Thursday, May 13, 2021

TV Terror: Another (2012)

Another (Japan, 2012 Animated Series)
Rating: ****
Starring: Natsumi Takamori, Naoko Sakakibara, Atsushi Abe

When it comes to anime and manga, I mostly keep myself grounded within the casual and lighthearted side of the geeky interest, meaning I tend to veer towards light-hearted comedies and/or slice-of-life titles a lot more than story-heavy, multi-season franchises. This is out from the fact that I'm not patient enough to sit through five hundred episodes of a single series, nor do I have the capacity to care about a plot that's as thick as ten Bibles when materialized in print. I simply prefer to take it easy when it comes to my Japanese comics and animation, which is why slice-of-life comedies and gag shorts cater best to my taste.

As a slasher fan, however, I wouldn't pass the opportunity to read a manga or see an anime that borrows heavily, if not entire structured around my favorite horror subgenre just to try it out. This leads me to watching one of the more intriguing horror anime titles I've seen in a long while; a supernatural murder mystery that's one part high school drama and one part Final Destination sequel, simply called Another (2012).

In its single season run of 12 episodes, the series tells the story of one 15-year-old Koichi Sakakibara, the new transfer student of a rural junior-high school who finds himself assigned to a particular classroom that's rumored to be cursed. As soon as he settles in, he's drawn to Mei Misaki, a weird and quiet eyepatch-wearing girl in his class whom both teachers and students seem to ignore as some sort unspoken rule that Koichi, understandably, finds odd. Curiosity eventually takes over the boy and he begins to look into the mystery surrounding the school, which in turn triggers a methodic series of fatal accidents and violent deaths befalling unto not only everyone in the afflicted class, but also their loved ones.

Visually, Another (2012) is a commendable work of animated horror drama that undoubtedly has its gloomy and suffocating feel made with an art direction that greatly focuses on dim lighting, twisty angles and a minimalist approach. The atmosphere these visuals create, in turn, goes heavily well with the show's plot considering how much it prompts an isolated feel drawn from not only the story's rustic small town premise, but also from the matter that there are hardly any other characters outside the class circle. This approach meant that the show's very mystery-centered, doing its best to hint and weave all the necessary red herrings and clues to what is happening to Koichi and Mei's peers and friends, working the concept of the curse first before slowly branching it out to shocking onscreen deaths that interestingly increases in number the further the series goes, and too putting cliffhangers to good use in each episode's end.

It is, however, hard to ignore the series' slow start courtesy of some mishandled opening exposition which made the first two episodes not only feel sluggishly paced, but redundant by the fact that we have to sit through our protagonist discover things we may already know from the start. It does this dance until the near end of the third episode, wherein we get out first kill and it was a spectacular one at that. 

On that note, I fully appreciate the balanced amount of gore, brutality, shock and suspense done for the deaths here in Another (2012); while the bloodletting is generous and carnally striking, I like the fact that the story tackles the subject of grief and loss during the series' slower moments. It gave the characters a lot more depth and it helps make the murders feel more cathartic and tragic even in their manic and occasionally exaggeratedly twisted moments. At most, the deaths featured fits wonderfully within the Final Destination franchise as we get a set of both subtle and not-so-subtle accidents taking out the cursed students one-by one. Highlights among these are the first death involving the wrong end of an umbrella and a terrifyingly claustrophobic end through a malfunctioning elevator. 

Around the last two episodes of the show, the chaotic tension finally breaks and the students go on a frenzied survival mode as they try to murder one another in hopes of ending the curse. It's around here that the show delves into superstition and paranoia, molding it around the supernatural and resulting to bountiful onscreen murders and free-for-all accidents that ends on a somewhat decent twist that's as heartbreaking as it is purgative after all that madness. 

With modest character designs and talented voice actors bringing a sense of groundedness and intrigued flair to their roles, Another (2012) is simply one of the better horror anime entries a curious cat can try and rightfully enjoy. While one may have to work through a number of who’s who of characters involved in the plot (even more once we get around the second half!), it doesn't completely overcomplicate itself much and the mystery is fascinating enough in its twists and turns, dishing even bloody ends at the side to satisfy one's exploitative need for bloodshed. Animated supernatural murder mystery fun with a bodycount, what else could you ask for? 

1 female lands neck first unto an umbrella's tip (Episode 3)
1 female implied killed in car crash (Episode 4)
1 female mangled in a dropping elevator (Episode 4)
1 male suffers a heart seizure (Episode 5)
1 male suicide, repeatedly gouged his own neck with a knife (Episode 7)
1 female seen murdered, method unknown (Episode 7)
1 male dismembered through boat propeller (Episode 8)
1 male struck by lightning (flashback) (Episode 9)
1 female slipped off a cliff, mangled in fall (flashback) (Episode 9)
2 females and 1 male drove off a cliff after a rock hits their car (Episode 9)
1 male found crushed by a crashed excavator (Episode 9)
1 male impaled through the mouth with a branch (flashback) (Episode 10)
1 male found pinned to a wall with spikes (Episode 11)
1 female slips and snapped her neck (Episode 11)
1 male incinerated by flames (Episode 11)
1 female caught on wires, hanged (Episode 11)
1 female gets a thrown knife to the back (Episode 12)
1 female knifed on the back (Episode 12)
1 male crushed by a falling pillar (Episode 12)
1 female gets a thrown knife to the neck (Episode 12)
1 male brained with a steel rod (Episode 12)
1 female impaled by flying window shards (Episode 12)
1 female killed with a knife (flashback, Dead A) (Episode 12)
1 female hacked with a pickaxe (Death B) (Episode 12)
Total: 26

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Only Grue Can Prevent Forest Fires: The Legend of The Psychotic Forest Ranger (2011)

The Legend of The Psychotic Forest Ranger (Canada, 2011)
Rating: ***
Starring: Michael G MacDonald, Samuel MacDonald LeMoine, Colleen MacIsaac

This is the kind of movie you would get when the overall production was funded with cheese and beer. A lot of cheese and beer.

The premise isn't far off from your casual backwoods slasher as we follow four buddies out driving to the mountainous woods to celebrate their last days out of school. Seeing most of the gang are hardly the responsible mature-type and they barely packed for their trip save for a cooler full of beer, it isn't long before they're trailing down the road by foot later that night because they didn't bother giving the car a full tank of gas. Fortunately there's a seemingly unoccupied house nearby and, judgement and legality be damned, our gang breaks in to seek shelter.

After a series of false scares, awkward sleeping arrangements and an encounter with a random forest ranger who warns them of a prowler who's out lurking in the woods recently, the foursome double in numbers by morning as another group of teens show up hoping to party in the house, apparently keeping an eye at the place for some time and making sure the owners left to avoid trouble. All's fun and dandy, until one of them didn't return from gathering firewood.

Decades ago, you see, there was a priest-turned-forest ranger who died in a forest fire decades ago after trying to fight off some troublesome hooligans, swearing vengeance in Satan's name as he roasts. Some say he's gone, others will find him hunting down anyone unlucky enough to end up in his way, looking the least threatening until he's hacking his victims down to size and assaulting their ears with terrible puns and one-liners about forest safety. For our unlucky shmucks, they will find out this supposed legend's all too real and the unholy abomination that is a tubby, giggling, psychotic forest ranger will be their doom!

Now, understand that the bare bones of The Legend of The Psychotic Forest Ranger (2011) is that it's cheesy. Like, from the title alone, its high grade fromage should really go without saying. For anybody expecting something deep, new and unexpected, this film isn't gonna bother with any of that and it will just run its course as a homage of sorts to bad, late-80s cheddar horror and do-it-yourself movie magic with the enthusiasm of a so-bad-it's-good parody. For a low budget production, it isn't that badly made aesthetic-wise and it even scored some decent enough make-up effects for a few of the kills, but the predictable plotting and intentional bad acting and writing might turn away some folks who are looking for a more straight-faced affair in their horror movies. But if you know ahead what you're getting into and don't mind a ton of ham and tongue-in-cheek in your dead teenager films, then this has more than enough cartoonish campy fun (pun intended) to give around the bonfire, from the annoyingly hilarious victims and the cheesy Satanist axe-murderer in a ranger's uniform, to the paint-by-number slasher tropes and outrageous dialogue.

Breezing through its plot modestly paced and having silly shenanigans between each kills that have their moments of being giggle-worthy (at least, those that hit their marks), The Legend of The Psychotic Forest Ranger (2011) is just simple fun. Hardly a grand display of what a modern throwback slasher could be, I still find this as an entertaining mess that could have done worse!

1 male stabbed on the face with a broken bottle
1 female stabbed with a stick
1 male gets a bear trap snapped over his neck
1 female hacked with an axe
1 male hacked in half with an axe
1 female stabbed to death with a car key
1 male impaled with a thrown log
1 female beaten with a pot
1 male gets a police baton ran through his head, dies later
1 male and 1 female immolated in car crash
Total: 11

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Six-Fingered Hand of Bloody Redemption: The Redeemer (1978)

The Redeemer (1978) (AKA "The Redeemer: Son of Satan!", Class Reunion Massacre")
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Damien Knight, Jeannetta Arnette, Nick Carter

Oh, Lordy. This movie. This wonderfully horrible movie.

It starts with a shot of a hand punching out of a clear lake after a tedious run through the opening credits and a sacrilegious quote, revealing a boy with a very dated haircut casually walking out of the waters and boarding a bus headed to the town church. Elsewhere, a shadowy figure grants a sleeping fellow an extra thumb on one hand because spoiler-related reasons. And, yes, it's kinda gross-looking. One tiny thumb on top of an elongated one.

Urge to poke it with a stick... Growing...

We then we see that the soaky lil' dude is one with of the (more bullied) choirboys and the sermon is your typical fire-and-brimstone type about sins and whatnot, yelled by an equally typical Bible-thumping priest. This is where we get our character introductions interjected through out the righteous Gospel ramblings; John, a lawyer who values money more than a fair trial; Cindy, a party girl with multiple failed marriages; Terry, the eater of burgers; Jane, one who shoots at pigeons for fun; Roger, a vain actor who walked out of set because someone spilled a drink on his pants; and Kristen, a lesbian. Just, uh, just a lesbian. The six happen to be part of a small clique back at their highschool years and they all recently received an invitation to attend a reunion back at their alma mater.

Unbeknownst to them, they're the only ones who got the invites, which could've have just been weird, amusing even, if it wasn't for the loon out stalking and prowling around the campus killing them one-by-one. A loon with a penchant for hammy disguises, life-sized weapon-wielding puppets and Biblical tirades. A loon who calls himself- The Redeemer!  

Now, see, as much as I want to decimate this movie and make a mockery out of its flaws, I can't. I just simply can't. I have a soft spot for dumb cheesy movies, particularly those that are done with the right amount of unintentional humor and have made odd spectacles out of themselves, something The Redeemer here manage to do and a little more. For one, the atmosphere is just befittingly weird coming from the story's dream-like logic and semi-creepy direction, straight from the shot of a random choirboy rising out of the cold waters and the random double thumb appearing at one's hand, to the villain's unusual gimmick of donning random costumes and his somewhat supernatural nature. It plays well with the movie's good eye on expressive cinematography and, too, the villain's warped morality which can be best described as very shallow at best (or worst), yet strangely entertaining leaning on the fact he's going through all of this trouble of dropping swords and setting up blowtorch-equipped mannequins to attack just because the clique is guilty of things like eating too many fast food or loving themselves too much. That said, despite the absence of strong grue or a high count, I also came to like the murders perpetrated by our Redeemer here all for the sheer unusualness of it all, may it be the execution of the scene or the imagery itself.

Character-wise, it's hard to hide how regular the victims can be, unfortunately; don't get me wrong, the actors tried (and I mean, tried) to milk out any seriousness and talent they can muster to act their respective one-note meat bags, but writing and scripting are hardly this movie's strong points so they go against creating any real solid casts unsurprisingly. You could say the same for our titular killer with his holier-than-thou horror trope psychosis, but he at least has the thankful joy of being exaggeratedly bad, to the point that I can't really take him seriously despite the murdering business and all. (Like how can you? This guy can't even get the number of sins right. It's seven deadly sins, shmuck. Not six. Unless we're pulling a Se7en (1995) here and the killer is the seventh sin?!)

Yes, The Redeemer (1978) is no real gem, but it's a personal treat that keeps splitting my sides with its ludicrous ham, as well as captivate me for just how absurd it can get. Perhaps you can say I find it so bad it's good, so much so that it deserves to sit proudly next to other lovable bad trashes like ThanksKilling (2008) and Nail Gun Massacre (1985). If you see yourself a wee bit curious enough to try it out then I say, go for it! Just remember to dim the lights in your noggin and not take any of it as high art as much as possible and you'll do mostly fine!


1 male shot on the neck
1 male set on fire with a blow torch
1 female shot with a shotgun
1 male gets a sword dropped unto his head
1 female drowned in a handwashing sink
1 male shot on the head
1 female hacked to death with a sword
1 boy seen dead from throat cut
Total: 8 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Troublesome Production of Harry Penderecki: Brutal Massacre: A Comedy (2007)

Brutal Massacre: A Comedy (2007)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: David Naughton, Brian O'Halloran, Gerry Bednob

Many a times I cover slasher movies that lean on the comical side, but had I ever cover comical movies that lean on the slasher side? 

Brutal Massacre: A Comedy (2007) is a mockumentary centered around low-budget horror director Harry Penderecki (An American Werewolf in London (1981)'s David Naughton), who hasn’t had a hit since his last opus, I'll take the ring back... And the finger, too!. Itching to make a real name for himself, he sets out to do Brutal Massacre, a backwoods slasher that's going to be his "big one" given everything goes smoothly. Big emphasis on given.

A satire comedy about low-budget horror movie productions, Brutal Massacre's just a real treat from beginning to end as we follow the scenes behind one supposedly infamous (for the more absurd and often hilarious reasons) horror director and his close-knit crew's days of filming, tackling every sorts of mishaps from finding the perfect shooting location and encountering creepy drunk houseowners (one of them looking a whole lot like Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)'s Gunnar Hansen. Unless...), to getting the right gore effects guy and surviving workplace hazards. (i.e. firing ranges and the occasional runaway knife) On a lack of a better term, these guys are just screwed with just so much bad luck and bad press that their misfortunes in this one project are simply chuckle-worthy, something the movie wears proudly with its snarky yet kinda intelligent dialogue and a good lot of talent involved.

Aside from the aforementioned David Naughton doing his silliest as an inspired yet very down-on-luck director whose self-praising and over-analyzation of his own shlocky projects bring forth plenty of laughs, we also have the likes of other horror icons like Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead (1978)) and Ellen Sandweiss (The Evil Dead (1981)), and too familiar faces of comedy like Brian O’Halloran of Clerks (1994) and Gerry Bednob from the Steve Carell comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) gracing the screen as assorted friends and/or crews just doing their best to get through the filming in one piece and their sanity intact, with or without the cost of their own frustrations, stupidity or, for some people, both. There are some genuine moments of chemistry and timing among these crowds so when a joke hits, it hits the right way. (running gag Gunnar Hansen anyone?) When a joke misses, however, it's pretty darn noticeable at how distractingly "hard" it wants to be (Yes, the rich Texan is funding this movie because he wants titties. Anything else?), but seeing there are more hits than misses here in my book, I'm willing to overlook these flaws for what's really no more than a fun comedy-of-errors that doesn't completely take itself too seriously.

Perhaps the factor that gets me on a really forgivable stride towards this movie is that despite being played for laughs, it is still a caricature of low budget filmmaking; Brutal Massacre is structured like an actual process, one that revels on highlighting a lot of possible issues one might meet during movie projects and as a horror fan since youth, I have a growing sense of fascination of what goes behind the camera and I kinda admire all the hard work these production crews put in making a single movie to cinematic life. Of course, there's nothing that much insightful going on here save for one or two apparently deep moments, but the matter this movie brought up problems like lazy and inept crew members, obnoxious locals and budget restraints and found ways to make it subtle yet funny earns modest points for me.

Yes, it's lowers its bar a bit due to some irregular jokey moments and sometimes questionable writing, but I'm committed in my words when I say Brutal Massacre: A Comedy (2007) is just in it for the laughs and I understand and appreciate that. It mostly knows the darkly funny side of low budget films and I like that it approached a different angle to exploit. If you have an itch for an independent mockumentary comedy about the happenings during that one shooting of a shlocky $1.99 slasher movie you can pick up at a bargain bin, then go get yourself a copy of this and watch out for short Indian cameramen with anger issues. Apparently they have a tick for the term "shot-on-video"...

1 male accidentally killed by a tossed knife
Total: 1

Seriously, this dude looks like Gunnar Hansen.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Mexican Bored Games: I Wish I Wish (2016)

I Wish I Wish (Deseo Deseo) (Mexico, 2016)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Israel Amescua, Fitzgerald Navarro, Iván Mondragón

The concept of wishes getting twisted into something horrifying and deadly is a tale as old as time, going as far as the early 1900s with W.W. Jacobs' classic short The Monkey's Paw, which dabbles around the titular trinket and its wish granting abilities, doubling as a cautionary horror story when the wishes start to go awry. Over the years, horror cinema churned their own take on the "bad wish" trope so it wouldn't come as a surprise that for every Wishmaster (1997), we get some duds along the way.

Five young relatives with rather complicated familiar ties gather around at their late grandmother's house one day and finds an old board game called I Wish, I Wish. The rules of the game have each players say three wishes, starting with the phrase "I wish I wish", and those wishes come with payments and punishments: in order to make a wish come true, they have to do whatever the payment is, or else they'll get whatever vague punishment assigned to them instead. 

Thinking little about it, the group have their turn saying whatever wish comes in mind, some for the best (curing an ailing mother's cancer), others typical (to be a millionaire, be famous or have a body like Bruce Lee's), and then we have one guy wishing he could fuck his own cousin. (No. Really) As you would expect, those who went through their respective payments -intentionally or not- got their wish in a twisted way, while those who didn't are punished just as darkly and severely. Quickly understanding that the game is for real, they try fixing their mistakes by making wishes to undo the results of their prior ones, although this time the game demands blood and death.

There's a few good ideas tossed and tumbled all over I Wish I Wish (2016), like how some of the wishes granted are actually clever in their irony and simplicity, and too the fact that the film tries to keep things interesting by implementing physical, supernatural and psychological threats through out the film, which means we get a variety of deaths and scares. Unfortunately, the story is hardly new and a good deal of the supposed scares barely worked, nor are most of the deaths worthwhile for how tame they can get. Add the fact that none of the characters are even likable as they come off rather dull, if not shallow, snobbish, obnoxious, immature and/or rapey, and we have this predictable low-budget flick where I hardly care about anybody being terrorized in the story so it's hardly a film that matters on my book.

The last modern wish-gone-bad bodycounter I saw was Wish Upon (2017) and as much as that movie kinda sucked as a PG-13 affair, at least it was unintentionally hilarious at its worst. I Wish I Wish just tries too much take itself seriously and given its obvious low budget, independent production, I'll give it points for the attempt, but the resulting flair is just overdone and lame. What else is there to say but I Wish I Wish I never bothered with this movie.

1 female seen smothered with plastic wrapping around her head
1 male seen disemboweled
1 female seen pinned to the wall with knives
1 female implied to have passed away
1 male frightened into a heart seizure
1 elderly male drowned in a bath tub
1 male murdered offcamera, heart torn out
1 male pulled into a pool, drowned
1 male stabbed to death with a pair of scissors
1 female brained to death against the floor
Total: 10

The Murderous Science of T&A: The Invisible Maniac (1990)

The Invisible Maniac (1990)
Rating: ***
Starring: Noel Peters, Savannah, Stephanie Blake

If there's anything The Invisible Man (1933) made it clear for me is that invisible killers are absurdly creepy; they can be anywhere, silently watching and biding their time while you go about your business. Studying you. Taunting you. Finding the right moment to strike and maybe cut your throat open with a piano wire. It's an unnerving concept and very few slasher movies like Hollow Man (2000) and its 2006 direct-to-video sequel tackled the advantage of fantastical but unnerving psychological horror of having invisible killers.

And then we have The Invisible Maniac (1990), hamming it up with its soggy, sordid tomfoolery and an alarming amount of cheddar.

The film starts with little Kevin Dornwinkle and his telescope, observing the female human anatomy by spying on a neighbor erotically changing out of her clothes. His mum walks in and catches the little dork in his voyeur session, so she grounds him that night while mocking his dreams to be a real scientist should he keep up being a big creep.

Two decades later and we now see an adult Dornwinkle making it far enough in his studies to gather around a gaggle of the world's most renowned men and women of science, to have them observe what's basically an invisibility juice he'd been working on. Things didn't go well as planned, of course, as he fails to turn invisible upon taking the concoction, much to the humor of the scientists seeing this. Unable to bear it all, Dornwinkle snaps and went on to murder a handful from the taunting group before getting his ass hauled away to an insane institution.

He didn't stay there long, though, as Dornwinkle eventually breaks out and somehow lands the opportunity to take over a high school physics class after its previous teacher died choking on a sandwich. The problem with this gig, however, is that the class happens to be filled with the rudest and horniest bunch of troublemakers who are quick to put their foot down from being educated by a huge dork, retaliating by pranking and harassing Dornwinkle whenever they get the chance to.

With the stress of maintaining his temper in check and his sex drive repressed, Dornwinkle keeps himself busy off school work by continuing and perfecting his research on invisibility, which he soon succeeds to great effect. Feeling exploitative and itching to get revenge, he'll make all the nasty kids pay and he'll do it with a wise-crack or two! 

To expect The Invisible Maniac (1990) as anything but a cheesefest is like expecting a two-year old to know and sing the entire I Am The Very Model song from The Pirates of Penzance. Backwards. It's just not possible. Not with this movie's high reek of ham and cheese, bodacious T&A and nonsensical horror plotting, thus making it the kind of entertainment that requires its viewers to (as much as they can) turn off all the thinking lights in their heads to fully enjoy the fromage, if not at least appreciate it. 

The movie knows it's bad, fully aware of the ridiculous side of invisible killers even, and it's this kind of direction and tone that frankly help The Invisible Maniac (1990) be an enjoyable romp of outrageous sleaze and B-grade horror comedy that thankfully didn't completely overcook itself in its own cruddy jokes. Writing and acting are in par to what you would expect coming from a melting pot of horny teen comedies and shlocky slashers, complete with Dornwinkle going wisecrack at us with groan-inducing severity once he'd gone full psycho. Whatever tinge of horror left are implemented good enough to color a few chase sequences and classroom attacks interesting, only to be punctuated with whacky and mostly bloodless killings that are so nuts, they're somewhat memorable. (I'm sure throats don't bubble like a balloon when you shove a whole hoagie down into them. Unless, of course, I've been shoving hoagies down unsuspecting victims' throats the wrong way all this time...) 
It's not going to be for everyone, but for some of us with a less judicious taste for horror comedies, The Invisible Maniac (1990) can be a whole lot of lewdly zany and off-the-wall cheesy fun. The appeal of it is undoubtedly aimed for to those who can easily throw out logic for some silly shlock so should you feel like giving it a chance, I say just relax, switch off, and enjoy the lousy goodness that is a blouse-ripping, wise-cracking invisible killer geek!

1 male strangled
1 female had her neck snapped
1 female beaten to death
1 male brained to death with a suitcase
1 female stabbed with a letter opener
1 male had a sandwich shoved down his throat, choked
1 female strangled with a hose
1 female drowned in a fish tank
1 female strangled to death
1 female electrocuted in a shower with a live radio
1 male falls off a building and lands on a car
1 female stomped
1 male had his head blown off with a shotgun
Total: 13

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Real Estate Break-In Night: Sweet Home (2015)

Sweet Home (Spain, 2015)
Rating: ***
Starring: Ingrid García Jonsson, Bruno Sevilla, Oriol Tarrida Homedes 

Apparently in Spain, there's a phenomenon wherein the elderly are forcibly removed from their homes by shady real estate with plans of using the space to build apartments. Now whether they use the same methods in this slasher/thriller hybrid or not is something I cannot conclusively tell, but I sure hope they don't!

Alicia (Ingrid García Jonsson) is a real estate broker who, after inspecting a nearly abandoned building for a company, decided to use it as a secret rendezvous for her English boyfriend Simon's (Bruno Sevilla) birthday later that rainy evening. They eat Japanese food, have sex, Simon gets pissy at Alicia for getting him a birthday gift coz it'll make him feel guilty of not getting her anything back (...wait, what?), unbeknownst to them both that the company eyeing the building has sent goons to finish off the last tenant living there. When Alicia and Simon sees the result of these killer's handiwork and fail to hide themselves away, their night becomes one long cat-and-mouse chase which gets worse once a hulking slasher dubbed El Liquidador gets called-in to help clean up the mess.

A melting pot of home invasion thrills and hack-and-slash slasher spills, Sweet Home (2015) mostly passes as a fast-paced stroll through horror clichés, tainted with bad decisions and brutal bloodlettings. The story is straightforward for what it is, one long hide-and-seek session with stalking and killings, though its direction can get clunky given the number of times our protagonists could have escaped, only to get those chances botched by not only the killers but also by themselves. The action set-pieces and the bloody murders do make up for most of the horror trope-related dumbness though, enough to give blood and gore hounds a bout of satisfaction, especially by the time El Liquidador arrives with an axe and cases of liquid nitrogen at hand. (Jason X (2001), Mindhunters (2004) and now this? Gotta love liquid nitrogen!)

Production-wise, Sweet Home (2015) is simply eye-candy. The film is rich in amazing camera work and the abandoned building setting's just gorgeous, utilizing so many crevices, hidden rooms and tight spots to hide in and be stalked at that works quite well with the tension-building scenes. The talents involved are mostly alright with their acting roles, with Jonsson and Sevilla taking up a good streak of onscreen presence as our doomed couple who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, while the rest do away their best movie bad guy thug and silent axe murderer impressions. (As in talk mean, look mean and act mean)

There's not really a lot more to say about this movie. Sweet Home (2015) is foreign B-flick horror in its purest form, and, yes, the story could have done more to raise itself from being a mediocre run of horror and thriller trappings, but for what it is offering right now, it couldn't have done worse. Way worse. 

1 elderly female slips in a bath tub
1 elderly male found murdered, cause unknown
1 male topples down a flight of stairs, killed
1 male repeatedly stabbed in the neck with a calligraphy pen
1 male dismembered with an axe
1 male had his head crushed with a thrown elevator motor 
1 male gets a cable tie tightened around his neck, axed on the head
Total: 7

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Is She Really?: Lucky (2020)

Lucky (2020)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Brea Grant, Dhruv Uday Singh, Leith M. Burke

Watching and covering a film like Lucky (2020) requires a lot of reading between the lines and conveying meanings behind actions. It's not for everyone, nor will anyone easily get the message among the symbolisms and metaphors, but I'd be lying if I say I didn't find myself intrigued and engrossed by this title's approach in tackling a relevant issue.

May (Brea Grant) is a self-help author who's struggling to get her next book deal approved and she's about to find herself targeted by a man in a mask one night. Curious, however, is that her husband Ted (Dhruv Uday Singh) claims that this isn't the first time the intruder broke in to try killing her, so much so that he's unsettlingly nonchalant about the ongoing home invasion and treats every horrible thing happening as if it's a nightly routine, down to the man strangely disappearing in an instant after he's dispatched.

The police are soon called to look into the matter (oddly in a similar composed attitude as Ted's) and when morning comes, May questions her husband about the attack, pointing out how unnatural everybody else's responses were to the incident. This leads to an argument that ends with Ted driving away, leaving May alone to defend herself. Which she does. Over and over again as the man continues to show up and attack her, only to disappear after he's either knocked out or killed and reappearing good as new the next day.

Lucky (2020) may have the guise of your everyday slasher flick but, truth be told, it's hardly a work of exploitative shlock and more of an expression of real world concerns through the horror genre. From its dialogue, visuals and direction, the film more so identifies the supernatural slasher attacks to a woman's struggles to manage her life and how any triumphs she gets from these hardships are often undermined as her simply being lucky. It's a strong feminist message, one that is greatly reflected with Bea Grant's scripting and outstanding performance as our troubled yet capable lead who, in turn, is noticeably more grounded compared to the distant, listless take of every other characters she interact with, (much to her increasing outrage) a parallel to how isolating it is to suffer through a problem that is most likely to be overlooked by an outsider.

It's an ambitious concept for a horror thriller, one that twists an otherworldy nightmare into a play on the cynical state of reality and interprets a masked madman as a representation of trauma and its persistency, complimented with the right amount of horror and bloodletting to keep the thrills alive without sacrificing its agenda to be relatable despite how insane the situation gets. There are moments where it did get too surreal for its own deal, but the overall result is still a savvy, polished product that's rich in atmosphere and ideas, giving a little bit more for the thinking horror fans who prefer their fright flicks with some perception, all the while catering to casual scare junkies with decent home invasion slasher attacks, cat-and-mouse stalkings and one harrowing climax.

All in all, Lucky (2020) is a movie that I can heartily recommend for very open horror fans who doesn't mind something leaning closer to the expressive and cerebral. It defies the norms of cliches and weigh little on structured, conclusive plotting, practically impractical as a film, but the experience that comes with its interpretative message is just too impactful and intriguing to simply pass.

1 male fell off from a floor (Death A)
1 male knifed in the back (Death B)
1 male knifed, blood splash seen (Death C)
1 male stabbed on in the throat with a knife (Death D)
1 male brained with a hammer (Death E)
1 female had her throat cut with a knife
1 male gets a knife thrown to his back
1 male stabbed with a glass shard (Death F)
Total: 8

Sunday, March 7, 2021

He's Feline Very Unwell: Cat Sick Blues (2015)

Cat Sick Blues (Australia, 2015)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Matthew C. Vaughan, Meg Spencer, Jeni Bezuidenhout

Well, the slasher world just got weirder. Again. For the umpteenth time.

After his cat Patrick ate himself to death (or so he claims), Ted (Matthew C. Vaughan) is in a state of grief so unhinged that he purrs like a cat, shits in a litter box like a cat and gets off at cat-themed porn. He also convinced himself that by taking the lives and draining the blood of seven women, he can bring Patrick back to the world of the living. So off he go donning a black cat mask, commissioning a BDSM artist to make him a set of cat-clawed gloves and, disturbingly, a strap-on dildo with barbs (because, for those who are not aware, cats have barbed penises), and setting his eyes on prowling the city for women he can slaughter.

Seeing herself tangled into this mess is one Claire Ellis (Shian Denovan), who used to make cute cat videos for Youtube until one of her fans stalked her, accidentally killed her cat and then raped her. The assault was filmed and shared online, pretty much to destroying Claire's spirit so she started attending a therapy group for pet owners grieving for their deceased fur babies. Unknown to her, Ted happens to be in the same group and has taken a liking to Claire. The two disturbingly hook up, completely with fast food dates and unengaging sex, but the more she engages with him, the more she suspect Ted being the one responsible for the recent string of serial murders and that she might be in serious danger.

So let me just get this out and say if you think watching a disturbed man devolve into a seizure-prone, cat-obsessed serial killer who wears an ensemble of a cat mask, metal claws and an almost anatomically-correct latex feline shlong whilst breaking into people's homes to slaughter them is a bit too off-the-wall for your taste, I do not blame you. Not at all. What we have here is a psychological slasher of the arthouse kind, littered with as much weirdness and grief as it is with gory killings and disturbing imagery. It has its way of weighing in emotions of turmoil and trauma, though this is often clashed by the movie's scatterbrain approach of weird visuals combined with trippy editing and the result's mostly all over the place. 

A part that makes Cat Sick Blues (2015) an effectively unnerving watch is the unpredictability of its main character Ted. Matthew C. Vaugh played his role with much awkward yet dangerous bravado that it's darn convincing we're watching a serial killer at the brink of self-destructing madness. You can tell he's always up to no good even during his quieter moments where he just sits and stares at people, contemplating his twisted goal of bringing his dead cat back to life. I mean, if the barbed cat-cock strap-on isn't an indication of his very unstable state (which I am thankful he never used in a practical sense), then I don't know what is...

The slasher elements are messily punctuated here by gruesome practical gore and a fairly sizable kill count filled with decapitated heads and copious amount of clawing-related deaths courtesy of the Ted's metal mittens. If the heavy bloodletting isn't shocking enough, then the gross-out last act where the movie really let itself go will certainly churn stomachs as we get force-ingested slurries of human blood and cat corpse, as well as an overly long and disturbing faux finale about diseased nodules and a monstrous birth. Again, Cat Sick Blues (2015) is one strange film, absurdly demented and depraved in every angle you can look at it and its unapologetic for that fact.  

Without a doubt, this is a film made for a certain kind of audience and I find myself on the admiring side of the crowd. I can't say I like it all the way, but I can tell this is someone's vision of a notorious indie horror and I respect that. Fans of extreme underground horror will certainly get a kick out of Ted and his deranged mission to bring back his beloved pet at all cost, but what say you?

1 female decapitated with a shovel
1 female strangled with a garden hose
1 female had her throat cut with metal cat claws, decapitated
1 female had her face beaten to a pulp with a statue
1 female gutted with metal cat claws
1 female had her throat slashed with metal cat claws
1 female stomped on the head
1 female choked on barbed dildo
1 female had her throat slashed with metal cat claws
1 male had his throat slashed with metal cat claws, bled to death
1 male hanged 
Total: 11

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Driller Killer, 90s Edition: Slumber Party Massacre III (1990)

Slumber Party Massacre III (1990)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Keely Christian, Brittain Frye, Michael Harris

Sure, it's called Slumber Party Massacre III, but it's less of a sequel and more of a reboot, honestly.

For those who are not acquainted, the Slumber Party Massacre franchise is a series of slasher flicks about, well, slumber parties and massacres. Each have gals and guys doing shenanigans one would expect from teen comedies involving girls getting together at someone's house while their parents are away, which means boobs and butts, beer and pizza, and boys with butthole pranks. All the while, we have a killer with a powerdrill thinning down the number of invited and uninvited guests one by one, until too many have gone missing and the party people started noticing.

The original 1982 title is basically this in its most entertainingly barebone structure, practically one of the best among classic slasher films there is. The 1987 sequel followed up the original's story, though in an entirely different tone as supernatural elements are added through nightmarish visions and dreams, as well as the introduction of a more ghostly driller killer with a 50s Rockabilly aesthetic and swinging dance moves. (Personally, my favorite Driller Killer!) By 1990, we get Slumber Party Massacre III and this one opted for a more back-to-basics approach to its slashings, albeit with an altogether different group nix to do with the first two films.

In this round, a group of California gal pals decided to hold a slumber party as a last hurrah for our lead girl Jackie as she's about to move out of town with her parents. Pizza's ordered, beer's a flowin', and we get a nightie striptease ending with the girls' boyfriends sneaking in and giving them the scare. But all's not well this night as someone armed with an over-sized powerdrill (and on one scene, an electric dildo) is making their way through the teens. But who could it be? 

Could it be the creeper creeping up on them from afar earlier at the beach? Or perhaps it's the next door neighbor with the serious stalker vibes? Or maybe it's somebody else? Somebody with uncle issues?

Despite being released in the early 90s, Slumber Party Massacre III (1990) has all the makings of a traditional 80s slasher from sexed-up teens with big hair, zero personalities and badly acted lines, to a wise-cracking killer revealed an hour into the movie after trying to play us around with multiple (though obvious) red herrings. It isn't all that surprising then that this entry feels rather dated and cliched, lacking any real strong points save the last 20 minutes or so where we get multiple final girls face against a blinded and completely maddened killer. (A callback to the original Slumber Party Massacre

It's not all bad though as the film does still pack a decently sleek production for a basic slasher flick, bearing some of level of cheese and titillating skin among its attempt to be more serious in its plotting and, too, treating us with a double-digit set of bloody kills. The only real thing to mind here is that it doesn't offer anything we haven't seen before and that might be okay for those who prefer their bodycounters by the book, others looking for a more creative twist on a good slasher may want to look elsewhere if they're not willing to give this a try.

Slumber Party Massacre III (1990) isn't a terrible flick, nor is it a great one either. It's an average horror treat that is easy on the eyes and did all the slasher trick right enough to be at least worth a watch or two. That is my two pennies worth!

1 female ran through the back with a powerdrill
1 male impaled through with a sign post
1 female repeatedly gets stabbed in the gut with a powerdrill
1 female electrocuted in a bathtub with an electric dildo
1 male found stabbed in the mouth with a swordfish's beak
1 male gutted with a powerdrill
1 male had his face bashed with a powerdrill
1 female found disemboweled with a drill
1 male found bled to death from chainsawed ankles
1 female stabbed to death with a powerdrill
1 female knifed to death
1 male repeatedly stabbed with a powerdrill
Total: 12

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Sadness Will Lasts Forever: The Forest of Lost Souls (2017)

The Forest of Lost Souls ("A Floresta das Almas Perdidas") (Portugal, 2017)
Rating: ****
Starring: Daniela Love, Jorge Mota, Mafalda Banquart 

In this directorial indie debut of Portuguese filmmaker José Pedro Lopes, we follow troubled family man Ricardo (Jorge Mota) as he enters the Forest of Lost Souls, a vast backwoods wherein many visited with the purpose of ending their lives there. (Think Japan's Aokigahara, the infamous "suicide forest") He's there to do just that, only to have his plans slightly sidetracked by Caroline (Daniela Love), a death obsessed young woman who claims to have visited the forest multiple times, undecisive with her decision to commit suicide but often comes prepared to do everything before and during the dark deed.

As they wander the woods, they engage in talks mostly about the philosophical side of life, death and suicide, often interjected with Ricardo doing his best to talk Caroline out of ending her life at such a young age (all still preparing to kill himself, mind you), while the girl teases the old man back for his lack of preparation. As the two reaches the forest's lake, Ricardo decided he's ready to end himself then and there, asking Caroline for the bottle of poison she's been keeping. As he lay down, life slipping away from the concoction, he looks at the photo of a daughter he lost to the same forest one last time... 

And then a knife's wielded.

Plot-wise, The Forest of Lost Souls isn't hard to follow despite having two altogether different of narratives; the first half is a dialogue-driven monograph looking into the human conditions of emotion and mortality through a more mournful and, sometimes, darkly humorous mindset. It's hauntingly captivating, raising questions as to why we would want to off ourselves and the discussions cut deeps into the subject often than not, setting up theatrics not far from a typical coming-of-age drama and dropping out any sense of exploitative horror up until we're halfway into the movie.

By then, it is revealed that one of these lost souls harbors a terrifying secret, one that involves the maniacal need to murder, and The Forest of Lost Souls switches its gears into a home invasion slasher as an unsuspecting dysfunctional family gets targeted by a knife-wielding psychopath. The resulting violence is far from carnal as it plays more on being creepy with a good dash of melancholy, taking its time building around the victims and their current plight in life with the killer basically just skulking around in the back completely unnoticed until they're ready to strike. This direction gives the considerably small casts more depth than your usual slasher psychos and trope-filled meat bags, so whether it's the killer or the victims we're observing, they all felt like they're carrying a lot of emotional baggage so the horror aspect of this film is relatively cathartic.

Other points I enjoyed from this title would be composer Emanuel Grácio's range of scores from the fantastical to the intense, as well as the film's use of black-and-white photography which works both as a thematical artistic choice and as a way to enhance the chilling atmosphere around the second half as our killer just blends in with the background unnervingly well, working a lot of amazing cinematography.

A bit more cerebral than your average bodycounter, The Forest of Lost Souls is a brief 70-plus minutes of sorrowful soulfulness first, stylized stalking and bloodletting second. It's a combination that's not commonly tackled together in a single product, but this film found a way to make both elements work with the other. Sadness may last forever and time may destroy everything, so why not go treat yourself and see this indie masterpiece while you still can, whenever you can!  

1 male seen dead
1 female drowns in a lake
1 body found dead from gunshot
1 body found dead against a tree
1 skeleton seen buried in mound
1 male poisoned, gutted with a knife
1 female knifed to death
1 female knifed on the back, shot
1 male ran over with a car
Total: 9