Sunday, July 31, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 30, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

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

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

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

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

Too good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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