Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Train Tracks of Terror: Fingerprints (2006)

Fingerprints (2006)
Rating: ***
Starring: Leah Pipes, Kristin Cavallari, Josh Henderson

Y'know, my parents are great. I mean, sure, a lot of people can say that about their own folks and I guess I ain't gonna add much to that, but from introducing the three core villains that will soon become my twisted obsession (Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kreuger and Michael Myers, my own unholy trinity!) to other obscure slashers like Curse of the Forty-Niner (2002), Nightmare Man (2006) and The Fear: Halloween Night (1999), they tried hard to entertain horror-obsessed little me and I recall having more ups than downs whenever I join them in watching these scary (and not so scary) flicks.

As some of you might have guessed, Fingerprints is one of the titles my folks (particularly mum) recommended to me after they enjoyed it, but with tiny me a little bias about ghost movies (only a few of them work for me. My dad's childhood fave The Changeling (1980) being one of them), I lied through my teeth and claimed I watched it, before leaving our copy of the movie in my room to collect dusts and cobwebs before selling it away at a yearly garage sale. It wasn't too long (and by that I meant years) before I figured out it was part slasher flick and I cursed myself for judging a DVD by its cover as I would have something to enjoy that day it was handed to me. Well, after some time, I finally got to see it and, well, they're right! It is good.

Not great good, but good nonetheless.

The film opens at 1950s Emerald, Texas, where a school bus full of singing kids is being driven home  at a rainy night while their parents await for them at the other side of the train tracks. When the automated crossing gate fails to drop down, however, the parents watch in horror as the bus continues to cross the rails, unaware of the incoming train, and gets plowed down. Nobody survived.

Fifty years later, the accident spawns an urban legend around the town that if one would park their car in the middle of the same tracks, the ghost of the children will safely push the car out out of harm and leave little fingerprints as proof of their deed. This is quickly dismissed as nothing but a ghost story by the town's new girl and our protagonist, Melanie, who's just been released from rehab after a near-death experience involving a drug overdose and a dead boyfriend.

You see, Melanie is moving to this little community with her family in hopes of starting anew and the last thing she needs right now is to start believing in ghosts and be seen as a freak. But with the entire town made aware of the incident that lead to her boyfriend's death, she's outcasted either way and it isn't going to get any better when she, out of curiosity, tries the legend on her own one day and finds out it actually works, much to her shock. This, though, leads to her seeing a quiet little girl named Julie who appears to be one of the children that died at the bus crash and she wants to tell -or show- Melanie something.

As it turns out, there's a little bit more to the crash than what everybody in town seem to believe and Melanie finds herself playing Nancy Drew to uncover what really happened. All the while, a figure dressed in a cool train conductor uniform starts to off anybody who gets too close of knowing the town's big secret and soon, they will come for Melanie...

As a whole, Fingerprints shouldn't work. Its production looks relatively cheap with hokey highschool project-quality special effects and some of the baddest overacting I've seen in this fine sub-genre, but the Saturday afternoon "kiddie horror" feel to its mystery has its quirky charms despite its cliched predictability, not to mention whatever gory kills and torture to happen onscreen are bloody and nasty as heck. (Especially since some of them were aimed at the kids!) It really adds nothing new as either a supernatural mystery or a teen slasher, but I love how the two sub-genres found their way here to mix and benefit one another, creating a cheesy yet watchable horror flick that may not have aged well on some aspects (oh God, flip phones!) but works for its simplicity and clever twist on an obscure urban legend.

Pre-Sorority Row Leah Pipes takes the role of our lead girl and she does a solid job at it. In fact, she might be the only one here with a credible enough role as the rest of the cast sounded and felt like paper cutouts of horror movie stereotypes, some exaggerated to the extremes than the others to the point that it's laughably bad. An example of this is a certain candidate for one of the worst horror movie mother, played by Ginger Gilmartin, who might as well be a villain on her own right as I'm sure she'd gone insane with how she's portrayed at the latter parts of this flick. (I mean there's overbearing, and then there's insane screaming and scissor brandishing worrisome. Now you know why I started this review talking about my folks...)

On the opposite side of this spectrum, Filipino-American actor Lou Diamond Phillips is here, but he honestly looks misplaced and a bit underused as his character is one of the more believably written. And speaking of underused, I also I think our cool-looking killer deserved a little bit more screentime and a slightly higher kill count, but that may derail (no pun intended) Fingerprint's main focus as a supernatural mystery so I guess the plot is as good as it is and I still think it managed to balance out both sub-genres quite well.

It's cheap, yeah, but at least it delivers the goods. Fingerprints needs to be tried out a bit more, especially for those likes their supernatural slasher cheap and cheesy, and their mystery slow but steady!

1 male overdoses (flashback)
1 male ran through the chest with a spike
1 female skwered through the neck with a spike
1 male slashed to death with a razor
1 male found hanged
1 female strangled (flashback)
12 children left for dead, skeletons found
1 male ran through with a spike
1 male beatened and hanged (flashback)
1 female plowed down by a train
Total: 21

A Slow Night for Bodycounting: Munger Road (2011)

Munger Road (2011) (AKA The Wrong Road)
Rating: **
Starring: Bruce Davison, Randall Batinkoff, Trevor Morgan

Back at my late high school years, my mum watched Fingerprints (2006), a movie about a mystery tied to an urban legend where ghost kids push cars to safety should the vehicle stall in the middle of some train tracks, leaving little creepy fingerprints behind as proof they were there. (Hence, Fingerprints) Knowing I'm a big horror junkie, she heartily recommended it to me, but me being more in touched with my weaboo side (and zombie flicks) at the time, I didn't think care about seeing a ghost movie as those are rarely scary and/or entertaining for me. (And they still rarely do) Out of respect, though, I told her I will try it and simply left the copy sit in my room to collect dusts until we sold it during one of our yearly garage sales.

Moving forward to the years I was re-discovering slasher flicks, I found out Fingerprints was actually one-part slasher and I figuratively started kicking myself in the balls for missing out on it as, based on some reviews I've read then, it was good. Not great, but good! I eventually found a way to see Fingerprints finally (and like what those reviewers said, it was fun!) and I am sharing you this story because not only does Munger Road tackles the same urban legend, but I actually saw it at my rentals multiple times and dismissed it coz, well, I thought it was a ghost movie when it is really one piece slasher flick. If there's a hate crime involving certain horror sub-genres, then I'm guilty of it more than once apparently.

(To be fair, it's not like I would have missed anything fun, though...)

In this film, four teenagers drive up to the titular road hoping to test out their local urban legend of helpful ghost tykes, while a duo of cops checks their sleepy little town for an escaped killer priest who have done away 6 children some time ago. The further the night evening goes, the more the two plots slowly (and I mean slowly) coincides as the killer the cops are after may have found their way to the teens, now stranded and being picked off one by one.

From where I stand, Munger Road can't seem to make up its mind with what it wanted to be as it tackles the supernatural, cop thriller, teen slasher and even a bit of found footage all in one roll but done in a slow burning direction that's supposed to create tension and atmosphere, but more likely have caused more tired groans and bored shrugs. It started out okay with the characters get going with their plans that night, only to be disrupted by something unexpected like being stuck in the woods or the sudden escape of a notorious child killer, but you can only go so far with sticking to these scenarios and not do anything save for bookmarking each events with something stupid or repetitive, like the slasher cliche of dumb decision making (Even though one of them teens repeatedly suggests the smart move of sticking together!) and false scares.

And yet, this is exactly what this movie did; kids get too antsy being in the woods alone so one of them gets out to look for help while the others wait, only for another one of them to get antsy and going out on their own to look for help? Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Cops bust in a possible hideout to find something or someone else that wasn't our killer, only to learn another possible place for them to start checking? Wash. Rinse. Repeat. It wasn't until the last act that the film finally got going somewhere, but even by then, Munger Road failed to deliver anything spectacular with its dry-as-desert offcamera kills and an anti-climactic open ending that I'm sure is as good to happen as that promised Scalps (1983) sequel, Scalps II: The Return of DJ (spoiler alert, it never did!), a damn shame considering how much I wanted this movie to work.

Personally, I like Munger Road's concept of steadily merging two seemingly unrelated plots into a bonafide slasher finale. The relatively small teen casts actually looked and sounded decent until the script had their characters turn into dumb and distressed victims the moment they got stuck, but I always loved the chief-deputy duo here played by Bruce Davison and Randall Batinkoff respectively, with their father-and-son type partnership that made their side of the movie more fun to watch and easier to root for. Heck, I would even say that the snail-pace wait was worth it if this film ended up with a proper massacre, but its small budget may have prevented any of that from happening and the producer's plan to do a bigger film may have cost this movie a real ending. (From what I read, the sequel was written first but due to budget restraints, producer Kyle Heller decided to do a smaller movie as their debut before working their way to the sequel. Munger Road was said smaller movie.)

While I don't dislike Munger Road for its good bits, its flaws are overwhelming and murks whatever positives this movie can offer. That said, can't really recommend it, but if want to see it? Go for it, baby. It's your time you'll be wasting next...

1 female attacked, presumably killed
1 male killed offcamera, method unknown
1 skeleton found
1 male bludgeoned to death with a wrench offcamera
1 male mentioned hit by a truck
Total: 5

Friday, January 26, 2018

Glam Gals of Gore: Tragedy Girls (2017)

Tragedy Girls (2017)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Brianna Hildebrand, Alexandra Shipp, Jack Quaid

I have to admit that when I first read about Tragedy Girls' plot, I wasn't too impressed. I mean, from the sound of it, the film could have been something between the lines of Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon meets Mean Girls, only not one part mockumentary and probably more bitch talk from two self-absorbed sociopath narcissists. But after watching it, that might not be such a bad thing after all.

Sadie and McKayla are two high school BFFs who like to do normal high school stuff like cheerleading, planning for prom and obsess over social media. Especially obsess over social media. Also known collectively as the Tragedy Girls, they run a blog dedicated to all things involving death including serial killers and spree killers and, desperate for internet fame, the duo decided to take drastic measures to get their site trending by offing a few people to stir up some controversy around their usually quiet town.

And controversy arrives in the form of a masked slasher named Lowell, who the girls lure into the deep woods and kidnap in hopes of becoming their mentor. But when the slasher refuses to teach them, Sadie and McKayla have no choice but to continue their own murder spree and put the blame on the very killer they captured, all while soaking in the attention as they play the town by acting as concerned individuals. Things were going according to plan until Lowell escapes and, after an incident involving a home invasion, Sadie becomes a hero of sorts. Could this unexpected turn of events lead to something better for the duo? Or something gorily worse?

Tragedy Girls sets itself to break and rehash a classic slasher story into a craft that's both avoiding the usual hack' n stab cliches while diving into them once in a while. For the most parts, the film resembles more of a dark teen comedy such as the likes of Heathers (1988) and Jawbreaker (1999) where we get to observe and explore the exploits and struggles of our two snappy leads who, by all means, are just adorable little monsters. Deadpool (2016)'s Brianna Hildebrand and X-Men: Apocalypse‘s Alexandra Shipp did a splendid job playing their duo with much pizzazz and sharp tongue, their banter coming out strangely natural despite spatting out topics of torture and mayhem, so much so that we can't help but cheer for them as they off those they see as wronging them, from ex-boyfriends who could be stealing their "death is tragically beautiful" shtick, to local fire marshals doubling as a small town celebrities.

Rooting for these girls is also made easy thanks to the comical build-up to their murders, which mostly lead to some pretty cool practical effects and gory results, something we gorehounds could always look forward to after chuckling at how adorkably amateur these girls can be at times with their murder spree. Highlights to their carnage include a tag team tackle against a tough stout target that ends with a nod to a certain barbell kill at Happy Birthday To Me (1981), and a Final Destination-friendly demise to end a loud mouth.

If there will be any shortcomings I need to point out, it'll be the fact that Tragedy Girls could have been deeper and complex considering much of the focus is on the girls and the empire of fame they are building out of the deaths. What's is further disappointing is that halfway into the movie, it did look like it was going for that direction but it was rushed and done over way too quickly before we could even go deeper. This opportunity wasted, the resulting finale is all things predictable and open ended, a part of it could have been way more shocking for me if it wasn't for the little hints our two sociopaths have been dropping (why are they so insistent for prom to happen?) as well as some questionable marketing done. (Don't click me 'coz spoilers)

And then there's Kevin Durand as Lowell. Man, he kinda just sat there, didn't he? I mean, yeah, he's supposed to be just one of the plot tools that threatens the bond between Sadie and McKayla, but could you imagine how things would have turned out if he accepted the offer to mentor these girls as a serial killing duo? What if he started picking favorites or have hidden motives behind teaching them, testing the girls of who to trust and to betray? I bet my butt that would have made a decent slasher right there, but the resulting product opted to go with an easier direction as a quippy horror film and, while many chances to better itself were missed, it's still far from bad.

That said, Tragedy Girls is a fun little devil of a dead teenager flick. It may not have much context apart from simply being a millennial-oriented horror flick, but it is entertaining for its worth and often a bit too cute and preppy than it should be. Is that twisted? Yes, yes it is and I like it!

1 male hacked on the face with a machete, smothered
1 male stabbed to death with a hunting knife
1 female had her head ran through a buzzsaw
1 male had his head crushed by a dropped weight lift
1 female found skewered through a pole
1 female knifed through the gut, throat slashed
1 female killed in car crash (flashback)
1 male shot on the head
1 male hanged
124+ victims caught inside a burning gymnasium
Total: 135+

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Slashie Awards: Slashermania (2017 Comic)

Slashermania (2017 Graphic Novel)
Rating: ***1/2
Author: Russell Hillman
Pencils: Ron Joseph, CJ Camba
Inks: Jake Isenberg, Ron Joseph, CJ Camba
Colours: Harry Saxon
Number of issues: 1

If properly handled, slasher movies with gangs of killers are something I could always look forward to. From the child cults of the Children of the Corn franchise and the inbred mountain families of the Wrong Turn series, to the trio of killer clowns of Clownhouse (1989) and the trans-dimensional mutants simply known as the Neon Maniacs (1986), I always find myself marveling at these maniacal groups functioning and identifying themselves as a single entity, or how each of them has their own thing going and, when packed together in a single film, almost always guarantee a collectively awesome hour and a half with their gimmicks and quirks while doing away victims.

It's this mindset that had me looking into a then Kickstarter comic project known as Slashermania, the graphic novel answer to the question "what do you get when you cross Battle Royale (2000), Sleepaway Camp (1983), and $LA$HER$ (2001)?", featuring not one. Not two. Not Four. But ten slashers stalking the woods and cabins for fresh victims! Of course, I was ecstatic both as a slasher nut and a comic book geek. Now, three years later and thanks to a good online buddy, I finally got to read it not too long ago as of writing this! So, did the large cast of masked and not-so-masked killers brought the same gory and brutal delight as, let's say, the 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes did as a multi-killer slasher story? Yes. Yes it did....

Until the last third of the book.

In this gore-filled comic set in the 80s, a secret show is held by someone going by the moniker Blade Killington where rich individuals pay by the millions to see what is basically live snuff, committed by costumed killers. This apparently have been going on since 1980 and the further the years go by, the larger the number of victims-to-be gets unknowingly roped in and, in turn, the more killers participate. By the end of each show, an award ceremony is held, handing these slashers the "Slashies" for categories such as the Best Male Solo Death, the Best Female Solo Death, First Kill, Biggest Multiple Deaths, and the much desired Slasher of the Year award, all narrated and recapped throughout by two jolly former competitors-turned-host and hostess with an excitement as to match any football announcers.

Long story short, it's the friggin Slasher Olympics!

Our competitors, ladies and gents!

Now it's 1983 and the killing grounds selected for this year's show is a refurbished camp site, where a total of 50 teenagers will be dropped into and be done away by our competitors: former-vigilante-now-psycho Captain Night, silent hulk Franklin Frost, lusty femme fatal Madame Tragedy, the quippy March Hare, powertool-ready Mechanic, gender-confused Sammy, old-fashioned Signor Gialli, the medically deadly Unknown Doctor, torchlight-wielding Usherette and the musically-inclined Virtuoso. As night falls, these hunters will hunt their prey and it soon becomes clear that nothing will stop these mad folks. Nothing, except, a final girl who will soon thirst for revenge...

Story-wise, Slashermania is definitely a slasher story at its best and worst; on one spectrum, I love the quick pace of the story and the satirical take on violence as entertainment, with the latter had me chuckling a bit on how casual the spectators can be as innocent (and not-so-innocent) teens meet their maker in such horrifyingly painful fashion. The whole carnage is treated as a mere sport, complete with guest stars such as psychiatrists and tabloid writers commenting on the events, and too past victors and survivors settling their differences long enough to sit on the same couch to catch up. These "back stage" portions are where most of the rightfully exploitative and witty writing shines, doing a pretty good job building the backdrop behind this twisted event.

When it comes to the teens at the camp prior and in the midst of the carnage, though, this is where most readers will be challenged; for a typical slasher fan who wants nothing more than bodies getting hacked to bits left and right, character building can be optional so long as the resulting death is worth their time, may it be in execution or build-up. The teens in Slashermania clearly lack any further depth apart from being one-dimensional meat for the slashers to kill, most of them characterized similarly as "horny", "gay", "dumb", "stoned" or simply "there", uttering what is technically the same lines concerning how high they are from whatever drug they're smoking or how horny they are for that one guy or gal. Their large number, as well as their lack of focus and development may as well be intentional since the main showcase here are the killers and the gory deaths they will soon bestow upon these children.

And bestowed upon them their gory deaths they did and it just looks fantastic! The overall art looks good for most pages, though I do notice the quick decline on quality around the last act. Until then, the details and coloring strikes a late 80s/early 90s vibe to them, and it sticks pretty close to the exploitative elements of a good slasher with gratuitous sex scenes and full frontal nudity. That being said, the carnage around the first night are some of the better looking ones I've ever laid eyes on, and the quality of the kills are gloriously gruesome enough to make me wonder what some of these cool kills and attacks would look like in live action. It's tame when it needs to be tame, savage when it needs to be savage, inventive when it needs to be inventive (multiple deaths by shower scalding? Genius!), all in the making of a true slasher story.

The killers themselves are mostly a treat, with each being a take on classic slasher villain tropes from the mute indestructible hulk to the limber wisecracker, as well as proto-slashers like the classic black-gloved Italian giallo criminal and even a Norman Bates-inspired crossdresser type. Their designs are pretty great and accurate to the kind of villains normally popping up in slasher flicks, though I will admit some of the better ones were those that were simply mentioned in the background. (The bondage themed Pain/Pleasure Principal? Chemical-themed Biohazard? What the shit?! Those are some of the cooler looking slashers!) Their variations meant that the immense bodycount here are mostly done away with the killer's own shtick (The Virtuoso sings with his target first before bashing their brains in, for example. Or, my favorite, The Usherette wielding weaponized torchlights), but it is nice to see that a bigger deal of the killcount are good old-fashioned brute force and stab wounds.

So it seems Slashermania has both guts and glory on a high mark, but does it last forever? This, sadly, is where the book's biggest flaw comes in and it's gonna be kinda tricky talking about this without giving away much. As mentioned, it was all fun and games for both these slashers and the sick audience watching until one of the survivors decided to get even and, while I normally don't mind a survivor getting back on the killer, this could have been done better. Since the characterization of the teens was stiff, our little avenger could have been anyone and, to be truthful, she doesn't strike as anything remarkable except, I dunno, being street smart? Doesn't really count much for its worth seeing I could point out about two to three other kids in that camp who were street smart given I could recall their names since they all blend in together too well...

Apart from the bland survivor, I also can't help but feel that the comic's ending was rushed and I can tell from its many plot holes. For instance, for a guy who's supposed to be rich enough to have people back up this blood show with millions of dollars, you would expect better security to, I dunno, prevent one kid from entering the premises and kill them off before any real damage can be done? Also, for a group of serial killers who managed to pile up 50 or so victims for over a day and a half, had it occur to them that they could just, well, pile up on the angry, pissed-off teen and mutilate the kid to death? Heck, one of these freaks even brought it up! Yes, Sammy, why can't you just help Franklin out and tackle the little ankle biter down and chop off their limbs so it'll be easier to finish them off? Numbers, lumbnuts! Use 'em!

Now, I suppose this book is trying to point out the flaw in slasher logic, but damn, that finale was pretty lazy. I expected more stalk-and-hunt survival action between the survivor and the ten to nine remaining killers, but all I got was cheap death porn. And I hate cheap death porn. (Before you point out, yes, I am aware that most of the book is death porn but, until the later bits, the first two thirds of killings were gorgeous, creative and a hell lot better thought out)

Still, I wouldn't let a sour ending ruin a good book. For most, it was a great read and certainly worked up a lot of eye candy for my inner gorehound and love for slasher villains. Definitely not the best slasher comic out there, but Slashermania has its charms and it's worth reading if you're a big fan of dead teen horror flicks who just happens to be craving for some bloody carnage. With sweet art, badass killers and a jet black sense of humor, go grab a copy of this graphic graphic novel fresh off the prints!

1 male knifed through the gut
1 female gets a dagger through the head
1 female axed between the legs
1 gets a dagger through the neck
1 male gets a metal spike through the groin while being fellated
1 female impaled through the mouth with a metal spike while fellating
1 male seen impaled with a metal rod
1 female seen killed
1 male ran through with a machete
1 female shot on the head with a pistol
1 male decapitated with a kukri
1 male beaten to death with a torchlight
1 female had her throat slit with a razor
1 male set ablaze
1 male and 1 female set ablaze with a thrown burning victim
1 female powerdrilled through the head, exits to an eye
1 male lands head first to a bear trap
1 female brained to death with a guitar
1 male pushed to a bonfire, had a leg axed off
1 female held down in a lake, drowned
1 male vivisected with a machete, lunged ripped out with a hammer claw
1 male had his legs cut off with a machete, brained with a hammer
1 female gets a glass shard to the chest
1 male had his head crushed with fridge door
1 male vivisected with a scalpel
1 female stabbed on the temple with a knife
1 male had his throat cut with a kukri, disemboweled with a chainsaw
1 male and 1 female eviscerated with a chainsaw while copulating
1 female shot on the eye with an arrow
1 female shot through the neck with an arrow
1 male brained with a wrench, dropped back first to a vehicle lift
1 female stabbed on the head with a daggered torch light
1 male stabbed with a daggered torchlight
1 male gets a daggered torchlight through the head, exits to mouth
1 male nearly decapitated with a daggered torchlight
1 male and 1 female gets adouble throat cut with a cane sword
1 female had her throat slashed with a scalpel
1 female dismembered with a hacksaw
5 males scalded to death inside a rigged and locked shower room
1 female brained with a sledgehammer
1 male brained with a sledgehammer
3 females and 2 males caught inside a burning cabin
1 male eviscerated with a chainsaw
1 male and 1 female gets a double gutting with a chainsaw
1 male and 1 female dismembered with a chainsaw
1 female had her face eviscerated with a chainsaw
1 female killed with a chainsaw offpanel
1 male stabbed with a cane sword
2 males and 1 female found poisoned
1 female found shot
1 female shot
1 female shot
1 male shot
1 male and 1 female shot dead
1 female decapitated by an elevator
1 male shot on the head
1 male stabbed to death with trophies
1 male seen shot on the head
1 male shot on the eye
1 female shot on the head
1 male shot
1 male axed through the chest
1 female hacked with an axe
A number of people presumably killed in a fire

Saturday, January 20, 2018

TV Terror: Slasher (2015 TV Series)

Slasher (2015 Series)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Christopher Jacot, Jim Watson, Paula Brancati

I remember when Harper's Island (2009) was the only slasher-themed TV series I got to see and now, from later to present 2010s, they're kinda everywhere. From the awful likes of Scream Queens and the okayish murder mystery that is MTV's Scream The TV series, the selections are plenty but very little get to be anywhere as exciting as, let's say, the revenge epic that is the first season of the Wolf Creek TV series, but I will give kudos for these series for trying capture both the thrill of a good bodycount and the theatrics of an engaging TV drama. Much like this Canadian mini series simply called "Slasher".

The first of eight episodes starts like your classic slasher set-up: in the late 80s, at one Halloween night, with a man and and his pregnant wife being macheted to death by someone in a medieval executioner's wear. By fate, however, the now-dead couple's expected baby survives the ordeal, gets rescued by the police and returns to live in the same house 28 years later as Sarah Bennett, a talented artist and a loving wife to journalist Dylan Bennet.

Hoping to get closure by living in the same neighborhood her folks used to live in, Sarah instead gets roped to a series of serial murders happening around town, perpetrated by someone donning the same Executioner garb worn by her parent's killer. But with the actual Executioner, a former priest named Tom Winston, captured the very night he committed the infamous Halloween double murder and is currently behind bars, it's everyone's wild guess who's behind the mask this time. It is clear, though, that this garbed loon has a bone to pick with the entire town and that includes Sarah herself.

In writing, Slasher has more in common with serial killer thrillers than the titular sub-genre, with most of the action focusing on the identity of the new Executioner, a mystery that branches out to other sub-plots that'll likely tie up to the recent killings, such as an incident of domestic abuse that left a man missing, a revenge plot involving a cinder block gone wrong and even a possible kidnapping case. It kept the plot going to say the least, with the moderately large cast getting fleshed out in each episode and, interestingly, would either grow better or worse as an individual when their past sins and/or regrets are brought into light. Some cliched characterizations are inevitable (I mean, it is a slasher after all) and a few may even overstayed their welcome, but they were mostly tolerable to be fair, something I really wish I could say the same for our protagonists.

While it's bad enough to follow a movie where the leads barely have any chemistry and often have you feeling a bit intense seeing them in the same room, try having this flaw chucked in a series of eight 45 minute episodes. The result is multiple dragging moments between Sarah and Dylan, a couple who we should be feeling and rooting for, but with one of them hogging up most of the spotlight and doing the dumb pitfalls a slasher victim should be avoiding, while the other is simply just "existing" there, what should have been an engaging couple driving the story forward together was reduced to a relationship as complex as a footnote.

Sadly, they're not the only issues I have with Slasher; the main mystery itself, for one, wasn't entirely bad with its few twists and decent directions once in a while, but it can get very slow and a bit too tangled up for my enjoyment, which didn't help soften the mind-numbing lackluster reveal at the season finale when they had one of the many underdeveloped characters be our killer all along. Not gonna tell a lot about this person but all you need to know is that their reasons for the murders were rushed and they barely made a lasting impression without the mask and suit.

Thankfully, whatever slasher moments Slasher have, it was at least worth the small minutes of my time; The Executioner, as a silent killer, just looks awesome and I love the torture porn-twist of some the murders, not pulling back on the blood, gore and even nudity. (death by exposure, anyone?) Basing these killings on the Seven Deadly Sins isn't entirely new for any matter (my guilty pleasure Class Reunion Massacre (1978) hilariously attempted this, and then there's the serial killer thriller SE7EN), but it did lead to some engrossing backdrops on each victim as to why they deserved their deaths and more than not, these backdrops are far more interesting than the main "who's the Executioner?" game the entire town is playing.

Not gonna lie, I may have expected a lot from this series seeing the numerous praises it was getting for the time and, for the first two episodes, it was justifiable. But the deeper I go, the more people gets killed and the more sub-plots brought into light, Slasher simply got too busy with itself that the main mystery felt overshadowed. Still, it has blood, guts, and a few good side stories latched along, so I guess it wasn't a total waste of my time.

As I am writing this, I just checked out two episodes from season 2 and I'm liking what I am seeing so far. (It's definitely much closer to being a slasher!) Here's hoping it'll be an improvement...

1 male ran through and sawed down with a toothed machete (S1, E1)
1 pregnant female stabbed on the throat with a machete (S1, E1)
1 female had her hands and feet cut off with a hunting knife, bled to death (S1, E1)
1 male shot on the head with a shotgun, skeleton found (S1, E2)
1 male inhaled rat poison (S1, E2)
1 male, 1 female, and 1 girl suffocated to death from a broken heater (flashback) (S1, E3)
1 female chained to a cinder block and dropped into a lake, drowned (S1, E3)
1 male bitten to death by snaked (S1, E4)
1 female paralyzed, stripped naked and exposed to an open field whilst coated in honey, eaten by animals (S1, E5)
1 male hanged (flashback) (S1, E5)
1 female decapitated with a hunting knife (S1, E5)
1 female injected with botched drugs, killed (S1, E6)
1 male cremated alive (S1, E6)
1 male sliced through with a buzzsaw (S1, E7)
1 female pushed down the stairs, broke her neck (S1, E8)
1 male strangled to death (S1, E8)
1 male stabbed repeatedly with a hunting knife, throat cut (S1, E8)
1 cat had its head crushed (S1, E8)
Total: 20

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Many Deaths of Tree: Happy Death Day (2017)

Happy Death Day (2017)
Rating: ***
Starring:  Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine

From what I can tell, you can love, hate or "eh" Happy Death Day and its little idea of crossing Bill Murray's Groundhog Day with a PG-13 slasher. For a completist like me, it's concept of a "time loop" slasher isn't relatively new looking back at movies like The Slayer (1982) (sort-of), Camp Daze (2004) (AKA "It that shall not be uttered"), Salvage (2006), Timecrimes (2007) and the criminally underrated Triangle (2009) and I should felt "meh" about it for this reason alone, but I found other things to enjoy about this time-travel bodycounter to warrant it as a good watch.

The film starts with our heroine, local sorority brat Tree Gelbman (yes, "Tree") waking up with a nasty hangover in the dorm room of one of the nicer guys at Bayfield College before walking the walk of shame all the way back to her own dorm while being a snob to most people including her ex, her dad, her roomie, and the sorority house president. (Though the latter could be justified) Her whole morning is nothing but a long wait until evening comes and she's out to party again, only this time, Tree encounters a hooded figure in a grotesquely cartoonish baby mask and gets the foul end of a knife.

Tree then wakes up from the event, alive and well, and starts her usual morning while a bit disturbed from what she assumes is a dream. The day goes the same, a bit too the same that Tree gets a nagging feeling she went through this before, so much so that on her way to the same tunnel she got killed at in her nightmare, she has the urge to take another route. This time, returning to the sorority house, Tree gets a surprise party thrown by her campus sisters and was about to go down and dirty with a random guy when, much to her horror, the same baby-faced killer appears to do her (and random guy) dead. Just as Baby Face plunges a broken bong down into her, Tree screams...

And wakes up alive and well. In the beginning of the very same day.

By now, Tree (and us, the audience) figures out that she's in a time loop that restarts whenever she bites the big one. Why is she in this situation? Nobody knows, but it is made very clear that someone out there hates her enough to stab her, drown her, brain her, hang her, pretty just do anything that'll make her stop breathing and existing. Worse even is the fact that Tree gets more and more frail in each loop, so it's only a matter of time before Baby Face finishes her off for good.

Seeing this is a PG-13 offering from Blumhouse Productions, I can't say it does a lot as a slasher flick, or even a horror movie for that matter with the murders, while nicely set up, dry around the blood and gore department and the killer coming out more funny looking than threatening after the first time around they're seen skulking in the shadows. It's general direction focuses more as a mystery, however. One that centers around an odd phenomenon that itself centers on one random girl who just happens to be one of the big jerks at campus. Is it silly? Yes, but that's one of  Happy Death Day's charms that gradually saved this from being a one-trick pony.

Being one part comedy meant it has to deliver some laughs and the writing here, thankfully, works quite well on the funny factor. It's not "choking-on-own-spit" level of haha, mind you, and some of the jokes here can be a hit-or-miss, but I find most of them hitting my funny bone more than once, loving the snarkiness of it all, the satirical stab on the slasher sub-genre (I mean, how often do we get to root for the nasty ones to survive in these films? Apart from Jessica from Sorority Row (2009), that is...) and even some meta-humor about the oddity our lead is going through.

And speaking of lead, Jessica Rothe is simply great as Tree. She wonderfully handles her character's transformation from a nasty type to a hardass survivor of her own death(s) with much wit and gusto, and it is worth noticing how the tone and pacing of the film slowly changes along the further Tree evolves in each cycle, bringing out layers upon layers of depth and reason as to why she's like this. With this dimensions come some sentimental moments, gladly far from overly dramatic and it realistically help flesh the more human side of what could have been another body for the bodycount, another reason why Happy Death Day is such a fun watch.

As a whodunit (of the stranger kind), Happy Death Day has a fairly wide range of possible red herrings and twists seeing it'll be a lot easier to tell who wouldn't want to kill Tree. And for a while, the movie embraces the sheer silliness of this idea with Tree basically tackling and attacking anyone she suspects will be her killer before she comes to the realization that she needs to think this through and, well, not make herself too convenient for a masked maniac to stick a knife into. The implied time limit also gave this angle a sense of urgency for the characters and it's around the last third of the film when most of the good albeit predictable curve balls were thrown, with a reveal that I at least didn't expect.

In the end, Happy Death Day is just a fun teen flick, may it be as a comedy, a murder mystery and/or a teen slasher. It's ideas are far from original but at least the film had fun with the concept and even gave us some warm life lessons along the way. Rewatchable? Maybe. But if you haven't seen it yet, I urge you to try it if you can!

1 female knifed
1 male knifed to death
1 female stabbed with a broken bong
1 female impaled with a knife
1 female knifed in the gut
1 female drowned
2 females hit by a bus
1 female brained with a bat
1 female brained with a bat
1 male repeatedly knifed
1 male hit by a car
1 female immolated in a car explosion
1 male found murdered
1 female shot
1 male had his neck broken
1 female hanged
1 male shot dead
1 female poisoned
1 female falls to her death
Total: 20...ish

Monday, January 15, 2018

It's January 15 again, you know what that means?

Yep, I'm 26 years old now!

Twenty-Six years old and still ticking. Four more years and my real life might finally begin...


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Burn, Dance, Slay: Stripped To Kill (1987)

Stripped To Kill (1987)
Review: **
Starring: Kay Lenz, Greg Evigan, Norman Fell

Whether you call it a strip club or a gentlemen's club, in a horror movie (or in this case, a thriller with slasher undertones), such a place of business may as well be a murderous psychopath's hangout should they ever need a day off from stalking lone teenagers at night, or whenever they're in need of another victim to strike terror at. Movies like Mardi Gras Massacre (1978), American Nightmare (1983), Last Dance (1992), and Zipperface (1992) are some fine (and not fine) examples of this titillating attempt to merge strip show fetishism and bodycounting, but I'm just gonna go out of the blue, pick between the flabs of this sub-genre fab and cover this Roger Corman produced 1987 entry instead.

A dancer from a seedy strip club called Rock Bottom gets a call during her shift from someone she agrees to see later at a park. There, she gets attacked and pushed off a small bridge by an assailant obscured in shadows before getting doused with kerosene. By luck, Cody Sheenan, an undercover detective dressed as a bag lady (for some reason), was chasing a petty thief when she tripped over came upon the dancer's body. Though Cody tries to save her, the assailant somehow got around to set the stripper ablaze, thus setting an investigation into motion.

Intrigued by the attack, Detective Heineman suggests Cody to go undercover once again to get more info, this time as a dancer at Rock Bottom. After somehow winning Amateur Night with an awkward strip show, Cody got in and suspects a weirdo who always had a hand in his coat pocket as the perpetrator. Whether Cody's is right or wrong with her hunch is up for her and Heineman's debate, but when another dancer bites the big one, it is at least clear that someone's out to depopulate Rock Bottom of its girls and Cody may need to hurry and figure out who the killer is before she's next.

I find it hard to keep a straight face while watching Stripped To Kill despite all its indications that it is supposed to be a straight thriller. Its supposed mystery is undoubtedly weak thanks very little twists and turns made to at least keep the story engaging enough, and the fact that it's lazily padded with countless pole dance sequences that, while fun at first, gets awfully tiring when some of them seems to go on forever. The murders are okay to say the least; nothing overly dramatic save the first murder so don't hold your breathe expecting splattery and/or memorable murders from this strip show bodycounter.

Even so, Stripped To Kill is not unwatchable; the cheese is certainly a grace given to this film and the story did get a lot more interesting at the last third when the killer's identity gets revealed and a long chase through the night quickly follows. From a small apartment to the open streets, to the hoodlum-infested park and finally all the way back to Rock Bottom, the entire third act is where it gets the most slasher-esque, complete with a kinda Scooby-Doo inspired unmasking and a killer's motive that hardly made any sense but chuckle worthy for how simplistic it was.

Not gonna say this is a recommendable movie as it is likely to be forgotten for about, I dunno, 2 to 4 days tops, but if you get the chance to see this shlock, I say give Stripped To Kill (1987) a try and expect not too much from it. It's a cheap thriller with slasher undertones that centers on a gentlemen's club, what else is there to say?

1 female thrown off a bridge and doused in kerosene, set ablazed
1 female garroted
1 male found murdered, method unknown
1 male shot
1 female shot
1 male caught on fire
Total: 6

A Nightmare In Tokyo: Nightmare Detective (2006)

Nightmare Detective (Akumu Tantei) (Japan, 2006)
Rating: ***
Starring: Ryûhei Matsuda, Hitomi, Masanobu Andô

From cult fave director Shinya Tsukamoto of Tetsuo, The Iron Man (1989), comes this graphic thriller/slasher hybrid about metaphors, nightmares, suicides, and a whiny emo who's apparently our titular "detective". Oh, joy?

A series of gruesome suicides connected to a mysterious phone number had detective Keiko Kirishima considering the possibility of the supernatural when the brutality of the deaths are far beyond what can be considered normal, no less the fact that each victims did it to themselves while they were asleep. This leads her to look for and find Kagenuma, AKA our Nightmare Detective, a young man who has the ability to hear thoughts and enter dreams.

Though reluctant to aid Kirishima at first, Kagenuma eventually agrees and, upon entering the dream world, discovers that the owner of the phone number is a fellow simply referred to as "Zero" and he has a unique ability to both convince his targets to kill themselves subconsciously and go after them himself in their dreams to end their lives for real. Can our Nightmare Detective figure out why Zero is so obsessed with misery and sorrow? Can Kirishima resist the urge to end herself as she draws nearer Zero's influence? Can anybody (and I mean, Anybody?!) slip a happy pill in our protagonist's drink so he can be less depressed and whiny so I can root for him a tad better? ...Anybody?

Structured like the love child of a threesome involving a serial killer drama, a gory slasher and a psychological art flick, Nightmare Detective comfortably follows the trappings of a police procedural thriller and a violent slasher flick first before melting the plot away with the director's well known experimental Avante-Garde approach to filmmaking. This meant the further the story goes, the more artsy and metaphorical it's narrative becomes, something that may or may not cater to everyone but still an approach that gave this slasher/thriller hybrid a unique taste.

For a decent half of its run, the film pretty much caters to horror buffs and gore hounds with a surreal set of murders that almost resembles those from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, particularly the first three movies where some of the deaths were made to look like suicides. Instead of showcasing the killer, however, Nightmare Detective went for the creepy and unsettling route of keeping "Zero" hidden around these parts, depicting him through shaky POV shots and loud shambling noises, if not glimpses of the form he takes in each attack. A lot of these scenes work for the direction and imagery used, such as tackling claustrophobic fear during the entire first kill as it takes place from an empty street before chaotically moving its way to a small and freakishly shadowy apartment where there's little to go and hide.

The following attacks soon made their way to bigger locations, but the cinematography done to these scenes (unusually voided of other people and shot with either a grayish tint or scratchy filtering) befits the nightmare logic this movie is attempting and its increasing level of violence and gore is just the right adding element to reach out for those hungry for some latex guts and splashy blood work. If there will be anything of a flaw around these parts, though, I could say it'll be the occasional pacing done between each death in an attempt to follow up on the investigation that, in all its truthful, doesn't really do much. We can already tell this is beyond normal and any little characterization made for Kirishima and Kagenuma didn't stray much from the usual soapy topic of bad pasts and personal outlooks on life, either. Most of the depressing talk from Kagenuma himself, which made him a hard character to root for with this pessimism being a distraction, but I can at least say that he does make a few valid reasons why he is this way, making him rather an interesting character to observe and that's it.

Once the movie gets to its hour mark, the horror elements are still present (with Kirishima getting stalked and chased by Zero in his most eldritch form) but a good deal of the remaining plot focuses on a more expressive and literal look into the mindset of our killer, a trippy run of non-linear flashbacks, random thoughts and philosophical remarks that all somehow found a way to find significance to the events transpiring. It's a rather nontraditional take on the classic final fight between heroes and monsters but visually intriguing for its worth, if not a bit overly stylized and a sappy with its bittersweet notes of existential meaning and of one's purpose.

Nightmare Detective, in its whole, is an okay film. It's a lot easier to digest story-wise than some of Shibuya's filmography and it even has some genuine scares and splatter to boot, a clear product of his experimental filmmaking and a conventional genre story. If you like to see something in between a traditional  horror story and art show level psychology, then this movie is a good place to start.

1 male dies in his sleep
1 female slaughtered to death (dream)
1 female found stabbed on the neck with scissors, bled to death
1 male repeatedly slashed, disemboweled (dream)
1 male repeatedly stabbed on the throat with a boxcutter
1 male repeatedly stabbed on the throat with a broken bottle, falls from a floor
1 girl lands neck first on a nailed board (flashback)
1 male lands in and got shredded by a car engine (dream)
1 male dies from a stab wound in his sleep
Total: 6 (9 with dreams)

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Leather and Porcelain: Blood Widow (2014)

Blood Widow (2014)
Rating: *1/2
Starring:  Danielle Lilley, Brandon Kyle Peters, Christopher de Padua

Y'know, if I had a penny every time I see a new slasher movie boasting their villain would become the next face of horror, evil or some shit like that, only to have said new face of horror, evil or some shit like that fail to fulfill that claim, I'll be... Probably a buck or two richer. Bottomline, we see this a lot in recent slasher releases just to sucker in some gullible fans into thinking the movie would be great. But the brutal truth is that most of these new slasher villains will never get to be the new face of horror if their movies altogether suck. Hard. Really hard.

Blood Widow is one of these new age slashers that thinks it has a potential cult icon in its hands: a porcelain masked female killer wearing, from afar, what look like an S&M supervillain costume. It's cute, I'll admit that. Even a bit sexy with them hips, but what in the holy hell is a villainess like her doing in a movie like "Blood Widow"?

The story is perhaps one of the most basic backwoods slasher flicks I ever laid eyes on and I'm not saying that in a fun way. Nor in a satisfied way. But more in an "oh God, is that really all there is about this movie? Just another 'group in the woods getting cut up into pieces by a masked loon' treatment?" way. The only variety I am seeing here is the aforementioned nagging element that the villainess wears what appears to be a comic book supervillain outfit for some darn reason (though they did mention she was abused as a kid. Maybe this was her dad's S&M suit?) and that the reason why our victims-to-be are in the woods is to throw a house warming party, giving them an excuse to act like teenagers despite, I dunno, being in their twenties? (Yeah, there's always something about the outdoors that have young adults killing 1/3rd of their brain activity to do stupid shit like accidentally vandalizing a killer's lair and marking themselves as targets for said killer, doesn't it?)

Its simplicity meant that it's pretty straightforward to what it wanted to do and I find myself hoping Blood Widow would at least deliver some satisfying onscreen murders to remember our titular killer by. (Y'know? The very reason why she is dressed in a way that says "Franchise me! Franchise me! I'm a masked female slasher so franchise me!?")  Well, while the kills do have awesome grue and the count is moderately sizable, the fleshbags being mutilated are as dull as a 20 year-old used nail file and since anyone barely really mattered here, the genericness of the plot hits harder on the boring factor, making its moderate feature-length running time feel like hours and I find myself caring very little whether miss porcelainface leatherskirt hacks them to death or not. (Yes, I know slashers aren't really known for deep writing and character development, but is it so much to ask for at least one or two interesting victims?)

I don't want to sound like a snob for what's simply a routine slasher movie that actually delivers what it should be delivering, but Blood Widow felt and look like it was hardly trying. I wanted this female killer and her story to work as we don't get a lot of memorable femme fatales in the slasher genre, but if all we get is the same stroll down the cheap bloody woods and a paper thin killer whose only identifying factor is a suit, then even I can't pretend to be shallow enough to enjoy this.

Do as you like with Blood Widow. From what I can tell, some people out there are much more forgiving than I am with this movie, so I think I'll leave you to see this if you want, while I enjoy the company of other slasher women bumping people dead in the woods. Now if only I could make up my mind which to see: Friday the 13th (1980) or Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)...

1 male had his throat cut, hacked to death
1 female disemboweled with a kukri, head crushed with a Buddha statue
1 male and 1 female beheaded with kukris
1 female ran through the head with a sickle
1 male had his arm hacked off with a kukri
1 male beheaded with a sickle
1 female hacked on the head with a hatchet
1 male had his face ripped off with a hook-tipped flail
1 male hacked on the head with a sickle
1 female beaten to death with an axe handle
Total: 11