Monday, August 30, 2021

Bite Sized Giallo Bits: Body Puzzle (1992)

Body Puzzle (Italy, 1992) (AKA "Misteria")
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Joanna Pacula, Tomas Arana and Fran├žois Montagut

A 90s giallo affair from Demons (1985) director Lamberto Bava, Body Puzzle starts with a frustrated pianist (Fran├žois Montagut) showing off some talent on the ivory keys as he recalls a tragic rainy night many years ago, involving a friend in a motorbike fatally crashing during a car chase. This flashback somehow ignites a murderous spark from the man and his first victim is a candy store owner who he knifes to death before slicing off an ear.

Tracy (Joanna Pacula), a young widow grieving over her brother's recent passing, gruesomely finds out that she has caught the attention of our killer when not only did she discovers the dismembered hearing organ in her fridge, but her late husband's grave was also found defiled and his body missing. This prompts Detective Michele (Tomas Arana), lead investigator of the case, to question her possible ties to the killer as it appears the madman has to have full access to her home in order to leave the body part so easily. Tracy cannot recall or think much of anybody mad enough to twistedly harass her like this, though she fears that she will be targeted next the further this escalates.

And, true enough, the killer strikes again and again, taking parts from each victim and leaving it for Tracy to find, even after she moved to her parent's mansion under heavy police surveillance. Just who is this killer and why is he offering her all of these freshly harvested body parts? 

As far as Italian giallo affairs go, Body Puzzle mostly hit its good notes when it comes to horror set-pieces, plenty of them coming from the murders committed by our seemingly random loon for how savage and dark yet outrageous they can get; one moment he's simply knifing a candy store owner to death, next would have him stalking a lady into a mall's loo to hack off her hand with a hatchet or offing a teacher in front of an entire classroom full of blind children listening to some badly narrated fairy tale. There's certainly a sense of finesse and black humor laid out in the film's direction to keep things as interesting as they can be, something I find passable even if the ridiculousness contrasts with the intriguingly twisted conundrum behind our killer's motive a tad too close into poking fun at itself sometimes.

At most, Body Puzzle tries to maintain a straight-faced story despite the cheesier instances. I love the mystery's concept wherein we already know what the killer looks like and that we're just left hanging as to why is he killing people to collect parts from them. Sadly, the abundance of plot holes and incredibly lackluster police work cheapened the impact of the story's development, more so when the movie finally reveals in the near end the twist of the whole situation. Without giving away much, it opened more questions than answer them, one of which being the ineptness of the coroner when they were embalming that body and how much legal trouble would they get for that mistake. 

Nevertheless, Body Puzzle remains wholly entertaining albeit its flaws when one would account its unintentional hilarity and cheese. I mean, how often do you find yourself watch a killer hide inside a freezer full of meat (and a corpsicle) for a surprise attack just on that slim chance someone might open it, or have sped-up shots of casual drives be passed as "car chases"? There are times half-witted jiffs like these are what save movies from being dull and this one definitely have more than enough to leave a good impression without completely straying away from being dark, macabre and stabby. 

Not exactly the finest giallo out of Bava's filmography (I would bravely give Midnight Killer (1986) and Delirium (1987) that title), but it's a divertingly fun puzzler of a horror thriller to a degree and that's okay on my book!

1 male killed in a vehicular accident
1 male knifed to death
1 female had a hand chopped off with a hatchet, later found gutted
1 male castrated with a knife whilst swimming, bled to death
1 female had her throat cut, eyes plucked out
1 male crashes unto a car, killed in collision 
Total: 6

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Go Home: Turistas (2006)

Turistas (2006) (AKA "Paradise Lost")
Rating: ***
Starring: Josh Duhamel, Melissa George and Olivia Wilde

Around mid-2000s, the horror scene seems to had a small trend going on with tourists being terrorized by malicious people as seen in the likes of Eli Roth's Hostel movies and the infamous Ozploitation cult classic Wolf Creek (2005). Hot on this bloody hike trail was a little affair set in Brazil wherein a group of turistas must survive the dark and gritty side of paradise.

After a narrow escape from being potential bus crash casualties caused by a speedy driver and a very steep drop off a cliff, friends Bea and Amy, Bea’s chaperoning older brother Alex, Australian backpacker Pru and a pair of British buddies Finn and Liam decided to stroll down to a nearby beach bar after being notified that the next bus won't be around for another 10 hours. The place looks and feels legit enough for our newly acquainted gang to loosen up and have fun, drinking til' night time after a day of swimming, playing soccer with local children and hooking-up with Brazilian hotties. 

The movie, though, makes no attempt to hide the fact shit's about to go down when a barmaid secretly phones a shady doctor after doing a headcount on the foreigners. Morning comes and not only do our gang find out they were drugged unconscious that night, but all of their belongings were also stolen. Now stranded with nothing but the clothes on their backs, they wander into the nearest town hoping to find help, which they eventually did with Kiko, a local man they met a day prior at the beach. 

Kiko agrees to lead them to another man named Zamora who lives up in a jungle-set private house and appears to have enough connections and money to help them out of their predicament. Things only go for worse from this point as halfway into their journey, Kiko injures himself severely, thus leaving the group to hobble him up to Zamora's residence where they find out the man operates an organ harvesting ring, thus he has no intention at all on letting them leave Brazil alive.

Though low-key, the slasher elements in Turistas (2006) are present in the sense that the villains aren't shy on keeping the kill count stabby once in a while and, too, that the film has some pretty decent stalking scenes thrown here and there. It's not very often we get a slasher movie set deep in a dense tropical jungle, so it is refreshing to see this film make a fair attempt incorporating the deadly cat-and-mouse trope the subgenre is well known for with the scenic backdrop of Brazil's sandy beaches and forested wilderness. 

These facts aside, however, the overall feel of the movie leans much closer to a crime thriller laced with a horror aftertaste and medical nightmares; though Turistas (2006) has its brutal and shocking moments (particularly the demise of a Swedish couple and one unfortunate henchmen's bad end with a wooden skewer), is noticeably restrained as it exchanges most of the stomach-churning exploitative horror elements with a bigger emphasis on survivalist ventures, by-the-book vivisections and our leads' escape from their captors, not much unlike our boys back in Hostel (2005)'s fictionalized Bratislava. For what it is, the movie is a passable survival thriller, tight in tension and sparing some moments of realism even if it's still unable to escape a few parts being mediocre and predictable, which hinders the ramifications of the threat as a whole. 

Turistas (2006) would certainly have fared better, too, if it took the time to work out its premise, perhaps flesh out its characters further than the cardboard cut-outs that we have here. As expected for a movie dealing with stereotyped representations, the film is unsurprisingly bashed with controversy around Brazil for how it depicted its citizens as well. The resulting product, by the grace of it all, could have been way worse nonetheless and I would be lying if I say I didn't enjoy Turistas (2006) as a small guilty pleasure. 

1 male hacked to death with a machete
1 female ran off a cliff, falls to her death
1 male gets a wooden skewer forced into his eye
1 female operated on and disemboweled
1 male stabbed to death with a machete
1 male shot on the head with a rifle
1 male killed offscreen
1 male shot on the neck
1 male repeatedly stabbed on the neck with an arrow
1 male beaten with a rock, shot on the head with a rifle
Total: 10

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

A Campus Drillbit Murder Mystery: Initiation (2021)

Initiation (2021)
Rating: ***
Starring: Isabella Gomez, Lindsay LaVanchy and Froy Gutierrez

Booze, babes and bros. These are the very first things you'd see in this flick as the frat brothers and sorority sisters of Whinton University party it up one night for that typical campus debauchery. For one science major named Ellery, however, she's about to become a part of something far more serious when she unknowingly makes her way to a suspiciously locked room where one of her sorority sisters, Kylie, is seen passed out with Wes, Ellery's star athlete brother. 

Believing something happened behind that closed door, Ellery tries to talk Kylie into opening up what went down that night in the following morning, but the girl claims she doesn't remember. It seems that this isn't the first time Wes got into this sort of trouble as talks of "what happened last year" are brought up once again and, with access to the campus' labs, Ellery attempts sort the matter out by running a few DNA sequences on Kylie's discarded clothes to check if her brother involved himself to a possible assault. Unbeknownst to her, someone in a hood and mask decided to end Wes' life by slaughtering him with a powerdrill, starting off an investigation and a brutal bodycount as those seemingly connected to the incident start dying one by one.  

Intriguing to note here that despite having the face and plot of your classic campus slasher, Initiation (2021) took a more procedural approach to its story which has its pros and cons depending on how well you take the direction; there's a greater emphasis on building up a mystery here, done in this sleek yet near-realistic feel wherein characters are flawed and the situation can get grittier, with little to no horror going on for a good bulk. In fact, the first half hour of the movie felt closer to a teen crime drama than a stabby slasher, pacing itself to a crawl under the purpose of developing its red herrings and twists and it continues to do so even once the murders start happening.

This leads to a lot of scenes focusing on the fallout of the grisly killings, showing how the characters and the campus itself react to the tragedies which does add some depth and emotional layer for the increasingly dire predicament through incisive writing and genuine acting. The price of this, however, is a rather minuscule kill count and a slow burn that can get really testy for those who doesn't have the patience for it. Nevertheless, the movie never forgot to reward horror fans who are willing to stick around for its story as it can get brutal when it needs to be brutal, intense when it needs to be intense, all the while flipping some tropes in a workable turn.

Though the killings throughout the film are satisfyingly gruesome, it is the last act of the Initiation (2021) where the slasher elements finally take full force as our masked maniac (refreshingly portrayed to be as realistically human) takes over a nearly abandoned campus office to murder away all who are left there. It is undoubtedly the movie's strongest part, with great tension to behold mostly from our female leads doing their best to stay hidden from the killer in that classic cat-and-mouse prowl, just one head turn and/or one flashlight away from being caught.

While far from a title one could loose sleep over, Initiation (2021) is at least a competent little horror thriller that does the job good enough. A little unique in its form, yes, but casual horror fans can definitely find a decent murder mystery here for that one rainy afternoon.

1 male powerdrilled to a door, neck later found cut
1 male stabbed in the head with a knife
1 male gets powerdrilled to the throat
1 male gets powerdrilled to the chest, stabbed and gutted with a knife
Total: 4