Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Some Killer Presents: Secret Santa (2015)

Secret Santa (2015)
Starring: Annette Wozniak, Geoff Almond, Keegan Chambers

A seasonal slasher with a comedic side, Secret Santa (2015) has the basic plot of college students (and their professor) getting together for a Secret Santa Christmas party, only to have their gifts switched with used garden tools and sharp kitchen wares by a figure in a balaclava, now prowling around the house and murdering them one by one.

It's nothing altogether new save for one or two decent twists and takes, including foreshadowing how our characters will die based on the gifts they received during the Secret Santa gift exchange, the real identity of the killer and the admittedly hilarious "two hour" long monologue as to why they're doing this. (which still made little sense at the end)  And with its short 78 minute run, Secret Santa would have been a quick yet fun little ride down to familiar bodycounting territories if only the rest of its comedy portions were as good as the gory killings.

Even though college comedies aren't my thing, I usually am able to tolerate them in a slasher set-up if the payoff is seeing these teens die a good death at the hands of a decent killer. What I cannot stomach, however, is when a joke seems to be going forever that the punchline felt watered down from the prolonged build up. Secret Santa has more than one occasion of this, which in turn have us waiting until the last 20 or so minutes to get the climactic killing spree, and it doesn't help better the good half of the cliched campus funnies this movie is trying to make work. 

Pleasingly, the kills are rewarding enough to make up for some of the dud jokes Secret Santa (2015) coughed up so I couldn't consider this film a total lost. It's definitely an effort with a small budget, one that deserves to be seen and enjoyed for the simplistic cheesy story, few genuine funnies, the overall messy slaughter and nothing else. Check it out during the holidays (or, y'know, any time you want to) if you're in the mood for a not-so-great-but-far-from-bad bodycounter.

1 female gets smothered with a pillow and a powerdrill to her eye
1 male had his throat repeatedly slashed with a knife
1 male knifed in the head
1 female ran through and disemboweled with an electric knife
1 male castrated with a pruning shear
1 female brained to death with a hairdryer
1 male decapitated with a meat cleaver
1 male stabbed in the head with a screwdriver
1 female ran through with a fire poker, bled to death
1 female knifed in the gut
1 male dismembered and decapitated with a chainsaw
Total: 11

Silent Night, Cruel Night: O'Hellige Jul! (2013)

Have Yourself a Mirthless Little Christmas~

O'Hellige Jul! (Christmas Cruelty!) (Norway, 2013)
Rating: **1/2
Starring:  Eline Aasheim, Tormod Lien, Magne Steinsvoll

When a movie starts with a family of four beaten, bound and gagged while the perpetrator rapes the mother before putting a running buzzsaw through a baby, you know this is gonna be one fucked up holiday horror.

A mean-spirited callback to the old days of artsy exploitation movies, O'Hellige Jul! follows the lives of friends Eline, Magne and Per-Ingvar as they celebrate the holiday season through festive decorations, pranks and some good ole' brewskies to the point of being shit-faced. Unknown to all of them, they're being observed by a man working at a public welfare agency who's planning to pay them a visit soon and contribute in any way he can so they don't have to worry about the New Year.

The problem with this? Well, this welfare worker and loving family man happens to be a serial killer with a brutally nasty habit of home invasion, rape and dismembering victims. As Eline and her buddies go through the Winter holidays with little to no care in the world, our killer plots his next killing spree and it isn't long before a creepy Santa costume is donned, paths are crossed and a chainsaw's teeth goes through warm flesh.

True to  O'Hellige Jul!'s English title, this movie is cruel in every sense and not just in a manner of relentless onscreen blood work; while the beginning and the end of the movie befits the slasher/splatter category well, the middle run of O'Hellige Jul! is written more as a black comedy working around the bleaker side of the holiday with an almost realistic (and at times, darkly funny) depiction of those living in the lower end of the social spectrum, mostly unpleasant folks wallowing in misery and stress over the hectic (and often costly) yearly celebration. This works quite well to the fact that our killer's normal occupation is that of someone supposed to help these people, creating an ironic yet oddly clever walking and stabbing social satire on the welfare system, though it can divide the audience as this chunk of the story can get really slow with its pacing, and attempts to build character and tone can lead almost unwatchable obnoxiousness.

The exploitative portions, thankfully, deliver the best bits of the movie, holding little to no restraint when it comes to grue and unsettling scenarios despite the low budget effects. It's not one for the squeamish, pulling no punches when it comes to taboo subjects such as assault, infanticide and random acts of violence, but lovers of dark and gritty cinema certainly will find something to like about this movie, particularly the last third of O'Hellige Jul! where the savagery is at its worst and the final product is foreseen bleak, thus a very welcome payoff to a slow middle act.

Less of your paint-by-number slasher horror and more of a gore-filled grindhouse grit,  O'Hellige Jul! is a film that pushes the boundaries of shock value and explores the more realistic array of cinematic scares on the side. It is no mean a masterpiece as a holiday horror flick considering the, again, long and slow middle run, but I do appreciate the efforts the filmmakers made to put something daring and strangely natural on a horror film. With its cast of amateur actors giving the film an air of near fidelity, O'Hellige Jul! definitely has the potential to be better with a bigger budget or slicker direction, but for what we have now, I recommend this title only to those with a strong stomach and a love for good underground shlock.

1 baby sliced through with a buzzsaw
2 males and 2 females presumably murdered offcamera
1 male brained to death with a hammer
1 male decapitated with a machete
1 female knifed to death
1 female dismembered with a chainsaw
1 male dismembered and eviscerated with a chainsaw
Total: 10

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Cranky like a Krampus: 12 Deaths of Christmas (2017)

12 Deaths of Christmas (United Kingdom, 2017) (AKA "Mother Krampus")
Rating: *1/2
Starring:  Claire-Maria Fox, Faye Goodwin, Tony Manders

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) meets Darkness Falls (2003) set during the Christmas holiday. Do I really need to say more about this underwhelming lump of coal?

Well, if I do leave it at that, one might think this is a good movie, which it isn't. Not by a long shot. So if I need to (*sobs*), it starts with a exposition narration telling us about some gruesome child murders in 1921 at an English town called Belgrave, which happens again 71 years later. Superstitious folks blame these deaths on a witch named Frau Perchta, while the more capital punishment-ready townfolk pins the crime to a local pagan named Molly Fletcher who, after getting captured and whilst being hanged, cursed those responsible for her death a grislier end through the hands of Perchta.

Twenty-Five years later, we follow a young girl named Amy, whose parents are going through a nasty break-up after dad cheated on mum with a younger woman. Amy's mother struggles to keep things chipper, especially seeing it's near Christmas, but her efforts aren't fairing any better with her own father's drinking problems and the sudden (and unwelcome) appearance of one of grampa's old acquaintances.

As you would have it, grampa's friend is there to tell him that a new string of child disappearances starts to plague Belgrave and it seems that the victims are the kids of those who were hexed by Molly back at 1992. Making matters worse is that our culprit isn't satisfied with just snagging kids away in potato sacks (I'm not joking) but is also mutilating any adults that get in her way. This transitions from a couple of nasty onscreen slaughterings and offscreen kidnappings to Amy's very uneasy family Christmas vacation at Grampa's backwoods cabin when papa arrives with his new girlfriend. Perchta eventually shows up at the cabin that afternoon, thankfully cutting short one awkward so-and-so family drama, and all means of bloody dismemberment and twist reveals broke loose upon our hapless family. And a mistress.

Repackaged within the US as "Mother Krampus" to cash-in to the success of Krampus (2015), 12 Deaths of Christmas has a wee bit of a potential to be a good slasher movie seeing it is drawing inspiration from the Frau Perchta folklore, which says that the European witch (or pagan goddess, depending to whoever you address this to) would slit the bellies of misbehaved children open to remove their guts before stuffing the hole with straw and pebbles. (All the while leaving small silver coins in a shoe or pail owned by good lil' kinders. Fair contrast?) On a level, it does succeed on grabbing my attention with some decent kill scenes done in passable practical effects, but the story itself just felt cluttered to no end with its unbalanced cheese and shoddy writing, which is saying a lot considering I usually have no quarrels with that. I guess the movie's attempts to do in serious family drama to what's practically a low-budget I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) clone clashes horribly with its lack of better actors, proper pacing and a more solid direction, 12 Deaths of Christmas felt nothing special in the end and probably pushed itself back into low brow and awkward obscurity.

Add the matter that the last half of the movie hardly built any tension considering how much it stalled our characters (and us) to their own deaths by having them repeatedly survive whatever our villainess throws at them before finally biting the big one, 12 Deaths of Christmas (2017) just didn't cut it for me in the end. Microbudget movies are, again, no problem for me so long as they try to do something a tad more memorable than copy and paste plot points from better movies. (Apart from the aforementioned Elm Street and Last Summer, they also threw in some Candyman (1992) in there for some reason...) You could say I could love it for the gore, but I can't bring myself to be that shallow so, no. This is 12 Deaths I have no problem ignoring each festive season to pass after.

(Or was that 13 deaths? Lemme look at my bodycount real quick...)

1 girl mentioned died from injuries sustained from an attack
5 children mentioned dead from throat cuts
1 female disemboweled and had Christmas lights sewn into her gut
1 female stabbed in the back with a machete, hanged (flashback)
1 female stabbed on the back with a machete and a cookie cutter, disemboweled
1 female stabbed on the throat with a machete, slaughtered with an electric knife
1 female axed on the throat
1 male had his hear clawed out
1 female had her throat slashed through with an axe
Total: 13

Sunday, December 16, 2018

So I saw Into The Spider-Verse...

I came for this.

One of the best Spider-Man movies EVUH!

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Bad Building: Paradise Villa (2001)

Paradise Villa (South Korea, 2001)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Han-jun Jo, You-Mi Ha, Hak-cheol Kim

On a regular basis, a slasher movie mostly revolves around a certain group of people (mostly teenagers) either going somewhere remote or getting caught in a situation that have them hunted down by a killer. Paradise Villa (2001) is an example of the latter, with the situation in question being the unstable wrath of an obsessed gamer. (Yep, a slasher movie with a lean and awkward geeky gamer as the killer. Better jot that one down in my list of odd slasher villain choices...)

The movie starts tediously as we watch our gamer play his online role-playing game and starts to lose his shit when someone under the username "Viagra" (interesting pick?) hacked into his account and stole his in-game items. We then shift our attention to the titular villa as most of its residents enjoy a day either by themselves or with company watching a soccer game, while some go about their own little businesses, may it be selling water purifiers or having an affair behind their spouse's back. It isn't long before our distraught gamer simply strolls into the picture, looking around the residence asking random people if they're the thieving "Viagra" before going knife-crazy on them.

What I like about Paradise Villa is that it breaks the usual slasher film mold with its intertwined anthology direction, introducing us to a collection of troublesome yet intriguing set-ups concerning multiple characters, may it be an individual or a set of them. This would have help build the anticipation of getting to see these men and women deservedly snuffed out as a lot of them were written out to have a level of malice and rudeness to them and, for some, they do quite so satisfyingly once our killer rears his ugly head in. But this also meant that we get to see a lot of their ugly sides which really bummed the film down for lacking any likable characters. At all.

Curiously, one of the situations that the movie really got to focus on involves an affair gone brutally and messily wrong and this runs along our geeky slasher's bloody killing spree as the secondary murder plot brewing within the building, pacing about half of the movie's entirety. It's personally an interesting move for this slasher and one that I really wished they focused on instead story-wise since the misadventures of our murderous gamer, while still having some exceptional murder set-pieces here and there, gets old pretty fast thanks to his shallow murder motive and the very matter that he's as disgusting as he is annoyingly whiny. (Apparently he's into corpses. Eww.)

This isn't the biggest drawback for me, however, but rather it's the way the movie ended. Which it simply just did. There's no real resolution. No onscreen consequences. No actual direction. We're just left to watch our killer, seemingly snapping back to his senses after seeing a murder he didn't commit, walk away. Now, I understand Paradise Villa is unconventional but I kinda expected more than just a killer wussing out after all of the murders (and one necrophiliac rape) he committed, possibly cheating us out of a satisfying conclusion, but someone within the production thought otherwise and we're left with whatever the hell this movie considered an ending.

Paradise Villa (2001) looked like it was going to be a unique experience as a slasher flick, mostly resembling a character study clashing with bodycount horror. The production itself looks confident enough to pull it off with its decent actors, occasional good writing and a steady-paced bodycount with passable gore effects, just wished they could have thrown in some more considerably likable characters to even out the unbearable ones, as well as make up their mind whether they wanted the movie as a serious horror thriller or a cheeky black comedy as the unevenness of the tone can be felt throughout. It may be a mess, but it's a beautifully strange mess that's perhaps perfect for those who likes their slasher horror out of the norm once in a while.

1 male brained with a barbell
1 female knifed to death
1 male bludgeoned to death whilst suffering through a heart attack
1 female beaten to death with a brick
1 female strangled to death
1 male knifed in the neck
1 male found murdered
Total: 7

Friday, December 7, 2018

My Holiday Wish List 2018

And here we are again for another December. It's been a while since I did one of these but, continuing a nearly sort-of tradition for this blog, here be my Holiday wish list for this year. Please don't be weirded out by some of the entries. I am a nerd of multiple (and sometimes, unfocused) interest!

Campfire by Shawn Sarles- After a rather entertaining time reading and finishing There's Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins, I think I'm ready for another slasher novel and this looks like a decent looking fork on the road.

POP Plush: Monsters- Mulch- I mean, why not? It's an adorable huggable wittle monster plushie. Not too cartoony and rather simple in design, it's definitely something that matches my taste for monster toys.
Funko Pop! Dilophosaurus- Particularly the frilled version. Something to remember by one of the most memorable movie monsters from my childhood...even though I occasionally re-watch Jurassic Park (1993) for giggle's sake and always loving this animal's scene with Dennis Nedrey!

 Amiibo Splatoon 2 Pearl and/or Marina- Coz popstar cephalopod idols.

This awesome walking chair! 
(lol joke)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Bloody Mary Cocktails for Satan's Cults: Blood Symbol (1992)

Blood Symbol (Canada, 1992)
Rating: **1/2
Starring:  Micheline Richard, Trilby Jeeves, Anne-Marie Leduc

For perhaps a lot of us, Maurice Devereaux is a name to remember as the indie director of new age slasher cult classics $LA$HER$ (2001) and End of The Line (2008), energetic and imaginatively wild jabs on the bodycounting sub-genre with the prior darkly parodying reality game shows while the latter pits its characters (and what looks like the rest of the world) against a religious foundation on a killing spree in the name of salvation. With such big ideas for a what's basically popcorn horror, it kinda catches me off guard to see a rather simplistic murder mystery such as this from him.

Originally started filming back at 1984 and only to be shelved through the years until the early 90s (when most slasher movies were dying out temporarily), Blood Symbol follows Tracy Walker (Micheline Richard), a college girl who's currently having nightmares involving a disfigured figure in black, something which appears to starts weaving into reality when the same black garbed man begins to stalk her in campus. Tracy, fearing her safety, does what any early 90s horror heroine would do in an odd situation like this and decides to look up some of the strange images from her nightmares at the campus library, where she uncovers a history of Satanism and human sacrifices throughout the late nineteenth century. Not long then after, the stalking gets worse, and not only is the figure in black now also going after Tracy's friends, but they're starting to close in on our hapless protagonist.

Much like the case of a particular late 80s movie titled Blood Cult (1985), Blood Symbol is only part slasher movie with the rest being more reminiscent of a horror thriller, specifically of the religious cult type. There's a fair focus on amateur sleuthing and plot-building talking, leaving many of its horror sequences to black-and-white nightmares, decent looking stalking scenes and, whenever there's a need for it, a few good deaths that stay true to the Satanic human sacrifice plot. Not relatively bad, but some of the casts do show a level of amateurish acting (and what looks like some dubbed lines) which often hurts the effectiveness of the plot's own mystery, so Blood Symbol does have its slow tedious moments and variable performances. The killer doesn't look too bad neither, coming across like a heavily-scarred Italian giallo villain with their shades and black gloves, so I also find it kinda disappointing that the most this villain did was simply stalk and loom over our protagonist like a creep, racking up very little in the killcount.

There's nothing much to say else about Blood Symbol apart that it does show itself as Deveraux's earliest work. There's style to it and the plot is decent for its simplicity, but these efforts can be easily overlooked for just how stale the rest of the production is and how unexciting it can be at times. Not the best there is for what it is trying to be, but if you see yourself as a completist of all things related to slashers, then this could be worth a single viewing and no more.

1 female had her throat cut with a dagger
1 female had her throat cut with a dagger, jabbed with a stake
1 female had her throat cut with a dagger
1 female killed offscreen
Total: 4