Monday, April 24, 2017

Dead Co-Ed: What Have They Done To Your Daughters? (1974)

What Have They Done To Your Daughters? (LA POLIZIA CHIEDE AUITO)(Italy, 1974) (AKA "The Co-Ed Murders)
Starring: Giovanna Ralli, Claudio Cassinelli, Mario Adorf

As of writing this, I noticed that my blog barely (if not never) covered any giallo titles for the past few years and find this rather unacceptable and sloppy of myself since I pictured this site to review anything under the slasher family, this including slasher-friendly thrillers and Italian gialli. Well, thanks to this little film, I recently caught the "yellow" fever once again and I think it's only fair that I cover this giallo hybrid to express my gratitude for its unintentional help.

After an anonymous tip leads a squad of police to the naked hanging body of a fifteen year old girl inside an old room, police inspector Valentini and assistant public prosecutor Vittoria Stori ponder on the possibility of this being an average case of a suicidal teenager taking her own life. Things get a tad stranger, however, when autopsy reports indicate that the girl was not only pregnant, but also had some very wild trysting prior to her death. The apparent suicide soon becomes a possible murder when the girl is also later recognized as the girlfriend of a young man under police surveillance after being involved with a recent street riot. As the investigators proceed to look further into the case, more suspicious characters are introduced and a motorbike riding killer starts a bodycount with his trusted meat cleaver, bent on keeping a dark secret hidden at all cost.

As the middle entry of director Massimo Dallamano's Schoolgirls in Peril trilogy (The other two titles being What Have You Done to Solange? (1972) and Rings of Fear (1978), though Dallamano only wrote the latter as Rings wasn't filmed until after he passed away) What Have They Done To Your Daughters? sets itself apart from your traditional Italian "yellow" thriller as, though many traditional aspects of a giallo such as a sleaze and violence are clearly present in its narrative, it has a stronger focus on police procedurals and near-realistic investigations more commonly found in cop thrillers (or poliziotteschi as the Italians call them) than purely exploiting its subject matter of teenagers being slaughtered or taking part on an outlandishly hedonistic secret. Daughters, in turn, has a lot of moments in which its writing and direction has a tone of seriousness and felt very grounded, tackling not only a believable execution of a murder mystery but also a controversial political conspiracy that has a level of subtlety to it. (Read. "A" level)

Daughters is still not one to lack on some decent bodycount horror among the typical action/cop drama elements of car chases and methodic police work. Though some of the more important murders occurred offcamera, we still have a fair share of workably intense stalking sequences, disturbing imagery and a few bloody killings thrown in the midst of the investigations, working pretty well with the flow of the plot as, the more our leads get closer to finding the truth about the murders, the more visceral and active the horror elements become.

On a personal note, I love the choice of wardrobe our killer dons whenever they are on the hunt as it somewhat works in favor of the two film genres merged in Daughters: it's both a classic giallo villain garb (full black suit with leather gloves) and it's fitting for a high octane action sequence. I also love the fact that the killer was never properly seen without the get up which adds to the mysterious and secretive nature of the plot. Sadly, the only thing that kept me from loving this giallo anymore than I should was the lackluster ending; without giving away much, I felt cheated that after all of the growing build up, the plot simply decided to either snuff off or let go the guilty ones way too easy, without giving any proper closure to the mystery and the crimes committed. I understand that this might be on par to the genre deconstruction director Dallamano was aiming for, but I see very little reason not to close the entire thing with a much more satisfying and better constructed conclusion.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed What Have They Done To Your Daughters? as a workably "okay" giallo/cop thriller mash-up. Despite the lack of onscreen sleaze and gorier bloodshed, Daughters make up for these little shortcomings with an interestingly focused plot, a solid direction, developed casts and a groovy score by composer Stelvio Cipriani. May it be a giallo or a poliziotteschi, it's just the right kind of movie to get me into the Italian bodycounting mood!

1 female found hanged
1 male dismembered offcamera
1 male gets a meat cleaver to the head
1 male stabbed to death with an ice pick
1 male seen dead with wrist slits
1 male shot
1 male shot dead
Total: 7

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ee By Gum: Inbred (2011)

Inbred (Germany/United Kingdom, 2011)
Rating: ***
Starring: Jo Hartley, James Doherty, Seamus O'Neill 

So, what do you get if Herschell Gordon Lewis's Two Thousand Maniacs! takes place in jolly ole' modern Yorkshire instead of the Southern side of US of A? Why, this offensive and gory splatter flick that's definitely not for the sensitive and easily cringed, of course!

After a bloody movie-within-movie opening involving a work hand with a sharp axe, we follow four troubled youths and two social workers handling them as they visit the rural town of Mortlake for a weekend of team-building and community rehabilitation. And as most horror movies involving city peeps venturing into rural folk territory, the people of Mortlake isn't too keen of having a bunch of juvenile delinquents and two naive slickers skulking around their small town, though some of these townies are willing to put up with the bunch, particularly the village leader of sorts, Jim.

This looked like the case for a while until the kids got into an argument with three townies and resulted with one of the social workers severely injuring his leg and bleeding to death. Next thing everybody knew, a head gets decapitated, a few laughed about a misunderstanding and the town of Mortlake now has a "show" to watch that involves the torture and murder now five city victims-to-be.

Inbred undoubtedly fits the bill of an exploitation smoothie as the story mixes in many low brow horror movie traits from slasher film characterization, torture porn cabaret shows and the oh-so-offensive hicksploitation dark humor as mentally and ethically challenged deformed Southerners serve as our powertool-wielding idiotic villains. And with the protagonists hardly counting as anywhere sympathetic or deep (then again, what are we to expect from a cast full of delinquents and careless adults?), the movie more or less finds itself in a position of being simplistically stupid that offers very little in terms of build-up or message, but makes it up for it with a gorgeously blended practical and CG gore effects and all the morbidly blacker than black humor to wank a horse with.

I love how the mean spirit of the entire town gets played out in Inbred; you know dang well you should be disgusted and angry for how the townsfolk treat those they see didn't belong in their little world or even how they all think their backwards way of life is still acceptable in this day and age, but their cartoonish interpretation and whacky reactions to the most vile acts put upon both their victims and themselves are simply too outrageous to be taken seriously. This isn't to say that the movie is anything short of upsetting and distressing scenarios such as a desperate attempt to save a man being mocked at by our villains, or one of the victims' chances of survival being gambled on as if its nothing, but the splattery slapstick (or "splatstick") tone of the movie has a gruelingly stronger impact over the real horrors a more serious movie could have been focusing on and I believe that made Inbred an odder kind of trashy bodycount movie, which is obviously going to be in the middle ground of being either loved or hate.

For those expecting nothing but blood, gut and more blood n' guts then Inbred has it covered with a wide array of gory demises from chainsaw dismemberment, explosive shotgun killings and even a literal shitty death. Those wanting more than this, however, will be sorely disappointed as our meat bag victims are slowly reduced to screaming meat bag victims whose luck appears to be getting worse the more it appears they had a chance of surviving. It's not a horror film anyone could simply enjoy, but if you love shock-dwelling splatter movies of the bygone days of drive-ins and exploitation cinema, then Inbred certainly deserves a spot on your collection. 

1 maled axed on the mouth (film)
1 female axed on the head (film)
1 male seen dead
1 male had his head chopped off with a cleaver
1 male had his head stomped by a horse
1 male filled with manure until he explodes
1 male ran over by a van
1 male shot on the head with a shotgun
4 males ran down with a van
1 male has his head blown off with a shotgun
1 male shot in half with a shotgun
1 female had her legs sawed off with a chainsaw, head shot with a shotgun
1 male killed offcamera
1 female decimated by a landmine
Total: 17 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Lovely Patchworks: Eyes of Crystal (2004)

Eyes of Crystal (Occhi Di Cristallo )(Italy, 2004)
Rating: ****
Starring: Luigi Lo Cascio, Lucía Jiménez, José Ángel Egido

The Italian giallo never really died, if you come to think about it. Many people seem to believe so but I'm one with the crowd that says otherwise, looking at all the hit-and-miss attempts made at a scattershot throughout the years, even in this day and age.

True, some of these titles are more likely to resemble an overly-complicated gory slasher with candy-colored lighting and odd choice of music, (and a good dose of them doesn't even come close to being as entertaining as a genuine giallo) but once in a while we do get a modest shot at the outlandish sleuthing and artsy psychological whatnot that only an Italian crime thriller movie can provide. Eyes of Crystal is one of these modest shots.

Inspector Amaldi is a man with a scarred pas; after a violent attack took the life of his lover many years ago, he takes on the criminal world with a brutality to match his vengeful hatred against the scums that dwell in it, preferring to cripple or even consider snuffing them dead than simply putting them behind bars. But as Amaldi will learn in his and his partner's new case, he isn't the only one whose savagery baffles the norm.

Someone with a hobby for torturing, killing and stuffing animals just murdered their first set of humans, leaving the bodies of two lovers formerly fornicating and a peeping tom previously rubbing one off for the police to find. Inspired by the carnage they just committed, the killer now wants to challenge their own taxidermy skills with a new macabre project, one that involves a Victorian sex doll and lots of fleshy patchwork. As more fall victim to the killer and have parts of them removed post-mortem, Amaldi and company are called in to investigate this killing spree and stop the maniac responsible before a grisly masterpiece is completed.

While there is definitely an issue with some parts of the movie's plotting such as the convenient surprises at the near end, as well as the killer's cliched motive for starting their grim project, I can still say that Eyes of Crystal is a wonderful and very welcome throwback to the golden age Italian gialli.

For one, Eyes captures the grit and twist of the European horror sub-genre in near perfection, all the while bringing it up to date with modern sensibilities and a lot of bloody grue. Told true, the film has more common in tone and quality with films like Silence of The Lambs (1991) and SE7EN (1995) rather than classic giallo titles like Dario Argento's Deep Red (1975) or Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace (1964) thanks to its considerably high budget and near lack of wit and unintentional humor, but many of the classic giallo elements, from striking visuals and expressive scores to the artsy blend of sex and death, are ever present, crafted into the entire narrative in a workably serious undertone.

The scripting felt natural despite the outlandish goal for the killings and it effectively fleshed out the characters with depth and pacing that kept them from being your one-dimensional throwaways. Furthermore, the casts playing our characters did surprisingly great in their roles, particularly Luigi Lo Cascio as our lead Amaldi, an authority figure that's both someone we can feel for and be frightened of. Giallo veteran Simon Andreu is also featured here as the dying cop-slash-friend Agent Ajaccio, in what can be described as a humble nod to giallo cinema, though I will say that I felt very underwhelmed for his character's purpose for the story, which is basically a convenient plot device that you know will come into play later. (His character recalls blocked memories about a burning orphanage with many children and some nuns being roasted alive. Why else bring up something this chaotic repeatedly if not for an obvious clue?)

Gore isn't exactly the film's strongest selling point but there are a lot of bloody killings and nasty shots of bodies disturbingly mutilated and/or "fixed" with doll parts that I'm sure will satisfy a bloodthirsty horror fan. There's a more noticeable effort made on imagery due to this, from lingering shots of taxidermied animals to a sudden vision of a dead woman on a peaceful morning, which perfectly fixates the mood of the entire film as an emotionally brutal and sullen post-modern horror noir.

With all of this, Eyes of Crystal deserves the praises it gets from true giallo fans and horror junkies with an eye for style and atmosphere, thus will and should remain one of the strongest recommendations to our fellow bodycounters. What else is there to say but, within the Eyes of Crystal, the giallo spirit lives on!

1 male shot dead with a hunting rifle
1 male shot dead with a hunting rifle
1 female shot on the chest with a hunting rifle, butted to death
5 children and 2 female seen ablaze (flashback)
1 female gutted with a dagger. dismembered
1 female poisoned, legs cut off with kitchen knife
1 female seen mangled (vision)
1 male stabbed on the neck with a syringe
1 male decapitated with a scalpel
1 male shot death with a rifle
Total: 16

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Crank Call of Death: Don't Hang Up (2017)

Don't Hang Up (2017)
Rating: **
Starring: Gregg Sulkin, Garrett Clayton, Bella Dayne

Ah, prank calls. You either hate them or love them, right?

I've been a victim of prank calls for numerous occasions, but there were times that I too pranked a few people who wronged me, the best of which being that one prank caller who repeatedly phoned my former job just to shout and berate my colleagues about what practically is a TV model he made up. He did this for weeks until he made a mistake of talking to me and I ended up keeping him on the line for an hour and a half, giving him phony instructions for his "model" and a fake case number that basically spelled out "fuck you" in numbers. (6-21-3-11-21 in case you are wondering)

Bottom-line, it's fun if you're on the calling end and probably safe too if your victim doesn't happen to be a masked killer planning to hold you hostage inside your own house while he slaughters your friends and family. If the latter is the case, then it'll probably be a good thing if you don't post your prank calls on Youtube which would likely have your social media contacts on them that said maniac can use to track you down.

I think you know where I'm going with this.

Don't Hang Up follows two friends, Sam and Brady, enjoying a day by themselves eating pizzas, talking about one's relationship problems with a certain girl and recording prank calls for their Youtube channel. One call, of course, suddenly goes curveball at them when the man on the other end appears to know them and is aware that they are alone. At first, the boys dismiss the caller as either a friend pulling a fast one on them or just your classic weirdo being, well, weird. That is until the caller found a way to broadcast himself to their TV as he murders their friends and family, threatening to kill more unless either Sam or Brady disposes the other for an injustice they committed some time ago.

Now, I really wanted to like Don't Hang Up. It's not a fresh idea, not with movies like I Saw What You Did (your choice of 1965 or 1988) and 2001's Joyride beating this to the prank callers-in-peril plot, but I can tell Don't Hang Up has the potential to be a decent (AKA "okay-ish") psychological teen thriller if only it handled its premise a lot better than it did.

Once in a while, Don't Hang Up succeeds in delivering something grim as a few scenes and twists were fairly shocking for a B-grade teen slasher that features very little onscreen bloodletting and barely any workable star power. I like how the killer creepily lords over our two main leads into possibly killing one another and I especially like how satisfyingly dark the ending is, however these scenes are little in numbers and unsurprisingly didn't do much to make up for the tired and predictable mash that is unfortunately this movie's plot, as it takes elements from the aforementioned Joyride, 2014's Unfriended, Saw (2003) and any run-in-the-mill slasher and then hardly, if not doing nothing else to challenge or elevate these elements into something better and worthwhile.

The writing also have Don't Hang Up noticeably lacking any likable or at least interesting characters, as well as be repeatedly punctured with plot holes and typical dumb horror movie choices which made its sluggish pacing more of a challenge to watch. Yes, it did try kicking itself back alive around the last act, but by then it's pretty much too late and I find myself barely caring at all on what will happen to the two idiots who, also by then and as cruel as it sounds, really deserve what's coming to them.

To simply put it, the resulting finished product resembles a teen horror-cum-cautionary tale that tries to be intense and edgy but ultimately ends up being a forgettable timewaster as it shows very little workable material, either new or old. If you want to see Don't Hang Up, you're not missing much but who am I to stop you? Watch it if you like, but I may suggest preparing a good movie to see right after it, though...

1 male smothered with a plastic bag
1 male found with a bag wrapped over his head, bled to death from a neck wound
1 male and1 female found slaughtered
1 male knifed on the chest
1 girl shot (flashback)
1 female shot (flashback)
1 female shot on the head
Total: 8

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Anniversary At Jumper's Cliff: Under The Blade of Hate (2009)

Under The Blade of Hate (2009) (AKA "Jumper's Cliff")
Rating: ***
Starring: Pamela Tucker, Chris Hanns, Josh Benedict

The year was 1997. A young girl sits at the edge of a seaside cliff and watches the skies turn orange as the sun sets, welcoming the night. As she closes her eyes and sighs her last breath, she then stands up and jumps off a cliff, hitting her head on some rocks before letting the sea carry her off.

A year after the suicide, college students Jessica Gagnon, Aaron Briggs and Hawk Hewitt are graduating and decided to celebrate it further later that night by buying a box of beer and driving deep into the woods for a bonfire just for the three of them. As they reminisce the good times they had and wonder what would happen to them after Jessica and Aaron goes working in the city and Hawk contemplates on joining the navy like his father, they suddenly get an unwanted visitor under the form of a scruffy vagrant.

At first, the man appears to be timid, practically just begging for food and perhaps a place around the bonfire to keep himself warm, but after he lay eyes on Jessica, he slowly turns erratic and the night of fun turns into a fight for survival as a knife gets drawn and blood is spilled.

Now, Under The Blade of Hate looked like it was going down the same path as any backwoods slashers do, with typical teens venturing into the woods only to encounter the film's villain, but it wasn't until the last thirty minutes or so that this movie became a bodycounter and it rather resembled more of a drama thriller for the good first hour, which is a bit of a hit and miss considering how the movie approached this idea.

At the thirty minute mark, after a scuffle with a gun and knife left one of the leads bleeding from a neck wound and another shot, Blade of Hate suddenly shifts to a thriller drama through a lengthy flashback explaining the villain's side of the story. While it's no surprise that this had something to do with the suicide at the beginning of the film, I find the melodrama the killer went through a bit rushed and even cheesy at times, which didn't really do well to make him all that sympathetic as the story attempts to. I personally thought Blade of Hate could have gone off without it, or at least found another way to incorporate the idea into the story since I still find it workable, albeit repeatedly used by other slasher movies.

Once the plot gets back to the present, Blade of Hate, as mentioned prior, eventually shifts gear into pure slasher territory and for something as simplistic as yet another chase stalk and kill shenanigans around a forest, the movie does a decently fair job at it. Though the overall kill count isn't that high, the gore and blood effects were some of the better looking eye candy for horror and slasher fans and there are a few effective variation to basic murders that found a good way to balance dread and bloodletting. The ending still has that melodramatic taint to it, but at least it's less cheesy and more satisfying now that some reveals were made about our leads.

Another thing I like about Under the Blade of Hate is that it looks and sounds wholesomely decent even if some of the color tinting and grainy editing used come off more distracting than, well, artistic. Still, if there's more good offered and given than the bad then these are little notches I can learn to either ignore or accept. At the end of it, Blade of Hate is flawed, but a watchable flaw that tries to do things a bit differently for a classic slasher set-up. See it if you can! 

1 female jumps off a cliff, hits her head on a rock and drowns in the sea
1 male gets a syringe full of blood injected into his neck and beaten, later implied dead from a transmitted disease (flashback)
1 female repeatedly crushed inside a garage with a car (flashback)
1 male knifed on the neck, later brained to death with a rock
1 male repeatedly knifed on the back, had his face forced unto the ground and smothered
1 male shot on the head
1 female shot, falls off a cliff
1 male falls off a cliff
Total: 8