Monday, November 28, 2022

Masquerading Madness in Venice: Veneciafrencia (2021)

Veneciafrencia (Spain, 2021)
Rating: **
Starring: Ingrid García Jonsson, Silvia Alonso and Goize Blanco

In this giallo-inspired horror thriller, a group of five Spanish tourists visit Venice for what's supposed to be an extravagant bachelorette party, only to end up caught and tangled in a web of socio-political tensions and random murders committed by a madman in a court jester's outfit when one of them suddenly disappears the day after they all attended a secret rave. With a premise like that, Veneciafrencia (2021) could have had a rich world and intriguing plot points to center a bodycount flick around with its talks of mass tourism ruining a beloved country and the lengths some people would go to dispose what they deem as a "plague" that's ruining their beautiful city. Unfortunately, the movie can't seem to decide whether it wants to be playful with the idea or be straight with it, resulting to an erratic direction that further loses its worth as it focuses on a gang of charmless characters in a set-up not too far off from Eli Roth's Hostel franchise.

The pacing and tone are just all over, in turn, as the movie pretends to be something deep and witty as a by-the-book conspiracy thriller for some moments, only to be gutted down by its own cluster of hammy horror and crazy killings as a slasher flick in the next. It's a clumsy hodge-podge juggle that's unnecessarily complicated in its execution seeing there's really no sense of mystery regarding why the villains are doing all of this as it's basically plastered all over the scenes involving our casts interacting with many of the locals. This, unsurprisingly, results to the story's flow just bogging down with pointless police procedurals and investigations, making its hundred minute-long barrage of bland characters and tired clichés eventually lose its steam in its last act with an unrewarding conclusion to boot.

On a more positive note, Veneciafrencia (2021) does succeed in making its slasher scenes memorable in a goofy yet gruesome way, with a couple of murders happening during public daylight as our killer chortles at gathering crowds of tourists that everything horrible he's doing is just an act and these idiots simply eating up this claim without any sense of hesitation. It's absurdly silly and a tad too convenient, with all forms of logic and realism thrown out, but keeps rather a quirky energy in its viciousness, a welcome take for a bloody good time even if most of the kills were from random bystanders. Aside from that, the film also benefits from looking quite stunning with its location shots and camera work, showcasing the beauty of Venice in and out of the horror scenes and the stellar production work done behind the film.

With more miss than hits, Veneciafrencia (2021) is a good enough horror film that could've been better if it found a way to balance out its commentary themes and splashy slasher hook in a way that would benefit one another. Give it a try if you like, though expect a hobbled path. 

1 male bludgeoned to death with a camera
1 female dragged away, killed offscreen
1 male repeatedly ran through with a sword
1 male repeatedly ran through with a sword, decapitated
1 female had her throat cut with a sword
1 male seen crushed on a dock by a cruise ship (video)
1 female had her hands and back hacked with hooks
1 male shot
1 male and 1 female found dead from cut wrists
Total: 10

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Hazing Hell: Frat House Massacre (2008)

Frat House Massacre (2008)
Rating: ***
Starring: Rane Jameson, Chris Prangley and Jon Fleming

So it's 1978 and the last thing Sean ever wanted to do is to scold his newly graduated high schooler brother Bobby for choosing to party with his friends instead of enjoying a swell celebratory dinner with him and their caretaker Miss Olivia, who have been raising them since the death of their parents. Feeling rebellious, Bobby went ahead and hanged out with his buddies anyways, only to end up comatose from a drunk driving incident later. 

After some time and with a broken heart, Sean leaves to enroll at Newcomb college where he is accepted by the Delta Iota Espilon fraternity, headed by a sadistic chad-type named Mark. Now, the thing about this fraternity is that they take hazing to an extreme level; new pledges are beaten, humiliated, forced to fight one another among many things, but at the end of it and I guess depending on Mark's mood, the frat boys kill the pledges by forcing them to commit suicide or just straight out murdering them before feeding the bodies to pigs at a nearby farm. Why, you ask? Not sure, the film never bothered to explain why Mark and his goons do this. Probably just being cruel for cruelty's sake and that's that.

Sean, not being the bloodthirsty-type and feeling iffy by all of this, decided to try legging out of the fraternity, but the brotherhood doesn't take his leaving very kindly so they have him snuffed out. At the same time, Bobby awakens from his coma seemingly from supernatural means and, after a year, enrolls to the same college as well as attends his late-brother's fraternity. It isn't too long then that the members of the fraternity and some girlfriends start to die one by one, raising suspicions among one another with talks of sabotage and climbing up the ranks, all of this building up to a disco party where our killer contends to put a real deal of a bodycount to the table.

Made by the same people who brought us the overly ambitious yet cheap time-loop slasher Camp Slaughter (2005) (AKA "Camp Daze"), Frat House Massacre (2008) is a decent enough bodycounter that bows down to outlandishly crazy concepts, tossing away any conventions of logic for a feisty fondue of gruesome entertainment and neatly wrapping it all up with a faux throwback to 70s grindhouse exploitation cinema. For a good while, it more or less lingers around as a campus horror thriller featuring frat boys who seem to have no trouble getting away with drug use, murder and rape, an exaggeratedly dark twist on fraternity culture and mentality that's as awesomely hilarious as it is unsettling and atrocious to see onscreen, considering the gaggle of misogynistic perverts and cold-blooded murderers here are all punctuated with hammy scripts, cheeky bad acting and horrendous fashion choices. It's pretty much a low budget work of black humor littered with depraved horror scenes of suicides, deadly tortures and violent assaults, not to mention an abundance of homoerotic undertones with a lot of the evil frat boys beef caking themselves in nothing but tighty-whities (can't say I'm surprised. The production company behind this is called Screamkings), all of it garishly risible fun in that absurdly shabby and ghastly B-flick horror way and it continues to do so once the plot transitions into a revenge-driven slasher.

As a bodycounter, Frat House Massacre (2008) does take its fair strides along the classic slasher build of stalking and slaying victims, even adding a couple of makeshift traps out of rope and sharp barnyard tools for a small taste of variety, though it's around the third act wherein our frat boys throw a disco party that things got real messy in a semi-good way; from there, looking past the cringey dance moves and cotton-candy lighting, it's deathporn galore as our mostly unseen killer hacks and stabs their way through random party-goers, shrieking disco queens and the good ole' Delta Iota Espilon boys, gradually filling every scene with a nice balance of offscreen murders and onscreen carnage, living up to the titular massacre with as much blood, gore and strewn corpses as possible that it's over the top and deliriously campy. A few good points here include a lovely tribute to a kill seen in The Hitcher (1986) and the plot finding a way to keep the killer's identity not too unambiguous which is always a good move, though what kinda nicked the experience here is that there isn't really that much likable characters to root for, not much explanation was given to the supernatural plot device that came out of nowhere and the kills can get a tad repetitive after a while, especially considering the film runs a lengthy cut of almost two hours! Thankfully, these do very little to dent what's basically an absurd story to begin with, thus barely hindering the entertainment factor of the film, if not adding to the zaniness of it all.

Donning a groovy late 70s look and a tone matching the crazy days of grindhouse cinema, I cannot deny a good fright film when I see one and Frat House Massacre (2008) certainly fits the bill despite being a tad rocky at some parts. Qualms aside, this is a good example of a throwback slasher rife with exploitative charm, a decent revenge set-up and a generous serving of the warm red, just a hell of a fun ride if you're looking for a cheesy campus bloodbath! 

1 male had his wrist and throat cut with a razor
1 male shot in the mouth
1 male forcefed with water, drowned
2 males inhale poisoned vapors
1 female knifed in the mouth
1 male had his head impaled against a room heater
1 male dropped head-first unto a pitchfork
1 male impaled on a sickle blade
1 male brained with a brick
1 female beaten to death
1 male knifed in the gut
1 male seen with throat wound
1 female knifed
1 male seen dying from knife wound
1 male seen dead
1 male seen with throat cut
1 female seen dead
1 victim seen dead
1 victim seen dead
1 male gutted with a knife
2 females impaled on a thrown machete
1 female hacked on the throat with an axe
1 male hacked to death with an axe
2 males and 2 female seen dead
1 male seen dead from stab wounds
1 male knifed to death
1 male tied between cars, torn in half
2 males found dead
1 male knifed in the jaw, bled to death
7 victims seen dead
1 male had his eye gouged, knifed to death
1 female knifed in the gut
1 male had his throat cut with a knife
1 male knifed in the back, throat crushed
1 female killed with an axe offscreen
Total: 47

Sunday, November 6, 2022

You are (Not) Enough: Sissy (2022)

Sissy (Australia, 2022)
Rating: ****
Starring: Aisha Dee, Hannah Barlow and Emily De Margheriti

Ah, influencers. People who built enough reputation for their knowledge and expertise on certain topics, guiding and engaging enthusiastic masses who look up to them for creative inspiration, authenticity and, once in a while, envy and consumerism. In today's social and traditional media, almost anyone can become an influencer so long as they put enough work to it and this may or may not include putting on a happy face to cover up something... broken.

Running an online wellness channel called Sincerely Cecilia, Cecilia spends her days in front of a camera promoting positivity and self-worth (while throwing in the occasional product placement) to her hundreds of thousands of adoring followers, all of who are unaware that once the camera goes off, their beloved influencer is simply depressed and miserable in life, living alone in a messy apartment watching TV and eating pizza. One day, however, Cecilia found herself bumping into Emma, a childhood friend she lost contact with all these years, and this chance meeting reignited a feeling of warmness and belonging she haven't felt for so long as tries to reconnect with her good friend emotionally. It all goes on a good start with Emma inviting Cecilia to her and her soon-to-be-wife Fran's bachelorette party and the two buddies actually having a swell time, but once Emma invites Cecilia to a weekend getaway far off near the woods with her friends and girlfriend, things just got way awkward and intense.

The house they'll be staying at happens to be owned by Alex, who bullied Cecilia as a kid and holds a spiteful grudge against the awkward girl for something she did to her years ago. Pissed at the fact Emma tagged along Cecilia without her knowledge, Alex goes out of the way to belittle her unwanted guest, mocking her profession and insultingly calling her by her childhood nickname, 'Sissy'. Cecilia, in turn, gets dangerously stressed from the attacks, starting to feel more and more unwanted and out of place from such a close friend group, but strives to do her best putting up a brave face and making amends with old enemies. But it ain't all as easy as it sounds and it isn't long before push comes to shove and bodies start dropping dead like flies.  

Taking cues from Lucky McKee's horror drama May (2002) and the depressing, Ryan Reynold-led dark comedy Voices (2014), Sissy (2022) settles itself as a darkly satirical character drama taking a stab at influencer culture, looking into modern day addictions of weighing one's worth through feedbacks of countless strangers behind digital icons at the cost of one's ability to actually grow as a person and move past familiar comfort and misplaced longing. Cecilia, brilliantly acted here by Ashia Dee, lives by a mantra in which she is loved, special and enough and preaches to her followers that they are, too, loved, special and enough. This, sadly, is hypocritical on her part as the further we go down the rabbit hole, the more we see that she never sincerely feels this way about herself and she constantly struggles to keep up with this well-off guru image in real life. It's a sad sympathetic sight, one that effectively humanizes the character despite her flaws, and the movie does a wonderful job incorporating her rose-colored wistfulness throughout the more depressing and horrific moments to come, including an upbeat yet melancholic score and brightly stylized visuals that are meant to reflect Cecilia's mindset. The film, though, isn't shy on knocking its own drama down a notch to keep itself from being too serious and dark, setting a good level of quirk within the madness with little odd scenes like Cecilia setting up some arts-and-crafts on a fresh grave to make it social media-friendly, as well as posting a quick video of positive reinforcement after braining someone with an amethyst crystal.

On that note, the tone gets devilishly humorous in its whimsy once the bodycount starts rising, even getting a honest laugh out of me when Sissy (2022) throws in a "useless cop" trope in which a rotund fella in uniform mistaken a call for a drunk dial only for them to realize it's a genuine cry for help seconds before the caller's phone dies. This mid-point turn for the more conventional and grisly slasher romp does end up casting aside the film's complex character-driven direction and themes involving bullying and trauma, but I find it hard to be displeased when the resulting carnage is mostly satisfactory and interesting; instead of being straight-up murders, a good deal of the slayings here often resemble accidental deaths that Cecilia inadvertently caused or simply let happen. (I say a good deal because, well, we did have that one incident with the car...) It doesn't appear she wanted to outright murder everyone on sight, but the lengths she goes to keep her image as a misunderstood yet well-meaning person during the slaughter do lean on the horrific and evil, so the story still manages to be an intriguing watch as mess upon mess leads to more carnage, straight up until its caustic yet satisfyingly gory finale.

A small gem of a slasher, Sissy (2022) is both a compelling run as a character piece and a bonafide gruesome treat that serves its dose of blood and gore. It may be a tad spotty with its tone and, perhaps, sacrificed a few good notes for shock value but, at the end of it all, it's a fine viewing should you see yourself looking for a bodycounter with a little more substance and meat to it.

1 male pushed off a cliff, mangled 
1 female had her hair caught on a full bathtub's drain stopper, scalped and drowned
1 female ran over with a car, head crushed
1 female had her head repeatedly beaten and crushed with a walking stick
1 female shot through the head
Total: 5

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Drop on By The Clown Cafe: Terrifier 2 (2022)

Terrifier 2 (2022)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Lauren LaVera, David Howard Thornton and Jenna Kanell

If you've been following all of director Damien Leone's filmography, then you'll know that whenever a certain pointy-nosed mime who goes by "Art The Clown" appears, it's bound to be a splatterpunk's wet dream at its most nihilistic and sadistic. And so on that note, here we are back for round two of Art's own picture deal wherein he terrorizes yet another Halloween night, leaving mutilations, gore-filled torture and traumatic deaths wherever he walks.

Picking off a year after the events of the first film, wherein Art stalked, brutalized and massacred a number of people at Miles County, it's Halloween once again and the town simply wanted to move past that horrific night, despite the lingering question as to whether the face-painted maniac is really dead or not since his body disappeared right after it got carted to a local morgue and the coroner attending the supposed stiff ended up as a corpse himself. With this, Art has become the local boogeyman but, unfortunately for the timid town of Miles County, he is very much alive and kicking through supernatural means and he's going to further cement his reputation as the stuff of nightmares as he prepares for another night of senseless murders and bloody bodycount, tagging along a mysterious creepy pale clown girl who is seemingly visible only to a few and acts as his little partner-in-crime.

Elsewhere, artistic teenager Sienna Shaw and her geeky, horror-loving younger brother Jonathan are still dealing with the loss of their father who offed himself some time ago. It appears the two have found themselves under Art's radar somehow, with Sienna encountering him in a dream in which he slays the cast and crew of a nonsensical show (with an earworm-inducing theme song) before setting everything on fire, an attack that somehow also sets Sienna's costume ablaze and nearly burning down the house. Jonathan, in turn, spots him at School playing with a dead possum, a sick act that got the boy suspended after he's mistaken to be the one responsible for the mess. As the Shaw household gets rockier with all the unnerving mishaps piling up, the closer Art draws near on getting his hands on these two, but not before ending a few of the siblings' friends, family and random bystanders left and right in the most brutally grotesque ways.

With an outrageous running time of two hours and eighteen minutes (?!), Terrifier 2 (2022) aims to upstage its predecessor by any means possible and it succeeds at this to a degree in terms of plotting and brutality; while the original Terrifier (2017) is basically just our crazed clown stalking and killing people from point A to point B in a it-goes-wherever-it-goes-flow, the sequel does take it time to focus on its protagonists and build the plot around them and their hinted connection to Art and his new ghoulish little girl cohort. It works in a way that the Shaw siblings are written realistically and acted magnificently by Lauren LaVera and young Elliott Fullam, though the execution of the potential lore behind who or what Art The Clown might be, as well as his ties to the Shaws might divide some folks and their need to satisfy a budding curiosity. It's already a given matter that something supernatural is at foot the moment Art survived shooting his own head and then walking it off to kill more people at the same night, but the way this is further implemented into the film can feel a little clumsy, adding in more bits and pieces that doesn't really go anywhere except making the movie unnecessarily confusing and long. 

For one, it's suggested here that the Shaw patriarch have some sort of link to the clown's massacres as news clippings and sketches of familiar murders were seen inside his sketchbook, implementing that his mental decline and eventual suicide could have been more than just a mere case of depression. This, sadly, was never uttered again nor any no solid conclusion was even given, but this is chicken feed compared to the Deux Ex Machina moment wherein, without spoiling much, a weapon suddenly gains the ability to revive and heal just because it was proposed to be significant earlier on. Where and how did this even happened? Don't bother. It was in a dead man's sketchbook so I guess we're supposed to roll with it.

Bloated and patchy story aside, you can at least safely bet that Terrifier 2 is still a brutal film to sit through when it comes to its kills, probably even more as it delves quite close into torture porn territory; rather than giving us quick-cut yet gory slayings and maybe one or two extreme murders to be imprinted into our inner gorehound, this sequel opted to prolong the suffering and gruesome display as Art (still the amazing David Howard Thornton) brutalizes his victims either to death or after, all the while still being horridly playful in his body language, to the point that it's effectively unnerving. One horrifying visage, for example, have an unfortunate gal getting savaged with surgical scissors and scalpel, her scalp and limbs torn off before being tortured with salt and bleach, all for it to end with her mother finding a nightmarish scene that even I didn't expect. Corpses get fed with mashed potatoes in front of loved ones, heads are used as candy bowls for Trick or Treating, chests were pried to get a beating heart to munch on, yes, Terrifier 2 outdid itself in intense gore and traumatic horror. It's bound to upset a lot of stomachs, though probably at the cost of padding the running time a little more than needed.

To be frank, however, it is around the last thirty minutes that the film really started to fizzle dry as, again, for a film clocking two and a quarter hours, we're practically treated with an overly long climax where we simply watch a cycle of stalking, stabbing, fighting and fake-out deaths between Sienna and Art. It became repetitive and drawn out at this point, with hardly to no surprises to reward our patience apart from more weird nightmare logic, macabre visions and a random power-up, all topped with an expected sequel bait that's as grisly and messy as it is peculiar and darkly hilarious. It is here were we can certainly tell the movie as a whole could have benefitted with a trim or two behind the editing room, giving us more of an engaging narrative than the resulting product here.

I can unquestionably respect the strive done to give something bigger, badder and better for the Terrifier franchise, but sometimes it is best to keep things simple, if not humble. If you can look past its the downcast aim for a story and overindulgent last act, Terrifier 2 is just as entertainingly savage as the first film and (patient) fans of extreme horror, grindhouse splatter and B-grade slashers can definitely get a kick out of the paramount of a massacre that is this movie!

1 male gets a broken mop handle through the head offscreen
8 males and 6 female shot dead with a tommy gun (dream)
1 male set ablaze with a blowtorch (dream)
1 female seen with a wounded hand, killed (dream)
1 male seen on fire (dream)
1 boy found dead from tainted cereal (dream)
1 male hacked on the head with a cleaver, decapitated
1 female scalped and slaughtered to death with surgical scissors and a scalpel 
1 female seen decapitated
1 female had her head blown off with a shotgun
1 male repeatedly knifed on the groin, castrated
1 female pulverized with a blade-studded table leg
Total: 25*

(*I did not count the coroner's death as I already counted it back at my Terrifer (2017) review. As much as I want to detail here how the poor shmuck died, I don't want to be redundant just for the sake of good gore.) 

Monday, October 31, 2022

It All Ends Now: Halloween Ends (2022)

Halloween Ends (2022)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Andi Matichak and James Jude Courtney

Remember Randy's Rules of The Trilogy from Scream 3 (2000)? The killer who's going to be superhuman, anyone (including the main character) can die and the past will come back to bite someone in the ass? Well, Halloween Ends (2022) followed most of these trappings and you would expect that the resulting product is going to be one heck of a showdown as Laurie Strode and Michael Myers epic duke out for one more Halloween night, but it looks like the people behind this trilogy have other plans for us. Unexpectedly different, subversive plans.

It's been four years since Michael Myers returned to Haddonfield after his capture back in 1978, once again leaving nothing but death and destruction at All Hallows Eve. Despite the town's best effort to stop and end him, Michael simply disappeared into the night, leaving the town shaken and broken into a paranoid and grieving state. Laurie Strode, who spent the last forty-plus years as a survivor-turned-gun-totting survivalist preparing for the boogeyman's return, tries to move on and focus on living a more fulfilling life away from the hate and fear that once ruled her, sharing a new house with her surviving granddaughter Allyson and doing her best to be a good doting grandmother. Her efforts, sadly, constantly comes down with a hobble as some of the townsfolk blames her for Michael's bloody rampage, claiming that she invoked his wrath and none of the trouble would have started if she just left him alone.

To be tangled in this web of blame and hate is one Corey who, after accidentally killing a child he's babysitting years ago, became one of the town's social pariah, frequently bullied and looked down upon. Laurie found him getting confronted by a gang of highschoolers one day and steps in to his defense and the two bonds over the fact that they're seen as Haddonfield's outcasts. Eventually, Laurie introduced Corey to Allyson and the young ones quickly develop a budding romance, but the town's constant attack against him and his past deeds seems a bit too much for Corey to handle healthily as he starts to fight back, lash out against those who cared for him and, well, found another figure to look up to.

After a bar night gone wrong, Corey ended up storming off on his own and fighting the same gang of bullies from before. A scuffle broke and he falls off a bridge, only to be dragged into the sewers by none other than Michael Myers in hiding. But instead of ending the boy, Michael sensed some sort of understanding to Corey's plight and lets him live. Corey, rightfully frightened, scurries away from the boogeyman only to be heckled by a unhinged homeless man living nearby, threatening to harm him. This became the straw that broke he camel's back and Corey got his first taste of murder as he kills the hobo with their own knife, a taste that he will continue to yearn for as he and Michael forms a murderous duo, ending everyone who caused him grievance, all the while juggling to keep this a secret as he further romances Allyson into joining him and his plans to leave Haddonfield, much to Laurie's growing concern and suspicions. 

If we are to forget that this here is a Halloween movie, and a supposed finale to a trilogy even, Halloween Ends (2022) is an interesting watch. Less of a hack-a-thon full of oddball characters and outrageously grandeur situations, the film holds itself pretty nicely as a study on trauma and melancholic bonding, a look into how violent crimes can affect different types of individuals as they go about living a sense of normalcy in their lives, as well as how a community sees and act against those they deem as undesirables. It's effectively downbeat and somber, tragic even as we're basically watching someone who wants nothing more than to live his life without being constantly reminded of a tragic mistake they've done in the past getting pelted with abuse upon abuse to the point that they're corrupted, a story that I'm sure would have worked well better if this was an altogether different movie. Or at least as a Halloween TV series spin-off. (I mean, c'mon, Chucky's doing it!)

Because of Halloween End's stronger focus on Corey's lumber down into becoming Haddonfield's next top murderer, it doesn't become a slasher film until halfway into the movie after Corey and Michael took on a victim as a team. In fact, Michael is somewhat reduced to a side character role here as he's only there aiding boogeyman jr. for one more kill before Corey decided to upstage his mentor, steal his mask and opted to go on a personal killing spree before ultimately going after Laurie strode. It is then that Michael and Laurie got their final fight, which could have been grander if it was built up to better, or if it at least went on more differently than just Michael and Laurie fighting around a kitchen for around five minutes. No sense of dread, nor a sense of enigma. Just a hardened final girl fighting a seemingly weakened monster, ending with a rather overly simple death and a strong suggestion that this is the last we've seen of Michael Myers. (Unless, Michael can resurrect himself through a dog's flaming piss or something...)

Among other little mishandlings here and there, the film's romantic subplot between Corey and Allyson didn't work too well for me for the reason that it fails to develop from its decent start. I like the fact that it all started with Laurie taking a shine to the boy as she understands a bit of the rough patch he's at and it's rather adorable that Corey and Allyson got smitten with one another as soon as they're paired off. Should the plot have taken the time to develop their romance and not just rush everything into bit-sized phases that highlights the toxicity of a crooked relationship, it wouldn't have been as contrived and lackluster as it ended up being. 

Still, for our trouble's worth, Halloween Ends at least delivered an alright looking production and fairly good kills. Comparing this to Kill's avant garde brutality, though, Ends opted to commit a more standardized cluster of murders through simple knife stabbings and offscreen slayings, but there are a few that does stand out for me, such as the bullies' scrapyard massacre and a home invasion tag team wherein Corey wore an impressively creepy scarecrow mask which, sadly, goes underused. (First the gauze covering from Return of Michael Myers, then the papier-mâché' pumpkin mask from Rob Zombie's version, now the bloodstained kiddie scarecrow mask here, what is up with Halloween movies ditching the cooler looking masks?) Whenever the movie wanted to show off some gore, however, I can gladly say it doesn't disappoint, not with its fair helping of gnarly make-up effects and juicy splatter.

Halloween Ends (2022), as a whole, is a mix of good, mediocre and underwhelming baggage. It has ideas well worth to take a stab at, some good angles to approach even, just not as the last entry to a reboot trilogy featuring one of horror's iconic slasher villains. As a supposed finale, it's simply ended the saga (About the fourth one at that, I believe) with a small pop and a fizzle, but I'll be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it. A somewhat fascinating watch for both wrong and right reasons.

1 boy falls to his death
1 male and 1 female found shot on the head
1 female found hanged
1 male stabbed to death with a buck knife
1 male knifed to death
1 male found smothered with a plastic sheet, stabbed in the neck with a corkscrew
1 female pinned to a wall with a knife
1 male found stabbed in the eye with a drum stick
1 female brained with a wrench 
1 male shot on the head with a rifle
1 male had his mouth scorched with a blowtorch
1 female had her head stomped
1 female killed with a knife (offscreen)
1 female murdered, method unknown
1 male had his head repeatedly beaten until jaws broke
1 male knifed in the throat, neck broken
1 male repeatedly stabbed, throat and wrist cut with a knife
Total: 18

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Carving More Than Pumpkins: Carver (2015)

Carver (2015)
Rating: ***
Starring: Lea Davis, Mark Ryan Anderson and Alex Tordi

So this is another movie that's been under my radar ever since I heard about it; apparently this little number was directed and co-written by a then-preteen horror fan named Emily DiPrimio and looking into it, the movie certainly shows. Whether that's a good or a bad thing may depend on how well you can swallow a low-budget throwback slasher cheapie but I can assure you, dear readers, that it does have its cheesy little charm.

The scene starts at Halloween, 2007; young Silas Cochran and Penny Doyle was just walking home when a group of obnoxious kids try to bully them into handing over the XBox they won from a pumpkin carving contest. The confrontation leads to a chase in the woods and poor Silas and Penny ended up falling into a pit, which the kids accidentally caused and swore to keep quite about. 

Skip ahead eight years later and it's Halloween once again; Silas and Penny's disappearance is considered by the town as an unsolved tragedy and the kids responsible for it are now young adults who have done their best to hide their involvement, albeit on a varying degree. Most of them went on to make up the town's prized football team, while one became a creepy outcast who keeps a lot to himself, but all will soon find out that their little secret have caught up to them as someone's leaving them pumpkins with the same creepy clown carved into it and a cloaked figure with a pumpkin mask is seen skulking around town, slaughtering people with a sickle...

Done under the estimated budget of $30,000, Carver (2015) is honestly a decent throw for a slasher movie despite suffering the same mishaps and trappings one would expect from a low cost production; the writing is hammy and predictable at its best, the cornball acting can be stiff at times and the camera work can definitely use some more tweaking, but the pacing is steady, the direction has focus and, most importantly, the film isn't shy on giving us a generous amount of splatter. It's not gonna break any new grounds, but for what it is able to achieve, it is at least fun in a hokey B-grade slasher way and, hell, it even manages to workably throw itself into sudden grim territories as we eventually find out what happened to the two kids who fell into the pit and, oh boy, it's dark. Like, unnervingly dark. And tragic.

Clocking over only an hour and fifteen minutes (credits included), Carver (2015) is a small yet passable slice of humble slasher pie, one that is a little rough on the edges and has a little whiff of cheese on the side, but a true labor of horror love from an emerging talent, nonetheless. 

1 female shot through the head
1 male had his throat cut with a sickle
1 female hacked on the head with a sickle
1 female hacked on the head with a sickle
1 male stabbed in the chest with a sickle
1 male gutted with a sickle
1 male gets a sickle through the jaw
1 female had her throat cut with a sickle
1 male strangled with a bead necklace
1 male slashed across with a sickle
1 male had his throat cut with a sickle
1 boy dies from injuries sustained from a fall (flashback)
1 male hacked to death with a sickle (flashback)
1 female hacked on the neck with an axe
1 female hacked on the gut with a sickle
Total: 15

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Should've Stuck With The Landing: Bring It On: Cheer Or Die (2022)

Bring It On: Cheer or Die (2022)
Rating: **
Starring: Kerri Medders, Alten Wilmot and Sierra Holder

Let me get it out there first that this is my first Bring it On movie. I mean, I know about the existence of this two decade-old cheerleading teen comedy franchise, but raising school spirits with pom-poms and backflips never really struck my fancy so I never bothered with it until, that is, I heard it's gonna throw a slasher horror curveball unto itself. What can I say? I'm a curious creature and a slasher completist to boot, so who am I to devoid myself of such oddity? That being said, I'm going to cover this title as a standalone slasher hookum, rather than an entry to the whole Bring It On hullabaloo.

The film opens with a regional cheerleading competition back at 2002 where a couple of snooty Elk Moore High Diablos cause the death of another member during a human pyramid maneuver, leading to high risk stunts being banned from the school's cheer programs. Flashforward to the present day and Diablo cheer captains Abby (Kerri Medders) and McKayla (Tiera Skovbye) petition for the return of these risky yet exciting stunts in hopes of winning that year's regionals, but stickler of a Principal Simmons (Missi Pyle) is determined to keep playing everything safe, so much so that she threatens dire consequences to whoever will be caught even trying a single Toe Touch.

Thinking of a way to defy Simmons' grave little warnings, the Diablos captains and the rest of the cheer group cook up a plan to secretly use one of the school system's unused and abandoned buildings to hone their cheerleading skills over Halloween weekend, unaware that someone donning the Elk Moore High's devilish mascot suit awaits them there, with a murders in mind...

Practically, Bring It On: Cheer Or Die (2022) strolls along the formulaic paint-by-number teen slasher path, a rundown of the most basic of basic plotlines of one to two dimensional victims-to-be getting trapped in a location, hunted down my a masked maniac through an assortment of sharp and pointy things. It's predictable in its shallowest, a fact that doesn't help it's lack of noteworthy bloodshed, thrilling scares or truly any exploitative elements due to its PG-13 direction, making Cheer or Die almost relatively harmless as a bodycount horror attempt, a cheap dulled edge that only kinda works thanks to some hammy self-intrusive writing and cheesy scenes here and there. Given that the movie tweaked its approach and found an angle to focus on, maybe work in some splashier kills, a more compelling whodunnit or even go all out with the horror-comedy aspect considering the film had our squad using their cheerleader abilities to evade and cause harm, or our killer offering chances to live in exchange of perfectly landing a stunt, I can sincerely say that this film could've given us something more fresh and exciting than the overly familiar popcorn flick we ended up with here. 

Frankly, Cheer or Die can be a tolerably watchable and maybe even a bit fun if you're not in a demanding mood, but it wouldn't surprise me much if hardly anyone bothers to bring this up in conversation. Creative concept with a lackluster execution? Yeah, quite a shame...

1 female falls off from a human pyramid, neck broken
1 female smothered to death with a cheerleading pom-pom
1 female strangled with a blood-pressure cuff, hand cut off with a paper guillotine
1 female brained to death with a toilet seat
1 male hacked on the back with an axe, dies from injuries
1 male gets a TV dropped unto his head, electrocuted
1 male shot on the head with an arrow
1 male found hanged on a noose with a knife in his head
1 female had her throat slashed with a spade
1 male gets a thrown javelin through his side
1 female ran over with a bus
Total: 11

Thursday, October 6, 2022

A Legend's Ornery Return: Jeepers Creepers: Reborn (2022)

Jeepers Creepers: Reborn (2022)
Rating: **
Starring: Gary Graham, Dee Wallace and Timo Vuorensola

It's been five years since the last Jeepers Creepers film hit celluloid and, my God, seeing how that movie was a trainwreck of underwhelming dumb proportions with its mediocre production value, insanely stupid writing and mind-numbingly boring characters, the less we talk about that garbage, the better. In fact, why not soft-reboot the entire infamous franchise without Victor Salva (Thank God. Screw that child-molesting son of a bitch!) and instead have Finnish director Timo Vuorensola take the goddamn wheel, toss in some new mythos material and gorier kills, all done under the budget of a 2000s SyFy channel movie. What could possibly go right?!

Reborn opens with a recreation of the original's opening scare as a creeper rides their beaten-up "BEATINGU" truck down a lonesome road, terrorizing an elderly couple (guest starring Dee Wallace!) who just happen to be driving there. The encounter turns South when the two old folks later spot the creeper next to an abandoned church and dumping what appears to be bodies wrapped in sheets into a pipe. Knowing they cannot just ignore this gruesome discovery, these elderly souls would later take a quick gander down that same pipe and they "never been seen since...", or so says the narrator of this episode of Macabre Mysteries, one that horror geek Chase (Imran Adams) is a big fan of considering he's a obsessed with all things "Creeper".

Yes, in this film's universe, The Creeper is a well-known legend (a cryptid, if you may) that is said to haunt a certain part of Louisiana, awakening every twenty-third Spring to kill and feast on humans for twenty-three days before going dormant and repeating this cycle. The creature inspired TV shows, movies (I think it was titled 'Creepy Creeper' or something. And they made three of them...) and horror events including, much to Chase's excitement, an escape room hosted by a Horror Hound convention which he and his more scientifically grounded girlfriend Laine (Sydney Craven) are driving to. As the couple go about their evening enjoying the festivities of game booths, sword swallowers, roasted muttons and that one guy pranking people with a fake arrow through the chest, we see THE Creeper crawl out of an abandoned house, dress up, arm themselves to the teeth and ride its trusty rusty truck for another twenty three Spring days of feeding and murder.

But it seems it's not the only shady figure in the plot as we see a few people eyeing on Chase and Laine, talking about a "tree-bearing fruit" and rigging the escape room event to make sure our unsuspecting couple are among the chosen participants. Could they be in cahoots with The Creeper? Well, considering one of them owns a shop full of Creeper memorabilia, that would be a resounding 'yes'. But why, you ask? Well. Because. Cult stuff. Involving babies.

So like Michael Myers and his "Thorn Cult" movies back at the late 80s and 90s, Jeepers Creepers: Reborn plays with the idea of expanding the monster's universe by introducing human followers who may have a hand on its killing spree and meaty munchables over the years, an added lore that, frankly, I'm at odds with; I understand that this movie is supposed to act as both a meta spin-off and a reintroduction into the franchise, so a fresh new take on the monster is something to be considered as a welcomed opportunity to improve, if not at least stand out. Disappointingly, the attempted cult elements here didn't do much for me as the cultist's goals are so vague, it's almost non-existent, borderline unnecessary. Yes, it is hinted that whatever it is they're doing with The Creeper has something to do with a baby, but that's all to it. Just hints. Write the cult stuff off along with all the spooky visions and gory shrines and we could've still gotten a basic yet still manageable monster/slasher hybrid of The Creeper just being himself, still this mysterious winged and thorny humanoid that grows back body parts by eating "replacements" out from the victims it kills. (Though it did gain a new power here: his whistles are now painful to hear!) Perhaps it's done this way to act as a sort of 'hook' for possible future sequels, keep the audience on their toes as they wonder where this "Creeper Cathedral" act will lead to, but I'm sure as hell there could have been implemented way better than this half-ass swing on the concept.

Unfortunately, this isn't the only gripe I got with this movie; as mentioned, the production really shows its budget in a lot of scenes here, namely those involving CG effects as it all look abysmal (Wow, that albino crow sure looks so life-like with its digitally rendered pixeled feathers, eh?) and a few wherein greenscreen is obviously used as a backdrop. (Yeah, kinda hard to feel any scary vibes when a shot looked like real people standing next to a CG cartoon background) Make-up done for The Creeper also took a slight nosedive as, comparing it to the original three films, it looked awfully stiffer and more rubbery, looking a whole lot more like a mask. Say farewell to him being expressively "flirty" with its victims, I guess, and say hello to constantly snarled face with teeth bared.

On the brighter side of things, when it comes to kills and a gore quota, the film do deliver a more monstrous and bloodthirsty Creeper rampage as they go about hacking, stabbing and slicing its victims dead. Sure, it sacrificed suspense, creepy atmosphere and tone, but those looking for a decent deal of splattery slasher action are treated here with more hands-on kills and a chunky body part or two getting strewn around and/or eaten, all done with competent-looking practical effects. The stalk-and-hunt antics inside a dilapidated mansion is executed well enough for that matter, keeping the second act as exciting as a standardized monster flick would be, given that you're patient enough to wait until the forty minute mark to see it, in turn enduring painfully embarrassing visuals and a bunch of uninteresting characters just bawling around and being generic. (Yes, this includes our two main characters. Boring, they are. Really. Hardly anything about them stood out expect, perhaps, Sydney Craven spending the last half of the flick dressed up as Jennifer Check of Jennifer's Body (2009))

I cannot really say that Jeepers Creepers: Reborn (2022) is as bad as Jeepers Creepers 3 (2017) as Reborn at least tries to have a consistent and competent story, and too a more serviceable round of murder and grue, but I cannot find it in my blackened heart to say that this is also a good film, either. You could watch it if you like, but you're not gonna miss much if you do opted to skip this. Personally, just stick with the original Jeepers Creepers (2001) and it's 2003 sequel and you're still set for a good time!

1 male killed offscreen
1 male hung unto a meathook, gets bone throwing stars to the chest
1 male killed offscreen, later found disemboweled
1 female gets a thrown battle axe to the head
1 male pinned in the gut with a thrown sharpened plank
1 male falls to his death
Total: 6

Thursday, September 15, 2022

A Cold Child's Beginning: Orphan: First Kill (2022)

Orphan: First Kill (2022)
Rating: ***
Starring: Isabelle Fuhrman, Julia Stiles and Rossif Sutherland

While not entirely a mainstream classic, 2009's Orphan set itself to be a fun and memorable take on the killer kid subgenre that mostly played by the rules and acted out established tropes, all the while also toying with them until its rather unforeseen twist that earned this movie's cult fave status among fans. Now, we see ourselves going back for another round of terror tyke horrors and thrills as Orphan: First Kill (2022) explores what went on two years prior to the events of the first film, which turns out to be quite a deranged ride when it turns out our titular murderous orphan isn't the only monster out there.

Set in 2007, we follow Leena Klammer (Isabelle Fuhrman), a disturbed but manipulative adult woman afflicted with a rare hormonal disorder that have her appearing as a nine year old child, orchestrate her escape from an Estonian psychiatric institute by murdering anybody that got in her way. She soon arrives in American soil by posing as a girl named Esther Albright, who have been missing since 2003, charmingly ingratiating herself into the child's wealthy Connecticut family after they were notified of her reappearance. 

Philanthropist wife Tricia, however, immediately doubts the possibility of this girl being her long lost daughter due to Esther's noticeably new European accent and the fact that the child can't remember important details from her life before she went missing. Inspector Donnan, the detective who investigated Esther's disappearance, also suspects something off with this whole picture and starts looking into the case again. As these little inconveniences pile up into a jeopardizing situation for her cover, Leena has no choice but to bump off a body or two, but what she didn't expect is a little assistance from an unexpected player and an interesting position that may or may not go in her favor...

Comparing this to the original's semi-serious tone, Orphan: First Kill leans towards a cheesier fanfare instead of re-hashing the first film's sober song and dance, serving up a level of outrageous camp and an outlandishly ludicrous twist to boot through a direction that wisely tampered with our expectations. It's an approach that works well enough to keep everyone on their toes and, for some parts, it even allows the narrative to explore dimensions within its titular villain that weren't touched touched upon or were just hinted back at Orphan (2009). The choice to have Fuhrman reprise her role as Esther, for one, does induce genuine chuckles as the cheesiness of the character's trait being an adult posing as a child is more obvious now considering the actress is currently in her 20s, but seeing there's hardly a secret regarding the character's true age, not only do we get to see her more openly evil light as a manic mini psychopath (just watch her take a big swig at some wine and play a piano while her hands are bloodied from a fresh kill!) but this also led to the film allowing her to dish out bloodier murders that embraced the franchise's bodycount-friendly premise.

The only drawback, sadly, is that the overall production took a dip down in quality. The entire thing looks and feels like a TV movie, with a strange white tinting that kinda comes distracting for me and a lot of uninspired camera work. The acting from the remaining casts feels rather subpar, though Julia Stiles as Tricia Albright did manage to strike an entertaining stride midpoint into the film once it's made clear that Esther isn't the only dangerous person in the household. And speaking of, there were a lot of opportunities for the film to go a little more crazy with the neat twist it pulled, chances wherein we could have seen Esther really tough it out seeing she's going toe-to-toe against some nasty people, but with it being done halfway into the movie, it all just felt compressed and maybe even a little rushed. Nothing that bad, though. To be frank, it's all still serviceable, but I can't help but think that if the twist came in a little sooner, we could have gotten more drama and intrigue from two sociopaths butting heads!

Looking past its lack of workable scares and polish, Orphan: First Kill at least offers a worthwhile fun with its silly yet committed premise. It may not hit its mark right all the time, but if you're in a mood for some popcorn-lite B-grade horror thriller made to be entertainingly corny, then this one's an okay candidate.

1 male had his head repeatedly bashed against a wall
1 male beaten to death with a billy club
1 female beaten to death with a tire iron
1 male repeatedly knifed, shot to death
1 male shot with a crossbow, stabbed to death with a lapier
1 female falls to her death
1 male pushed, falls to his death
Total: 7

Friday, August 12, 2022

Just A Couple Of Dummies: The Dummy (1995) and The Dummy (2000) Double Bill Review

From the titular Devil Doll of 1964 to Slappy of R.L. Stine's Goosebumps franchise, ventriloquist dummies have been a minor staple of horror media, tapping into the pediophobic creepiness of the dolls' uncanny valley looks. Entrust this trope to capable hands and we'll get horror cult classics like Magic (1978) and Dead Silence (2007) treating us to a chilling good time. On the other side of the coin, the more clumsy low budget side, we'll unfortunately get messes such as these instead...

The Dummy (1995)
Rating: *
Starring: Lisa Cook, Todd Jason Cook and Sabrina Cook

Directed and starring Todd Jason Cook, who I'm sure a few of you reading this would know as the same guy who brought us underground cult films like Evil Night (1992), Death Metal Zombies (1995) and Zombiefied (2012), this shlock starts with a newlywed couple visiting a gypsy psychic for laughs and insulting her readings. This obviously enrages the woman, so she casts a death curse upon them and calls forth a demonic ventriloquist dummy to end the couple as well as basically anyone they come across. The rest of the story is practically a rinse-repeat cycle of the couple visiting, getting visited or receiving a phone call from friends and relatives, only for those folks to get attacked and slaughtered by the killer dummy while heavy metal plays in the background, up until only the newlyweds are left for the dummy to terrorize.

As one can expect from a shot on video Z-grade flick, The Dummy (1995) has the production quality of an aged moldy peanut with grainy and dull camera work, an uninspired repetitive direction and appalling audio quality. The characters are outrageously hammy and their dialogues are equally dim, unsurprisingly, and the killer dummy itself is practically just a dummy getting wiggled around while kitchenware is taped or glued on their hands. I will say at least that the hokey gore effects have a little sense of cheesy charm to them, coming fact that there's some effort made to make them as gruesome as possible, but there's only so much random people talking and doing crap on low budget standard that I could take before a boring movie absolutely shoots down any interest I have with it. 

If anything, the whole dreck is more of a collection of kill scenes held together by a very thin and unremarkable excuse of a story, trailing along the creepy killer doll fad that's ineptly and, dare I even say, hilariously executed here. Fans of extremely low-budget do-it-yourself horror flicks may have a fair time enjoying this, but for the rest of us, this one might be a difficult fling to sit through...

1 male stabbed in the eye with a dagger
1 female repeatedly slashed with a knife, stabbed in the mouth
1 male had his throat cut with a dagger
1 male whipped on the face with a length of chain
1 female stabbed in the gut with a dagger
1 male stabbed in the throat with a dagger
1 male shot on the head
1 male stabbed in the knife (dream)
1 female had her throat cut with a knife (dream)
1 male ran through with a fire poker
1 male stabbed in the back with a knife (dream)
1 female hacked on the neck with a machete 
Total: 12

The Dummy (2000)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Keith Singleton, Irina Björklund and Jocelyne Lopez

Saw this one when I was just around a single-digit age and I can clearly say that, after seeing it recently, nostalgia isn't what it used to be with this title.

This little obscurity centers around a ventriloquist named Paul (Keith Singleton, who also happens to be its director, producer and writer!) coming back to his home town and making a career out of his talent at a comedy club after a lengthy 20 year stay at a mental hospital. Things were going as fine as a jittery puppet master could try make it to be, even bringing home a couple of women from the club to sleep with, but it all starts to unravel for the worse when Tommy, his ventriloquist dummy, seemingly comes to life and murders one of his coworkers at the club. The following morning comes and a local snarky entertainment critic bites the big one next with a poisoned blow dart after bashing Paul's performance.

Hearing about these recent deaths, Paul starts to freak out and reaches out to a few people he could trust for help, including a new lady friend who wanted to write a book about people with special conditions and a psychiatrist who treated him back at the ward. It seems this isn't the first time the man had some problems dealing with dead people and he believes all of this has something to do with a few blackouts he have been getting lately, as well as his own foul-mouthed homicidal ventriloquist dummy...

I'll give The Dummy (2000) this; it tries to mold itself as this low budget Hitchcockian stride of hero-antagonists struggling with their dark pasts, a "Jekyll and Hyde" premise coupled with some efforts to deliver genuine suspense and thrills as seen in some scenes such as Paul trying to dispose the body of one of Tommy's victims, and too the few kills that focus more on build-up rather than blood and gore. The whole strive has its potential to be effective but it mostly fails due to the fact that plentiful of the talents involved couldn't act to sell what the movie's offering and the plot itself is just as basic as they could come, very much predictable from the start to finish even with all the red herrings thrown in to try sway us away from figuring things out too soon. You could say it overstayed its implications to what's going on in our lead's head to the point that its little reveal in the end comes to no surprise, in turn leading to a letdown of a finale regardless of whether you see this film as a straight-to-video psychological thriller or a killer doll slasher flick.

It's cinematography is shaky at its worse, lowered down further in quality thanks to this movie's inept editing and uninspired lighting. The only thing The Dummy (2000) would probably be best remembered for is its long gratuitous sex scene between Singleton and Irina Bjorklund, a Finnish Jussi Award winner in her first American movie role, basically handing this film its obligatory B-grade sleaze. Other than that, this film is a rather overly familiar walk down the psychodrama path paired with slasher film bodycounting and risqué business and, honestly, there isn't much you're missing here. In fact, it can get darn tiring if you don't have the patience for ludicrous bargain bin Hitchcockian thrills but should you find yourself curious about this little mess, a word of warning: Avoid the UK DVD release! They zoomed in the whole thing so much that it cropped heads and credits! The US VHS release does fair a tad better, but it is getting shorter in supply...

1 female knifed in the gut
1 male knifed in the neck
1 female knifed to death
1 male shot on the neck with a poison blow dart
1 female hacked to death with an axe
1 male ran through with a spear
Total: 6