Sunday, August 25, 2019

Generation Snapped: Tone-Deaf (2019)

Tone-Deaf (2019)
Rating: ***
Starring: Amanda Crew, Robert Patrick, Hayley Marie Norman

The unanimity regarding the term "millennial" is that it covers people reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century, which I guess meant those born between the early 1980s to the early 90s. The term is also often associated with pampering and nurture which would spin into entitlement and narcissism, more or less creating a trope out of it as the name an old person would give a young person they don't like under the pretense that they're worst living age group to have existed, even though I'm quite sure the same must have been said for Generation X 's and Y's.

Being the kind of guy who prefers to lie low and enjoy life at its simplest, I never really bother getting caught up with these kinds of ideals and arguments as I find it rather pointless (Just wait for a few decades, I'm sure we "millennials" will have our own age group to grumble upon) but one cannot deny the inevitable change of time and how things are so different now. Some people rolls with the punches, some choose to stay quite and keep their opinions to themselves. Others go bitter with hate and then we got the few offenders who go beyond hate. Like our villain here in Tone-Deaf (2019).

After recently dumping her unimpressive boyfriend and getting fired from a job by a spiteful boss, Olive (Amanda Crew) drives off the city and rents an ornate country house from an old widower named Harvey (Robert Patrick) for a much needed change of scenery. As she tries to reflect on her life choices and not bore herself bonkers by FaceTiming her friends, phoning her hippie mum Crystal (Kim Delaney) and tripping on acid, Olive is unaware that Harvey is actually a closeted psycho, grown despondent and demented from what he sees as a disappointing generation.

With an itch to kill growing ever so alarming, Harvey originally planned on murdering Olive within the rented home then and there but after getting a bad case of cold feet, he opted to stalk her first, plan out his actions a bit more while distracting himself by murdering a few other folks that just happens to be in the way or that strike him as irksome. It isn't long before the two troubled generations catch up in a good game of cat-and-mouse as Olive and Harvey clashes and blood gets spilled.

A satirical slasher comedy with a really strong potential to go deeper, Tone-Deaf (2019) makes a passable effort with its comedic elements, tackling the "self-absorbed millennial" trope to poke out an earnest chuckle or two, all the while visualizing the possible spite the so-called "baby bloomers" might have for the modern young adults through probably the best character to come out of this film.
It does suffer a dragging pace, a few flat jokes and one-note characters, but director Richard Bates jr. have this film covered in pretty much everything else as it is shot well with a few genuinely funny yet surprisingly heartwarming sequences (watch the LSD trip) and too a few unexpected dark surprises (Harvey's brief encounter with a red herring and their victim), all in an exhilarating direction, artsy editing and macabre imagery.

Gore and bloodletting are a tad light albeit the moderate killcount, but I can look past that thanks to the mad old man ramblings of our villain as he criticizes (often through a broken fourth wall) what he believes is wrong with today's society from politics, ethics, and even religion. I do find it a bit disappointing that we never get to explore Harvey's backstory apart from small hints of him being a terrible husband and a downcast father as a few more details into his personality and possible descent to dementia could have painted him a more memorable villain. On the protagonist's side, Olive did get the grace (?) of being written somewhat fairly as a walking cliche of a modern day young adult woman, though attempts to further explore why she is this way were attempted but, sadly, limited to primarily a running gag about her being terrible pianist. (Hence, the title) With these two being the movie's main focus, I do wish Bates did better characterizing them so we could have at least an overall more interesting final product, but what we do ended up having is still far from being that bad so not a complete lost.

An okay satire slasher with a compelling villain and a kinda meh-ish lead girl, Tone-Deaf (2019) hits an ample amount of good marks to be watchable may it be for the easy laughs, cheap scares or fair-looking kills. It ain't for everybody, but if you're aren't looking for a high horse among mules and just wants a fun and silly bodycounter with a somewhat different theme to it, why not give this a try?

1 male hanged
1 female glimpsed cutting her throat with a pen knife (flashback/vision)
1 elderly female stabbed to death with a buck knife
1 male brained to death with a hammer
1 female brained to death with a hammer
1 male axed on the head
1 male axed on the head
1 male repeatedly shot, had his chest repeatedly stabbed with a pen knife
Total: 8

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Rotten Bananas: The Banana Splits Movie (2019)

The Banana Splits Movie (2019)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Dani Kind, Finlay Wojtak-Hissong, Romeo Carere

Well, just when I thought slasher cinema couldn't get any weirder, here we have an officially licensed horror movie about mascot characters from an obscure 60s variety program created by Hanna-Barbera (as in Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo Hanna-Barbera) as murderous robots. Considering we got Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law out there, I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise we're going Chopping Mall (1986) with The Banana Splits!

Set in a universe where The Banana Splits show is still on-going and well loved by many kids, young superfan Harley gets the chance to see a live recording of the program when his parents Beth and Mitch got tickets for five for his birthday. Tagging along Harley's sweet 19-year old brother Austin and a classmate named Zoey, the family soon drives to the Split's studio, unbeknownst to them that this is actually the last taping they're attending following the show's unexpected cancellation.

Unfortunately for all of those involved in the show, as well as Harley's family and pretty much the rest of the audience, the Splits aren't too happy with the cancellation and they decided to do everything they can to make sure the show must go on, including killing a few bad eggs and the occasional bystanders. And to make matters worse, these aren't just people in funny animal suits, they're animatronics. Walking, talking, life-sized, steel-strong and hardwired animatronics.

With an impassive yet silly approach on the subject, The Banana Splits Movie (2019) stands out as an odd ball of cheese and mire reminding us why mascot characters can be so darn creepy and what kind of horror show awaits us in the bizarre situation of them being Terminator-esque robots underneath all of them fluff and felt, all the while injecting family melodrama and themes concerning maturity for that little shred of character development that thankfully didn't get too hammy.

Structurally, The Banana Splits Movie (2019) is thin in story and formulaic at times, finding one reason to the next to split up our casts in a nearly-abandoned filming studio, just to dish out overly gory and torturous kills to the expected obnoxious types from cheating husbands and drunken actors to pushy stage dads and annoying men-children. Nevertheless, the overall direction, pace and atmosphere of the movie makes up for the plot holes and cliches, choosing to ignore vital story points like why exactly are the Splits robots or why nobody seems to deeply question this, for the sake of diving the movie down to pure exploitation territory rich with black humor, twisted grit and delicious practical gore that is begging to suspend disbelief and just be ridiculously dark. Thus, it doesn't feel overly serious despite the straight-faced acting and muted backdrops, nor are we to expect it will give the time of day to broaden its characters to more than two dimensions, so we more or less have a malarkey plot of killer robot mascots here and so long as they're braining people with hammers or setting them on fire, I'm quite fine with that.

Concept-wise, the film isn't overly scary but it does have its unsettling and distressing moments (them kids are gonna need years of therapy) and a fun set of fluffy villains that succeeds on being maliciously creepy. It is an overall fun B-grade slasher romp that utilizes its own absurdity, subverting childhood nostalgia into something sinister to great effect which we slasher fans can warmly welcome from a bonafide guilty pleasure! What else is there to say but The Banana Splits Movie (2019) is making up a mess of fun and it's bloody fun for (probably, mostly) everyone!

1 male gets a prop lollipop shoved down his throat, crushing it apart
1 male chopped in half with a prop saw
1 male found beheaded
1 male had his back stabbed and pried open with a prop key
1 female bashed on the face with a mallet
1 male slashed with a metal claw
1 male found stabbed in the eyes with drumsticks
A number of victims found murdered and hoarded into a pile
1 male had his limbs torn off
1 male ran over with a buggy
Total: 9+

Sunday, August 18, 2019

An Old School Detention Massacre: Into The Dark: School Spirit (2019)

School Spirit (Into The Dark Episode 11/Season 1 (2019))
Rating: ***
Starring: Annie Q., Corey Fogelmanis, Jessi Case

A joint effort between horror movie company Blumhouse's television branch and video-on-demand subscription service Hulu, Into The Dark is a monthly horror anthology web series where each episode is a feature length film inspired by a holiday from the month it is released. For August, they tackle on the first day of school and they're doing it with a back-to-basics slasher approach. And a bit of Breakfast Club (1985).

Taking place in Helbrook High, star student Erica Yang (Annie Q) finds herself attending weekend detention for reasons she's secretive about, much to the slight amusement of some of the school's delinquents who she'll be attending with. Chores are soon given under their vice principal's orders (who's clearly less than happy to be wasting a weekend babysitting hooligans) though it isn't that long before the more hardened members of the group decide to just goof around, welcoming Erica and another non-detention type in their circle with booze and buzz as their vice principal just sulks away in his office, numbing the pain of a recent divorce with a bottle of whiskey.

It's around here that we get to know about the school's own urban legend "The School Spirit", who is said to be a former elderly teacher who got killed by a prank gone wrong, her body dressed up as the school's Admiral mascot in a sad attempt to hide the crime before it's eventually found out. Now they say she roams the halls as a ghoulish revenant, stalking and murdering those she sees as "bad kids", so should we all be surprised when our gang of goofs starts getting sliced and diced under the School Spirit's sword?

While Into The Dark have good runs with entries like the psychologically creepy Pooka! (2018) and the thought-provoking Culture Shock (2019), it isn't without its lackluster episodes like most horror anthology series and School Spirit (2019) is concretely one of its more standard titles. It's a by-the-numbers slasher flick through and through, paper thin in plot and often predictable in its direction, something that usually doesn't spell a bad movie for this sub-genre but Spirit undoubtedly felt basic.

Affairs are at least kept passable and engaging due to a solid cast so the character interactions are watchable for their worth, a saving grace seeing half of the movie's total run appears to center on building its small casts and even succeeds on making me root a few of them to survive. Cinematography mainly consisting of static shots and empty framing is also used to a decent effect on some of the film's scare scenes wherein our killer prowls empty biology labs and hallways, though the rest of School Spirit (2019)'s slasher horror elements were decided to be played safe, shying the camera away from anything extreme and leaving us with two to three "daring" murders (one of which involves a guillotine trimmer) shown mostly onscreen out of the double figure kill count.

The mystery behind the identity of the killer is also disappointingly easy (A trick to make us consider that the killer might be supernatural? Don't bring it up every ten minutes in your story! Makes it an obvious red herring), plus it doesn't help that the character behind the slayings gets defeated in the most embarrassingly naive way. Thankfully, overlooking the monologuing creep that is our unmasked killer, the film’s final act earns back a degree of workable fun for approaching it as a hammy mash-up of Happy Birthday to Me (1981) and Psycho (1960), ending with a satisfying second reveal behind Erica’s detention and giving us a dark turn for our final girl.

School Spirit (2019) by some parts is inert, though not completely unwatchable. It's familiar stance and stride through slasher tropes lets you know you could be watching a better campus set dead teenager flick, but if you're in the mood for a simple, harmless and easy-to-swallow teen horror flick to pass the time then you could probably work something out with this one.

1 male found stabbed in the eye with a screwdriver
1 male slashed with a sword
1 elderly female seen dead from a heart attack (flashback)
1 male had his head chopped off with a guillotine paper trimmer
1 male had his feet sliced off with a sword, killed
1 male killed offscreen with an axe
1 female hacked on the head with an axe
1 male and 1 female seen killed
1 male skeleton seen
1 male seen stabbed to death
1 male ran through with a sword
Total: 12

Friday, August 16, 2019

Fresh From The Crazy Cradle: Mikey (1992)

Mikey (1992)
Rating: ***
Starring: Brian Bonsall, Josie Bissett, Ashley Laurence

I first came upon Mikey (1992) as a DVD at the video section of a local mall when I was a wee little lad going through a zombie phase -as in I watch and re-watch zombie movies both old and new as if its a daily nutrient vital to my very existence- so I didn't really give much thought about it other than I find it silly that they try roping in classic slasher villains Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees as if the little evil twerp in the cover would match up to their legacy. Yep, lil' me isn't easily persuaded. (Most of the time)

I eventually got to see this movie some years later when I'm at college, spotting a copy at a "get-three-for-one-price" bargain sale that also led me to owning a copy of Death to The Supermodels (2005) and Sparrow (2010). Let's just say the following weekend took a toll on my brain cells...

The gist of Mikey (1992) is that the titular boy is a 9-year old psychopath with a murderous streak; we basically start off the movie with him killing his adopted mum and sister after the former scolds him for playing with fire and the latter for not taking in the blame. One deep fried mum and (a disturbing sight) drowned girl later, Mikey's adopted dad gets home from work and the little bugger brained him to death with a baseball bat before hiding in a closet and spinning a tale about a murderous break-in when the cops find him.

This puts Mikey unto another foster home and taking him in are Neil and Rachel Trenton who are quick to treat the kid with much love and dedication as a happy family would, introducing him to a neighboring kid to befriend, taking him to zoos and setting him up to a good school. For a good while, Mikey behaved like a little angel while occasionally slipping out weirdness like lying on graves and drawing murderous turkeys that most quickly concludes as his trauma acting up. It isn't long before the boy's goody-goody facade starts to slip and Mikey's back to the evil kid shtick, sabotaging dates involving a teen girl he grew a liking to, manipulating adults into thinking he's innocent, and straight up murdering folks that he doesn't fancy anymore.

Quite surprised to see a lot of familiar faces in this one like Hellraiser's Ashley Laurence as Ms. Gilder and A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: Dream Child (1989)'s Whit Herford as Mikey's friend Ben, though I doubt their presence in this film will be enough to make it a gem well-worth finding. For one, while Laurence does a fine job as a kind teacher who's the first to see past our killer kid's good guy persona and Josie Bissett of the TV series Melrose Place fair quite well as the object of Mikey's puppy dog obsession affection, the rest of the casts have acting chops that remind me of tongue-in-cheek made-for-TV dramas of the old days that oddly goes well with the absurdity of Brian Bonsall's serial killing child character Mikey whose cheesiness reeks strongly from cringy one-liners and crazy feats the movie have him do. (Like prop up three adult corpses into a macabre dinner set-up for the film's finale. Then again, it's like hours after he killed said three adults so...)

This might fair well for those looking for a silly killer kid horror movie to poke fun at, but those looking for a dark and serious thriller regarding mentally damaged children probably wouldn't find much here to satisfy their viewing needs no matter how much the movie tries to build a sensible build-up to Mikey's climactic murder-outburst, a direction that leaves a huge bulk of so-so nuclear family deconstruction and predictable plot development before the movie gets back into bodycounting. On that note, not much to say about the kills regarding bloodiness or gore (with two of them pretty much a carbon copy of one another), but the first massacre certainly has its dark moments (again, drowned child) and we did get a few passable latter kills including a fatal slingshot and an arrow through the gut.

As an interesting footnote, Mikey (1992) is one of a few films still banned in the UK, originally rejected in 1993 before finally getting the ban in 1996 due to the case of young James Bulger, who was kidnapped and murdered by two ten-year-old boys. Child psychiatrists and other professionals probably had a field day pointing out the dangers of exposing lil' minchkins to slasher films like Mikey (1992) much to the delight of witch hunter soccer moms, thus it simply never got resubmitted for release since then.

Truth be told, the idea of a murdering child is upsetting and terrifying in general, but this film's generic slasher framework and hammy cliches do drop the terror factor of the concept a notch or two, despite the occasional creepy imagery. (Mikey videotaping and re-watching his own murders, for one) It's far from a forgotten classic, but it executed the tropes well enough to at least earn a fleeting interest and a sporadic watch.

1 girl drowned in a pool
1 female electrocuted in a bathtub with a live hairdryer
1 male crashes through door glass, brained to death with a baseball bat
1 male electrocuted in a Jacuzzi with a live radio
1 female stabbed on the neck with a glass shard, falls off a floor
1 male shot through with an arrow
1 female shot on the eye with a slingshot marble
1 male immolated in house explosion
Total: 8

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Remember when The Fast and The Furious was about car heists and street races...?

And now we got cybernetically enhanced mercenaries working for a cyber-terrorist aiming for world cleansing via biotech virus and two action stars duking out these threats in a Samoan island with nothing but clubs, spears, juiced-up cars and whole lot of boody traps.

My how times have changed. And I love it! (Even though this is my FIRST Fast and Furious movie)

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Hillbilly Outbacks: Storm Warning (2007)

Storm Warning (Australia, 2007)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Nadia Farès, Robert Taylor, David Lyons 

If there's anything I've learned from watching slasher movies is that nothing good ever comes to foreign vacationers once they end up lost and their only place to crash in for the night happens to be a shoddy shack populated by equally shoddy bumpkins. Further to rest my case? This "Ozploitation Hicksploitation" throwback directed by none other than Jamie Blanks of slasher cult favorites Urban Legend (1998) and Valentine (2001).

For their romantic getaway, well-off married couple Rob (Robert Taylor) and Pia (Nadia Farés) has a simple plan in mind; take a sailboat out to the Australian coast, soak up some sunshine and probably catch a fish or two. What they didn't count on happening is a sudden storm brewing and Rob's terrible navigation skills getting them both lost as he tries to get back to shore.

It isn't long before the two find themselves sailing to a marshy island where, unfortunately, worse trouble awaits them as a family of three hardened hicks (played by David Lyons, Mathew Wilkinson and John Brumpton) happens to be living there, illegally raising marijuana and not too hesitant to go violent to whoever crosses them wrong, this including lost couples who stumble upon their house. With a storm raging outside and a clan of criminals threatening them with castrations, rape and death, Rob and Pia will soon find themselves pushed to their breaking points and have no choice but to fight and kill in order to survive an their harrowing situation.

Practically, Storm Warning (2007) is a decently shot and budgeted production that doesn't offer anything new in the market with its thin story echoing the likes of Last House on The Left (1972) and Wolf Creek (2005) wherein normal folks go toe-to-toe against murderous criminals in a long night to survive. It suffers a bit from having protagonists that embody the dumb side of yuppie culture for their lackluster decision making (to build up the plot, probably) and one of them wussing out a lot, but the acting from its relatively small casts warrants some good praises, especially towards the redneck characters that most may agree as one of the best parts of this film. The direction also goes into turfs not usually taken when it comes to these kinds of films as their leads normally would go through extreme torment before having them lash out against the villains, but Storm Warning (2007) kept it subtle on the onscreen violence and played more on emotionally and psychologically tormenting our unlucky couple, something that definitely works well to how near-realistic the despicable marshland goons were portrayed.

If you're patient enough to stride across these familiar waters, then I'm glad to say past the by-the-numbers hicksploitation is a highly energetic and unexpectedly gory climax that made the most out of the small kill count. Bad CG animation does get into the fray (a part of it used to create the storm clouds as Australia was going through some serious drought during the movie's filming), but they're mercifully few and bulks of the gore effects were done practically. Dog maulings, groin mutilations and wobbly-eyed hammer victims are just some of the nasty surprises Storm Warning (2007) cooked up once the survivors go hands-on offensive, bringing forth one resourceful final girl and a killer stalk-and-chase last act with a badass country rock score.

At the get-go, Storm Warning (2007) undoubtedly looks something most of us have seen before in one form or another and in all truthfulness it may as well be, but its directness gave us a fun romp of classic backwoods horror around rural Aussie wetlands. It boasts enough direction and menace in its simple plot with a satisfyingly intense and bloody finale to boot, this one is a real underrated work that I definitely recommend for grindhouse horror fans and good lil' curious cats out there.

1 joey decapitated with a butcher knife
1 male found murdered
1 male has his face snared and mutilated by a hooked fishing line trap, brained to death with a hammer
1 male mauled on the groin by a dog, disemboweled
1 male bumped unto an airboat's propeller, top half shredded
Total: 5

AHS doing a Hack'n Slash Season?

Well, not a real big fan of American Horror Story unless we're talking about Freak Show, the only season I wholeheartedly enjoyed and followed from beginning to end, but seeing these teasers? I'm gonna give it a try.

Hopefully a lot more interesting than the third season of that Scream mini-series. (Please, just let that franchise rest! The first three films were enough!)

Saturday, August 3, 2019

TV Terror: Chimera (1991 TV Series)

Chimera (United Kingdom, 1991 series)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring:  John Lynch, Christine Kavanagh, Kenneth Cranham

Looking for a fresh start in her life, Tracey Pickford (Emer Gillespie) moves away from the busy city to work as a nurse at a fertility clinic remotely located in the Yorkshire countryside. Behind the more mundane activities to be expected however, Tracey discovers that all is not what it seems as there's a heavily secured and monitored unit within the place called the "animal house" where strangeness are afoot and something loud, feral and strong is kept.

Trouble eventually rears its ugly head when one night, clinic staff and patients are killed in what looks like a frenzied scuffle in the clinic, this including Tracey herself. Among to hear this news is Tracey's film critic ex-boyfriend Peter Carson (John Lynch) who also received a concerning voicemail from his former girlfriend about the mysterious on-goings prior to her demise. Intrigued and filled with guilt, Peter travels to Yorkshire to investigate the incident which the local police quickly dismissed as a mere fire-related accident, while a shady government body sends in military units to seemingly hunt down something that escaped from the massacre. Something both a revolutionary creation of bioscience and an abomination of nature...

Released as a four-part television miniseries in the United Kingdom before getting compressed down to a hundred-plus minute VHS movie titled "Monkey Boy" for US distribution, Chimera (1991) is less a straightforward slasher exploitation plot and more of a hybrid thriller falling within the confines of mad science, government conspiracies and creature feature. The lengthy narrative, in turn, has multiple subplots and themes prioritizing on the investigation behind the masquerade normalcy of the clinic, which soon reveals to be a secret government program involving surrogate patients and genetic hybrids with the sole purpose of exploiting the result in every aspect possible from organ harvesting to slave labor.

This all steadily steps into an espionage tale with a Frankenstein (1931)-esque climax where Peter and Alison Wells (Christine Kavanagh), an unlikely ally who is the only surviving member of the team responsible for the hybrid project, race against time to find a creature named "Chad" before the shadowy government branch gets to it first and eliminate anybody getting in the way for your typical cover-up. If that's not complicated enough, there's also a revenge plot where the husband of one of Chad's victims sets out to kill the creature, as well as an intensely uncomfortable set-up where Chad is befriended and taken in by two children living in a barn, unknown to them that the creature just murdered their parents.

Slasher horror tropes, albeit still present, are very far in between the whole scientific ethics and human nature talk due to this, used only when the narrative momentarily focuses to the mostly unseen creature's point of view, with killings mostly offcamera due to this being a televised series and any bloodletting are reduced to bloody bodies and simple knife kills. Interestingly, while majority of our horror villains murders out of pure rage, twisted glee or malicious purpose, the creature here is only out to kill for self-preservation, as well as in struggle to maintain the child-like human part of their nature whilst keeping their feral side in check. This further strays Chimera (1991) from your typical slasher as the story found a way to balance the horrifying with the pitiable, ingeniously developing the supposed maniacal killer into a desperate victim of its own existence despite still being a threat itself.

The rest of the casts gets introduced in a rather unconventional way, echoing Psycho (1960)'s bait-and-switch tactic by introducing a dozen characters and developing them throughout the first episode, this including supposed major ones, only to have them slaughtered by the end while the minor characters return in the next episode to take on the mantle as leads. For most parts, the casts does a relatively okay job in their roles and the narrative's long run does help time these thespians development their characters, but the program's limited production values have dogged down other aspects of the series such as lighting, camera-work and scripting, making some parts of the show rather stale to sit through or a bit cheesy to fit in with the serious overtone of the plot. Thankfully, the damage is barely noticeable, though one can agree some of these scenes can be done better if it wasn't for these setbacks.

All in all, Chimera (1991) is an interesting horror drama that tackles heavy controversial subjects within the fields of science and ethics, while still sneaking in horror tropes with the right amount of thrills and somewhat modest bloody spills. It's definitely something we don't get quite a lot these days and I am glad to have given this one a shot. That being said though, dare I seek out its movie version for shits and giggles...?

1 male had his throat cut with a scalpel (Episode 1)
1 female murdered offcamera (Episode 1)
1 male found with a throat cut (Episode 1)
1 female pulled through a glass door, killed (Episode 1)
4 victims seen murdered (Episode 1)
1 female knifed on the chest (Episode 1)
1 female found dead with a mutilated face (Episode 2)
1 male knifed (Episode 2)
1 male immolated in explosion (Episode 2)
1 male falls to his death (Episode 3)
1 creature shot with a shotgun (Episode 4)
1 male shot dead (Episode 4)
Total: 15