Sunday, July 31, 2022

A Prowler Within The Docks: La Muerte Del Chacal (1984)

La Muerte Del Chacal ("The Death of the Jackal") (Mexico, 1984)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Mario Almada, Fernando Almada and Cristina Molina

We start the scene with the obligatory opening murders, this one involving a lengthy 10-minute long pre-credit run of two couples sneaking into an old abandoned shipwreck, unaware that it just so happens to be the hiding spot of a crazed killer in full black garb and their gang of trained attack dogs. One poor sap gets mauled to death while the rest got the sharp business end of a cane blade.

These killings are but the latest in a string of terrible murders and, surely, won't be the last, thus forcing Sheriff Bob to team up with his brother, naval patrol captain Roy (real-life siblings Mario and Fernando Almada respectively) to hopefully shed some light to the maniac's identity and put a stop to their reign of terror. Unfortunately, isn't too long before Bob finds himself targeted by the shadowy psychopath, endangering his family and colleagues unless he finds a way to use this against the killer themselves...

Curiously, though, this is only half of the movie's plot as we do get a surprise reveal to the maniac's identity unexpectedly midway into the story, shifting its tone from an action-packed murder mystery to a paint-by-number slasher flick with an unstoppable boogeyman. We jump five months later to see our killer locked up in a psyche ward and, taking cues from John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), was able to escape by snapping some necks and braining people dead despite spending five months without solid food and getting their nourishment through the veins. What soon follows is our killer murdering all those responsible for their capture before kidnapping the good sheriff's wife, luring him into their shipwreck lair for one last brawl. (And an uncomfortable amount of animal violence) 

You can pretty much tell that not only were the 80s American slasher craze made its influence to La Muerte Del Chacal (1984), but looking at the killer's disguise and the methodical in-depth investigation following their murder spree, traditional Italian Gialli also has its spot on influencing this title. This results to a plot manageable enough to be enjoyed both as a methodic B-grade serial killer thriller and a bodycount horror flick, following a generous amount of hokey yet entertaining tropes the two horror sub-genres are known to offer, along with a few personal touch to make the movie standout a little bit more among its kin. 

There's definitely an abundance of thrilling and suspenseful set-pieces here, including a savage double murder within a crowded strip club, a speedboat chase sequence with explosive conclusions, an psyche ward break-out and, probably the most chilling among them, the slaughter of a cop and her mother inside their own home. The maniac themselves are also a compelling-looking fellow with their full Giallo gear of black hat, coat and leather gloves, their uniquely classy weapon choice of a cane-sword and the fact that they trained their very own henchmen dogs to either subdue their victims or go for the kill. Their murder spree could've use some variety as most of them are dry on the bloodletting, but there is at least a good sense of build-up to them, especially those that took place around and inside the shipwreck lair, with camera work done to emphasize its isolation thus adding a well needed creep factor to the slayings.

Sadly, as many slasher titles tend to do, it does skimped on some details that would have made it a bit more intriguing; the only thing I wished the film worked on more was the twist as, without giving away much, it could have been a rather interesting look into the emotional impact this would have between the killer and our sheriff. Instead, the whole shindig was downplayed with another "killer-has-mommy issues" to justify the loon's bloodlust and just have the film move on to a more conventional climax wherein they terrorize Bob and his wife. Oddly enough, this twist and the resulting flashforward did left a few plot holes open; with most of the murders taking places near the boat decks, no one ever bothered to look into the suspicious abandoned shipwreck? There's also the matter that, between the five months our killer is locked up, not only are the dogs are still in the damn ship, but all of the victims' corpses, too! It's incredibly stupid, yet hilarious if you don't ponder about it too much.

Though La Muerte Del Chacal (1984) isn't exactly an original masterpiece, I still see it as a rough gem for all slasher fans to find and enjoy. Apart from an okay set of actors and a direction that promises a lot of surprises, there is just a sense of popcorn exploitation in it that guarantees a good time for those who likes their bodycount flicks hammy yet gritty, silly yet shocking. Another genuine treat from our Mexican friends! 

1 male mauled by a dog
1 female murdered offcamera
1 male stabbed in the neck with a cane-sword
1 female stabbed with a cane-sword
1 female stabbed with a cane-sword
1 female ran through with a cane-sword
1 male murdered offcamera, thrown off a window
1 male immolated in speedboat crash
1 female stabbed through with a cane-sword
1 male had his neck snapped
1 male brained against iron bars
1 female found with throat cut
1 female repeatedly knifed, pinned to the wall by the throat
Total: 14

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Bed, Breakfast, Bodies All Over: The Rental (2020)

The Rental (2020)
Rating: ***
Starring: Dan Stevens, Alison Brie and Sheila Vand

Character drama? Paranoid thriller? Backwoods slasher? Why not all three?

A planned weekend getaway have Charlie, his wife Michelle, his ex-convict brother Josh and Josh's girlfriend Mina renting a beautiful remote oceanside house from its caretaker, Taylor, to celebrate a professional breakthrough and it's mostly nothing but good times of long strolls down at a beach, getting drunk that night while stargazing and hitting up on ecstasy.

The stay becomes a lot more troubling, however, when Mina and Charlie got a tad too intimate with one another behind their partners' backs and ended up having sex. Much to their horror later that morning, while Josh and Michelle are out on a friendly hike around the woods, Mina and Charlie discover hidden cameras in the house which likely have recorded that night's steamy affair. Believing the house's caretaker have been spying on them, the two decided to keep this on the low for the moment until they figure out what to do, which gets intensely complicated further when Michelle calls in Taylor to fix a broken hot tub.

From there, death and misfortune follow as our hapless couples as an argument leads to Taylor getting beaten down to an inch of his life, all the meantime Mina and Charlie do their best to keep their little secret away from their partners, completely unaware of the true nature of their situation and how, by the end of it, none of them may be even be alive to see daybreak...

A directorial debut of 21 Jump Street (2012) actor Dave Franco, The Rental (2020) sees itself largely as a mumblecore thriller first and a slasher second, spending a sizeable chunk of the story focusing on its paranoia aspect as infidelity gets threatened to be exposed and we see the lengths that some people would go to keep it in the shadows. A solid round of talents made this an engrossing watch as actors Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand and Jeremy Allen White play their roles as four dysfunctional adults with a decent light of realism and sympathy, thus resulting to a rather riveting character study within shattering relationships that would eventually escalates to something dire and chaotic.

The film's transition to horror is admittedly fluid, though the difference in tone is noticeable; while the movie is mostly grounded in practicality, a play on Hitchcockian themes as four ordinary people suddenly find themselves responsible for an arresting crime, it suddenly threw a curveball at us by evolving into what is practically a slasher film wherein the killer continues to pit our casts against one another before going for the kill, all the while our hapless victims continue to do their best to keep the affair hidden. The focus in this development can gets muddled at times as the plot kinda went all over here and the murders are hardly creative, though I will say that creep factor went on full effect here and the killer at least earn some points for their creepy get-up and their interestingly chilling modus operandi of their little set. It's a neat little surprise that delivers some cheeky, tropey horror fun, all the while still building up a strong sense of tension as the plot proceeds.

All in all, The Rental (2020) benefits from a mostly clever writing of naturalistic scenes and a slick production value, starting out as a pressure-cooker story that switches to a backwoods horror type with a bit of flair and trope. It certainly could have done more around the slasher elements, but there's a sense of clarity in the plot overall and its beautifully shot from beginning to end. There's definitely a bit of tameness in this flick, but if you don't mind a bit of modesty in your horror flicks, then this is an okay title to seek and enjoy.

1 male smothered to death
1 female found murdered
1 male brained to death with a hammer
1 male gets a hammer claw to the head
1 female falls off a cliff
Total: 5

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Murderous Mogul's Slasher Soiree: Invitation Only (2009)

Invitation Only (Jue Ming Pai Dui) (Taiwan, 2009)
Rating: ***
Starring: Ray Chang, Julianne Chu and Maria Ozawa

Following the success of torture porn films like Hostel (2005) and Saw (2003), it's little to no surprise that many films would cash in and give rise to the "gorno" sub-genre around the mid to late 2000s, among them being foreign titles, most notably France with its wave of New French Extremity movies like Inside (2007), Frontier(s) (2007) and Martyrs (2008). Here we see Taiwan's take on the modern day splatter subgenre, marketed as the country's "first slasher" film which is, technically, about a third of the truth.

Average guy Wade Chen is a chauffer who finds himself escorting a rich corporate CEO around town one day, only to accidentally find the high profile client getting scandalously frisky with a supermodel at a car park. As an apparent mean to buy his silence, the CEO hands Wade an invitation to a secretive party exclusive only to society's elites and instructs him to pose as his cousin. There, he and four other newcomers to the function indulge themselves to everything their hearts desire, this includes a little pitch of writing down their wildest dreams at the back of their invites so the host can grant them as welcome gifts. Things were good. 

Too good.

It isn't long before we see someone in a papermache mask stalking the newcomers, bloodily maiming them before putting them on stage for a torture spectacle for the depraved rich. It turns out these five debutantes have their own little indiscretions with the wealthy and the whole shindig is how the high class get even with their misdemeanors. As the crowd cheers for their demise, what remains of the group has no choice but to fight back if they want to make it out of this nightmare alive.

Practically, Invitation Only (2009) is a melting fondue pot of slasher film stalk-and-stab and sadistic torture porn horror show as it starts off with a lot of quick yet brutal kills courtesy of your classic masked maniac before transitioning to a Hostel clone with an arguably decent amount tension and bloodshed. Notable gory moments include one wannabe politician getting his groin crushed with a pair of battery clamps before having them cooked ala deep fried mountain oysters, while a thieving nurse gets an impromptu face surgery with salts and a stapler. This said, there's nothing new to speak of here as the format of the plot and little details here and there are lifted from Eli Roth's film (Heck, one guy who happens to be American even look like Roth), though I have to give credit when credit is due as director Kevin Ko seems to have a good understanding on what makes both the slasher and torture porn elements work as the gruesomely inventive set pieces do enough to have enough of an impact despite being done before and the obvious lack of budget.

The characters are mostly a viable bunch, especially our main man Wade who, while not an entire saint, is a decent average joe of a guy who just wanted to taste a bit of the good life after being pushed around by his superiors. Interestingly, there's an attempt to give more layer behind the entire torture show as the host shares his past involving one of his father's former clients kidnapping him and his sister as a child and holding them for ransom, only for his sister to die during the ordeal, but the implementation of it is flimsy at its worse and it quickly devolves into yet another "we can do this because we're rich" shtick. This misguided plot detail is hardly a distraction to the gory meat and bone of things, however, so it isn't that hard to overlook. 

Standing in that fine borderline between inspired and ripping off, Invitation Only (2009) is an agreeably solid slasher/torture porn mash-up from our Taiwanese friends that delivers enough thrills and bloodletting to be undemandingly entertaining, given you can forgive its recycled ideas and horror tropes. All in all, not too shabby!

1 female head and hands found inside a purse
1 female had her throat cut
1 female had her throat cut with a dagger
1 male seen dying from wounds
1 male had his groin clamped and electrocuted with a car battery
1 male shot on the head with a shotgun
1 male beaten to death with a lead pipe
1 male shot with a shotgun
1 female had her throat cut with a kukri, bled to death
1 male decapitated with an axe
1 female bled to death from a stabbed gut
Total: 11

Down The Familiar Road: Nobody Gets Out Alive (2012)

Nobody Gets Out Alive (2012) (AKA "Punishment", "Down The Road", "Slasher In The Woods")
Rating: **
Starring: Jen Dance, David J. Bonner and Shaun Paul Costello

Among the types of slasher flicks out there, the backwoods ones are the easiest to follow and replicate as the bare bone point of its plotting is simple: have a group go to the woods for one reason to the next, show them having a good time and/or some drama, throw in a couple of killings of random extras to keep the momentum going until you get to the climax wherein the stabby fella goes to kill the group one by one. Throughout the years, we got titles that did a little more effort into bringing flair and creativity into their personal variant of forest-set bodycounting (I'm looking at you, The Cabin in The Woods (2011), The Final Girls (2015) and You Might Be The Killer (2018)~!), but there are, of course, those that opted to ride along the simplistic route of clichés and tropes. Most of them are cheap but passable enough, particularly those that cheesed its writing and/or added a little more chunk and blood in its kills, but there are a few that add very little to the backdrop that it's vanilla compared to its splashier kin. 

Nobody Gets Out Alive (2012) is an example of these paint-by-numbers backwoods-type, opening with a group of 2000s teens getting hammered in a forest and partying until daybreak. The gang eventually drives back home, still drunk from that night's debauchery and accidentally mows down a young girl playing an early morning game of hop-scotch. 

Forward ahead to the present, troubled teen Jen was just sent home from a hospital after being treated for clinical depression when her parents, in a concerningly dumb move, forces her to go out and have fun with her friends as they fear she might become an agoraphobic if she continues to coop up in her room. (Yeah, something tells me these douches was never clinically depressed) Jen begrudgingly agrees to get them off her back and it's more or less down the familiar trail from here: she joins her buddies in their trip down the woods, beers get bought, townie doomsayer says their doom sayings, there's a minor conflict between some locals and, as usual, scary stories are shared in a campfire.

One scary story, as you would also expect by now, involves the opening vehicular manslaughter and what happened afterwards. It's basically the whole Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) treatment with the girl's father, Hunter Isth, going nuts and retreating to the forest where the teens who killed his daughter got drunk, murdering any troublesome youngsters with similar affairs in mind.

You can take a quick guess where Jen and her little gaggle of friends are hanging out right now.

Apart from the truckload of recycled plotlines and clichés, Nobody Gets Out Alive (2012) has the unfortunate grace of being awkwardly riddled with odd pacing, amateur dialogue and bland deliveries from its talents, leading to an excruciating direction following these characters and their clumsy interactions that more often than not paint them as irritable and uncaring, if not bland. Unsurprisingly, these result to a lack of point building around these casts, making their camping misadventures a chore to sit through and the fact that this movie's camera work is average and there's a lack of inspired scoring practically dulled the experience even further. 

Still, I find Nobody Gets Out Alive (2012) worth its while on a degree as at least it has its kills and villain going for it; though the murders are nothing too out of the ordinary, they do a fine enough job of looking graphic with the make-up and special effects without overly relying on heavy gore and bloodletting, giving a genuine old school feel to these slayings which works very well with the movie's moderate-looking budget. The same can be said to the hammer-wielding villain Hunter Isth, looking awfully generic as a slasher and bearing a murder motive that's have been done to death, but I still find him workable for how grounded and 3tragic he is, particularly during a scene where he monologues the trials and tribulations he went through as a widowed husband and father, making him somewhat relatable and putting him in a more sympathetic light. These little elements are what made the film a bit more tolerable, a welcome blessing seeing how considerably testy it can get.

Honestly, that's all I can say about Nobody Gets Out Alive (2012). It's a backwoods slasher flick and that's pretty much all what it is, routined down to the very last scene, nothing standing out from it, so not too hard at all to picture why this one is so obscure. If you want to see it, by all means go. You could do worse, but you can do a lot better, too...

1 girl hit by a car
1 male brained to death with a sledgehammer
1 elderly female had her throat cut with a hunting knife
1 male stabbed in the gut with a machete, meat hook through his throat
1 female had her neck broken
1 male brained in the temple with a sledgehammer
1 male had nails hammered into his head
1 female beaten to death with a brick
1 male brained with hammers
1 male brained with a hammer
Total: 10 

Oh, and Clint Howard was here. 
That's, uh, that's it, really.
Thought you guys would like to know...

Saturday, June 4, 2022

The House of Transcendental Boredom: Boardinghouse (1982)

Boardinghouse (1982)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: John Wintergate, Kalassu and Lindsay Freeman

Boardinghouse? More like Bore Me House!

...Look, I'm drained tired trying to watch this movie from start to finish. I am not bringing my A-Game puns for this one! 

Through an irritatingly loud early 80s computer graphics, the film starts by bombarding us with exposition upon exposition about some family called the Hoffmans who studied telekinesis and occultism because, hey, I'm pretty sure nothing bad ever happens from meddling with the two subjects under the same household, right? Right? Well, color most of us unsurprised, the folks were found dead one day and their eldest kid goes bananas from an emotional breakdown. Since then on, the house got sold and resold as it becomes a hotspot for fatal accidents, killing those who step foot in the hospice. 

One of these unlucky meat bags just happens to include the house as a part of an inheritance package for their heir, Jim Royce. (played by director John Wintergate) The place goes from haunted to "hot damn!" as Jim turns the estate into a party haven for the ladies where he is the acting den mother, which is not a bad arrangement so long as they don't mind the man's weird meditation sessions, supernatural ability to move objects with his mind and his wardrobe choice of animal pattern speedos. As the ladies sunbathe, get wasted in quality wine and have steamy shower scenes, someone or something around the house isn't happy with the new living arrangements and it's damn well making it obvious with the sudden surge of demonic visions, bloody accidents and, well, gruesome deaths happening all over the house!

With a production that resembles something an 80s swinger would make at their own backyard with their girlfriends, Boardinghouse (1982) is often cited as one of the earliest, if not the first, example of shot-on-video horror films and with its abundance of strange editing, nonsensical plotting, terrible audio and lighting and select actors with talents comparable to a 70s pizza place's animatronic, all the known restraints from a shoestring budget production, it's not hard to picture why. What does work here, though, is its hilariously dumb cheese factor and a level of determined creativity that comes paired with it; while the implementation is laughable, I do have to at least give credit for the film for trying to do something unique for its haunted house-cum-slasher melting pot of a story, tossing in killers with mind-control powers and lethal telekinesis, as well as not skimping on the blood works and gore effects in its attempt to be a competent horror flick.

The over and underacting also has its unintentional hilarity, which goes the same for some of the cheap spectral effects done for the movie's more supernatural inclined scenes that undoubtedly show the movie's age. Frankly, I really want to like this film for dumb moments like these, but the matter that it paces through one random big house escapade and pool party jig to another before doing something remotely interesting is just a big gut punch to its entertainment factor. By the end of it, I'm simply tired from all the people idling around and bullshitting, too frustrated to completely enjoy this film's idea of a climax wherein three people are just standing in a supposed "telekinetic battle" (complete with dry ice), inflicting hellish agony to one another as indicated by the warping screen and the actors comically scrunching up their faces. 

Seeing how Boardinghouse (1982) developed some form of cult following over the years, it's safe to say that, perhaps, this film is just not for me. I can appreciate a movie's hokey premise and chunky corn-syrup gore but, at times, it's simply not enough to look past its direction and pacing issues. For those who can, then I guess this is your movie, you crazy lot. Seeing it once is good enough for me...

1 male drowns in a pool
1 female had her arm shredded through a sink garbage disposal
1 female hanged with a length of knotted stockings
1 male disembowels himself
1 male electrocuted in a bathtub with a live hairdryer
1 female suffers through spontaneous bleeding, drowned in the ocean
1 cat hammered to death
1 female shot to death
1 male shot on the head
1 male stabbed in the gut with a thrown lawn dart
1 female plucked out her eyes
1 male had his heart levitated out of his chest
Total: 13

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Nightmares of A Damaged Fireman's Brain: The Deepening (2006)

The Deepening (2006)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Jim O'Rear, Gunnar Hansen and Debbie Rochon

Suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after working on the tragic terrorist attack of 9-11, New York fireman Ted (Ted Alderman) relocates to a quiet rural town's fire department in hopes of getting a fresh start. He doesn't get the warmest of welcomes from most of the small station's firefighting squad, however, as small town mentality have them feeling suspicious of his move and they'll grab every opportunity to antagonize the newcomer.

The only one who has Ted's back is Jim (Jim O’Rear), who opted to give the new guy a shot of being his friend and invites him to pick up a pair of ladies who are looking to score. Ted and Jim does exactly that one night, which ends very messily when Ted is found covered in blood and his date dead. From that little incident, trouble seems to follow Ted and Jim everywhere as those who has anything to do with the two starts getting offed by someone in full firefighter gear. As the deaths continue and the local cops proceed to pin the crimes on them, it's up to the duo to figure out who's behind this massacre and put a stop to them before it's all too late.

To address the elephant in the room, I will say that the fact this film tries to connect its Z-grade slasher killings to the traumas of the 9-11 attacks is very much tastelessly troubling on its own. The film could have simply used any generic tragedies in its place for the kind of plot its doing, but The Deepening (2006) choose to exploit this real life horror show directly as a form of red herring to the supposed mystery behind the killer's identity and, given how mishandled the whole thing is, the end result feels more like shameless shock value and quite unnecessary to begin with. It's the only thing that keeps me from liking this film any higher, which is quite the shame as the film does have some low-brow charm to it.

What we have here is best described as your run-in-the-mill 2000s shot-on-video slasher effort that checks all the boxes of what you would expect from a cheap production; low-tier quality video and audio, shoddy acting and scripting, laughable editing and a clunky direction. It's mediocre from start to finish, but I cannot help but somewhat enjoy the mess just for the fact that it does try to put some edge and story within the dreck, especially if most of the attempts come off unintentionally hilarious for its bad takes, as well as intriguing for its bad taste. I dig the ironic concept of a killer firefighter and I love that, while the effects done for the kills are cheap, they're handled very effectively and creatively budget-wise. The flow does take a while to get going, but once the killings got their momentum, the plot goes into cheesier territories which is always a saving grace on my book, especially if it involves Hardy Boys amateur sleuthing and the villain throwing Freddy Krueger-esque bad lines with exaggerated gruffness for flavor.  

Fans of horror star cameos can find Leatherface himself, Gunnar Hansen, as Dr. Chambers here, as well as Debbie Rochon and her boobs. Again, not an entirely bad do-it-yourself horror cheapie. The Deepening (2006) echoes the likes of the hammy late-80s releases, just tainted with an unneeded and unsavory choice of unearthing one of America's most notorious events for "plot device". Shame.

1 male had his arm chopped off with an axe, killed
1 female hacked with an axe
1 female killed offscreen
1 female stabbed in the gut with a pipe pole
1 male had his throat cut with a knife (dream)
1 male gets a fire engine hose shoved into his mouth, head blown open with water pressure
1 female hacked with an axe
1 male found disemboweled
1 male shot through the neck with a shot arrow
1 male gets a thrown dagger to the chest
1 male repeatedly shot
1 female attacked with an axe, presumably killed
Total: 12

Sunday, May 22, 2022

An Argento Blind Act: Black Glasses (2022)

Black Glasses (Occhiali Neri) (Italy, 2022) (AKA "Dark Glasses")
Rating: ***
Starring: Ilenia Pastorelli, Asia Argento and Andrea Gherpelli

Last we saw of Dario Argento in the horror business, it was 2012 and he decided to do a creative take on Dracula, this including shooting the entire project in 3D and giving the titular vampire lord the ability to turn into a man-sized praying mantis for shits and giggles. Unsurprisingly, that little stunt sets a new low for one of Italy's horror maestros and we didn't see another horror flick from him until a decade later, in what can be described as the man's attempted return to form. And the key word here is "attempted".

In Black Glasses (2022), modern day Rome is terrorized by a serial killer who is slaughtering their way through sex workers with a cello string. One such high-end escort, Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli), gets a very close call to being another corpse for the bodycount when, after attending a client who got a tad too handsy on her, she suddenly finds herself being attacked by an obscured assailant. As she made her way to her car and speeds off, her attacker catches on with their cargo van, leading to a pursuit that ends with Diana crashing through another car.

The accident leaves our leading call girl blind after her spine suffers a hemorrhage. She also learns that the occupants of the other car, a Chinese family, is survived by a single boy named Chin (Xinyu Zhang), now under a church's care home after the crash killed his father and slipped his mother into a coma. As Diana learns to cope with her condition, she finds help through a friendly educator named Rita (cult favorite Asia Argento), gets a trained guide dog and tries to make amends with Chin by visiting him at the care home.

Chin, tired of the racist kids he have to put up with, decided to run away and stay with Diana. The two soon bonds and will eventually have to rely on one another when our killer, keeping a close eye on the one who got away, starts to stalk them with the intent to finish what they started, murdering anybody who got in their way in the meantime.

From start to finish, Black Glasses (2022) practically runs on cheap thrills and basic slasher tropes which is something you'll either loathe or tolerate depending on how well you take your B-grade celluloid. Frankly, there is a lot of opportunities for the film to go a little deeper in its story considering the number of angles the plot could've focused on like Diana adjusting to her blindness or being a surrogate mother to an orphaned boy, but all of it was rushed and shallowed to make way for a more standardized slasher plot, complete with uselessly inept cops, a stalk and chase sequence in the woods and a moderately sizable killcount. (Curiously, though, for a film wherein the protagonist is a prostitute, we don't get a lot of onscreen sleaze here. Some boobs, yes, but that's it)

Any hinted mystery regarding the killer's identity also gets the short unexplored end as halfway into the movie, we're unceremoniously treated to a reveal that isn't really all that surprising, even more when the killer's motive behind their killing spree is so underwhelmingly staple. This leaves us to a whole final act of Diana and Chin running, limping and hiding in a countryside backwoods from the psycho, which does takes its sweet time bringing in as many shenanigans as possible (random snake attack, a couple of hunters getting into a brawl with the killer) before treating us with a climax that have our villain squaring off with Diana's guide dog (Carnivorous flies and chimpanzees in Phenomena (1985). Ravens in Opera (1987). I'm starting to see a pattern here, Argento...) at the sacrifice of a good spot of suspense that's unrealized throughout.

It may all sounds like an uninspired mess and you're probably right about that in many aspects, but Black Glasses (2022) does make itself worth its time with its slick pacing, efficient enough performances from its casts, a rocking electronic synth scored by Arnaud Rebotini and a better-looking production value all in all. Its outrageous premise is simply fun for how hammy it is, garnering some unintended humor, all the while delivering on the red stuff whenever the film felt like giving us a gruesome death so I wouldn't call it a complete loss as clunky as this movie in properly developing its plot and characters. 

It's entertaining in its efforts and if you're not looking for much, then I can safely say that this flick should do fine as a mid-tier horror genre offering, a somewhat sincere reflection to what Dario Argento used to do best.

1 female garroted with a cello string, bled to death from throat cut
1 male had his head crushed in car crash
1 male hit with a van
1 female knifed in the back
1 female strangled with a rope
1 female implied to have succumbed to her injuries from a car crash
1 male mauled in the neck by a dog
Total: 7

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Court Cases and Courtships: Hanging Heart (1983)

Hanging Heart (1983)
Rating: *
Starring: Barry Wyatt, Jake Henry and Francine Lapensée

It appears everyone has the hots for Denny (Barry Wyatt), may it be his lady co-stars in the experimental homoerotic play he leads or Elliot (Jake Henry), the middle aged lawyer renting a room with him. Life for our little actor goes very hairy one day though when, after making love in the theater with one of the actresses, Denny becomes the prime suspect after a caretaker found him holding her lifeless strangled body. He gets thrown in jail, gets roughed up a bit, witnessed two inmates getting what-what in the butt, but gets released on bail with the help of Elliot, who then proceeds to defend him in the case, much to the anger of the police and lead prosecutor.
From that point on, Hanging Heart spends less as a slasher movie and a lot (and I mean a lot) more as a psychological courtroom drama reeking of nasty cheese, misplaced dark humor and tons of homoerotic themes and imagery. The only time the film ever remembered it's a bodycounter flick is during a couple of murders involving the other cast and crew at the theatre as the killer dons a slasher-friendly get-up of a creepy black wig covering their face and long black coat with matching gloves inspired by Italian gialli. Apart from that, we're mostly forced to sit through Denny breaking down as he gets repeatedly blamed for the killings, defend himself in court while opposing parties antagonize him, relive a childhood trauma involving a horrible child rape and a matricide, all the while interjecting scenes of him and his bare ass in the showers, behind a mental psych gown, as a hallucination of a crucified Christ, etc., for interested parties to ogle at or ponder about its clumsy implications of equating homoeroticism and homophobia with assault and mental illness.

Any attempts to build up its own mystery is lackluster at its worst considering its blatantly obvious red herrings and the unsurprising revelation at the end. If anything, Hanging Heart's all in all direction can be summarized as a test to how much bull the producers and writers can pull off to get the movie pass an hour (and overstay its welcome for another hour) as the overall story just barely made sense. (I mean, I really doubt a suspected killer can be released through bail as often as Denny did, or can anyone be that luscious of a man that almost every woman would look past the supposed crime he committed just for a chance to ride him) To simply put it, this film is one huge mess; its this lack of solid structure and consistency in tone makes it all the more of a chore to sit through and it's little to no wonder why it didn't even get a release in its native land, the good ole' US of A, and instead got video releases overseas. 

Bottom line, Hanging Heart is dry for a slasher, boring for a thriller, offensive for a homoerotica and too cluttered to be a working drama. Not a big loss if one simply decided to skip over this, frankly...

1 female strangled with a pair of pantyhose
1 female strangled with a pair of pantyhose
1 female strangled with a belt (flashback)
1 male strangled to death
1 male shot in the mouth
Total: 5

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Down, Dirty, Dead: X (2022)

X (2022)
Rating: ****
Starring: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega and Brittany Snow

After his effectively depressing and intense religious cult, found footage horror The Sacrament (2013), it has been a while since we saw director Ti West step foot into horror again, ain't it? Well, boys and girls, the man has returned with something a little spicy, creepy and all around messy. A certified rated X.

Set in 1979, a small film crew plans to secretly shoot a shoestring budget adult movie at a rented farmhouse all the way down at countryside Texas, hoping to cash in to the rising popularity of home video markets. When the gang arrives, the farm's married elderly owners are more or less capricious towards the group, either hating and envying their unruly youthfulness or low-key stalking them out of creepy leering interest. As problems arise between the film crew regarding the mediocre content of their film and some of them willing to shed their modesty to join in the smut fun on-camera, little do they know that by nightfall, these will be the least of their worries when someone's sexual repression and mental stability breaks into a murderous madness and they're making sure no one from that farmhouse will get out alive.

Raunchy, gory and occasionally uncomfortable, X (2022) presents itself as an exploitative and gritty throwback to vintage grindhouse cinema, blending the simplistic carnage of bodycount horror (mainly of Tobe Hooper's works ala Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)) with the sentimentally haunting creepiness of hagsploitation films and the fearless, rebellious raciness of 70s porn flicks. 

Though the plot is pretty straightforward (as in its the typical group-goes-to-place-only-to-be-hacked-down-to-pieces-by-killer jig), its slowburn stroll towards the premise's characters and underlying themes of coveted youthfulness patiently covered enough depth behind the smut and savagery that the resulting murders and the handful of nightmare imagery earn their striking shock value; we get to see sides from both the protagonists and their antagonistic counterparts that aren't typically explored from a paint-by-number slasher film, in which X (2022) both breaks and plays the norms around horror character tropes and gives us a slightly inventive reworking of what we normally expect from these types of casts in turn. 

For one, the clichéd "sex means death" story element reeks high among our casts of smut enthusiasts as their pornographic debauchery fuels our antagonists with murderous rage, seeing the exploits as a mockery to their religious lifestyle, yet the writing in the story's slower moments fleshed out a little more from our doomed film makers, hinting lives they wanted to escape and opportunities they're intrigued by despite their couth nature and skepticisms which paints sex on a more positive outlook, rather than condemning it. The same can be said to our killers who we could've easily classify under the typical "fire and brimstone" psychos blaring 24/7 religious TV propaganda; they degrade their guests as whores and degenerates on one end, however the film made it clear that their hate stems from the fact that they miss their own opportunities to be carefree and hedonistic, their own carnal desires now out of reach due to their age and a strict Christian upbringing. It's a warped concept of oppressive religious ideology that isn't exactly new, though welcomed here for how it's applied.   

For a relatively small casts, every member pretty much nailed their roles and kept everything their characters do in tone to the movie's flow and atmosphere, especially Mia Goth who showed a range of talent by donning two contrasting lead roles: as the headstrong yet vulnerable aspiring actress Maxine Minx who appears to be drowning her past with sex, drugs and a dream in showbiz, and as Pearl, a sexually frustrated hagsploitation biddy, wielding a knife or a pitchfork on one hand and a caressing, yearning touch on the other. In regards to the slasher goods, a serviceable deal of the kills are gruesomely gory and those that aren't make up for it with imagery and tension, one of which even standing out as a nod-and-wink tribute to Hooper's Eaten Alive (1976). Cinematographer Eliot Rockett films amplifies the deaths and creepiness with stylized angles and lighting, elevating simple scares and murders with a bit more flair, and the make-up and effects done by Netherlands-based MimicFX Studio among many others just add that extra horridly squeamish touch that keeps a slasher flick exciting! The score done is also hauntingly fitting, managing to turn orgasmic moans and angelic hums into a foreboding suite of dangers to come.

X (2022) is certainly more on the patient side given its pace on plotting, but one cannot argue with the resulting carnage and grue once shit really hits the fan, as well as the intriguing themes and character dynamics we get along the way. At that, I can honestly say this is one of Ti West's stronger movies and one of the best slashers to come out in modern horror! And with its prequel Pearl to be released soon, you can bet your sweet Johnson I'll be keeping an eye out for it!

1 male knifed in the neck, stabbed to death
1 male stabbed in the eyes with a pitchfork
1 male body found rotting in a basement
1 male shot on the chest with a shotgun
1 female eaten by an alligator
1 female shot on the face with a shotgun
1 male suffers a heart seizure
1 female had her head ran over with a van
Total: 8

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Terror Tripped and Failed: Terror At Black Tree Forest (2021)

Terror At Black Tree Forest (United Kingdom, 2021)
Rating: 1/2
Starring: Cassandre Wallace, Will Jones and Amanda Bourne

I heard about Terror At Black Tree Forest (2010) all the way back around my college years through the website Retroslashers when it was still running. It's a supposed throwback to backwoods stalk-and-stab types featuring bag-headed killers and, at least from what I read, it's awfully mediocre. Yet, here I am finding out not only did this film somehow got sequels, but it also have a 2021 United Kingdom remake! Well, as of writing this, I've yet to see the first three original Black Tree Forest movies but, after seeing this cinematic disaster, I'm not too keen on seeing any them if the whole thing is going to be THIS bad!

The film opens with a couple looking over a lake, reminiscing about their first meeting and first kiss with some confusion from the two as they remember everything differently. They soon head back to camp, got lost in the woods until dusk and find themselves on the murderous side of a shmuck in a sack mask.

Come the day after and we now follow a group consisting of a Caroline Travers, stoner Molly Wade, goofball dudes Simon St John and Will Andrews, and Jane Mellows, the newest addition to their little pack. They do the usual kids-go-to-the-woods jig of setting up camp, joking around, exploring the surrounding forest, get creeped on by mysterious figures in the background and (wouldn't be a slasher flick without this) telling ghost stories around a campfire. 

As the night goes on, our bag-headed killer eventually starts a good run of killing these people one by one, as these films normally do. Now, see, I wouldn't have any problems with this paint-by-numbers stalk-and-stab approach given that everything else about this film wouldn't be so problematic, but Terror of Black Tree Forest (2021) just have to line itself up a whole load of dumbfuckery; first of which, these are probably the most densely annoying cast of characters I have to sit through as once their numbers start dwindling down, we have one or two of these dumbasses refusing to believe that something is wrong and that all the splattered blood and screaming happening around them are just a part of a prank. Yeah, sure, I would get it if one would see it that way with the first sign of danger, but the writing and direction really milked this plot point. Like really, really milked it, to the matter that most of the dialogue around the third act is just a roundabout of "This joke isn't funny anymore" before someone fires back "It's not a prank" and then gets a response of something like "Yeah, sure". 

I bet if I smash one of these guys' face in with a sledgehammer, another would berate me and my victim about our poor taste of a prank and nags the twitching corpse next to me to stop acting and get up. Oh, wait, you know what? That did happen in the film: one guy gets a fucking knife ran through his head, two girls run off, only to stop and have an argument with one another at how this is the worst practical joke they ever experienced. Hell, the dumbfuck even walks over to the killer after spotting them, thinking the figure who just knifed a guy's eye out is in on the joke. You can guess what happens after that smart move. The fucking idiot... 

With this level of writing in mind, the direction and pacing can sum up as tedious, and the scares and suspense are very lacking. Any slice of gore here do look impressive for a small budget production, but when most of the victims are as dumb as someone walking into a bonfire to dry up after swimming in a lake full of gasoline, it kinda takes away the thrill of the blood spill. Add on the killer's motive being shallow at its worst and comparable to a teenager looking for attention so, yes, this movie just keeps getting suckier until the last minute.

What else is there to say but Terror At Black tree Forest (2021) is just embarrassingly awful, infuriating even, and that I'm highly hoping that the entire franchise isn't around this level of bad.

Dear God, please, don't let them be this bad...

1 male knifed to death
1 female strangled with fairy lights
1 male knifed through the throat
1 male knifed through the head, exits out of an eye
1 female gets a knife thrown to her chest
1 male found dead with a throat cut
1 female stabbed in the gut with a knife
Total: 7

Sunday, April 3, 2022

A Little Slice of Cheese Pizza: The Pizza Man (2001)

The Pizza Man (2001)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Sara Rogere Carter, Sherman Golden and Allen Kemp

Special thanks to Junkyard Cinema back at Twitter and Youtube for sharing this rare slice of do-it-yourself slasher cinema with me. And now to flagellate myself with it because, well, I'm a sadomasochistic completist who just couldn't resist a hard-to-find title, even if it's going to be torture for my brain and eyeballs.

From what I can gather, The Pizza Man (2001) is mostly about a thug named Rico first, a killer pizza man second; the whole "story" is basically this Rico fella (who refers to himself in the third person) throwing a house party with his ghetto chums, his whiny "bee-yotch" girlfriend Sharon and two other girls who are in it for the bodycount as they smoke weed, deal crack and eat pizza. Meanwhile we got this escaped mental patient who used to be a pizza delivery man loose in the city killing people left and right with a buzzsaw on a stick, eventually making his way into crashing Rico's party.

Now, when I say The Pizza Man is a do-it-yourself horror film, I mean it is a do-it-yourself horror flick in the sense it hardly has a budget to speak of; its lack of proper lighting meant that it's incomprehensible even by grainy shot-on-video quality standards, which is made worse with the fact that the film mostly takes place at night and its last act involves a power loss. I don't know about you but I don't particularly find long scenes of flashlights wandering around exciting, nor are they gripping or worth my time. Its audio also often than not muffles out, further making a sit through of this title less of a minuscule chore and more of a suffering ordeal, one wherein its lack of budget killed off any potential of the end product being exploitatively cheeky and fun with its concept of a murderous pizza guy out stalking and slaying the people he delivers to.

Combine that with the matter that it has no real plot to work with, a direction without some shred of flair or style to it, and an editing so atrociously abrupt that it butchered the flow of the flick, then you might as well entertain yourself with a pop-up book sober as you'll certainly get more excitement out of that than this mess. Mercifully, The Pizza Man is only 48 minutes (credits included) so the suffering technically isn't too long and there is some cushion of cheese from the casts' bad acting that does make this film slightly tolerable. And by slightly, I mean I readied three cans of beer to numb my senses once I'm starting to find the film's corniness delving into annoying territories and it was dumb of me to assume I just needed three...

Bottom line, if you think you can withstand the full assault of a zero-production horror quickie like The Pizza Man (2001) and enjoy it, I'm partly worried about you but, hey, so long as you're happy! I, as a completist, do not regret seeing this as it is a rare find, but let's just say I now understand the reason behind its rarity and I think it's best to keep this one obscure.

1 female ran through with a circular saw
1 female killed offscreen, later seen with a head wound
1 male beaten to death
1 female had her throat cut
1 male and 1 female killed with a circular saw
1 male found decapitated
1 male killed offscreen with a circular saw
1 male killed with a circular saw
1 male seen murdered
Total: 10

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The Hitman Blues: Safe House 1618 (2021)

Safe House 1618 (2021)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Matison Card, Jasmine Day and Maddie Steele

In this mish-mash of psychological thriller, crime drama and home invading slasher horror, three sisters kidnap and murder a senator's scumbag son in revenge for a past crime he committed. Tagging their getaway driver along, the trio lay low at the titular safehouse until the heat of their vigilante killing blows over, unbeknownst to them that the senator, well aware that they're the ones responsible for his boy's death, has sent a hitman against them, a supposed professional killer with a murder count high enough to be called a "grim reaper". (all the while wearing a suit made from tape and garbage bags, mind you)

A commendable plot, one that has the full potential to be an interesting sub-genre hybrid if only the execution itself is anywhere as good; once the sisters and their accomplice settle in the safe house, the movie opted to drag this experience to a slow burn crawl as we get into the psychological troubles of living with the crime they committed, the trauma that started the vigilante killing and good old-fashioned cabin fever with a side of some guy tripping on drugs for padding's sake, I guess. In fact, the killer gets introduced twenty minutes into the nearly two-hour running time and the asshole mostly spent his screentime skulking around, murdering one guy who knew one of the girls and ordering an copious amount of take-out salads as he waits for more need-to-know information of the girls' whereabouts.

Add in the pain of sitting through the casts' underwhelming acting chops, obnoxiously artistic editing and a weak sound design, the film was nearly a lost cause for me if it wasn't for the alright last act where the hitman finally makes his to the girls and starts eliminating them one-by-one. I say "alright", not "great", as while I do find it nifty that the kills were a mix of standard slasher stabbings and action thriller gun shots via rifles with silencers, I still cannot get past the fact that this "professional" goes around doing jobs looking like a do-it-yourself slasher villain with his attire of ski masks, goggles, black garbage bags, duct tape and dishwashing gloves. You gotta be snorting a lot of cheese to think this would look badass onscreen. 

For a little film made with about eight grand, I again commend its high concept story but I'll be damn lying if I say the experience was painless and exciting. For fans of low budget filmmaking may find a cozy stay with Safe House 1618 (2021) but, personally, I think I'm gonna feel more at home with something exploitative, cheeky and not overly draggy.   

1 male had his arms slit open, bled to death
1 male shot on the head
1 male stabbed to death with a buck knife
1 female shot on the head (flashback)
1 male had his throat cut with a kitchen knife
1 female shot on the head
1 male attacked, presumably killed
1 female shot
1 male ran over with a car
Total: 9

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

A Ghostfaced Legacy: Scream (2022)

Scream (2022)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette

A sequel with elements of a reboot. A "Requel", if you may. To see a Scream film made with this treatment in this day and age without the late Wes Craven can be a bit of a stretch, frankly, but rest assured it does work. Mostly.

Taking place where it all began, Woodsboro, California, the scene starts with practically a tradition with these Scream movies as we follow a girl, Tara Carpenter, alone at home and answering a phone call. The further the conversation goes, the more it becomes clear that whoever is on the other line has a sick game in mind, one involving horror movie trivias and deadly consequences. One wrong answer later and Tara gets attacked by someone dressed up as Ghostface but, a first in the franchise, she survives.

The following morning comes, Tara is recovering at a local hospital and her estranged older sister Sam, driving all the way from another state while towing along her geeky boyfriend Richie, comes to comfort her. It appears this is the first time Sam is stepping back in Woodsboro after years of avoiding it and this all may have something to do with a dark family secret she's trying to keep to herself. (I'll throw you all a hint: she hallucinates a ghostly vision of Billy Loomis, one of the two killers from the first Scream movie)  

Another attack soon happens one night, this time finally claiming a life, and Sam finds herself also targeted by the Ghostface killer when she got real close to being the next murder victim during another hospital visit. It isn't long before she and, too, Tara's little circle of friends figure out that whoever is behind the mask is targeting people linked to the original 96' Woodsboro Massacre, comparing the recent killing spree to a real life horror legacy sequel that forces survivors retired sheriff Dewey Riley, news anchor Gale Weathers and long time "final girl" Sidney Prescott to come out and aid these kids in stopping a madman on the loose. But with the killer seemingly one step ahead of them all, do they even stand a chance against a maniac who knows the rules and breaks them?

Much like the rest of the movies before it, Scream (2022) takes a stab on horror film conventions as both a gimmick and a plot point, tackling this time the tropes of legacy sequels and how it's basically a mixed bag of rehashed plotlines that somehow still exist within the continuity of the original work, taking place further along the timeline and focusing on new characters all the while the original ones are still present in the plot. In turn, the film opted to play the legacy part here with a near literal sense as the main set of teen characters all have ties to the ones from Scream (1996) and, curiously enough, they only talk about the events of the first film while mostly completely ignoring the sequels that came after. (I say mostly coz we do find out the fate of fan favorite movie geek Kirby Reed. It's a blink or miss moment but, spoiler alert, she's okay, folks!) 

Plot-wise, Scream (2022) basically runs the typical standardized murder mystery slasher plot the franchise is known for, with characters trying to survive a mad slasher while pondering about the identity of their attacker in order to stop them. What sets this film apart from the rest, though, is that its execution is notably darker; the humor is more bleak, the atmosphere is dreary and the fact that some of the rules are being broken here and there meant that anybody can bite the big one. The kills here are also a lot more gruesome compared to the previous titles, simply savage with a few of them hitting a bit harder in the gut seeing who ended up in the knife. 

This said, I am a little disappointed by the lack of creative scenarios for the movie's share of scares and flair; we do got one intense moment of a mother getting a call from the killer who taunts her of what they'll do to her kid at home but apart from that, most of the stalk-and-stab scenes are played with a stronger emphasis on gore factor rather than striking premises. It also doesn't help that the new generation of characters are a little limp in substance and depth despite the near two-hour running time and all the steady pacing given to properly develop them, making the film lacking of strong, interesting casts to completely root for outside the franchise's recurring lead trio of Sidney, Gale and Dewey. 

Still, these are minor huddles for a workable plot that does manage to pull some good tributes to the franchise within its bundle of twists, turns and shock value, elements that help simple slasher flicks go a long way, or at least far enough to be an acceptable one. Throw in some satire on toxic horror fans and their gatekeeping ways and, too, a little discussion about the line of "elevated horror films" of today and I find Scream (2022) a stable enough sequel/remake hybrid albeit its shortcomings, one that I openly welcome warmly as a new chapter to Woodsboro's long running history with bloody horror and murderous mayhem. 

1 male jabbed in the neck with a hunting knife, bled to death
1 female stabbed to death with a hunting knife
1 male gets a hunting knife through his throat
1 male found dying from a throat cut
1 male eviscerated with hunting knives
1 female shot on the head
1 male slaughtered with a hunting knife and repeatedly shot
1 female burned on an open stove, shot on the head
Total: 8