Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Creaky and The Bookie: The Haunted House of Horror (1969)

The Haunted House of Horror (United Kingdom, 1969) (AKA "Horror House", "The Dark")
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Frankie Avalon, Jill Haworth, Dennis Price

Despite it's title indicating a specter-infested household, this Swinging 60s UK horror has little to do with the supernatural and more inclined to carbon-copying a Hitchcokian thriller to an extent.

We follow a group of young partygoers as they, to get some thrill out of the evening, boogie the night away at a remote and supposedly haunted mansion where a crazed maniac hacked his family to death twenty something years ago. The place's history eventually sparked an interest within the group's macabre side so out comes a seance session and down goes one of them, hacked to death by a kukri-wielding psycho after they split up to explore the mansion.

After finding the body, our friends dread the idea of getting the police involved (despite some protests that they should) as some of them already have records and decide to hide the body and lie about the murder when the disappearance becomes very noticeable. It isn't long before the group's unofficial leader, Chris, tries to play detective as he suspects one of them's responsible, but just how well is this gonna end up when the red herrings are everywhere and the bodycount's rising?

A low-key forerunner to your classic teen slasher, The Haunted House of Horror (or Horror House under some releases) integrates the go-go phase of vintage London with a cheesy yet considerably atmospheric whodunit murder mystery, chucking wooden acting from the likes of a miscast then-teen star/singer Frankie Avalon and a couple of brutal blood-soaked murders. As its direction is more centered on building a mystery, the story can get very slow as we hobble from one police procedural to another, all the while our gang of brightly-clothed 20 somethings squabble over either the identity of the killer (who some suspect to be one of them) or whether keeping the murder on such a low-profile is a good idea or not.

The thing about Haunted House of Horror is that can get considerably atmospheric, interesting even the more it dwells into the identity of our murderer and the panic our little gang is boiling in, but there are a couple of moments where the film can be a mess due to its troubled production, resulting to some continuity errors and post-filming bits involving dumb cops and side-plots involving a stalker being re-shoot and edited into the movie, making the final result barely recognizable from what was originally a more established and focused psychodrama/murder mystery hybrid. As a written and directed debut feature by Michael Armstrong who would later do the notorious cult fave Mark of The Devil (1970), I honestly would like to see how crazed up this film could have been if it was left alone, but I will admit that the killer here was hidden pretty well, though I do wish they could have at least made a better motive for their killings and gave them a better resolution after all of that waiting and talking we have to endure.

It really adds little to what one would expect to get from a 60s psychothriller, but for some people such as myself, this kind of simplicty can be enough to warrant some sort of entertainment. Despite how shoddy the end result is, Haunted House of Horror isn't unwatchable and I might even consider this as a guilty pleasure to just how hard it looks to be attempting to be this smart and bloody horror mystery, even if said horror is few and far in between. It's beautifully shot, I will give the movie that, especially around the interiors of the titular "haunted house" with its gorgeous lighting and Gothic aesthetics. The limping bodies rolling around as they get hacked around also gave what little murder scenes this film have that slice of brutality that's kinda welcome to a very procedural plotting such as this.

Still, it's hard to recommend Haunted House of Horror knowing how much of a missed opportunity this film is, but I'm not going to stop anybody willing to try this seminal dead teenager prototype. If you fancy yourself a cheesy horror movie with 60s swingers getting lopped around with a strikingly bloody blade, then this is a good little title to start with before going treating yourself with the real big guns!

1 male hacked to death with a kukri
1 male stabbed in the back with a kukri
1 male hacked to death with a kukri
Total: 3

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Anatomically Deadly: Anatomy (2000)

Anatomy (Anatomie) (Germany, 2000) 
Rating: ***1/2
Starring:  Franka Potente, Benno Fürmann, Anna Loos

Thanks to Wes Craven's 1996 hit Scream, the late 90s and early 2000s saw the return of slashers from a momentary lapse that started around the late 80s, unleashing a plethora of teen oriented bodycounters not only within the good US of A but also at an international scale with Germany among many European countries to cash in to the hype.

One of its entries follows an aspiring medical student named Paula (Franka Potente) as she gets offered a course at Heidelberg under the wing of a famous professor she greatly admires. But things isn't going to be as peachy as she hope it'll when one of her fellow students suddenly went missing at a party one night, only to reappear as a body for dissection in one of her class. 

Rightfully disturbed from what she just witnessed, Paula investigates the body and finds clues indicating this being the work of a secret Anti-Hippocratic society dedicated to doing ungodly experiments on live victims. As she further looks into this suspected underground circle, however, a shadowy pair is kidnapping and killing students from Paula's class and it isn't long before our heroine becomes their next target.

Albeit featuring your classic slasher cliches of sex and death, stalking murderers and the typical empowered final girl, Anatomy sets itself quite differently from your standard gore-filled hack 'n slash as it centers more on building its mystery rather than the number of bodies to be minced down. If anything, the film plays more like a medical crime thriller reminiscent of similarly themed films like Coma (1978) where shady organizations work behind the guise of well-meaning doctors and experts only, in here, we have your classic teen horror casts stepping in the place of hardworking adults, most of them partying, drinking and canoodling one another when not working on honing their medical skills, while others investigate an underground organization of mad doctors.

The movie's little mystery was workable for the times it was the focus, chucking in some obvious yet entertaining red herrings to throw us off but it basically resolves itself halfway into the run when two introduced characters are revealed to be our culprits, members of the very same secret society our lead girl is looking into. This revelation may feel too early for some, but I digress since it may as well have done the story some good in terms of direction as it tightened the intensity of the next plot half now that we are aware who's behind the disappearances and all we can do now is wait how long before our heroine catches up to them, in turn boiling down to a paradigm slasher finale with your typical stalk and chase action and more bodycounting to boot for the more "horror-inclined" viewers.

What it lacks in free-flowing blood-work and sizable bodycount, Anatomy makes up with shocking visuals with its "signature killings" being tortuously slow vivisection sessions. Most of the action to these kills are done offscreen, but the "less is more"saying goes hand-in-hand to these scenes as we get to see, if not the aftermath of the horrific things our killers have done to their victims, but also the painful and nerve-wrecking reactions of some of these poor souls as their insides gets removed one by one. Further adding to the macabre nature of these kills is the fact that the school has these artistically bisected and preserved bodies on display for all to see, which now begs the question how many of these work of art were originally kidnapped people?

Done under a fairly substantial budget, Anatomy pretty much got it made as a sleek-looking and beautifully shot teen thriller with a good script and talented set of casts, Potente and Germany's own Benno Fürmann working well as determined leads. It's shifty direction, slow middle act and near-dryness may not cater to slasher fans who like their bodycounters simple, quick and messy, but its unique blend of Euro-thriller and Americanized slasher tropes should warrant the attention of genre fans who can appreciate the hodge-podged blurred lines this movie created for the sake of a fun and interesting story. A fine, if not great example of an early 2000 slasher/thriller that deserves to be seen, especially if you're not dead afraid of hospitals and live dissections.

1 male vivisected
1 male stabbed in the back with a scalpel
1 male had his throat cut
1 elderly male implied dead from old age
1 male had his throat cut with a scalpel, slashed to death
1 female found vivisected and preserved
1 male succumbs to injected poison
1 male strikes a live cable with a scalpel and electrocuted, stabbed
Total: 8

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Here we go again, Mikey!

So it looks like Blumhouse will be releasing Halloween (2018) later this year and, by far, it looks...passable.

So much like the case of Halloween H20 (1998), Halloween (2018) will be ignoring the continuities set up by prior sequels and will be a direct sequel to the original, with Michael not only surviving being shot six times but also apprehended by the cops at the very night he came home. The film will then take place 40 years later, with Laurie Strode (played again by Jamie Lee Curtis) being a badass grandma who's been training herself for the night Michael returns which, of course, we all know has to happen.

On one hand, I am pretty excited to see one of my childhood monsters back in the big screen hacking up teenagers and other unfortunates but I can't help but feel worried. One of the franchises I know that does this kind of "continuity hopping" is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series and, seeing the line up of films they've made throughout the years, the results are more or less... varying. Then again, it's not like the Halloween franchise didn't have its own personal collection of duds (Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989), Rob Zombie's Halloween II (2010) and that overrated Halloween H20. I'm serious'about the latter) so I guess I should keep my hype low. Real low.

Here's hoping for a triumphant return, Son of Samhain! Just wished this movie got a little more creative with its title. I mean, seriously? Halloween (2018)? That'll be confusing conversation-wise...

Baby-Face And The Robertson Family: Star Time (1992)

Star Time (1992)
Starring: John P. Ryan, Michael St. Gerard, Maureen Teefy

Looking at this movie's VHS box, one cannot help assume Star Time is going to be an obscure early 90s slasher featuring an admittedly creepy looking baby-masked killer. As producer-writer-director Alexander Cassini have it though, this is going to be anything but a straight bodycounter.

Disturbed TV fanatic Henry Pinkle (Michael St. Gerard) decided to end his life one night after finding out his favorite TV sitcom The Robertson Family got cancelled, but gets a change of heart when a mysterious old TV veteran Sam Bones (John P. Ryan) talked him out of it. Promising TV stardom should Henry be determined enough to do what is needed to be done, Sam have him express his emotion through "art", which in turn involves a  half-face baby mask, a hatchet ad breaking into people's homes to murder them. In short, Sam turned Henry into a serial killer for reasons that sum up to, well, nobody really knows.

Caught in this madness is Henry's social worker Wendy (Maureen Teefy) who at first assumed she messed it up after receiving a videotape of Henry informing her of his suicide, but later learns he is not only alive and well, but also "working" at a studio for a personal "manager". Intrigued by this, as well as worried for Henry, she went on to look further into his new job only to find something's amiss and it's not too long before she discovers the bloody trails of hacked-up bodies and who could be what the media dub as "The Baby Mask Killer".

Developed from a 30-minute short made at the American Film Institute, Star Time is pretty ambitious for what it is. Mostly a neo-noir satire of television stardom and the lengths of some people would go just to get their 15 minutes of fame, it's very light in violence despite having some slasher tropes thrown in from the side, focusing strongly instead on Henry and the strangely macabre dilemma he got himself into, thus making this film closer to an art house drama suspenser. It works well enough with actors Gerard and Ryan's often paired performances as a broken and gullible psycho and a mysterious yet obviously demented mastermind respectively, weaved strongly along the movie's disjointed and nightmarish direction that hammers down its overall tone as a weird yet philosophically honest dark parable, but its upmost interesting strength lies within the fact that nothing is ever assured.

As Star Time strongly suggests that it mostly takes place within our psycho's perspective, a lot of the oddly placed jump cuts to flashbacks and a few creepy imagery were never made clear whether it happened for real or if it was all in Henry's head, this including most of the first half wherein it slowly burns and preps Henry up for his debut performance. Visual set-pieces including a room full of TV screens that enlightens Henry into murder work a level of eeriness despite the obvious low-budget put to these bits and a good bulk of the scripting from this half are even hammed a bit or two in a probable attempt to reflect Henry's TV obsession and lack of his own certainty as a person, resulting to an out-of-place cheesiness that does nothing but unsettle knowing the state of mind that may have created these scenes. The creepiness of this direction, though, falters a bit once our caring social worker ultimately gets roped in at the second half. While we have moments questioning the believably of a couple of scenes (Like Henry seen lying fully nude on the floor next to a sleeping Wendy. Did that really happen?), the fact that it now has an outsider looking into Henry's reality should warrant better dread, intrigue and scares as said outsider may become a potential victim.

This, of course, was the case for a good while with Wendy trying to rationalize the situation to the best of her understanding, but one would expect she'll react more differently once she saw the freshly hacked corpse of a woman in an apartment Henry has access to. In all things fair, she did suspect Henry at first, but horror cliches are abound and we get to spend a bulk of the climax of her being persuaded that somebody else apart from Henry is after her and doing murder, thus leading us to this movie's cat-and-mouse chase and remarkably dumb moment. Things, gratefully, went on full circle as Henry finds himself atop a building again, now donning his mask and in for the kill, his psyche completely gone loony. Its around this finale 'where we get some depressing implications to what we may have suspected all along, again presented to us in an artistically macabre manner with a message to boot.

At most, Star Time is an odd duck that plays its stream-of-consciousness plotting that definitely delivers, whether it works in your favor or not. Personally, the only other thing I wish this movie did is show at least some onscreen violence, especially since it is more or less preaching the dangers of fame and the terrible effects of obsession, whatever it may be. It would honestly be a far darker and effectively more memorable film with the shock value it could have provided by doing so but, with what we have right now, I guess the "did-he-did-he-not" ambiguity could work just as fine. Not entirely the best example of a psycho-drama but its obscurity should entice hardcore collectors and those who have an eye for strange cinema.

1 male hacked with a hatchet, murdered offcamera
14 or 15 victims mentioned murdered
1 female found hacked to death
3 males found hacked to death
1 male falls off a building, left for dead (?)
Total: 20 or 21 (?)

Friday, June 8, 2018

Behind The Walls. Beneath the Floors: The Unseen (1980)

The Unseen (1980)
Rating: ***
Starring: Stephen Furst, Barbara Bach, Sydney Lassick

Taking a bit of a break from her abusive footballer boyfriend, TV reporter Jennifer Fast (Barbara Bach) takes off with her two journalist friends to cover a Danish festival at some random Californian town. Much to their inconvenience, however, the festivities drew enough attention to overbook local hotels but a seemingly kind museum owner offers them a stay at his own now-closed Gothic hotel at the edge of the town where he lives with his wife. What he doesn't let on, though, is that something resides underneath the floors and basement of the house. Something unseen until it is too late...

On occasions, when the wind is right, my head is screwed tight and my bullshit-o-meter isn't running at max, I can be very forgiving when it comes to genre films so long as a certain title is entertaining in its own special way. Take The Unseen for instance; it's not the bloodiest slasher title to be released and the story is pretty much Psycho (1960) with a slightly sleazier Hitchcockian feel and a modest bodycount, but the oddly twisted yet simplistic story honestly works for me, balancing between our likable would-be victims and their seemingly disturbed hosts with soap opera quality direction and scripting, all the while treating us with some workable suspense and, frankly, some decent murder set-pieces that didn't rely much on onscreen gore.

I guess the very reason why this film failed to most people's eyes is that while most of the positive notes can be found at the first half of the film, the second half threw a strange curveball that none expected and little are too happy about. Without giving away much, the titular unseen is finally, well, seen and it's barely threatening (pathetic even), leading us to a payoff that pretty much have us watching what's practically a giant toddler terrorizing an unwilling babysitter. Another villain does take its place in the form of Sydney Lassick's character who, in the midst of the story, turns out to be pretty scummy and off his rockers for his scandalous relationship with his "wife" and ultimately ends the former threat with much mushiness as Old Yeller's death before going hatchet happy on our Bach final girl.

The pacing for this last act can get tedious for those expecting a bit much from the twist, but I somehow find catering to my level of strangeness thus I didn't really mind the giant tub of man-child scenes, especially when Bach does a decent understandably frightened victim and the stalk-and-hunt that follows it aren't all that bad. In the end, The Unseen wraps up nicely with a bloody death and a bitter final shot, closing an uneven yet still decent horror movie that oneself earnestly appreciate.

True, it's far from being a hidden gem for most people and I perfectly understand their views of this film being underwhelming, but I think The Unseen still delivers what could as a slasher flick and it at least tried to offer something a bit different and creepier for its twist. May it work on your favor or not, one can at least agree this film is worth a rental or two.

1 female had her head caught on a floor grate, implied crushed
1 male body seen with a knife in its throat
1 female had her face repeatedly smashed against floor grate
1 male gets a boarded nail against his temple
1 male shot with a shotgun
Total: 5

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Patchwork Nightmare: The Cinderella (2011)

The Cinderella (Nang Phi) (Thailand, 2011)
Rating: ***
Starring: Victoria Coates, Pattaranan Deeratsamee, Wasit Pongsopha

I think I best remember Thailand for three slasher movies so far: the Final Destination-inspired killer phone number bodycounter 999-999999 (2002), the cheesy is-it-supernatural-or-not-slasher fare Scared (2005) and the kinda-metaphorical surrealist horror flick Sick Nurses (2007). Perhaps it's a fad or even a part of the culture, but I kinda notice how all of these have that little peck of supernatural taste to them so it came little to no surprise for me that this little addition to my fairly fun collection of Thai-slashers dabbles with the powers from the beyond.

We start the film with a very popular hunk getting hounded by girls as he leaves for a date. Things were going normally as any dates would be until the guy drugs his romantic partner and ties her on a bed next to the rotting corpse of his sister. Turn out the dude's into rituals and he's planning to sacrifice her to make a resurrection spell work, but just before he could... he couldn't. Not with the paid actors doing a better job acting than he is.

Turns out the whole opening is nothing but a film shoot and our lead guy, Rashane, isn't exactly well-known for having a great personality, but everybody basically tolerates his big ego as his star power is more or less the reason the main producers are backing up the movie. But when a work hazard results to Rashane getting shot in the eye with a crossbow and ran down dead by a van, the big wigs behind the film decided to give a young co-star named Warut a chance to play the main role and, with the help of a mysterious acting coach whose methods include hypnotism (?!), he manages not only to nail it but also outdo Rashane as a star.

This, though, isn't sitting well with Rashane's occultist mother. Seeking vengeance against the people who in her mind tainted her son's good name, she revives Rashane using ancient dark magic and have him hunt and murder the staffs and cast one by one at the boutique resort where the filming is taking place.

Borderlining between torture porn and supernatural zombie slasher, The Cinderella comfortably dabbles with black magic and gory bodycount when not attempting to satirize the filming business with extremely obnoxious actors, overly superstitious family members of said actors and experimental acting coaches. It's nothing too deep or clever, not with its quick pacing killing off what little extra characterization from the casts and further plot thickening it could have gone through, the movie instead cheeses its way through its unconventional dilemma before unleashing a rather strange looking slasher committing equally strange and (often torturous) murders. With this, the story is pretty simple despite the crazy premise and hammy scripting, but the extremely graphic slayings to come later may cater well for those looking for a strange yet simple slasher about something that basically looks like Silence of The Lamb's Buffallo Bill's skin suit brought to life. There's a somewhat decent explanation to why our killer ended up looking like this (apart from the part he got mangled in that fatefully deserving car crash) which ties nicely to a surprise reveal and twist that are, again like the rest of the movie, coated with as much ham and cheese as it can allow.

Goofy fun and stomach-churningly graphic, The Cinderella's "seen it, done that" level of story telling may sit well for some audience, but for those who are looking for something a tad better than just another torture porn/slasher hybrid may just easily pass this off in a heartbeat. Personally, I enjoyed this little number for some genuine laughs and satisfying my little bloodlust for gory torture and onscreen deaths, but it offers very little else apart from a good twist so I find it as nothing else but a fine guilty pleasure I may get around seeing again once in a while.

1 female corpse seen (film)
1 male shot in the eye with a crossbow and ran over by a car
1 male had his skullcap sliced open with a bonesaw
1 male gets a billhook through his head
1 male had his back flayed and salted, killed
2 males found murdered
1 female had her silicones cut out from her chest with a scalpel
1 male shot with a crossbow
1 male stabbed in the chest with an arrow
Total: 10