Monday, February 25, 2019

Today I Saw Alita- Battle Angel...

And, despite knowing very little about the manga and anime series it is based on, I think I found another movie franchise that I'm willing to follow through until the end! Can't wait for the next entry!

Play The Game and Say His Name: Knucklebones (2016)

Knucklebones (2016)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Julin, Tom Zembrod, Katie Bosacki

I am a simple man. Give me a slasher with an interesting villain, some good practical grue and a pace that doesn't sleep me into oblivion, like the movie to be covered here, and I am happy. Shallow happiness, maybe, but regardless.

Our B-flick gore-a-thon starts with a brief dabble with Nazi occultism as we watch a scientist conducting a summoning with a scantily clad babe and a couple of guards for the fuhrer's cause in 1944 Germany. But as you would expect, the summoning proves to be a little too much for Hitler's underlings and the conjured demon, the titular Knucklebones, wastes no time picking them off one by one. Cut forward to 1976 Texas, where we watch a lady working at a sweatshop suddenly starts breaking apart before a massacre happens offcamera, leaving only a young boy alive to witness the bodycount and the creature responsible for it.

Now in comes flashforward number two, taking place forty years later (or, y'know, the present) and shifting focus to one lovestruck teenager Lisa Avery (Julin) getting the bad end of a relationship when her fiance decided to split, a news too much for her delicate self to handle so she attempted suicide. Lisa survives and now copes with the depression by joining her friends for a late night ghost hunt in an abandoned building that used to be the same sweatshop where the 1976 killings happened. (I guess a regular beer run is out of the question that day?)

But instead of spooky specters, the gang instead finds a box full of Nazi gear and a small chest containing summoning stones made from 2,000 year old human knuckle bones, along some cryptic paper describing how to summon a demon using an ancient dice game. Thinking it's all malarkey, they play the game and unwittingly summons Knucklebones back into the mortal world once again, ready for another night of slayings. 

A melting pot of Friday the 13th hack-and-stab and A Nightmare of Elm Street supernatural wisecracking villainy, Knucklebones is a movie made with the late 80s generic, hole filled and cheese tainted slasher plot in mind, something we've definitely have taken a stroll down before from attractive looking casts with the inability to deliver dialogue and needless T&A just for the sake of butt shots, to retreads of cliched teens behaving stupid choices. (playing with an obscure game that obviously reeks of evil, splitting up after seeing your friends get murdered, going back to save that one guy who's dumb or noble enough to fend off the killer to give you the time to escape, those lil' jigs) It's undoubtedly one of the more standardized slashers that abides the dead teenager rules to the tee, but it is also manic enough to be passable for the kills and creative insanity it managed to work with despite its low production.

The movie has a filmic quality to its picture and its pacing doesn't skimp much, always leading to something interesting or unexpected to actually keep the flow going. It's climax is also an odd yet enthralling twist on your usual girl vs monster showdown, leading to a slightly unforeseen dark turn of an ending. Our villain, Knucklebones, has his moments of brutally originality with his murders, though a few of them seems to be butt-related including a callback to that tent sex double-murder from Jason Goes to Hell (1993). He has quite a personality with his terrible one-liners, often coming out as cocky and cruel as most Freddy Krueger clones tend to be, but I do dig his skeletal revenant design which is quite fitting to the skeletal motif of the ritual used to summon him and how he manifests himself into the mortal world which gleefully doubles as a kill.

If you are looking for a smarter slasher, then I will not deny this movie isn't going to be for you. No, this is a movie made for the fans of bare plotting with high gore. If you have an open mind, however, or just ready to switch off for the night for some macabre cheese that's so feisty its gouda, then why not try out Knucklebones (2016) for that splatter-happy good time?

1 female killed, blood splash seen
1 male beaten with a rifle
1 male strangled and decapitated with a rifle's strap
1 male had his face beaten off with a rifle
1 female shot point blank on the face with a rifle
1 female mangled apart
1 victim killed, hand seen
1 male seen disemboweled
1 female seen murdered, method unknown
1 victim seen decapitated
1 victims seen mangled and stuffed inside a locker
1 male and 1 female seen murdered, covered in wounds
1 male seen dead with a back wound
1 female mangled apart
1 male gets a chainsaw shoved between his legs
1 female slips and impaled through the neck on a steel rod
1 male castrated during coitus with a limb cutter
1 female sliced in half during coitus with a limb cutter
1 male gets blow-torched on the face
1 male had his head split in half with an axe
1 male ran through with a machete
1 male found dead with a throat cut
1 male mangled apart
1 female skewered through with a thrown broom
Total: 25

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Spinal Tap: Exquisite Tenderness (1995)

Exquisite Tenderness (1995) (AKA "The Surgeon", "Clinic")
Rating: ***
Starring:  Isabel Glasser, James Remar, Sean Haberle

Exquisite Tenderness. You can either expect an Italian giallo thriller or an erotica with a title like that, but a slasher flick? Hurm...

After a crisp black-and-white opening featuring a 1950s boy witnessing a doctor bloodily botching a surgery, the movie makes its way around its next 20 or so minutes something like a medical thriller, with junior doctor Theresa McCann (NYPD Blue's Isabel Glasser) witnessing fellow doctor Roger Stein (the ever genre-friendly Malcolm McDowell) conduct an experiment on a wild baboon for some drugs he is developing to substitute kidney dialysis. The animal, however, goes crazy before collapsing dead, which should be a clear indication that the drug isn't ready for any use.

Stein, though, says otherwise as he plans on administering the drug to human patients, much to Theresa's shock. She manages to prevent this, saving one of the patients who's in critical condition, only for a mysterious surgeon in a face mask to step in later and drug the patient into bleeding to death. Thinking Theresa's actions may have something to do with the incident, the hospital suspends her for the time being while the matter gets being investigated. Theresa, in turn, believes the death involves Dr. Stein and his illicit experiments, so she decided to tag along her colleague/lover Benjamin Hendricks (James Remar) to get evidence and expose Dr. Steins' wrong doings.

This possible conspiracy drama, in an oddly timed curveball, gets thrown off the window quickly as Stein is found murdered and the mysterious surgeon is seen skulking around again. After a brief cat-and-mouse chase, the surgeon gets apprehended and is revealed to be Julian Matar (Sean Haberle), Theresa's former lover and a doctor she once got involved with in conducting unorthodox experiments on tissue regeneration.

This twists would soon have us following a psycho-on-the-loose plot with Matar, last seen in a coma after jumping from a window but now miraculously recovered, eventually escaping his capture to return to Theresa's hospital where he proceeds to kill off those who were responsible for his dismissal, as well as those unfortunate enough to be in his way. It's nothing but your standardized bodycounting from here on, with a sleek mid-90s look and even a twist on the "man of steel" killer trope with Matar's ability to withstand injuries so long as he keeps injecting himself with the experimental serum he concocted from harvested goop taken from his victims.

Director Carl Schenkel definitely knew his way around making this film as sadistic and unsettling as possible to make up not only for the far-from-original plot, but also for the rather off-kilter pacing and direction, throwing in perturbing scenes of self harm, needle attacks and some bits of bloody killings that occasionally pops up from time to time, done in above average make-up and gore effects to keep things gooey and messy enough to be watchable at most. Exquisite Tenderness certainly lacks the panache to match its flamboyant title and be anything else but a slasher flick with a medical background, but it is still an enjoyable stab for a horror movie (and even more so compared to Schenkel’s earlier serial killer thriller, Knight Moves (1994)) with its fierce and sadistic imagination within the killing spree department and the mad science behind our boogeyman.

Oddly underrated by most horror fans, Exquisite Tenderness certainly deserves a somewhat wider recognition for (if nothing else) slicing through and carving up an entertaining slasher. If killer doctors like Dr. Giggles (1992) and Nurse 3D (2013) are your gig, then this cheesy mindless bodycounter is right up your alley.

1 boy stabbed on the neck with a scalpel
1 baboon dies from an experimental drug
1 female injected with a serum, veins burst and bled to death
1 male found hanged on a length of chain
1 male strangled, neck snapped
1 female attacked, killed offscreen
1 male stabbed on the gut with a syringe
1 female gets a tube of noxious gas shoved down her throat, poisoned
1 male had his blood drained with a dialysis machine
1 male stabbed on the head with a syringe
1 male found stabbed on the back with an amputation knife
1 male gets a thrown amputation knife to the chest 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Where Have All The Good Campers Gone?: Return to Sleepaway Camp (2008)

Return to Sleepaway Camp (2008)
Rating: **
Starring: Vincent Pastore, Michael Gibney, Paul DeAngelo

To be fair, the very first Sleepaway Camp was pretty "eh" to me: I don't see it as a masterpiece, but it has enough cheese and inventive killings to at least keep me interested. (Plus, y'know, that out-of-the-blue twist ending that really adds nothing to the plot if you come to think about it? Seriously, so she turns out to be a boy? What about it? ...I did say spoiler warning, right?)

If anything, its sequel, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988), proved to be more entertaining for just how batshit insane and cheesy it was, completely discarding a solid story and build-up for a carefree yet still gruesome hack-a-thon where there's a kill guaranteed for every five to ten minutes. The murders were fun, the murderer committing them was fun (and adorable), the whole dang shebang was fun.

A second sequel, Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland did rear up a year after, but it was more or less the same formula with a less cheeky killer so while it was fun to watch, I didn't find it that relevant to exist and/or have a spot among my favorite slashers. And then there's the movie for today, Return to Sleepaway Camp, the mid-2000s direct sequel to the 1983 original that also tries to pay homage to the first movie's plot by focusing on bullied kids and making us believe one of them might be the killer, all the while attempting to channel in the cheesiness of the two 80s sequels, maxing it to great lengths. Could have worked, really. But then there's..the main character.

Taking place at Camp Manabe where possible 20 somethings posing as teenagers kids busy themselves playing pranks, talk shit within their cliques, go to the woods to paintball and occasionally smoke the beloved green, there stays a problem child who goes by the name of Alan, who may or may not have some things lacking personality wise as he always whines like a child or bursts into shrieking tantrums if things doesn't go his way. Add the fact that he's quite large, a bully and an asshole to just about everyone in there (and never (fucking ever) change his shirt. EUGH!), it isn't really a surprise that almost everyone bullies him back, may it be intentional or just to teach the whino a lesson.

Of course, with Alan being himself, he screeches for sympathy that only a few are willing to give whenever he gets into trouble (mainly Paul DeAngelo as counselor Ronnie, Kate Simses as Petey and Isaac Hayes as a chef...why does that last one sound so familiar?), but if that fails, he'll mostly insults them bullies back and he, himself, bullies the rest because he can. We're to endure this vicious cycle for half of the movie's run until one prank goes way too far and Alan is last seen running off into the night. And then the kill count rises.

Not gonna lie, this movie is growing on me as quite a guilty pleasure all for the reason that this is the only slasher flick where I felt more sympathy to the jerks than the fat kid we're supposed to be rooting for as they have all a reason for the bullying. I mean, not that I approve any of it, but this movie's choice of a main character is just so dang obnoxious, repulsive, and lacking any shred of respect or self control that he, too, is pretty much a bully too, so any deserving feeling of sorriness to this kid is easily thrown out of the window and he more or less warrants being tormented as bad as he is getting it now.

This sets the movie's supposed mystery as to whether Alan himself is out for blood or if the new string of killings are supposed to tie in with the original 1983 murders, with one of the counselors going bananas suspecting one of his colleagues being a certain crossdressing/transgender murderer from many moons ago back from the looney bin, killing to defend and avenge the oh-so-beloved Alan. Needless to say, this mystery is pretty weak as there's hardly any real set-up to suspect Alan as being the murderer (the killer's build is radically different from the big guy), though I do admit I kinda like how hammy and cheddary they made the reveal at the end.

In fact, the entire movie is camped up with cheese which, I believe, made it somewhat tolerable if one would just switch off and just enjoy the mediocre hilarity of it all. At most, Return to Sleepaway Camp feels like a very long episode of a bad teen sitcom from the Nickelodeon channel until the gruesomes happen and, whenever it does, a good line of the kills are pretty bloody and crazy in their execution so that's another reason to be a bit more forgiving. The cream of the crop among them is a nasty deep fried rendition of the original movie's scalding water scene, a stoner getting force fed with gasoline before having a joint lit for him, and an unfortunate gal getting the pointy end of a literal bed of nails.

If the movie is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek in tone, then I can definitely say Return to Sleepaway Camp (2008) delivers. Only, maybe, too much. Should one succeeds on looking past the fat problem child and his constant "You're ass stinks" screechings, the production looks fair, the performances present fits with the campy tone this film is aiming for like a glove and it handsomely rewards us for putting up with the bullshit by providing solid kills. Not entirely sure if that's enough for one to consider this as a keeper (sure as shit it wasn't for me), but I can honestly say, especially if you're just curious or consider oneself a fan of the Sleepaway Camp franchise with some shred of self respect, it's a rent!

1 male had his head completely dunked into a deep fryer
1 male force-fed gasoline, set ablaze with a lit joint
1 male gets a cage full of rats around his head, eaten through
1 male had his groin torn off with a wire noose attached to a jeep
1 female gets entangled on a length of barbwire, jeep crashes to a tree
1 male gets a sharpened broom stick impaled through his head
1 female sandwiched underneath a nailed bed
1 male found flayed alive
1 male got his head crushed underneath a dropped car wheel
Total: 9

Saturday, February 16, 2019

A Real Hero: Drive (2011)

Drive (2011)
Rating: ****1/2
Starring:  Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston

Yeah, yeah. I know. It's not a slasher. Nor a horror movie. But I like a little variety for this site from time to time and seeing this film surprisingly dished out some slasher flick-worthy kills and its fair share of moments obviously inspired by the bodycount subgenre, it'll be a crime worthy of being forked on the eye and knifed on the throat if I didn't cover this awesome thriller!

Ryan Gosling is The Driver, a mysterious drifter who, as his moniker suggests, has exceptional driving skills and goes through his days as a stunt driver and mechanic. Unknown to many, he moonlights as a getaway driver for heists and other similar dirty jobs, a reputation that will come challenged the moment he meets his new neighbors, Irene and her young son, Benecio.

Encountering the family at a day just like any, the Driver instantly felt connected to them, willingly and happily looking after both until Irine's husband, Standard (yes, his name is "Standard"), finally comes home after serving time. Unfortunately, Standard still has a serious debt to pay as local criminals begin threatening him and his family should he not give in to their demands and help them pull off a robbery, something understandably isn't sitting well with the Driver.

Hoping to aid Standard settle everything and have his family live their lives in peace, the Driver joins him in the gig, only for him to realize that the robbery was botched from the very beginning and a far riskier and deadlier crime is being put into action behind his back, leading to him and everybody else connected to him getting hunted and he, in turn, hunting those responsible back.

Directed by Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn and based on a book by James Sallis, Drive is a modernized swing on pulpy noir crime dramas enriched with a gallery of characters intertwined to a mysterious and unsuspecting protagonist, delivered in an elegant exercise of style and flow best compared to the lull before a storm.

Much of Drive's success as a thriller is within the characterization of the multiple faces intertwined within this gritty and brutal yet oddly captivating play. Gosling fills in the shoes of The Driver channeling lone wolf-type of heroes as we learn really little of his character's past and know almost nothing of his personality save from what can be identified by and underneath his cold and calculating behavior. For a main cast that says little even during scenes where some dialogue could have been called for, with the movie's artistic and superb direction, Gosling's presence and body language made his Driver the walking personification of the term less is more work, even if he starts dishing out kills, torturing for intel or wholeheartedly enjoying a drive through the sunset with his new neighbors.

Contrasting the enigmatic hero includes Ron Perlman as a big-time operator working behind the guise of a regular strip mall pizzeria and Albert Brooks as a crime sidelining B-flick producer the Driver finds himself working for as a stunt driver. These men mean every bit of business they come across to, going as far as double crossing their underlings or biting the hand that feeds them for their own gains, and they're smartly portrayed less like your overly flashy movie villains and more of a realistic hoodlum who're either doing it to prove themselves or cover their arses out of fear of being snuffed out themselves. There's nothing more terrifying than an intimidated and frightened animal and Refn knew how to make this work, albeit the two lacking needed screen time to further develop their characters.

Tirade of perfectly timed extreme violence among its long stretches of calm and/or silent moments eventually follow these casts, making these shots of murder and torment all the more shocking and brutal than your everyday movie splatter for their absence of warning, building tension and anticipation to what comes next. Even better is that a lot of these kills are done wonderfully in practical make-up effects and a gaggle of stylized camera work and editing, particularly an elevator scene that is rumored to have been inspired by the infamous fire hydrant scene from Noe Gaspar's depressing masterpiece Irreversible (2002).

Other endearing technical aspects includes the driving scenes this movie supplies itself often, finding the right balance of sleek and fast to come out as by far the most realistic car chase one could find in cinema. The score used throughout the movie utilizes the alien yet retro feel of vaporwave music, fitting the vintage feel of the plot and visuals, and it even sports one of the finest songs I've heard Hero, sung by College featuring Electric Youth, to hauntingly yet beautifully close a hard hitting action thriller such as Drive.

Drive (2011), with its casting, direction and clear story telling knowledge of what works and what doesn't in a near-existential yet entertaining genre film, does the rarest thing modern film making could do and that is playing majority of its cards right. It plays on emotions, intrigue and action like your casual mainstream movie, all the while reserving enough to establish a style and bring out the best from its director creatively. It's a crime thriller I'm proud to have seen not only for the gore and it's a strong recommendation to all fellow genre fans!

1 male shot dead
1 female had her head shot off with a shotgun
1 male stabbed with a curtain rod
1 male shot with a shotgun
1 male had his head repeatedly stomped on, crushed
1 male forked on the eye, throat stabbed with a knife
1 male had his wrist slit with a razor, bled to death
1 male killed in car crash
1 male drowned
1 stabbed with a knife
Total: 10

An Evidence of A Slasher: Unlisted Owner (2013)

Unlisted Owner (2013)
Rating: **1/2
Starring:  Chris Ash, Levi Atkins, Chloe Benedict

So...cops edit crime scene footages to make horror movies? 
What we have here is yet another found footage slasher flick, one of many that's been popping in and out through out the years, most of which remain unnoticed and Unlisted Owner kinda fares no better. Not with its micro-budget and faux document format that's overly familiar by now. Still, does it deserves to be left in the dust or does it, perhaps, earn more of our viewing for how on the nose it is on following the slasher format?

Unlisted Owner opens with a clunky yet light home video of a family moving into their new house before taking a grimly dark turn as we suddenly scratch-cut to one of the household’s daughters sobbing, claiming that an intruder is in their house. Next thing we know, we get a shot of the father dead in a basement and the entire family of five turns up murdered just hours after settling in.

From here, we then follow another set of footage shot by a group of friends who live in the same town as the murdered family, who are now the latest victims of the infamous Owner Killings. The gang was originally planning on spending the night camping and getting shit-faced in the woods, but with the murdered family's house being just a few miles away, the temptation to break in and document the crime scene is just too much to ignore eventually. Unfortunately for them, who or whatever is responsible for the killings is still in the house and has now set their eyes on ending them, one hapless victim at a time.

As a slasher and found footage hybrid, Unlisted Owner does the remarkable job of bringing the best of both sub-genres, boasting a hefty kill count while using the stylized psuedo-documentary camera work to boost the creep factor of the murders, which certainly help the matter that the kills were mostly offcamera, giving them that near-authenticity. The backstory behind these killings is also delivered interestingly as a brief interrogation of a side character edited randomly towards the mid-beginnings of the movie, a spin on your obligatory campfire tale told to give us a bit of an idea on who or what will be killing our victims, as well as to why? (And, I guess, this can also be considered as this movie's doomsayer character as the interrogated will never make another appearance through out the rest of the film...)

The only downside of this is that all it'll take about 40 some minutes for the movie to get on these gritty bits after the eerie opening murders, which means we have to deal with a group of obnoxious “friends” who's main trait seems to be to argue and shout at each other over trivial things. In a way, it does make them more organic than your dead teenager movie stereotypes, but the lack of likability from these characters and the matter that they're hardly developed at all warrant very little reason to invest in them, making their demise anticipated and appreciated but tedious for lacking depth or care.

Still, I find the effort put into Unlisted Owner deserving of some attention, especially if the final product halfway works as a slasher hybrid. If only the middle run wasn't so rude and prude all the way, or perhaps splatter a bit more of the red stuff here and there to make up for putting us through with the torture of drunken teenagers being themselves, I would have liked this film more but for what it is, I say it could be worth a rental's night or two.

1 female killed, method unknown
1 male killed, seen with a large gash
1 boy and 2 females mentioned murdered
1 male slaughtered offcamera, blood seen
1 male murdered offcamera
1 male killed with a sickle
1 female found slaughtered
1 male hacked with a sickle
1 female killed offcamera
1 male killed offcamera with a sickle
1 male attacked, presumably killed
Total: 13

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The $9000 Budget Knows: Delirium (2007)

Delirium (2007)
Rating: *
Starring: Mike Burnell, Tallia Cuellar, Louie Del Monico

Right off the bat, you can see, feel and hear the $9000 micro-budget this movie limited itself with, but should I be worried? Afterall, it didn't took millions to budget The Mutilator (1985) or Truth or Dare? A Critical Madness (1986) and these films end up being some of my favorite guilty pleasures. Who's to say this one's gonna suck?

Then again, those films were at least creative with their outrageous kills and have an overall cheesy play on its plot, while Delirium have murders that are okay-ish(?) because micro-budget. Oh, boy...

Buddies Lucy and Sandra, token black dude Brad and backpack-carrying geek Dennis see a flyer at campus one day, in which dude bro-type Kirk and his hottie girlfriend Reyna are looking for people to hang out with them at a Spring Break party and share the cost of the trip. Taking up the offer, these four college kids are next seen on the road with the inviting couple, stopping in a diner to grab a bite or two and ask for shortcuts.

The trip goes from good to worse, however, when their car breaks down and the nearest town happens to be a long walk away through the evening. Under the scorching heat and with tension rising among the group, the teens will soon find out that the wilderness isn't the only thing threatening them as a mysterious shady figure begins to follow them with murder in mind.

As much as I don't want to see Delirium as this bad horror flick since it does have its good points such as its easy to swallow plot and a few passable gore, I can't really help but feel so underwhelmed and distracted from the its low-budget execution. The dialogue's cheesed-up whenever you get the chance to hear them properly and the acting that goes along the way is nearly as laughable as the choreography done for the fight scenes at the last third of the movie, none of which helping the fact that the characters are so cliched that they're pretty predictable to the point of boring. (Yeah, that's definitely another guy playing the killer. Not one of the quieter teens!)

I know that this is a do-it-yourself flick with mostly inexperienced actors and a budget of a nearly ten grand, but a little more imagination and livelier execution definitely could have save this movie from being so bland and unexciting, both this film succeeds on doing even with the clear Italian giallo aesthetics they're going for with the killer's motif and scenes. Needless to say, the uninspired simplicity of both Delirium (2007)'s story and direction may have placed it to the void of forgotten rentals, collecting dusts along with other dull micro-budget cheap frights that only hardcore horror collectors would dwell to in and out from time to time.

1 male had his throat slashed with a knife
1 female gutted with a hunting knife
1 female hacked to death with a meat cleaver
1 male has a hand lopped off with a meat cleaver, hacked on the head
1 male shot on the head
Total: 5