Thursday, March 23, 2023

Hundred Aching Woods: Winnie The Pooh: Blood and Honey (2023)

Winnie The Pooh: Blood and Honey (United Kingdom, 2023)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Nikolai Leon, Maria Taylor, Craig David Dowsett

With Winnie the Pooh characters becoming public domain around January of 2022, it's almost inevitable that we would see a horror spin to the beloved stuffed bear and his human bestfriend Christopher Robin, though I would have expected something a tad more inventive than this.

In an animated opening, Blood and Honey tells the tale of a young Christopher Robin who, some time ago, stumbled across five creatures deep in a forest called the Hundred Acre Woods, all of them half human, half animal abominations. The boy befriended the creatures, visiting them over the years bringing food and playing games, until the time comes that Christopher grew up to be a young man with aspirations to become a doctor. Thinking his crossbreed friends can fend for themselves in the woods, Robin leaves to go to college, not knowing that the creatures have gotten so used to him providing for them that they didn't know what to do once food becomes scarce in the Hundred Acre Woods. Starving to death, the animals made the traumatic decision to eat one of them, a heinous act that broke them into swearing bloody vengeance upon humans, especially the one who abandoned them.

Moving forward five years later, Christopher Robin returns to the woods, hoping to introduce his new wife Mary to his animal friends. Instead of a warm welcome, he finds the Hundred Acre Woods devoid of joy and the once jolly and silly pig named Piglet and bear named Winnie The Pooh are now deformed into grotesque mutant killers with an insatiable bloodlust. The mutants murder Christopher's wife and capture him to punish and torture.

And with that, we now set our attention to a group of girls visiting a cabin nearby Pooh and Piglet's stomping grounds and, honestly, this is when the film flopped down the road and hit every overused jagged rock the further it goes as we're practically treated with the barest of bare bone slasher treatment a low budget production can make. Girls got the attention of the two freaks. Freaks start stalking the cabin. Girls freak out and get hunted down. Climactic showdown. All of this could have been an enjoyable, cheeky ride of blood and guts but, in a lack of better terms, Blood and Honey decided to be a mostly straightforward slasher. And I'm putting great emphasis on straightforward

Taking away the gimmick that the two killers here are slasherfied beloved characters from English author A. A. Milne's children's books, there really is nothing else that the movie offers here except the same old backwoods hack and slash we've seen a hundred times before. Sure, Piglet is a boar now for some reason and Pooh Bear has that one scene where he summons a swarm of bees to stung one fella to death, but apart from that, these freaks could have been easily replaced by any other masked psychos and the story would practically remain the same. It also doesn't help that the characters are lackluster at their best and boring at their worst, with the main girl basically the only one with some bit of depth as it is revealed she's doing this outing to get over a horrifying stalking experience. To be fair, the acting is fine and all, but if the characters involved failed to stand out from your usual nerdy girl and social media obsessive types, it ain't doing the film that big of a favor.

Then there's the matter of tone which is, personally, the film's biggest drawback; you would expect that a horror Winnie The Pooh movie would try to at least squeeze in some satire at how ridiculous the story sounds, maybe throw in a joke or two at it even, but instead the film tries too hard to be a serious slasher with dramatics involving abandonment and trauma, clashing greatly and sucking the fun out of the silliness of killer animal mutants with exaggeratedly cartoonish evil faces murdering paperthin characters in gruesome ways. (Well, as gruesome as the budget allows it) 

On a technical level, Blood and Honey has an undeniable air of cheapness when the supposed mutant man-animals are obviously men in silicone masks, but at least it's easy on the eyes save for a dodgy editing or two. At the end of it all, the movie is a wasted opportunity and though I appreciate director, writer and editor Rhys Frake-Waterfield doing all of this effort to make horror Pooh Bear work, the lack of energy, excitement and maybe a tad more twisted creativity simply leaves an uninspired taste in my mouth the moment the ending credits roll. Oh, bother, don't bother.

1 female strangled with a length of chain, neck crushed
1 female repeatedly beaten, shredded through a woodchipper
1 female had her head crushed with a car
1 female brained with a sledgehammer
1 female mauled to death
1 male beaten to death with a sledgehammer
1 female stabbed through the mouth with a machete
1 male had his face clawed off
1 male stomped on the head
1 male had his throat clawed
1 male stung to death by bees
1 female decapitated
1 female had her throat cut with a knife
Total: 13

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Madmen and Mexican Mushroom Cupcakes: The Mansion (2017)

The Mansion (Le Manoir) (France, 2017)
Rating: **
Starring: Marc Jarousseau, Nathalie Odzierejko and Ludovik

Knowing that this could be the last time their group will ever get together as college comes to a close, Nadine and her boyfriend Fabrice plans to host a New Year's Eve party at a rented Belgian mansion themed to the year 2000. Their guests include licentious Samantha and her very agitated ex Stephane as well as her young bookish cousin Charlotte, aspiring actor Djamal, wimpy Bruno, assertive gal Jess and goggle-wearing stoner Drazic. (The classic slasher stereotypes~)

For most parts, everything seems alright with the gang socializing with one another due to the mansion's lack of cell service and, once the festivities begin, everyone there is simply having a ball dancing, drinking and gorging on mushroom-laced cupcakes. But then Charlotte disappears into the woods, Nadine's dog "Kitty" is found decapitated and Djamal is found dead and hung. (Figuratively and literally) It's soon clear to our gang that someone wants them dead and it all may or may not have something to do with the mansion's former owner Baron Gluckenstein Muller, Satanic rituals and missing children.

As a production, The Mansion (2017) has a competent look when it comes to the gothic backdrop, with lighting, cinematography and set design working altogether to give us a slick-looking yet atmospheric terror mansion and a decent deal of creative editing came handy when giving the place an intimidating and ghoulish feel whenever a scene calls for it, resulting to a lot of chilling visuals fit for an old dark house story. 

It does take a while before anything remotely interesting happens, however, with the gang spending twenty-some minutes after an opening kill practically feeding us one exposition to the next of either what their whole deal is or what's troubling them. With The Mansion (2017) being a horror comedy and all, the focus of these dialogues (and the movies general direction for that matter) is to make us laugh and the brand of comedy presented here juggles mostly within the sleazy and juvenile. That said, if we're not engaged in conversation concerning the weirdest place to have sex in or the troubles of having a large manhood, we could be treated with jokes about getting high and talking to imaginary warthogs or how an unfortunate fella steps on dog shit before finding said dog's severed head. It's a gaggle of funnies I'm sure would cater to some, but I personally just find most of it dull and overused, with only a scant few that honestly got a genuine chuckle out of me.

As a slasher, The Mansion (2017) has its share of straightforward killings, though half and half of the rest of the slayings do lean to the brand of tired humor this film runs on, with one example being a fellow who, as a dying wish, have two of his female friends act out erotic roleplays while he jerked himself to death. It's a mixing of gore and gags that can be a real hassle to go through as they really try their hardest to sell the punchline for these kills, often overstaying their welcome before finally moving ahead to the next scene. Thankfully, though, the last act appears to have found a good balance on humor and horror as not only do we get some nasty deaths, but the twist reveal and the motive behind the murders came with some laughably fun visual gags and hilariously awesome deaths involving hallucinogenic overdose and cobra venom.

All in all, The Mansion (2017) is pretty staple example of a slasher comedy. It has the blueprints of a workable bonkers bodycounter, though the type of humor they went with is a real divisive brand. If you would like to go past beyond jokes involving masturbation, infidelity and animal feces, then you could do better, but for anybody else with a funny bone for this kind of stuff, more power to you lot, then, and I hope you'll enjoy this somehow.

1 female dragged away, killed
1 male murdered offscreen, later seen hung by the groin
1 male had his legs chopped off with an animal trap, succumbs to his wounds
1 female had her neck crushed with a rolling pin
1 male had his throat cut with a knife
1 male seen taxidermized
1 male seen taxidermized
1 male seen taxidermized
3 female heads seen taxidermized
1 female ran through with a pitchfork
1 female set ablaze
1 male swallows a poison dart frog, poisoned
1 male succumbs to cobra venom 
Total: 15

Sunday, February 26, 2023

The Snowy Swedish Hills Have Eyes: Blood Tracks (1985)

Blood Tracks (Sweden, 1985)
Rating: **
Starring: Jeff Harding, Michael Fitzpatrick and Naomi Kaneda

Big hair. Bad lines. Bloody bodycount. Yep, it's another 80s slasher of the cheesiest kind! Ripping off Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and chucking the story up to the snowy mountains of Sweden.

In this Swedish production pretending to be American, we open with a drunk fella bumbling his way back home to beat his wife and rob his own family of their last earnings. Having enough of this domestic abuse, the matriarch decided to fight back and earns herself a cut in her neck before burying a knife into hubby's back, all the while their five young sons watch in horror. As a random fat bearded guy walks in to shout "MURDERER!" at the surviving spouse, she and her boys flee into the night and for the next forty years, the family hit out in the middle of nowhere.

We now jump ahead to 1985 and members of a rock band Solid Gold (altogether a real life band called Easy Action!), their entourage of big-haired dancers and dates, and a small filming crew set to the mountains to shoot a scene for their upcoming music video. Soon comes the babes in their skimpy leotards and bikinis gyrating around despite the shivering cold temperature and Solid Gold hamming it up in camera as they rock this film's theme song and make googoo lips during close-ups, it's a whole lot of noise and tomfoolery that catches the attention of a certain runaway mother and her now adult sons, surviving over the years as a group of devolved, homicidal savages.

Not too happy with these rock stars and their almost naked women bringing their bad music to the mountains and, too, trespassing into their abandoned factory hideout way too many times for their liking, the clan decided to hunt down the glam rockers and company after an avalanche stranded them in a cabin. A fact that, mind you, failed to stop Solid Gold and the hairsprayed gal gang from partying and having sex. I guess being cut off from the rest of the world by thick layers of snow is a turn on for some people?

From here on, it's one murder to the next as people either walks into the abandoned factory to get killed off by the mutant family and their set of booby traps, or meet their demise back at the cabin as some of the clan members opted to stalk the place and maybe find an eyeball to munch on. It should have been a cheesy great time with Blood Track's horrendous lines, bad acting and overly insane-looking villains and, to be fair, it does bring in the hammy goods most bad slashers have, with a side of good grue from some of its bloodier kills for that extra kick, but the fact that the movie's been developed with barely visible lighting and too many characters just being there with hardly a plot to work on, it becomes a test of patience for a lot of parts which kinda kills the overall joy of watching a horrendously bad horror flick.

There's really nothing much else going for this movie apart from a snow-set survival gig against maniacs on a killing spree peppered with sleaze and cheese, though, if you see yourself as an aficionado for cinematic fondue and don't mind a bit of one-dimensional horror stories revolving mainly around creeps killing cliques and not a lot more, then Blood Tracks (1985) can be a fair watch for the undemanding and hammy. Yes, you could do better, a hell lot better, but you could also do worse. 

1 male knifed in the back
1 male mauled to death
1 male had his neck snapped
1 male decapitated
1 male set on fire
1 female torn in half with a booby trap
1 female thrown to a pipe, impaled
1 male had his throat cut
1 female killed, method unknown
1 male had an eye bitten out
1 female murdered, method unknown
1 male knifed in the gut
1 male shot to death with a shotgun
1 male gets a thrown axe to the head
1 female burned to death
1 female impaled on a projected scythe
1 male shot with a shotgun
1 male shot to death with a shotgun
Total: 18

Monday, February 20, 2023

A Wolf On The Prowl: Project Wolf Hunting (2023)

Project Wolf Hunting (Neugdaesanyang) (South Korea, 2023)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Seo In-Guk, Dong-Yoon Jang and Jung So-Min

And here I thought Ricky-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991) is the silliest, goriest action horror thriller I'll ever lay eyes on... 

After a fiasco back in 2017 in which a suicide bomber blew himself up and killed many at a publicly announced prison transport flight, the higher ups involved with an extradition deal between South Korea and the Philippines opted to try a different mode of transportation when it comes to transferring dangerous Korean criminals captured in the Philippines back to their country. This time, Frontier Titan, a seemingly normal cargo ship, will be used to escort an assorted batch of ruthless fugitives from Manila to Busan by sea, a three-day mission headed by hardened "fist-to-your-face" cop Seok-woo (Park Ho-san) and kept in check by an army of fellow police officers.

What these law enforcers didn't know, though, is that one of the inmates, vile murderer and rapist Jong-doo (Seo In-guk), arranged a job with his vicious underlings where they'll infiltrate Titan disguised as crewmates and smuggle in some high caliber weapons. It isn't too long then before the bloodshed begins as the criminals are freed and starts torturing and massacring as many cops as they could, all the while the remaining law enforcers who quickly learned of the grim situation fight back in hopes of still turning the tide to their favor.

Now all of this is just the first hour of this two hour long action horror epic and it's pretty much a gorier and sea-bound version of Con Air (1997) as a transport mission becomes a bloody war between heartless criminals and law abiding officers, with the former quickly taking the advantage of them outnumbering their captors, as well as mostly having the element of surprise and a well-planned sabotage working on their benefit. Gunfire of varying calibers are exchanged, heads are brained with nailguns and bolt cutters, brutal stabbings, hatchet hackings, it's all a visceral show of unrelenting violence leading up to what could have been a climactic showdown as Jong-doo's army of miscreants would come face to face with what remains of  seasoned cop Seok-woo's forces, but this is when the horror elements of Project Wolf Hunting (2023) comes into play.

You see, the whole escort mission is also being closely monitored by a shady organization who also arranged the Titan to carry a top secret cargo: an ancient bioweapon that was once a man, created all the way back in World War II when the Japanese army was experimenting with the creation of super soldiers. Codenamed "Alpha", this monster just had to pick that day to wake up from his drug-induced sedation and we're quickly treated to one heck of a killing spree as Alpha single handedly obliterated nearly all of the cops and criminals gathered in a brawl out. And by obliterated, I'm talking about people getting kicked across boiler rooms and bursting into bloody messes upon impact, limbs getting torn off to beat their owners dead, lots of throat rippings, chest stompings, head pulpings, it's everything one could have wished Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) was, especially once Alpha brutally dispatched our supposed "main bad" of the film and starts prowling the ship for remaining victims to beat down dead, all the while those who survived the killing spree so far have to stick together and figure out how to stop an undead bioweapon enhanced with the strength of five men, Predator (1987)-esque "thermovision" and the cunningness of a wolf.

From a criminal escort-gone-wrong gig to a ship-set scifi slasher, all done with a splatter film treatment of practical effects, 2.5 tons worth of fake blood and very little CGI, it is within these two acts that Project Wolf Hunting (2023) shines its bloody best as an exploitation piece where violence is the name of the game and deliver it does. Almost every minute of the film is dedicated to gore and splatter with every layout of the ship is used for the carnage and everyone and everything bound to be covered in blood and grue. It's honestly an outrageous feat of adrenaline infused, hardcore ultraviolence that mostly makes up for the film's less than noteworthy protagonists, lack of genuine scares and simple plotting, so those wanting to see a fulfilling character development out of its cavalcade of casts or a decent amount of scare factor might need to look elsewhere, but for those who find bliss in mindless entertainment centered on intense action and brutal slayings, this film is a thing of beauty.

The real big flaw of Project Wolf Hunting (2023), frankly, lies in its last act; without spoiling much, it introduced more enhanced superhumans into the plot, almost all the characters we've been following throughout the bloody affair are simply unceremoniously killed off and the film completely shifts its gear to a scifi action thriller route as bioweapons duke it out with fists, knives and gunfire ala Resident Evil movie sequel starring Milla Jovovich. In any other film, this would have been an okay turn but, after all of that build-up wherein normal humans struggle and fight to survive against an enemy that's seemingly impossible to stop, switching its focus to superpowered characters with personal vendettas and agendas simply doesn't have the same cathartic gut punch and, honestly, it wasted a great opportunity to bring a satisfyingly fulfilling final act to the table. Instead, all we get is multiple bite-sized flashbacks worth of info dump, an underwhelming villain and a so-so tragic hero beating the lights out of one another, leaving us in the end with a groaner of a twist reveal/cliffhanger combo doubling as sequel bait. It's all too overly ambitious, if I say so myself.

Still, as flawed as the finale was, I strongly recommend Project Wolf Hunting (2023) to anyone with a taste for action horror hybrids, especially ones that come with B-movie grade craziness and geysers of blood to satisfy the inner gorehound! A nonstop thrill ride of (literal) bloody proportions, tailor made for long nights of exploitation cinema and splatter movie runs!

1 male killed in suicide bombing
7 victims killed in suicide bombing
1 male knifed in the neck (flashback)
1 male seen murdered (flashback)
1 male seen murdered (flashback)
1 male brained with a nailgun
1 male shot on the head with a nailgun, beaten to death
1 male stabbed to death with a switchblade
1 male shot to death
1 male shot to death
1 male bashed on the head with boltcutters
1 male throat cut with a switchblade, stabbed to death
1 male repeatedly beaten with steel cuffs, hunting knife buried into his chest
1 male stabbed in the jaw with a hunting knife
1 male shot to death
2 males shot to death
1 female seen dead from knife wound (flashback)
1 male shot to death
1 male shot to death
1 male stabbed in the neck with a hunting knife
1 male hacked to death with a hatchet
1 male shot to death
1 male shot on the head
1 male shot to death
1 male kicked across a room, crushed on impact
1 male had his throat cut with  knife
1 male had his throat ripped off
1 male stomped on the back
1 male punched to death
2 males had their throats crushed
1 male scalp torn off, stomped on the chest
1 male elbowed, brained against a gas tank
2 males shot to death
1 male had his face pulped with a punch
1 male shot to death
1 male bashed headless with a sledgehammer
1 male had his head crushed
1 male found with a ripped throat
1 male killed offscreen
1 female had her throat ripped off
1 male had his head stepped on, crushed
1 male punched across a room, head bashed against a table
1 female slashed across the face with a hunting knife, bled to death
1 male had his legs sliced in half with a hunting knife, chest stomped on
1 female pinned to a wall with a hunting knife to the neck
1 male had his chest punched open
1 male beaten to death with his own severed arm
1 male had his throat crushed (flashback)
1 female brained against a table (flashback)
1 female bashed with a skull (flashback)
1 male bashed with a skull (flashback)
1 male brained with a skull (flashback)
1 male brained to death with a skull (flashback)
1 male brained to death with a skull (flashback)
1 male brained to death with a skull (flashback)
1 male brained to death with a skull (flashback)
1 male brained with a skull (flashback)
1 male shot on the head (flashback)
1 male repeatedly stomped on, killed in elevator crash
1 male kicked on the head, neck broken
1 female shot on the head
1 female shot to death
1 male had his neck broken
1 male shot on the head
1 male expires from an experiment (flashback)
A number of victims seen dead from experiments (flashback)
1 male pushed unto a steel pipe, neck impaled (flashback)
1 male gutted offcamera
1 male crushed with a metal door
1 male shot to death
1 male shot to death
1 male knifed in the neck
1 male brained to death with a rifle
1 male beaten to death
1 male shot to death
1 male shot to death
1 male shot to death
1 male had his throat cut with a hunting knife
1 male stabbed and slashed to death with a hunting knife
Total: 87+

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Pandemic Panics and Backwoods Bloodletting: Sick (2023)

Sick (2023)
Starring: Gideon Adlon, Bethlehem Million and Dylan Sprayberry

It all feels like it was just yesterday, ain't it? When year 2020, the beginning of a new decade, got ravaged by a modern plague, sending people into panic, hysteria and grief as COVID-19 struck down countless lives and affected our ways of living. It's a heavily topical subject, one that could either end up smart or infuriating in a horror film depending on how it's written into the plot. Fortunately for us, screenwriter Kevin Williamson penned this project and the result is mostly in par from what we could have expected from the guy who screenwrote slasher gems like Scream (1996) and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997).

Opening at a big box store being picked clean by panic-buyers, health-conscious citizens and toilet paper hoarders, we see among them a young lad named Tyler (Joel Courtney) who finds himself on the receiving end of some creepy text messages and stalker-lite pictures originating from an unknown number. Tyler, understandably upset and creeped out, rushes out of there and drives all the way back to his apartment, unbeknownst to him that a figure clad in black have followed him and snuck their way in. After a real deal of brutalizing the lad, the intruder eventually puts an end to the boy by giving him the business end of a hunting knife.

Cut to morning some time after, we now follow college students Miri (Bethlehem Million) and Parker (Gideon Adlon) as they plan to "escape the plague" by isolating themselves at Parker's father's idyllic lakeside house. Though the two tackles the pandemic differently, with by-the-book Miri often doting on Parker's very laxed approach on social distancing and preventive measures, the gals very much agree that this retreat is what they needed to wait out the lockdowns, with life's simplest pleasures like a good warm tan, drinking games and edibles of both high and non-high kind readily available for them  to indulge in until this whole thing blows over. Parker's clueless on-again-off-again lover DJ (Dylan Sprayberry) soon joins in uninvited, an unwelcome surprise for both Parker and Miri but, seeing the dude's well-meaning enough with his presence, they allowed him to stay in and party along til' their heart's content.

As the trio have their good time for the night, they all fail to notice a familiar looking figure in black prowling around. Sneaking into the house. Hunting knife ready to strike... 

What we have here is a backwoods slasher flick's bonafide return to form, existing not to reinvent the subgenre but, rather, embraces its simplicity and make the best out of it by showcasing a small yet manageable and well-acted set of characters, a scenic backdrop that's ripe to be exploited for a good old fashioned cat-and-mouse and a real slick direction focusing on intensity and pacing. This means that, though Kevin Williamson's notably fun jabs at horror conventions are ever present within the script (along with exploited takes on pandemic etiquettes), it's played to a minimum here and with direction by John Hyams, who helmed the 2020 slasher-friendly creeper Alone, the story is mostly played as a straightforward horror thriller built upon bloody violence, relentless action and a decidedly plentiful stalk 'n stab scenes. Some plot contrivances still looms around the corner, such as the probability of a very human killer to easily stealth their way into a tiny apartment or the fact that at-home COVID testing kits are a thing here despite the story taking place months before those were released to the public, not to mention the attempted character drama which we have to sit through for a while before the good stuffs finally get going, but they're far from damning Sick (2023) unwatchable and one could even say they add some hokey charm to the movie.

Vitriolic cutting by editor Andrew Drazek also meshes well with Sick (2023)'s minimalist storyline, giving a lot of its horror and action sequences a stylized yet impactful take on thrills and scares. The kills are small in number, but are brutal enough to satisfy the inner gorehound and a good deal of them are even shot on long takes to keep its viciousness going. Perhaps the only thing that would divide the audience here is the motive behind the attacks; some will likely groan at the sheer hamminess of it, but for many of us who love the outlandishly cheesy murder motives of Golden Age slashers will value its unapologetic craziness and nods to one Friday the 13th (1980)

White knuckled intensity and unrelenting slasher horror in its rawest, Sick (2023) is just an absolute blast from beginning to end, understanding what makes a backwoods horror tick in the right places and delivering on the genuine bloody mayhem. (and then some) So I say, don't sleep on this one! 

1 male had his throat cut with a hunting knife
1 male ran through with a decorative curtain rod
1 male had his throat cut with a hunting knife
1 male beaten, knifed in the neck
1 male lands on deer antlers, impaled
1 female set ablaze
Total: 6

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The Hooked Horror of Valentines Day: Lovers Lane (1999)

Lovers Lane (1999) (AKA "I'm Still Waiting For You")
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Diedre Kilgore, Carter Roy and Brian Allemand

When Wes Craven's Scream (1996) revitalized the slasher craze for a whole new generation of horror fans to enjoy back in the late 90s, it's not far off that the straight-to-video market would cash in to the success and have these considerably less-funded and roughly polished productions grace our video players and small screen tubes with sometimes-competent-sometimes-not video titles such as this rare teen holiday horror, Lovers Lane (1999).

Opening "thirteen years ago" with a take on a well-known urban legend, we watch a horny couple at the titular make-out doing all sorts of risqué canoodling before they're suddenly terrorized by a maniac armed with a hook. The kids soon escape from their tormentor to raise the alarm, but not before discovering to their horror that the two occupants of another nearby car have also fallen victim to the hook-handed menace. 

Flash forward to the present, we now learn that the slaughtered couple were involved in a secret affair behind their spouses' backs, with the woman being the sheriff's wife and the man being the husband of the high school's current principal. A suspect was apprehended that night of the hook murders and, over the years, has been under the watchful eye of the town's psychiatrist, who just happens to be the sheriff's half-brother. The sheriff's daughter, Mandy, was also present at the time they found her mother's mangled corpse and has grown up to be the quite geeky kid that everyone picks on, especially her own half-cousin Chloe, the school's Queen bee-type who's dating the principal's son, Michael. And with it being Valentines Day, Chloe's clique plans a little party at lover's lane and Mandy finds herself roped into the gig when one of the friends got desperate for a date.   

Unbeknownst to these gaggle of youths, the hook-handed killer broke out of an asylum earlier that day (apparently he hated prison food?) and has now made his way back to the make-out point to stalk and slaughter some more teens. After seeing one of their own get murdered in front of them, the gang ends up fleeing to an abandoned farmhouse where the killer proceeds to stalk them one by one, all the while the sheriff and the principal, despite awkwardly knowing that their former spouses were having a go at one another, decided to work together to find and stop the maniac after learning about his escape. 

On one end, Lovers Lane (1999) isn't exactly what you call quality cinema as there's a considerable stint on its budget in terms of lighting and special effects. More often you'll find yourself squinting at some dimly lit scenes to make sense of what you're looking at or who's getting hooked to death, plus a good dose of the kill count is made up of offscreen murders in which bodies are simply found slaughtered. A few characters also fail to be as interesting and important as they're intended to be, sometimes coming off as annoying or ridiculously inept to the point you'd wonder if these certain individuals would get the fatal end of the hook and be disappointed when some of them lived to see the morning after the carnage.

Still, I can attest that there's some fun to be found in this late 90s bodycounter as Lovers Lane's simply embraces the clichés of a slasher plot wholeheartedly and treats us with a back-to-basics dead teenager film. Most of the teen casts are a fun watch with their cheesy high school dramatics and hammy dialogues, with one pre-Scary Movie (2000) Anna Farris appearing as one of Chloe's clique girls who spent the entire film wearing a cheerleader outfit and got snuffed out in the gnarliest way one could with a hook. The third act in the farmhouse has some nice thrilling scenes going for it when the killer starts prowling the place and relentlessly pursue their victims. I could also applaud this film for dishing out one of the better twist reveals I've seen in a slasher, especially when the build-up getting there is as convoluted as this one wherein things like incest and revenge gets thrown in.

Yes, Lovers Lane (1999) is far from a rough hidden gem, but it could worth one's time if you're into bad slashers with a big heart to entertain!

1 male and 1 female found slaughtered with a hook
1 male found murdered
1 male seen murdered with a hook
1 male hacked to death with a hook
1 male found slaughtered with a hook
1 male hacked with a hook
1 female gets a hook to the groin
1 male knifed to death
1 female hit with a car
1 male and 1 female found murdered
1 female had her throat slashed with a hook
1 male repeatedly shot, hook to the back
Total: 14

Friday, February 10, 2023

Sinking Down The Soggy Trail: #FLOAT (2023)

#FLOAT (2023)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Kaya Coleman, Ophelia Lichtenstein and Kate Mayhew

Tell me if you heard this one before: a group of twenty-somethings travel to the woods to enjoy themselves, only to be picked off dead one-by-one. Yep, it's the old standardized blue print of a backwoods slasher and #FLOAT (2023) follow this route mostly in context, with Black Christmas (2019) executive producer-turned-debut director Zac Locke trying to shake things up a bit.

The resulting attempt is... an attempt.

Following the loss of a dear friend Chuy, vlogger Kali, her boyfriend Jackson and four of her buds opted to honor their departed comrade by partying down the same river trail Chuy drowned at. (Or overdosed, depending on who's telling the story) For about half of the film's running time, we watch these people be dramatic and vapid for the shallowest and problematic reasons, from experiencing the troubles of being young parents to whether or not it is required for one to subscribe to their friend's social media channel to prove their friendship. We also get ourselves shoved on the face with party montages of them getting drunk on beer before anything remotely horror-adjacent happens. By then, we get the old doomsayer rearing his freaky face around warning the twenty-somethings not to go down the river, only for him to be disregarded and, well, the shmucks find out real soon that it would have been wise to listen to him as there is indeed something in the river that wants them all dead.

Curiously, we never really get to see or know what this threat is and, quite frankly, it's one of the few bits that I find working for #FLOAT as it does bring into the table a decently enjoyable level of uncertainty and creepiness. Sadly, the fact that not a lot of the casts are likeable meant that the rest of the film can be a real drag to sit through despite only clocking a short 75 minutes, even more so when a few of the plot points simply exists for the sake of existing and a good deal of the kills featured aren't even that exciting. (Aesthetic-wise, they're fitting, but for a slasher? We demand more creativity!) This meant that there isn't any satisfying payoff after all that build-up within its plot and characters, making #FLOAT feel lacking in its last act and barely passable, if not clumsily executed overall. 

I do appreciate the fact this film tried a different angle to work an original slasher, honestly, but the lackluster direction for most parts and uninteresting characters simply didn't vibe well with me and that's all I can say for #FLOAT (2023).

1 male killed, ashes seen in an urn
1 male impaled with a thrown branch
1 female pulled into the river, killed
1 female dragged into the river, killed
1 male disappears into the river
1 male had his head pulped with a rock
1 female mauled, bled to death from a torn arm
Total: 7

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Return to Kettle Springs: Clown in a Cornfield 2: Frendo Lives (2022)

Clown In A Cornfield 2: Frendo Lives
Author: Adam Cesare
Publication Year: 2022
Chapters: 30 (Epilogue included)
Rating: ***1/2

Quinn Maybrook, Cole Hill and Rust Vance. The Baypen Three. It's been some time after they survived the Kettle Spring Massacre, the orchestrated attack at a small Missouri town committed by its radicalized adults who made it their mission to cleanse their community of its "blighted youths", and all our survivors wanted to do now is move on from that nightmare, figuratively and literally. But as word of the massacre spreads all over media and the truth becomes lost the further it goes, it made way not only to unexpected (and for some, unwanted) fame for Quinn, Cole and Rust, but also to internet conspiracy theorists attempting to twist the narrative to their own version of events wherein the three are painted as the masterminds behind the massacre.

Now heroes to some and villains to others, the Baypen Three see themselves getting praises and disgust from wherever they go and whoever they meet, but things are about to become deadly as they and their loved ones are suddenly targeted by what looks like coordinated attacks by goons wearing familiar looking clown masks. Knowing that the threat is far from over, Quinn, Cole and Rust must go back to Kettle Springs, Missouri, where there awaits something far more sinister than what they could've ever imagined.

In true horror sequel fashion, Clown in a Cornfield 2: Frendo Lives aims to outdo its predecessor and it does so by shaking the very foundation it itself built in order to widen its world and explore it further. Much like the first book, this sequel novel took its time establishing the lives of our main casts after surviving such a horrendous event. It is here we see notable angles being approached such as PTSD, the pros and cons of media attention and criticisms on violent extremism and mob mentality through out the internet and social media, a whole baggage of heavy ideas that's ripe exploited in a slasher plot, though done here in a much more creative swing. 

In fact, Frendo Lives is more of a up and up slasher hybrid rather than a straight-up slasher story; while we do get a couple of slasher flick style stalkings, attacks and murders, these mostly taking place within the first half of the novel and with great effect, they would eventually play second bananas to what will gradually become something of a melting pot of chases and sieges ala Purge sequel as the town of Kettle Springs devolves into a warzone invaded by radical types with a warped sense of "justice". It's mostly braindead fun, graphic descriptions of violence and murders coinciding with a lot of the wit and snark young adult horrors tend to have, though at times it paints a serious picture showing how media, especially social media, often trivialized true crime and many people would suck it dry for clout or blindly follow radicalized ideas surrounding it if it meant comfort or self-righteousness rather than face the facts. 

It's a tough dose of satire, one that holds a lot of weight in this day and age of vlogs, internet forums and online communities, but writer Adam Cesare thankfully knew how to balance it out with horror fiction filled with clown masked maniacs, unsettling imagery of shootouts and descriptive splatter, topped with flawed yet likeable characters, both old and new, brewing up good ole drama in the midst of it all. My only qualm here is that the conclusion felt lacking; without spoiling a lot, the whole town being sieged thing simply just ended once the tide started to turn against them. With all the damage they dealt, I expected something equally as grandeur, but we're instead given an epilogue where one of the survivors tell us what happened afterwards before concluding with a very cliched sequel bait. An underwhelming finish in my mind, but it could have been worse.

While the first Clown in a Cornfield is an easily favorable slasher fiction that one can enjoy as a standalone novel, Frendo Lives serves as a welcome follow-up should you ever see yourself wanting more of the Baypen Three's as horror survivors. Fast paced and savagely thrilling, another fantastic read for literary horror fans!

Bodycount: 11(?*
Notable Kill: A very graphic razor wire murder. Like, the book didn't stint on the excruciating detail of flesh and bone being sawed away. Had me wincing the way I did during that scene from Audition (1999)
(*Have to leave out a few survivable attacks, like that one guy who got a baseball bat to the face. The book never specified if any of these victims were straight-out killed, so I'm not counting them.)

Friday, January 13, 2023

The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of its Parts: Himeanole (2016)

Himeanole (2016, Japan)
Rating: ****
Starring: Gô Morita, Gaku Hamada and Aimi Satsukawa

Awkward and hilarious, disturbing and depressing. Yep, not your typical love story...

Starting up pretty light, we follow an uninspired assistant cleaner Okada (Gaku Hamada) as he discovers that his older co-worker Ando (Tsuyoshi Muro) is deeply infatuated with Yuka (Aimi Satsukawa), a waitress working at a nearby coffee shop. Ando, being the awkward person that he is inside and out, finds it hard building up the courage to tell Yuka how he feels, so he ropes in Okada to help him ease the way to her heart and the two soon learn that the waitress is having a spot of trouble dealing with a stalker. The two guys help Yuka avoid the creep, they became friends and things seem to be heading for the better despite Ando's ulterior motives to win Yuka's heart.

And then Yuka feel in love with Okada. Which the boy did not saw coming but welcomes either way. Not wanting to shatter Ando's fragile state of mind and emotion (and due to threats of being chainsawed to death), however, the young couple decided to date in secret, not knowing that the stalker they were avoiding all this time may have been closer than they imagined and it's only a matter of time before the freak finally loses it...

Curiously, all of this is just the first half of the movie and it is around this time that Himeanole (2016) fittingly opted to play it's credits, making way to the rawer meat and bone of the story. (Yeah, Friday the 13th (2009) has a contender for the longest opening act!) Shifting most of the focus away from Okada, Yuka and Ando, the second half follows the disturbed exploits of one Morita (Gô Morita), Okada's former high school classmate and Yuka's stalker, as he's forced to murder some of the people he's blackmailing after they attacked him in his apartment and then setting everything on fire to hide the evidence. Now wondering aimlessly in the city, Morita stalks, rapes and murders his way into houses, plays pachinko (Japanese arcade machines) for potential earnings and suffer from various flashbacks detailing the bullying he endured during high school which led to his current murderous and monstrous state.

As more people fall victim to Morita's unrelenting brutality and depravity, the closer he gets to reaching both Yuka and Okada, the two people he's aiming to end the most.

Based on the manga Hime-anole by Minoru Furuya, Himeanole (2016) is a weird yet fascinating craft that offers a palette of tone and emotions, navigating from the silly and awkward, to the devious and vile. It toyed with expectations by initially making itself look like an observational comedy drama about two weirdos trying to win the heart of a cute dream girl, a situational gag wherein our trio grows to be likable individuals despite their flaws and oddities, only for it all to twisted into a dark and emotional backlash of betrayals, murders and rapes stemming from a damaged man's trauma and abuse, all of it senseless and shocking.

What works to the film's advantage is its wonderful set of casts playing their roles effectively; Hamada and Tsuyoshi make an odd pair of friends, but both don their characters with a good balance of charm and sympathy that the friendship is endearing in their chemistry despite the troubles they're inadvertently causing to one another. Aimi Satsukawa does a well enough job to be the sweet cute girl any guy would want, which made it easy for us to understand why Ando fell hard for her to begin with. And, of course, we got Gô Morita as, well, Morita, probably the most memorable slice of talent in this number as he played his card as a disturbed serial killer and rapist with a frighteningly realistic angle, so much so that it's awfully conflicting to feel sorry for him even when the story decided to give us flashbacks explaining why he ended up so deep into the muck. All I got to say is when Himeanole (2016) became a horror film, Gô Morita owned it!

Production values of the film is great for most parts; the wide array of scoring branches from the whimsy to the haunting befitting the two faced-tone of the story. Camera work also found a way to play with the shift as it starts out static and focused at the mostly innocent first half to emphasize its calmness before gradually devolving into shaky, hand-held cinematography to show how out of control the second part has become. The minimal use of CG on the killings, too, gave the murders a more savage note, adding further horror to the already nightmarish crime spree. The rapes, thankfully, are toned down to offscreen assaults, though there is that matter of "less is more" being used here as the acts building up to the sexual violence have enough grit and intensity to them that the implications are just as horrifying.

Honestly, Himeanole (2016) is plenty of things; a real test of patience and gut, a say on bullying and guilt, a tour de force on unorthodox direction, all of these despite shuffling about some of the usual horror pitfalls like useless law enforcers and questionable character choices. I strongly recommend this for those who are more adventurous with their horror selections, those seeing to outdo themselves from the usual paint-by-number scares and bloodletting, looking for a real hidden gem to satisfy that urge!

1 male killed offscreen, implied beaten with a baseball bat and strangled to death
1 male stabbed in the neck with a pen, brained with a steel pipe
1 female beaten to death with a steel pipe
3 victims mentioned killed in a burning building
1 female murdered offscreen
1 female found strangled to death with a power chord
1 male knifed to death
1 male had a knife pushed into his chest
1 male shot to death
1 male repeatedly knifed, had his head ran over with a van
Total: 12

Thursday, January 5, 2023

TV Terror: Wreck (2022)

Wreck (2022, United Kingdom TV Series)
Rating: ****
Starring: Jodie Tyack, Oscar Kennedy and Louis Boyer

First few moments of this six-part series? Your classic lady-in-peril act as cruise ship entertainer Pippa Walsh sees herself getting hunted and stalked by a goon dressed up as (get this) a duck in a rain slicker. Running through empty corridors and hiding under stacks of chairs. Pipa soon gets cornered by our quackie killer mascot and, instead of giving the nutjob in full animal suit the satisfaction of knifing her to death, opted to drop herself overboard the ship while flipping the bird at the bird.

One month later, Pippa's younger brother Jamie is hired to work at the same cruise ship, The Sacramentum, taking in the identity of his friend Cormac who, much to Jamie's surprise, has snuck in to the ship as well with hopes of winning back his former lover Rosie. He'd done this to keep his real name a secret and do his own investigation under the staff and guests' noses on what really happened to his sister since he isn't buying the whole "suicide" angle her employers are sticking to. In the midst of this, he befriends a sassy co-worker named Vivian, falls in love with a cute Filipino boy Olly and uncover a possible suspect to Pippa's disappearance within the senior staff.

For the first two episodes, Wreck (2022) runs this course as a slasher comedy as we follow our hapless protagonist through his shipbound misadventures playing amateur detective while juggling varying odd jobs as the cruise's lackeys, as well as finding time to be smitten by a cute crew member who may or may not reciprocate his feelings back, unbeknownst to him that the killer duck mascot will rear their feathery hide again, knife at hand to claim another victim. This time, however, the slain fella happens to be the staff Jamie suspected at the beginning of his little detective work, putting him back all the way to square one.

By the moment the third episode rolls in, the charted course shifts away from stalk-and-stabbing masked killers and more towards a conspiracy level mystery involving Filipino drug smugglers, records of other crew members disappearing over the years and hidden passages to ancient rooms kept for sinister purposes through out the rest of the mini-series, so much so that by the near end of the it all, it is revealed that something bigger than a lone murderous loon is at play. 

The series is certainly a wild ride with its shifting focus and tone, starting out goofy fun with its duck-suited killers running amuck and offing people off a boat, before delving into investigative thrills and criminal chills of hardened dealers and cover-ups, and then ultimately settling back to a horror plot inspired by Eli Roth's Hostel (2005), showcasing a good dose of even more brutal slayings and a decent splash of gore. It could have been a twisty and confusing mess as a whole, but it's mostly kept in good track thanks to its likable, well-rounded barrage of hokey characters and witty script keeping the transition of the story effectively fluid and intriguing.
The kill count is relatively low due to this, but the charm of its casts' heightened antics and its energetic premise of a cruise liner being this isolated, loose cannon scape full of secrets and crooks greatly make up for it, especially when it's done with a gusto of striking camera work and expressive color and lighting. Production, in turn, is one of Wreck's strong points, but there are still a few misfires to be found here, particularly how some of the jokes failed to hit and how the ending cost itself a satisfactory conclusion to its entire whodunnit gig by leaving us with an opening for a follow-up season. 

Still, these are small messes to sit through compared to Wreck's wave of bold appeal and lively atmosphere as a mish-mash horror thriller. It's ostentatiously fun and youthful in its vigor, a fair TV gem for genre fans to binge in a single weekend!

1 male repeatedly knifed, bled to death (S1, E1 - Ship of Dreams)
1 male shot through the head with a harpoon (S1, E3 - Showtime!)
1 female shot with a crossbow, stabbed through with a sword (S1, E5 - Needle in a Gaystack)
1 male repeatedly knifed in the gut (S1, E6 - Water off a Duck's Back)
1 female gets a chainsaw to the face (S1, E6 - Water off a Duck's Back)
Total: 5

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Short Shear Terror: Happy New Year (2019)

Happy New Year (Thailand, 2019) (Bangkok Dark Tales segment)
Rating: ***
Starring: Yeepun Napat Banchongchitpaisal, Adisorn Tonawanik

As a B-grade horror comedy anthology, Bangkok Dark Tales (2019) mostly comes cheap with its scares and thrills, riding on clichés and popcorn cheesiness to make itself passable enough to at least merit a glance from curious horror fans who could honestly do better. It's composed of three horror shorts taking place in an office, a theater and a rented house, and while the latter two is pretty much a goofy and kooky supernatural affair (with varying levels of god-awful cheddar), the first segment teases a paranormal foe before curving the path towards a familiar slasher plot involving a woman in peril, a madman in a hoodie and a bloody fire axe.

With her productivity dropping, a businesswoman named Gam is forced by her boss to work late overnight during New Year's Eve, her only company in the entire office being two new interns helping her with the workload and one pathetic looking security guard who may have a creepy obsession with her. It also happens to be a few weeks after a colleague of her's, Mr. Suthipong, died from overworking and Gam happens to sit next to the late man's worktable, leading to some chills creeping down on her back and a nightmare or two about Suthipong as the night goes on.

But Gam, as well as the rest of the unlucky shmucks stuck with her that night, will soon find out there's more to fear that night other than delayed paperwork and superstitious scares; an axe-wielding figure wearing Suthipong's Christmas hoodie have made their way into the office and starts stalking and attacking Gam, leaving a trail of murders and unforeseen revelations along the way.

As a short featured in Bangkok Dark Tales (2019)Happy New Year is a promisingly strong opener and undoubtedly the best segment out of the three as it has a good build-up to the carnage and executed its crazy surprises with a decent pace and tone despite dipping into some cheese on occasions. With a good focus on its mystery and thrills, the serious direction towards its plot works wonderfully, something the rest of the shorts failed to do as their balance of horror and comedy lacks any solid idea and bedrock, hence feeling a tad too all over, if not messy at its worst.

Seeing Happy New Year as a slasher short on its own, I do like the EC comics "Tales from The Crypt" vibe it's going for; the matter that our leading girl doesn't strive to be likeable is already setting us up with something we don't usually see in our typical slasher stories. Gam is snobbish and stern, looks down on her underlings despite being an underling herself, the whole short has this foreboding heaviness looming over her as you know damn well something is going to get back at her in the end. And wouldn't you know it, in comes a masked slasher in a red festive hoodie who not only does a real number on her colleagues turning them into gnarly bloodied bodies for her to find, but they even pack a simple yet classic modus that doesn't get too complicated, fitting snugly with all the loose ends, as well as the song and tune of the entire short. 

Granted it's nothing too spectacular, Happy New Year is just this fun little short gem that doesn't dent much of what's already done in a horror story, but is a welcome one nonetheless, especially if it comes bearing spooks, gore and twisted twists!

1 female decapitated with an axe