Friday, February 26, 2021

Welcome To The Foundation: Wrong Turn (2021)

Wrong Turn (2021) (AKA "Wrong Turn: The Foundation")
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Charlotte Vega, Adain Bradley and Bill Sage

Let me just drop this as early as now: this isn't one of the Wrong Turn movies you grew up with all the way back in 2003. 

The scene opens with Scott Shaw asking the sheriff of a small Virginia town about his missing daughter, Jen, who hadn't reached out to her family from her hiking adventure with friends for over six weeks at that point. He's not getting the help he needs, though, as despite the town being the last place his daughter stopped by before seemingly disappearing, they're more willing to sweep it all under the rug and pass the issue as another missing teens case.

Flashback six weeks earlier and we see Jen and company do the usual traveling-teens-to-the-woods gig of bar hopping, getting roughed up by unfriendly locals and ignoring the very important rule of staying on the damn trail. Being the adventurous types, they nevertheless went off into the uncharted woods for better memories that I'm quite sure didn't involve any gigantic rolling log that crushes one of them dead. 

Convinced the rolled log was an attack after apparently spotting some figures skulking around in the woods, the group ventures further in an attempt to escape, only to end up lost, cold and triggering more traps. This is where the slasher bits get played somewhat straight as the teens suspect that they might have fallen victim to what looks like your usual backwoods masked slashers, enraging one of the kids into braining a masked figure with a log until their head's mush as "self-defense". This gravely leads to them getting followed by more of these animal skull-wearing fellas soon, now stalking and prowling around the forest to catch and not kill them. Yet. 

By then, the teen slasher element stops and the survivalist backwoods thriller begins; in a daring curveball, the now captured teens are walked into a hidden community deep in the Appalachian mountains simply dubbed as The Foundation, where every member lives a life as close as possible to early day settlers. Our hapless gang are soon judged in their court for, ironically, murder when it turns out the masked figure they pulped headless was actually trying to help them. The guilty one gets the same log-to-the-face treatment, while the rest were to be sentenced to "darkness", which is modern day settler folk lingo for shutting-your-eyes-close-with-hot-iron-before-being-hurled-into-a-spooky-dark-cave.

Jen, thinking on her feet, fortunately convinces the court to spare her and her boyfriend Darius' lives by allowing themselves to become one with the community, which pleases the Foundation's leader Cullen as he sets his eyes on making Jen his new wife.

Now that we all have caught up to what went down, back to the present we go and Papa Shaw finally have someone around the nearby town agreeing to help him get his daughter back, but will he survive his own rescue mission when the woods are filled with traps, all under the watchful eye of The Foundation?

As you can tell from all of this, gone are the mutant cannibals and in goes a survivalist mini-epic, straying this film far from being another trashy entry to a slasher franchise that went a tad too far on the gore and thinning plot line the more sequels it pumped. Much like the case of House of Wax (2005), Black Christmas (2006) and Child's Play (2019), Wrong Turn (2021) can be a worthwhile watch when viewed as its own kind of beast and for what it dished out, I say it done its job good enough through its own set of charms.

I do like the unexpected twists of our supposed villains being no more than just people defending their way of life, despite how hostile and barbaric they can be through a different set of perspectives. The matter that there's a bit of power play within the community and that some of its members still shows a side of malice do keep the Foundation as much of an intimidating force as possible nevertheless, which I find greatly essential to make its last third act to work and its final scenes satisfying to sit through. Despite not having the same brand of B-grade splashy gore and violence the Wrong Turn franchise became infamous for through its sequels, this film instead handles its gory in a more essential sense, keeping the brutalizing acts in minimum but knows enough timing to showcase some impressively nasty-looking aftermath corpses for that shock factor and dread building.

Acting-wise, Charlotte Vega, Matthew Modine and David Hutchison are simply amazing in their roles as Jen, Scott and Cullen respectively, though this is more due to them carrying a good bulk of the film while the rest of the casts are either watered down to your usual one-dimensional slasher meat, or background fodder. Its bulky running time also could have been used to develop some ideas thrown un here a tad further, such as one of the teen's sudden siding to the Foundation or how exactly does this settlement work. (I mean, here you have these people wearing animal pelts and skulls to hunt the woods like old age natives, but they apparently also know how to dress up like normal people and drive RVs. Did I miss something?)  

There's definitely some money thrown in here given the more competent-looking sets and quality work, and I'm very glad the resulting product is an appeasing work of backwoods thrills and spills that I think deserves credit where credit's due. Wrong Turn (2021) may not be the forest-bound cannibal slasher world many of us were expecting or are used to, but its a welcome variant that delivers its own brand of terror and atmosphere that works nonetheless. I say take it for a ride, or take a hike.

A hike down... to The Foundation!

1 male crushed against a tree by a rolled log
1 male had his head pulped with a log
1 female falls into a spiked pit, shot with an arrow
1 male had his face beaten in with a log
2 males crushed by a spiked trap
1 male shot
1 male shot
1 male knifed to death
1 female shot on the head
1 male shot dead with arrows
1 male gets a thrown knife to the head
1 male gets a thrown axe to the back
1 male and 1 female killed offcamera
1 male knifed to death
1 male knifed to death
Total: 17

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Weasels, Sirens and Cage? Oh My!: Willy's Wonderland (2021)

Willy's Wonderland (2021)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Emily Tosta, Beth Grant

Apparently, if you put Nicolas Cage inside a death house full of killers, he's not trapped in there with them. They're trapped in there with him.

 This is the case in Willy's Wonderland (2021), where Cage plays a lone, quiet and nameless drifter who sees himself driving through a set of road spikes "accidentally" left there. Just his luck, a tow truck happens to conveniently spot him and its driver, Jed, is willing to work on the ride if the drifter, apparently unable to pay for the new tires, is willing to work it off himself. So Jed calls in Tex Macadoo, the owner of the kid's pizzeria Willy's Wonderland and he has a proposition for the drifter; stay overnight to clean and fix the place up and the new tires are for free in the morning!

With a hand shake and a swift tour around the pizzeria, the drifter becomes "The Janitor" and off he goes to work. But things aren't all right around Willy's. Not when the animatronics gaze at him hungrily, their claws, teeth and weapons itching to shed blood, results of a Satanic ritual done years ago. So as night falls, the Janitor figures out (rather quickly) that he's in a rough night as the robotic menaces go after him, leaving him to fight back and spill some robot gore, all the while still cleaning up the place, taking hourly breaks for a soda and pinball game, and encounter some well meaning yet still doomed kids who decided to break in to, well, break him out.

Now, see, if you're looking for a horror movie that's rich in subtext and substance, then you're at the wrong pizza stop. Willy's Wonderland (2021) is seemingly made for two purposes; to be a bloody, cheesy, easy-going horror-comedy and to be a Nicolas Cage vehicle. There's really no deeper plot in here than Cage fighting off a gaggle of fuzzy robots and this can be easily seen with how shallow and bland most of the characters are, and too how quickly this film gets to the punching point. This said, it can get slightly tedious whenever the movie stops for a soda break and focus on the fleshy victims-to-be, only to be of slight interest when they go feed us some information to what's going on, though it's not something that elaborate or new altogether. (Basically, Willy's was founded by notorious killer Satanists and their murderous souls got transferred into the robots through a suicide pact in order to escape police and continue their killing spree beyond death, practically pulling a Child's Play (1987) gri-gri on us.) 

If you are, however, open for cheese, ham and Nic Cage shlock, then it's your birthday today because here at Willy's Wonderland, they have more than enough of those to feed your B-flick cravings. There's a strong sense of dark humor at play here and the ridiculousness of the premise just blends in perfectly with the direction and flow the movie goes by. The small army of  killer animatronics are a fun bunch by design, a little diverse in their range from talking animals to fantasy beings like sirens and knights, all tainted in grime and age which adds some uncanny creep factor. The kills are bloody at their best, may it be your typical human victims or, yes, even the possessed animatronics themselves! For those with a twisted fascination for robot "gorno", this film surprisingly finds a way to make decimating creepy kids place machines satisfyingly brutal with oil spilling like blood and metal parts crushed like bones!

And then there's the one and only Nicolas Cage, who doesn't utter an entire word in the film save for some groans and grunts. He more or less lets his fists and cleaning duties do the talking here, both being satisfying to watch, but the lack of dialogue on his part does make him too enigmatic for his own good, bordering into being questionable as there were moments where his help could have been appreciated but he chooses to ignore it, resulting to some deaths. Nevertheless, it adds to the weirdness and macabre of Willy's Wonderland and it does have Cage getting into the zone and jamming out to this film's best song while playing pinball so not a completely big dent to the movie's charm.

If you know what you're getting yourself into, then Willy's Wonderland (2021) is just the kind of junk food horror goodie bag you could ask for. Packed with creepy killer bots, an ass-kicking antihero and a gaggle lot of strangeness, find a good cozy spot in your Super Happy Fun Room and give this a good whirl!

1 male dragged away, killed
1 female killed, blood splash seen
1 boy clawed (flashback)
1 male, 1 female and 1 girl killed offcamera (flashback)
6 males and 1 female seen dead from suicide, ingested tainted drink (flashback)
1 girl bearhugged to death (flashback)
1 male ran through with a sword
1 male mauled to death
1 male bitten to death
1 female mauled dead offcamera
1 male found disemboweled (flashback)
An entire family mentioned murdered 
1 female attacked, presumably killed (flashback)
2 females and 1 male seen murdered (flashback)
1 victim seen mauled (flashback)
1 female seen mauled (flashback)
1 male implied murdered (flashback)
2 males and 1 female implied murdered (flashback)
1 male decapitated with a sword (flashback)
1 male and 1 female had their necks snapped (flashback)
1 male had his neck snapped 
1 male crushed to death
1 female clawed in half 
2 males immolated in an exploding car
Total: 36+

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Something Romantic This Valentines Day~

You have a way with words, Jeremy Melton~
Happy Valentines Day, Everybody! Be Good And Be Safe~
Watch out for Monsters...


Love Lorn and Love Scorn: He Knows You're Alone (1980)

He Knows You're Alone (1980)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Don Scardino, Caitlin O'Heaney, Elizabeth Kemp 

Released early into the 80s golden age of slasher flicks, He Knows You're Alone opens with a scene we're familiar with: a parked car in the woods, its guy and girl occupants busy Frenching each other. The girl hears something outside, prompting her partner to step out to investigate only to go quiet. Too quiet. It isn't long before the girl gets uncomfortable and, after looking around the car on her own, finds her boyfriend strung up upside down on a tree, dead. And just as our masked slasher makes an appearance to give chase at our reasonably hysterical gal, another girl blocks the screen and goes down into the bathrooms before any of us could yell 'Down in front!'

So it turns out the backwoods shenanigans is a film within our film, one that's a bit too much for the bathroom gal we're focusing for now as she ends up feeling really uneasy whilst doing her business in the ladies' room. This slight paranoia is soon to be validated when, returning just in time to join her friend catch a crucial moment in their movie, the girl is stabbed in the back by a sweaty man with a knife, her agonized scream masked by the theater's roar of jovial laughter and shock by what they're seeing on screen. But not for long...

The murder is soon discovered and on the case is one Detective Gamble, who learns that the girl was to be wed a few weeks from now and this fact prompts him to correctly assume this is the work of a psycho he's obsessed on catching for years, a serial bride killer named Ray whose killcount includes Gamble's own late would-be spouse. As Gamble investigates and deduce Ray's current whereabouts, our maniac catches a bus ride away from his fresh kill and coincidentally stops the next morning nearby our leading bride-to-be Amy, who plans to hang around and have fun with her friends and family while her fiancé Phil celebrates his last days as an unwed man at a faraway log cabin with his buddies.

Behind the smiles and all that gushing over her engagement though, we come to find out Amy's having seconds thoughts on tying the knot completely with Phil and its a conflict stemming from the matter that she still has feelings for her lovable goofball ex Marvin. Sure enough, her former lover shows up here and there, begging her to marry him instead with Amy's friends Nancy and Joyce, as well as Amy's own kid sister agreeing he's a better match for her than her current potential future hubby. The more she thinks this over, the more she starts to notice a prowling man popping up wherever she goes however, just a few feet away or hiding among the crowd. 

As you would've guessed, Ray, made aware of Amy's bridal commitment, has chosen to terrorize this girl and whoever else involved with her big day next. Will Amy come to a decision just in time before she's stabbed full of holes by a bride-hating loon? Will Detective Gamble piece it all together to stop Ray's latest slay-a-thon and put a full end to his terror? And oh my gods, is that young Tom Hanks in a slasher flick?!

In substance, He Knows You're Alone doesn't swing too far out from a standard and linear slasher narrative: we have a killer on the loose and cops are after them, all the while we watch a cast of characters live their lives, anticipating cathartic losses through their demises under the hands of said killer. It's a simple horror plot with simple murders, its violence tamed to just knife stabbings and offcamera deaths (save for one that went an extra mile) with the film focusing more on a good amount of character interactions and plot build-up. With a hokey B-grade flavor to it, the film's genuine sense of warmth and fun from our casts of friends and desperate lovers is a welcome treat found within the movie's writing and scripting, both cheeky, naughty and cheesy yet still somehow achieving a level of sympathetic care and development in its story and characters. 

Any scares and thrills this movie has to offer are handled through Halloween (1978)-inspired camera work wherein the killer appears to menace and/or observe from a distance before disappearing into crowds or is just be completely gone altogether, and too the well-paced and crafty stalking scenarios that can get real intense. Our killer here, uncomplicatedly named Ray, may be your typical textbook example of a random bonafide nutcase seemingly snapped into silence and bloodlust, but he has the physical presence to be intimidating despite looking like your everyday fellow out in the streets. There are moments where the shocks and creep factor doesn't work, but the film practically plays every clichés a slasher title is known and picked apart for, so there's still some slice of hammy enjoyment bound to be found and experienced here. (Like watching our final girl try to avoid death by retreating into her own sweater as the killer looms closer, or seeing young Tom Hanks play a small role here as a psych major dating one of the characters!)

Though not by any means a great movie, He Knows You're Alone (1980) is an entertainment piece that's good enough to be one's mini cult classic of sorts. It's well-written, fairly acted and amazingly fun in its simplistic approach, well worth watching overall, just maybe not around your beloved's bachelorette and/or stag night~!

1 male found murdered (film)
1 female hacked to death with a sickle (film)
1 female knifed in the back
1 female stabbed to death with a switchblade (flashback)
1 male stabbed with a pair of shears
1 female found murdered
1 male knifed to death
1 female had her throat cut with a knife, decapitated
1 male stabbed on the chest with a knife
Total: 9

Friday, February 5, 2021

Beyond The Outsider: Castle Freak (2020)

Castle Freak (2020)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Clair Catherine, Kika Magalhães, Jake Horowitz

The H.P. Lovecraft short The Outsider details its protagonist's escape from what appears to be a decaying castle, leading to their heartbreaking dismay upon realizing that they're hideously malformed upon looking through a mirror, thus forever to be detested as an outsider. When director Stuart Gordon wrote and directed his 1995 film Castle Freak, the horror drama took inspiration from the short, mainly from the fact that the monster of the movie is a maddened man deformed through years of maltreatment, having to escape a castle's dungeons to terrorize its new modern day occupants.
Years later in 2020, SFX and prosthetic makeup artist Bryan "Tate" Steinsiek makes his directorial debut and treats us horror fans with a more Lovecraftian remodel for Castle Freak. Like, really Lovecraftian. Dunwich Horror Lovecraftian.

Here we follow a blind Rebecca Riley learning from an estate agent that she just inherited her mother's Albanian castle and, being an adopted child since her infancy, she is rather eager to learn more about this castle seeing she knows nothing of her biological mother. John, her boyfriend, unfortunately doesn't share her enthusiasm and greatly suggests to sell the estate instead and get on with their lives. Considering John was the one responsible for blinding Rebecca through a car accident he caused whilst high and drunk, it's easy to figure out that their relationship is starting to stumble down a rocky slope the more they stay and bicker about their situation. It also doesn't help that John would soon invite his friends over to help out with his scheme or just to simply get wasted, but that trouble is little in comparison to the murderous intent brewing within the walls or the maddening otherworldly terror that's starting outside the castle...

Calling Castle Freak (2020) a slasher is only correct for a few good parts as we do still get stalk-and-stab action, only it's halfway down its hundred minute or so running time that focuses more on horror drama and, later, Lovecraftian cosmic nightmare. If anything, this re-imagined Castle Freak is an exploitation tribute to Lovecraft's works, taking in themes of isolation, grief and madness that are common among the writer's literary pieces and crafting them into a movie with gratuitous (and, for one scene, disturbing) sleaze, monsters with gruesome body horror and a swift dash of gory murders. With this direction, it does fairly well being a separate in-name companion piece to the original 1995 title, standing on its own ground and exploring new angles for an intriguing plot while still keeping and playing around with familiar key points from the Stuart Gordon movie.

I'm very much down with this new, more lore-heavy Castle Freak as the mythos it introduced works well with its take of the story, but with its unlikable characters outweighing the likable ones, the acting having their far from memorable moments and the pacing being too drawn out, I personally can't say I enjoyed it from start to finish. I do understand this might have been needed to build layers within its casts and further intensify the impending doom and dread, but it's a tough flow to sit and follow and I am simply glad the payoff at the near end was grandeur in its own modestly crazy way; we get monstrous fornications, a lot of clawed throats and guts, gooey tentacles, a cult re-awakening and a major Lovecraftian deity making a surprisingly welcome appearance, basically a real off-the-wall treat of a finale that's well worth the wait, sleaze and miserable characters to get by, even if it is a bit crammed. 

Looking at the scale of the production, the film has an adequate look to it; the lighting and set design are good albeit a few cheap looking props. Camera shots and editing did a swell enough job emphasizing and utilizing the deserted state of the castle and the hidden dangers lurking through its hidden passages, as well as bring out the creep and gross-out factor whenever it lingers at the inhuman condition of our creature and other bodily oddities.

Though I can't say I see myself watching it all over again soon, Castle Freak (2020) is still a fair stride of an effort, one that needs a few tweaking and elbow grease to get itself rolling more satisfyingly. If you like your horror films freaky and weird, boasting good effects and a final act that rewards you for your patience, then, outsider, this Castle Freak's for you!

1 female found murdered
1 male injected in the chest with heroin, stabbed to death with syringes
1 female had her neck snapped, internally beheaded
1 male had his throat lacerated with a flail
1 male disemboweled with a flail, cannibalized
1 elderly male dies from a ritual (flashback)
1 male thumbed in the eyes, throat bitten off
1 male bashed on the head with a mace
Total: 8