Monday, March 26, 2018

A Family That Preys Together: The Strangers: Prey At Night (2018)

The Strangers: Prey At Night (2018)
Rating: ***
Starring: Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison, Emma Bellomy

It's literally a decade since I first saw The Strangers (2008) and while that movie wasn't a complete crowd pleaser, I take pride on being one of its few sincere fans who appreciates its simplistic plot and practice of creating an intense home invasion horror quickie. Thus, it came with no surprise that I was stoked to find out its sequel was finally happening. Do I dare, question if the ten-year wait was worth it, though?

In this film, a family of four drives up to a trailer park campsite for a much needed bonding time while they wait to enroll their teen rebel daughter for boarding school. What they weren't counting on though is to find their nearby relatives slaughtered and become the next targets of the perpetrators, a trio of masked strangers who takes great pleasure on toying and murdering their victims. 
Pool Time Slaughter!
If the original Strangers felt like a slasher climax stretched to a feature length running time, Prey At Night is simply a backwoods slasher centered on a dysfunctional family and their three masked prowlers. I can't say this is a bad move for Prey At Night since it is still entertaining for what it is, but I cannot help but feel underwhelmed on how generic one of my favorite home invasion films ended up in its own follow-up, ditching silent dread, building suspense and choking uneasiness for a mostly direct prowl-hack-stab action that is so rushed and typical that it lacks other substance aside from being a bodycount fodder for the horror fans.

Prey At Night did try to replicate some of the creepy set-ups and villainous behavior that made the original workable, but the tone of these attempts was lacking, leaning towards uninspired, and I guess it doesn't help too that the victims here made the usual bad decisions your typical horror movie teens are known for, but I will at least commend the four leads- The Ring (2002)’s Martin Henderson as father Mike, Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks as mother Cindy, Bailee Madison as daughter Kinsey and Lewis Pullman as son Luke- on their performances as frightened victims. They have very little to work with apart from being "a family with a rebel daughter" (So not a lot on the character development factor despite talking about financial issues and the old 'friends-over-family' spiel) but once the hack-and-stab got going, they are at least reactive enough to the supposed horrors happening to them and about a half of their characters were given a fighting chance against the killers.
Peek-a-boo! I Kill You!
And speaking of whom, the titular strangers - The Man In The Mask, Pin-Up Girl and Dollface - practically became carbon copies of early days Halloween's Michael Myers or Friday the 13th's Jason Voorhees in this movie, minus the horror titans' invincibility and murderous creativity (but not the onscreen bloodletting) which meant the trio are sadly as replaceable as the fact they're now also susceptible to being killed off themselves. I will admit it was a shocker for me seeing my favorite trio of home invaders getting snuffed off (or seemingly so), but with the way they're portrayed here, it almost felt natural, deserving even for some of them to die as they're so far from the effectively methodical creeps I enjoyed the first time around that I can't help but root for what will remain of their targeted family to bash their brains in with a baseball bat for being so reckless now.

Quality-wise, Prey At Night looks slick with it's 80s inspired motifs such as bright neons and bubblegum pop tunes blaring out of the killers' truck, a complete contrast to the original's 70's exploitation-inspired grittiness. Apart from Friday the 13th and Halloween, the film also made a few nods to John Carpenter's killer car sorta-slasher Christine (1983), the 1983 Stephen King adaptation of The Dead Zone, Fulci's Zombie and much to my joy, even the finale of Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Its fast pace can be a saving grace for some, and too some of the jump scares for that popcorn quality "Boo!" moments and its fiery climax that's probably one of its better set-pieces.
That's not how keys work, Dollface.
In fact, if one would look past the point that this movie is supposed to be a sequel and just see it as a standalone, it ain't half bad. The Strangers: Prey At Night may not have an effectual set of villains or potent scares, but as long as basic slasher fanfare is concerned, it is a fairly decent streak of mayhem and chaos that one may enjoy more with an incomplex mindset. Not a total lost, just failing to impress.

1 female killed offscreen
1 male killed offscreen, found with missing eyes and a broken jaw
1 female knifed to death
1 male gets a broken wooden beam to the gut, stabbed with an ice pick
1 female knifed to death
1 male had his throat sliced with a knife
1 female shot dead with a shotgun
1 male bashed on the head with a baseball bat
Total: 8

Friday, March 23, 2018

TV Terror: Scream (2015 TV Series)

Scream (2015 series)
Starring: Willa Fitzgerald, John Karna, Carlson Young

In a way, turning the classic teen slasher franchise Scream into a TV teen horror series seems like a fair idea to try, especially since the films themselves have a whodunit flair which can be easily translated into a TV drama albeit a tad less bloodier and possibly less cheesier. The question remains, though: will it have the same feel of the movies? Can it be fun all the while witty?
Yes and, er, no.

Much like the movies, Scream the Series starts with the death of a blonde girl, this one posting a viral video of two other girls making out in a car before finding someone in her home literally giving her a head and the wrong end of a blade. This murder inevitably gets around town by morning and old memories of a local killing spree resurfaced among the older townies, which also sparked the interests of some curious youngsters.

Caught in this web of intrigue is one Emma Duval, the daughter of the local medical examiner and a friend of one of the girls in the viral video. Not long after the killing was made public, she somehow got the attention of who could be the murderer responsible, taunting her as they begin slaying off those associated with her. Could this just be the sick work of a maniac without a pattern, or does Emma have a thing or two connected to the killer?

Standardized in almost every way possible, Scream The TV Series didn't really deviate itself that much as a small screen mystery drama apart from taking some jabs from late 90s/early 2000s teen slashers. For ten episodes, its mystery gets churned and stretched out to as many red herrings as possible in an attempt to build around the mythos of the series' universe (since, despite being called Scream, it has nothing to do with the film series' continuity), as well as develop the characters involved for that classic teen TV drama flavors of bad relationships going bad or better. Often at times it can work in the midst of the growing bodycount as broken friendships mend and family secrets are revealed which sometimes bring forth sympathies to unexpected characters, but it has the tendency to slow and drag things down making the series quite tedious to sit through, especially around the middle episodes when the whole plot suddenly goes dry on the bloodletting and even gave way for some sort of ghost thriller as visions of one of the victims (of an enjoyably brutal murder) suddenly starts making appearances to lead our main character to some clues. (Strangely out of place in what is mostly a realistic slasher series)

All sets itself up straight no soon after in the next few episodes (thank God) as the killcount continues and the plot thickens, but it's mostly everything you've seen in a slasher by then, down kids going down to a lake and a twisty reveal that kinda made sense.With all of this being said, Scream The TV Series could have been better; while the whodunit is good and it did manage to develop its characters, including you normally expect to bite it as a nameless lamb existing only for the kill count, it definitely needed some work with its pacing and balancing out its subplots. Perhaps some additional victims and more creative killings would have also made this series a tad more exciting, but from what we have right now, Scream The TV Series is far from the worst small screen slasher series to exist.

1 male found beheaded (S1, E1)
1 female had her throat cut with a knife (S1, E1)
3 victims mentioned murdered (flashback) (S1, E1)
1 male shot dead (flashback) (S1, E1)
1 female hanged (S1, E2)
1 female gets a throat cut (flashback) (S1, E3)
1 male stabbed on the eye with a branch (flashback) (S1, E3)
1 female repeatedly stabbed with a hunting knife, bled to death (S1, E3)
1 female knifed (dream) (S1, E6)
1 male had his head sliced in half with a mechanical trencher (S1, E7)
1 male mentioned died from a drug overdose, body seen (S1, E8)
1 male seen stabbed to death (S1, E9)
1 male disemboweled from a gut wound (S1, E10)
1 male found with a throat cut (S1, E10)
1 female shot on the head (S1,E10)
Total: 17

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Swede Hunts: Drowning Ghost (2004)

Drowning Ghost (Strandvaskaren) (Sweden, 2004)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Rebecka Hemse, Jesper SalĂ©n, Jenny Ulving

A nearly harmless saunter down familiar paths, Drowning Ghost (2004) is as standard as standard can be when it comes to being an early 2000 teen slasher, with the only variety offered is that it takes place in Sweden. And it's in Swedish. (Because it is made in Sweden. You see where I am going with this, right?)

A century ago, a vengeful local farmer murdered three students at the Hellestad boarding school before drowning himself in the nearby lake. Now as the school's legend has it, the farmer's ghost (the titular "drowning ghost" or Strandvaskaren) returns once every year on the day of his death to wander the school's halls and a grim tradition among the students is to have a party in the barn where the farmer once lived at the same day. Now if that's not troubling enough for you, an intern at the school named Rebecka also took her life a year ago, by jumping off from the school's tower in front of a gathered group of students. 

Forward to the present, Sara is one of the people who witnessed Rebecka's death and is currently researching the history behind the "drowning ghost" for her composition, two things that most likely factor her as our lead girl and will soon be stumbling unto dead friends as a masked killer has started making short rounds hacking people within campus. Could this be the farmer's ghost in the flesh? Or someone who have something to do with Rebecka's suicide?

Despite the interesting lore behind the school's unusual celebration (which awfully reminds me of Urban Legend (1998)'s Stanley Hall massacre frat party) and the movie's competent looking production value in terms of camera work and score, Drowning Ghost sadly fails to make a mystery anymore exciting than what it already is, missing out on plenty opportunities to build a more complex whodunit out of the two to three overlapping red herrings it features. Its overly simplified direction, numerous plot holes and lack of interesting characters definitely didn't help improve Ghost's recycled collection of 90s teen slasher cliches, though this isn't to say that the movie didn't have its fair share of surprises nor is it completely unwatchable.

For its worth, Drowning Ghost at least has a workable narrative run and a fine concept for its ghost story backdrop. The casts involved are okay if not a tad too serious with their performance and the featured killer looks alright with their simple sack masked get-up and fairly unexpected reveal. The murders, despite having a decent variety, could have used some more onscreen carnage or at least some blood splatter or two, but with the aim being focused more on whodunit thrills, I can somewhat understand the tameness.

Far from memorable, Drowning Ghost is simply just okay. Nothing groundbreaking or too offensive in the eyes, it's a foreign teen slasher made for sub-genre completists and/or forgiving horror fans who have the patience to sit through a predictable mystery.

1 female falls to her death
1 male had his head bashed against the wall
1 male stabbed to death
1 male decapitated with a scythe
1 female found with her head impaled to a coat hook
1 male struck on the face with a garden fork
1 male knifed on the leg, killed with an axe
1 male stabbed on the gut with a pitchfork
1 female killed offscreen
1 male skeleton found
Total: 10

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Lost Gatlin Baby: Children Of The Corn: Runaway (2018)

Children of The Corn: Runaway (2018)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Clu Gulager, Marci Miller, Mary Kathryn Bryant

I'm gonna be brutally honest; after the train wreck that is Genesis, I'm pretty sure the Children of the Corn franchise killed itself for good. And yet, here we are with a new sequel. Hurray?

In all fairness, the premise of Runaway is a lot more interesting than Genesis's feature length sit-and-talk-a-thon. With her friends and family killed under the orders of the malevolent force simply known as He Who Walks Behind The Rows, then-pregnant Ruth grew to hate the murderous child cult she became a part of and burned down the very cornfields their god resides one night before finally escaping the madness.

They're coming to get you, Ruthie~!
After spending 13 years on the road in hopes of leaving her past behind, Ruth and her now teenage son Aaron stop at a small Oklahoma town where it appears they may have a chance of living a normal life. However, with Ruth's trauma eating her up inside and fearing whatever she left back at the burnt cornfields years ago is still after her, a normal life is far from happening and someone -or something- may have finally caught up with her.

Much like Genesis, Runaway has its focus on building psychological scares instead of a kill count, so it's less of a straight cult-themed supernatural slasher and more of a character drama thriller with strong horror undertones. Thankfully, this direction surprisingly works quite well despite the slow-burn pacing and noticeable plot holes, with its rather intriguing portrayal of our titular runaway by actress Marci Miller (who also appeared in the 2015 slasher Most Likely To Die) as an individual attempting normalcy for both herself and her sons' sake but seemingly held back from doing so due to her own possible paranoia and shattered psyche. Her struggles are believably real even if the very cause is too fantastic, making Ruth humanly observable, if not relatable and empathetic at the same time.

One killer kid? Well, so long as she sheds blood right, it's all good.
Any slasher elements left in are reduced to two or three straight murder scenes involving a single killer child, while the rest of the bodycount are either Ruth's hallucinations or visions of things to come. (No straight answers were given) Any trace of the supernatural are also nearly absent, further grounding the story to realism and leading it all to a rather bleak ending that I honestly saw coming but shockingly depressing nonetheless.

Seeing this is directed by John Gulager, who is known for directing shlocky monster movies like Feast (2005) and it's sequels, as well as the dreaded Piranha 3DD (2012), I am quite surprised on how tame and story-centered this is. (I'm saying this in a good way) Given that this approach may not be for everybody, particularly those looking for a killer kid slasher flick (or something littered with blood, boobs and body parts given Gulager's filmography), I will say that Children of the Corn: Runaway is better suited for those with a penchant for the psychological. Perhaps an additional murder or two may have also earned this movie a higher rating from me but for what it is, I say it's a welcome addition to the franchise and an improvement from last Children of the Corn movie.

1 female had her throat slashed with a sickle (flashback)
1 male stabbed with a knife (hallucination)
1 male had his eyes gouged (hallucination)
1 male knifed on the back (hallucination)
1 male had his throat cut with a billhook (hallucination)
1 male brained with a croquet mallet, garroted with a metal noose
1 male repeatedly beaten with a wrench, impaled with a metal pipe
1 female found slaughtered
1 male found brained to death with a wrench
1 elderly female found dead with head wound
A number of children implied burned to death (flashback)
1 female gets a knife through the jaw, knifed to death
Total: 11+

Sunday, March 11, 2018

And They Fear The Hubby: Night-World (1972)

Author: Robert Bloch
Publication Date: 1972
Chapters: 25
Rating: ***

From the very first page, you'll read what describes a brutal murder involving a knife being stabbed into a throat. It's not overly detailed, but beautifully described in its simplicity; thus forcing me to head on and read what will be my very first non-franchise slasher novel. (Or my second if one would consider Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None as a slasher novel)

From the author of Psycho, Night-World is best summarized as a proto-slasher in book form, revolving around an asylum break-out wherein one of the five escapees happens to be very violent, evident from the four murdered staffs they left from the attack. In comes Karen Raymond, who saw the bloody aftermath and is now under the custody of the local police who questions her regarding her husband Bruce, one of the escaped nutcases. When Bruce turns out to be a disturbed Vietnam vet, he, of course, becomes the investigation's lead suspect, thus putting Karen in a terrifying dilemma and fears what would become of her and her husband should he be proven responsible for the massacre, a crime that's getting harder to disprove when the escapees start getting murdered one by one.

A relatively short affair, Night-World fattens its otherwise swift story with flowery descriptions of its characters' psyches and thoughts, most prominent being the killer's as they share to us what they believe is wrong with the world, and too Karen's whenever she contemplates about how guilty her husband really is. These mind-plays are usually huddled along with the leading investigation towards the killer's possible identity (the records were burnt during the escape) and location, toying around with the reader's expectations though, in occasion, at the cost of hobbling the story down from the overall drama.

Selected chapters are dedicated in building up the murders, some focusing solely on the victim's backstory first (if not providing witty observations of contemporary 70s culture on the side) before ending it with their demise. Details surrounding these deaths are usually written in simplicity and lacking much ferocity and bloodshed one may expect from a slasher fiction, but the imagery shaped by Bloch's writing are vivid enough to create some kind of achievable impact, may it be for suspense or violence.

Once the suspects thin down to a few familiar names, Night-World dabbles its last acts within pure thriller territory as investigators and suspects alike are roped into a twist where someone is not who they claim to be and cheesy monologuing expositions are a must. This leads to an ending that felt a bit rushed, leaving us with one character injured and another headless from an accidental decapitation after a brief brawl, but I can honestly say the book could have ended much worse and the hamminess of it all was worth a few chuckles for how theatric it is.

Though undoubtedly no classic, Robert Bloch's Night-World is a fun fast-paced read for slasher fanatics who wouldn't mind taking a simple walk down familiar roads. Its stern yet colorful wordplay built character and a sly black-hearted charm that only fair murder mysteries can muster.

Bodycount: 11
Notable Kill: A dog owner gets the surprise of his life when his beloved dobermans jump at him and maul him to death. What caused the attack is rather ingenious.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Some Clownish Twat: Clown Kill (2014)

Clown Kill (United Kingdom, 2014) (AKA "Lock In")
Rating: *1/2
Starring:  Roy Basnett, Jessica Cunningham, Stephen Greenhalgh

Apparently this movie stars Jessica Cunningham, a business woman-actress-TV Personality best known for competing at the 2016 series of The Apprentice. Seeing how little interested I am with The Apprentice or reality TV in general, this information does little to affect any feelings I have for this movie. (which is mostly discontent)

Clown Kill begins with the drugging, kidnapping and raping of our protagonist Jenny (played by Miss Cunningham in her debut movie role) by a nasty clown named "Charlie Boy" during one of her night outs. We then jump forward six months after the assault, wherein Jenny is returning to work at her publicity firm after an unspecified leave and has to finish a kit for a client within fourteen hours to make up for her absence. Now stuck inside the office after hours along with other employees and staffs, what Jenny doesn't know is that Charlie Boy found out where she works and has entered the building to depopulate it until all that is left is her. For what purpose? Well, nothing short of plain torment and psychotic tendencies, of course!

And yet, Clown Kill fails to be interesting or a worthwhile viewing; it ate up about two-thirds of its entire run sluggishly building around a possible red herring with misogynistic and unreasonably violent set of characters, leaving little reason to empathize with anyone and the gruesome kills (which is the only commendable thing I can think of from this movie) are simply there for the sake of creating a kill count. The story is near nonexistent, lacking any focus or competent level of realism, with a script so innate that continuity and variation seem to be myths within its written pages, as with good lighting and sound quality in terms of production.

Nothing really appears to work for Clown Kill in all honesty, even with all the flashy editing and camera effects. Our protagonist spends half of her time limping around drugged while her co-workers get killed, the villain is a joke in not a good way (or with any puns intended), and there's a twist ending that tries to explain everything but, for me, it fails to matter at that point of the film. No matter how many times I try to re-watch this film to get a good clear look of it as a product, the overall totality is that this is just a terrible, ugly movie, even for a slasher! I say leave this sad clown to rot in obscurity and save yourself a buck or two.

1 male had his throat cut with a knife
1 male electrocuted to death with a rigged joy buzzer
1 female killed, method unknown
1 male had his head bashed with a shovel
1 female seen with her mouth sewn shut and throat cut
1 female torso seen
1 male gets a pair of nails shoved into his eyes
1 male brained with a hammer
Total: 8

Monday, March 5, 2018

LAN Party from Hell: Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)

Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)
Rating: **
Starring: Lance Henriksen, Katheryn Winnick, Christopher Jacot

As of writing this, I saw the latest Hellraiser movie, Hellraiser: Judgement (2018), around the beginning of last February and I thought it was kinda good until the last act where they pulled this cheap monologue-fest that tries to be oh-so-philosophical but, really, all it did was bore the hell out of me.

So close, yet so far...

I remember the days when the Hellraiser franchise meant something exciting for me. When the presence of Pinhead, hell's high priest of blood and gore, and his monstrous cenobites meant gory eye candy and hellish philosophies are abound. Now, looking at our 2010 entries (Judgement and Revelations (2011)), I think it's best that we nail the coffin shut for good (or at least someone finally do that reboot) and this disappointment led to me binge-watch what I consider the good Hellraiser movies (The original 1987 movie and its first three sequels) and one guilty pleasure from the franchise to mend my wounds. You can make a wild guess what that one guilty pleasure is.

Much like all the other Hellraisers after Part IV: Bloodlines, Hellworld stands on its own continuity and takes a (rather confusing) Meta-stab at itself as Pinhead, his mutilated cohorts and the rest of the Hellraiser mythos apparently exists in this movie as a game called Hellworld which is so damn good, people will kill themselves for it. Literally.

The movie starts with one of said Hellworld fanatics, Adam, covered in small wounds, digging a hole and screaming. We then jump forward to his funeral as, it turns out, Adam burned himself to death because something in the game forced him to. His five common friends pay their respects and blame themselves (in varying degree) for the incident, all the while feeding us all the exposition we need to understand what's going and why this is a big deal. They all agree to stop playing the game to honor their late friend, but it wasn't long before they're back at it two years later, this time winning invitations for a private Hellworld party at a cryptic backwoods mansion.

There, the kids meet Lance "Pumpkinhead" Henriksen as their unnamed host, a self-proclaimed ultimate Hellworld fan who tells them that the very mansion they are at was once a convent-turned-asylum, which meant there's a spooky basement full of sharp, pointy and stabby medical tools and there are hidden rooms full of medieval-esque torture devices. (Y'know, things that are obviously gonna be used to kill these teens later) The host soon lets the kids party, but it's obvious he has plans for them. Plans involving visions of dead people, ghosts from the past, and Pinhead and his cenobites prowling around while spatting cheesy one-liners.

An interesting fact to point out is that Hellworld's script didn't start out as a Hellraiser sequel but as a short story called Dark Can't Breathe by Joel Soisson. One can only imagine that the story was re-purposed into a Hellraiser movie by adding Pinhead and company into the picture, which would explain why Hellworld is so different in execution and tone; while the Hellraiser franchise have more in common with supernatural "horror-of-the-demonic" splatterpunk or urbanized dark fantasy, Hellworld's methodical one-by-one stalk-and-kill skeleton sets itself dabbling into teen slasher territory, with added haunted house tropes and low-key psychological horror elements. As a Hellraiser movie, Hellworld undoubtedly knocked the franchise down a few years with its simplistic and cliche-battered plot, but I personally found little to argue about in the sense of seeing it as a slasher movie.

The factor that Hellworld still tries to be a Hellraiser movie did make it a rather interesting take on a common bodycounter. The supernatural aspect of the franchise is still present, taking up a good part of the scares both real and false, and there's a psychological tint in its direction which plays around with the dialogue and atmosphere, resulting to a faux-enlightened and partially surreal feel that sometimes work if it's not cheesing up some of the scenes or simply have them feel exploitative. The kills are satisfyingly messy even if they are simple, far below the usual splatter caused by chained-hooks and hellish machinations which itself is a clue within the story's little mystery as to why the Cenobites are so "tame" despite their extreme sadomasochistic nature.

The characters are mostly forgettable and underdeveloped, disappointingly true even regarding our villains who are normally the more notable bunch in a Hellraiser movie. In here, Pinhead and his cenobites simply appear, kill a teenager, say a cheesy one-liner and then disappear for ten to twenty minutes before repeating the process again. Even sadder is the fact this movie also happens to be actor Doug Bradley's last appearance as Pinhead, which is a shame seeing he played the character in all the previous seven movies with much flair and he is gradually wasted here. Lance Henriksen fills in the villain role for this entry instead as his character appears to be more in control of the situation killing our characters. (For a good reason but that's borderline spoiler territory!) Lance kinda works the part with the way he gave the character an air of mystery in his delivery and body language, sort of forgiving the matter that all he technically do here is talk like a James Bond villain.

And then there's Katheryn Winnick as our obvious Final Girl Chelsea. Not gonna say the character is one of the best Final Girls to appear in a slasher flick, but her misplaced wit (and shrieking) is pretty darn hilarious!

My copy's box claims this is Hellraiser's Most Horrific Tale and I completely disagree with that statement. (I believe Revelations deserves that title, though all for the wrong reasons) Rather, I find Hellraiser: Hellworld passable by junkfood horror standards and I really think it would have fared better if only it didn't desperately try to be a Hellraiser sequel. It's hardly scary or cosmically epic, but as a simple throwaway horror movie to pass the time, something that shouldn't be taken seriously and somewhat fun in a braindead level, there are far worse movies out there than this.

1 male burned
1 female had her throat sliced open by buzzsaws
1 male decapitated with a cleaver
1 male impaled through a meat hook
1 male gets a spike shot through his head, exits to mouth
1 female clawed her neck open, bled to death
1 male suffers through an asthma attack
1 male frightened to death
1 male sliced into pieces with chained blades
Total: 9