Tuesday, October 31, 2023

A Heart of Tainted Candy: Dark Harvest (2023)

Dark Harvest (2023)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Casey Likes, Emyri Crutchfield, Dustin Ceithamer

Based on a 2006 Bram Stoker Award-winning novel of the same name penned by author Norman Partridge, Dark Harvest (2023) could have been your classic creature feature with small town misfits joining forces to become unlikely heroes fighting against a powerful threat and, in a way, it does walk that path, but not without its bittersweet twists and grim turns.

Set in the1960s, at the rural town of Bradbury, a curse plagues the community every Halloween as a creature known as Sawtooth Jack makes its presence to wreck havoc and take lives, promising even greater devastation once it reaches the church by midnight. To fend off this entity, the folks of Bradbury initiate a ritualistic competition dubbed The Run, wherein the male teens of the town are starved for three days before being unleashed on Halloween night with masks and weapons, with the goal of hunting down Sawtooth Jack before it steps even one foot to the town church. (Given, that is, they don't end up either killing one another or raid butcher shops for food after brutally murdering the owners) The boy who successfully kills Sawtooth Jack will be heftily rewarded with a prize money, a decent housing and brand new Corvettes for a chance to get out of town to see the rest of the world.

This year, Richie Shepard (Casey Likes) is anxious yet adamant to join The Run, hoping to prove to himself as well as the rest of the town's doubters and bullies that he is just as good as his older brother Jim (Britain Dalton), who won last year's Run and is currently travelling across the states. All Hallows Eve night would eventually come and the town's boys, riled-up with a bloodlust for violence and the need to eat, are sent off to hunt down Sawtooth Jack once again. As Richie joins in the macabre competition with his small gang of friends, including the town's newest African-American resident Kelly (Emyri Crutchfield), they will unfortunately learn that there's more to the annual The Run than most expected, a deadly secret that puts them not only in danger of Sawtooth Jack and the murderous gang of teens, but also of those working in between.

Directed by David Slade of 30 Days of Night (2007)Dark Harvest (2023) looks and breathes small town horror story with its population of archetypical caricatures of meathead bullies, untrustworthy police forces and parents hiding dark secrets hounding over the main casts stirring up trouble and drama, all in the backdrop of an old rural American town that holds its traditions seriously, strictly and, dare I say, dangerously under the rule of a powerful group who may know more than they're letting on but choose to keep quiet about it for the sake of the peace. There's practically an allegory running throughout the plot, of class conflict and the repetitive nature of violence disguised as tradition, and for some parts it is handled quite nicely as it adds a little more weight and depth to an otherwise standard creature feature affair of teen victims getting slaughtered by a rampaging monster. But the further the story goes, the more questions it leaves open as it tells us how things work in Bradbury, though never bothering to dive deeper into the rabbit hole they introduced thus leaving some vital plot points hanging in the air unsatisfyingly. 

Fortunately, what Dark Harvest (2023) lacks in substance, it makes up with style; whenever the movie decides to focus on The Run, it guarantees at least one or two satisfying murders with a generous amount of gore, a crisp Halloween atmosphere and a very novel-looking creature design for our dear Sawtooth Jack. Makeup effects designer Francois Dagenais (of many Saw sequels) and visual effects supervisor James McQuaide manages the onscreen violence and it is impressive how well both practical and CG effects blend in with one another here, showcasing kills from both the monster and the deranged young men that's as entertainingly gruesome as they are absurdly inspired. Cinematography strikingly evokes a genuine Autumn spirit and captures perfectly the wide destruction both Sawtooth Jack and The Run cause. Talent-wise, Likes and Crutchfield more or less sold themselves as the empathetic duo since majority of the character development and focus fall on them, following their characters bond over their outcast status as they find warmth and trust from each other in this dangerous night, which does make the movie's conclusion effectively bittersweet to swallow.

Dark Harvest (2023) may not work all the way with its narrative, but it does a fair service of providing us a fair amount of thrills and kills, an interesting lore behind its creature and a couple of good leads with a heart. It's crafted to look cozy good and, I say, it succeeds at that, making this film a fulfilling enough watch for the spooky season, preferably with a bucket of sweets and nice cold bottle of pop!

1 boy killed, later seen set on fire
1 boy torn in half
1 boy had his head sliced in half
1 boy had his head pried apart by the mouth
12+ boys slaughtered, blood splash seen
1 boy shot on the gut with a shotgun
1 male beaten to death
1 boy had his head sliced down with a machete
1 female knifed in the neck
1 male shot on the head
1 male shot dead
1 boy buried alive
1 male stabbed in the head with a hunting knife
Total: 24+

Friday, October 27, 2023

Backwoods Wedding Bash and Slash: Jemputan Ke Neraka (2023)

Jemputan Ke Neraka (Malaysia, 2023)
Rating: ***
Starring: Janna Nick, Sharifah Sakinah, Hafreez Adam

A whodunnit outing from Malaysia, Jemputan Ke Neraka (2023) sets itself as a classic murder mystery bodycounter as soon-to-be married couple Ivy (Janna Nick) and Norman (Hafreez Adam) find themselves invited to the wedding of one of Ivy's college buddies, Lisa (Jasper Supayah). The event is to take place at a bungalow right in the middle of the woods, though upon reaching the venue, the two find very little activity going on save from another set of couples. Sofea (Amy Nur Tinie) and her partner, Fiq (Hariz Hamdan). Rania (Sharifah Sakinah) and her boyfriend, Adam (Nick Syaf). People Norman knew from high school and is rather noticeably uneasy to be around with.

The group eventually decided to look around and find the lady of the hour, all the while helping themselves to the fresh catering inside the house, but this is when they discover the horror of their little situation: fresh fingers in the stew and Lisa found stabbed to death, body hung from a makeshift noose. As the guests try to escape, Sofea is caught by a figure cloaked in black in the midst of the chaos and gets thrown off a floor, knocking her unconscious. Worse even is that the cars got tampered and, as any backwoods murder grounds normally do, there's no cell reception. Oh, and rain. Rain started to pour.

Forced to stay inside the house with a potential killer lurking around, the group devolves into guilty parties as a dark past starts to catch up on them and grim secrets are revealed, all of which involving a girl named Salina (Wafariena Roslan) who Lisa horribly bullied to the brink of committing suicide. 

For nearly an hour, Jemputan Ke Neraka (2023) took the time to build upon its characters and the predicament they're in, as well as tease in the details of the bullying bit by bit until we get the full picture of the torment when one of the characters finally spill the beans through a dramatic telling. Character dynamics are tested and shifted, red herrings are thrown in, it's a pretty standard murder mystery romp until more of the guests start walking in stabbed in the gut or gets attacked offscreen, culminating to some fair shots of stalk-and-stab action as the black cloaked figure begins to creep around the bungalow, pruning knife at hand, looking for victims to snuff.

To be truthful, the identity of the killer isn't too hard to figure out once the bullying story gets brought up, but what's intriguing here is whether the details of the bullying story is truthfully told or not; just when you thought you got the whole bulk of the events figured out, the film pulls another twist or two which gradually makes the incidents leading to the suicide far worse and, by that point, you kinda feel bad for the killer and maybe even root for them in their grudge-fueled killing spree. This being a PG-13 production, the murders are never gory, only bloody, and they're sometimes edited with cheesy slow-mo effects and fade outs. It even gets a bit cheesy at one point when, during the climax, we get a sappy song playing while our killer goes knife-frenzy on a fella and another wounded victim hobbles into the woods to hide, all the while the horrors of the bullying flashes in dramatic fashion.

The last few moments of Jemputan Ke Neraka (2023) concludes with even more twists, a satisfying set of last kills and a bittersweet end for all involved in the bungalow massacre, making this film a surprisingly decent watch despite its moderate production quality and so-so amount of carnal violence. The plotting and direction have their focus more on creating an engaging mystery and I'm glad to say this one fairly delivers, overlooking a few acting and plot twists that leaned heavily on the hammy side, of course. So if you feel like catching a good old-fashioned whodunnit with a Malay twist, then this one is an adequate choice! 

1 male stabbed with a pruning knife
1 female found murdered and hanging from a noose
1 girl found hanged (flashback)
1 male stabbed in the gut
1 female had her throat cut with a pruning knife
1 male stabbed to death with a pruning knife
1 male slashed and stabbed with a pruning knife
1 female stabbed with a pruning knife
Total: 8

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

The Campus Halloween Rampage Massacre: Primal Rage (1988)

Primal Rage (Italy, 1988)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Patrick Lowe, Cheryl Arutt, Sarah Buxton

Taking more interest in covering leisurely school events and saving lovely girls from getting their cars towed, university journalist Sam (Patrick Lowe) have his fellow reporter and friend Duffy (Mitch Watson) tackle on an assignment concerning a possible animal abuse case. Unbeknownst to the two, said animal abuse is actually a part of a secret experiment on curing degenerative brain conditions handled by one Dr. Ethridge (Bo Svenson), though the endeavor is threatened to be cut off financially when supervising investors point out its lack of progressive results after watching an experimented baboon going nutzoid.

That night, Duffy breaks into Dr. Ethridge's lab to take pictures of all the inhumane treatments happening behind its closed doors and frees the experimented baboon. The primate, unfortunately, is carrying an "infectious rage" as a result from all that medical poking and prodding, thus spreading its sickness to Duffy through a scratch before the monkey gets killed off by a responding campus cop car, running it down by accident.

Over time, Duffy starts to feel ill but pushes himself to tough it out when Sam invites him to a double date with two female students he befriended, Lauren (Cheryl Arutt) and Debbie (Sarah Buxton). The night mostly went swimmingly with Sam and Lauren getting romantic with one another on the dance floor, while Duffy protects Debbie from an aggressive campus horndog who started to get too forward to the gal. Trouble comes spreading, though, when Duffy starts to act erratically and scratches his date while they were making out, thus starting the outbreak of "rage" across campus, building up to a trio of degenerates going full slasher maniacs at the university's rather impressive Halloween bash.

An outbreak horror film with a handful of zombie and slasher film tropes mingled in within the chaos of its story, Primal Rage (1988) is a gruesomely enjoyable melting pot of horror sub-genres done on a generous enough budget and a tad more cheddar in its execution, far from great cinema but dripping with a sense of B-grade badness that screams a riot of a good time! Its script oozes with laughably odd writing, its direction filled with crazy scenes of rabid terror and there's an aggressive amount of late-80s aesthetic, it shouldn't have work as well as it does, but the adorable chemistry from its likeable main casts and the way the easy-to-digest plot fooled around with our expectations makes the film a worthwhile spectacle of hammy romps and contagion horror.

Despite being a 14-year forerunner to Danny Boyle's 'rage zombie' movie 28 Days Later (2002), it's intriguing to note that in spite of the large cast, the outbreak only get to spread on a handful of victims and, by the end of the film, all of the them were killed off which pretty much meant the threat of the virus died along with the infected. No, the focus of the viral scare here was more on the body horror aspect of the infection (with gnarly make-up effects by Carlo Rambaldi, who did movies like A Bay of Blood (1971) and that 1976 remake of King Kong!), which relatively takes a while before the infected starts to drool black sludge, literally pop a vessel or start shrieking like an angry monkey on steroids. It's also interesting to point out that not a lot of the infected's victims get to live long enough to become infected themselves, and the trio of gang-rapists who eventually becomes this movie's penultimate bad guys doesn't even show the same kind of primal rage as of the others, instead acting more like bloodthirsty psychos who coordinate their attacks and take extra pleasure on their killings. So those expecting more of a zombie bash may want to look elsewhere, but slasher fans will definitely get something a tad unique from this run.

The contamination nightmare eventually leads to the movie's best part, a last act taking place in a Halloween ball where all the students attending don tons of frightening, comical and inspired costumes in the midst of the fancy dresses and typical get-ups. Like, for real, there are so much surreal and quirky costumes here, from a lady who's wearing an entire nostril as a mask to another whose entire gaunt face splits open via motor revealing a spooky skull, all dancing while the live band sings an earworm of a song, 'Say The Word' by The Facade Band, which I'm pretty sure is this movie's theme. Entertainingly, a few of these costumes were utilized by the killers in their murder spree, with one wearing a three-headed mask with taps for each of the noses getting the life crushed out of them, blood spilling out said taps in great grisly detail! Our do-gooders eventually steps in to stop the (mostly ignored) chaos, setting up a classic cat-and-mouse stalking as our maniacs, fittingly dressed up as grim reapers with red blinking electric eyes, attempt to end our protagonists.

All in all, Primal Rage (1988) is far from a great example of a contamination horror flick but it’s a genuinely fun one for its novel plotting, positively fantastic physical gore effects and make-ups and, too, a manageable amount of ham. It's an underrated mish-mash of ideas, reputable enough for a watch on a Halloween nights or any nights swimming in good booze and good friends!

1 male brained to death against the wall
1 female found murdered
1 male mauled to death
1 male shot
1 male had his scalp torn off
1 male clawed to death
1 male had his throat ripped off
1 male hanged with a noose
1 male had his throat crushed
1 male ran through the head with a pole
1 male crushed inside retractable bleachers 
1 female beaten, later found mutilated
1 male decapitated with an axe
1 male tossed off a building, jaw impaled on a sprinkler head
Total: 14

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Party Til' You Puke (And Then You Die): La Central (2006)

La Central (Spain, 2006) (AKA "The Central")
Rating: *
Starring: Eduardo Lupo, Yasmina Córcoles, Ana Cánovas

All play and little bodycounting work makes La Central (2006) a rather dull and forgettable slasher.

The premise is simple enough; a group of twelve friends go to a big house in the woods to party. And party they did. On the lakeside beach. Inside the house. Then at the beach, again. In the backyard. Back in the house, again. At an indoor swimming pool. Hell, they even continue to party when one of their friends disappears after falling off a cliff, dismissing it as just a prank. It's nothing but obnoxious partying and shrill drunkenness, decibels of loud talking and hyperactive shrieking with unpretentious gay-bashing and sexism mixed into the mess. 

It isn't until about halfway into the movie when anything remotely interesting happened as the gang decided to play hide-and-seek in the woods (At night. While drunk and high) and one of the girls finds herself attacked and her arm carved with something sharp. The more responsible few of the group decided to drive their injured friend to a nearby town to get her patched up, leaving the rest of the crowd to fend for themselves when someone wearing a dark hoodie crashes the party and starts ending them, sometimes creatively (tricking someone into swallowing bulb shards, rigging a car for shocking results), but often uninspired. (plain axe hackings and wrench bashings, mostly offcamera and bloodless) 

The rising bodycount makes its way to your usual slasher flick stalk-and-stab between the final girl and the killer, with a few casualties along the way, accusations thrown around and the typical reveal/motive monologue combo once the stabby shmuck gets unmasked. (Or for this case, casually unhooded) This would have been a redeeming swing for La Central (2006), but not only was it hard to make out what's mostly going on thanks to the movie's shoddy lighting, but the killer's reason behind the murder spree hardly sparks any volume of creativity or originality, thus adding to the lack of any respectable characters in this train wreck and overall blandness of the movie. 

And that's pretty much what La Central (2006) is. Bland. The story is uninspired, the characters are irritating and most of the kills are boring. The only good things to come out of this are a couple of ingenious murders and the unintentional hilarity of the killer having that much durability despite looking so, well, normal, but these are nothing but a little nibble of good crumbs out of an entire headache-inducing dreck of dullness. It just ain't worth it! 

1 male hacked in the back with an axe
3 males and 2 females electrocuted inside a rigged car
1 female hacked to death with an axe
1 female bashed to death with a wrench
1 male shot, had his throat cut with a hunting knife
Total: 9

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Severe Smut: Exploited (2022)

Exploited (2022)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Jordan Ver Hoeve, Andrew Matthew Welch, Makenzie Vega

On his first day at Starling University, freshman Brian (Jordan Ver Hoeve) gets assigned a shared room with another student named Jeremy (Andrew Matthew Welch) and is given a USB stick with orientation details. Later that night, after attending a campus party with Jeremy, along with Jeremy's girlfriend Lexi (Makenzie Vega) and her roommate Janelle (Hannah Rose May) for some boozy fun, Brian opted to end the evening getting his laptop ready for college use, but accidentally mixes up his USB with another identical one he found in the room. One that contains a hidden folder full of cam footages by a student who engages in kinks via video streams. Being queer, Brian is first enticed to see the collection of smut, but after the last video from the bunch have the student seemingly beaten dead by someone in a gimp mask before the footage corrupts, he's nothing short of shocked and disturbed.

Deciding to solve the mystery himself, Brian tags along his computer whiz brother to try and recover the last file to see how the attack really ended, as well as possibly uncover the identity of the gimp. As he goes deeper into the dive, though, it is made clear that whoever was responsible for the attack doesn't want him or anybody else sticking their noses where they don't belong and they're doing everything they can to stop their little snooping, from exploiting secretly recorded footages to turn them against each other, to straight out physical assaults with a mean taser.

An erotic thriller with slasher flick tendencies, Exploited (2022) focuses more on intriguing its audience with the dupable mystery behind a series of smut videos and, too, exploring the drama revolving around the sexual exploits of our characters rather than racking up a kill count. The approach works well enough as the mystery itself is well-grounded and nifty with its twists and red herrings, with most of the players involved in the psycho-sexual conundrum engagingly portrayed thus making their circumstances with the dangerous gimp all the more enthralling to watch. I do have to say that it isn't too hard to figure out who's behind the gimp mask once all the cards are laid out and the film does end rather underwhelmingly with a cliffhanger following its mid-tier reveal, though this does little to dent the strong exploitative factor of the movie, not with its seedy scenes of  homoerotic blackmail and unsettling sexual assaults acting as the story's solid source of shock value. 

With nobody really biting the big one until the climax and, even then, the bodycount runs a little short in the numbers and variety, the slasher elements mostly fall on the nature of the gimp's stalking and attacks. It's frankly practical intimidation-wise, especially when the fella shows how manipulative they can be behind text messages and chatrooms and, whenever they need to resort to physical violence, they can very much go brutal without necessarily killing a victim. It's all well said and done, though I do wish they could've at least throw in an extra body or two just to keep everyone on their toes, further showing how bad of a threat the villain is.

By the end, Exploited (2022) is an engaging thriller that daringly went into the sleazier side of the subgenre and I'm very much glad it did. It's undoubtedly not for everyone, though the less priggish may find its unconventional shot on the typical slasher chills and spills entertaining, especially when it lives up to a good enough whodunnit in the midst of all the smut and drama! 

1 female shot on the gut with a shotgun
1 female brained with a rock
1 male shot with a shotgun
Total: 3

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

A Doll's Grudge: Kyôfu Ningyô (2019)

Kyôfu Ningyô (Japan, 2019) (AKA "The Japanese Doll", "Japanese Doll of Terror")
Rating: ***
Starring: Nao Kosaka, Riku Hagiwara, Makoto Awane

After the both of them received an invitation to hang out at a camp with the promise of a hundred thousand Yen each just for attending, childhood friends Masato and Yuri decided to go seeing Masato could use the money for his college fund, though Yuri is a tad put off by the odd nature of the invite. There they meet six other people who got the same invitations, as well as a suspiciously distant woman who's tasked to cater to their needs by their mysterious host.

It isn't long before the whole gang realize that they all knew one another at some point and that they all used to go to the very same camp they're at ten years ago. This is also when they remember that there was another girl who attended the camp, Yoshiko, but she, much to their horror, recently passed away and it appears that the girl's beloved doll is now haunting them, following them wherever they go and slowly growing in size. Soon, the doll is big enough to tower them proper and, with a disposal of weapons to cut and carve, it's hellbent to punish everyone responsible for its beloved owner's passing!

For a good deal of its story, Kyôfu Ningyô (2019) strides the familiar footings of a classic backwoods slasher plot of teens going to the woods for fun, only to end up dead in the hands of a powertool-inclined villain, though what sets this film slightly apart from the rest of its kin is that it dabbles with traditional Japanese superstitions to toy with the possibility of our villain being supernatural, mainly the idea of dolls as vessels for curses and grudges. With this, a fair share of the scares and creep factor stem from the toy's otherworldly ability to appear and disappear in places, seemingly observing the group while they remain mostly unaware of its presence until it is too late, as well as a few unexplained moments wherein the doll shed tears and responded in pain while being tortured by this movie's own Ahab, a professor of cursed dolls who arrived at the camp out of nowhere and maybe a little nutso himself.

After dancing around the concept of the occult, Kyôfu Ningyô (2019) would eventually set itself within bodycount territories, paving way to the movie's most memorable peculiarity in which we now follow the doll, grown life-sized but still sporting a humongous bobble-head, as it goes on a killing spree with knives, barbecue forks and, heck, even a chainsaw! It's as standard of an affair as a slasher flick would get (overlooking the giant-headed killer, of course), with groups splitting up for one reason to another, making them easy picking for the vengeful doll. However, may it be due of its low budget or the fact that the film's aimed for a wider audience with its PG-12 rating upon release, the exploitation elements of these killings isn't as extreme as one would expect, with the camera more often than not cutting away before any metal edge would touch bear skin, though this isn't to say it's not without its bloody moments, entertaining chase scenes and a few creative set-pieces. 

There's also a neat little reveal at its climax that channels the backwoods slasher classic Friday The 13th (1980), done in a familiar backdrop borrowed from Happy Birthday to Me (1981) which have dead victims aligned and propped up as guests in a macabre party while the lead characters gawk in horror. Admittedly, it does get a tad emotional, heartbreaking even once the culprit starts to reminisce about precious memories in-between sobs, though the hokeyness of the horror isn't completely lost, especially when the killer entitled themselves to one more attempt to end their victims, giant head still bobbing and chainsaw roaring as down-beaten survivors cower away. 

As far as entertainment goes, this is one weird ride of a horror flick that certainly delivers the good even if, plot-wise, the movie didn't tread on new grounds concerning the sub-genre. From its fun little mystery and bizarre visuals, to the bloody kills and insane-looking killer, Kyôfu Ningyô (2019) is a genuine slasher treat from our friends back at the Land of The Rising Sun and I sincerely recommend this little number for a strange yet oddly satisfying watch!

1 female found dead with a head wound
1 female hacked with an axe
1 male garroted to death with a length of barbwire
1 male found dead with a head wound
1 female caught on an animal trap, stabbed to death with a barbecue fork
1 male gets a chainsaw through the gut
1 female corpse seen
1 male brained with a sledgehammer
1 male shot to death with a hunting rifle
Total: 9

Friday, October 6, 2023

Art The Clown

"We have a very special guest with us today! Now, for a guy who doesn't speak, he sure makes a lot of noise. All the way from Miles County, please welcome...


Family Bonding Bloodied: House of Dolls (2023)

House of Dolls (2023)
Rating: **
Starring: Dee Wallace, Meeko, Stephanie Troyak

Family reunions, am I right? 

Three estranged sisters (an aspiring children's book author, a CPS worker and a shit show of a diva) are summoned by their father who's in his deathbed, hoping to resolve any bad blood between them as a family by leaving the ladies an inheritance of three hundred grand. The catch, though, is that the girls must stay inside the titular House of Dolls, a life-sized doll house filled with family memorabilia and clues for the sisters to piece together in order to earn the cash and, maybe, even grow closer as a family. Sad to say, this is easier said than done as the siblings not only hate each other's guts, but there's also a trench coat-dashing, spike-studded pink balaclava-wearing killer out there knifing their way to the same house, seemingly to settle a score with the girls.

Let me just say that, out of all the mess I've experienced watching House of Dolls (2023), I do like its slasher segments where the killer simply pops up in random places to kill people who have little to nothing to do with the main plot or characters just for the sake of showing off gnarly gore effects. I, too, like the killer's get-up of a punk leather coat and pink, spiky balaclava for how simple yet striking it is. I also like the unintentional hilarity that came with the movie's low budget production as some of its editing makes it look like the killer could just teleport from one part of the town to another to pull off their murder spree, as well as some of the weapons and backdrops used are clearly plastic Halloween props.

That being said, it's hard to fully engage and enjoy a movie when none of its characters are likable, when all they do is go for each other's throats with harsh tongues and criticisms every time one of them opens their pie holes to talk or, heck, even breathe. The wooden acting I can overlook, but to have such unbearably hateful set of victims-to-be just be arseholes kinda fucks up the mood when we're supposed to be rooting for these girls. Also, for a movie that tries to market itself for having a giant dollhouse, there's really not much to say about that as said life-sized toy house is really just a house with overly decorated walls and furniture, pretty much adding to the story, underwhelming, nothing.

It's like watching a bad reality TV show: all the people are just plain nasty and/or dumb, forced to work together to win that day's challenge, leading to said horrible people to whine and bitch some more until they either throw temper tantrums and rage quitting or go sappy on live TV with fake sincerities. Here in House of Dolls (2023), fortunately, we get intervals of people in wrong places at wrong times meeting their makers through the killer's dual knife-wielding skills, which eventually crosses into the sisters' little bitching sessions and leading to a doable enough twist reveal that a few of us could've seen coming.

All in all, House of Dolls (2023) is flawed, but at least it has the decency to make up for its terrible characters and missed opportunities with a decently fair bunch of kills, a cool-looking killer and feisty fromage. Oh, and Dee Wallace. Dee Wallace is also here. 

1 male found slaughtered with a knife
1 female stabbed with a knife
1 male found dead with a slaughtered face
1 male gutted with a knife, throat cut
1 male headbutted to death with a spike-studded mask
1 male found gutted
1 female garroted with a rope
1 female had her throat cut with knives
1 victim found murdered, body hung from a ceiling
1 female knifed to death
1 male drowned to death in a toilet
1 female had a leg hacked off with an axe, knifed to death
1 male sliced in half with a chainsaw
1 male knifed in the gut
1 male and 1 female killed with an axe
Total: 16

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Nine Knocks For Deadly Chops: Natty Knocks (2023)

Natty Knocks (2023)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Charlotte Fountain-Jardim, Thomas Robie, Noen Perez

On Halloween 1976, B-horror starlet and town tart "Natty Knocks" gets dragged out of her home by a group of religious fanatics who accused her of witchcraft and adultery before being set ablaze inside a gasoline-doused outhouse, all while her young son, Abner, watches in horror.  

Cut forward to the present and Natty Knocks is now a small town legend with effigies burned in bonfire parties and little kids warning each other not to answer nine knocks at night or risk being killed by the witch. Caught up in this macabre celebration are two teen friends, Wyatt (Thomas Robie) and Robby (Noen Perez), as they unwillingly become witnesses to what looks like a man abusing and kidnapping a girl inside a house they targeted for a Natty Knocks prank. The two anonymously report the attack but, seeing little to nothing being done about the potential crime in the following day, one of them decided to give the creep a bit of a scare by throwing a baseball at his house, hinting somebody knew what he did.

Little to the teens' realization is that the man's Abner Honeywell, grown-up, still traumatized by his mother's horrific passing and is one of the town's police officers. Using the resources he have at his disposal as a cop, Abner learns the identity of kids who've been causing him a bit of trouble, stalking them from time to time and killing off a few folks who got in the way. All of this while Abner obsessively watches old grindhouse horror flicks his dear late-mum starred in, imagining(?) her spirit commanding him to kill.

Teetering between the line of a young adult horror mystery and a bloody yet cheesy B-grade slasher, Natty Knocks (2023) appears to have a lot going for in its plot, but only manages to get a few of its introduced ideas to work as it mostly struggles with its direction and tone. There's simply too many convoluted turns but not enough plot pieces to have them work to the film's favor, such as the fact that our killer is squatting inside the foreclosed house of his late-mother all the while still holding a job as a cop, as well as the bits of supernatural at play here which the movie throws in from time to time, but it's barely explained to the point that the film could've gone by well enough without it! In turn, the flow of the film is hindered a lot by its own disjointed plotting, leaving the entirety of the story feeling barely connected as a whole and missing a lot of marks.

For what Natty Knocks (2023) did right, the main characters are at least likeable enough to follow through their little misadventure of murders and maniacs, with Wyatt, his realtor single mum Diane (scream queen Danielle Harris) and his young sister Jolie (Channah Zeitung of Nickelodeon's Game Shakers)'s emotional baggage as a broken family adding a bit of sympathetic weight in their depth. The film also boasts other familiar faces from the horror fad, mainly cult icon Bill Moseley playing our Abner with a quiet, subtle yet murderous creepiness may it be as a psycho-killer with mommy issues or as a cop who's doing shady stuff under the table. Robert Englund also shows up in a small role as a higher up working at a realtors office who tells one of the teens the tale behind Natty Knocks' infamy, and does it quite engagingly even if most of it is just him sitting behind a desk. Both Moseley and Englund's characters would soon cross paths and, though brief, the engagement is nothing short of fun.

As a slasher, there's a stronger focus on build-up and mystery so the kills are a little lacking on the bodycount, though a good few of them are at least generously bloody and intense. There's a whole deal of stalking and creeping around instead, which is unsettling enough for most parts especially whenever Moseley plays it unnervingly straight, but the fact that this leads to an unremarkable last act wherein we witness cheesy ghost effects and a climactic brawl that ended way too soon simply ruins the mood. It also doesn't help that the villain got defeated disgustingly easy after all that trouble and the film ends with a sequel tease that overstayed its welcome.   

Natty Knocks (2023) has an honest potential to be a good film; it has an engaging casts with additional star power, a modest production quality and a genuinely interesting backstory behind its killer and the legend they're involved with. It just has the unfortunate flaw of having an unnecessarily cluttered story and some mishandled directions but, hey, at least it got the Halloween feel right...-ish. 
1 female set on fire inside an outhouse
1 male ran through the chest with a fire poker
1 male hacked on the chest with an axe
1 male found dead from a throat cut
1  male shot
Total: 5