Saturday, June 29, 2019

You Are My Buddi: Child's Play (2019)

Child's Play (2019)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Hamill, Gabriel Bateman

When I first heard about the talks regarding a then-possible Child's Play reboot, you can bet your ass that I was among the plenty who found the idea problematic as not only is the original franchise still active, but I really doubt there's a high demand for a re-imagining. Then again, the last we saw of Chucky have the killer toy possessing not only three to four (count it, three to four!) Good Guy dolls at the same time through a voodoo spell he found at a website, but also the body of a paraplegic girl who he miraculously cured into walking. Yeah, hard to follow if yet gonna jump right into it without knowing what happened in the previous titles, so I guess a fresh take might not be such a bad idea...

In this reboot, a multinational electronics corporation known as Kaslan developed a self-learning AI doll known as Buddi, packed with features including audio and video recording, syncing with other Kaslan products and controlling them to fit their owners' needs, and move by themselves for maximum playtime. In other words, a robot servant with an animatronic face, one bad programming away from going haywire.

And as you would have it, on a dark and stormy night all the way at a Vietnam-based Buddi assembly factory, a disgruntled worker reprograms a random doll by removing all of its safety features as revenge for being fired and as a secretive last minute "fuck you" to the company before committing suicide.

Cut to Chicago some time later, young mom Karen Barclay and her 13 years old hearing-impaired son Andy just moved to the busy city neighborhood, with Karen working a frustrating retail job at a store selling Kaslan goods while Andy spends most of his days inside the apartments watching Youtube videos. Rightfully concerned about her son's lack of social skills and believing Andy's just exhausted from the move, Karen decided to gift him one day an early birthday present; a defective Buddi doll she got under the table. (My guess its the same one from the Vietnam sweatshop. I dunno why, perhaps something about its eyes mentioned glowing red...)

At first, Andy isn't quite keen on having his own Buddi doll coming from the fact that he is in his preteens and that the doll itself is pretty glitchy as it names itself Chucky, fails to follow a few simple orders and, more or less, just creepy. But as time flies by, Andy grew to like having Chucky around since his glitches left him capable of doing anything without much limitations like learning swear words and enjoy pranking jerks and creeps surrounding Andy's life. This soon caught the attention of local kids Falyn and Pugg, who eventually befriend Andy and all seems well.

That is until Chucky starts getting too attached to Andy, harming those who physically and emotionally hurt the boy to an increasingly worrying degree. When Karen's arse of a boyfriend got abusive during one visit, things quickly escalates to bloody ends and Andy is left face to face with the matter that his Buddi have gone psycho when it gifted him one morning the freshly flayed face of his mom's boyfriend. (Nailed on a melon for some reason)

What soon follows is your simple stroll down cheesy slasher bodycounting mixed with obsessive stalker horror as Chucky do away more and more people (and animals) who it deem unfit to be Andy's friend or family, a complete contrast to our OG Chucky's modus wherein the voodoo practicing serial killing doll murders for the reason that he simply can. This makes Buddi Chucky more empathetic and sympathetic for his misguided and eventually hate-fueled attempts to become Andy's one and only companion, a fresh take that thankfully kept the destructive, maniacal and fun cheesy horror of watching a tiny killer toy in action after taking its time building up a surprisingly adorable and genuinely warm relationship between Andy and Chucky.

From what I can tell, Child's Play (2019) works greatly thanks to the committed performances of its strong cast. Mark Hamill steps in as the voice behind this movie's Chucky and his take on the guy is just wonderful, may it be voicing the doll's joyful and often misconceived innocence or spiteful jealousy and anger. Gabriel Bateman as this film's more angsty preteen Andy hits the cards right as a child hero bottled with insecure frustrations for all the bad turns in his life so far, struggling to resolve as many on his own to the best of his abilities. These two are on screen the most and their relationship as unlikely friends to sudden AI monster-and-hapless victim is the glue that kept this movie interesting, a fact that I'm sure that would have fair better if it also took the time to build around other characters including Andy's mother (played by Aubrey Plaza with a young parent spunk) and her douchey boyfriend Shane, a neighboring detective with a sassy yet adorable elderly mother and, probably the most unfairly under-explored set of characters that I wanted to see more of, Andy's new friends Fayln and Pugg. (Especially Pugg. Pugg is funny awesome!)

Looking further into it, the story is predictable at best, echoing the hammy B-grade horror and silly entertainment of late 80s and early 90s scifi slashers like Chopping Mall (1986) and Ghost In The Machine (1993), but that didn't hinder Child's Play (2019) from making the best out of its AI-gone-evil direction, Buddi Chucky's very "uncanny valley" animatronic design and movements (which do warrant some time and patience getting used to. Especially the weird E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) influence to his design) an obvious product of this techno-horror route. Little to no horror was actually seen around the early bits of the plot, only hinting the downside behind the science of artificial life only when necessary for that effective foreshadowing and cathartic curveball before kicking it into full bloody bodycounting mode for all things grisly for the second half, peppered with some humorous Hitchcockian bits.

And for whatever it's worth, Child's Play (2019)'s murder set are gory, bloody and darkly funny at times, with the film's supermarket carnage of a climax probably standing out as one of this franchise's more exciting scene, utilizing the Buddi doll's feature to control other electronic goods to slice and dice shopping patrons before jogging back to your classic mano-a-monster finale. It might not be groundbreaking, but the film melds its now-charming-next-terrifying character relations with tech horror and slasher grue prodigiously well, and its polished production value and overall watchable talents make this reboot all that witty, messy and warmly welcomed as this year's decent cinematic surprises.

So if you're a wee bit concerned, don't be: Child's Play (2019) is its own monster and a great one at that. Count it as a spiritual companion piece to the original Chucky franchise if you may and just enjoy our new best Buddi at his best. And worst.

1 male jumps to his death
1 cat found murdered
1 male had his scalp shredded off with a tiller, knifed to death
1 male bisected groin first through a table saw, leg cut off
1 female knifed on the chest
1 male knifed on the neck, throat further sliced through a drone's propeller
1 female seen slaughtered
1 male seen attacked by a toy bear
1 female seen attacked by a toy bear
1 male dragged away, killed by a toy bear
Total: 10

Saturday, June 22, 2019

So here we have Bear McCreary's theme for Child's Play (2019)...

...Welp, I'm definitely gonna see this movie next week once I get mah moolah! Nothing's gonna beat the original franchise but it's high time we have another robot slasher movie other than The Terminator (1984), Chopping Mall (1986) and HARDWARE (1990).

Then again, we also have that weird upcoming slasher reimagining of Hanna-Barbera's Banana Splits... 

Angry Russian Baby Face: Dislike (2016)

Dislike (Dizlayk) (Russia, 2016)
Rating: **
Starring: Anastasiya Akatova, Evgeniy Dakot, Oleg Gaas

The filmmaker behind this movie probably thought they'd be making a hip and slick social satire horror masterpiece by centering it on bloggers and online celebrities facing the wrath of a psycho, but all I saw is a Saw (2003) clone with the traps replaced with a moron with a baby mask. Scary?

Eight young video bloggers are invited to a promotional stunt for a new (yet still a very generic looking) energy drink called Devil's Power where they have to stay inside a secluded backwoods house Big Brother-style with no wifi or any other means of outside communication, in exchange for some sweet cash reward for their participation. Thinking that the only trouble they have to handle is each other's bullshit, these assorted self-proclaimed internet personalities settle in, not knowing the whole shebang is a set-up and next thing they know, the drinks are spiked and in comes a baby-masked creeper.

Once our groups come through, they find themselves trapped inside the house with the masked loon and somebody else over the PA system who's willing to let them go if they figure out who is responsible for this plot. Of course, each wrong answer results to a murder and our hapless massacre victims-to-be have no choice but to think it through or die trying.

Not particularly unique nor is it all that exciting, Dislike (2016) tries to appeal to the modern teen demographic with its satirical talk and criticisms concerning online fame and internet celebrities, but its execution falls flat when it resorts to fleshing its characters out as one-note representations of obnoxious video blogger stereotypes (i.e. online comedians, pranksters, conspiracy theorists, etc) and cramping them up in a not so complex mystery where the surprises and twists are as silly, stale and brittle as your grandma trying to make you eat a ten year old jawbreaker she was saving just for you. Its heart in the right place, but the tool of its trade are so aged and overused that you can't help but feel rightfully unsatisfied when it could have been more if more thought was put into Dislike (2016)'s direction and ideas, particularly polishing up its messy multiple twist endings.

Granted that half of the killings are pretty cool and gory (among the more interesting ones include a strange combination of a fresh octopus and a live bomb strapped over a head and a credit card stabbing that's both impossible yet satisfyingly savage) and the film does boast a superb looking production quality, it did little to breathe any welcoming life to Dislike (2016)'s mostly predictable slasher set-up and the resulting film just felt like its existing for the sake of just existing. See it as a completists, but expect little to nothing new here.

1 male had his head blown up with a small bomb
1 male hacked with an axe
1 male stabbed to death with a credit card
1 female had her throat cut with a kitchen knife
1 male had his face blown off with a rigged gun
1 female ran through with a spear
1 male stabbed to death with a machete
1 male stabbed to death with a hunting knife
1 male stabbed with a hunting knife
1 female beaten to death with a hammer
Total: 10

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Black And White: City of Blood (1987)

City of Blood (South Africa, 1987)
Rating: **
Starring: Joe Stewardson, Ian Yule, Ken Gampu

The most exciting part of being a slasher completist is finding rarities, possible hidden gems lost in the midst of mainstream releases and overabundance of cult flick nostalgia and, for most, I indeed get to find and watch genuine diamonds in the rough. City of Blood (1987) is not one of these gem, but I hardly find it fitting to deserve being lost, neither.

Two thousand years ago, a pair of African tribesmen get ambushed by someone hurling a tied rock, braining one of them dead. The other tribesman run for his life and soon stops to drink some water from a fall, only to be snuck up by someone in a tribal mask  who proceeds to beat him on the head with a spiked club.

Fast forward to present day South Africa, where an increasing number of butchered prostitutes have the local police searching for a possible serial killer. Our protagonist, a medical examiner named Joe Henderson, believes there is a more political reason behind the murders after he notices on a crime scene a blood symbol resembling a spiked fist, but his colleagues at the police force is quick to quite him down knowing that any word of this out could catastrophically escalate the issue.

Suffering depression after losing his wife and child, Joe buries his woes working behind the desk until he nearly signed a death certificate with no name on it, which later leads to two agents representing the prime minister visiting him later, urging him to sign it, more or less falsifying a legal document. Intrigued by this and believing this is somewhat connected to the murders going on recently, Joe goes to investigate this shady act on his own, putting himself on the line of fire of not only his country's governing power, but also a murderous masked butcher out on the prowl at night.

Addressing the elephant in the room, City of Blood (1987) is only one small part slasher and barely the bodycounter it wanted you to think that it was. The opening alone would make you think the rest of the movie is going to be a cool hack-a-thon with a homicidal maniac dressed up as an African witch doctor but, truth be told, it's nothing more than a ploy to lead us into watching a political crime thriller involving race wars and forged paper works, only to return to our familiar masked murderer route a bit too late at the end with little to no satisfying conclusion.

Majority of the movie simply focuses on a single man's investigation on a devious government move, which honestly isn't all that bad. The idea of being coerced into approving a sham legal document by the powers that be for the sake of keeping the public under control for the price of one's credibility and morality does spell an interesting thriller, if only the characters involved are more interesting and if the direction has more going on for it than our hero debating on whether he should agree on signing a bogus document, sitting around and talking to people to get their side as he tries to figure out what course of action he should take.

Too much of the movie's time were spent on the casts being one-note players, never going beyond one trait of either being depressed or tired, as well as feeding us the terrors of governing powers through a very muddled plot with a dreary pace and hardly anything exciting happening, simply killing off any means on getting us invested on this movie's approach. A real shame really. The first fifteen minutes or so have us watching our masked tribesmen do brutal slayings and give an effective chase, only for it all to be thrown out in favor of some dull moral drama that surely messed a lot of slasher fans' expectations.

City of Blood (1987) is more or less a feature length political commercial about Black Power groups and corrupt officials, with slasher elements thrown in possibly to make it stand out a bit more. If it was to be handled differently, I'm sure this is a genuine gem of a rare slasher with its unique premise, but for what it is right now, its a boring mess with a bit of an identity crisis but it is watchable if you have the patience for it and/or if you're into something quite odd for your bodycounters.

1 male hit on the head with a swung rock
1 male brained to death with a spiked club
1 female seen murdered, struck with a spiked club
1 female brained offscreen with a spiked club
1 male mentioned dead from torture, body later seen in autopsy room
1 male found stabbed on the chest with multiple spears
1 male shot
Total: 7

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Demons of The Past and Present: Del Playa (2017)

Del Playa (2017)
Rating: ***
Starring: Devon Barnes, Brett Johnson, Andrew Dits 

Enduring controversy due to so-called similarities to the real life crime committed by 22-year old Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and injured fourteen others near University of California before killing himself inside his vehicle, Del Playa (2017) is somewhat inspired by the horrors caused by the so-called Incel subculture, albeit done to resemble your typical slasher flick with some attempted depth centering delusional affection and post-traumatic stress disorder, playing most of the cards right and cheesing up the rest.

Bullied at home and school, Matthew has very few things going for him such as practicing martial arts and a one-sided attraction to fellow high school student Claire. Unfortunately for him, Claire already has a boyfriend, Tim, who prefers to handle the creeper situation by bullying Matthew. All of this soon escalates to a messy scuffle one Halloween party where, after Matthew tries to once again woo the girl of his dreams, Claire’s boyfriend decided to end this by beating the creep black and blue until Matthew fought back. Dirty. With a broken vodka bottle. Before running off into the night, leaving Tim to die from a stabbed gut.

Fast forward a couple of years and Claire is now at college, still dealing with the memory of Matthew murdering her ex. She copes with this by partying hard, snorting coke and cheating on her current boyfriend with her drug dealer, all the while trying to front being a healthy Psych major working with special needs children. But seeing Halloween's nearing again, Claire's control over her erratic behavior will be challenged as she fears Matthew's vengeful return considering they never caught the kid after all of these years.

What might have been a severe case of post trauma stress will eventually turn into a living nightmare when someone wearing Matthew's mask one Halloween dance ago starts to murder away the girls at Claire's sorority as well as those just happen to be in the line of fire, saving Claire for last.

While not exactly groundbreaking, Del Playa (2017) is still a worthy viewing for some depth in its plot, recreating through its main girl the realistic horrors of facing traumas from real life tragedies as well as fear of obsessive lovestruck stalkers. The film certainly took its time to build around her plight, focusing on her downfalls as a coke fiend and struggles leaving the past to move forward from her life, giving us a mostly fleshed out final girl that's honestly close to being sympathetic and probably the most interesting element of the movie.

However, the matter of fact that this all will eventually water down into a Halloween (1978) meant there will be plot holes and the rest of the characters never getting fleshed out, more or less becoming the standardized annoying and nameless teen lambs for the slaughter. On the plus side, the deaths are often brutal, with some of the best being a throat getting stabbed with a fire wood fresh-from-the-bonfire and a savage beer keg beating, and the villain is mostly a physically intimidating, silent hulk-type (until the last act when he goes full "nice guy" on Claire for that self-entitled cringe factor) so the slasher elements are sufficient enough to warrant this title a honest viewing.

Now, for a modest budgeted indie flick, Del Playa (2017) sure looks gorgeous and definitely didn’t look cheap. It's beautifully shot with some outstanding cinematography, including a slow-mo shot of the killer crashing through a window in prowl of a victim. It can be darn lengthy with its run time of a hundred-plus minutes and, in occasion, the drama can feel a bit misplaced with all the cheesed up teen drama many slasher flicks are known for, but the direction isn't without its merits and the end product is still a solid piece of bodycounting B-grade entertainment.

Flawed, yet enjoyable, Del Playa (2017) is a teen slasher at heart and probably more if it had the right focus. Nevertheless, its a fun watch if you're in the mood for troubled hearts getting hacked apart. Figuratively and literally.

1 male stabbed with a broken whiskey bottle
1 female found bloodied against rocks
1 male drowned in ocean waves
1 male brained with a rock
1 female stabbed on the throat with a fire wood
1 female had her gut carved and stabbed with a knife
1 male had his head crushed with a beer keg
1 female knifed to death
1 male falls of a cliff
1 male gets a carving knife to the head (implied flashback)
1 male body found washed up on a beach (?)
Total: 11 (?)

Sunday, June 16, 2019

A Message From Our Stepfather


Modern Dad Gone Off The Deep End: The Stepfather (2009)

The Stepfather (2009)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Penn Badgley, Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward

Before I get to see 1980s Terry O'Quinn as the Stepfather, I saw late 2000s Dylan Walsh try walking the shoes of the titular family-murdering identity-hopping psycho as this reboot was my introduction to the entire Stepfather slasher-thriller franchise. Glad to say it did little to hinder me from seeing the rest of the movies, though objectively none of the movies from the Stepfather franchise are "good", so comparing this to the original is like comparing the words cola with softdrink: both meant the same thing despite looking different.

The movie starts with a man grooming before making his way downstairs to go about his morning business. Christmas carols play in the background while he reads the paper and eat a peanut butter toast, only for us to get a glimpse of some bloodstained tools in the sink and, one by one whilst accompanied by ghostly screams, the remains of the family he just murdered.

So the man is our eponymous Stepfather, a nameless serial killer obsessed with the idea of being the father of a perfect family, killing off those he deems imperfect. After hightailing out of his latest crime scene in Utah, he ends up in a grocery store at Oregon days later, charming his way to a woman named Susan who must be feeling brave that day as she asks David out for dinner after just minutes of meeting him.

Six months later, Susan’s eldest Michael returns from military school for the Summer and learns his mother is readily engaged to David during his surprise party. At most, his soon-to-be stepfather does come off like a good guy until the neighborhood gossip stops by early next morning to tell Susan that David looks like a man she saw at America’s Most Wanted and, during lunch, the man botches the name of his daughter from a former marriage. Needless to say, Michael grows suspicious of David and, slowly and surely, he'll soon find himself and his family in grave danger.

The Stepfather (2009) follows the trend of deranged individuals trying their hardest to mask their insanity and appear -by their standards and/or definition- perfect or okay, something we've seen dozens of times before predating the original Stepfather trilogy with movies such as The Bad Seed (1956), The Horrible House on The Hill (1974) and Bloody Birthday (1981). It has all the common tropes; the titular character looks alright on the outside but, in reality, is really a murdering psychopath. A main character notices the cracks and investigates further, at times questioning their own sanity. Side characters gets harmed or snuffed out. Climax happens, all is revealed, they brawl out and usually the door is left open for a possible sequel or a downer ending.

The only couple of things The Stepfather (2009) has going for are that it has the slick and sleek look thanks to its modest budget and modernized setting, as well as the talents doing their darnest to make their characters work despite a few hammy moments and an insufferable amount of dumb commonplaces. (Or, for actress Amber Heard's case, reduced down to plain eye candy) Comparing this to the rest of the Stepfather franchise, it does boast the most kill count too, though considering a lot of these were bloodless suffocation-themed murders, its more of a footnote than a decree.

Not a lot to say about this one aside that it's a passable thriller with a simple -borderline predictable- story. If you're a fan of movies like Orphan (2009), The Good Son (1993), The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992) or, y'know, half of the movies you'll find in the Lifetime channel, you've probably know what to expect from this one.

1 boy seen murdered, cause or method unknown
1 female seen stabbed on the back
1 boy seen murdered, cause or method unknown
1 girl seen lying dead on a pool of blood, cause or method unknown
1 elderly female thrown down a flight of stairs, smothered
1 male smothered to death with a plastic bag
1 female drowned in a pool
Total: 7

Sunday, June 9, 2019

This Madness In Your Head!: Deadly Manor (1990)

Deadly Manor (United States/Spain, 1990)
Rating: **
Starring: Clark Tufts, Greg Rhodes

There's a lot of things in life that test my patience: 12 Noon traffic. Dumb and impatient customers at work. Slasher movies from the 80s that takes an hour of padding before getting any action going, which will be made way worse if the copy one happens to get is a direct VHS rip...

Six "teenagers" in a van and motorbike are driving through backwoods country enroute to some lake for the weekend when, after a bit of frustrated discourse and repeatedly looking through maps, it is starting to appear that they got themselves lost. They soon stop to pick up a hitchhiker who confirms that they are indeed off track as he knows the camp they're looking for, however mother nature and lady luck have different plans for them as before they can drive back, heavy rainstorms suddenly sets in. 

Luckily for them, there happens to be a remote manor house nearby that appears to abandoned, but borderline-supernatural spookiness are abound as one of the kids feels something evil is living in the there and the mansion's decor (including coffins in the basement, human body parts in pickle jars and a photo album filled with pictures of naked corpses) doesn't help say otherwise. (All it needs is Uncle Fester Addams and viola~!) Still, most of the group decided to camp in the mansion for the night, with the only one gal opposing to the idea of sleeping next to pickled scalps hiking back to the road, only for her to get caught by someone swiftly ending her with an offscreen throat cut. 

Eventually (and I use this word questionably), the group starts to die at the leather gloved hands of an assailant who (by the looks of it) is a real stinge when it comes to creativity as most of their kills are offscreen throat slits and knife stabbings. A real disappointment of a payoff for all of the padding this movie did to get this far.

Released in the early 90s when the slasher's Golden age were thought to be done and out, Deadly Manor (1990) looked like it aimed to better itself from being just another backwoods bodycounter by scaling up both sleazy and gothic imagery as much as it could, evident from its use of creaky old candle-lit murder mansion and random sex scenes that may or may not have happened. The film, however, succeeds instead on sliding down as an oddity of unprecedented cheesiness and cliched horror movie dumbness as characters spat out ridiculously hammy lines and does every textbook example of what not to do in a horror film unless you are really asking to be knifed down by a porcelain mask-wearing nutbag. 

I have no problems loving bad slasher movies, particularly the cheesy kind like Slaughter High (1986) and Jason X (2001), but what does movie have that Deadly Manor (1990) lacked is momentum, which meant I have to sit through an hour worth of characters just being dumb and cheekily written for the sake of building dreary tension that doesn't work quite well. Granted they threw in a red herring about the hitchhiker having a shady past for effort's sake but most of us can tell that this is an old throwaway that gets resolved rather unceremoniously. Thankfully, the last act rally up well with the villains giving out deranged monologues for both exposition and tongue-n-cheek reasons, as well as cashing in a last minute bloody kill. And, what the hell, why not have the final girl join in the fun and have her try talking some psycho-babble sense into the knife-happy slasher, too? That always worked out.

While Deadly Manor (1990) sought to be an atmospheric and dark psycho-thriller, its undeniable that its dumbness dropped it more than a notch down to shlocky slasher shenanigans. Then again, it has a solid motive behind the killer's insanity and resulting massacre, albeit a challenge to sit and wait for, made the film watchable on a level so its not a total lost. Probably a fair viewing for those with the patience of a god.

1 male and 1 female seen slaughtered
1 female had her throat cut offscreen
1 male knifed to death
1 female had her throat slashed with a knife
1 male found with his throat slashed
1 male knifed to death
1 male had his throat slashed with a knife
1 male shot dead
Total: 9

Saturday, June 1, 2019

...And Now I Got To See The King This Saturday.

All I could say is: They did it. Legendary/Toho improved what was lacking from Godzilla (2014) and this is the most fun I have watching a Godzilla movie since Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (1991), my first Kaiju movie!

I don't care what others see, think or feel about this movie, especially them so-called critics. I personally don't think they understand why this franchise kept on going (maybe a bit? I'm sure some of them do) but so long as my opinion matters (somewhat), THIS is one of the most perfect kaiju movies I've seen in a LONG time, delivering what I love about the Japanese Daikaiju genre: unsophisticated dialogue, easy plot and huge monsters beating the hell out of each other! It hits right in the nostalgia factor and I couldn't be happier and I'm sure true daikaiju fans would feel the same, too!

So, do I recommend this to my fellow horror and/or genre enthusiasts? Well, yeah! Of course! If you're one of them people who has to learn to loosen up and just enjoy the mayhem? This is a right place to start! It's CG's the best the big guns can offer, the cheese factor is surprisingly balanced and it definitely has the energy to keep the action going! A giant monster film for the giant monster fans!