Friday, March 29, 2019

Some Bad Trips: Shrooms (2007) and One Way Trip (2011) Double Bill Review

I just realized a few days before writing this that I haven't covered Shrooms (2007) in this blog which was honestly shocking for me since I sincerely thought I had all this time. I even went through each of my posts to check and, yep, not a single review page on Shrooms. That day also happens to be the day I finally get to see One Way Trip (2011) in all of its German-speaking glory so here's a double bill review of these two movies about massacring magic mushroom munchers!

Shrooms (Ireland, 2007)
Rating: **
Starring: Lindsey Haun, Jack Huston, Max Kasch

While on a trip down into the Ireland countryside, five American college kids join a local for a mushroom picking session and sample fresh fungi off nature's floor to get some of that all-natural high. One of the gals of the group, Tara (Lindsey Haun), ends up munching on a deathcap mushroom despite being told not to, resulting to her suffering a seizure and, for some reason, gaining the ability to experience trance-like foresight.

One campfire tale and a random talking cow later, the group is soon menaced by a trio of creepy boogeymen; the axe-wielding cloaked wraith called The Black Brother, the sack-masked menace monikered the Lonely Twin and a feral man that goes by "Dog". One by one, the mushroom munchers and a couple of rapey-looking hicks nearby get snuffed out, all of which seen by Tara through her trippy magic mushroom-triggered visions. Desperate to escape the killers and save as many as she could, Tara tries to use these foresights in a race against time to warn others of these maniacs. (All, interesting, are from the aforementioned campfire tale. Coincidence?)

Crudely, said attempts to save others mostly have our Tara weeping and screaming at "something" before running through the woods to save her hide, much like the teens from The Blair Witch Project (1999) which this movie is often compared with. The unintentional hilarity of this, along with the movie's minimalist and nearly bloodless kills and its stand to use surrealism for creepiness are practically the reasons why Shrooms (2007) is often regarded as dull and testy to watch. Nevertheless, I grew a minuscule soft spot for this wreck over the years as I learned to at least appreciate the effort of what it was trying to attempt, which is a trippy slasher movie with a tone and direction to match. 

It undoubtedly has the chaotic visuals and narrative flow, and too a moody atmosphere that definitely would have made an interesting hallucinogen-tainted supernatural bodycounter, if only the story wasn't shit and unfocused, the characters weren't walking hollow stereotypes and, again, the murders were a lot more creative and not too all over the place.

Good idea. Flawed execution. Just another backwoods horror for the rental bins.

1 goat beaten to death with a tire iron
1 male castrated, hacked on the head with an axe
1 male killed offscreen
1 female hacked on the head with an axe
1 female drowned in the lake
1 male stabbed on the gut with a knife
1 male hacked on the head with an axe
1 male killed offcamera with medical scissors
Total: 8

One Way Trip (Austria/Switzerland, 2011)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Sabrina Reiter, Melanie Winiger, Herbert Leiser

Four years after Shrooms (2007), this Austria/Switzerland co-production does its own take on a mushroom picking-gone-wrong slasher flick on a note much closer to your classic backwoods bodycounter. In 3D.

Six young adults travel to the Swiss trails during peak season for magic mushrooms, picking up a couple of friendly hitchers along the way and encountering a not-so-friendly farmer and his estranged scarred daughter. Things were going great otherwise as the group proceeds to camp and taste Mother Nature's fun fungi until one of them left to take a wizz and returns battered on the face with a dead branch.

And as if trouble had a switch and some merciless god turns it on, a storm suddenly gathers, their phones now wouldn't work and the only protection nearby is a farmhouse owned by the same shotgun-totting farmer they met before. It isn't long before the farmer makes his presence again and his daughter reveals to have a mean streak of murdering people who rejects her through means involving billhooks and machetes. Bodycounting ensues until a very familiar yet more workably executed twist at the end...

Despite guilty of having a mediocre plot and characters, One Way Trip (2011) is well made enough to warrant a fair viewing as seen with its beautiful camera work and quality, easy pacing and a few good run of your classic backwoods cat-and-mouse stalking and slashing. It also helps that the murders are damn good bloody and occasionally brutal even if some of the digital 3D effects look laughably silly (Remember the popped eyeball scene from Friday the 13th Part 3-D (1983)? Recreated here only with a knife and splatstick logic!), so while it may amount to nothing really but another garden variety slasher movie, I frankly enjoyed One way Trip for the simple yet earnest end result.

Good idea. Semi-decent execution. Just another backwoods horror for the rental bins that I'm sure will see again and again.

1 deer shot with a shotgun
1 wolf shot with a shotgun offcamera
1 male stabbed in the head with a pair of hedge trimmers
1 male gets a knife through the head, eye stabbed out
1 female falls into a gate railing, impaled
1 male caught on fire, immolated
1 male hacked on the back with a billhook, bled to death
1 female hacked on the back with a billhook
1 male had his throat slashed with a scythe head
Total: 9

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Massachusetts Home Horror: Ghosthouse (1988)

Ghosthouse (Italy, 1988) (AKA "La Casa 3")
Rating: ***
Starring: Lara Wendel, Greg Rhodes, Mary Sellers

Ghosthouse (1988) is something you would get when a haunted house movie like, let's say, Poltergeist (1982) suddenly gets a body count under the direction of a bad slasher flick only Italians can conjure up in the late 80s. (For this movie's case, producer Joe "Antropophagus (1980)" D’Amato and director Umberto "Cannibal Ferox (1981)" Lenzi. Which should mean we would be seeing a lot of batshit insanity you thought only exists in your wildest fever dreams. Gods help us)

We start this cluster of madness with a girl murdering a cat offcamera in her family's basement, with pops eventually finding out and punishing his spawn by locking her up down there until she learns what she did is cruel and wrong. What follows is a double murder perpetrated by a mostly unseen ghoul with rotten hands, hacking the father's head with a hatchet while his dear wife gets an exploding mirror to the face before being throated with a knife.

Twenty years, ham radio enthusiast Paul tells his girlfriend Martha about the strange signals he have been getting from his equipment, which mostly consists of repetitive carnival music, odd chanting and a couple of people screaming. They soon figure out the location of where the screams are originating from, by which one car ride and one annoying encounter with a hitcher later reveals to be the same -and now dilapidated- house where the opening double murder was committed.

There the two encounter a band of four teenagers, out for your typical horror film road trip and two of whom sounding much alike the screamers from Paul's mysterious radio audio. Now dead curious of what's going on, the two parties decided to help each other out and uncover the truth behind the odd screamings, consequently leading to some weird hauntings involving ghost hounds, stretchy explosive bottles and an evil clown doll, as well as murderous groundskeepers, knife-wielding death specters and a killer electric fan.

As with most guilty pleasure movies, Ghosthouse's a whole lot like a double edge sword; on one end, you have this thing that's not all too well put together and feels more like a hodge-podge of supposedly scary scenes done with the feistiest cheese and questionable (and I think mostly dubbed) acting. Cliches upon cliches of horror tropes are to be expected, from the creaky dark Gothic houses and people investigating weird noises alone only to get murdered, to bloody faucets and a creepy doll and girl combo, while weird scripts make their way through thespians with lines like " You should believe in ghosts, pea-brain". (To be fair, it WAS (again) the 80s) It makes Ghosthouse tedious to watch, honestly, taking a good toll on any of its attempt to build atmosphere and suspense, but the silliness of it all does work in the movie's favor through another angle. The so-bad-its-entertaining angle.

When Ghosthouse goes for the ghoulish and brutal, may it be a bisection from random guillotines or an acid bath that somehow found its way underneath a house, it goes for it with a gut and a sense of energy and creativity to make itself worthwhile after each of its slow moments, leading itself to a fair killcount. At the times it is not violating our screens with gruesome deaths, in turn, Ghosthouse puts its randomness to good use by treating its audience with a cavalcade of  "scares" mostly borrowed from more well known supernatural horror movies like The Amityville Horror (1979) and The Omen (1976), dated and hammy for its effects but laughably fine for good fun.

The film's cinematography effectively captures the moody ghoulishness of its fever dream-like plot, though I find the accompanying composed score to be, while effective when timed properly, a bit repetitive and bordering annoying, particularly the case with the unholy backmasked carnival music emitted by the clown doll. Still, Ghosthouse (1988) is a passable entry to the late 80s incoherent cheesefest that is Italian horror, one that finds a welcoming home among horror fans as a fan favorite midnight movie haunting their video collection. Or late night cable viewing. Far from a masterpiece, but entertaining either way.

1 cat had its throat cut with a pair of scissors offscreen
1 male had his head split open with a hatchet
1 female gets pinned to a door with a knife through her throat
1 male gets a projected fan blade slice through his throat
1 girl mentioned found left for dead inside a cellar
1 male brained with a hammer, left for dead inside a coffin
1 female chopped in half by a guillotine
1 male found hanged
1 male found dead with a head wound
1 male repeatedly stabbed in the back with a pair of garden shears
1 male hit by an incoming bus
Total: 11

Another Haunt. Another Maniac On The Loose: American Fright Fest (2018)

American Fright Fest (2018) (AKA "Fright Fest")
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Dylan Walsh, Romeo Miller, Madison McKinley

A small town mayor decided to turn a nearby abandoned asylum into a haunt for Halloween night as a way to put their town in the map, giving him the chance of being re-elected. For that extra touch, he hires a sleazy and obnoxious horror director Spencer Crowe (Dylan Walsh of Nip/Tuck), who's kinda struggling to get his luster back in the fright flick game, to run this project.

At opening night, however, Crowe accidentally causes a transport bus full of whackos from another nearby asylum to crash whilst snorting coke during his drive, unknowingly killing most of its occupants save for three. (Soon to be just two) Crowe simply drives off as if nothing happened, not knowing that the two survivors happens to be mental patients now freely making their way to his haunt. One of them decks out a mask and an arsenal of pointy weapons (and a gun) to start thinning down the guests and staff, the other goes on full Ahab-mode determined to kill off his fellow bus crash survivor to satisfy a very questionable vendetta.

On paper, American Fright Fest (2018) sounds like it could go somewhere given it'll get the proper direction and execution needed to be a fun horror film but, sadly, the resulting product lacks both. The movie's more of an overly long cat-and-mouse chase on a hasted pace, with most of its casualties being random bystanders ended with lackluster kills, accumulating to nothing but just a high body count and an unsatisfying conclusion that left a couple of interesting development just hanging there unresolved, one being Crowe growing unhinged (either due to being high on weed or just upset with how his movies are turning out lately) and starts enjoying the carnage he is seeing through the control room he locked himself in, to the point he's willing to lead a few of his staff to the killer's clutches.

The only good thing I can take from this is that actor Pacho Moler ("Sick-Head" from Rob Zombie's 31 (2010)) did an amazing job playing a likable assistant to Walsh's character. Past that, American Fright Fest (2018) just fails to make an impact nor make itself properly entertaining for my taste, not with how bland and tiresome its overall tone felt. In fact, I think I'm better off re-watching Hooper's The Funhouse (1980) or the underrated 2018 slasher Hell Fest to satisfy my maniac-loose-in-haunt fix, and I think it would go the same for you.

1 elderly male shot on the head with a shotgun
1 elderly female shot with a shotgun
5 males killed in car crash
1 male shot on the face with a shotgun
1 male repeatedly headbutted, pounded to death
1 female strangled, neck crushed
1 male gets a knife through underneath his jaw, gutted
1 male killed, method unknown
1 female had her neck snapped
1 male electrocuted with an electrode to the head
1 male killed offcamera
1 male hacked to death mostly offscreen with an axe
1 male hacked with an axe, arm cut off
1 male gets the back of his head cut with a scalpel, killed
1 female stabbed to death with a scalpel
1 male shot on the head
1 female presumably killed with a machete
2 males hacked to death with an axe
3 males and 1 female shot to death
7 victims slaughtered mostly offscreen with a chainsaw
1 male hacked on the chest with an axe
2 males and 1 female shocked to death on an electrified bed frame
1 male gets a hunting knife forced into his nape
1 male shocked to death on an electrified bed frame
1 male seen being electrocuted to death with an electrode to the head
1 female gets a knife forced into her neck, shot with a shotgun
1 male brained with an axe head, bled to death
1 male seen killed
1 male shocked to death against an electrified bed frame
Total: 44

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Saucy Jack: Hands Of The Ripper (1971)

Hands of The Ripper (United Kingdom, 1971)
Rating: ****
Starring:  Eric Porter, Angharad Rees, Jane Merrow

Lo and behold, the very movie that took my Hammer Films virginity!

A period horror flick set in the old Victorian times, we start off with none other than Jack the Ripper, chased by an angry mob wielding pitchforks and torches, giving his pursuers a slip by hiding inside a house after outrunning them. The home's occupants, in an early twist, turns out to be his own family, with his wife worriedly telling him that ole' ripper strikes again. She, however, soon puts two and two together when she finds her husband's hands covered in blood and sadly becomes another victim for the killer, stabbed in front of their own infant daughter, Anna.

Forwarding fifteen years later, we now see that Anna was orphaned after the ordeal and adopted by Mrs. Goldling, a "medium" who uses the girl to voice the spirits she supposedly conjures up, as well as use her to earn extra incomes via paid trysts from older clients. One of the latter services goes awry one night when Anna, seemingly triggered by something from the past, goes berserk and manages to impale Goldling through a door after she heard a ruckus.

The murder is quickly look into but finds itself on a bind due to lack of proper witnesses as Anna herself has no memory of the incident. She is eventually rescued from prison and taken in by a Dr. John Pritchard, who was present during one of Goldling's seances and believes that Anna is suffering from Schizophrenia, taking this as an opportunity to both study and help her.  Of course, with an unstable trigger taking hold of her now and then, it isn't long before Anna murders as an empty void of violence, leaving a trail of bodies on her wake while Dr. Pritchard tries his hardest to remove her from the deaths and find a way to cure her condition before it is all too late.

Made and released around the time Hammer Films was experimenting with their horror movies in terms of sleaze and gore, Hands of The Ripper comfortably walks between the lines of gruesome exploitation and atmospheric realism, with a few hops around classic Gothic imagery the studio's quite known for. What woks best for the movie, though, is it's strong narrative delving in the topic of science against paranormal with the doctor Prichard character spending most of his time pondering on the possibility that Anna is suffering from a (in this movie's timeline) still being studied mental condition of schizophrenia. This interest in figuring out the psychosis soon grows increasingly concerning as for the character as he eventually faces the dilemma of covering up or just flat out walking out on the increasing death toll his new ward is causing for the sake of making Freud proud and figure out why she does what she does, much to the concern of his colleagues and, at the end, his son and his future daughter-in-law.

This psychoanalytical and moral high ground-questioning angle cleverly gave way for the movie to exploit the severity of Anna's shattered psyche as a few maids and some prostitutes savagely gets the sharp end of things with a lot of blood work and some cheesy set-pieces that often clashes with the serious tone of the more medically-inclined scenes. These kills, nevertheless, showcase some of the best murders from a proto-slasher, many of which violent and pleasingly graphic in detail, and direct the story to some fairly suspenseful scenes that may or may not go along the way you expected.

I guess any real drawbacks here would be the few times that the movie took itself a little too seriously and borders into period drama, messing up the already imbalanced mix of ham and sophistication a tad further only to be remedied by either a good kill or good writing within its solid supporting casts, giving the story that right amount of plausibility. Production-wise, Hands of The Ripper is just amazing to look at with its superb old Victorian sets perfect for back-dropping murder mysteries such as this, highlighting the lavish good of high end bringing, the gloomy desperation of slum work and the grey area between the two. Add a downbeat last act with an even saddening finale (fittingly and wonderfully scored by a then-unknown Christopher Gunning if I may further concur), the movie just ties and presents itself quite nicely as an early jab on the slasher sub-genre, one horror fans could sought for.

My final verdict? Hands of The Ripper (1971) is a fine film for the horror market that deserves our attention for the fair goods it delivers, from budget-surpassing production work to unrelenting streaks of violence. A seemingly near-forgotten gem overshadowed by the Dracula and Frankenstein titles Hammer horror films are known for, its high time we give this movie about Jack The Ripper's estranged daughter a chance for a view or even a spot for our collection.

1 female stabbed on the gut with a dagger
1 female found impaled through a door with a firepoker
1 female had her throat cut with a broken hand mirror
1 female stabbed on the face with hat pins
1 female stabbed on the gut with a pair of lorgnettes
1 female jumps to her death
1 male dies from a sword-stabbed side
Total: 7

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Every Game Has A Loser: 7eventy 5ive (2007)

7eventy 5ive (2007) (AKA "Dead Tone")
Rating: ***
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Gwendoline Yeo, Antwon Tanner

A gang of kids in a sleepover find themselves as the only survivors of a nightmarish home invasion when someone they prank-called earlier that night decided to get unevenly even with them by showing up masked and armed with an axe, hacking down all of their parents who happen to be resting downstairs after their own night of partying. The killer eluded capture and was never to be seen again until a decade-ish later, apparently to tie up loose ends.

As the now grown-up children starts to turn up axed to death themselves and a duo of detectives race against time to stop this new murder spree, one of the survivors drives out to a party at a friend's house (in the middle of nowhere, of course) along with his "crew" to celebrate the end of their finals. Everything was going smoothly until someone suggests playing a game of "75", where one must prank call a random number and keep them on the line for seventy five seconds without making them aware of the joke being pulled on them. One of the calls, unfortunately, is somehow redirected to the killer and it isn't long before someone drunkenly blurts out the house's address and the axeman cometh.

A late 2000s direct-to-video horror movie tackling the basics of all things dead teens and axe-wielding maniacs, 7eventy 5ive tries to spice itself up with a side of cop procedural with The Hitcher (1986)'s Rutger Hauer as a no-nonsense half of a detective pair. Though this isn't anything new (10 to Midnight (1983), anyone?), it still works in a manner that the procedural does a relatively fine job transitioning plot points that may or may not be red herrings, inviting a sense of urgency to the killing spree as well as fine fodder to the movie's neat little twist at the climax, despite some moments that the execution can be too expounding, slowing the pace.

The rest of the story is, as mentioned, your classic paint-by-number dead teenager horror jig, with (mostly) moronic teeners going at each other and doing ridiculous things for cliche purposes. Nothing new, though I will admit the overly familiarity of the tropes and the matter that little of these casts are tolerable made this early bit of the movie testy for my patience. Thankfully, once the party died down a bit and only a few faces stay behind, the film rightfully treats us to a considerably enjoyable mid-movie massacre where filler characters get the sharp end of an axe before proceeding to our main casts.

The killer, donning the same parka look as that killer from Urban Legend (1998), is unintentionally hilarious for how exaggeratedly menacing his body language is (just watch how he sways around his head like a snake to a snake charmer whilst looking for their victims on one scene), but I learned to look over that seeing he's at least putting some good and brutal effort on using his axe to forever silencing our thespians. This leads to a twist that I personally didn't saw coming despite some very subtle hints in the first half and I really can't decide whether I'm quite satisfied with where it ends to seeing how much it borrows from both Scream (1996) and, strangely enough, Night of the Living Dead (1968), but I will give the film credit for how both insane and textbook cliched it is.

In all, 7eventy 5ive (2007) is your professionally shot albeit run-in-the-mill slasher being, well, a slasher and at most, you can tell the production is satisfied with that. I personally find this movie to be at a level of mediocrity that it'll be easily overlooked, but if one would take the time to look into this, it is an okay bodycounter packed with sizable kills and a chaotic finale made to entertain.

1 male hacked with an axe, decapitated
3 females and 2 males slaughtered with an axe
1 female strangled to death
1 male hacked on the face with an axe
1 male found with his throat cut
1 female found murdered
1 female heard being murdered over the phone
1 male implied murdered
1 female decapitated with an axe
1 male axed on the chest
1 male had his neck crushed under the killer's foot, repeatedly hacked with an axe
1 female hacked to death with an axe
1 male decapitated with an axe
1 female drowned under a pool
1 female thrown dead against a wall
1 male axed on the back
1 female found murdered
1 male stomp crushed against the driver's seat, beaten to death
1 male hacked on the chest with an axe
1 female seen murdered
1 male hacked with an axe
1 male stabbed with a hunting knife
1 female stabbed on the chest with a hunting knife
1 male shot to death
1 female and/or 1 male hacked with an axe
Total: 29 to 30