Monday, February 21, 2022

A Texas Ghost Town Encounter: Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher and Mark Burnham

It's been a while since we got another timeline for our favorite powertool-wielding, face-wearing Texan, isn't it?

Picking up decades after the original 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre, we follow young entrepreneurs Melody and Dante as they travel to Harlow, a supposedly abandoned Texas town, to auction off its properties to visiting buyers eager to turn the area into a trendy, gentrified haven. Tagged along with them is Dante's girlfriend Ruth and Melody's sister Lila, and things go off on a rather rocky start when, while inspecting an old orphanage, the group discovers it is still occupied by an elderly woman named Virginia who claims she still owns the building. An argument breaks out and ends with cops being called, Virginia's heart acting out from the stress and the last of her ward, a towering silent man, accompanying her as she's taken to a hospital. 

It all goes downhill from here when, while the teens busy themselves with the arriving real estate party, Virginia passes away in her ward's arms, triggering a murderous psychosis in him as it's revealed he's none other than Leatherface, the maniac responsible for the 1973 murders, hiding in plain sight all these years. Now making his way back to Harlow, leaving a trail of bodies behind, Leatherface sets his eyes on slaughtering anyone that comes across his path, this including our doomed little business group and a busload of gentrifying influencers.  

While "legacy sequels" like Halloween (2017) and Candyman (2021) busy themselves expanding the lore of the franchise while trying to do its own thing, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) does little of the world building and more on running a bonafide straightforward B-flick slasher that's only in it for blood, guts and chainsaw carnage.

The plot is fairly simplistic, practically a hack 'n slash horror flick in its bare bones as it centers more on putting Leatherface on a solo villain act, with the rest of the Sawyer clan nowhere to be seen or are even mentioned. Its quick pacing meant the bodycount starts ramping up as soon as our killer Texan could grab hold of something sharp and pointy, and it doesn't stinge on the gore as practical and CG effects meld well here to deliver the gruesome goods, this including a bleak and nihilistic bus scene that will go down as one of slasher history's messiest climax, earning this movie's infamous title. 

These being the case, however, it does mean that writing isn't this film's best forte: with a story that focuses more on a killer and his kills, the rest of the characters hardly have any other personality apart from what they present outward, thus are thin on being interesting and/or likable. Plot holes are ever present, like how exactly Leatherface ended up living with Virginia in her orphanage after the events of the original film or the fact that our maniac is looking pretty sturdy and seemingly bulletproof for someone who's supposedly in their 70s to 80s. (I mean, it's been five decades, man! How is he not shriveled? Or riding a motorized scooter?!) There's also the matter that the film wasted potential elements that could have made this film a bit more engaging by mishandling and/or barely exploring ideas such as the real estate property sale, one of our main character's little history as a school shooting survivor, or having Sally Hardesty, the one who got away from Leatherface's massacre of '73, come back as a ranger grabbing the opportunity to end the monster haunting her all of these years. These little snippets could have been more but, no, they're there for five minutes and nothing else.

A clumsy execution, true, but if you're looking to entertain yourself with a back to basics slasher, these are nothing but small expected misfires. If anything, I'm just glad this film didn't try to reinvent itself much, staying true to the isolated Southern fried tone of the original with gorgeous scenery, worthwhile cinematography and a dash of dark humor to go along its carnal atrocities. (Yeah, let's see how well those social media likes can protect you from a gas powered cutting tool) The onscreen talents are alright despite the simple script and the take on Leatherface here is among the best I've seen for a good long while, an intimidating hulk of muscle and rage under his freshly skinned face mask, though somewhat still sympathetic as you kinda feel for his loss. Shocks and scares also has a genuine attempt here as the direction did play with our expectations a bit, especially around the beginning wherein who to trust and not gets juggled around to a good extent.

To put it short, I really enjoyed this. It's a bodycounter poking holes here and there, but makes up for it with tons of horrific fun meant to satisfy gore hounds and slasher purists. A blood soaked butchery in its sincerest form, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) is a definite keeper!  

1 elderly female suffers through a heart attack
1 male had his hand broken, stabbed in the neck with a bone
7 victims seen dead from a school shooting (flashback)
1 male shot on the neck, brained with an air tank
1 female gutted with a metal shard
1 male hacked and mutilated with a meat cleaver, bled to death
1 male had his neck stabbed unto a window shard, head pulped with a sledgehammer
1 male decapitated with a chainsaw
1 male gutted with a chainsaw
1 male eviscerated with a chainsaw
1 male ran through with a chainsaw
1 male slashed with a chainsaw
1 male sliced down with a chainsaw, leg cut off
1 victim ran down with a chainsaw (mostly offcamera, screams heard)
1 victim slashed with a chainsaw (mostly offcamera, screams heard)
1 male gutted with a chainsaw
1 male ran down with a chainsaw (mostly offcamera, screams heard)
1 male seen with a missing arm, killed
1 male ran through with a chainsaw
1 female ran through with a chainsaw
6 victims seen slaughtered with a chainsaw
1 female sliced in half with a chainsaw
2 females and 1 male presumably killed offcamera with a chainsaw
1 female ran through with a chainsaw
1 female decapitated with a chainsaw
Total: 38

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Heart Break Breakdown: The Seduction (1982)

The Seduction (1982)
Rating: **
Starring: Morgan Fairchild, Michael Sarrazin and Vince Edwards

Obsessed voyeurs. Damsel news reporters. In a film directed by David Schmoeller of Tourist Trap (1979), Crawlspace (1986) and Puppet Master (1989) fame. Cheese is going to be a thing in this so-called "erotic thriller", isn't it?

Morgan Fairchild leads as news anchor Jamie Douglas who becomes the obsession of her next door neighbor/stalker Derek, seen early in the movie spying on Jamie's nudie pool time with his camera. Suffering from erotomania, Derek believes Jamie is in love with him, thus prompting the creep to push his way into his neighbor's life more and more as days go by, escalating from creepy phone calls and sneaking into her house to take pictures of her, to stalking her in a mall and getting into brawls with Jamie's boyfriend Brandon.

Reporting to the incidents to the cops, Jamie is distraught to find out that they couldn't do much unless Derek commits a more serious crime, thus forcing our victim to eventually take matters to her own hands when the creep soon goes full murderer on her.

From what I can gather, The Seduction (1982) tries to feel like a sleazed-up Hitchcockian affair with stalker thrills and creeper chills being the main horrors Fairchild's character has to suffer through in a slow burn pace until the eventual climax wherein she turns the tables on her unhinged predator. It would have been a swell trail down your usual psycho-drama route but behind the glossy high-art production look is an execution that lacks a considerable punch, a linear story that hardly approached any new angles or taken any ingenious directions to set itself apart from any other low-brow stalker exploitation piece.

As majority of the plot is told through Jamie's perspective, Fairchild did try her best to sell her character through some solid acting and presence, but the thin characterization and hammed-up scripting, as well as the plentiful prolonged scenes of her being hot and naked while sleazily showering, bathing and/or swimming left her as shallowly memorable as an eye candy piece can get. The same can be said for Derek's actor Andrew Stevens whose psychotic character is a missed opportunity to explore, teasing us with a level of depth and intrigue as impotency and smitten co-workers were hinted in the story but it was all forgotten in favor of cheapening the villain with cliched bad guy movie psychology often used as a quick explanation regarding the mental illnesses. As in, he's evil because he's a few screw loose on the head and that's it.

It also doesn't help that for a thriller, a good amount of The Seduction's plotting seems a tad too easy to be considered intense or shocking as not only Derek easily finds opportunities to mess around with Jamie over and over again, but he suffers so very little consequences from doing them that it's no surprise he's not giving up. There's no strong conflict under the creeper's part so the horrors of the stalking is spoon-fed too much that it does make everything before the final act a bit tiring and redundant to sit through. 

Fortunately, when the movie remembers to pick up, it does so with an appreciated cheesy gut as Jamie, who opposes fire arms as a character trait, brandishes a shotgun to chase, stalk and kill Derek after one too many stalking incidents finally breaks her. It's the kind of wild and trashy entertainment that sort of made the whole wait worth it, earning a couple of chuckles for how outrageous it is, and too some cheers as the film finally embraced the exploitative potential of its story. 

All in all, The Seduction (1982) is a clumsy thriller that tries to aim high as a mature piece of work, only to be somehow saved from being a complete misfired glut thanks to its gaudier set-pieces. Not exactly a recommendable type, but if you fancy yourself a completist of 80s horror, or you just wanna see Morgan Fairchild get sudsy in a bathtub, then by all means check this out and hopefully you might like it. Hopefully.

1 male gets a knife thrown to his back
1 male shot on the gut with a shotgun
Total: 2

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Suffer The Fiddlers: Student Body (2022)

Student Body (2022)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Christian Camargo, Montse Hernandez and Cheyenne Haynes

Not to be confused with 1981's slasher spoof Student Bodies, this loving homage to high school drama intertwined with masked maniac violence plays a rather basic yet compelling approach to entertain genre fans.

Set at a prestigious private prep school, we follow Jane (Montse Hernandez), a brilliant star student struggling to maintain her increasingly unstable friendship with her childhood bestfriend Merritt (Cheyenne Haynes) who, in turn, is the leader of a small clique made up of soccer jock Nadia (Harley Quinn Smith), goofball Eric (Austin Zajur) and politically-conscious photography heartthrob Ellis. (Anthony Keyvan) 

On one fine day, Janes sees an opportunity to get close with Merritt again when, after the gang failed a mathematics test, she decided to try convincing their intense math teacher Mr. Aunspach (Christian Camargo) into granting them a retake. Aunspach, however, sees this as a pathetic waste of the star student's time and is disappointed that she would rather lower herself into their level than striving to better them. The talk soon becomes frighteningly aggressive and Jane retaliates by accusing the teacher of harassment, leading to Aunspach's termination not long after.

As the weekend comes, Jane finds herself joining Merritt and her merry gang in secret afterschool party shenanigans, hacking into the building's newly installed security cameras to cover their tracks and hoping to down a gym teacher's secret stash of booze. Unbeknownst to them, someone dressed up as their school's blacksmith mascot "Anvil Al" is keeping a real close eye on them, sledgehammer at hand ready to crush a skull or two.

A feature debut from writer-director Lee Ann Kurr, Student Body channels John Hughes' 1985 classic teen drama The Breakfast Club by dedicating a sizable run focusing on its characters, their relationships and dilemmas. Troubles are shared, friendships are tested, it does takes a good while going before anything horror-related happens in turn, which may not sit too well for those wanting a slay-a-thon for every ten minutes, but for those who are patient enough to sit through some slow burn character development may find a workable direction in this as we do get to know a bit more about our casts, thus effectively making the later slasher carnage much more impactful.  

Granted that some dialogue do miss the mark in its intended humor, overly sell stereotypes or even come out more odd than intriguing (Eric bemoaning his shot to be the school's mascot, for one. Like, okay?), the acting from the casts does succeed in getting past their characters' cardboard thin personalities more often than not, especially whenever the film chooses to slow down and invest a moment or two to develop the teen drama narrative. The result is a charming banter here and there, or even brooding ones once the bodycounting mayhem rears its ugly head, enough to give the teens a little more depth than your average horror flick meat.

In terms of Student Body's slasher outlook, it's mainly by-the-book; teens party, killer skulks around until they get the opportunity to smack a kid on the head with a mean sledgehammer, everybody else panics, scatters and the hunt starts. With the story mainly focusing on five teens and barely anybody else, the killcount is pretty limited, dishing enough blood and gore to be still serviceable despite lacking on the creativity department as it's mostly sledgehammer bashings. Though, that doesn't stop production from getting expressive and artsy with the murders from time to time, making use of quick-cut editing and some nice cinematography to elevate an otherwise standard set of kills. Add in a sweet looking killer get-up that creepily works and an admittedly intimidating villain to don it, and I say the movie did fine enough to tap into the basic inner workings of a slasher flick, even delivering a satisfyingly messy finale to close with.   

All in all, Student Body is an okay slasher movie that did all it could to service genre fans. There's definitely a lot of room for improvement, but for a debut film, it's a respectable solid effort. Give it a watch!

1 male bashed on the head with a sledgehammer
1 female brained in the temple with a sledgehammer
1 male brained with a sledgehammer
1 female pushed off a floor, falls to her death
1 male bashed to death with a sledgehammer
Total: 5

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Loud Witching Hour: Scream Dream (1989)

Scream Dream (1989)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Carol Carr, Melissa Moore and Nikki Riggins

Ah, yes, cult classic director Donald Farmer. Cannibal Hookers (1987). Deadly Memories (2002). Chainsaw Cheerleaders (2008). Clearly a man with so much taste for cheese, I'm sure he's part mozzarella. In this post, we'll be observing one of his early feature films released around the time of the late 80s shot-on-video boom, a curious tale of witchy macabre, hand puppet demons and big, loud hairstyles!

After an opening credit roll featuring a random sleeping beauty getting attacked by otherworldly arms and a chainsaw slicing out of her bed (and headed towards her crotch), we're treated with a scene following a yuppie metalhead and his bitterly vocal girlfriend making their way to a live show of Satanic rocker Michelle Shock. The nerdy-looking superfan eventually gets the chance to meet the dark temptress backstage, much to the dismay and disgust of his partner who leaves the venue after a lover's quarrel. Michelle, in turn, decides to give the dude a little treat down there for his troubles, only to cut the session short when a certain male member ended up between her teeth in not the nicest way.

Turns out Michelle Shock's Satanist shtick is more than just an act and she's really practicing the dark arts, so much so that her foul-mouthed manager Lou, tired of the constant harassment of journalists hounding him about Shock's shocking lyrical themes and the mysterious disappearances during her shows, fires her from her her own band. This, unsurprisingly, doesn't sit too well with Michelle.

Lou, not wanting to refund any of the money for the remaining shows, hires attractive replacement singer Jamie Summers and sends mullet-branding back-up Derrick to Michelle's to pick up a stage costume. As you would expect, the plan goes South real deep when the former band lead attacks Derrick with a dagger, which mullet boy responds by knocking her out. And then chopping her up with a battle axe. And then stabbing a possessed severed hand with a knife. And then fleeing the scene. 

(Well, that escalated quickly and unnecessarily)

Anywho, the shows go on and Michelle's sudden departure and replacement mostly didn't go unnoticed, especially with the nosy reporters who see this as damage control over the controversies she made. Still, Jamie hopes she would make it big in the heavy metal business, so she drives to Michelle's house to borrow some gear and inevitably finds the former lead dead and apparently appetizing enough to try biting a chunk out of. (Because why the hell not?) Derrick, tailing Jamie in hopes of stopping her from seeing the body, arrives no soon after and convinces her not to call the police. (Because, again, why the hell not?) 

From that point, though, Jamie starts to act weird. And deadly. And I'm sure as fuck the demonic monster she turns into, the drooling mini-rat beast tailing her to get a nibble or two out of people, and the fact she can now raise the dead to kill people for her all have something to do with Michelle's wicked pacts with Satan.

A technical marvel, Scream Dream (1989) is not. Not with its uneven lighting, outdated editing and terrible audio quality that made a few scenes indecipherable over the loud band music, factors that do little help with its wide acting range that falls between mediocre to oh-dear-god-just-stop! These are, however, things one can always expect from a shot-on-video production and I will say that despite all of this mess, the film is at least unintentionally hilarious for its multitudes of insane scenes and trashy moments, even sporting some gnarly violence and mostly impressive looking make-up effects for a low-budget film. With a lean 69 minute running time, padded with three full length metal songs being played in venues and one simple yet crazy plot overblown with cheese, the whole affair is just so bad, it's earnest, enthusiastically fun, given you dive into it with low expectations and a high tolerance for heavy metal horror ham! 

1 female gets a chainsaw between her legs
1 male had his groin bitten off
1 male stabbed to death with a dagger, disemboweled
1 female hacked with a battle axe
1 male had his scalp clawed, throat cut with a dagger
1 female had her throat ravaged by a demon
1 male had his face ripped off
1 female strangled to death
1 female killed offcamera by a zombie
1 female had her face clawed
1 female stabbed with a dagger
1 male had his groin attacked by a demon
Total: 11