Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Night A Dull Sad Teen Will Remember: Prom Night (2008)

Prom Night (USA/Canada, 2008)
Rating: *
Starring:  Brittany Snow, Scott Porter, Jessica Stroup

I can forgive re-imaginings like House of Wax (2005)Black Christmas (2006) and, hell, let's throw in Child's Play (2019) for good measure as, despite basically bearing little to no connection to their respective originals, they were at least entertaining, twisted and overall simplistic fun as gory "namesake" bodycounters. It's not for everyone, true, but I find these as real gems for how daringly alternative they are from the very property they're trying to reboot.

The 2008 Prom Night remake tries to be an alternative, though a bland one. And that's why I hate it. Even after all of these years.

In this run, Highschooler Donna comes home one night to find her teacher Mr. Fenton murdering her family, only escaping his wrath when he hears the cops closing in, forcing him to book it. He gets captured eventually and thrown into the loonie bin as he's revealed to be dangerously obsessed with Donna, snapped into murdering that night when the family filed a restraining order against him for being a creep.

Three years later, Donna's prom is just a few hours away and she hopes this one night of fun with her boyfriend Bobby and her loyal gal pals will be enough to help her finally move on from that terrible night. But of course, shit's about to go South fast as the local police just got word that Fenton has broken out of his asylum and very likely has plans on pursuing lil' ol' Donna.

Sure enough, bug-eyed Fenton is there at prom, disguised (if you call it that) and going teary-eyed whenever he spots his little prey being happy without him. It ain't long before the psycho starts slashing through all those that stand in his way until he has his "love" all to himself.

Even if we ignore the fact that Prom Night (2008) is a reboot of the original 1980 Canadian cult classic of the same name, the resulting movie is still a far cry from being an entertaining "dead teenager" film, the blame of it going on the fact that this is a fucking PG-13 production; it has zero thrills and suspense to speak of as the film more or less shot itself on the foot by introducing to us the killer way early into the film, so now we know damn well who's out killing people and why he's doing this. The whole stalk-and-stab gag also goes stale real fast seeing major of the murders are repetitive stabbing, taking place in the exact same room with little to none bloodshed to be seen. Seriously, it's one dumb kid (or a random staff) to the next, walking into an empty room for one damn reason to another, only to be stabbed to death by a boring lovesick killer. Did I forget to mention that the scares are also reduced to repetitive predictable jump/false scares, too?

Dialogue is apparently scripted to aim at young teenagers, more so girls with the movie's highschool teen drama sub-plotting so hardly anything that engaging unless you're a 12-year old tween. The noticeably teen-mag beautiful talents involved for the teen characters (and killer) also doesn't help dissuade this point, but at least said talents were competent to a forgiving degree.

Any good bits to point would be that it is at least shot and edited slickly but, at the bottom of it all, Prom Night (2008) is just a dull, inoffensive and unoriginal drag. If it wasn't for the existence of another terrible slasher "remake" (*cough*April Fools Day (2008)!*cough*), this film would have been hands-down the stinker of this sub-genre. Back away from this one if you know what's good for you.

1 male found stabbed on the throat
1 boy found stabbed to death
1 female knifed to death
1 male had his throat cut
1 female stabbed to death with a dagger
1 male stabbed to death with a dagger
1 male strangled, later found with throat cut
1 male found dead from a throat cut
1 female had her throat cut with a dagger
1 male found stabbed on the neck
1 male found with his throat cut
1 male found stabbed, bleeding dead from wound
1 male shot dead
Total: 13

Saturday, July 27, 2019

A Hamilton High Catholic Carnage: Prom Night IV: Deliver Us from Evil (1992)

Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil (Canada, 1992)
Rating: ***
Starring:  Nicole de Boer, J.H. Wyman, Joy Tanner

Hey, remember when Prom Night was once a 1980 slasher with a somewhat decent mystery plot behind its cheese, before it spawned a sequel in 1987 that bore little to no continuity to the original as it was now about an evil teenager's ghost from the 1950s possessing a present day loner and giving her demonic powers that she uses in a Carrie (1976)-inspired climax, and then spawning yet another sequel in 1990 about the same 1950s ghost gal in a more supernatural slasher set-up that's actually quite a fun cheese-fest? Yeah, prepare to shift gears one more time as Prom Night's gonna go Catholic on our arses in this fourth outing.

In 1957, a deranged priest named Jonas opted himself as the crusader for God when he decided to hunt down and "save" all those he deem enemies of his religion (which unsurprisingly includes horny teenagers making out in cars parked outside of gothic churches) with the pointed end of a dagger-tipped crucifix.

It wasn't long before the religious figureheads caught wind of his murders, quick to deem him as an abomination when he shows no remorse and even starts experiencing stigmata when his palms begin to bleed open on their own. Not wanting Father Jonas out and free to kill as he please (as well as probably to save their own arses), his fellow priests decided to drug him down to catatonia before transporting and leaving his unconscious body to age inside a secret room under another church.

Thirty-some years later, its now the present and a newcomer priest gets tasked to watch over his church's dirty little secret and keep Father Jonas medicated so he wouldn't break out of his slumber. But as you would have guessed it, the priest blew this one simple job and gets killed off by a now awake Jonas, who is quick to follow through his Godly mission to rid the world of whores and sluts, starting with a pair of couples skipping their prom night so they can do the nasty at a rural Summer home deep in the woods.

What follows is a standard prowl-and-stalk around the backwoods home with barely any major murders seeing the casts are relatively small in count, thus the film's direction settled to try developing these teens a bit before tossing in the monastery madman to do the deadly deed. Not entirely a bad idea seeing the talents here are distinguishable and decent, but where it somewhat fails is the very the characters they're portraying as they aren't that uninteresting, mostly limited in charm by means of their development or personality so much that they're basically walking tropes.

Contentedly, Prom Night IV saves itself by a hair with its gratifying last act where our psychotic priest goes Biblical on them in a okay-ish killing spree that focused more on thrills than bloody spills, albeit still littered with your typical dumb choices and cliches; a scalping gets implied, a head is crushed while the killer ranted a prayer that nearly drowned out his victim's agonizing screams, and there's even an effective rooftop set-piece where Father Jonas repeatedly stabs his signature daggered crucifix up an attic's ceiling, hitting a poor fellow in more corners than one before meeting his maker. Overall, a decent climax that makes up quite a lot for what were lacking.

The main thing that's stopping me from enjoying this movie even more is the fact that it introduced some major supernatural on-goings, as well as some shady things done by the church. This was dropped midway into the film and barely touched the matter again, quite sad as it certainly would have made this a more intriguing watch but as far as B-grade slashers go, they could have done worse. Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil (1992), for what it is, works as a passable teen bodycounter despite a few lackluster notes, packing some creepy moments, a distinguishable killer and a high-energy third act so not quite a total lost and worth a watch once in a blue moon.

1 female had her throat cut with a steel crucifix
1 male stabbed with a steel crucifix
1 male strangled with a phone cord
1 male gets a throat cut offcamera
1 male murdered, method unknown
1 female murdered, scalped offcamera
1 male had his head crushed
1 male gets a steel crucifix hurled into his chest
Total: 8

Friday, July 26, 2019

Kill Or Be Killed For Our Entertainment?: Keep Watching (2017)

Keep Watching (2017)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Bella Thorne, Chandler Riggs, Ioan Gruffudd

So this is technically Unfriended (2014) if it was a home invasion slasher movie and minus the supernatural hoo-ha and dark satire on cyberbullying. I fail to see the part where I should be ecstatic.

A string of gruesome home invasion murders is getting streamed to the unknowing public by a masked group of maniacs, randomly targeting families apparently via social media.

For this run, their new target is Jamie Mitchell, a moody teenager returning home from a 10-day vacation with her family, consisting of her father Adam, her young stepmom Olivia and her younger brother DJ. Unbeknownst to them, their entire house was scouted, rigged, and left with other unpleasant surprises, for what will be a full night of unexpected terror as the masked killers make their way in, to stalk them inside their own home and stream their struggles to survive for the unsolicited entertainment of millions.

I can make the argument that Keep Watching (2017) has potential should it have played the right cards; the factor that the murders are being broadcasted online may not be new seeing other titles like the cyber-thriller/torture porn hybrid Untraceable (2006) already did this in a much more creative execution (and then some), but I cannot deny that there's still enough life to kick out of this old horse especially with our time's fascination for online culture. Instead, however, the movie decided to with the skeletal route, ditching the potential satire it could have dwindle on regarding modern computer ethics and violence in media by focusing more on the home invasion bodycounting aspect of the plot with little regards on development, coherence and character.

Normally I have no problem with plotless slashers considering I'm a fan of movies like Stagefright (1987) and Wrong Turn (2003), but with its tired pacing and lackluster motive behind the killings, Keep Watching (2017) becomes quite a chore to watch that eventually gets worse when the supposed "fight to survive" was more of watching our protagonist and her family wander around in a dark house for a lengthy (and I mean lengthy) amount of time while our villains toy with them with camera footages and odd noises before killing a few of them and then racking up the killcount through random boyfriends, last minute additions and some of the killers biting it. Add the matter that our main family is so underdeveloped that I find it hard to care about their fate, as well as the kills themselves being rarely creative, and you have this unengaging piece of retreaded horror tropes done and done over.

Exhausting, predictable and an overall disappointment, Keep Watching (2017) just fails as a genre movie in terms of scares and thrills. Ditch it like how the film ditched potential.

1 female attacked, murdered offcamera
1 male strangled
1 female murdered offcamera
1 male drowned
1 male suffocated with a plastic bag
1 male had his head bagged and a water hose shoved down his throat, drowned
1 male hacked with an axe
1 female stabbed in the neck with a drumstick
1 female found murdered
Total: 9

Monday, July 22, 2019

Dust Clod All Over Lost Gold: The Intruder (1975)

The Intruder (1975)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Chris Robinson, Mickey Rooney, Yvonne De Carlo

Summoned to an island mansion by a host named Henry Peterson, relatives of Axel Luben were to secretly discuss with Peterson about splitting some gold he found from a plane that reportedly went down in Bogota, Columbia with Luben. The problem, however, is that Henry is nowhere to be found.

Understandably skeptical about the whole shindig, the ten people who turn up decided to keep a watchful eye on the place until their boat returns, believing that Peterson and/or a possibly still-living Luben are hiding in island somewhere and out to kill them all to keep the gold for themselves. True enough, someone is skulking around the island, murdering their only ride home and propping up the bodies of their victim to drive them insane. It isn't long before the group begins to suspect one another, go for each other's throats and the kill count rises the longer they stay in the island.

Basically a play on Agatha Christie's influential novel And Then There Were None, The Intruder (1975) sadly lacks any real excitement as a horror movie as this California-lensed lost film has lackluster mostly written all over itself. In fact, the only thing for me that sparks any sense of interest is the story behind the film's recovery, with its reel and title found some years back from a storage facility housing forgotten and abandoned film prints by Garagehouse Pictures’s Henry Guerro who, along with the rest of the world, never even knew its existence despite boasting Mickey Rooney, Yvonne De Carlo and Ted Cassidy as parts of its casts.

That and a random kung-fu fight at the middle of the movie, involving a rotund karate master and some other guy who's life and occupation failed to strike me as interesting.

As a proto-slasher, its hand-tossed mystery barely has any life in it, sleepily pacing its way through the running time and uninspired murders with much cheesy acting, over-dialogue and absence of vigor. It occasionally woos in some gothic atmosphere echoing Christie's book, though it hardly helps matter that the kills are also insipid, generally bloodless and tame all the way, thus still making the hobble a tiring and stale ride. Any good points left can be found within the film's posh cinematography and the insane level of cheese in its last act, this including the aforementioned kung-fu brawl out that ends hilariously in death and multiple twist reveals, one of which head-scratchingly coming out of nowhere.

Less a full blown slasher flick and more of a low-budget murder mystery, I really wanted to like The Intruder (1975) as a lost gem but the major play of the movie feels so much like a low-end production that I can't help but feel like burying the damn thing back into obscurity. Not a lot else to say about this; the story behind its resurfacing is a fun tidbit trivia for horror enthusiasts but the film itself can lay and rot in the Mojave desert for all I care.

1 male had his head smashed against a window, body later found submerged in water
1 female found with throat cut
1 male found murdered
1 male found with throat wound, body hung upside down
1 male strangled, thrown off a window
1 male drowns in a lake
1 female drowned in a tub
2 males fall unto a pitchfork, impaled
1 male electrocuted via current
1 female falls off a speeding boat, drowned
1 male shot with a rifle
Total: 12

Sunday, July 21, 2019

A German Socialite In Underground London: Creep (2004)

Creep (United Kingdom/Germany, 2004)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring:  Franka Potente, Sean Harris, Vas Blackwood

So apparently, not only are the London undergrounds infested with clans of cannibals (Death Line (1972)), hungry werewolves (An American Werewolf in London (1981)), giant mutated roach-manti (Mimic (1997)) and Apocalypse-fearing murder zealots (End of The Line (2009)), but now we also have to worry about deformed hermits with a killing streak...

When word gets around that a certain George Clooney is attending a function that's just across London, socialite Kate (Franka Potente) aims to get a piece of that action (and Clooney) and books a ticket for the last rail ride for that night. Being fresh out from another drug-and-booze party, Kate got some shut-eye while waiting for her train, only to wake up some time later to find the underground station closed, locking her inside.

An empty ride does eventually shows up at the platforms for Kate to hop on but unbeknownst to her, this isn't lady luck giving her a hand; not only does her train suddenly powers down and stops mid-travel, momentarily leaving her in the dark, and a drunken co-worker from the party she just attended somehow found his way to Kate's train to go rapey on her, but somebody else is stalking the underground railways. Somebody who has no problem dragging Kate's attacker off and onto the tracks. Somebody carrying a knife to stab and slice people around.

Thus begins a long night of horror for Kate as she struggles to find a way out through the London Underground, all the while being stalked by our deformed and deranged killer (simply named "Craig") who proceeds to slaughter whoever unfortunate enough to tag along with our periled heroine, as well as those who just happens to be around.

Excelling in creating a claustrophobic and gritty atmosphere, Creep (2004) does its hardest to make the most out of its simple premise as a horror film taking place in the 400 mile underground track, wherein hapless socialites and random misfits are equal game for an unknown killer. It made good use of the maze-like subterranean set-up to pull all sorts of nasty surprises ranging from the believable to the fantastical, giving our killer all the places he can hide and creep around at, as well as show just how far from help our characters are, elevating a feel of hopelessness from escaping the night alive. The film's take on the subways does open to a couple of plot holes such as the presence of abandoned abortion clinics that serve as both our killer's lair and possible hint of origin. It's never addressed properly, with only pictures and jars of pickled babies giving us some idea to what may have gone down there and how our titular creep came to be, although this lack of detailed explanation, coupled with the film's brooding pacing takes care of brewing straightforward and humorless build-up for the movie's mostly workable scares.

The main cast mostly consists of random folks our Kate encounters, more or less fodder to pad the kill count, thus a patch or two of sensible acting can be seen from these good folks whenever they're on screen. In turn, German actress Potente herself has a great deal of the spotlight on her, who does a fine job as a doomed socialite, more so that it does act like a double edge sword since it made her character unlikable to a fault, but otherwise can still be root for when shit hits the fan. And with Sean Harris taking in the role of the deformed pseudo-gynaecologist that spent his life underground killing people and shrieking like a velociraptor to a tee, it's not hard to feel troubled for anyone in this predicament.

Personally, Creep (2004) is one of my childhood horror movies, frequently played at late night cable with most of its gore somewhat intact. It's a decent film then and it still is whenever I'm in the mood to watch it, withstanding its slow start and somewhat unliakble leading leading character. It's gory when it needs to be, creepily atmospheric and gritty all through out, and successfully made a creep named "Craig" terrifying in my eyes, this movie has a lot of good to offer and probably more for slasher fans. 

1 male found stabbed in the eye with a surgical machete
1 male slaughtered offcamera, bled to death from wounds
1 male had his throat cut with a surgical machete
1 male found with a throat cut
1 male repeatedly stabbed on the face, neck broken
1 male found dead, body submerged in sewage
1 female found slaughtered, body hoisted in a cage
1 female eviscerated through the groin with a surgical machete
1 male had his head shoved and impaled through a metal debris
1 male had his throat stabbed and ripped open with a train-caught chained hook
Total: 10

Monday, July 15, 2019

Teacher's Murderously Obsessive Pet: Devil In The Flesh II (2000)

Devil In The Flesh II (2000) (AKA "Teacher's Pet")
Rating: **
Starring: Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, Jsu Garcia, Katherine Kendall

Devil In The Flesh...Two? Why? How?

In case you haven't heard of the original Devil In The Flesh (and I am not gonna blame you, don't worry), its a 1998 teen thriller with a bodycount, starring Wes Craven's Scream (1996)'s Death-By-Elevated-Garage-Doggie-Door victim Rose McGowan as the titular "devil" which is teen speak for really obsessive murderous nutjob. Devil does quite fine as a timewaster but its forgettable enough to just be left on its own, which is apparently a sentiment the direct-to-video market does not agree with as there is apparently a demand to see where Devil will lead to next...

On that note, McGowan skipped this entry and her role as Debbie Strang is passed to Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, who starts this film strapped in a bed inside a mental institution while a butch nurse feels her up and her psychiatrist relays enough exposition from the first movie to know why we're here to begin with. (Basically she killed a bunch of people (and a dog) out of temperament. And probably teen angst) Debbie eventually murders her way out before hitching a ride with a rich kid enroute to a college writing course, who in turn soon realizes she just given a ride to an escaped psycho, only to end up pepper spraying herself blind before tripping and getting impaled into some rebars. So far so good for Debbie.

Passing the rich girl's identity as her own, Debbie enrolls to the writing course and befriends an awkward computer geek, as well as starts crushing hard on her professor in that typical increasingly psychotic way. This of course leads to her lashing out on a couple of extras and one potential Final Girl to their deaths, before making her way up to stalking and brutalizing her professor and his lover for a finale that's not all that inspired or exceptional.

To be frank, the entire movie is really nothing that inspired or exceptional. We got a bit of your TV movie stalker drama here, a few Single White Female (1992)-inspired bad roomie cheap thrills there, pepper some cheesy bad one-liners accompanied by mostly bloodless kills within a random wet dream and college kid trepidation, and we get this kinda-entertaining-for-a-single-viewing-only cheapie that really isn't trying that hard to be forgettable. I mean, it's chuckle worthy for the amount of cheese and cliches it managed to work into itself but other than that, Devil In The Flesh II (2000) has nothing much else going for.

Not worth the time to track it down, but feel free to try it out if it is on cable. If you don't like it, the power button (or the channel buttons, I suppose) is just a click away on the remote.

1 female gets a syringe jabbed to her neck and back
1 male bludgeoned with a book
1 female lands on a rebar, impaled
1 male hit on the head with a nailed board
1 female electrocuted in a shower with a live hair dryer
1 female falls off a building
Total: 6

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Return to Amity Island: Jaws 2 (1978)

Jaws 2 (1978)
Rating: ****
Starring: Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton

Long ago in the distant past of 1975, soon-to-be filmmaker maestro Steven Spielberg released a Summer blockbuster called Jaws, forever changing how films are made and creating a horror thriller masterpiece that will remain unchallenged, even to be selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as a culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant piece of art.

This being said, who didn't see the possibility of sequels coming? Frankly, I never saw the need for one but, here we are, three sequels in existence and two of them are utter laughable trash that gave the franchise a bad name. Thank the horror gods Jaws 2 (1978) isn't one of them.

Set four years after the events of the original, Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) has settled quite nicely into the cozy island life while his wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary) works with a local businessman lining in more vacationers and build resorts into Amity, and their sons Mike and Sean want nothing more than to enjoy their summer holidays. This is, unfortunately, the calm before the storm as another gigantic shark appears to have swum into Amity waters, seen early into the movie chowing down on a pair of rich divers who just want a picture next to a wreck. The animal will soon resurface for another victim, devouring a water skier and soon causing a freak accident with a fire, killing a boater and giving our new shark a monstrous new-look.

This sets Brody into a spiraling case of paranoia and panic (paranoic?) as he cannot help but feel uneasy with the chance of history repeating itself, that the deaths were caused by yet another monstrous fish. But since he wasn't personally present during the accidents, he really does not have a leg to stand on with his claims and this made it easy for the local high figures to quickly dismiss his ramblings about another shark on a possible munching spree. They proceed to step stand their ground further, too, after Brody unknowingly panics beach goers during an investors' visit, ruining the island's chance of getting back on their feet, economically-wise.

All of this, of course, will lead to a climactic showdown as Brody is left with no other choice but to take matters on his own hands, especially when the shark eventually returns to start feeding on a group of teenage boaters marooned near a light house, two of whom happen to be his own kids...

Just as the original Jaws (1975) can be seen as a form of proto-slasher with its use of POV shots and dramatic build-ups around its first half before shifting gears to an ocean adventure about three men hunting a monster of a shark, Jaws 2 (1978), on the other hand, comes pretty close to being a bonafide slasher as not only does it kicked up the bodycount and violence but a share of the plot's focus and murders centers on mostly teenage victims, with the killer shark even getting a slasher villain makeover ala nasty burn wounds on its face for that more gruesome and intimidating trait and behaving a lot more "capable" than the prior film's animalistic shark. Ramming boats and chasing water skiers are a few things we can expect from a common sea carnivore, but overpowering a moving rescue helicopter enough to drag it under the waters just to munch dead its pilot? That's post-Friday The 13th: A New Beginning (1985) Jason Voorhees-level of absurd villain strength right there! But, of course, the film is far from being that paint-by-number dead teenager shlock we all know and love, though I will admit we could have still gotten a interesting killer animal flick to watch if Jaws 2 (1978) gone down that route.

To be precise, the shark slasher shenanigans occur at the first twenty something minutes and last third of the movie, leaving us with a middle act that is more or less echoing too much off the first movie, with Sheriff Brody trying his darnest again to convince the town's officials (including Mayor Larry Vaughn who should have known better by now) about the possibility of an active shark attack to prevent any further deaths from happening. The key difference here is that Brody is facing this mostly on his own, a conflict that's probably the best reason to watch this sequel albeit its predictability and pacing that may understandably put some viewers off. While not altogether perfect, a returning Roy Scheider did give his all to make his character and his trials work (Despite, on Scheider's behalf, originally not wanting to do this movie and frequently clashing with the film's director Jeannot Szwarc during the movie's filming), making a good chunk of the drama centering on him and his reasonable post-trauma stress from tackling another Great White feeding frenzy worthwhile a watch.

It isn't long then that the man ends up taking the matter head on when the attacks go too obvious, leading to a fondue-feisty yet satisfying last act in spite of being filled with a cast of teens that're hardly standing up save for the cheese they reek. In fact, plenty of these teen characters basically got introduced with a name only to devolve into shark chum by the last third of the movie with a 30 percent chance of possible survival and 70 percent chance of uttering a line matching the stereotype they're representing. It does dull down some of the suspense as we hardly care whether these characters would make it alive or not, but thankfully the shark's stalk-and-kill sequences were fun and intense enough to proudly carry this movie, packing mean shark attack actions, a welcome amount of ham and still sporting some nice photography and effect shots, not withstanding the more robotic looking shark effects whenever the animal rears up its ugly head.

Yes, Jaws 2 (1978) barely surpassed its predecessors as a narrative and the movie's troubled production could have a say or two in that matter, but it still manages to be this entertaining wetlands animal horror/thriller piece. Basically, it's a retread of the original with Brody getting uncomfortable in his double role as both the movie's doomsayer and heroic final man, but with the saving grace of Scheider's presence and the last 30 plus minutes of teens/shark action, this movie could have been way worse than a rotting beached whale. No means a classic but watchable at its best, recommended for good late night monster movie viewings.

1 male eaten by a shark
1 male eaten by a shark
1 female eaten by a shark
1 female immolated in a boat explosion
1 male eaten by a shark
1 male had his helicopter pulled into the water by a shark, drowned (or eaten based on a deleted scene)
1 female eaten by a shark
1 shark tricked into biting a live cable, electrocuted until head bursts aflame
Total: 8

((Also, no. I won't be bother covering these two stinky fishes. Not only are Jaws 3-D (1983) and Jaws The Revenge (1987) hardly slasher-esque movies, but they're... just horrible mind-numbingly dumb sequels. And this is coming from a guy who enjoyed The Redeemer: Son of Satan (1978)!))

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Ghost of Inmate Past: Prison (1987)

Prison (1987)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Lane Smith, Viggo Mortensen, Chelsea Field

So there was a time in the late 80s and early 90s wherein we get this slew of horror movies about killers getting executed only to come back as (mostly electric) boogeymen. A lot of these will turn up as cult favorites like Shocker (1989) and The Horror Show (1989), though some seem to get the "Oh yeah, that existed" treatment, Prison (1987) being one of them which is kinda a shame for me since it's pretty fun on its own rights.

The film opens with a five-minute scene of an inmate getting escorted to an electric chair, with security guard Eaton Sharpe there to witness the final moments of this man as he go meet his maker with the help of ole' sparky. This event haunts Sharpe, all the way to twenty years later wherein he is now an appointment warden to the very same prison the electrocution took place, re-opened after it shut down back in the 60s.

Sharpe, truth be told, isn't quite cutting it as a prison warden as he appears tense, nervous and simply paranoid of just being there, but despite the objections of a sole female board member, he's to stay to oversee the first wave of convicts who will also be this prison's hired hands when it comes to the on-going renovations. In comes Burke (young Viggo Mortensen of the Lord of The Rings franchise, the amazing drama The Green Book (2018) and Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)) a car thief with a heart of gold who gets paired up with a more religious inmate and tasked to unearth a long-sealed execution chamber. After a couple of whacks and cracking it open though, the chamber appears to emits a strange light that's seemingly coming out of nowhere.

The light, unknown to them all, is actually a malevolent force that remained dormant in the prison until the cement wall went down, wasting no time haunting the joint and starting a supernatural killing spree by pressure cooking a poor sucker to flames inside an isolation chamber and was about to claim another when Burke shows up and saves the day. The incident gets swiftly swept under the rug as an accident, a claim soon to be proven wrong when another inmate -taking advantage of a blackout that left the automated bars unlocked- gets crushed and impaled to death by living pipes and rebars while attempting escape, his body then soon dropped from the ceiling in front of stunned cons the morning after.

As more of these accidents claim the lives of cons and officers alike, Sharpe slowly goes unhinged and resorts to demean the convicts through inhumane hardships to control the situation, little knowing that the murders are somewhat connected to an age old debt he had to who could be a murdered man. Until then, Burke and company has no choice but to try survive not only the wrath of an undead killer but also a deranged warden with some power of the state on his side.

Salad tossing prison drama with supernatural slasher together, Prison (1987) is written and produced by Irwin Yablans (who also produced Halloween (1978) and its sequel, Tourist Trap (1979) and Hell Night (1981)) who originally conceived it as a more traditional bodycounter titled Murder in the Big House, with a live fleshy killer stalking and murdering convicts within a prison. Changes were made when a screenwriter pointed out how little the plot made sense seeing there's bound to be more than one other killer in a prison who can easily snuff out a slasher, even more a live one, thus resulting to this atmospheric supernatural convict-on-peril slay-a-thon filmed in an actual abandoned prison, with actual convicts. (No, really. One of the actors, former stuntman Stephen E. Little, was serving a sentence of manslaughter at the time of this movie's filming)

It isn't perfect admittedly as there are some sub-plots and hinted elements that could have been addressed better and characterization is mostly one-note, particularly when it came with the other convicts and the only female cast among the sausage fest. (seriously for the latter, she only appears time to time to spew exposition and little else) Thankfully, there's enough gothic horror scenery, slasher-friendly gore, and prison drama to go along the decent actors, making up for Prison (1987)'s rather less-than stellar script.

The film certainly tries to work its way to create tension and tone as the first third of Prison (1987) is where all of the straight prison drama conventions get played out, from the surprisingly colorful and "quirky" convicts (here's to you, Tommy "Lasagna" Lister!) to the power play between either the prisoners or the hardass warden's little cavalcade of guards. It's done with a steady yet reasonable pace that did slow down in the middle to make more room for the hoosegow shenanigans, but the resulting manic prison riot climax where a good bulk of paranormal chaos ensues made the wait worthwhile. (Especially if it features a Kane Hodder cameo as the main boogeyman, who reportedly stuffed live worms in his mouth for his scene) Plus, in the movie's defense, the supernatural kills here are as awfully gruesome as they are outlandish, crafted away in gooey red practical effects (courtesy of  John Carl Buechler, who did the effects for Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988) and Curse of The Forty-Niner (2003)), with your classic fog effects and blue tinted lighting bringing out the macabre from the grimy and claustrophobic setting of the film's cryptic prison for that extra slice of near-Lynchian horror imagery.

In short, Prison (1987) is a bonafide lost classic that surpassed my expectations despite being flawed. It balanced out its big house character play with blood-chunky supernatural slasher quite well, granting us a final product that is far from golden, but crimson red enough to warrant a viewing or even a cult following from good horror fans.

1 male executed via electric chair
1 male cooked alive in a heated isolation chamber
1 male impaled to death by rebars and pipes
1 male crushed and garroted to death by barbwires
1 male blown through the chest by a beam of light
1 male electrocuted to death
1 male falls to his death off a ledge
1 male seen murdered
1 male thrown against a pole
1 male shot with a shotgun, left for dead
1 male shot dead by an automatic rifle
1 male impaled through the arse by a flung pickaxe
1 male shot to death
1 male found dead, cause unknown
1 male found dead, cause unknown
1 male bled to death from a shotgun wound
1 male electrocuted, immolated in a car explosion
Total: 17

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Off The Bad Hook: "I Still" and "Always Know What You Did Last Summer" Double Bill Review

The late 90s will always be known for slasher fans as the time eye-candy teen TV stars invaded the revived bodycounting fad thanks to the surprise success of Wes Craven's Scream (1996), thus welcoming the plethora of modest budget dead teenager films with their Scoody-Doo inspired motives and often dry murders. The title-mouthful I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) was and still is one of the more competent cash-in to the success thanks to its focus on a workable mystery and fair character building than self-referential cheese and humor, so it isn't much of a surprise that talks of getting it a sequel got brought up. 

Problem? Two of them sequels got made. And they're both cooked in badly burnt cheese.

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr., Brandy Norwood

Taking place a year after the original Summer, Hewitt's character Julie James is back in college and struggling with the fact that her friends got killed by vengeful psychopathic fisherman named Ben Willis. Constantly in a state of survivor's guilt and haunted by nightmares of Mr. Willis returning to end what he started, her trauma is starting to affect her studies, as well as her love life seeing Julie's unable to choose between continuing her long distance romance with her old boy Ray (still working boats in their home town) or just getting it with fellow college student Will, who's everything dorky.

Fortunately, Julie's luck will turn for the somewhat good as she and her friendly roomie Carla win four tickets to the Bahamas through a radio show. Not too long after this, however, someone with a hook for a hand and wearing a rain slicker starts making their way to Julie's vacation and, as you would have it, staffs start dropping dead like flies. It isn't long before the vacationers are all that's left, trapped in an island in the middle of an overnight storm season with a killer.

The cliches and cheese are the obvious culprits to this sequel's mediocre story as the first film's focus on crafting likable character and a serious tone to go along its mystery are replaced by dumb choices, naïve characters and way too many plot conveniences and holes. Some of these hamminess work in the sense that they're laughably stupid, but a lot of them just felt tired, forced and rushed. There were some fun cameos (Jeffrey Combs, Jack Black and Bill Cobbs) to note on and the kills, gladly, are bloody enough to somewhat warrant small good points to approach this sequel but other than that, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998) just felt stuck, really nothing more than a retread of the first film only drowned in unintentional (?) humor and banality.

I'm clearly not a fan but should you see it for the cheese alone, you might do better than I did accepting this movie's direction and existence.

1 male gets a hook through his mouth
1 male got his face slashed across with a hook
1 female slashed, hooked in the back
1 male stabbed in the chest with a garden shear
1 male found hacked in the head with a machete
1 male hooked through the neck
1 male found impaled with a collapsible harpoon
1 female gets pinned through the floor with a collapsible harpoon
1 male gets a hook to the chest
1 male shot to death
Total: 10

I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006)
Starring: Brooke Nevin, David Paetkau, Torrey DeVitto

And here we have the odd duck in the Summer franchise; released direct to video in 2006, Always reduced the events of the first two film as well as our killer fisherman Ben Willis down to an urban legend, where it is now said a ghostly killer fisherman will hunt teenagers on July 4th should they be keeping some dark naughty secrets. A small group of teenagers thought this would make a great prank and have one of them dress up as The Fisherman and chase the rest in a faux attack, only for all of it to end very badly when it results to an accidental death.

Just like the first film, the guilty gang make a pact to never speak of their involvement with the "attack", basically retreading the first movie as Always tries to recapture the magic of watching likeable characters battle their conscience and face the consequences of their secret. But seeing this is a cheaper production, none of the attempts are that effective and they're arguably more predictable at this time around. The titular death threat gets thrown down (modernized via text message) with the receiver trying her hardest to convince her innocuous batch of friends that trouble is brewing, only for them to give in once they get a near-death encounter with Mr. Hooky. Red herrings are brought up and introduced or re-introduced, climactic chase scene happen to boost the killcount, and then the twist. Oh, my gods, the twist.

This movie's reveal is the only reason why I hadn't kicked this film into the endless abyss; it's completely bonkers and so out of tune to what the entire franchise have built upon prior to Always that it's both unforgivably stupid and admirably brave on the producer's behalf if they thought this will fly off well without pissing the fans of the series. (Or the original movie) I guess somebody in the writing staff thought if it worked with Jason Voorhees and the Friday The 13th franchise, it would work here too? Well, at most, it doesn't. It's lazy and cheap, but it got a chuckle out of me so you got at least that.

If I am gonna be honest, overlooking the cheap characters, the annoying flashy edits whenever "The Fisherman" appears and this film's infamously dumb twist ending, I'll Always Know What They Did Last Summer (2006) would have been (or, for some, can still be) a passable rent for its bloody kills and fair pace to its mystery. If only it has a more knowledgeable direction for... whatever it was aiming to do here...

Seriously, supernatural ghoul Ben Willis? What the fuck...

1 male falls unto a tractor, impaled on its exhaust pipe
1 male had his throat slashed with a hook
1 female gutted with a hook, dropped off a floor
1 male gets a hook to his chest, dragged away and killed
1 male hooked to the mouth
1 male gets hooked on the groin, pushed and impaled through a forklift's fork
1 female killed offscreen
Total: 7

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Secrets To Die For: I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Rating: ****
Starring: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Anne Heche

It is well and known among the horror community that Scream (1996) revived the teen slasher movie back at the late 90s and this success meant cash-ins and copy cats, with I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) among the early -and dare I say, more competent- contenders.

Scripted by Scream (1996)'s Kevin Williamson and based on a relatively tamer 1973 novel of the same name by Lois Duncan (Who reportedly loath this movie), Summer centers on four friends living in a small fishing town with big plans after graduating high school. Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) and her boyfriend Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr) will be attending separate colleges in different cities but are aiming to keep their relationship despite the distance, all the while their friend Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) wants to become an actress in New York and her boyfriend Barry (Ryan Philippe) sets on becoming a professional jock.

It’s the Fourth of July and Helen just won a local beauty pageant, much to her friends and boyfriend's joy. In celebration, the four heads to the beach for a bonfire and spooky stories before hitting the road again, albeit boozed. This leads to them swerving around a winding coastal road and hitting a random pedestrian, a possible manslaughter that Julie is resolved to report to the police but collectively turned down by her friends, fearing the crime will ruin their future. Instead, they all decided to dump the body to an isolated fishing dock, only to shockingly find out he's not quite dead and they may have drowned him in the bottom of the sea...

A year later and it seems the memories of this one fateful night still haunts the group, their once bright expectations for their future dulled down by the guilt; Julie is depressed and returning home from college, Helen is now working under her snarky older sister as a department store clerk, Ray resorts to become a fisherman after breaking up with Julie and Barry is keeping up a straight face while playing his way as a college jock, still denying the fact he and his friends may have murdered someone. When the movie's titular note shows up in Julie's possession one day, its made clear that someone knows their little secret and has no problem toying them around with antics such leaving a body inside Julie's car trunk (only to disappear in a matter of seconds), cutting Helen's hair while she slept and nearly running Barry down with a car.

As the anniversary of the hit-and-run dwindles sooner by the day, the more dire the situation becomes for our guilty quartet when someone in a rain slicker and armed with a hook starts snuffing them and those who happens to be in the way down.

In its core, I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) has a plot reminiscent of cult classics such as Prom Night (1980) and The House on Sorority Rows (1984), wherein the cast accidentally kills someone only to pay the price through death after attempting to brush it under the rug. What makes Summer different though is its sheer focus on building character and a workable mystery not unlike the aforementioned trend-setter Scream (1996), only less self-referencing and considerably frugal on humor, an approach that brings a shred of realism to the movie's semi-outlandish plot as it tackles censure and morality, making the characters decent enough for our sympathy and root for most of their survival as they show (or for one, eventually show) concern for the crime they committed.

This mystery centered perspective does meant Summer lacks most of the usual exploits slashers of old are known for such as naked teenagers (although Hewitt's wardrobe does boast some cleavage and Philippe gets to show some pecs) and gratuitous gore, reducing kills to offcamera slaughtering, quick cut edits and splashes of blood, though the suspense is handled in a well paced direction, particularly in the hit and run accident where everything is either a struggle or an unwanted surprise, and too the chase scene between Helen and the killer at a near isolated town during the Fourth of July night. The posh and glossy production also gave this movie a high grand look with some beautiful cinematography and location shots, granting us a genuine small town mystery feel.

The only drawbacks I can see here are the bits and pieces of cheese and horror cliches littered around the script going against the semi-serious tone of the movie. There isn't much of it, so the damage isn't all that serious, just a bit distracting and, at times, might as well be expected seeing this is a slasher film. For its worth, I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) is a strong solid slasher with all of the familiar dead teenager tropes packed around a decent mystery, thus an essential addition to any true slasher fan's collection.

1 male gets a hook through his jaw
1 male mentioned dead, body fished out from a dock
1 male hacked to death with a hook
1 male hacked on the chest with a hook
1 female had her neck slashed with a hook
1 female hacked to death with a hook
Total: 6