WARNING: THIS BLOG CONTAINS BODYCOUNT. HIGH RISK OF SPOILERS. ENTER IF YOU DARE.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Have A Dead Yapping New Year!: Steel Trap (2007)

Steel Trap (2007)
Rating: **
Starring: Georgia Mackenzie, Mark Wilson, Pascal Langdale

With a title like "Steel Trap", a video box art featuring a random woman caught in a buzzsaw-infested steel corridor, and a tag line promising Surviving Each Floor Is The Name Of The GameI ain't gonna blame you for expecting a low budget, Saw (2003)-inspired death game of a movie. Well, it has a game. And deaths. Not a lot of traps, though...

Set on New Year’s Eve, a party is held in a nearly-abandoned skyscraper and we see seven among the crowd receiving a rhyming text invite for what sounds like an exclusive event just a few floors down. Upon getting there, they all find a dinky kid's party set-up with cupcakes and streamers instead, as well as another rhyming clue; some of them find this odd, others wonder if they're in a scavenger hunt with a prize, one of them thinks they're being punk'd by a hidden camera show. 

But when one of them gets attacked and murdered by a man in a black mask and suit, it's soon clear to these yaps that they've been lured to a trap, with their cell signals blocked and all means of escaped rigged. As their number continues to snuff out one by one, they'll have no choice but to fight back or die trying figuring out why exactly they're being hunted.


As you can tell, Steel Trap (2007) is basically a run-in-a-mill slasher that sticks close to the classic stalk-and-stab formula, maybe a tad too much as its dose of mystery and elaborate survivalist thrills fail to make itself stand out more for how little effort went into them. It's more of the usual bodycount flair of unlikable and bland characters getting killed by a dime-a-dozen maniac, spending their time alive and in-between kills uttering horribly written dialogue, paired with awkward acting and disarrayed editing. It's a fact that undoubtedly unimpressed many expecting something in the spirit of Saw 2 (2005) or even Cube (1997) based on its misleading marketing, and perhaps those who like their slashers packing more punch as well. 

If the cornball characters and their equally corny lines and delivery weren't an odd enough clutter to sit through, the lackluster scares and murder scenes further question this movie's take on workable horror as they're presented with little sense of tension and exploit; they mostly go through a brooding cycle of capture, forget, exposition and then kill, repeating this plot flow like a bad mantra with hardly any bloodshed until the climactic reveal. In all fairness, though, I do love the manic, spoon-fed exposition-filled take of the climax, down to the final act with its very much expected twist and unexpectedly hammed up performance of our surprise mastermind, giving us some last minute worthwhile entertainment before the credits roll.

Perchance, if one is to see this just for the misplaced hilarity of it all, you could say that Steel Trap (2007) is still a fair run for a slasher, albeit very understandably forgettable. It has "they tried" written all over itself and the little effort they put in, the one that actually hits it right, could worth their while, at least as a single night's rental to poke and laugh at. Apart from that, we're really better off watching something else.

Bodycount:
1 male knifed in the neck
1 female hanged on a noose
1 female gets a hatchet to her head
1 male brained to death against a floor
1 female had her heart cut out with a buzzsaw
1 male brained to death with a meat tenderizer
1 male had his throat cut with a knife
Total: 7

Friday, December 25, 2020

Festive Fears With The Family: Home For The Holidays (1972)

Home For The Holidays (1972)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Jessica Walter, Sally Field, Eleanor Parker 

On a stormy Christmas Eve, married Jo (Jill Haworth), alcoholic Freddie (Jessica Walter) and young Christine (Sally Field) are summoned back to their old country home by their sister Alex (Eleanor Parker) to help settle a disturbing family matter; their father (Walter Brennan) suspects that his current wife Elizabeth (Julie Harris) has been slowly poisoning him as she's rumored around town to have murdered her own husband the same way years ago. Paranoid and desperate to save himself, he orders his daughters to do the unspeakable: murder his wife!


With some of the sisters not being big fans of their patriarch and his condescending tongue, the women mostly scoff off his demands and see his ramblings as nothing more than senility finally getting to the old man. After one uneasy Christmas Eve dinner and an incident with Freddie getting suicidal-drunk, Jo decided to brave the storm and ride out to catch a flight back, only to be pitchforked dead by a figure in a yellow rainslicker and red gloves. It appears that there is indeed a murderer within the family, but could it be Elizabeth as their father suspected all along? Or perhaps another lunatic out to thin down the family?

As a made-for-TV proto-slasher, Home For The Holidays plays less like your standardized bodycounter filled with murdered teens and masked hulks, and more like a cozy Sunday afternoon whodunnit thriller packed with a few familiar horror tropes. Little slasher set-ups like a bonafide chase through the dark, rainy woods and the killer skulking around ala point-of-view shots do occasionally pop up, but majority of the play doesn't abide by the typical slasher trappings completely, thus the twisty surprises in its direction often come genuine and enticing, even if the story bogs down into TV soap territories more often than it needs to. Thankfully, the film doesn't overstay its welcome and gets the intrigue rolling as soon as the women are made aware of their father's plight, squeezing in Gothic sensibilities, Hitchcockian flair (Psycho (1960) screenwriter Joseph Stefano did wrote this) and an impressive performance from its casts to keep this murder plot exciting albeit the minimal, bloodless bodycount.


Hardly a complicated film to sit through, Home For The Holidays (1972) is a simple holiday thriller in the vein of paperback mystery novels, or at least a longer episode of Murder, She Wrote. If you fancy yourself a fun whodunnit that doesn't go all-out exploitative, this is a fair title to indulge in and enjoy during the Winter holidays or whenever it's raining outside. 

Bodycount:
1 female stabbed in the back with a pitchfork
1 female pulled into a bathtub, drowned
1 male murdered, method unknown
Total; 3

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Christmas, Stirred and Disturbed: Mrs. Claus (2018)

Mrs. Claus (2018) (AKA "Stirring")
Rating: **
Starring: Brinke Stevens, Helene Udy, Kaylee Williams

After being humiliated by a prank during a campus Christmas party, psychologically-troubled Angela knifed to death Amber, the sorority sister responsible for the stunt, before offing herself with a noose. Ten years later, Dani, Amber's younger sister, joins the same sorority and lives at the same sorority house as a form of self therapy to get over the loss. This is proven difficult when some people around campus appear to blame Amber for her own demise for hazing and pranking a sensitive girl, which does little to help with Dani's uneasiness being there.


When she's tied into celebrating Christmas at the sorority house with the girls who decided to stay, Dani's more than happy to support and entertain in hopes it'll keep her and everybody's festive spirits up. That is until she starts getting threatening emails from someone calling themselves Mrs. Claus and, soon enough, people starts disappearing at the party.

Not a lot to say about this indie holiday nightmare save that it follows your classic late 80s/early 90s barebone slasher that's low on budget but high on determination; it has your usual pitfalls of wooden deliveries and over-the-top acting, as well as pacing issues where characters are just lazing around talking about life dramas, weed, alcohol and podcasts for a dragging moment before our killer arrives to break the drawling momentum and awkward writing. The killer, unfortunately, also fails to be anything interesting appearance or personality-wise; their get-up basically looks like a dollar store ghoul mask over someone in a female Santa costume and, once unmasked, their motivation isn't anything new. From what I can tell, we got about twenty or so other slashers titles out there that share the same motive and despite this movie's attempts to shake this familiar footing a bit, the end result is a set of multiple twists that are just confusing and kinda random. 


And yet, I can't completely turn down Mrs. Claus (2018) all the way; again, it has goal to make something out of itself and I can see that from the impressive splatter on the gore and blood effects. The story's easily digestible enough with its okay characters, including an extended cameo role from scream queen Brinke Stevens, and its hammy B-grade feel thanks to its budget. Apart from this, the film is just forgettable on my end of the stick, a harmless yet admirable title in its attempts to be entertaining, so much so that it's worthwhile a peek and nothing much else.

Bodycount:
1 female knifed to death while choking on a shoved dildo
1 female hanged on a noose
1 female garroted with Christmas lights
1 female stabbed in the gut with a machete
1 male gets a decorative candy cane shoved into his mouth, throat cut with a machete
1 male and 1 female impaled with a decorative post
1 female decapitated with a sickle
1 male gets a decorative post through his head
1 female stabbed in the eye with a Christmas tree topper
1 female hacked on the head with a machete
1 female gets a rod shoved through her mouth, impaled
1 female presumably killed, implied at end credits (?)
Total: 13 (?)

Monday, December 7, 2020

Slasher Switcheroo Friday!: Freaky (2020)

Freaky (2020)
Rating: ****
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Celeste O'Connor

“You’re Black! I’m gay! We are so dead!”
- The last words of Joshua to his friend as the killer catches up on them.
...Or is it?

In the small town of Blissfield, four teenagers are just hanging around at a rich friend's mansion, boozing it up while chatting about a local boogeyman legend known as The Blissfield Butcher who's said to be infamous for slaughtering teens during the annual Homecoming. As you would've guessed, the legend turns out to be real when the Butcher (Vince Vaughn) suddenly arrives and makes easy pickings out these hapless teens, even finding the time to steal an ancient dagger out of the mansion's collection of strange artifacts. 

Cut to the following morning, we see our protagonist Millie (Kathryn Newton) preparing for another day in high school while mending herself from your atypical teenage insecurities and drama; she just lost her father a year ago which had her older sister distracting herself with cop work, all the while their mother tries to dull the loss by drinking and being overly clingy with her kids. Fortunately for Millie, she has a pair of fantastic friends by her side, Joshua (Misha Osherovich) and Nyla (Celeste O’Connor), both very much as supportive as they are aware of their friend's need to let go of the grief.

Things get messed up further for our humble heroine, however, as apart from the usual bullying classmates and asshole teachers, she now finds herself targeted and hunted by the Blissfield Butcher later that evening after trying out as a school mascot. Soon, The Butcher catches up to Millie and stabs her with his new dagger, unaware to the both of them that the weapon does more than just look exotic; as it turns out, the ancient blade has the ability to exchange the consciousness (Or spirit. Or whatever you wanna call it) of the stabber and the stabbee with one another, basically switching bodies. With Millie now in The Butcher's body the morning after, she must find a way to convince her friends into helping, not draw attention to herself (Aaron Rodgers to the rescue!) and figure out how a 6-foot male body works, all in order to stop The Butcher in his continuing killing spree within 24 hours or else the change becomes permanent!

Curiously, this isn't the first time the slasher sub-genre stabbed at the body-swap approach; New Zealand's The Ferryman all the way back from 2007 has a tourist cruise en route to Fiji getting picked off by a murderous stranger with body-swapping abilities, and then in 2013 with Japan teaming up with the US of A to produce It's a Beautiful Day, where homicidal racists target a group of Asian vacationers, only for one of the killers and one of the victims to switch bodies for no apparent reason. While as interesting as these titles are in their attempts to do the slasher formula a tad differently through a fantastical premise, Freaky (2020) did its body-swap angle with a bit more heart and fun to it, embracing the silliness of the idea and just roll with it one messy kill and one hilarious line at a time. 

From filmmaker Christopher Landon, who gave us the amazing Happy Death Day (2017) and its equally awesome sequel Happy Death Day 2U (2019), Freaky (2020) is a simple, loving throwback to weird teen comedies, with a gruesome side of gory slasher mayhem seen as early as the opening massacre and its homages to Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984) and even Sorority Row (2009). The central plot is basically hijinks upon hijinks of Millie, her friends and, eventually, her crush Booker (Uriah Shelton) trying to stop and capture The Butcher, as well as getting back the magical dagger that started the switch, all done with a satisfying range of comedy and commentary filled with sweet sharp writing, balanced hammy acting and subtle slapstick. With this, Vince Vaughn (who I hadn't seen in a slasher movie since Psycho (1998)) plays his young teen girl persona with much relaxed feminine wile that's cheesed up for the laughs, an enjoyable treat of a performance that would have completely stolen the show if it wasn't for Kathryn Newton doing her awesome take as an icy cold killing machine.

Apart from its wholesome slice of comedy, Landon and writer Michael Kennedy also took the time to slow down to develop its characters and aim for the feels, giving us a few warm moments where either Millie or her family express their insecurities and troubles either knowingly or unknowingly to one another. Of course, this doesn't stray Freaky (2020) away from its slasher nature too way off and we're definitely still treated with a pure NC-17 rating massacre that's untamed in its violence and relentless in its gore. Best among these kills include set-ups involving a nasty take on a wine bottle, a freezing death that could rival Jason X (2001)'s infamous "faceless Adrianne" kill and a table saw bisection in shop class, most of them satisfyingly committed upon hated characters that are begging to be dismembered, keeping the stakes predictable but aimed high on the splatter factor for how practical it all is. I also love the fact that we never really have a solid backstory behind the Butcher as even the characters are unsure what year he started his killings; he is simply just there to terrorize and be nasty to people, taking glee from taking lives.

All in all, one can easily overlook Freaky (2020)'s clichés and plot holes for its modest grade entertainment. As for any body-switch story to work, it depends to how much the swapped characters sell their personality despite being in the wrong body and this film achieves this in a way that doesn't deviate much from the note and wonderfully blends in the 80s slasher frame with a young adult coming-of-age fantasy comedy with elements of loss and reinventing. Again, the plot isn't anything new, but its feel-good vibe and dreadful karmic demises meant, more than anything else, Freaky (2020) is in it for the horror-comedy fun! See it and enjoy it!

Bodycount:
1 male gets a wine bottle shoved and shattered into his throat
1 female had her head repeatedly crushed with a toilet seat lid
1 male gets a broken tennis racket stabbed into his temples
1 female impaled through a spear
1 female frozen solid inside a locked cryotherapy tank, shattered
1 male stabbed in the neck with a screwdriver, bisected through a table saw
1 male had his throat slashed with a broken vodka bottle
1 male eviscerated with a chainsaw
1 male found decapitated with a chainsaw
1 male hacked in an eye with a meat hook
1 male gets a broken table leg stabbed and kicked through his chest
Total: 11

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Merry Manic Maddening Holidays: Red Christmas (2016)

Red Christmas (Australia, 2016)
Rating: ***
Starring: Dee Wallace, Geoff Morrell, Sarah Bishop 

I'll be home for Christmas
You can fear it from me
With an axe and bear trap to throw
It'll be a bloody killing spree

Twenty years ago, an abortion clinic gets bombed by a radical pastor as a crowd of enraged Christians rally upfront. In the midst of the chaos, the pastor spots and save a newly aborted fetus clinging to life, raising it over the years in a rather abusive and zealous manner.

Cut to the present and we now follow a somewhat estranged family reuniting in the remote countryside house they grew up in for Christmas, only to be visited by a cloaked stranger with a speech impediment. Feeling homely for the holidays, matriarch Diane (Dee Wallace) welcomes the stranger into her home to celebrate with her understandably uncomfortable family, until that is he starts reading out loud a letter revealing a dark secret she's involved with some years ago. Outraged, Diane throws the stranger out with a threat, not knowing about the twisted retribution he will be unleashing against her and her unsuspecting family later that night.

Coming across something between a 80s throwback slasher and a family tragedy, Red Christmas (2016) strolls an effectively dark plot peppered with black comedy and splattery kills, as while you can very much bet that it goes outrageous with its horror scenario, adding in the weight of the resulting massacre is the dynamics and dysfunctions presented here within Diane's clan, cutting it close with some sense of realism to the clichés. 

There's a warm sense of belonging and comfort between Diane's children and their spouses despite portraying the characters engaged in your usual family arguments ranging from fickle to serious, as well as being in that awkward disposition that you have very little control of. It's a modern family dynamic we are all familiar with, thus acting as an underlying cathartic fuel once the killing starts. And true enough, as the family begins to get picked off one by one, it all devolves into this catastrophic nightmare that pushes everyone, particularly Wallace's character to a level of grief and loss that cuts so deep, we all can't help but root for them to defend and save as many remaining of their members as possible, even if the film may or may not have bleaker plans ahead. This said, I really have to commend cult fave horror and scifi actress Dee Wallace for really selling the movie for me, by bringing it all in her role as an anguished grandmother forced to face a past that's now threatening her and her family.

In spite of this (and too the suggested religious and moral politics here and there), Red Christmas (2016) still couldn't completely take itself too seriously. Not with it having one of the more pathetically polite and goofy killers in this sub-genre, whose unmasking, as cruel as this might sound, actually got me laughing at how exaggeratedly wrong it looked. If you think Gunther from Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse (1980) looked horrendously inhuman, our killer here, named Cletus, is so "impossible" in its deformity that the sheer mechanics of it are mind-boggling. Of course, he's also strong enough to split a body in half vertically with an axe, or somehow hurl a large bear trap over someone's head, dishing out kills that are delightfully brutal albeit his frame. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief, though, as these attacks and murders are delightfully gruesome with all its set-pieces, adequate practical effect works and serious overflow of blood. (And eye juice. And amniotic fluid.) Everything you could ask for in a good slasher movie!

Past the weird mix of straight-faced drama and absolutely crazy splatter, Red Christmas (2016) is an otherwise modest production that did what it can with its low budget to make the product as striking enough as possible; though a few editing could use some work, I love the shade of red-and-green tint during the massacre scenes as it hammer in the messed-up festive feel of the story, as well as the combination of canted camera angles, gross sound designs and a few latex gore to imply the brutality of some kills while keeping it within budget. The directing is simply stylistic and paced well for a slasher, keepings interesting enough during the slow moments to develop its characters and their position before hauling out the murders upon them.

Red Christmas (2016) may have its minor problems, but it is still a fun movie overall with a great cast, an interesting premise with a somewhat grim conclusion, and, yes, loads of cool deaths. I had a great time watching it and I'm as sure as heck you would too when you get a chance to see it. Just remember to switch off and enjoy the Christmassy carnage!

Bodycount:
1 male had his groin torn off, later found with his face mutilated against a grindstone 
1 female split down in half with an axe
1 male had his head split with an axe
1 male strangled with a seat belt
1 male had his neck crushed with a bear trap
1 male had his head shredded through exposed blender blades
1 male shot with a shotgun
1 female stabbed through the head with an umbrella
1 female gutted with a knife
1 female hanged with an anchor chain
1 male hacked and bisected in half with a pulled anchor 
Total: 11

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Trailer Crud of Terror: Dolly Deadly (2016)

Dolly Deadly (2016)
Rating: **
Starring: Justin Moore, Kimberly West-Carroll, Jay Sosnicki

What if we take the first half of Rob Zombie's Halloween (2007), stretch that into a feature film at the cost of as little funds as possible and focus more on the trailer trash life? Most of us would likely fear the results but here it is, Dolly Deadly (2016). Yeah.

We open this hicksploitation for the modern age with a chain smoking single mom trying out a new hair dye, not knowing that the chemicals in it are so tainted, it eats through scalp and skull until brain matter gush out. The end result is a dead mother and a newly orphaned baby boy crying his eyes out.  

Flash forward a couple of years later, Benji is now a preteen boy living with his trashy grandma and her freeloading boyfriend. His only friends are his mom's dolls who are alive in his imagination but this, of course, doesn't sit well for the rest of the neighborhood so lil' Benji is seen as a freak. Harassed and abused, it isn't long before his sanity starts slipping and he wants bloody retribution against those who crossed him. 

To be fair, as an indie production, Dolly Deadly has a lot of spirit in the sense that the people working around it really went all out with what they can use and do with a budget worth two potatoes and the result is admirable. The cinematography done for Benji's dream and imagination sequences, for one, works with their dark bubblegum color schemes and partial animation done in stop-motion which adds to the creepiness and craziness of the boy's slowly unhinging perspective. The plot doesn't dwell any deeper than a ticking timebomb of emotion and psychological abuse until the fantastically violent last act which sort of delivers, but I still really couldn't bring myself to give this anything higher than a lukewarm pat on the back due to its drawbacks.

The predictability of a lot of its scenes meant sitting through them can be a chore, especially when the acting involved dips down from mediocre to crass which the film does from time to time. In fact, with a large bulk of the film focusing greatly on Benji shouldering the weight of his trashy life, the pacing really dragged itself around the boy's suffering at the hands and tongues of his tormentors, thus perfecting the image of a dysfunctional childhood life a tad too well that it gets banally offbeat way longer than it needed to be and it's barely enjoyable. Add the matter that the amateur editing and obvious low budget can get very distracting when it actually hits you in the face and you got here a tired, tedious and overblown slow burn act that aims high, only to hit it a few steps down midway.

Now, the last act wherein Benji finally starts his murderous streak does earn some points for its hamminess as literal doll parts become lethal murder weapons, apparently strong enough to pierce through skin and flesh, or be used as a bludgeon to break open a hapless victim like a piñata. All of this committed by an eight-year old slasher boy in a drag and a papermache mask and, my gods, I'm loving it until the movie settles with a low murder count, thus leaving me with an unsatisfied taste in my mouth after sitting through all of that build-up.

If any of this dive down to low-budget psychological craft sounds like a keeper in your eyes then you definitely should try it out. Dolly Deadly (2016), again, has heart and effort in it, just not the kind that caters to my taste of revenge-fueled slashing, art house horrors or murderous kids. I'll leave all of that to good titles like The Children (2008) or Mikey (1992) while the rest of the world experience the effort that is this movie.

Bodycount:
1 female got her scalp melted off and explode from a botched bottle of hair dye
1 female stabbed to death with swords (dream)
1 boy bludgeoned to death with a doll
1 male had his gut stabbed open with doll parts
1 female poisoned, face melted off with tainted face cream
1 female seen strangled with a belt
Total: 6

Monday, November 23, 2020

Spiked Teenagers: Spiker (2007)

Spiker (2007)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Carson Grant, Michael Fedele, Josh Folan

Serial killer Adam Brandis, AKA The Spiker, was to be transported from a local prison to a mental asylum when murders his way into escaping and makes his way to a house formerly owned by one of his early victims. Unknown to him, as a way to celebrate his supposed lock-up, three jocks and their respective cheerleader girlfriends crashed the place to party, have sex and, of all things, hold seances. One of the girls just happens to be the niece of the house's late owner, so it's not all too surprising she's suddenly seeing ghostly visions of an undead bride and Spiker menacing them. Can she figure out in time that their lives are in danger? Or will it all be too late by then to escape the serial slasher out for blood?


As a product, it appears Spiker (2007)'s purpose in existing is simply be one of many dime-in-a-dozen slasher movies you'll likely find in bargain bins. In all honesty, I wanted to enjoy this film a little bit more since I do like its gimmick of a tall, rail road spike-wielding, albino mute out killing people (because ghostly white skin and red eyes do look intimidating on a slasher, I guess), but there's not a lot else going on in the story aside from the standard dead teenager jig of bad dialogue, cheesy acting and hardly compelling plotting that are rather tiresome at their worst, and the production quality is distracting in its cheapness. 


Granted the story did try to twist things with a ghostly urban legend involving the Shaw house, thus the inclusion of a spectral bride and her cryptic history with the killer (and too one random hobo-looking dude that just pops out of nowhere from time to time), but its execution is still pretty weak as the ghost doesn't really do much but simply be there and look as mysterious as an afterschool play make-up and late-2000s low budget computer editing can afford, occasionally guiding our nominal final girl to some clues on how to survive Spiker's rampage. Basically, it's padding and not the good entertaining kind.


I will have to give the movie points for a pair of good scenes (Spiker emerging from the waters to do murder and another involving a wounded victim crawling to their friends while they nonchalantly talk), some of the gorier killings and bloody make-up effects, and too the surprisingly dark ending with its less-is-more approach. But apart from these little merits, I just find Spiker (2007) standardly forgettable despite still being watchable for its strive and tolerable amount of cheesiness. (The less we question where our killer's getting his endless supply of rail spikes, the better) Not much else to say but, eh, we can do worse. 

Bodycount:
1 male electrocuted in the head with an automatic defibrillator
1 male shot dead
1 male shot dead
1 male stabbed in the back with a pair of rail spikes
1 male stabbed through the head with rail spikes
1 female stabbed in the back with a rail spike, bled to death
1 male stabbed to death with rail spikes, pinned to the wall
1 female attacked mostly offcamera, later found stabbed to death with rail spikes
1 male hacked on the chest with an axe
1 male found stabbed to death with rail spikes
1 male gets a thrown rail spike to the back
Total: 11

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Headless Hackers: Sleepy Hollow high (2000), The Hollow (2004) and Headless Horseman (2007) Triple Bill Review

It may no longer be Halloween as of writing this, but it is still Fall season and nothing spells Autumn ghost stories than The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a 1820s Gothic tale by author Washington Irving which tells the story of one headmaster, Ichabod Crane, and his encounter with a headless Hessian one ill-fated night in the titular town of Sleepy Hollow. Adaptations of this story are plenty, ranging from animated Disney shorts to Jeff Goldblum-starring TV flicks spots, and you can bet your cheeks we have slasher varieties from time to time, one of the more known ones being directed by Tim Burton with a supernatural slasher-fantasy feel, 1999's Sleepy Hollow

But if you're looking for trashier, sillier and cheesier rounds of headless horsemen hacking the hapless helpless, then head no further! Here are three slashers titles taking their own a twist on the Sleepy Hollow story and, my god, aren't they something~

~~~

Sleepy Hollow High (2000)
Rating: **
Starring: Meagan Lopez, Ruben Brown, Antonio Benedict

After getting caught pranking a snitch one night, five delinquents from Sleepy Hollow Highschool (who curiously look like people in their 20s) are punished to do community service by cleaning up a nearby park ground later that afternoon, or else they'll get expelled. A counselor aptly named "Mr. E" (*muffled screams*) accompanies them to clean-up so he can keep an eye on them but, in the midst of yardwork money-funded teen drama writing and supposedly captivating red herring-filled thrills, the group will soon find out someone is taking their local legend way too seriously as a pumpkin masked killer shows up to collect some heads.


But who could it be? The snitch who is subtlety (as in, totally in our faces) seen giving them the stink eye while packing away a headless horseman costume at the trunk of his car? "Mr. E" (*even louder muffled screaming*) succumbing to his collar-grabbing short-fused temper? Or perhaps it's the headless horseman himself? Twirling his sword around and looking like a dork in a medieval fair, itching to punish some terrible people?

Strongly resembling a student film project that somehow got home video distribution rights, Sleepy Hollow High (2000) tries its hardest to be comprehensibly entertaining and, through small hoops and loops of unintentional hilarity, this micro-budget Breakfast Club (1985)-meets-supernatural slasher hybrid succeeds. By a molecular thread. 


As a slasher, it inevitably fails to impress; the janky mess that is this movie's editing made all of the pumpkin killer's slayings and brief chases barely watchable. Its use of shaky cam, near-absence of lighting and early 2000s CG bits somehow cheapening every sword swing and flying Halloween décor body parts even more than it should be possible. The worse to come, however, is this movie's own conclusion in which it pulls a Slaughter High (1986) twist on us that doubles down with a rather pointless implication before the credits roll, which ultimately adds very little to the already generic backwoods slasher plot. These peeves trip and bog the movie down drastically and I would have trashed it as dumpster fire if it wasn't for some of the laughs I got out of it.

Granted the movie also suffers from characters being detestably annoying and unengaging in their bad boy/girl melodrama, and the movie's poorly composed production rivaling your annoying uncle's home grown vacation videos, Sleepy Hollow High (2000) still has the ludicrous saving grace of being as interesting as a lumbering flaming wheel rolling down heavy traffic; tragedy bound's to happen but you just can't look away, much like how this film's misplaced attempts of seriousness clash so horribly with its inept quality on a technical level that it's comical for its so many misfires. It's so bad it's forgivingly good in a way (?), but I cannot deny that's a statement true to only a few people and plenty would likely just skip this one over. And I wouldn't blame them. 


As much as I like some slasher titles with dangerously high levels of cheese such as ThanksKilling (2008), Nail Gun Massacre (1985) and Truth or Date: A Critical Madness (1986), I still have to draw the line somewhere and Sleepy Hollow High (2000) almost got past that line if only it didn't fell apart stupidly in the end. Better luck next time, movie!

Bodycount:
1 female killed with a sword
1 female decapitated with a sword
1 female decapitated with a sword
1 male had his hand lopped off with a sword, hacked
1 male pulled through a sword, impaled
1 male sliced down in half with a sword
Total: 6
~~~

The Hollow (2004)
Rating: ***
Starring: Kevin Zegers, Kaley Cuoco, Nick Carter

This movie is just, for a lack of better term, cute!

In this made-for-TV cheapie chiller with a surprisingly large count of familiar faces, it's nearing All Hallows Eve in Sleepy Hollow and new-in-town high schooler Ian Cranston was enjoying the festivities when he sees himself followed and pestered by the local graveyard's groundskeeper Claus Van Ripper, who calls Ian "teacher" (more often than one could stand, if you ask me) and believes he and his family are the latest descendants of one Ichabod Crane, thus the only ones who can stop the Headless Horseman upon his return.


Ian, of course, dismisses the ramblings, and same goes to the rest of the town as they disregarded the groundskeeper's consistent demands to call off the festivities, fearing the Horseman's wrath is guaranteed to happen. But as you would've guessed, the dark rider of the legends does arrive from the other side to hunt down horny teenagers and a few unfortunate bystanders around Sleepy Hollow, leading Ian to brave the night, heed Van Ripper's guidance and accept the role as the town's only hope for surviving that night. 

Despite the lack of gratuitous and exploitative elements likely to be found from its gorier slasher kin, I'm honestly surprised at how fun The Hollow (2004) can be with its back-to-basics approach on its awkward teen subplots and supernatural spookiness, both hardly that complex but appreciatively enjoyable nonetheless. Yes, it still has its cliched runs like Ian having a coach dad who's disappointed at his son for not embracing football, or how he's in a love triangle between a pre-Big bang Theory Kaley Cuoco-lead cheerleader and her soon-to-be Ex played by a bullying Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys fame, but the main story of the Headless Horseman's hellish return and Ian's discovery of being the great great grandson of Ichabod Crane has the strong points of being a strange mix of seasonal coziness and late night popcorn movie silliness that knows it exists just to simply entertain.


Its lack of a high kill count, splashy murders and a more inventive look for the headless Hessian (Like, for real. Another literal pumpkin head?) may stray away slasher fans looking for a full-on hack-a-thon with chunky gore, as the Hessian doesn't really appear on screen until the last third of the movie and even by then, there’s not that much bloodshed committed and whatever grue we got is relatively tame. Overall, though, this doesn't detract how much I enjoyed this forgettable yet competently modest Halloween slasher and I think it deserves a few more genuine views from curious horror fans out there looking for a light fright flick.

Flawed but fun, The Hollow (2004) is far from a terrible pick; a mindless time-waster guaranteed to keep the Autumn spirits up and do a fair job bringing in the small thrills.

Bodycount:
1 male killed, body seen dragged away
1 female attacked with a flaming Jack-o-Lantern, killed
1 male beheaded with a sword
1 male beheaded with a sword
1 female beheaded with a sword
Total: 5
~~~

Headless Horseman (2007)
Rating: ***
Starring: Billy Aaron Brown, Rebecca Mozo, Richard Moll

Everything you know about the story of Sleepy Hollow? Throw it out of the window because, according to this movie, it's all whitewashed! 

Seven teenagers driving to a party in Kansas make the unfortunate mistake of taking a shortcut down into the woods, which trail just so happens to be rigged with bear traps. As their car hobbles down with a snared tire, a young tow truck driver named Candy just happens to be around and agrees to take them to the small and nearly isolated town of Wormwood Ridge to have their ride repaired.


In there, the teens learn through Candy that the town's preparing for the Headless Horseman Celebration, which is held every Halloween since 1806, the year a serial killing Satanist horseman named Calvin Montgomery preyed on the town's children for his rituals until the residents caught and hanged him, body left to rot and his head torn away. But unbeknownst to our gang, Montgomery, now a headless specter called, well, Headless, cursed the town with misfortune and will continue to haunt and prey upon it unless the townsfolk help him collect seven heads for a pact he made with his dark master. 

Now trapped in a hexed town desperate to end the horseman's nightmare, the teens will find out the measures these townies will go to keep them from escaping, as well as the decapitating, supernatural threat that is Headless.


Basically Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) and Wrong Turn (2003) with one headless killer with fleshy tentacles growing out of his neck stump, I find Headless Horseman (2007) completely bonkers in the right way; the characters are your typical B-grade horror fodder devoid of depth and acted clunkily (a few more annoying than the others), and the plot makes very little sense and even feels a tad too convenient at times, but the sheer amount of cheese, insanity and blood warped around its run and admittedly creative take on a lore inspired by the Sleepy Hollow tale makes this film a shred more tolerable to sit through than it should be.

It's nothing we wouldn't expect from a predictable and sleazy made-for-television SyFy shlock (back when it was decently called "SciFi"), bad early day CG, banal writing and all, but the movie doesn't shy away from embracing the outrageousness of its story. That said, expect a lot of genuinely fun and cheeky moments thrown in, like how Headless is one part eldritch abomination slowly growing its head back the more he decapitates his intended victims, or how he badassed his way out an exploding garage by riding a motorcycle!

WHY IS THIS NOT A THING MORE OFTEN?!

The horror elements just work in the simplest sense; though the deaths mostly lead to decapitations, the kills have variety and the gore is surprisingly done with well enough practical effects. Headless also himself proves to be an efficient villain to dish out these murders and put up a good fight, and, again, the brazen Satanist-cum-Lovecraftian angle they went with his origin does warrant good points for how off-the-wall it is. The pacing does plod off whenever the film feels the need to dump some expositions, but it fortunately rewards our patience with a good climax trailing straight down to a nifty three-against-one final brawl.

As dumb this movie can get, Headless Horseman (2007) still has enough fun content to make up for its drag and slop. It's not gonna be everyone's humble horror pie, no doubt about that, but as a harmless slasher effort? I say track this down and give it a try! Could be worth some laughs!

Bodycount:
1 male found headless
1 male decapitated with a thrown blade
1 male decapitated with a car's trunk
1 girl decapitated with a sword (flashback)
1 male attacked with a sword, hanged and pulled until decapitated (implied in book)
1 male shot a car's gas tank, immolated
1 female bashed with a flail, decapitated on a bear trap
1 male beheaded with an axe
1 male shot with a shotgun
1 male decapitated with a sickle
1 male shot
1 female decapitated
1 female shot
1 male shot
1 male shot to death
1 male ran over with a truck
120 individuals disintegrated into dust
Total: 136

Friday, November 13, 2020

A 2020 Friday The 13th.


We're nearing the end of a very crappy year, so here's hoping we get a decent one after a month and a half! Until then, don't loose yer head, keep calm...

AND DON'T GET IN JASON'S WAY!

Happy Friday the 13th!

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Masakra Chunky Twins: Nobody Sleeps In The Woods Tonight (2020)

Nobody Sleeps In The Woods Tonight (W lesie dzis nie zasnie nikt) (Poland, 2020)
Rating: ***
Starring: Julia Wieniawa-Narkiewicz, Michal Lupa, Wiktoria Gasiewska

In this down-to-basics approach to backwoods bodycounters hailing all the way from our Polish friends, a group from Camp Adrenalina are on a hike to teach their technology-addicted selves how to let go of their electronics and experience life's worth through nature. Unknown to them, at a house deep in the very same woods, a weary old woman was feeding raw meat to something in her cellar when one small slip sends her tumbling in and getting killed by who or whatever's been hidden away there, now free to roam the woods that night for more food.


Next morning comes and Daniel, the group's wannabe playboy, is nowhere to be seen after a round of bumpin' uglies with pretty girl Aniela the previous evening. The only clue to his fate is a bloodied tree trunk nearby, so guide Iza decides to tag along avid gamer Julek and mysteriously solemn Zosia to leg back at camp with her and find help, while Aniela and soft spoken queer Bartek are left behind in case Daniel shows up somehow. Of course, in par to these killer-in-the-woods type, this plan only trails to nothing but bloody fiascos as not one, but two huge, grossly bulbous cannibals are out there hunting and killing as many people as they can for good munchies and these hikers, along with a couple of random bystanders, could fill their bellies good for days...

As a backwoods slasher, Nobody Sleeps In The Woods Tonight is a serviceable little beast. The plot isn't anything new or grand despite its potential to exploit the backdrop of a technology-free camp detoxing its campers of internet and cellphone addiction, throwing this concept out no soon after it is introduced for a more standard kids-in-the-woods kind of story, but I will give it points for not overly complicating things and just keep it easy. Teens go to the woods, get attacked, survival happens, all standard in the core but welcome.


What Nobody Sleeps have that kept me watching is its awesome gore and make-up effects, with the killers' gross deformities being one of its highlights just for how detailed and stomach-churning they are to look at. The murders are an okay set, one of which doing a decent jump scare that actually caught me by surprise while many others pay tribute to other backwoods slashers such as Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007), The Burning (1980) and that one iconic kill in Friday The 13th Part VII: New Blood (1987). In fact, I kinda like the little movie Easter eggs here and there as other slashers like Castle Freak (1995), Just Before Dawn (1981) and Freddy vs Jason (2003), as well as iconic horror titles like The Evil Dead (1981) and even Creepshow (1982) get a nod and a wink which often got me chuckling, if not simply gleeful at how they're worked into the story. (Absolutely loving the The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill-inspired explanation for the killers' madness, which simply came out of nowhere!)

I also like the fact that the writing in this film tries to flesh out its characters a bit more than simply keeping them within the stereotypes they're portraying, though this inadvertently shows Nobody Sleeps' flaws in keeping a fair flow and consistency in tone; while a good deal of the story has this sullen yet youthful atmosphere that centers on teen insecurities and struggles, without a doubt to build upon cathartic demises for the group, the random bits of comic relief, wonky theremin-laced score and weird leeways at the near end just cluttered and hobbled what could have been an effective emotional run for the film, hence making the finale feeling uneven. 


And then there are the plot holes, such as one character knowing way too much dirt on what the killers are and were (and none of the doomed kids addressing this matter), and this film's obvious final character being in a camp that keeps you from using technology, though their background reveals they might as well be traumatized from using technology seeing what it did to their family. They're distracting, but fortunately few on my book so not as jarring or annoying as one might expect.

Marketed as Poland's first slasher film, Nobody Sleeps In The Woods Tonight is a modest production for what is basically a homage to 80s bodycounters. (and then some) It's far from great, but for what it offers in bloody kills, monstrous killers and decent enough characters through an easily digestible story, I say it earns a viewing or two from good little slasher fans like you and me! 

Bodycount:
1 male dragged away, killed
1 female killed offcamera, blood splash seen
1 male repeatedly swung and beaten against a tree inside a sleeping bag
1 female decapitated offcamera, head thrown out
1 female gets a dead branch ran through her mouth
1 male had his eyes thumbed, shredded through a wood chipper
1 male seen crawling out of a burning car wreck, killed (flashback)
1 female and 1 girl implied killed in car crash (flashback)
1 male gutted with a knife
1 male shot with a shotgun
1 male split down in half with an axe
Total: 12

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Working on Halloween be like...

 

Thank you for calling, how can I help boo~?


Yeah, Happy Halloween, dear readers. Take care and stay safe!
And watch out for monsters~!

A Seaside Ghost Story: The Fog (1980)

The Fog (1980)
Rating: ****1/2
Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh

At the stroke of midnight, the coastal Californian town of Antonio Bay is now a hundred years old and this centennial appears to have stirred something otherworldy: amidst the small tremors and poltergeist activity causing minor havoc around the sleepy burg, three fishermen out at sea find themselves and their boat engulfed by a strange fog, which brings with it the plundered remains of a ship called the Elizabeth Dane. The murderous revenants of the ghost ship's crew then appears and surrounds the men, slaughtering them one by one and leaving the boat to be found the following morning afloat, weathered and rusted.

As most of the inhabitants of the Bay prepare to celebrate their town's foundation, local Nick Castle (Tom Takins) busies himself piecing together what happened to his friends, the three unfortunate fishermen, while radio DJ Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) gets a haunting encounter when a piece of driftwood her son found suddenly went ablaze and a mysterious ominous voice is heard from one of her tape players vowing revenge. Elsewhere, town priest Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) distraughtly shares to Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh), who is overseeing the celebration, detailed accounts of Antonio Bay's dark little secret as written in his grandfather's journal, discovered bricked away within the church's walls.


It is all soon revealed that the ghoulish phenomenon earlier that day are be linked with the town's founding men and the crimes they committed in the past. A past now tainted and back from the dead, shrouded in an unearthly fog and hunting down unfortunate souls in the name of vengeance as night falls once more...

The Fog (1980) is one of director John Carpenter's many overlooked cult classics following his slasher mega hit Halloween (1978), and it is something I can best described as a ghost story with a bodycount. Brimming with small town atmosphere and an assortment of likable characters, the whole film is more akin to timeless camp fire stories focusing more on brooding, small scale chills rather than a gore-filled exploitative extravagance, a matter that works well given the talents working in front and behind the camera.

Partly inspired by the scifi horror movie The Trollenberg Terror (1958), the movie is well-written enough to boast a competent script with straightforward plotting, albeit at a small cost of character development leading to some spotty pacing flow. Fortunately, giving life to the movie's simple plot is an impressive line of horror veterans such as scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis and B-flick cult favorite Tom Atkins, both taking a good front of the limelight as a pair caught in the middle of a ghostly vendetta, their ordeals with the darkly supernatural peppered with strong banter and performances. 


Carpenter's own former wife Adrienne Barbeau (in her first theatrical appearance) shares a good size of the focus, too, as a single mother about to go through a harrowing night as the fog prevents her from leaving the station, forcing her to beg strangers hearing her broadcast to protect her child at home before she herself has to try and survive a claustrophobic siege of water-rot ghouls. Other familiar faces include Psycho (1960)'s own Janet Leigh as a town official sided with a rather "annoying" assistant lovingly played by Nancy Loomis, who's known for playing Annie Brackett back at Halloween (1978), as well as a small cameo of publicized Orson Welles collaborator John Houseman, as a old time mariner giving a group of kids fair chills with an opening campfire story.

As most of his works, Carpenter pitched a perfectly minimalist synth score to go along the scares and thrills, giving them a fittingly foreboding ambience. Director of photography Dean Cundey worked on the cinematography of this film and the overall result is as amazing as it is sinister, particularly at the breathtaking shots of the bay town at morning, as well as how he made the fog look like its own organic presence rather than a tool or an omen for the murderous specters. On that note, I really love the shadowy approach used on the rotting ghosts, obscuring them enough to keep them mysterious yet providing shots of a seaweed-soaked arm or a part of a diseased face here and there to show us that they are a physical threat who can grab hold and wield weapons. It's a tad cheesy in its datedness, but effective nevertheless.


With its horror elements centered more on tone and mood, The Fog (1980) is relatively tame for a movie about fog-bound killers, its murders low on count and, despite reshoots done to spice it up with a few more splashes of red, it’s far from anywhere being bloody. It's definitely leaning heavy on old school horror and spooks, a feat admirable as the resulting product is effectual in its simplicity and it's a real treat to watch, especially if you feel like taking it easy on your horror viewings. 

A deserving cult classic over time thanks to being one of plenty staples of late network and cable airings, The Fog (1980) is simply fun for what it is; a homage to local legends and folktales, treating us right with well-crafted, enduring old-fashioned horror entertainment.

Bodycount:
1 male stabbed ran through twice with a sword, stabbed with a dagger
1 male hacked to death with hooks
1 male had his eyes stabbed out with a pick
1 male had his throat hacked with a hook
1 elderly female hacked to death
1 male decapitated off-camera with a sword
Total: 6

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Karmic Destination: Don't Look Back (2020)

Don't Look Back (2020)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Kourtney Bell, Will Stout, Skyler Hart

Directed by the writer behind the Final Destination movies, Jeffrey Reddick, Don't Look Back should have been a nice little horror thriller playing on the cosmic theme of Karma in a manner inspired by the aforementioned "howdunnit" horror franchise, wherein those who failed to intervene a witnessed deadly attack are doomed to die as a form of retribution from the universe. Should have been, if only the misfires on executing this grand foundation of an idea weren't so noticeably plenty.

Surviving a brutal home invasion that took the life of her beloved father nine months ago, Caitlin (Kourtney Bell) is doing her best to recover from the trauma and heeds the advice of her boyfriend to take a good stroll out of the house just to ease her mind. As she did, however, Caitlin's jog around a park one day unexpectedly becomes horrific when a man is suddenly beaten by another, shocking her and several other people into simply looking on, record the assault for evidence, and not step in until the attacker simply slips away.


The victim of the assault, Douglas Helton (Dean J. West), turns out to be a respected figure involved in charity work, so when he didn't survive the attack, his death sets a media frenzy and publicly outed Caitlin and the others who simply watched as “bad Samaritans". Making matters worse, however, is that the fiasco triggered something seemingly otherworldly as those involved within Helton's death starts to die in mysterious circumstances. Could it be the killer, crazed into eliminating those who exposed him? Or perhaps it's Lucas Helton (Will Stout), Douglas' brother who is more than upset at the "Samaritans" for doing nothing. 

Or, as Caitlin puts it, perhaps it's Karma itself, out to get even at them.

Though the concept is solid, its oven-burnt corniness and ham-fisted dialogue spell nothing but a big fat flop for Don't Look Back. It's clearly working around an idea relative to Final Destination's gig of snuffing out strangers connected by an extreme event, but it lacks quality characters to engage with and the deaths in store for them are just bland and mostly done off-camera, so the effectiveness of the film's horror elements just comes out damp like a soiled rug, made more foul by cheap scares of both psychological and supernatural nature that are laughable at worst.


If anything, the movie focuses more on building up a mystery that's is supposed to be engaging and, I guess, enlightening for how it hammers down the idea of Karma upon those who choose to ignore trouble, but the inept direction and overly preachiness of this approach more or less killed off what remaining subtlety and realism this movie has. Because of this, the story feels cheap and hollow through and through, clumping around until it reaches its expected and underwhelming climax wherein a duo of plot twists (if you can call them that) fail to elevate this movie to anywhere being clever.

A huge disappointment for what should be an inspired production, annoyingly ruined by its in-your-face karmic message and a sea of tired horror tropes, Don't Look Back pretty much says it: dump it in a dumpster fire and don't look back. Just walk away and find yourself a better movie.

Bodycount:
1 male shot
1 male beaten, dies from injuries
1 male fell to his death from a building
1 male found shot on the eye
1 male body seen, implied dead from drug overdose
1 female found dead from a shot temple
1 male found dead, body seen being eaten by rats
Total: 7