Thursday, May 20, 2021

Foul Faculty Fatalities: Teacher Shortage (2020)

Teacher Shortage (2020)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Brinke Stevens, Debra Lamb, Julie Anne Prescott

While the common set-up of campus slasher movies is that it deals with teenagers getting hunted down by a loon, producer, director and writer Troy Escamilla’s Teacher Shortage flips this trope around to have teachers getting the stabbing end this time.

Ryan Billings (Chris Jehnert), the young new addition to Prescott High School's English department, sees himself tagged along to a mandatory team building weekend of booze, bitter retirement talk and table bingo with his fellow teachers. Unbeknowst to every one of them, someone in a cloak and devil mask is making slim pickings out of the mentors and it isn't too long before only a handful of them are left to fend for themselves. Could this, perhaps, has anything to do with a bullying incident ten years ago that led to a tragic end?

Well, yes. Yes it does.

Albeit the gimmick of focusing the bodycount carnage unto the teaching staff, Teacher Shortage still runs a very basic slasher plot of people gathering at a location for insert reason here, only to be carnally bumped off by a masked maniac with an obvious beef with either one or all of them. This makes the plot mostly predictable and some scenes tedious to sit through, especially since the acting can be a bit stiff (a lot of sitting and talking here, folks) and, due to the movie's crowdfunded budget, audio quality is lacking at times. Though, the inclusion of a gay sub-plot and a few jabs at the state of modern American school system do add a small layer of thought and drama that works well enough for a low budget horror movie.

On a stylistic sense, Teacher Shortage isn't all that bad either as it does boast a decently creepy looking killer, as well as a good set of bloody eye-candy murders lensed in Italian giallo-inspired red tint. The short end of the stick, however, is that there are moments where the color gets a little intense in its saturation, so much so that it can be arduous to look at, and the editing done for some gets a bit uneven. Still, there are a couple of fun sequences here that showcase the director's well-maneuvering eye on stalk-and-stab scenes, particularly the first murder of a teacher set in a nearly empty school building and the climactic bar murders.

The last act could have been better, though; we're basically treated to an uninspired reveal and an exposition monologue as to why they're killing off teachers, while the remaining living character just sits bounded, mostly sobbing. It goes long enough that by the time we get to see a fight, it wasn't too far into the run before it simply ends the moment our killer got dispatched brutally. Not particularly all too exciting, but it wrapped all things up fairly and it certainly could have done so much worse.

Despite all its shortcomings, Teacher Shortage is still a fair watch if you like your indie slashers simple yet doable, with the right amount of carnage and commentary. Predictable and clunky it may be, its ambitiousness crafts a rather enjoyable effort that earns a worthwhile watch.

1 female had her throat cut with a mirror shard
1 female stabbed through the mouth with a sharpened ruler
1 female stabbed to death with a pair of scissors
1 male stabbed through the back with a machete
1 female stabbed through the temple with a screwdriver, exits to an eye
1 female had her throat slashed
1 female ran through the back with a pitchfork
1 female stabbed in the eye with a skewer, knifed on the gut
1 male hacked on the face with a meat cleaver
1 male stabbed in the face with a shovel 
Total: 10

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, Death 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 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