Saturday, August 27, 2016

TV Terror: None But The Lonely Heart (1992)

None But The Lonely Heart (Tales From The Crypt" episode 1/ season 4 (1992))
Rating: ***1/2
Starring:  Treat Williams, Frances Sternhagen, Henry Gibson

Finding a decent slasher-inspired episode from the ghoulishly delightful series Tales From The Crypt can be tricky as while we do have a few entries that have a little shred of the bodycounting ways (the episode The New Arrival from Season 4 has a scene where we see a murder through a masked POV shot, for example), a good bulk of them did not have enough bodycount or any other slasher tropes to be considered as a bonifide hack-and-slash treat.

Of course, we do get a few pretty close ones: All Through The House from the first season is basically a slasher climax, season 5's Came The Dawn is a backwoods version of Psycho (1960) (spoiler alert?), and now, I welcome season 4's None But The Lonely Heart, which is a hairline away from being a not bodycounter.

In this terrible tale, Howard Prince (Williams) is a gold-digging playboy who marries older women before murdering them and taking their wealth. He have been doing this for a good while now and his lawyer-slash-accomplice suggests quitting as early as possible before people starts to notice. But Prince, feeling a little greedy and positively sure of his biddy-swooning skills, thought otherwise and plans to trick one last bird before the both of them leave the country with their collected goods.

This time, Prince sets his eyes on Effie Gluckman (Sternhagen), a lonely widow who questions his intentions for seeing someone twice his age, only to soon fall for Prince's smooth-talking and heart-broken sob tale of being as lonely as she is and that he is impotent. (I am not kidding) After making the two-backed beast multiple times the night they met, the two soon marries and Prince begins to plot Effie's murder, but it seems somebody else is aware of his little cad. Now suspicious of the people he knows and meet, Prince proceeds to kill off accomplices and strangers, only to discover in the end that he is in a bigger and more twisted drag.

Tom Hanks of the Forrest Gump fame plays the directing hand in this rather riveting episode that honestly packs all the goodness of an actual EC horror comic. The set-up is silly yet probable and its very execution gets weirder and darker the further the story goes, throwing a side of mystery and even a little dose of dark comedy just like they do in the funny papers. The kills are a certain delight for bodycounters as they do come in a wide variety, though the last kill in the episode could have used a little more grue and blood considering what was committing it.

The talents involved are fun bunch, too; Treat Williams plays a cool bastard that both Treats us with a cheesy facade and a sociopathic psychopath who cares very little to the things he do so long as he can get away with it and earn a little cash along the way. Frances Sternhagen is our elderly main gal who managed to bring a lot of charm to her otherwise easily fooled character, getting sillier and likable in a cartoony way the more her relationship with our anti-hero continues. The others were okay on their little screentime, often just there for Treat to kill off moments later. The best one has to be Hank's own cameo as the head of a video dating service, with his geeky glasses and perhaps the best death in the episode!

Any small flaws from this episode would be the odd camera work and a few questionable editing for the sake of style and gimmick, but these did very little to notch an otherwise fun and energetic episode. I always saw the entire Tales from The Crypt series as campfire tales made for a small screen and None But The Lonely Hearts plays all the cards right! A recommended episode!

1 elderly female poisoned
1 male had his neck tie caught on a paper shredded, garroted
1 male thrown to a TV set, electrocuted
1 elderly male had his neck broken
1 elderly female poisoned, thrown down to a flight of stairs
1 male hacked to death with a shovel
1 male eaten alive
Total: 7

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Short Shear Terror: Within The Woods (1978)

Within The Woods (1978)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Mary Valenti

When it comes to the Evil Dead franchise, I can only recall fond memories around it as I grew up to the man I am today, a horror junkie with a passion for gore and masked maniacs!

I'm sure that's an eye hanging by the socket there...
At least, I think so.
While I did saw snippets of the films as a toddler, I have my first full Evil Dead experience when my dad borrowed an imported DVD from an office friend and let me watch it one Friday night alone when I was twelve or thirteen. (My family can be weird like that) Obviously, the gore was intense for a wee child but it did spark my interest for the rest of the franchise, following it with Evil Dead II when I managed to snag a VCD copy during my 15 birthday and then completing the film trilogy with Army of Darkness via cable one Saturday night some years later. (I had to thank my mum for that one!)

In a way, the franchise also helped me fill a geeky void during my high school years, introducing me to horror franchising and influences as I looked up the Necronomicon and found about its Lovecraftian origins (in turn, introducing me to Lovecraftian horror), as well as opened the floodgates of comics and horror-based video games as I began reading Dynamite Entertainment's Army of Darkness comic series and at least made aware of the Evil Dead video games.

It was around that time that I also found out about Within the Woods, AKA the proto-type Evil Dead. Reading about it online made me curious and egging to see it but that being the time Youtube was still in its baby steps or non-existing, I can only picture what the short was like...

Until, like many titles here, I got into college; by then, I probably exposed myself to over 100 slasher titles or so, hence I do have a slight idea and reason why I am covering this here short.

Is it me, or does this cabin look bigger in the outside?
Plot-wise, Within The Woods kinda reminds me of movies like Scalps (1983) and Ghost Dance (1980), wherein individuals get possessed and turned into killers after disturbing an ancient native American burial ground. Woods is exactly that, except with two teenage couples relaxing in a cabin deep in the forest, one pair deciding to stay behind to play Monopoly (?!) while the other pair venture out for a picnic. Said picnicking couple finds a ceremonial dagger while digging for a fire pit, angering an ancient evil which proceeds to murder the boyfriend (Played by Bruce Campbell) and turning him into a gory, bloodthirsty revenant.

The rest of the short runs like your standard slasher climax: girl gets chased back into the cabin, zombie boyfriend returns to start murdering whoever is left breathing, final girl remains to fight off and kill her former lover, cliffhanger ending. I guess it is pretty useless to complain about the production quality seeing Within the Woods was made sometime around the late 70s with a mediocre budget ($1,600, if my sources are right) before being nearly forgotten, but if one would try to forget that this is the supposed stepping stone for the first Evil Dead movie and simply look at it as a short film, it is criminally terrible.

It's hardly visible with its terrible lighting, the script is simplistically cheesy and the plot is pretty non-existent, but I feel that this movie will cater more to fans and probably the few with the patience of a forgiving God, as its concept is still pretty fun in its plainness and the gore effects (those that we can see) look terrifyingly intense despite the low budget. I guess it's grindhouse quality helps ease any dissatisfaction I have with Within the Woods, fueling me with a strong sense of nostalgia that's enough to overlook most of its flaws and just see it as a nearly lost piece of horror cinema so, in a way, this short did okay. Just okay.

Bottomline, Within the Woods is almost terrible, but as a forerunner to The Evil Dead, one of the most epic horror franchise out there? Worthwhile baby steps, people. Worthwhile baby steps...

1 male found slaughtered
1 female stabbed on the throat with a dagger
1 male knifed on the gut, later found slaughtered
Total: 3

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Poker-Faced: Cards of Death (1986)

Cards of Death (1986) (AKA "Splatter Blackjack")
Rating: *1/2
Starring:  Will MacMillan, Ron Kologie, Shamus Sherwood

The holy grail of slashers? Hardly.

So, if you don't know anything about Cards of Death, it's production history and/or it's rarity then congratulation! You actually have a more productive life than I do! For realsies! But in case you are a little bit curious about this title, Cards is the first and only feature written and directed by actor Will MacMillan, who horror buffs may remember as David from George A Romero's 1973 The Crazies. It was released in the 80s as a Direct-to-VHS feature exclusive to Japan and the only occasion it was released in the US was around 2014 under Bleeding Skull videos, now as a limited edition VHS. Yes, still as a VHS. It's safe to say that getting a hand on one copy was made slightly easier in recent years, though getting to watch it proved to be more challenging than the hunt itself.

The film opens with a man breaking into a warehouse to skulk around in search of something. Suddenly, some neon lights turn on and the man gets caught by an odd couple who recognize their intruder as local police chief, Captain Twain. Turns out the couple may be running something very illegal, so much so that they slice off the chief's nose with a cheese cutter just to quiet him up, delivering the dismembered sniffer (and other assorted parts) to the police station the next day as both a mockery to the cops' sad attempt to stop them, as well as a warning should these goodie two-shoes ever interfere.

And what exactly is the couple's heinous murder-worthy secret? They run an underground death game where willing players participate in a session of poker, but instead of using the standard cards, they play with tarots. Whoever draws the Death card will be regarded the loser and whoever wins, in addition to earning a fat sum, has 24 hours to kill the loser or else the both of them will bite the big one.

It seems this has been going on for a while recently and this meant a body for the police to find every after game. Made aware of what happened to his father, Billy Twain decides to join the investigation and aids the cops in finding and capturing the maniacs responsible. But with most of their leads ending up dead and the kill count rising, will all of their efforts be for nothing?

Well, if there's one effort that was for nothing, it'll be my search for this movie. I get it, some people will enjoy this, particularly those who have a penchant for the weird, the shlocky and the obscure, but there's so much from Cards that didn't work for me.

The plot, for starters, hardly has a slasher bone in it save, let's say, some influences in the kills. It's bloody, yep, and some people who did the killings were wearing rubber masks for some reason, but that was as far as the slasher elements go and the entirety of the story itself was more of a gory crime thriller with cheese and lots and lots of sleaze. I tried to be invested to the story, I really did, but the whole thing just tries too hard to be this ungodly hybrid of horror and thriller that the execution was just a giant mess thanks to the terrible audio, horrible scripting, terrible pacing that's infested with a whole lot of mind-numbing talking (Again. Terrible. Audio), and the overworked attempts to be as exploitative as possible. (A sex scene underneath a dying woman? Should have been shocking if it wasn't so terribly done and going on too long) Hell, even when the movie ends, it's still a mess! Remember that awful opening song from the movie Killer Party (1986)? Well, in case you didn't, look it up and imagine those singer wasted with ten gallons of whiskey singing the Cards of Death theme song while the ending credits play. My gods, I think. I think all of the horrible things that happened in my life so far flashed before me while that song played come to think about it...

Granted that some of the killings have some decent gore effects in them (read. some) and that there were a few neat plot points thrown in, like that one attempt to build character as a local priest decided to join the game in hopes of paying his church's debt, but I believe this movie could have been better with a sleeker direction, stronger plot development, and/or at least some high-octane action as payoff for all of the time wasted waiting for something, anything worthwhile of my attention to happen. I mean, we already know who's running the games within the first 10 minutes and we are basically just waiting for the cops to wise up and catch them or something, so why not be dumb and messy in a more exciting way?

In fact, the whole idea of a poker game that ends with the death of the loser should have been a neat one. I don't really mind Cards of Death being more cop thriller than dead teenagers so long as story was thrilling and the bloodcount was really worth it, but too much artsy-fartsy exploitation, rushed murders, and cheeky-cheesy acting made this game of death a bore to death. Perhaps I expected too much. Perhaps I let the hype of this being the "Holy Grail of Slashers" get to me. Or perhaps I shouldn't have watched this movie after just finishing the mediocre The Choke (2006) which, by now, didn't seem to be all that bad of a rock'n roll slasher flick. Whatever the reason may be, this movie was not worth the time and effort I made for it. The same time and effort I gave better titles like President's Day (2010), Coda (1987), Cut (2000) or even Bloodstream (1985).

If you would like to see all the hullabaloo that is Cards of Death, then be my guest. If you can grab a copy of this movie, then I pray for your sanity or at least hope that you ripped this off from the internet and didn't waste any good cash on this. I really hope it'll be the latter.

1 male hacked with a hatchet, garroted with a length of barbwire
1 male seen impaled on gate railings
1 female shot on the face
1 female crushed to death between pneumatic walls
1 male dismembered offcamera with a chainsaw (implied)
1 female garroted to death
1 female crushed to death between pneumatic walls
1 male lands on a garden claw
Total: 9

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Bad Movie Business Go Bloody: Bloodstream (1985)

Bloodstream (United Kingdom, 1985)
Rating: **1/2
Starring:  Patrick Olliver, Jacqueline Logan, Catherine Rowlands

Well now, here's another title I never knew I'll be getting my hands on considering it's rarity! I guess it just goes to show you that a little patience and hard work can get you a long way... Even if what's at the end seems worth only half the travel...

Alistair Bailey wants to be a director and he believes his first feature, a strange concoction of the weird titled "Bloodstream", is a masterpiece of horror. His distributor, William King, disagrees with his notion however, as he sees Bailey's film as a failure of a fright flick, tosses the only copy to a trash bin and berates the poor director on how unscary the film is, all before he fires him on he spot.

Distraught over what just happened, Bailey spends a few days binge-watching horror flicks (and one Mad Max rip-off) until he's secretly notified by King's secretary, Nikki, that her boss actually saved the film and plans on releasing it globally anyway without giving Bailey a share of the royalties. Now driven by revenge, Bailey and Nikki decided to team up and get even with the cheating distributor- by killing his family and friends!

With a super 8MM picture quality, near inaudible audio, hokey-looking (albeit passably bloody) special effects, and a very straight-forward story, it's hard not to imagine all the possible reasons Bloodstream ending up this rare. But, in its defense, its gradually overflowing cheese and the silliness of its story can be good enough reasons for it to be viewed at least once should one ever get their hands on a copy.

In terms of direction, Bloodstream is one of those movies that takes their time building around the plot before getting on the actual killing spree. For a decent while, it's really nothing more than our central character being glum and numbing the pain away by watching, in turn, the pain of fictional characters on his TV screen until he was made aware of his distributor's scheme and starts a revenge plot with an accomplice who may have something else in her mind than righting a wrong. (I mean, would you really kill someone for just stealing a movie?...Okay, maybe, but have they ever considered the notion of, I dunno, suing?)

From that point into the story, Bloodstream sort of stumbles back and forth from further developing this revenge plot to our supposed anti-hero either being egged into killing his former business associates or just him further watching his shlocky exploitation movies while his accomplice do most of the work. As much as I enjoyed the random movie-within-movie horror snippets, these scenes can get a little too hammy to sit through with their zero-budget parody of popular horror movies (and Mad Max), leading to the story needlessly stopping just to get them out of the way, slowing the pace down. I guess if one will look into it, they can be seen as Bailey's slow descent into obsessing over horror movies which explains his later snuff film project, but production-wise, these seemingly unrelated horror scenes can also just serve as padding to bulk up the movie's relatively thin plot.

Thankfully, whenever the movie does decide to show the development of our leads' revenge plan, these moments can be interesting and the interaction between the two plotters. Though it's not new to have a killer be the brawn behind somebody else's brain (like Jacob Goodnight as he was to his mum in See No Evil, or the Animal Masks as they were to the money-hungry schemers in You're Next (2011)), the shallowness of their motivation to murder off a scheming business-type and his family was just a whole new level of absurdity that I can't help but be amused by this.

When it comes to the actual slasher parts, they're relatively easy on the eyes and boast a decent kill count that works despite the cheap effects. They even paid tribute to a few murders from another slasher, Happy Birthday To Me (1981), by taking a stab on that film's infamous dumbbell and mouth-kabob scenes. All of this soon leads to a foreseeable finale where the greedy-types are dead and a last minute commentary about media violence were thrown in for reasons that hardly mattered at that point, but commendable for the effort even if it was laughably cheesy.

Overall, despite the many issues Bloodstream seem to have production and story-wise, the movie delivers better than many shot-on-video messes out there and its cult rarity status feels justified at some level. I will admit it's not good enough to be considered a holy grail of low-budget 80s horror, but I was entertained and I am sure those who loves a good bad movie can have a great time or two should they ever have the chance to see this. With hammy horror in every minute and a twisted take on a revenge-slasher type, hunt on your own will and try it if you dare!

1 male gets disemboweled by zombies (film)
1 male stabbed through the neck with a switchblade (film)
1 male hacked on the head with a hatchet (film)
1 male had his head crushed by a mummy (film)
1 male stabbed on the chest with a dagger (film)
1 female set on fire (film)
1 male had a stake hammered into his chest (film)
1 male disemboweled (film)
1 male seen in pieces and being cannibalized (film)
1 male had his throat crushed with a dumbbell
1 male shot on the throat (film)
1 male stabbed on the side (film)
1 male decapitated with a machete (film)
1 male hacked on the head with a battle axe (film)
1 female electrocuted in a bathtub with a live wire, stabbed with a sword
1 male shot, dismembered with a chainsaw
1 dog set on fire
1 female had her throat cut with an electric knife
1 male stabbed on the eyes (film)
1 female knifed into the mouth
1 male shot in the mouth
1 male shot on the chest (film)
1 female strangled to death with a roll of film
Total:8 / 23 with films

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Know your Dare: The Task (2011)

The Task (2011)
Rating: **
Starring: Alexandra Staden, Victor McGuire, Sean McConaghy

Don't you just hate it when a movie starts out good only to slowly, painfully, and frustratingly devolves into something so underwhelming?

The Task beings with a windowless van kidnapping people and driving them to an abandoned prison. This turns out to be just a ploy when the drivers reveal themselves as nothing more than the host and crew of an upcoming reality TV game show called "The Task" and the kidnapped "victims" are all winners of an audition they made weeks prior.

"The Task" involves the contestants staying inside the prison for 24 hours, all the while doing challenges based on their fears and set around the place's dark history and supposed hauntings. The price is twenty grand for each winning player and the first challenge had one of them reciting a prayer backwards in a mock ritual. Unfortunately for them, the should-be harmless ritual apparently works and the prison's macabre and sadistic warden returns from the grave to start a killing spree.

To be frank, The Task has a solid concept and I really want to like it. There's just so many things that can happen in a game show-gone-wrong but the movie failed to look into all the possible mayhem the plot could have gone to, leaving us with a movie that tries to build up to something with its supposedly creepy scenes and scares, only to resolve with (if not nothing) something so dull and cheated.

With a story mostly resembling a supernatural slasher, I have no problem with each of the teenagers being living caricatures of victim stereotypes such as the camp gay, the wordy brainiac and even the cocky jock-type. This is a near unavoidable flaw that can be worked around by developing some likable interactions between casts, creating great atmosphere and/or at least have a worthwhile killing spree as some sort of payoff, but with the direction either focusing too much on the challenges or what's happening behind the cameras, the characters barely felt like individuals and horror elements were disappointingly limited to a few uninspired murders and cheesy haunted house antics that many of us have possibly seen dozens of times before.

It's disappointing, really, since I do like the materials they have going for the movie's concept, particularly those concerning the evil ghostly warden and the nightmarish things he had done whilst still alive. He may look like just a standard otherworldly slasher villain here but they described him with so many atrocities that one can't help but feel shorthanded when only awesome thing he did is slice a victim's neck like a pig and had the ghosts of his former inmates cannibalize the poor chap. They tried covering up this little flaw with a somewhat acceptable twist in the near end, but seeing how they soon take this back with yet another twist moments later, the final product is still a missed opportunity and an interesting villain barely exposed.

It's like the people behind The Task barely have a clue on what the movie should really be about or how is it going to work. It has all these neat ideas left and right but hardly the execution needed to make all of it fittingly piece together and work as a functioning movie, so much so that the Russian nesting doll-style twists and turns in the end felt wasted as all forms of interest are probably gone by then. Shame. A real shame.

For those who want to see teenagers meet their demise in a reality game show-gone-botched, I suggest My Little Eye if you like it slow yet brooding, or Wrong Turn 2: Dead Ahead if you like it fast and gory. Anything but this sad task of a slasher movie.

1 male knifed on the eye
1 female poisoned in gas chamber
1 male had his neck sliced with a knife, mauled apart
1 male found dying with missing eyes
1 female poisoned in gas chamber
6 males and 1 female left for dead inside a haunted prison
Total: 12(?)

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Dangerous Antics (Aussie Grit Edition): Scare Campaign (2015)

Scare Campaign (Australia, 2015)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Meegan Warner, Ian Meadows, Olivia DeJonge |

Remember the show Scare Tactics? The one where an unsuspecting victim gets pranked by their friends and family in elaborate scenarios inspired by horror movies? Now, I always wondered what will happen if prank shows like this screw with the wrong guy? Maybe someone too unstable to understand that everything's a joke? Would there be misunderstandings? Lawsuits? Or perhaps, even murder?

Come to think of it, wasn't there already a slasher that did this "what if" situation? A 2013 indie called Hazmat? Welp, it looks like there that movie may have a competition as Australia decided to join this bandwagon and give us Scare Campaign! A cheesy sounding title for a surprisingly awesome movie.

In this bloody outing, the horror-themed prank show Scare Campaign is in dire need of ratings or else it'll face the bitter truth simply known as a cancellation. Thinking they should spice things up (and taking some sort of inspiration from a supposed snuff their producer showed them), the program's director Marcus and his little crew of actors and techies decide to prank who appears to be a very disturbed former doctor, much to the reasonable worries of Marcus' actress girlfriend Emma, who in turn had to deal with her boyfriend's uncaring attitude to their targets and even some of their actors.

Setting up a haunting-themed prank precisely at their victims's prior establishment, a near-rundown mental hospital, things obviously start out rocky as the good doc slowly loses it the further the prank goes. Inevitably, the doctor snaps and begins a bloody killing spree, slowly trailing from one twist reveal to the next as the massacre gets messier and more dangerous.

Straight out of the noggins of Cameron and Colin Cairnes, who you may remember as the writer and director brother team behind the most illegally pirated horror flick, 100 Bloody Acres, Scare Campaign is the two's second feature film and (personally) an improvement from their first feature, as well as a proud addition to the growing number of Ozploited slashers.

Basically, it's a bodycounter that lets you think you have an idea where the plot is heading, only to use almost every little detail hinted before, during and after the killing spree to make nasty bloody twists out of them. The further the plot goes, the more messed-up the surprises get, in a direction almost similar to a 2011 slasher called The Task wherein its plot started as a kidnapping before turning into a TV game show-going-deadly-wrong kind of shenanigan, only to tackle more reveals in the end. The difference between that movie and Scare Campaign, however, is that Campaign has the energy and direction to keep the flow going thanks to a more tolerable set of leads, a hectic-yet-workable pacing, and a witty direction that both kept and played around with the predictable slasher formula.

Apart from that, Scare Campaign also serves up quite a nasty treat for gore junkies and bloodhounds as the killings deliciously get nastier from one reveal to the next, all done through traditional practical effects and a tinge of bloody tension. The villains here are also a great bunch, starting with a rather intimidating mad ex-doctor who may have some secrets of his own, before eventually making way to a Deep Web-inspired cutting crew wielding some of the best looking customized weapons in slasherdom, probably inspired by the 1960 proto-slasher Peeping Tom. (Only with chainsaws. Gotta love the chainsaws)

If there is one thing that didn't do well with me would be the finale: without giving away much, it felt a little too easy for the story to just end the way it did, even if the sole purpose of doing so was to set-up a possible sequel and/or give some sort of ambiguity. After all the blood and guts spilled, I was expecting a better climax for the remaining casts and crews as they find themselves surrounded by an army of killers, but for some reason, we were instead given a tame do-or-die morality test of sorts that left me feeling cheated with a side of "meh". There's also a plot hole concerning the latter sets of twists that wasn't really explored or properly explained other than "it just happened". Thankfully, the rest of the film was a fun thrill ride so this low downslope of an ending didn't bother me much.

So what else can I say about Scare Campaign? Honestly, I have nothing else to blabber about without spoiling any more than what I had, aside of course that the film earns its spot as one of my top slashers! Nifty twists, characters you will love to hate, a great set of villains and a gore-o-meter tipping its scales, this modern ozploitation horror deserves all the lookie-look it can and will get!

1 female decapitated with a sword (snuff)
1 male gets a bladed camera to the face (snuff)
1 female stabbed to death with a letter opener
1 male garroted and hanged with a tie
1 female had her throat cut with a letter opener
1 male hacked to death with an axe
1 male hacked to death with an axe
1 male ran through the head with a bladed camera
1 male had his head sliced in half with a garrote-equipped camera
1 male stabbed with a bladed camera
1 female found hanging dead with her eyes gouged out
1 male sliced to death with a chainsaw-equipped camera
1 male disemboweled with a cervical dilator
1 male pushed into a furnace
Total: 14