Saturday, May 30, 2020

Okay, Boomer: Millennial Killer (2020)

Millennial Killer (United Kingdom, 2020)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Alice Mulholland, Simon Berry, Rishky Patel

So, an hour and eleven minutes of a nameless middle aged real estate agent (or some guy posing as one) luring millennials to see a listing for affordable apartments, only to murder them or, for the case of one unfortunate girl, capture and taunt one into watching some more killings happen right in front of their very eyes.

Not quite the story, to be frank, as that's pretty much everything going on for Millennial Killer (2020). Just a rinse-repeat cycle of this guy finding young adults to kill after promising them a location with a view, punctuated with a kidnapped victim slowly losing their mind as the titular killer continues their assault on both her and his victims.

I am very certain this is a satire of sort. I mean, the title alone has the obvious tone expressing one's disdain towards the young adults of today, but the execution is just cheap. The murders are cheap. (Save for maybe one or two or them) The development for both the killer and his captive is cheap. It doesn't really go anywhere but the same easy-ass twist reveal that someone close to the killer was mugged and murdered by some obnoxious thugs so he's taking it out on the rest of who he perceives as rotten millennials. Heck, even the ending is awfully lacking; just the cops showing up and him committing suicide, then the credits roll.

An obvious micro-budget production, Millennial Killer (2020) has thought, just not enough imagination or wit to make this anymore entertaining or at least interesting enough to invest it our time. If you really want to see a "boomer" go nuts on a "millennial", I suggest seeking out Tone-Deaf (2019). Now that's a murderous generational conflict worth watching!

1 female dies from her wounds
1 male brained to death with a hammer
1 male brained to death with a hammer
1 male had his throat cut with a knife
1 female knifed to death
1 female had her throat cut with a knife
1 male stabbed on the neck with a pair of scissors
1 female stabbed to death with scissors
1 elderly female beaten, knifed to death (flashback)
1 female stabbed to death
1 male had his throat cut with a knife
Total: 11

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Hell To The Chief: President's Day (2010)

President's Day (2010)
Rating: ****
Starring: Bennie Mack McCoy IV, Lizzy Denning, Nicolette le Faye

Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Washington and now, Abraham Lincoln. What's next? A slasher masked up as Donald Trump? (Wait, I think we already have that last one...)

Lincoln High is in the midst of a campaign election when someone dressed and masked up as Honest Abe, shouldering an axe, starts chopping down candidates for class president like George Washington would to a cherry tree. Caught in this dilemma is Barry (Bennie Mack McCoy IV), a young skateboarding troublemaker who gets smitten by one of the candidates, mysterious new girl Joanna (Lizzy Denning), so he cooks up a plan with his security officer buddy Kennedy (Ryan Scott Thomas) to run as president only for the sole purpose of getting to know her.

Opposing these two budding misfits is posh snob Chelsea (Nicolette le Faye), who believes popularity and manipulation are the keys to winning, as well as a straight-A student, the lovable school mascot, a punky goth chick, a jock acing his way through class by playing hooky with a teacher, and plenty more. But the further the campaign goes, the more these kids start to disappear or killed off and blame is pinned on Kennedy as forged notes with his name are showing up on each of the victims' lockers. Desperate to stop these killings and clear a friend's name, Barry and Chelsea go full amateur snoops in hopes of finding the culprit in time before it's their heads getting the axe edge next!

In its core, President's Day (2010) is basically a fun murder mystery slasher that, while suffering from a shoe string budget, still delivers an enthusiastic tongue-in-cheek direction on a classic campus bodycounter plot and, too, dish out the gooiest and creative murders a limited budget production can afford. All of which with a strong independent spirit that promises crazy fun B-grade entertainment and actually serves it. 

Satirical in its tackling of school set politics and small town killings, the movie does a wonderful job scripting its story with enough wink and nods to play around the conventions and embrace it naturally without being overly self-aware and overdoing the satire. This helps set the mystery angle on sturdy grounds and branch it out nicely the more the plot thickens, even if does have a few plot holes and the set of red herrings like demented janitors who whisper-talk about poisoning the cafeteria food or science teachers with a thing for outdoor hunting aren't exactly the most misleading. (Distracting, yes, but misleading? One or two of them were obvious kill count meat!)

It also helps that another of President's Day's ace in the hole is its likable cast; McCoy IV plays our slacker lead with a whole heart and his natural friendly demeanor, may it be towards his crush, his fellow candidates or his buddy in trouble, makes it easy to root for his survival and for him to be the victorious final boy of his own little misadventure. Denning's Joanna, in turn, is a nice subversion of the new girl archetype for her openness to help out and befriend people despite her intimidating looks and her troubled past. The rest of the characters are a quirky bunch from a bass playing principal to a butterball school mascot beaming with school pride, a chunky cheese-fest of both expected and unexpected tropes that prevents this movie from going too deep into its own rabbit hole and keep the tone light and fun albeit the chopped up limbs and burnt faces.

And speaking of which, it is mentioned that the film ran on a microbudget so there are moments that the special effects and make-up work looked dodgy at the least. But thankfully, Tom Savini School of Makeup graduate Kaleigh Brown often found ways around the budget limit and still treats us grue fans to some inventive juicy kills, the best among these do-it-yourself practical works includes an opening coitus interruptus with an axe, a paraplegic stalked and hacked to death, a nasty paper guillotine beheading and a head crushed with a mop wringer!

There's really a whole lot to enjoy in this little gem but the scope of the product is probably the most admirable considering what the good folks behind the movie have to work with and I can proudly say that their diligence paid off. President's Day (2010) may not be slick, but it is a testament that some good movies can be made for less and independent projects can still surprise us. Genuinely recommended for your slasher collection!

1 male hacked on the head with an axe
1 female hacked with an axe
1 female hacked to death with an axe
1 male gets a sports trophy shoved down through his mouth
1 female forced face-first to a stove-top, killed
1 female had her nose burnt with a hair straightener, killed
1 male hacked limbless with an axe
1 male stabbed on the back with a broken mop handle, head crushed with a mop bucket wringer
1 dog found mutilated
1 female strangled with headphone cord, eye stabbed out with a pen
1 female beheaded with paper guillotine
1 female found stabbed in the eyes with a pair of scissors
1 male gets a guitar head shoved down his mouth
1 male suffocated with a plastic sheet, later hanged
1 male found murdered, body melted with acid
2 females found murdered, bodies pierced with button badges
1 male hacked to death with an axe
1 female hacked to death with an axe
1 male had an arm lopped off with an axe, bled to death
1 male had his head lopped in half with an axe
Total: 21

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Under Shades As Big As Hatchets: Massacre (1989)

Massacre ("Massacro") (Italy, 1989)
Rating: **
Starring: Gino Concari, Patrizia Falcone, Silvia Conti

The film opens with a guy in large shades enjoying a morning car ride before spotting a hooker in the middle of the roadside. Thinking she scores a lonely dude looking for a quickie, the lady approaches the man in shades only to get a nasty surprise when he produces a switchblade and a hatchet. Off with her head and shift scene to a graveyard at night.

Here we now follow a filming crew busy creating a horror masterpiece (?) but the director isn't feeling any of this. Thinking the production needs to get in touch more with the otherworldly to get the eerie feeling right, he hires a medium and arranges a seance to be held at a local club. His crew, in the meantime, have their own drama and antics to take care of, including the abusive relationship between the producer and his bare-it-all wife, a drag show photo-shoot, and the movie's leading lady Jennifer getting hot and steamy with her boyfriend Walter, a police detective investigating the opening murder which he believes is connected to four others from the last few days.

At the night of the seance, hired medium Madam Yurich attempts to enlighten the crew by beckoning her usual spirit guide, but her session gets interrupted by an altogether different spirit. Something strong enough to knock everyone off their seats and cause a paranormal tremor. The seance is ended no soon after but, little do these people know, a massacre awaits them as they are now marked for death.

Released under a marketing ploy by producers Antonio Lucidi and Luigi Nannerini to have legendary Italian director Lucio Fulci stamp his name over their series of low-budget horror flicks, Andrea Bianchi's Massacre (1989) doesn't quite capture the same level of shock and sleaze many early day Italian giallo titles have. What it is able to do, though, is walk a line between cheesy bodycounting and convoluted murder mystery, only dragged down by a somnolent script where endless hammy dialogue overshadows horror scenes. This have the film hobbling its way through the possible suspects with police procedural and tantalizing character antics bearing little suspense to speak of, but this isn't to say it didn't try to break expectations.

The fact that we get to see the killer's identity as early as the pre-credit murder meant we're up to something a tad different for our mystery, and this is hammered further by a few more twists the further we go. It wasn't until Massacre (1989) reaches its climax that we get some stalk-and-stab action and blood work going, plus some bouncing topless nudity for that exploitation taste, though its somewhat neat ending felt unsuitably hokey with its last reveal and unanswered parting shot.

Nothing much else to speak of, frankly. Massacre (1989) is just too linear to be an old-school giallo, but it's punctuated with enough murders, cheese and curveball in its plot to be a fun occasional rental, or a must-have for Italian horror junkies considering its rarity.

1 female gets her hand lopped off with a hatchet, decapitated
1 female killed offcamera, body found propped in a merry-go-round
1 female found skewered through a gate railing
1 male knifed to death
1 female had her throat sliced repeatedly with a knife
1 female murdered offcamera, later seen covered in wounds
1 male gets a hook to the neck
1 male repeatedly stabbed on the gut with a pick
1 male stabbed on the gut with a pick
1 male stabbed on the gut with a pick
1 male stabbed to death with a pick
1 male shot to death
Total: 12

Friday, May 22, 2020

Naughty Kittens vs Giant Mantis vs G-G-Ghost!: Slaughter Studios (2002)

Slaughter Studios (2002)
Rating: ***
Starring: Nicolas Read, Amy Shelton-White, Tara Killian

When the titular movie studio accidentally kills an actor during a filming session decades ago, all productions were stopped and abandoned, leaving the studios forgotten for years to come. That is until a present day aspiring director, struck by the nostalgia bug, plans to do a guerrilla-style horror film within Slaughter Studios as a bit of a tribute before it gets demolished in the next nine hours.

Armed with a script for Naughty Sex Kittens vs The Giant Preying Mantis, a camera and the will to break-and-enter a private property while avoiding a security guard in his hourly rounds, a small crew makes the best of what they can get and do within the cobweb and hobo-infested building, unaware that something in the crumbling walls and dusty dressing rooms have been awakened by their intrusion. Something with an axe to grind.

Before it was Slaughter Studios (2002), the original pitch for the movie was supposed to be a remake of The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) penned by writers John Huckert and Dan Acre, only to scrap it and switch over to a filming-gone-wrong type of plot instead after visiting Roger Corman's studios in Venice Beach, California, which was in the process of being torn down. Life-imitates-art inspiration took over the two and roped in producer Damian Akhavi to help them out with the new story, as well as securing approval from Mr. Corman to use the dilapidated studios for a 12-day shooting.

The end product is a cheeky blend of cheddar grade comedy and whodunit slasher hokum as everything from possible supernatural forces to disgruntled ex-actors get toyed as likely culprits to the massacre happening under the crew's noses. It's mostly a shlocky yet fun romp poking fun at cheap genre movies and the filming that happens behind the scenes, but the overly sexualized Porky's (1981)-inspired antics gets pretty tiresome fast, so much so that the lesbian sex scene isn't as titillating as it should be when there's an annoying perverted Indian stereotype horn-dogging his way into the tits.

All the characters here actually have the charm and dimensions of a cartoon cliche, a point that I can work with no problem at all if a few of them wasn't in our face with their ridiculousness and sultriness most of the time. On the plus side, by the time these people are made aware of the murders, Studios takes a sweet turn for an old fashioned slasher finale with lots of scenes with the killer stalking and chasing targets in the shadows or obscured through point-of-view shots. The murders are generous on the blood department with a modest body count to boot, leading to a fun car chase finale followed by a twisty reveal that got me chuckling.

If you can get past the selection of annoying characters and overlook the soft-core erotica, Slaughter Studios (2002) isn't half bad. It's slick in quality, can be brutal when it needs to be and should a joke hits, it hits with a hearty punch. A campy spoof on one end, a fairly fun bodycounter on the other, this is an unexpected gem that's worth a watch!

1 male shot to death
1 male hacked to death with a pickaxe
1 female beaten to death inside a recording room
1 female attacked, killed offscreen
1 female attacked, blood splash seen
1 female strangled with a length of film
1 male stabbed through the head with a metal rod
1 male ran through with a pitchfork, decapitated
1 male crushed by a dropped stage light
1 female gets a swung hook through the head
Total: 10

Big Bad Furry: The Director's Cut (2009)

The Director's Cut (Australia, 2009)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Jonathan Patrick Moore, Mollie King, David Maguire

After picking up the last talent they need through the auditions, arrogant director Mike and his female producer Bobby lead their small production crew to the outbacks so they can finally start filming their independent movie, a period mystery piece supposedly inspired by Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975). With guns.

The first day of filming is, to put it bluntly, troubled; an actor lost the digits of their hand in an accident, another actor quits after feeling insulted by an impromptu line, and an on-the-spot story change have them finding and tagging along a random gun nut so he can keep an eye on a borrowed pistol. Oh, and the assistant director (Called "#2") mysteriously dies overnight. Let's not forget about him.

Determined to finish his movie, however, Mike soldiers through the bickering crew and keeps the rotting corpse of their fallen comrade a secret, not knowing that his problems are about to get worse when someone dressed completely in a koala costume shows up one day to do some killing.

The Director's Cut (2009) is one of those obscurities made in hopes of entertaining the masses with the strange and unconventional, though its premise is basically a desert-set whodunit slasher with a movie-shoots-gone-bad backdrop, something done already with the likes of the comedic mockumentary Brutal Massacre: A Comedy (2003) and the easy yet fun Slaughter Studios (2002).

For a whole hour, the movie's more of a black comedy about the increasingly crappy luck down in the hot wilderness, as our crew suffers for a filming that barely made sense and would only get a single scene done. Most of the jokes are a hit or miss, though those that do land on a funny bone has a good wit on them and a bit of weirdness added in, mixing the nasty and the humorous in equal measures to keep the hectic yet strange tone up and steady.

The real fun of this chunk is the little twists and turns done for the character as we do get to know their quirks along the mishaps happening to and at them. The actors may not all be perfect but plenty have done enough to play the gags rights and deliver their roles to a likable extent, even when the slasher bits eventually rear its furry, cuddly head.

Throughout the film, we do get small indications that someone has been following our crew and is now lurking around the nearly abandoned set, though it is at the last half hour that The Director's Cut (2009) curiously welcomes our killer in full koala fursuit, carrying a case of acid. It's a surreal image that frankly works along the movie's build-up and atmosphere, stranger even that we never really get to know who is underneath the suit after all of the red herrings, blame-throwing and surviving our casts try to do. Most of the death scenes doesn't rally above the average mainstream slasher murders, but they do add up very nicely and a couple even packs a brutal surprise for how intense they were, or how out of nowhere they came in. Thrown in a little gruesome nudity and we have a well-worth bodycount climax full of entertaining death scenes and a villain which the movie refuses to identify, all the way down to its abrupt ending.

Hitting the weird factor with just the right amount of dread and surprises, The Director's Cut (2009) may not win a lot for its dark comedy despite having some clever and chuckle-worthy moments, but this is without a doubt one of the better indie-slashers I've seen that deals with killer mascots. It's a tad rare so should you find the chance to see or own this little gem, hesitate not!

1 male found dead in his sleep
1 female unknowingly bathes in acid, shot
1 male immolated in explosion
1 male impaled in the eye with a tripod leg
1 female found stabbed in the back with knives
1 male shot in the chest with an arrow
1 male had his throat cut with a knife
1 male shot in the mouth
1 male disappears, presumably killed
1 female strangled with a rope
1 male presumably killed
Total: 11

Thursday, May 21, 2020

My Blade Is Set, As Firmly As Ever: Oliver Twisted (2000)

Oliver Twisted (2000)
Rating: **
Starring: Signe Kiesel, Brian Ahmes, Jason McMahan

An institution gets more than they bargained for when Oliver, a car-crash-survivor-turned-iron-plated-loonie, snaps out of the drugs meant to keep him asleep for a routine hair cut and kills two orderlies. He slips into a coma after a third orderly shoots him repeatedly with a dart gun, but now the institution doesn't want him anywhere within their walls. Thus, they opted to go with the next best thing they could think of: send the comatose killing machine home with the closest living relatives obliged to take care of him.

In comes Mrs. Mary Happ (Karen Black), who's rightfully upset over the fact the institution's only giving her the choice of either hosting the comatose nephew in her house, or pay thousands of clinic bills which she cannot afford. She's eventually swayed to do the "right" thing and takes the man home, much to the delight of her son Jeff, who immediately becomes obsessed with the dude, and uneasiness of her daughter Olivia, who starts to have visions of murders-to-come.

With Mrs. Happ leaving for a business trip and her birthday is just a few days away, Olivia choose to ignore the visions and go on with her life taking care of Oliver and hanging out with her friends. But the further the days go by, the more she experience these visions and it isn't long before people starts disappearing.

Very misleading title aside (Sorry, boys and girls, we have to settle with Phantom of The Opera (1989) for our slasher-fied literary classics for now),  Oliver Twisted (2000) is an okay oddity that tries going for the teen horror dramatics by centering most of the plot on Olivia's struggles to understand her premonitions, the odd set-up of having a cousin they never heard of getting placed in home care, as well as the unnerving feeling that Oliver isn't really in a coma and could go up and out chopping mailmen to death. A lot of cheesy acting and bad hairdos meant this is all done with cringe and ham, but the misguided aim for seriousness just falls into silly mishaps and unintentional humor that are gladly still watchable as guilty fun.

Despite the discount bin production quality, the movie still packs some serious gore effects and a few effectively executed scenes, like the chunky red offscreen scalping of an early victim and one of Olivia's visions involving a dude getting his face and gut assaulted with a machete in front of a busy convenience store. Cameos were also afforded as we have the presence of Karen Black and 70s cop show CHIP's’ Erik Estrada gracing our screens, though both have very little to do apart from being the adult figures popping up from time to time, checking on the Happ family.

Story could have used a once-over to fix the plot holes tattering it and maybe even do a better job hiding the obvious twist reveal, but the final product still entertains as junkfood horror so Oliver Twisted (2000) is not a complete trash heap to avoid. Good enough for an overnight rental and that's it.

1 male found scalped down to the skull cap, killed
1 male beaten to death against a wall
1 male had his hand lopped off with a machete, killed offscreen
1 female brained with a meat tenderizer, hand ground with a meat grinder
1 male sliced across the face with a machete, stabbed through the chest
1 female had her throat sliced with a machete
1 male knifed to death
1 female found dead with a stab wounds
1 male ran through the gut with a steel bar
1 female presumably killed with a machete
Total: 10

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Black, White & Red: Pandamonium (2020)

Pandamonium (United Kingdom, 2020)
Rating: ***
Starring: David Hon Ma Chu, Oriana Charles, Dani Thompson

A killer with a panda head. Well, I've seen slashers in fursuits so why the hell the not?

A pair of meek office staffs, Arielle (Oriana Charles) and Daniel (Will Jones), are starting their new jobs at a large law firm, albeit unprepared for the harassment and workplace bullying they'll be enduring from the quartet of coke-snorting butthole lawyers they're working under. Making their situation worse is that later in the evening, while working overtime in the midst of the boozehound four celebrating a possible senior partner promotion with cocaine and strippers, someone in a business suit and panda head named Jacob Jakushi steps in, overrides the building's security and starts killing people with a large kitchen knife. While spewing a whole lot of murder puns. Cringy yet smooth murder puns.

Going for an old school hack 'n slash treatment, Pandamonium (2020) does its darnest to bring the most out of the familiar stepping stones of straightforward bodycounters, giving us this easy to follow B-grade slasher flick with a quirky touch.

It can get testy to sit through the first half hour as it's practically focused on some of the lowliest yuppies this side of horror cinema can conjure up, out harassing staff and throwing entitled fits like drunken frat boys in business suits. Once the strippers arrive, however, it does get better as these girls are among the more amusing bunch out of the whole non-homicidal casts with their sultry yet close-bonded outlook to their work (which is less stripping and more go-go dancing, to be honest), as well as the fact that their arrival brought out a little development from our obvious final girl and, yes, marks the eventual appearance of our panda-headed killer, Mr. Jakushi.

Now, Jakushi is a strange yet fascinating maniac in the simplest term; he has the quips to rival Freddy Krueger’s in grating cheese and how constantly he blurts them out, but there's an air of softness and sophistication through his delivery and body language, making him a delight to watch and even a tad mysterious as we never did figure who or what he is. All we know is that he can do arrangements, "loves mixing business with pleasure", he likes to slice up strippers and he wears a contorted panda mask.

The limited budget meant that his spree killing does have its moments of cheap effects and obvious fake body parts, though the editing and camera work handled the rest of the bodycount well enough to keep it brutal, bloody and chunky with severed fingers, sprawled out guts and a second little head from a man presumably laying down and dead.

Further highlights include the hilarious opening sequence involving a misunderstanding between a hired dancer and a man tied in a chair, and too the climactic fight of our heroine against Jakushi, with the former going McGuyver on us with weapons made out of office supplies (that actually works!), capping it all off with slow-mo choreography emphasizing the implied rawness of the action before us.

Ending with a last shot that continues to question our killer's nature and opens potential sequels, Pandamonium (2020) is just simplistic fun for what it is; a slasher set in the office, offing people both deserving and not, all the while charming one-liners for us to bear.

Hehe, bear. I'll see myself out...

1 male had his throat cut with a knife
1 female knifed on the back, stabbed to death
1 male decapitated with a door
1 female strangled with a cable cord
1 female had her throat cut with a knife
1 male gets a knife up through his jaw
1 male knifed through the head, exits to jaw
1 female gets a thrown knife to the head
1 female knifed in the back
1 male castrated with a knife, presumably dies offcamera
1 male gutted with a knife
1 male gets a thrown knife to the chest
Total: 12

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Oy Vey! Fakakta!: Hanukkah (2019)

Hanukkah (2019)
Rating: **
Starring: Charles Fleischer, Sid Haig, Caroline Williams

Sometimes you just want something different for your holiday slashers; why hand pick a celebration that's been perverted and exploited into demented bodycounters to death like Christmas or Halloween, when you can have a murderous pilgrim hacking heads off in Thanksgiving (Eli Roth. We're still waiting), or have an alien terrorize a cabin in the woods in International Asteroid Day? This appears to be the mindset of those involved in this title as they aimed to give us the first Hanukkah-themed slasher, though whether that's a good thing or not is up for debate after seeing the results.

Opening in 1983, Judah Lazarus (the late Sid Haig) returns home from a recent murder, carrying the head of his latest victim, as a radio report broadcasts news about his serial killings and the flesh-carved star of David he's been leaving behind, earning him the media nickname "The Hanukiller". Elsewhere in the house, Ana Lazarus (Caroline Williams) is shackled naked inside a dirty bathtub, rendering her helpless as her husband Judah, hearing whispers in his head, wakes their son up and orders the boy to join him in the kitchen so they can re-enact God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son. Fortunately, the cops arrive just in time to hail a rain of bullets into Judah, ending the nightmare that is the Hanukiller.

For now.

Jump to present day and we now follow a group of young adults gathering at a fairly secluded house in the Catskills for a "fuck fest" party, only for just a handful of them to show up so not much of an orgy. This, however, doesn't stop them to start bumpin' uglies as much as possible, to the fury of a hulking individual lurking outside and leering around who now deems all of them as bad Jews and deserving of death.

Considering how holiday focused the killer is, the Hanukiller doesn't lay waste on these teens in a single evening and instead stretches their murder spree through eight nights. This meant we get side plots to fill out the almost two hours worth of running time ?!, including a woman getting herself kidnapped, stripped naked and shackled inside a cabin by the killer for what looks like a survivalist torture show, and too an awkward dinner plot between Halloween (1978)'s PJ Soles' character Mrs. Horowitz and her daughter’s boyfriend, Josh, who tries to remain an observant Jew unlike his more party-going partner.

This patchwork plotting meant that Hanukkah (2019)'s tone and quality is just all over the place, leaving us with a rather unconventional and underwhelming slasher that couldn't figure out what angle they want to dig their knife in; in some parts, you can feel they wanted to do it dark and serious with how brooding and humorless the Hanukiller is, more or less around the parts centering on the woman he kidnapped. These are probably the best bits of the movie as not only the shots used have nice cinematography and a crisp look, but a lot of effort were done to make these scenes as much of an eye candy as possible with their giallo-inspired color tinted lighting and the effects work that is just generous with the latex gore and corn syrup blood.

These scenes, sadly, are ruined by the production's attempt to work in satire and humor into the film through the on-goings of the Catskills party, where every character is either boring or bitchy, making these some of the more unlikable set of meat to be offered in a bodycounter flick. At least two-thirds of them are at each other's throats or sleeping with another's partner, with the writers attempting to have this done with a "comical" tone. This would have worked if the main talents involved aren't giving us performances as nearly dry as a wooden dreidel, the characters they are playing aren't as flat as stale latkes and, most importantly, some actual wit was put into the pen.

By then, the movie dragged itself to a dull pitch that's made worse with a very chatty climax. A chance to fight was hardly even given to these kids as they all ended up just captured and awaiting death at the hands of the Hanukiller, that is unless the group's proclaimed self-hating jew tries to talk some sense to the maniac.

It's also bad enough that majority of the murders committed to these sour batch hardly pass satisfactory; we do have this gruesomely detailed flaying of a tattooed girl, but the rest gets a choice of a disappearing act (as in they disappear and implied dead), a simple classic execution (neck snaps, stabbings and one throat cut) or an offscreen death with varying levels of gore. Why? After all of the dumb jig we have to sit through, I'm sure many of us demand onscreen blood like God ordering King Solomon of Israel to chop a child in half just to satisfy two women who both claim to be the mother! (Wait, what's that? That's not how the story went? Well, whatever. This movie's still lacking in the sufficient stalk-and-stab department)

To be honest, I really wanted to enjoy Hanukkah (2019) as a whole; this is one of the many films that got my attention back around the time this site was just hitting year one and I even remember it's cheesy tagline promising us a TORAH-fying new tale of HORAH. From what I can gather, the movie went through development hell (which is why not only we have genre icon Sid Haig here, but also beloved character actor Dick Miller. Both men passed away in 2019), so I wouldn't be surprised if one or two ideas just got the toss salad treatment and pasted into the feature so they can something to show up for. Shanda. Shanda, all of it. If this film had just stuck with a tone and rolled with it, I can bet my last chocolate babka that this slasher would have been more coherent and consistent, thus a grand more enjoyable.

Here's hoping, though, that Hanukkah (2019) finally opened the floodgates for future (and hopefully better) Hanukkah-themed slashers but until that time, I guess we just have to endure this one.

1 female head seen
6 heads seen rotting in a shelf
1 male shot to death
1 female implied dead through news article
1 male killed offcamera, method unknown
1 male killed offcamera, scalp sawed off with a limb cutter
1 male stabbed to death with a dagger
1 male disappears, implied dead
1 female found dead with a carved gut
1 male had his neck snapped
1 female flayed alive with a dagger
1 male stabbed up the jaw with a dagger
1 male had his throat sliced with a dagger
1 female found dead with a carved gut
1 male seen dead with hands flayed and mutilated into a menorah
1 male found with his guts sprawled out and arranged into the Star of David
Total: 21

Monday, May 18, 2020

Night of the Glass Eyes: Tourist Trap (1979)

Tourist Trap (1979)
Rating: ****
Starring: Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Jon Van Ness

Inspired less by John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) and, instead, taking cues from Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Brian De Palma's Carrie (1976) (among plenty others), Tourist Trap (1978) is a slasher that defies structure and embraces nightmare logic, resulting to a surreal trip down familiar footings and then some.

When a friend fails to turn up after working on a car tire and their spare ride breaks down in the middle of an isolated countryside, a small group of youngsters foots to a nearby watering hole and garage that's also close to the titular tourist trap. There, the teens are greeted by an eccentric yet kind-looking old man named Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors), owner of the trap which turns out to be a wax museum filled with a collection of mannequins and life-like mechanical figures made by Slausen's brother who left for the city.

The gang is allowed to hang around the museum under Slausen's approval, given that they don't leave and go snooping around the house next to them while he and another dude of their number drive off to town to find assistance. Finding Slausen to be a tad suspicious, most who remained choose to disregard the old man's request, not knowing they have sealed their fate to an unimaginable masked horror awaiting them.

Truth be told, the only flaw I endured through Tourist Trap (1979) is its slow padding moments wherein characters are either just walking around and sticking their noses in places it doesn't belong, or getting chased for the umpteenth time. It can get testy, but other than that, everything else about this movie just works.

Its meager budget may have shown the rough edges of the movie's production, but I cannot completely disregard this lack of funds as a negative aspect as it did little damage to the final product and, in some way, may have even help the story somewhat achieve a feat of creepiness and surrealism, particularly on how they utilize the simplicity of their special effects to it full unsettling potential. The worn-out and cluttered set-up of both the tourist trap and the killer's home, for example, not only boast a claustrophobic feel from the piles and piles of mannequins displayed or trashed around, but little details like the smooth gazes of the figures' glass eyes and the janky movements they do in places add an air of mocking menace and haunting uncertainty to what exactly the teens are dealing with.

Giving the killer telekinesis is a concept not often tackled in slasher movies, let alone have it leave out any solid ideas as to how they ended up with it and to what extent they can wield it. This, however, works favorably in Trap's case as the absence of background concerning the killer's psychic abilities strongly adds to the surrealism of the massacre, especially when it eventually reaches a climax where the lines of living, inanimate or dead gets blurred so bad, it's insanely delightful in its cheap yet effective execution. The kills, in turn, are an unconventional set with only a dab of blood here and there, as it focused more on the creative demises of the casts with sound design and editing helping elevate the techniques used.

More or less, Trap's strength lies more on creep factor than violence, an approach that succeeds greatly through its share of silliness that managed to double as effective eeriness, like how its own score flips from bells and whistles to exaggeratedly gasps over striking violins. It also helps that Chuck Connors does a wonder of a job conveying this tone to his scene-chewing range of personality from a calm old timer-type to a deranged man-child with godlike powers, giving little points like out-of-place cracker dinners with mannequins or the fact the killer couldn't stick to just one masks all the dinky and disturbing identity they needed.

Tourist Trap (1979) dwells openly in the unknown, fancying itself to leave its logic at the door to dish out a nightmarish story for us to enjoy. It's unique and disconcerting in all the right ways, thus a cult classic deserving of its status and that little space in our growing horror film hoard.

1 male impaled by a levitating pipe
1 female strangled with a scarf
1 female had her face covered with plaster, suffocates
1 female gets a thrown knife to the back of her head
1 male killed offcamera, mannequin duplicate revealed
1 male gets an axe to the neck
Total: 6

Saturday, May 16, 2020

A Man of the Cloth. And Killing: House of Mortal Sin (1976)

House of Mortal Sin (United Kingdom, 1976) (AKA "The Confessional", "The Confessional Murders")
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Anthony Sharp, Susan Penhaligon, Stephanie Beacham

The idea of a slasher film with a murderous pastor as a villain is always a cheeky treat for me; if done right, the irony of this concept can be deliciously juicy as an exploitation piece, as well as terrifying looking into the fact that it can happen in real life with many people in respected positions abusing their authority. Pete Walker's House of Mortal Sin (1976) is a good example of this, serving us a distressing scenario about an everyday woman being stalked by a disturbed and very repressed pastor.

Down in the dumps from a recent nasty break-up, Jenny Welch (Susan Penhaligon) opted to pour her heart out to an old friend, Bernard (Norman Eshley), who entered as a curate at their local Catholic church. When she goes to see him, though, she instead ends up wandering into a confessional box where Father Meldrum (Anthony Sharp) secretly records her confessions, including that of a secret abortion she had. The more Meldrum creepily asks her for details about her sex life, the further Jenny gets freaked out and soon books it out of there, unknowingly leaving her keys behind. 

What soon follows is tragedy upon tragedy as Meldrum starts to stalk Welch, breaking into her house to lurk around and use the confessional  recording to try blackmailing into coming back to him. Should she choose not to, or if someone gets too close to finding out his true nature and intentions, Meldrum wastes no time killing whoever gets in his way whenever he fails to lie out of trouble.

It's clear House of Mortal Sin (1976) aims for controversy by putting organized religion under criticism and showing us the possible dark side a man of the cloth would harbor within, but for its worth, it is still a darkly entertaining film with honest-to-God chills and a fairly intriguing villain.

There is no doubt that Meldrum is one of the key character that kept this movie alive; his obsession over one woman is just frightening for the lengths he's willing to go, all the while tormented by guilt over his urges to the point he has no problem lashing out at anyone, this includes his poor bedridden mother who has no choice but to listen to her son ramble out madness. Anthony Sharp did a wonderful job here bringing this mad pastor to life, deceiving us with his old, pompous and frail demeanor before engulfing us in toxic malice and brewing lust through hammy yet creepily uncomfortable dialogue, as well as the occasional bloodshed with everything from burning incense censers to rosary beads getting the profane treatment of being murder weapons, resulting to a few impressively brutal kill scenes.

On the other side of the poisoned communion wafer, Penhaligon played her Jenny character decent enough as a memorable and vulnerable victim of Meldrum's mania and Eshley leads a strong and rather likable liberal pastor whose decision for celibacy is tested as he starts to grow feelings for Jenny's sister, played with girl-around-town spunk by Stephanie Beacham. We also have Sheila Keith (who starred at two previous Walker movies) as Miss Brabazon, an imposing figure who looks after and tortures Meldrum's mother as a side element the film brings up from time to time. Her slice of the story, however, does come into some importance at the end where in it's revealed that Meldrum's demented disposition and Brabazon's continuing torment upon his mother are tied together.

Story-wise, House of Mortal Sin (1976) does not deviate much from its main plot, hiding little to no twists in its direction while borrowing elements from other psycho-drama and bodycount thrillers of the time. It goes through the events in an escalating manner that the stalker drama sequences that comes in between the murders felt natural and piece everything together interestingly, albeit suffering a few padding issues that's close to tedious. This remains to be the case until the last act, when the movie picks itself up agreeably before swinging a bleak ending at us that not only is littered with bodies, but broke expectations, too.

In my eyes, House of Mortal Sin (1976) is one of Pete Walker's better movies and an underrated proto-slasher that's full of inventive ideas, old-fashioned psychological horror and a shred of mischief, all meant to shock and stir. A Grand Guignol commentary on religion, there's no denying this is a unique effort worth seeing.

1 female threw herself off a bedroom window
1 male bludgeoned to death with incense burner
1 male found killed
1 female poisoned with tainted communion wafer
1 female strangled with a rosary, neck crushed
1 elderly female poisoned with tainted communion wafer
1 female found with throat cut
Total: 7