Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Bloody Day And Bloody Night: It's a Beautiful Day (2013)

It's a Beautiful Day (Kuso Subarashii Kono Sekai)(Japan/US, 2013)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Kkobbi Kim, Nanako Ohata, Akihiro Kitamura

Some of the best slashers out there play with the idea of absence to make itself creepy (if not scary), such as the absence of reason why Michael Myers stabbed his sister to death one Halloween night, or the lack of explanation to how Jason Voorhees suddenly turned up alive when, all of these years, he was assumed dead. While reasons and/or origins would later come in through either sequels or reboots, one cannot deny that a good air of mystery surrounding a villain is a great key to work with in making them memorable, even more when everything else in the movie incorporates well with the enigmatic plot point. For the movie I will be covering here, It's a Beautiful Day, that doesn't appear to be the case though.

This Japanese/American horror flick starts out like your typical slasher with two thieving, homicidal brothers murdering a lost tourist couple in the middle of a deserted road. The familiar sub-genre footing continues when we are then introduced to Ah-Jung, a Korean student studying English in the States, who finds herself joining five party, booze and sex-obsessed Japanese students in a rented cottage in California.

Sticking out like a sore thumb, Jung tries her best to either get along or move away from her careless and care free companions, not knowing that the murderous brothers have now set their sights on snuffing out the group, believing they have witnessed one of their crimes.

Halfway into this massacre, we're suddenly (and notoriously, if I may say) thrown at a plot point that came out of nowhere as one of the brothers suddenly gains the ability to switch bodies. No clear indications as to what led to this supernatural power, nor did the film bothers to explain this in the end, but it wouldn't be so bad of a turn if the direction tries to make something out of this, creating something positively unusual to this otherwise typical slasher. (Maybe a more teen slasher-y Shocker (1989) or The First Power (1990)?)

Sadly, director and writer Kayoko Asakura failed to see the potential mayhem a body-switching slasher flick could have unleashed, choosing instead to have the understandably confused and body-swapped brother whine and shout at terrified victims for an explanation, while his more murder-happy sibling hacks his way through the cast while spitting racist venom, not knowing that one of them is really his lil' brother in a Japanese girl's body. By the time the story eventually embraced the concept of a body-jumping killer, this was around the last few minutes of the movie where the rest of the bloodwork already happened, a gruesome set of gory demises that could make up for the missed opportunities.

In fact, Beautiful Day can be an okay horror flick if you can look past its many others flaws apart from the unexplained supernatural angle, mainly the kinda distracting Japanese-versed English, the lack of any real sympathetic characters and the few under and/or overacted scenes. (One guy had his legs chopped into pieces and yet he sounds like he just scrapped his knees) There's a generous abundance of practical gore effects and with the movie being only 78 minutes long, the plotting actually breezes through nicely despite a few bumps. The racism angle is pretty limited to just name calling so I didn't find it as upsetting as it should be, but at least they tried to make an intimidating trait out of an otherwise standard axe murderer.

Honestly, It's a beautiful Day could have been better if it thoroughly understood what it really wanted to do with the sub-genre; on one part, I can tell they want something different with its inclusion of body possession, but they also seem unsure how to go with it on another. In the end, Day is just a forgettable and replaceable bloody outing that, fairly on its part, is still watchable for the grue and oddities, but nothing else. For more body-switching hokums, I may suggest the underrated The Ferryman (2007) if you want a bodycounting psychological run or Shocker (1989) if you're into some cheesy laughs.

1 male hacked to death with an axe
1 female beaten to death against a car hood
1 male electrocuted in a water reserve with a taser
1 male knifed to death
1 female dismembered and hacked with an axe
1 male hacked legless, gets an axe head kicked into his mouth
1 male hacked to death with an axe
1 male stabbed through the tongue with a razor, throat cut
1 female stabbed in the ear with a razor
1 female hacked to death with an axe
Total: 10

Friday, September 23, 2016

Cluttered Cybernaturals: Friend Request (2016)

Friend Request (Germany, 2016) (AKA "Unfriend")
Rating: **
Starring: Alycia Debnam-Carey, William Moseley, Connor Paolo

In a way, I feel bad for this movie; Friend Request clearly has some neat ideas for a literal "ghost in the machine" horror flick, but being released two years after the similarly-plotted (and better) Unfriended (2014), it was inevitable for this German dead teenager flick to be compared and expected to dish out a better (if not the same) kind of scares, drama, and bloodshed Unfriended delivered.

For a decent while, it kinda looked like Request was gonna do okay, opening with a campus professor announcing to his class news concerning an apparent suicide of their lonesome and troubled classmate Marina. One of the concerned faces in the crowd is Laura, an uber popular girl with a seemingly perfect life in and out of cyberspace, as well as the first and last friend Marina made not just before her death, but in her entire life.

We then go back a few weeks or so to what happened prior to the suicide, as Laura notices Marina awkwardly looking at her during class. Knowing the girl's inability to socialize, Laura decided to befriend Marina out of pity, a move she will later regret when the girl starts obsessing over her, cyber-stalking and spamming our protagonist's profile with possessive comments while working on some very grisly (yet beautiful) gothic animations.

Understandably upset over the girl's erratic behavior and obsession, Laura decided to cut her ties with Marina no soon after which, unfortunately, pushed the loner into killing herself, suspiciously in front of a recording webcam. The captured video becomes viral and it isn't too long before Laura's friends begin to see weird visions of a ghostly Marina and other disturbing apparitions. Visions that prompt them into killing themselves.

Laura's situation gets worse when the deaths somehow find their way into being posted in her facebook wall, a phenomenon that her "facebook friends" seem to think she's doing on purpose. Now, as of writing, I never use any social media outside of deviantart.com and blogger (if they're counted), and I assume the single facebook profile I made back at 2008-ish is rotting in cyberspace as we speak so I honestly have no clear idea if this is how social media works, but Friend Request seems to be tying itself as a parallel to real life hackings and shows how these new age socializing tools can be used to ruin a person's life should the wrong hands manage to get into it. Again, this is a neat idea and I do love the fact that we get to play around with this concept again after Unfriended, but a few missteps in Request's plot, direction and characterization quickly worsens my viewing experience.

Basically, the problem I have with this movie is that most of the latter plot development wherein majority of the ghoulish stuff happen is unbelievably shallow and cliche'd; correct me if I'm wrong but a scene here has Laura visiting a computer wiz who manages to find out that whoever's posting the artistic snuff gifs at Laura's facebook wall is using some very freaky cybercode that resembles rune letterings. Why not take a friggin' screenshot of the codes and forward it to the site's admins so they could handle the situation and/or announce to every moron in Laura's so-called Facebook "friends" that this is a bug (A very freaky bug that could kill the admins too if we go any further looking into it, but a bug otherwise) and there's not much they or the account holder can do about it? Or better yet, why not forward this to the two detectives investigating the case? I understand that this is a horror flick and smart decisions are usually not a character's smartest asset around this genre, but a little brain cell couldn't hurt! (At least the tech wiz in Unfriended attempted to do something to stop their own "cybernatural" mishaps. And he got killed early for doing so, which in turn puts the rest of his friends in a situation they cannot escape without his technical know-hows. Now that's development done right!)

So what does Friend Request offer on its end? Some enjoyable soundtrack and the little bits of animation here and there, I will give the movie that. And then there are the jump scares. Lots and lots of jump scares.

Now, these are fun jump scares, I admit, but I sometimes see them as a desperate moves to save an otherwise uninteresting plot and Request almost felt exactly like that as the movie's message gets really confusing, the deaths are boring (albeit bloody) and the villain is hardly noteworthy despite all the added supernatural witchery used to substitute for a decent characterization. The additional emphasis on Laura's facebook friends dropping down because of the snuffs "she" was posting might also be another scare factor for today's social media obsessed public, but for someone like me who hardly cared about this sort of stuff, it's not gonna work as much as it would to the next selfie-obsessed duddette.

In the end, Friend Request is an underwhelming dive into modern horror that can't seem to figure out if it wants to be relevant and relatable, or just be a braindead fun flick full of dumb characters and cheap scares. It is watchable, make no mistake, especially if you are the open and easily forgiving type, but with so many other interesting bully and/or web-based horror flicks out there, this movie hardly tries to be memorable and can be easily replaced by better titles.

1 female hanged herself above a burning portrait, caught on fire
1 male beaten to death inside an elevator
2 boys mentioned killed, faces mutilated
1 female had her throat cut with a scalpel
1 female shot through the mouth
1 female presumably killed offcamera
1 male knifed through the neck
1 male stung to death by wasps
Total: 9

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Short Shear Terror: Friend Request (2012)

Friend Request (2012)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Daniel Frawley, Caitlyn Paterson, Charlotte Chimes

Not to be confused with the underwhelming 2016 German horror, or with the many other short horror films out there titled "Friend Request", this little number has us trailing along the familiar hack'n stab horror sub-genre that is a short slasher flick.

In here, Dave Jenkins, a shy horror junkie, sees a trailer in Facebook for an upcoming indie flick by a certain Jeremiah Kane. Upon "liking" it, he unknowingly sets into motion something deadly as Kane himself manages to track Dave down and plans to murder everybody in his path for a good old-fashioned snuff flick!

Now, Friend Request is no step up as a slasher as everything about it is almost as basic as any bodycounter film could be, with a slightly neat premise and a downright odd ending.

The characters are mostly the meat-for-murder type from the nerdy awkward hero to the cool death-deserving jerk, which, sadly, the same can be said for our killer, who sports a monster make-up and rubber monster claws, while spatting out taunts and maniacal madness. It's never a good thing for a movie of this type to have an unexciting killer but so long as the guy can dish out some blood and guts creatively once in a while, as well as tie everything up in the end with an unexpectedly funny take, then I guess I'm sold for the moment.

I can see a lot of potential to the good folks behind this short as the production looks pretty darn good for a short flick; from practical gore effects and crisp looking camera work, I say, with a little more running time and more structured story, Friend Request would have done great as a feature length horror flick!

1 female smothered to death
1 male found with a keyboard shoved into his gut
1 male ran through with a machete, decapitated
1 female had her throat slashed with a machete
Total: 4

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Posthumous Boredom: Grim Reaper (2007)

Grim Reaper (2007)
Rating: *
Starring: Cherish Lee, J.D. Head, Benjamin Pitts

I like to think this movie is the only proof we need why Death makes a better slasher villain as a string of Goldberg-esque set-ups, instead of a physical killer.

In Grim Reaper, stripper (or perhaps a go-go dancer?) Rachel finds herself getting hit by a random cab, surviving it and somehow ending up in a nearly abandoned mental hospital. I say "nearly abandoned" because she is accompanied by the hospital's notorious administrator Dr. Brown and five other prisoners patients who all have near death experiences like her. Obviously, she wants out, and so do the rest of the patients, but Dr. Brown wants them to stay for a supposed experiment. Clearly this guy has nothing up his sleeves!

But as any true slasher movie out there, this leads up to a mysterious sometimes-hooded-sometimes-not figure wielding a scythe coming after them, killing them off until Rachel, Dr. Brown and Rachel's concerned boyfriend are all that's left to face a supernatural threat that is, who else, the Grim Reaper itself.

Now, I can welcome a little substance behind my bodycounters as you can only go so far with a formulaic slasher plot. Grim Reaper attempted this with psychological and (supposedly?) spiritual banter, questioning the nature of the character's situation as well as the characters themselves, but the unexciting premise, irritably cardboard characters, obvious mid-budget production and brain cell-rotting sluggishness easily killed any expectations of a good movie around the first fifteen minutes.

This is completely made worse by the fact that so many other plot points, from hallucinations to Faustian deals, fate to even friggin time travel(!) were thrown in and none really add up too well in the movie's attempt to make Grim Reaper look more sophisticated and philosophical than your average slasher. If anything, the film hardly made sense in the end! Never have I seen a slasher flick about a doctor striking deals with Death so he, in turn, can live a little longer or some shit like that be this needlessly complicated. Oh, what's that? I gave away a spoiler? Well, you ought to be thanking me coz I just saved your arses from the longest 82 minutes of your life! (Or, maybe one of the longest 82 minutes of your life. I'm sure there are others out there!)

So, positives? The Death looking like a killer mummy at the climax. For such a simple yet neat monster design, why waste it in this bore show? Why not have Death look like that for the whole time it was hacking and slashing? Was it budget concerns? Hard to tell, but one thing is certain: we need more slasher films with mummies in them! (I mean, we have plenty with werewolves, zombies, killer robots and even killer aliens. Why not a mummy? (And no, Timewalker (1982) does not count! No matter how slasher-influenced and fun that movie is...)

I have seen a good share of Final Destination-esque slasher flicks from the two Reeker movies to the passable likes of Jack The Reaper (2011), and most of them were watchable at best. Grim Reaper, though? This is one of the few titles that tried too hard and landed flat on its face. Over and over and over and over and over again.

1 male ran through with a scythe
1 male ran through with a scythe (dream)
1 male impaled on the face by levitating paint brushes
1 female electrocuted via current
1 female decapitated with a scythe
1 male slashed with a scythe
1 male sliced in half with a scythe
1 male shot
Total: 8

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Curious Case of a Homicidal Pianist: Phantom of Death (1988)

The Phantom of Death (Un delitto poco comune) (Italy, 1988) (AKA Off Balance: Phantom of Death, An Uncommon Crime)
Rating: ***
Starring: Michael York, Edwige Fenech, Donald Pleasence

After doing 1986’s Italian backwoods slasher Bodycount, Cannibal Holocaust director Rugero Deudato puts his directing skill into the bodycounter genre once again with this odd three-way offspring of a slasher, a giallo flick and a body horror.

Michael York plays Robert Dominici, a pianist suffering from a rare genetic disorder that rapidly ages his body, giving him, in turn, a violent streak. From time to time, he succumbs to the condition, driven into fits of rage that had him committing various uncontrolled murders and getting away with it as eyewitness descriptions failed to match his actual age.

Hoping to end the madness himself, Robert races against time to find a treatment for his state, all the while Inspector Datti (Donald Pleasence) tries to solve and connect the murders to him, in hopes of finally stopping the slaughter.

Story-wise, The Phantom of Death is more or less a story of a man attempting to stop the possibly unstoppable, with a good chance of the resolution mostly involving him giving in to his condition completely ala Brundlefly in David Cronenberg's The Fly. It did try to play around with the identity of the killer ala whodunit for the first few scenes, but it becomes rather obvious eventually that the story shifts into a narrative following our antihero and his ordeal.

With the physical, psychological and even emotional effects of the character's sickness being the primary focus of the film, most of the scares here were more on the lead’s personal body horror rather than the exploitative killings. It's not much given the film's budget, but the make-up effects used for York's unnatural transformations do fit with the movie's tone and theme, something that is rather uncanny with it's little touches of believability and York's body language. This isn’t to say that the film is short on bloodletting as it did provide its good share of impressively bloody dispatches, but compared to the anguish and troubles our anti-hero is going through, the killings only come as a little something extra catering to the bodycount fans.

Sadly, with the plot's focus on the character's deteriorating mental and physical state, this unfortunately meant that the pacing gradually slows down the further the movie goes, eventually slugging its way to a finale wherein a really aged Dominici stalks and attempts to kill one last victim, his mistress, which is as exciting as watching weeds grow. A slight disappointment considering the movie's excitingly bloody first half, but I guess it is to be expected if your villain sporadically ages in a matter of days.

It's not one of the finer giallo or slasher entries, but with a ridiculously farfetched plot and some workable talent in play (though Mr. Pleasence looked rather too old to play a character whose daughter happens to be in her teens), Phantom of Death did rather alright as a cheese-tainted low budget body horror bodycounter.

1 female hacked on the throat with a sword
1 female ran through with a javelin
1 male beheaded with a sword (dream)
1 female impaled on the throat with a decorative lamp
1 female had her throat cut with a razor
Total: 5

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Botched A Tad Too Late: Chopping Block (2016)

Chopping Block (2016) (AKA "Pink Slips")
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Jas Sams, Melissa Revels, Haley Madison

The advertisements for this movie pretty much made Chopping Block look like a bloody fun slasher comedy about five idiots planning their first kidnapping, only to somehow mess it up and end up being hunted by your everyday horror movie maniac. To be frank, Block is exactly that, but not in a genre ratio that will cater to those expecting a full-on bloodbath. (Me being one of them...)

Due to the carelessness of their section leader, five colleagues find themselves fired from their job and, while getting drunk to numb whatever sorrow they were feeling at that time, thought up a plan to kidnap their boss' supposedly spoiled daughter and hold her for ransom to get even and get rich at the same time. In a slight shred of insight, however, these guys didn't go through the plan until, that is, they eventually realize that life in underpayment (or no payment) is and will get pretty hard. So following a quick internet search for your basic kidnapping scheme, our five would-be criminals psyche themselves up for their first score as ne'er-do-wells, plotting everything from barely visible animal masks to hide their identities to an abandoned warehouse that even a pizza guy can find to keep their victim at.

What they weren't expecting at the day of their crime, however, is to find their hostage walking home in a state of daze, suspiciously covered in the blood of her now deceased friends. Ignoring this and still going through with their plan, our group will soon find out that they just got themselves in a bigger clusterfuck of trouble when the maniac responsible for their hostage's current state followed them, ready to do some more killing.

Now, I will say that Chopping Block is a good movie for what it is mostly, and by that I meant it is mostly a well written and passably acted comedy with the horror elements playing very late into the story which, even by then, was hardly touched in context.

The movie focuses more on the mishaps and clueless nature of our five leads as they ready themselves for very first crime, a plot scripted and paced in a rather believable approach as it points out the troubles of going through something one may not have the edge to do, even more so when one barely have any knowledge about it. This normally works best when the characters and the actors portraying them can carry their roles with a level of likability and wit, and while a few of our leads did possess one-note personalities, I have to say that the comic timing and interaction between these casts were interesting and quirky enough to keep me grounded on the story, so much so that I begin wonder if they will succeed with their plan or if they will all die a horrible death under the hands of an masked murderer.

Sadly, once the advertised slasher elements were finally introduced, it was around the hour mark and, Block being just 80 minutes or so, a few scenes away from our ending credits so it barely made any significance to the plot by that point, so much so that it actually felt rushed and rather pointless. This is quite underwhelming for me seeing that the villainess looks really cool with her masked hag look and intimidating presence, plus (again) the advertisements made it look like she and her axe-hacking talent will have a bigger part for the film. It's this lack of promised carnage that leads me to compare this movie with a similarly plotted (and, personally, better) 2006 slasher comedy, The Cottage; both films involve a kidnapping gone slasherifically wrong, only Cottage has a fair measure between horror and witty comedy, giving us three of the most unfortunate criminals to laugh at and root for, as well as a cool looking slasher with a fairly serviceable amount of blood and killings. Block does have a better development and arcs for it's characters compared to that movie, I will give it that, but when it comes to the horror elemts, I think it needs more work.

As a low-budget comedy, Chopping Block has some to offer and I will say it is worth a look. It has a great set of casts and writing with more hits than misses, an overall fair movie to enjoy if you are up for a night of hilarous errors. But if you're looking for gory splatstick and some decent slasher action to go with said jokes, the best you will get from this movie is a drugged-up nerd licking a delicious wrist stump. His wrist stump. If you want more than that, then I may recommend the aforementioned The Cottage or even the under-heard Botched (2007), another slasher comedy about a heist gone terribly terribly wrong.

1 male disemboweled
1 male had his head torn off
1 female knifed to death
1 female knifed, hacked to death with an axe
Total: 4

Choking Hazard: The Choke (2006)

The Choke (2006) (AKA "Axe")
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Damon Abdallah, Brooke Bailey, Sean Cook

Rock music and slasher films. Occasionally paired together. Rarely works.

I've seen my fair share of rock-themed bodycounters and, so far, I only enjoyed a few cheesy titles like Hard Rock Nightmare (1989), Rocktober Blood (1984) and the "half-slasher" Trick or Treat (1986). Perhaps it's my taste for music and/or culture getting in the way, or perhaps most of the stories they come up with regarding rock stars meeting Friday the 13th-style deaths aren't entertaining enough for me, whatever it is keeping me from fully embracing rock culture hack'n slash, it has nothing to do with the mediocre feelings I have for The Choke.

Or does it?

In this rocksploitation little number, a band called The Choke is playing at a nightclub, with most of its members unaware that this is their final gig as their lead singer and guitarist are planning to go solo afterwards, more or less splitting the group up. This drama, however, will play second bananas in terms of big issues as, due to the club owner's sudden lack of alcohol to serve (...how?), the band and their little groupies find themselves abandoned inside the club, locked in with who appears to be a deranged killer wandering around, hacking people to death with musical instruments.

On one note, I wanted The Choke to work. As mentioned prior, I don't usually enjoy rocksploitation as much as the next guy does but I do wish to break this streak once in a while and The Choke has somewhat of a potential to be at least "cheesy bad" given the terrible scripting and sloth-pace formulaic direction were paid off with a serviceable amount of gore and interesting characters.

But nope. Instead, our thespians hardly emote and come out more annoying and dull, and the ways they meet their maker were only half-way workable. "Only halfway" because while I do like the splashy and gooey gore, the build-up to the kills were mediocre at worst, The story's also near non-existent, tortuously padded with a lot of walking scenes and frustrating attempts to build some traits out of the paper-thin casts. I guess they were working up the tension and red herrings to make the supposed shock reveal in the end as effective as the low budget can afford it, but it wasn't really that interesting nor creative. Did we saw it coming? Maybe not. But with the way this film was handled, I really doubt I would care either ways.

So with the only good to come out of this film being the little snippets of practical gore and its few laughable moments of stupidity, The Choke choked as a slasher and perhaps sets rock'n roll horror back a few months. Can't recommend it unless you made it your mission to see every single slashers ever made. Should that be the case, then may the gods be with you, you magnificent bastard.

1 male powerdrilled through  the chest
1 female found disemboweled
1 female hacked in half with a studded bass guitar
1 male found castrated and choked on a severed groin
1 male repeatedly hacked with a cymbal stand, stabbed on the eye with a drumstick
1male impaled on steel rods
1 male hacked to death with an axe
Total: 7