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.

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.

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

Making Friends: May (2002)

May (2002)
Rating: ****
Starring: Angela Bettis, Jeremy Sisto, Anna Faris

May Dove Canady (Angela Bettis) only has a few things going for her, mainly the need to have the perfect friend and to be accepted for her quirks. But with her lazy left eye, shifty personality and a very sheltered childhood life hindering her goals for normalcy, May couldn't help but feel down being the odd one out, a gripe she confides with her only "friend", Suzy, a porcelain doll crafted by her mother as a gift, kept safe inside a glass display box that's never to be opened.

This, admirably, does not keep May from attempting to socialize despite being that uneducated of how real world social etiquette works. She makes her way through the days as a veterinarian assistant and even finding the time to crush on a young mechanic named Adam (Jeremy Sisto). After eventually catching on to May's little obsession with him, Adam returns some of the feelings as he sees some charm out of her weirdness and all seems to be lining up in good light for our painfully awkward girl. At least, for a while.

It isn't long before May makes a mess out of herself, going a bit overboard on a bity kiss with Adam, drawing blood and sensually smearing herself with it to look (in her mind) attractive. This rightfully freaks the boy out into breaking it off between them, leading May to fall deeper into the void and, in an increasingly distressing run, tries to fill the chasm with as many friends and desperate good intentions she can get and give. After failing to bond a friendship with Polly (Anna Faris), her lesbian co-worker who's also intrigued by her odd personality, as well as with a group of blind kids at a volunteer work and even with a random stranger who's into jujube candies, May's psyche reaches its breaking point one day and, in a twisted epiphany, she will attempt to end her heartbreaks by taking her mother's words to heart: If you can't find a friend, make one.

And seeing I'm covering this movie here, scalpels will be involved.

Labeling Lucky McKee's May (2002) a slasher is only correct for the last act as everything else before that is a strong teen thriller with a taint of psychological horror and arthouse stylistics. As a character study, it fascinates us with the look into the inner workings of an uneasy yet eager damaged mind through the ups and downs of their present life, doing their best to make sense of the world outside their depressingly sheltered and lonesome upbringing, as well as what they perceive as "normal". This in turn may or may not elicit an action from our protagonist that equals to horrific (if not at least cringy), so as much as the film sprinkles in a healthy dose of black comedy to counter and balance the bleak, the horror aspect is ever present not only through its shocking imagery and gore (keep an eye on the glass shard scene. It's unnerving), but also through its many scenes of desperation, total breakdown and uncomfortably unsettling dialogue.

The key factor that makes this direction works is Angela Bettis' outstanding performance as the titular May, living the character up as both a victim of her own flaws and a freak through the eyes of those who choose to see her that way. As someone far from being completely understandable, but sympathetic enough at least fathom her reasonings for the horrible deeds she ends up doing a bit. She does this impressively without stepping into overacting and the same can be said to the two supporting roles by Jeremy Sisto (of Wrong Turn (2003)) and Anna Farris (who would later play the hapless Cindy Campbell from the first four Scary Movies) as May's selections of (doomed) love interests whose interactions with her all felt natural.

Fascinatingly enough, the bodycounting third act manages to keep its bloodshed on a semi-realistic light, racking up a modest kill count and with just enough blood spilled to keep a polite bloodhound at bay. It does have its gruesomely brutal moments, but these are strategically done within crucial developments of the story, henceforth they're hard to brush off and it sticks deep within one's memory once it comes out of the left field. Minor drawbacks to point out, though, includes the movie's pace trailing along May's development and psychological devolution as a character to a tee, so it does take a while to get going. There's also the very ambiguous final shot that's as creepy and odd as it is open for interpretation, something that might toy some viewers the wrong way, but I personally find this last minute shocker a bit of warm and satisfyingly bittersweet.

A strong recommendation for horror fans, May (2002) is one criminally underrated dark drama that taps into our emotions to make us squirm, showing us that some horror are born from the grueling thoughts of one's dearth. Psychological horror with last minute slasher antics done right, we strongly implore you not to miss out on this gem. 

1 male stabbed in the head with a pair of dressmaker shears
1 female had her neck cut with scalpels
1 female stabbed in the temples with scalpels
1 female stabbed in the neck with a scalpel
1 male stabbed in the gut with a scalpel
Total: 5

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Eddie's Scarehouse: HauntedWeen (1991)

HauntedWeen (1991)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Brien Blakely, Blake Pickett, Brad Hanks

Whenever I hear this title, the very first thing to come out of my mind are teens being terrorized by a possessed wiener but, alas, HauntedWeen (1991) wasn't bold enough to pull a stunt like that. Sadly.

The movie starts off at Halloween night in 1970, with young Eddie Burber working at a local haunt as a ticket collector, bummed out as he prefers doing scares than receiving fares. Embolden for tonight however, Eddie sneaks into the walk-through in hopes of giving the last batch of patrons a good jolt and he succeeds in this when he traps one of the customers, a lost young girl, into a room, chases her around until she accidentally trips into a spike. He then decapitates the kid just to finish it all off and Eddie soon finds himself beckoned by his mother to leave town to avoid capture.

And avoid capture they did for the next twenty years, living deep in the woods and growing older together. Eddie's mum then croaks one day, so now he is all alone and he can pretty much go back to killing people because, apparently, there's nothing much else to do for someone in hiding for two decades and guilty of manslaughter other than go full psycho.

All the while, a Sigma Phi frat house is threatened to be closed down by their national headquarters due to, well, dues, which apparently accumulated to about three grand and some. So in desperation to keep their fraternity, the happy-go-lucky members start a "hellraiser fundraiser", treating anyone willing to join in to booze, bands and a lot of hammy hookums for a donation. This brings Eddie to the picture, "helping" the boys out by cryptically suggesting they open a scare house and even hands them the key to the haunt that started it all. Not thinking much about how suspicious this all is, the frat buddies agree to the idea and one montage later, their Halloween scarehouse is complete, not knowing our resident psycho has his own plans for them at opening night.

Not gonna lie, HauntedWeen (1991) fails as horror. Or thriller. It may have succeed on being a comedy but that's more on the fact that everyone here acts like a Saturday morning cartoon and if that's not a clear sign to the kind of low rent cheekiness this movie have, then I don't know what is. It's not going to appease most slasher fans with its low kill count with mostly dry gore effects and its killer being a lite-Michael Myers clone of sorts, but what it lacks on scares and spills are made up by its enthusiastic tone and how everyone involved, film students at Western Kentucky University, shows they're in on the mediocre fun. Yes, the near-absent budget and aged production shows (look how big those perms are!), its writing is far from inspired (another shlocky romantic subplot this way comes) and the cast and crew are obviously inexperienced (I'm sure one of them is a cyborg listening to how they deliver their lines), but I had fun with the film's impish hokey-pokey direction, its little silly moments that disregard common sense, that comic relief guy with the fake Southern accent, so I can't completely dismiss this film's worth as a small cult favorite.

One's patience and tolerance for bad movie cheese can get a tad (or, y'know, completely) testy with this one, but I can personally say HauntedWeen (1991)'s gutso and zaniness still has an audience and it definitely found one in me. If you like your homemade slashers competent enough to stand, Kentucky fried and thick on the skull, not minding the lack of chills, high onscreen carnage count or a murderous Bratwurst to justify calling this film HauntedWeen (coz..."weenie"), then you're an odd creature and you might enjoy this title!

1 girl startled into a spike, decapitated with a machete
1 elderly female suffers a heart attack
1 male pinned to a tree with a machete through the neck
1 female had her head twisted
1 female gets a chainsaw to the back of her neck
1 male decapitated from a baseball bat blow
Total: 6

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Fear Men Cometh: House of Fears (2007)

House of Fears (2007)
Rating: ***
Starring: K. Danor Gerald, Cydney Neil, Kelvin Clayton

When the mood hits me right, I don't really demand much from my slasher movies. Just make the plot interesting, throw in some decent looking monsters, some workable kills and before you know it, you have me satisfied for the afternoon.

House of Fears (2007) is one such movie that isn't that grand but does the job right enough to be watchable. It cold opens with a girl panicking from what look like a live burial before shifting scenes to Africa, where miners have unearthed something powerful enough to set everyone into a killing frenzy. Cydney Neil (Of Utah's Rocky Point Haunted House, playing herself) then arrives at the dig in hopes of purchasing some goods, misses the numerous dead men from afar, spots an idol among the mess and ships it to America to set it as a prop for one of her haunted houses. All that mining and murdered men just for a a decoration...

Some time later in Salem, Oregon, Hailey (Sandra McCoy) is forced by her folks to tag along her new step-sister Samantha (Corri English) to a party she's attending so the two can bond. There, shenanigans rear their ugly heads when Hailey and her group decide to sneak into a soon-to-open haunt called House of Fears just for the kick of it and Samantha is invited to join. This plan is set for something deadly, unfortunately, as a familiar African idol that just happens to be sitting around someplace within the haunt and it turns out to be malevolent, capable of creating murderous avatars and bringing animatronics to life based on its victims' fears. As the teens find themselves haunted and hunted one by one, their only chance of surviving the night is to brave their fears or die trying.

From the paint-by-numbers teen dynamics and stereotypes to the more than basic murderings and jump scares, House of Fears (2007) never really bothered to stray off the beaten track that much despite the opportunities that it could have. The concept of slasher victims being snuffed out through deaths inspired by their fears isn't exactly that new with movies like Phobia (1980)The Fear: Resurrection (1999) and Boogeyman 2 (2007), though Fears opted to give this concept a more paranormal grounding by introducing an evil idol with dark powers. If it wasn't for the movie's restricted budget, this idea may have led us to a couple of rather spectacular supernatural deaths, instead the film worked around it by cooking up fairly impressive-looking monsters manifested by the totem. Some of them were based on very specific kind of fears (a demonic clown for coulrophobics, a scarecrow for formidophobics), others being representation of said fear (a grave-digger for taphophobics, a machete-wielding mannequin for aichmophobics), all in all alright on the make-up and practical effects department.

Any drawbacks apart the generic plot and writing would be the killings done by our monsters. They're mostly dry and standard, some even done offcamera, disappointing gorehounds or even general horror fans who are hoping to see a little more excitement from their monster attacks. Still, with what it had to work with, House of Fears (2007) remains effective in tone and scares for what is basically a funhouse slasher paying small tribute to classic haunts and B-grade entertainment; it's teens in a haunted "haunted" house trying to survive the attacks of physical demonic forces and that's that. Nothing revolutionary, right, but it is safe to say this is a movie meant to be simplistic and I just find that very endearing as a fun spook show. Worth a try.

1 male hacked with a pickaxe
1 males seen murdered
1 male found murdered
1 male gutted with a cleaver
1 female dragged underneath the sand, suffocated
1 male suffers a heart attack (flashback)
1 male mauled by dog
1 male electrocuted
1 male strangled, neck broken
Total: 9

Deranged Dial-Up: Disconnected (1983)

Disconnected (1983)
Rating: **
Starring: Frances Raines, Mark Walker, Carl Koch

A slasher flick done with artsy-fartsy hookums and New Wave riff-raff? Not a cup of tea a lot of people will be willing to partake in and, after finishing Disconnected (1983), I can kinda see why.

It starts with young video store clerk Alicia (Frances Raines) spotting an old man lurking around her home and, out of modest concern, she lets him into her apartment so he can make a phone call while she fetches some fresh tea for them. But just as she returns from the kitchen, the man is nowhere to be seen and Alicia now has an odd tale she's eager to share with her DJ boyfriend, Mike (Carl Koch), and her twin sister, Barbara Ann (also Frances Raines), when they go clubbing later that night.

From here, we see Alicia strongly suspects Mike and Barbara Ann are hooking up behind her back, so much so she gets nightmares about Mike murdering her in cold blood just so he could score with her sister. Thus, when a meek new customer named Franklin (Mark Walker) steps into her video store the next morning and openly admits he's there because he spotted her at the bar the night before, she's willing to give him a chance assuming she and Mike are over. This would have been nothing more than fun escapades for Alicia's love life if it wasn't for the fact that, at home, she's suddenly getting odd and loud obscene calls that are increasingly worsening, as well as the matter that somewhere loose in the city is a homicidal slasher who's slaughtering women.

For the first hour, Disconnected (1983) felt the closest to being a low-budget slasher, albeit reeking of its own brand of oddities and disjointedness; there's certainly a trying effort in its production as seen in the movie's more novel use of editing and camera work, as well as pulling a couple of odd yet curious turns in its direction, though the spotty acting and bizarre scripting speak rather differently regarding to the film's quality and tone. It's veering close to a Z-grade mystery thriller/woman-in-peril plot rather than a competent psycho-drama slasher, though there's an admitted charm to its strangeness of Hawaiian shirt cops and lofi rock montages, plus it still racks up some fair kills with a decent amount of onscreen bloodwork.

The last twenty-some minutes of the movie is when the bodycounting stops and the arthouse surrealism starts; frankly, Alicia gets the Repulsion (1965) treatment wherein she slowly loses her mind and gets tormented by a still ringing telephone and the obscene caller at the other end, thus we watch her wasting herself away out of paranoia and total dementia in her apartment. The whole deal of this finale is basically made up of freeze frames, photographs, previous scenes mixed together recklessly, and loud phone noises that resembles a whiny robot's cry for attention, a jumbled mess that ends with a very ambiguous shot that's supposed to bookend the movie but all it did is leaves us with more questions than answers.  

Frankly, I didn't enjoy Disconnected (1983) as a whole; I like bits and pieces that I find either hilarious or groovy (the latter being some of the songs used, courtesy of composer Jon Brion in his 80s band years), but its disunited story is just a tad too desperate for my horror palate, its weirdness too unengaging and balking (and dare I say, disconnected?) to be entertaining. But if you fancy yourself more as a surrealist type of horror fan, then by the grace of your mounted pair of walrus lips, dig in to this obscure heap.

1 female strangled (dream)
1 female seen slaughtered with a knife
1 female slaughtered with a knife
1 female slaughtered with a knife
1 male shot dead offscreen
Total: 5