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 bond 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 becomes too much for Corey to handle healthily so 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 becomes 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

Before we begin, let me get it out there 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. Not 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 murder 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 by a masked maniac through an assortment of sharp and pointy things. It's predictable in its shallowest, a fact that doesn't help its 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, 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 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 welcome 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