Sunday, March 26, 2017

Mother of Crocs: Crocodile (2000)

Crocodile (2000)
Rating: **1/2
Starring:Mark McLachlan, Caitlin Martin, Chris Solari

Like some (if not most) horror fans back at their childhood, I was (and still am) into monsters. Though my taste can be somewhat picky (black and white monster movies doesn't do much for me, as well as most Drive-In creature flicks), if we are to talk about giant mutated animals like Ticks (1993) or Mosquito (1995), something incomprehensible like the worm creatures from Deep Rising (1998) or nature's genetic Chimera from The Relic (1997), or even towering titans destroying cardboard cities with the likes of Godzilla and company, you can bet your two cents that I'll be that one kid who goes unhealthily giggity whenever a monster or monsters appear on screen, even if they may be as mediocre as the giant reptile from this "okay-ish" Tobe "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" Hooper millennial killer animal flick, simply titled Crocodile!

Taking place in Springbreak, the film follows a rowdy group of teens visiting a marshy lake to cruise along and party on a small houseboat. And as any lake-based horror flicks in existence, there also happens to be a local tale about a billionaire who became obsessed with his humongous pet crocodile named "Flat Dog", to the point he made shrines for the beast and worshiped it as a god. Legend has it that the croc is still around, with an appetite to match his size, prowling the same lake the teens are at for a good meal.

Now, not only this turns out to be true, but apparently ole' Flat Dog also has a mean and vengeful streak to just about anyone who disturbs her nest, lovingly and bloodily shown to us as she munches on two hick fishermen after they ruined most of her eggs. This eventually became the case again when the teens spot what remains of Flat Dog's nest one morning and decided to play a prank on a friend by stuffing her bag with the croc's remaining egg. Flat Dog obviously didn't think this is funny and she now sets her teeth on having these dumb kids for dinner.

Much like Jaws (1975) or Grizzly (1976), Crocodile is basically a slasher film with the titular killer animal taking the place of a masked knife-wielding psycho, as the main run simply has Flat Dog attacking and eating the teens one by one after she destroys their boat and stranding them in the woods, a similar backdrop to just about a majority of backwoods bodycounters to feature evil on two legs. As gimmicky as this sounds, however, there really isn't a lot else going on for this treatment apart from an ineffective teen drama at the beginning which, at the end of it, did little for the story as a whole. And with the characters being disposable (one or two of them literally there just to be eating), the writing relatively thin with a lackluster finale to follow, and a couple of scenes that clearly shows how low the budget was for this movie, these are more or less further shortcomings Crocodile is guilty of, doubling as mostly good reasons why this film didn't do too well for some (if not most) genre fans.

However, as flawed as it may be, Crocodile was at least an entertaining one at that. There is a fair amount of cheese tossed around within its pseudo-serious tone, evident on how the film treats its main monster, scripting and the numerous amount of scares, both sort-of genuine and the not-so-genuine. As of a lot of B-grade monsters, Flat Dog's backstory as a rampaging former pet and religious idol does hark up a few snickers, and the accuracy of her depiction as a real croc is pretty stretched out considering she can actually give chase and catch up to her victims, last quite a long time outside any body of water and, of course, could friggin' remember and stalk the douches (and company) who took her egg! It's the kind of crazy take on an animal that makes every moment it is on screen (or partially on screen) worthwhile and this movie generously tossed in a range of good animatronics and practical gore effects to satisfy a fan's little craving for bloody mayhem. (And staying true to the slasher flick premise, the kill count is relatively high, too!)

Tobe Hooper's direction also allowed a more acceptable pacing and transition around the first half of the movie, with a lot of the stalking and animal attacks coming out pretty workable for a b-grade horror flick. The only thing about this is that I wished it was retained around the last act as, while we are still treated to some decent killer croc action by then, it wasn't as exciting and perhaps even a lot cheesier compared to the grim and bloody feasting we had at the first half. Could have been worse, true, but it still could have been better as well.

At the end of it, Crocodile is simply here to exist as an entertainment piece for anyone who isn't expecting anything above a giant animal snacking on generic slasher film victims. I liked it as a kid, and I still kinda do right now, so while I will admit there are better killer croc films in the game like 2007's Rogue or the original 1999 Lake Placid, if you wanna see Crocodile though, be my guest!

1 male eaten by a crocodile
1 male repeatedly bitten, eaten by a crocodile
1 male eaten whole by a crocodile
1 male bitten in half, eaten by crocodile
1 male eaten by a crocodile
1 female eaten by a crocodile
1 female eaten by a crocodile
1 male immolated in explosion
1 male eaten by a crocodile
1 male eaten by a crocodile
Total: 10

Life According to A Madman: The Turnpike Killer (2009)

The Turnpike Killer (2009)
Rating: **
Starring: Bill McLaughlin, Edgar Moye, Lyndsey Brown

When I got my first copy of Maniac (1980), it also happens to be my first viewing of the splatter classic and I recall being disturbed and overwhelmed by its sheer brutality and distressing tone by the end of the film. I believe I was a few years younger than eighteen then and it took me multiple viewings to finally get used to the film's extremely gory and psychological nature, ultimately appreciating the exploitative horror as one of the finest the genre has to offer.

A great factor to my favorable look into Maniac (apart from its splatastic blood works courtesy of effects maestro Tom Savini) was the amazing performance of Joe Spinell (God rest him) as our titular loon: whenever he is on screen, his character ranges from being a heavy-breathing killer to someone who is truly knows he is sick and struggling to end it all, showing both presence and lack of remorse, trauma and rage whenever he commits his murders. It's an interesting watch, one that allows you to feel horrified for the atrocities he is committing, while at the same time feel sorry for him because he is alone in his battles against his own demons and slowly losing to them.

The reason why I am bringing this up is because, once in a while, we get slasher/thriller movies that share, if not try to do the same approach for their villains, putting us on their shoes for a good chunk of the narrative as a mean to frighten or exploit for our entertainment. This is often a gamble as the only time this is likely to work is when the villain gets portrayed wonderfully and/or written interestingly, something we all know doesn't happen that easily nor often. Should the villain in question come out as either too boring or too unlikable, there is a good chance the film isn't going to do well for a lot audience and only a selected few will probably learn to like it. The Turnpike Killer is one example of these killer-focused slasher movies and I find myself slightly seeing it as complete "meh" thanks to the intimidating yet one-note portrayal of it's main maniac.

The Turnpike Killer follows John Beest, a hulk of a man who is haunted and lectured by a governing voice in his head to look for his "Chosen One", all the while slaughter those who he deems weak and impure. This more or less meant killing a lot of women (and some men), ranging from random good Samaritans to the classic teacher of the night, a trail of mayhem and bloodshed that left local police and one homicide detective Lloyd baffled as they try to hunt down the perpetrator and put a stop to him.

For the first third of the movie, Turnpike Killer is simply terrifying in a good horror film way; apart from a disturbing opening scene in which John angrily berates what remains of three women he is keeping in his secret lair before murdering them, it also features a disturbing stalking/home invasion scene in which John holds a young couple hostage inside their own apartment, psychologically tormenting and belittling them before murdering one in front of the other. It's upsetting, brutal and just scary for the level of realism and intensity put into that one scene alone. Sadly, once this is over and our supposed law enforcers are put into play, the film drags into this repetitive cycle of talking, stalking and killing with little to no presence of the same intense grittiness presented to us earlier.

I will admit that the simple story is workable and the gore effects used for this movie are just great (clearly where a good bunch of the budget went to), but if the story simply takes up a pattern with little to nothing new being offered other than a chase and a kill, and the characters involved (especially the villain which the world view of the movie mostly focuses on) barely have any other personality apart from be "the angry bad guy" or "the naive girl next door", Turnpike Killer gets awfully tedious to watch the more we go into the plot, no matter how much bodies are piling up or how twisted the tone can get. It's kinda sad on my end, really, because I can tell writer-and-director team Evan Makrogiannis and Brian Weaver had their hearts and minds on the right places when they did this movie, and they might as well have done what they were supposed to be doing for those who like this film, but I really can't get past the sudden lack of deepness of its later acts, especially seeing that the movie is trying to do something bigger for its plot.

Turnpike Killer also has the usual shot-on-video shortcomings like tacky audio and grainy video quality, but seeing it is trying to capture the exploitative late 80s slasher feel, I guess I can learn to look at these as its own nostalgic gimmick, though how well it will work on other audiences might be subjective. Overall, I think this movie is more for a selective taste; I can guarantee some people will love it, probably more than I do, and I say to them, good for you. Me? I think I hear my copy of Maniac calling me again and I'll be more than glad to answer it.

1 female seen murdered
1 female seen with throat cut
1 female seen murdered
1 female had nails hammered into her head, disemboweled with a knife
1 female killed offcamera with a pipe
1 female gets a throat cut, gutted with a knife
1 male knifed on the chest
1 female had her head chopped off with a machete
1 female bludgeoned with a wrench
1 male had his face burnt against a stove, killed (?)
1 male shot dead
1 female killed with an axe
Total: 12

Saturday, March 18, 2017

So I was supposed to see someone Get Out, but ended up in an Island

I actually marked my calendar for these films, but due to a little money issue for a time (which I will no longer talk about coz the people behind my check fixed it. Thank. God), I new I could only see one.

For the first two and a half months of 2017, I kinda noticed that a lot of horror releases were...meh. In fact, there isn't a lot of horror films I'm too excited to see this year except The Wolves at the Door and Terrifier, and those that I had seen, mainly Rings, Bye Bye Man, Don't Hang Up, Pitchfork, Don't Kill It and Galaxy of Horrors, I only got to enjoy Don't Kill It and Galaxy of Horrors. The rest were...ugh.

For March, we had Kong: Skull Island playing at the second week of the month but, unfortunately, I didn't have enough cash to spend then to see the big ape go rampage for my entertainment, so when I found out that Get Out, that one movie with a really intriguing premise and great reviews to follow, is gonna screen at March 15th, I knew I had to see it! I may have missed one premiere, I'm not gonna miss another!

So, as I write this, it's hours after I got back from the cinema and....I didn't get to see Get Out. Turns out, it might have been a limited screening for my country, or that I didn't look hard enough, but these two malls I went to today all have Beauty and the [DATA EXPUNGED] Beast playing! ALMOST ALL! I say "almost coz, of course, they also had to have  Logan and some other movies I didn't really care about...except Kong! Holy Frick, the second mall had the last screening for Kong! More or less, I ended up watching the movie I missed and didn't get to see the movie I wanted for the day. It's still a win scenario for me coz, the movie was just awesome in a monster brawl-out kind of way!

Kong: Skull Island is the second movie in Legendary's Monsterverse series, the first being 2014's Godzilla, a welcome return of the king. In Kong, most of the mythos for the big ape have been rewritten to give more focus on him being a part of an ecosystem full of super species and by that, I meant we get to see some really neat beasts! From hostile ones like a swarm of saw-beaked pteranodons and giant Daddy Long Legs, to calmer critters like giant water buffaloes and, of course, Kong. This is where Skull Island becomes an improvement over the last entry in which Godzilla was "teased" for far too long that a lot of fans seem to point how how there's barely any Godzilla in a Godzilla movie. (Meanwhile, a Filipino man writing this could say the same for the non-90s Gamera movies. Lord knows how on earth did those got popular but I guess people's tastes differ) After 20 to 30 minutes into the movie, after all of the key characters are introduced, the mighty ape wasn't shy to make a full appearance and simply show how he's King and God in his island.

After this rampage, copters torn down and people slaughtered as Kong protects his turf, we get this patterned back-and-forth focus between two groups; one lead by Samuel L Jackson as an Air Service captain who wants to get even with Kong for killing his men, the other lead by Tom Hiddleston as a tracker who ventures through the island hoping to meet with the others which, along the way, discovers with his group that Kong is worth protecting. I will admit that as bland as these characters are, they're a bit of an improvement with the human casts from Godzilla 2014; the Kong humans are not deep and I was underwhelmed by some performances and screentime (I want more John Goodman, please!), but they are slightly more colorful compared to one or two faces from Godzilla. (John C Reily was just cool here as a WWII American survivor who befriended the island's natives) There's also the fact that since this movie focuses more on a controlled number of characters instead of, I dunno, an entire city, I do get to feel for some of these characters a lot easier, though isn't to say that I still expected a lot of them to be monster chow by the end of the movie. (A lot of them were that disposable.)

Still, I think Kong: Skull Island did a great treatment for whatever story was present and stick with what really matters in monster movies, which is, well, giant monsters, giant monsters and giant monster fights. The last fight was just as epic as Godzilla's battle with the two MUTOs in his movie, and though I'm not that "wowed" by the kind of creature they came up for Kong to do a final fight with (it's a lizard with two legs...a tough lizard, but a lizard with two legs nonetheless), at least it was a worthwhile brawl and just brought out a level of badassery that only a titanic ape can do.

If you are planning to see this movie and are just as big of a fan of giant monster movies as I am, I say wait til the end of the ending credit. You are in for a big exciting surprise! As for the rest of you guys, I definitely had fun with this one and in case you are interested, I ain't gonna stop you! It's really nothing else but people walking through an island surviving giant things that'll eat them, but if this is right up your alley then go ahead! It's worth the watch!

(Until then, I guess I have to wait until Get Out comes out in DVD...again)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Million Dollar Murder: The Case of The Scorpion's Tale (1971)

The Case Of The Scorpion's Tale (Italy, 1971) (La coda dello scorpione) (AKA "Scorpion's Tail")
Rating: ***1/2
Starring:  George Hilton, Anita Strindberg, Alberto de Mendoza

After her husband dies from a mid-air plane explosion, Lisa Baumer discovers that she is her late spouse's beneficiary to a million dollar life insurance, an inheritance that seemingly puts her in the middle of everybody's attention and greedy side.

First, the lover she is secretly seeing in London blackmails her into handing a share of the sum or else he will reveal her adulterous affair with him, making the policy invalid. Just as Lisa was about to give in, she later finds him at his apartment dying from a stab wound. Rightfully concerned by this, she then books a flight to Athens where she hopes to safely cash the insurance in full, only to be stalked and threatened by her husband's own mistress, Laura, who believes Mrs. Baumer had something to do with the accident.

Thankfully, Lisa finds a trusting accomplice of sorts during her stay in Athens, an insurance case inspector, Peter Lynch, who she is starting to get sweet on. Meeting him, however, did little to ensure her safety as, after arranging a flight to Tokyo, Lisa gets brutally murdered by a psychotic killer, who then proceeds to make off with the entire million. The murder quickly gets the attention of Lynch, as well as of tabloid reporter Cleo Dupont and police investigator Mr. Benton, and it's now up to them to uncover the truth before the killer strikes again.

An engaging thriller with a fair amount of twists, turns and bloody good violence, The Case of The Scorpion's Tail has one of the more classic giallo set-ups. One that involves a crime full of possible suspects and red herrings, some of who are destined to be bumped off rather brutally. The array of intriguing characters, in turn, are quite bountiful in numbers, enough to make likeable impressions and throw off our leads and fellow viewers whenever they believe certain leads were made. This, however, made the first third of the film a tad slow as it lays out the key players, though I find this a necessary pacing issue as it effectively sets the tone of the movie, allowing us to understand the predicament and dangers our throwaway lead was getting herself into. Eventually, the film's linear direction got everything going with the investigations once our lead got murdered and the cash stolen, and by then we are treated to a workable amount of sleek eye-candy camera work and stylish set-pieces, many of which being the murders.

With a stronger focus on plot, Scorpion does not boasts a high onscreen kill count, but it does make up the executions done for whatever the attacks and murders cooked up for the story, ranging from using laughably obvious fake exploding model airplanes for a tragic disaster, to the rather thrilling cat-and-mouse stalkings courtesy of our killer. (dressed in a full black body suit. Interesting choice) The best among these was the double murder of two suspects, taking place at their own mansion; one got snuffed out after the killer stabs their way through the door with nothing but a knife (!), while the other puts up a daring fight against his assailant, leading to a rooftop scene with a dose of the macabre as worn-out doll parts littered the place. And though these murders rarely went to gorier territories, whatever chance they get to be bloody, they can get bloody! (Keep an "eye" on one scene involving a broken beer bottle)

Scorpion neatly ends itself with a decently surprising climax, packed with a claustrophobic twist and a cliched villain monologue that mostly made sense. (The key term is mostly) A stronger highlight around this part would be the stalking sequence between a lead and a surprise antagonist, perfectly capturing a chilling isolated feel as they stalk and hide from one another atop a lone cavernous rocky island, an overall great way to end an equally great giallo.

With enough unexpected turns and curious characters to either suspect or root for, I can proudly say that true giallo fans deserve a hearty round of The Case of The Scorpion's Tale. Put on your scorpion cuffs and give this one a run!

A number of people killed in an exploding plane
1 male dies in an exploding plane
1 male found dying from a stab wound
1 female had her throat cut, disemboweled with a knife
1 female had her throat cut with a knife
1 male falls to his death
1 male gets a broken bottle to the eye, knifed to death
1 male shot dead
Total: 7+

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Smart Man, Mad Man: Hollow Man (2000)

Hollow Man (2000)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Elisabeth Shue, Josh Brolin

From the get-go, it is possible that this modernized Invisible Man was never intended to be a slasher, but with the bodycount at the later act as well as numerous stalk-and-murder scenes scattered throughout, it just goes to show how much mayhem one invisible sociopathic and homicidal maniac can do.

A group of scientists led by one Dr. Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) is developing an invisibility serum and a counter-serum for the military and, seeing both worked well enough on their animal subjects, Sebastian is nothing but confident about what's technically his greatest achievement, so much so that he decided to do human testings without the authority of the oversight committee. 

He volunteers himself to be the first human guinea pig and, when the serum successfully rendered Sebastian invisible, he begins to abuse his new state from pranking his colleagues to spying on them. Fearing that he might be getting out of hand, the group soon try out the counter-serum on Sebastian in hopes of making him visible again but fails due to complications. With Sebastian getting more erratic with each day passing, two of his co-scientists, Dr. Linda McKay (Elisabeth Shue) and Dr. Matt Kensington (Josh Brolin), opted to inform one of the committee of what happened; not wanting to jeopardize the experiment (as well as going more than a little cuckoo from his isolated state and personal quarrels), Sebastian goes hellbent on keeping the slate clean by murdering just about everybody else involved in the project.

Directed by Scifi maestro Paul Verhoeven of the Starship Troopers and RoboCop fame, Hollow Man primarily focuses on the psychological and emotional effects of pride, power and instinct, showcased here as an experiment-gone-wrong with a foreseeable plot and a small group of characters that did little to make more out of the story. In fact, the only ones that seems to have some depth (read, some) were the three main researchers played by Elisabeth Shue, Josh Brolin and Kevin Bacon, the latter being the titular Hollow Man and the center of the story.

Much like most mad scientists, Sebastian Caine is an arrogant and pessimistic character with low regards on anyone other than himself and is quick to abuse his new found condition as if he had all of these intentions for a while and just waiting for the perfect opportunity to do them. From simple jokes to unsettling silent stalking, from home invasion and rapes to actual murder, the story is really nothing less than us following Caine slowly embracing his new invisible state, all the while abhorring his condition as it not only isolated him from the normal world, but it might become the very thing that would destroy him and his reputation as a proud scientist once word got out.

The movie passes through this descent to madness rather quickly, factoring more on his misdeeds before finally shifting into a slasher of sorts where he locks his own team inside their lab and starts killing them one at a time. It’s shallowly entertaining as the simplistic murders were elevated thanks to some okay special effects and visuals, intense direction, hectic pacing, and a blazing finale. With this, Hollow Man is an easy film to enjoy only (and only) if you look at it as a popcorn movie.

There’s really no depth here other than a man going maniacal after being given a power nobody else possesses, a typical mad science horror story with a small dash of methodical murders. Being a Hollywood production also meant that Hollow Man is no short of workable visual and audio quality, but it is a bit estranged as a Verhoeven film since the man is known for directing much more epic scifi masterpieces and this movie just felt too “commercial” as it hardly match up with the exploitative and outlandish nature of most of the films he directed. Thus, if special effects and clich├ęd evil science plots are a thing of fun for you, then Hollow Man shouldn’t disappoint.

1 dog smashed against a kennel
1 male drowned in a pool
1 female garroted
1 male thrown and had his neck torn against a metal pipe, bled to death
1 female had her neck snapped
1 male ran through with a crowbar
1 male falls into an exploding building
Total: 7

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Change: Switch Killer (2005)

Switch Killer (2005) (AKA "Trans-American Killer")
Rating: ***
Starring:  Cara Jo Basso, Eric Bishop, Monique Chachere

Sometimes the trashiness of a bad movie can be said movie's own life saver, especially if there isn't anything else going in the plot department.

Tired and frightened of her boyfriend's iron fist treatment, closet lesbian and stripper Jamie escapes her abusive partner, Bobby, and drives to Las Vegas in hopes of starting anew. Time passes and it seems little changed in Jamie's favor as her new girlfriend, Brooke, mistreats and cheats on her, and a mysterious woman appears to be dropping by strip clubs, knifing anyone that comes across her path. What does this serial killing femme fatale had anything to do with Jamie, you ask? Well, with a title like "Switch" Killer (Or it's more obvious alternate, "Trans-American" Killer), you do the math.

Sleazy and crazy from beginning to end, Switch Killer harks back to old-school slashers like Driller Killer(1979), Maniac (1980), and Las Vegas Bloodbath (1989), in which we explore the gritty and dirty urban jungle known as the city underbelly while it is under attack by yet another elusive serial killer. Switch Killer is basically no different with its overly abundant amount of gratuitous nudity, and stripper shenanigans, though it did try to do a little bit of downtown drama following the struggles of our obvious final girl, Jamie. Sometimes it works, thanks to actress Cara Jo Basso's fair portrayal of the down-in-luck-and-love lead, but the tone can get uneven with the movie's hamminess and the inevitably more noticeable sleaziness courtesy of the many random T&A nakedness, so the drama is basically hit-or-miss.

Still, this does little to damage the trashy slasher fun Switch Killer offers since the movie's technically putting all of its focus on that; despite the 65 minute running time, the remaining 20 plus minutes is really nothing more than a hodge-pode of an overly long ending credit, a cool music video and a hilarious fake informercial about mankind's most favorite gas powered killing machine: the chainsaw. The 40 minute mid-feature, in turn, comes with a relatively quick-steady pacing and a lot of workable slasher scenes, simple murders that hits a perfect balance of being bloody and slightly creative, with an oddly insane (and possibly offensive) villain committing them all in the name of love. (Or something crazy like that) Perhaps the strongest of these murders (and possibly the best part of the movie) is when Bobby finally confronts Jamie, showed how much he "changed" for her and gave chase around the neighbourhood until they crash a backyard New Years party. What follows include Bobby going batshit stabby at everyone at the party, Jamie arming herself with a chainsaw to battle her ex, and one of the greater final girl-vs-killer fight to come out of a low budget slasher.

Switch Killer is a definite movie equivalent to a bag of cheese-flavored chips; it has a big look to its quality despite offering little in reality. It's hardly all that smart and engaging, but one would probably knew what they were getting themselves into and more or less just dove in to start consuming the cheesy junk just for the sake of entertainment. It's whether one will prefer sticking with said junk or not that is the real query here and while they figure that out, I certainly found a new guilty pleasure in this movie. What say you?

1 female repeatedly knifed, ran over by a train
1 female knifed, had her throat cut
1 female stabbed on the head with an air pump
1 male knifed on the chest
1 female knifed to death
1 male had his throat slashed with a knife, caught on fire
1 female knifed
1 male knifed
1 male knifed
1 female knifed
1 female had her gut sliced with a knife
1 male knifed
Total: 12