls and get impaled on pointed fences, shot on the head
Total: 8

Love Hurts. In more ways than one: Must Love Death (2009)

Must Love Death (Germany, 2009)
rating: **
starring: Sami Loris, Manon Kahle, Jeff Burrell, Peter Farkas

What happens when a romantic comedy tangos with a hicksploited torture porn? Must Love Death happens, and it was good. To say the least.

Norman is an ordinary guy who's just out of luck when it comes to love; suicidal at best, he meets up with a group of willing participants of a suicide pact deep in the woods of nowhere, in hopes of ending his miserable, loveless life once and for all.
Or so he thought.

The group turned out to be ruthless killers who are looking for victims to torture and Norman just fell to their trap; as he struggles to outrun and outlive the bystanders victimized by the killers, he recalls his last fling with love, of how he met the girl of his dreams and how she came crashing down to his life like a speeding car. Literally.

Must Love Death is two movies struggling to connect with one another through a series of non-linear story telling; much of the horror concept is occurring in the present, while the romantic sub-parts are told via flashbacks, trailing slowly to what had lead to the predicament our main character is in. 

As much as this is a sweet idea for a rom-com-gorno, the flaw from this movie is that the execution needed a little work; the two sub-parts of this film are precisely everything you could have seen in their respective genres. The only gig is that the horror part does had its gritty and intense moments as well as  some fair display of gory goodness; sadly, the romantic comedy half is predictable in comparison and not too romantic nor comedic for my taste. 

May it be the banters or slapstick/splatstick shenanigans, the jokes didn't quite catch up too well with the shifty tone of the movie, but as a horror fan, the torture scenes did enough justice for me and made the movie bearable enough to sit through. It's nothing original, but scenes involving demented hicks videotaping their murders in a mock game show fashion are always welcome, especially if it involves forcing a man to show his foot through a screwdriver, or have a couple forced to kill one another to survive. 

The film soon ties up to an ending that was thankfully more horror inclined, though one can imagine why this film isn't too well discussed due to its cons. It did try to make something out of the ordinary, may it be a torture porn or a chick flick, but with a better acting cast and a stronger (and more imaginative) execution, Must Love Death would have been a welcome addition to romantic horror films out there such as Shaun of The Dead and Tucker and Dale vs Evil, but for its worth, I would say it'll make a good single day's rent.

1 female shot on the head with shotgun
1 rabbit hacked with pickaxe (snuff)
1 male shot to death with nailgun
1 female shot dead
1 male knifed on the chest
1 male shot on the chest
1 male pickaxed through the head
1 male shot death
total: 8

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Lovely Stylistics: All The Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)

All The Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Amber Heard, Anson Mount, Whitney Able

For some reason, all the boys love Mandy Lane. So much so that one of them gets tricked by Mandy's bestfriend Emmet into jumping off a roof and to a pool in an attempt to impress her. Things obviously didn't do so well when the jock missed that much and ends up hitting his head on the pool’s edge.

Nine months passed, Mandy and Emmet no longer hang out and the former gets invited to a ranch party consisting of her weight-conscious friend Chloe, another girl named Marlin, and three boys, Jake, Bird, and Red.

Obviously, the boys are all lusting over Mandy Lane, including those who are already snuggling up with a girl, but to cover this motive, the teens spend their time doing the usual slasher victim fare from stealing kegs of beer to smoking weed. They also encounter the ranch’s hunky caretaker Garth, who becomes the apple of Mandy’s eye, much to the annoyance of the other dudes.

Unfortunately for them, Garth isn’t the only boy they have to keep an eye out for; apparently going bonkers from being de-friended by Mandy, Emmet seeks out the ranch and begins offing the teens, apparently all in the name of Mandy Lane.
And it was never properly explained what do these boys see in Mandy Lane...
Shot on the main ranch house of owned by actress Hillary Duff’s family (which was reported to be haunted by a girl’s ghost), All The Boys Love Mandy Lane is an oddity for a slasher movie; working with art house cinematography with a few bonus grain and old school mellow soundtrack, it resembles an early proto-slasher that takes its time to build around its characters before going for the bloodbath. Accompanying this build-up is an admittedly intense sense of openness from not only the premise and its camera work, but also the vaguely natural scripting spelling upcoming trouble that's just waiting for the right time to happen.

There's no doubt this direction tested many of their patience, me included, but what really irked me about this film and kept it from receiving a higher rating is its lack of sympathetic characters. With everyone being either nasty to one another or cheating on their girlfriends, it’s not hard to start rooting for Emmet to start killing these nasty teens. Odd to say, the film spends a beefy 40 to 50 minutes playing drama around these bothersome teeners, acting out an attempt to push the slasher film conventions aside for a coming-of-age horror but seeing the results, it’s a safe bet that they didn't know how to do just that.

The good news is All The Boys still delivers the grue and a good final third that's well worth the wait. While it isn't as nasty as other hackathons released on the same year, the massacre rings plenty of tribute to the bygone days of early slashers, with nasty set-pieces to do away the victims with enough tension and subtle bloodletting to keep fans satisfied. A twist is also provided, but depending on how good you are in spotting curve balls in a movie, this is more or less an expected turnaround, a pretty good one to say at least.

A bad kind of blow job.
It is pretentious, maybe feeling a bit high and mighty above its bodycounting kins, but otherwise a good exercise of style and murderous death tolling saving the rather hollow teen horror plot from utter obscurity. Calm and serene despite the sense of uneasiness and dread that could happen anytime, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane is a recommended viewing for the patient, the appreciative, and for the curious cats.

1 male jumps and hits his head on a pool's edge
1 female gets a shotgun shoved and beaten into her throat
1 male shot on the head with shotgun
1 male had his eyes slashed with a bowie knife, stabbed to death
1 male shot on the back with shotgun
1 female gets a bowie knife to the gut
1 male beaten to death with a machete stuck on a cow bone
Total: 7

The 23rd Day: Jeepers Creepers II (2003)

Jeepers Creepers II (2003)
Rating: ***
Starring: Jonathan Breck, Ray Wise, Nicki Aycox

Back in 2001, controversial director Victor Salva introduced one of horror's modern icons. A fresh concept of a monster simply dubbed as The Creeper, notoriously known for hunting victims to eat certain parts that it likes from them and uses said munched parts to replace its own whenever needed. Another discernible trait about this creature is this rule: it's only awake for every 23rd Spring for 23 days, a rule Salva thought up to make sure his movie wouldn't get butchered for sequels. 

But then, here we are; reading a review about a sequel that existed thanks to loop holes.

It is the 23rd day of the Creeper's cycle, a few while after the first movie ended and our monster has chosen a busload of jocks, cheerleaders and other miscellaneous munchables as its final meal before slumbering for the next 23 years. Trapping the youngsters at an abandoned highway by repeatedly slicing their bus' tires with home-made throwing stars (made from welded and sharpened bones), the Creeper strikes at nightfall, effortlessly doing away all the adults before taking its time to pick a prized meal.

As the teens try their best to defend themselves from the Creeper, little do both know that a distraught father and brother of a previous victim are not too far ahead, hellbent on taking revenge on the creature.

While the first movie started out as a typical slasher movie before venturing into a monster flick, Jeepers Creepers II molded the two sub-genres into a workable mix, with the Creeper taking the spotlight more often now than it did in its last outing, showing off how much beyond a simple maniac it is. And true enough, we get to see how the horrid creature operates and what skills it has to do what it does, ranging from creating weapons from human parts to an impressive demonstration on how exactly the Creeper replaces its lost parts.

Much of the story takes place inside the bus, with a claustrophobic atmosphere and much survival drama driving the film forward into a satisfyingly high-octane climax involving a harpoon and a hobbled Creeper desperate to devour some limbs. Until then, the movie clutters around in balancing scares and characterization, much of it missing than hitting despite there being some interesting scenes, just not that many intriguing characters.

With so many victims to choose from, the Creeper only manages to kills off at least 3 to 4 on camera; hardly impressive or satisfactory seeing most of the count were "implied" offscreen murders (the worse type of slasher movie kill of all), which doesn't do much favor for its running time that clocks a near two hours. Those characters that were given a chance to act out more than their nameless teammates either ended up being jerks, bickering with one another, or have random visions foretelling them what they are up against, seemingly out of nowhere, making them unlikely to be all that root-worthy. But, then again, they are stuck inside disabled bus in the middle of nowhere with a hungry creature outside waiting to eat them; panic can bring out the worst of people so I am giving the unsatisfactory characterization a slide. Save the random vision. Seriously, it's like the Final Destination films all over again.

At least the monster effects are well worth it, especially with the amazing creature make-up and all of those flying scenes that are a step above from the last movie. Cinematography is competent enough to make this movie look easy on the eyes and add some creative take on the mythos from time to time.

It may not be as creepy or scary as the first film (and I'm not saying it isn't), Jeepers Creepers II made it worthwhile being an entertaining monster-slasher hybrid. While it could have done better by adding some more action pieces or a few worthy deaths in the middle to keep the momentum strong, the fact that it has more Creeper being otherworldly and out of the shadows, it does deserves its fans and a chance to be seen for fun.

1 boy killed, later seen with head wound
1 male snatched away killed
1 female snatched away, killed
1 male snatched away, killed
1 male and 1 female missing, presumably killed
1 male had his head torn off
1 male hit on the head with a throwing star
1 male snatched away, killed
1 male missing, presumably killed
Total: 10

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Death Goes "Duh":The Final Destination (2009)

The Final Destination (2009)
Rating: **
Starring: Nick Zano, Krista Allen, Andrew Fiscella 

Taking cue on films like Friday the 13th part 3-D and Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, the Final Destination franchise once decided to end their Goldberg-inspired mayhem by jumping into the 3D fad and gave the audience all the explosive and chunky deaths they could come up with.

Personally, I think they oversold the gimmick and just ruined everything.

Friends Nick, Lori, Janet and Hunt were simply spending a day in a speedway stadium when Nick suddenly gets a vision of them and a whole lot of others getting killed by flying tires, projected car engines and lots of crushing. Of course, he freaked out, started a quarrel among nearby folks, got escorted out of the danger zone with his friends and others, and before you know it, the accident came true.

Just like in the last three films.

The lucky quartet then tries to go on with their lives, only for Nick to discover that he can see random flashes of images which will turn out to be the Goldberg items for an impending death. We got one vision for each deaths, so you can say goodbye to any tension or brooding build-up and say hello to a cavalcade of CG gore, obviously made this way for the 3D.

So after a series of "shocking" deaths, Nick and Lori got the help of the track's security guard who they managed to save from the crash (thus in death's list) in an attempt to prevent others from being killed by everyday freak accidents. They failed once and then saved Janet from an unfortunate death involving a carwash while Hunt had his insides sucked out by a pool drain. (He was never mentioned again.)

Death then wouldn't take any more lives after saving Janet, leading these kids and the guard to think they broke the cycle and are now safe. This is when the film booked an unexpected second premonition, apparently to pump up the running time since, I'm betting on this, everything would have been done in a matter of an hour.

And why would I think of this? Apart from the dull deaths that you could see coming from afar thanks to the 3D visions spoiling everything, we also got zero characterization, zero sense of sympathy, and zero plot development. Script's also lackluster so it shouldn't surprise me how cheesy these characters act and talk, and let's not overlook the pacing and editing which made the entire movie look like random death scenes glued together. (Thus, I label thy movie, "Death Porn"

The only thing that's keeping me from rating this mess any lower is that the cheesiness does have its good side if you're up for something nonsensical and utterly dumb. Few of the deaths are also fun to watch (Read: Few!) and in the shallowest of reasons, the awesome opening credits featuring all the deaths from the previous three films (plus a chunk-stained power drill) done in X-ray. To be honest, I'm trying really hard to squeeze any other positives I can generously share for you about this film but all I am getting are tiny, bite-sized pieces of the good out of the fat folds of the bad.

As a sequel, I felt cheated out of an otherwise good entry to one of my favorite "whatdunit" slasher franchise; The Final Destination lost its story and left each character simply to die for the sake of our money and to entertain us. Blood and gore is always fun and this sequel knew that at least, but it'll take more than flying body parts to make a solid sequel.

Guess we all should be glad this wasn't THE Final Destination.

47 Victims killed in speedway accident
1 driver immolated in car crash
1 female get sliced in half by a blown car hood
2 drivers immolated in car crash
1 female had her head smashed to bits by a flying car wheel
1 male blown apart by an exploding truck
1 female gets a flown rock shot through her eye
1 male gets diced through a gridded fence by a projected gas tank
1 male had his organs sucked out by a pool drain
1 male crushed by a falling metal tub
1 male ran over by an ambulance
1 female crushed under a truck wheel
1 female knocked against a metal pole, internally decapitated
1 male hit by a truck, face smashed against a wall
Total: 61