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.)