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 have anything to do with the two start 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 give itself an edge and a working story within the dreck, especially if most of the attempts come off unintentionally hilarious for its bad takes, as well as intriguing for its clout. 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 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 speed 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 from 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 he was found holding the girl's lifeless strangled body. He gets thrown in jail, roughed up a bit, witnessed two inmates getting what-what in the butt, but he's soon 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