Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Don't Wait To Buy Land. Kill For It: Dream Home (2010)

Dream Home (Hong Kong, 2010) (AKA "Victoria No. 1")
Rating: ****
Starring:  Josie Ho, Ching Wong, Helen To

In this dark mix of satirical drama and deliciously bloody bodycounting, we start things off with a security guard catching forty winks while someone armed with construction tools slowly slips a nylon tie around his neck. With one sharp tug, the guard finds himself awake, soon to be out of breath and desperately looking for something to cut off the tie while our perpetrator stands cautiously nearby, watching all of this unfold. The garroted guard eventually finds a box cutter and tries to slice the nylon off, only to end up digging deep into this neck and gouging himself to death.

After that attention-grabbing debacle, we flashback sometime earlier and follow one Chang-Lai Sheung, a twenty-something Hong Kong woman working two jobs in order to save enough to rent an apartment with a view of the Victoria Harbor. Her dedication to acquire such a specific settlement stems from both a childhood dream and the struggles she went through as a working adult, wherein she and her family suffers through the eighties and nineties Hong Kong property boom in which poorer families were forced away from their homes (often through criminal means) in order for their land to be used in constructing luxury flats. 

While we watch these little non-linear snippets of Sheung's past showcase her slow obsession to better her and her family's lives, we are also treated with present day interjections of a mad killer brutally murdering flat occupants in a manner so worthy of the slasher sub-genre. What's intriguing about this killing spree is that the film eventually identifies the killer as none other than Sheung herself in an early reveal that hits us no soon after the twenty minute mark. While this may have ruined any potential mystery between the connection of the building flat massacre to Sheung's plight for a flat with a sea side view, it does instead help cement the fact that Dream Home will be more of a character-heavy narration early on, with the only question in mind would be how far will our lead go to get what she wants?

To be fair, a lot of the drama thriller portion works; rather than bombarding us with an hour or so of straight life tragedies before serving us the gory helpings of sliced up teens and unexpected victims, Dream Home's time-jumping almost bite-sized approach to the events that lead to the massacre help even out the pacing as well as not overdo the sappy soul-sucking realism that is the economy and the things it brings out of people who cannot keep up with it. It also helps that Hong Kong singer and actress Josie Ho was pretty good as an inexperienced killer who gets beaten around nearly as much as her victims, though excelled far better in her role as a victim of society shouldering what can be looked at as a (twisted) Herculean task in today's market.

When it comes to the slasher bits, I can guarantee Dream Home will be a gore hound's wet dream; while some of the murders were obviously CGed (like a certain eye-popping scene that looked a tad too cartoonish to be anywhere realistic), a good deal of the gore and blood still used old fashioned corn syrup and really nasty practical and make-up works. These deaths range from simple knife killings to methodically torturous vacuum suffocation, some intentional while others are accidental, but they all have that mostly justified mean-spirited streak to them as most of the victims aren't so innocent to begin with. I guess it was a way for the film to ease us into rooting for the killer, but one or two kills may keep us from entirely forgetting Sheung isn't too well in the head at this point, particularly one murder involving a pregnant woman who miscarries during the attack. I also love the fact that this film found a way to enhance the intensity of these killings by confining them in small spaces which the further the plot goes, the tighter and more claustrophobic they become.

If we are going to look for any drawbacks, I could try squeezing out some issues I have with some of the flashbacks taking a bit while to get going, but I learned to understand and accept it as necessary for building up to the massacre and Sheung's character. I could also try pointing out the absurdity of the whole massacre as an over-the-top solution for such a contrasting realistic problem but Dream Home is half slasher flick and slashers, by most parts, are supposed to be exaggeratedly hardcore and bloody. (I mean, if slashers were to remain uber-realistic then Friday the 13th's Jason Voorhees isn't a walking meat-tank of a killer and everyone in John Carpenter's Halloween would have figured out that, after guns failing to work on him in 4 to 5 movies, they could at least try decapitating Michael Myers. (Coz, if done right, I'm really sure the big guy isn't gonna do his famous "robotic sit-up" with his noggin missing)) I guess what I'm getting at here is that Dream Home is a movie meant for genre fans and the only issue I can see here is whether it'll be for one's taste or not. If you're a horror fan who's open to something a bit dramatic once in a while then this Asian slasher has a lot to offer for your on-screen bloodlust. If you're not a horror fan, or at least is a horror fan who is not into over-the-top gore and upsetting deaths, then why on the green Earth are you doing reading this blog?

1 male garroted with a nylon tie, neck with a boxcutter
1 female gets a screwdriver ran through her head
1 pregnant female gets a vacuumed seal bag over her head, smothered
1 male had his neck broken against a night stand
1 female passed away, cause unknown (flashback)
1 male stabbed on the neck with a broken bong
1 female had her head slammed through a toilet
1 male suffers a mesothelioma attack, suffocates (flashback)
1 male repeatedly ran through with a knife, castrated
1 female shot, impaled through the head with a broken plank
1 male throat cut with a knife, bled to death
1 male shot through the temple
1 male shot in the mouth
Total: 13

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Damn, African Fertility Mask! You Deadly!: Nightmare Man (2006)

Nightmare Man (2006)
Rating: ***
Starring: Tiffany Shepis, Blythe Metz, Luciano Szafir

Desperate to bear a baby with her husband William, Ellen placed an order for an ancient African fertility mask in hopes that some divine intervention or good juju would help expand her family. When she gets it though, Ellen is quickly put off on how demonic-looking the mask turns out to be and William believes she may have just wasted a good thousands of bucks on what's basically a Halloween mask. This, as it horribly turns out, isn't the only problem the mask brought as Ellen suddenly gets attacked and assaulted by a demonic being later that night. Or did she?

Flash-forward to some time later, Ellen is now convinced that either something evil is growing inside of her or that the "Nightmare Man" is still out there to finish her off. Believing his wife may have gone off her rockers, William have no other choice but to heed their doctors' advice and have Ellen set up for psychiatric treatment, only for their car to break down one afternoon whilst driving to the psych ward, leaving them stranded in a quickly-darkening woods. In typical horror fashion, Ellen is advised to stay behind while William leaves to find help, but she is soon attacked by a familiar-looking horned figure who is now more than a little stabby and hellbent on killing her, as well as anybody else who got in the way. (i.e. two young couples at a cabin nearby who made a fatal mistake of meddling with the Nightmare Man's affairs!)

In all seriousness, Nightmare Man should have been a terrible movie; it has that obvious low-budget shot-on-video look to it and the acting varies from passable to wooden, with lead actress Blythe Metz as Ellen and scream queen Tiffany Shepis co-starring as Mia, a crossbow-totting lingerie-wearing secondary final girl, being two of the more tolerable casts despite some often laughable delivery and hammy lacklustre value of their script. From what I've read, said script was apparently just written in seven days and I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case as the characters are one to one-and-a-half dimensional at best, even if there were attempts to flesh them out.

And yet, here I am absolutely loving the heck out of this film for it's energetic execution of a campy supernatural slasher hybrid, somehow surpassing most of its budget restraints. In the majority of its run, Nightmare Man's a backwoods slasher and one that is done mostly right with it's simplistic yet cool premise, decent-looking masked psycho who may or may not be the same ghoulish figure haunting our paranoid lead, and a few fair looking stalk-and-stab set pieces. The slayings the killer commit, though, could have used a lot more variation, but that was easily remedied by the half-and-half expected/unexpected supernatural twists that involves possessions and, in turn, a much more delirious and gorier set of killings perpetrated by a demon.

This hodge-podging and curve-balling may leave Nightmare Man's tone (and sub-genre) all over the place, but I find it somewhat fitting to its low budget production quality, giving the movie a bit of a carefree throwback vibe to late 80s and early 90s mozzarella-scented do-it-yourself horror flicks. It's nothing groundbreaking for that matter, not with all of the wave of throwback horror films nowadays, but this doesn't make Nightmare Man any less of an incredibly enjoyable movie for fellow cheesy horror lovers and forgiving/adventurous slasher fanatics!

1 male pinned to a tree with a crossbow
1 female knifed through the jaw
1 male shot to death with a crossbow
1 male strangled, thrown mangled to a car
1 male clawed through the chest, heart crushed
1 female gets a horned mask stabbed unto her face, head pulped with a rock

Friday, July 7, 2017

So Many Dead Bodies, So Little Exploit: The Hike (2011)

The Hike (United Kingdom, 2011)
Rating: *1/2
Starring:  Jemma Bolt, Stephanie Siadatan, Lisa-Marie Long

Sometimes normality can be the perfect disguise for a killer. Though in a horror movie, it may take more than just a pretty face turned evil to be effective.

The Hike opens with something obscured chasing a girl through the woods while she runs to dead bodies and gets other people along the way killed. Eventually, whatever is chasing the girl catches up and she is murdered offcamera.

Shifting to some time later, we now follow a group of five women on a hiking weekend, obviously through the same backwoods as the ones in the opening judging from the dead bodies they fail to notice. Venturing through mountainous trails and thick trees, they talk about their lives, share a bonding moment or two, and encounter other hikers and campers, both suspicious and friendly, before finally setting up camp for the night.

Problem arises when one of the girls failed to return that evening from gathering fire wood, prompting the group to look for her and cross paths with a group of men who, after coaxing the girls to share a brief fun in the lake in the midst of their search, agreed to help find their missing friend. What they didn't know is that someone out the woods is on a murderous raping spree and that they're closer to these girls than they would have ever thought.

Calling The Hike a slasher film is a bit off on some points, most probably due to the fact that there's a stronger emphasis on survival and rape-and-revenge exploitation rather than the usual stalk-and-kill narrative backwood-types like Friday the 13th (1980), Madman (1982) or even The Burning (1981) established. The closest it ever did to something slasher-like would be the in media res opening kill and the climactic cat-and-mouse showdown between what remains of both the girls and villains, leaving the rest of the film with a grueling rape-and-murder plot more fitting to be categorized with exploitation films like I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and The Last House On The Left (1972). In a way, this kinda works in the sense that it gave a bit of realistic grit to the usual backwoods horror with a vile scenario that can be replicated in real life, but everything else leans much closer to terrible B-flick horror territory with scenes of necrophilia, outlandish murder sprees and a whole lot of dumb horror movie decisions forcing their way into the story, many of which failing to work in favor of the movie.

Normally, I wouldn't mind the B-flick treatment of grandeur exploitation and shloppy movie making, but The Hike tries too hard to be this edgy thriller while failing to utilize the grim situation it presents to us. A whole lot of the killings are simple knife stabbings so the bodycount department barely satifies no matter how much it is stylized with slow-editing and zoom-in shots. The supposedly shocking scenes of rape are pretty tame for most parts, many of which either look like dry humping or spooning, so the film even failed to upset lastingly and gets incredibly tiresome with its threats of rape. (Or, again, dry-humping since none of the girls got naked. Two of the men though...) It all kinda gets worse the further the movie nears the end as all of the characters seem to get dumber and dumber, leading to a horrible last minute shocker that's so very stupid, it hammered the final nail to just how this film wasted its potential to be a decent survivalist slasher flick and that it can be easily replaced by other better backwoods bodycount horror film.

The Hike certainly looks like there's a bit of money spent to make it look professional, but the shallow characterization and lacklustre acting of its casts say otherwise. The truth is I really wanted to enjoy this for its should-be intense plot and the unusual directions of its twists, but it's all handled so messingly that the end result is just a plainly unexciting film. The Hike started promisingly, only to stumble and fall over and over again so it's definitely not for me. For those who can try to like a bland and forgettable backwoods bodycounter, though, this Hike's for you.

1 female seen hanging dead
1 female dragged away, killed
1 male killed
1 female stabbed
1 female murdered, method unknown
1 body seen inside a cavern
1 body seen underwater
1 female stabbed on the chest with a hunting knife
1 male stabbed to death with a hunting knife
1 female stabbed with a knife
1 female seen murdered
1 male hacked to death with a hatchet
1 female brained to death with a rock
1 male stabbed with a knife
1 female hacked with a hatchet
1 male hacked with a hatchet
1 male drowned in a pool
1 female hit with a fire poker
Total: 18

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Little Pig, Little Pig: Wolves At The Door (2016)

Wolves at The Door (2016)
Rating: **
Starring: Katie Cassidy, Elizabeth Henstridge, Adam Campbell

The moment I saw the word "pig" written in blood during its trailer, I already knew how Wolves At The Door will end.

Being a horror fan normally meant grossing over spooky, creepy and morbid stuff at a varying degree, this including a level of fascination to real life monsters and atrocities such as deranged cult leaders forcing an entire community to commit suicide for the sole purpose of enlightenment, or serial killers who prey on women using their charm and wit. This said, one can imagine that a good bunch of us know a thing or two about Charles Manson and his so-called Manson Family, a cult of deranged and/or brainwashed individuals who were responsible of seven murders under the belief that it would incite an apocalyptic race war known as "Helter Skelter" back at the 1960s.

These killings gained notoriety due to the fact that one of their victims was the late actress Sharon Tate, who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with her husband Roman Polanski's child. The crime would soon lead to the investigation and eventual arrest of the responsible members of Manson's so-called family, as well as Manson himself under the charges of conspiracy to commit the murders, among many other crimes.

As one can imagine, this is some heavy stuff and it have been covered multiple times through many mediums from books to documentaries and dramas. You could even say that the deranged character of the cult influenced a decent dose of horror movies back at the days until recently, from titles like I Drink Your Blood (1970) to Manson's Lost Girls (2016), so was it really a terrible idea to make a slasher film based on Manson and his cult?

Truthfully, it all falls to what the movie will make out of such a touchy subject. Wolves At The Door follows four friends- pregnant actress Sharon, her friends Jay and Abigail, and Abi's boyfriend Wojciech- hanging out in their rented Hollywood hills home to commemorate their last night with Abigail as she will be moving back with her parents at Boston. What they didn't count on happening, unfortunately, is the arrival of four murderous individuals who have no plan on leaving any of them alive.

If this sounds like your average slasher plot, that is because it is. Unfortunately, this itself is sure to leave a bad taste to most movie goers' mouths as Wolves' lack of depth to its carnage comes out rather uncomfortable and even upsetting due many of the film's details make it look and feel like a fictionalized and exploited re-enactment of the infamous "Tate murders", wherein the aforementioned Sharon Tate, three of her friends, and a visiting student were killed by members of the Manson cult, in and nearby a house at Los Angeles. Given that the movie did try to do little changes to keep itself from being too parallel to its real life inspiration (the couple in the opening was based on another Manson cult attack, though what happened in real life ended differently...), things like naming the characters based on the people who were either killed or were associated with the crime, as well as not-so subtle hints that this film is based on said crime (the characters were hanging out at the El Coyote restaurant during the beginning of the film, and too the fact that "Sharon" just also happens to be pregnant) do otherwise and just left everything about this slasher feel convoluted; it's too close to home for escapism, too relentlessly exploitative and cheap to be a re-enactment.

To be fair, Wolves does have its little pros like a few good suspenseful scenes and some worthwhile scares, many of which probably stem from the uncomfortable historical backdrops and a few effectively executed jump and false scares. I also like the fact that the villains here are depicted as your typical silent boogeyman and boogeywomen-type, which I will honestly say are too good for this movie. The murders they committed in this film strike me as odd, though, as they were mostly done in a way that they are as obscured as the faces of the maniacs committing them, but enough were showcased with a fair amount of brutality and helplessness, a middle line that reflects the is-it-a-slasher-or-is-it-a-dramatization? nature of the film.

In the end, I find Wolves At The Door, in a lack of a better term, pretty confusing. Not plot-wise, but as a production: was it made to commemorate the lives we lost from the doings of a deranged lunatic and his minions with its near-accuracy? If so, why do it in such an exploited manner by treating it like a generic slasher flick? If it was supposed to be a slasher flick/home invasion hybrid then, why feature so much details from the real world crime and used it as a plot point or element ? This kind of familiarity will spoil any supposed surprises this movie can come up, leading the final product either predictable and forgettable or just trying too hard to be shocking, which is exactly how I felt about this film. Don't waste your time with this film unless you are really really into Home Invasion/ slasher hybrids.

1 male bashed on the faced with a sledgehammer
1 male stabbed to death with a knife
1 female killed offcamera
1 male knifed to death
1 female stabbed with a knife, killed offcamera
Total: 5