Thursday, November 23, 2023

Carve Us Some Meat, John Carver: Thanksgiving (2023)

Thanksgiving (2023)
Rating: ****
Starring: Patrick Dempsey, Ty Olsson, Gina Gershon

Ever since director Eli Roth tossed in a fake trailer about a slasher film taking place in Thanksgiving, complete with an axe-wielding pilgrim and a decapitated turkey mascot, in the double-feature exploitation throwback Grindhouse (2007), a lot of slasher fans wanted the film to become a reality, even more so when the other featured fake trailers got their own movie adaptations, namely Machete (2010) and Hobo With A Shotgun (2011). Now, sixteen years later after long believed to be a dead project, we are thankful to say that we finally have another Thanksgiving slasher to gorge on! 

It was Thanksgiving night in Plymouth, Massachusetts when tragedy struck the town, as the staff of a local big box retailer, lacking much security against the horde of pissed-off consumers, got swarmed during its Black Friday sale. A riot quickly formed, resulting to one security guard trampled, the store manager's wife accidentally killed and a few other fatal casualties among the injured many. 

Jump ahead a year and the owner of the store (Rick Hoffman) opted to continue its operation despite the protests of a small mob who are still bitter from the fiasco. In turn, Jessica (Nell Verlaque), who’s the daughter of said store owner, finds herself and her friends in an odd and vaguely unsettling social media tag featuring cryptic messages and a picture of a Thanksgiving dinner set with their names on it. Being partially responsible of the mob riot of one yesteryear ago, the group can't help but see this as jab on them, but they try their best to ignore it, hide their guilt and move on from the incident. Little do they know is that someone is going to make sure they own up to it, along with a few other folks linked to the deaths that occurred during that horrible holiday scuffle. 

Soon, a killer wearing a creepy John Carver mask and suited in full Pilgrim wear is carving up the guilty ones with an axe. The town sheriff (Patrick Dempsey) quickly pieces together that the victims all had something to do with last year's Thanksgiving riot, but with so many people involved that night, pointing out potential suspects is no easy task. Eventually, Jessica has an encounter with ole' John Carver and nearly got her head chopped off in the matter, forcing her and her friends to help with the investigation and put a stop to the masked slasher, even more so when their threatened number is quickly dwindling down to none. 

With a good murder mystery at play and savage kills from a cool-looking killer to boot, Thankgiving (2023) practically shows that director Eli Roth knows his way around the bodycounting sub-genre, piecing in a lot of fair and fun tributes to many slasher tropes and playing them with a right balance of dread and humor. You'll pretty much get moments like John Carver gutting a poor tubby sap with an electric knife and decapitated them with a deadly wire, before having him taking the time to properly feed his victim's now ownerless cat before legging it out with a severed head which will later turn up as a macabre centerpiece of a dinner table. Its direction and writing basically juggles its tones with a considerably good balance and I am glad to say that it holds well through a good bulk of the plot, emphasizing the serious threat of the murders as the authorities and the targeted teenagers try piecing together clues regarding the identity of the maniac behind the mask, all the while sidelining to a silly My Bloody Valentine (1981)-inspired love triangle with potential red herrings, quirky discussions involving a character's unusual nickname, or visits to the local gun-totting, drug-dealing idiot played by Joe Delfin who, honestly, have to be my favorite character out of the bunch for how increasingly silly he gets in his attempts to be cool with the kids and even help them. A good swing on the acting department definitely helps make whole mystery gig watchable, plus the cordial portrayal of the friend group is just refreshing to watch.

Many of the ridiculous yet brutal holiday carnage of massacred parades and human "turkey" cook-outs are lifted from the original faux trailer that inspired this film, though more noticeably polished and not as exploitative. (we still got the trampoline striptease, for one, but it didn't end with a near-naked cheerleader doing the splits unto an erect knife by accident) The movie wisely makes up for it with a great deal of gory effects and a better variety for its kills, from standard slayings of twisted heads and knife stabbings, to savage ends like a live-broadcasted head crushing and even a full face impalement courtesy of a runaway ship prop, most of it done under the horrifically twisted spirit of the Fall holiday. On top of that, Thanksgiving (2023) have the good grace of giving us real nail-biting chase sequences that hearken back to a couple of slasher classics, one channeling Prom Night (1980) as a teen find themselves alone and hunted in a school with an axe-wielding maniac, the other bringing pitchfork horror vibes ala The Prowler (1981) as a victim plays cat-and-mouse with the killer (who accidentally made his mask cooler by leaving one side to burn on a pre-heating oven) inside a dilapidated yet well-equipped lair.

Of all the things the movie did right, however, Thanksgiving (2023) did loose a few footings and clumsily stumbled down in places, mainly within its last act. It's kinda disappointing as a potentially good set-up was there; John Carver have gathered all of his victims, the surviving ones tied to chairs while corpses of the unfortunate others are propped up in seats, used as decors or even served as the main course in a horrifying sight that comes across something out of Happy Birthday To Me (1981) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). The killer does a fine job delivering a twisted monologue taunting his victims and even adding another body to the count, but then two of the survivors manage to escape and that leads to a backwoods chase that ends just as it started. A supposed twist is then revealed, only to be undone by another and, again, the film looks like it's gearing up for another fun chase sequence, this time involving 16th century muskets and a pick-up truck, but that's also wrapped up abruptly without much fanfare (despite the big blaze involved) and leaves us with a stale parting gift of a predictable jumpscare, as well as a sequel bait as (say it with me) no body was found. This whole finale is simply a hack job in the editing department, terribly rushed with too many survivors and a reveal that should've been good given that the story had the chance to dwell on it further. Still, it could have been worse. Way worse.

Stuffed with enough good bits to make most slashers fun, Thanksgiving (2023) is a welcome addition to holiday bodycounters, one that serves a platter of carnage, satire and witty humor, as well as a decent tribute to the golden age of dead teenager flicks. It may not hit all the marks right, but there's still plenty of a killer treat to be found here. Serve it up and gobble it down!

1 male trampled to death
1 male had his neck caught and cut on a glass shard, bled to death
1 female hit on the head by an incoming shopping cart, neck broken
1 female split in half in a car-crushed dumpster bin
1 male stabbed in the gut with an electric knife, decapitated with a thin wire
1 male had his head twisted
1 female pushed to a table saw, eviscerated
1 male decapitated with an axe
1 male had his head impaled by a projected bowsprit
1 female impaled on a thrown pitchfork, cooked to death inside an oven
1  female seen dead from multiple stab wounds
1 male had his skull bashed apart with a meat tenderizer
Total: 12
Images (c) Google

Monday, November 20, 2023

Gory Gory Youth Group Camp: Sardines (In The Dark) (2023 Novella)

Sardines (In The Dark)

Author: Judith Sonnet
Publication Year: 2023
Chapters: 10
Rating: ***1/2

Sometimes you just want to relax with a good story without going through an essay's worth of pages just to finish a single chapter. Sometimes you just feel like getting a quick read for a good shot of fantastical entertainment in one sitting before readying ourselves for a full day ahead. Often at times I find myself very busy balancing business with pleasure, thus a cheap paperback novella such as this gore-soaked nightmare is just what the horror doctor ordered for a fun-sized page-turner.

The story follows the young members of an evangelical-free church's youth group enjoying their Fall Break retreat at some rented cabins in the woods when one of their newest members suggests a new game for them to play; Sardines, were one person hides while the others look for them in the dark and whoever finds the hider have to hide with them. Last person to find the group would be "it" on the next round. The kids are excited to play the game, save our protagonist, fifteen-year old Kylie, who really isn't getting into the vibe of playing what's technically hide-and-seek in the dark, but she felt a tad more daring that night to give it a try since her bestfriends Jackie and Harold are joining, too.

Unbeknownst and unfortunately for this youth group, something else decided to join the game. Something hulking and powerful. Something twisted with a crazed smile. Something with a taste for warm flesh.

Originally published by its author as a part of an out-of-print collection of horror shorts titled Your God Can't Save You, Sardines (In The Dark) is an unrelenting example of splatterpunk horror fiction in its prime, vividly describing extreme torture and gore through out the pages while taking the time to tackle religious horror centering on traumatic upbringings and uncertainties. Being a novella, however, the book doesn't dive too deep into its religious subtexts and it's mostly used here to slightly flesh out the characters for a paragraph or two before they're pounded to death with a mallet, or give the antagonist a cliched motive behind the massacre. No, the book strongly focuses more on style over substance, more on shock factor and visceral exploitation as not only do the murders go on brutal lengths wording the bodily destructions, but a few of these kills were also done to awfully young victims and the killer even indulges in some really screwed-up shit like wearing a severed head in a manner that's disturbingly and disgustingly perverse.

And speaking of, the book's monstrous villain is certainly quite a disturbing aberration, described as a near-naked muscular freak cloaked in nothing but a rain slicker, bearing a misshapen head, red eyes, almond-shaped teeth and an amazing display of strength. It's revealed to be non-human way too early into the book but, considering the novella is aiming to capitalize on brutality, I wouldn't be surprised if it was done that way to give the writer more opportunity to pen about the creature's terrifying penchant for mutilating victims through sheer strength. It doesn't dilly-dally on getting the ball rolling, too, with the gore quota starting as soon as the second chapter introduces the story's murderous being and its blunt weapon of choice, steadily going through one victim to the next in a consistent pace and an unwavering savage tone, eventually leading to a few interesting curveballs such as who's actually behind the killing spree, as well as the true nature of the killer which is, admittedly, creepy. 

Sardines (In The Dark) never really went anywhere beyond its basic supernatural slasher plotting of groups splitting up and finding reasons to walk into spooky spots in the dark only to be horribly killed by an abomination, but it does make up for it with an effectively violent direction and a good flair of traumatizing writing. It's not for the faint of heart, but if you think you have a strong stomach for nightmarish splatter and gross killers, then I say give this one a read! 

Bodycount: 12
Notable Kill: "He felt the wooden mallet slam between his legs with so much force that it scooted him back toward the wall. The mallet was lifted and brought down again. Its wooden rim detonated his testicles against the dirt floor. He felt his left ball mash into a squirting paste in his jeans. The other seemed to crawl out from its skin sheath," 

And that's just the beginning for this poor chap. Not to mention this is just the first kill from of the entire novella!

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Breaking The Breakfast Clubs: Study Hell (2007) and Getting Schooled (2017) Double Bill Review

If I had a nickel for every time we get a slasher movie about combat shocked army veterans-turned-terror teachers losing it on problem students and going mad with murder, I'd have two nickels. Which isn't a lot, but it's weird that it happened twice! By different writers and directors!

Study Hell (Canada, 2007)
Rating: **
Starring: Lindsay Dell, Brian Austin Jr., Stephen McDougall

Donald Keller (Stephen McDougall) is a teacher with issues; he doesn't appear to be that motivated to teach, a lot of the other staff is creeped out by him, he once showed up in a pep rally drunk and, oh, he appears to be suffering from PTSD after witnessing the horrors of the Vietnam war as a Black-Ops army captain! But the school principal he works under is willing to give him another chance to better himself and it just so happens there's a handful of troublemakers attending afterschool detention who needs a teacher to keep an eye out on them. 

The wannabe-Breakfast Club gets a small taste of Keller's overly strict disciplining as he orders them to write an essay as to why they deserve their punishment while he takes care of some personal matters, though what the gang doesn't know is that their night's about to become deadly when the school janitor decided to confront Keller about a wrongfully accused man and the massacre of an entire cheerleading team that the teacher may have been involved in. This snaps Keller's already fragile psyche, sending him down to a murderous streak as he now sees everyone who defies him as enemy combatants punishable by death!

This being a shot-on-video production, it comes to almost no surprise that Study Hell (2007) has all the trademarks of a low budget do-it-yourself horror film; the casts juggle from underacting to overacting their roles and the direction tries too hard to build its characters for depth that it occasionally winds down to drag out an insipid sentimental scene or two, only to succeed very little for how forced it all feels, as well as how low-grade cheesy the scripting it is. (John Hughes, writer Jeff McArthur ain't)  Cinematography is done through a cheap camera with little to no regards on lighting or style and the lack of editing in its audio means it hardly syncs, so the volume fluctuates from loud to low and back time to time. 

There is no denying that this here is a rubbish film, a bottom scrap from a barrel of terrible shlock, but frankly, it's not without its good points; I do like the idea of Study Hell (2007)'s concept of a madman teacher going psycho on the high school brat pack, forcing these misfits to band together in order to survive. It's a plot that has great horror potential and this movie could've done a well enough job on that front if only the execution had more effort put into it. Still, its amateurish cheesiness at least got me chuckling as much as I am groaning from its questionable production values, especially on how over-the-top our villain is once he goes into full post-war trauma triggered and dishing out dumb quirky one-liners. If only the murders were anywhere interesting, though, as the budget restrains limited a good dose of the killings to be done offcamera and those that happened onscreen barely showed any form of creativity or thrill to them. (Save, maybe, one involving a locker rigged with projecting daggers?) By the hour mark, most of the casts are dead and we're left with our final girl and final boy wandering around air vents and secret tunnels trying to find a way out, only to end up fending off Mr. Keller from one awkwardly staged fight choreography to the next, which is nothing but bad yet hilarious popcorn moments! 

Study Hell (2007)
is a difficult film to defend at the end. There's just too much from it missing to be considered a workable movie, but the corny results and the unintentional hilarity earned the pic a bit of a soft spot from me so I cannot completely diss it. If you like bad slashers (like, really REALLY like them), or if you are simply curious to see how much of a train wreck this bodycounter is for yourself, then I say give it at least a go. But if you think you could do better then, yes, you could certainly do better. Way better.

9 females found slaughtered
1 female found slaughtered, body stuffed in a locker
1 female stabbed in the mouth with a pair of scissors
1 male hanged with a stage curtain's pulley rope
1 female stabbed in the back with an ice pick
1 male beaten, had his head repeatedly crushed with a door
2 males seen dead in a battlefield (flashback)
1 male shot through the neck with an arrow
1 female had her face mutilated by rigged daggers
1 male dragged away, killed offscreen
2 males seen dead in a battlefield (flashback)
1 male killed, method unknown
Total: 22


Getting Schooled (2017)
Rating: ***
Starring: Mayra Leal, Tom Long, Roland Ruiz

It's the 20th of April, 1983; troubled outcast Julie, cheerleader princess Hillary, hooligan Rusty, meathead jock Mike and bespectacled nerdette Shelley find themselves spending their Saturday in detention for various misconducts and their wheelchair-bound monitor Mr. Roker is not too pleased babysitting these delinquents. Everybody is just dying to get out and spend the weekend anywhere than an empty classroom, but this little afterschool confinement would become a fight for survival when, after a projector accidentally falls on Mr. Roker, a head trauma triggers the teacher's PTSD from his days as a Black Ops unit and is now under the delusion that the kids are trying to kill him, so he's hellbent on killing them first.

Trapped in a locked empty school with a murderous paraplegic Vietnam vet skilled and strong enough to take them down one by one, the motely crew have no choice but to work together in order to live through Mr. Roker's deadly war games, as well as find a way to kill off the maddened teacher before he ends them all!

Getting Schooled (2017) is basically the melting pot mess you would get when one would outfit John Hughes' coming-of-age teen dramedy The Breakfast Club (1985) with the sensibilities of a low-budget B-grade throwback to 80s slasher flicks. It's filled with the common clichés and trappings of a bad bodycounter pic, mainly subpar acting and sub-standard writing resulting to caricature characters and tonal shifts juggling between being funny and emotional, though the direction do feel like it knows the absurdity of the story, occasionally willing to let loose on being silly for the giggles while squeezing in some bit of hammy drama in an attempt to give the movie a bit of weight. It doesn't always work, of course, but the courtesy of being entertainingly cheesy do help lessen the corny blows, not to mention the daringness of the plot to go into mean-spirited territories when it's called for.

Frankly, they have an interesting angle here when it comes to the slasher elements; it's not very often we get physically handicapped killers in the sub-genre (though not for the lack of trying as seen with titles like Hellroller (1992) or Highwaymen (2004)) and Mr. Roker surprisingly does a pretty good job being a real menace on four wheels, sadistically enjoying torturing his victims before slaughtering them all under the trauma of post-war combat. He is terrifyingly resilient and tough enough to out-grapple those who tried to brawl with him, often resulting to refreshingly graphic kills that made good use of the budget to dish out gory splatter and bloody dismemberments through sloppy practical effects, as well as gruesome make-up work for the aftermath bodies from the movie's few offscreen slayings. 

Production-wise, Getting Schooled (2017) is far from the most polished indie slasher, but it plays nice with its camera work, giving us a good bunch of expressively creative shots and lighting for both its horror and comedic angles. Costume and design do lean heavily on the stereotypical and cartoony, making the throwback aesthetics sort of a miss unless you look at it with a joking eye. Pacing does hobble, especially whenever the movie decides to slow down for the sake of giving its characters a moment to bond cheesily or spew pointless monologues, but the film's last act sort of makes up for it as the comedic elements were almost dropped in favor of grounding how much of an actual threat Mr. Roker has become now that he nearly killed off everybody. (Including Ron Jeremy in an extended cameo as a sleazy school janitor)

As clunky as it is as a cheesy slasher riff, Getting Schooled (2017) can be a fair watch if you're not demanding a lot from it, nor try making too much sense out of the whole deal. (I mean, for one, had it ever occurred to these kids to try hurting Roker with long-ranged weapons seeing, you know, he's on a chair?) It's good enough for laugh or two and its splatter-rich kills are a welcome sight, so I'll give this deadly detention a passing grade of 'B', for B-flick.

1 female had her head repeatedly crushed with a radio
1 male stabbed in the neck with a screwdriver, fed with acid
1 male had a hand chopped off with a paper guillotine, later found slaughtered
1 male ran through and eviscerated with a wood saw
1 female found disemboweled and her eyes gouged
1 male skewered through the neck with a broken flag pole
1 female decapitated with a dropped sign
1 male dropped from a building, head splattered open
Total: 8

Friday, November 10, 2023

My Bloody Reunions: To Become One (2002)

To Become One (Australia, 2002)
Rating: **
Starring: David Vallon, Emma Grasso, Jamie Giddens

Hey, dear readers! Ever wondered what would The Human Centipede (2009) would be like if it was a slasher? No? Well, good for you! You're completely sane and I don't have to worry about you! But, yeah, that's what this low-budget early-2000s Ozploitation reminds me of. Minus the poop thing.

A year after seeing her dear mum get sliced in half by a killer donning a gas mask, Melinda was just celebrating her birthday with friends one night when the same masked maniac shows up to ruin the evening, slaughtering a couple of guests. More of Melinda's buds are then bumped off no soon after, forcing the rest of the gang to try saving themselves from being murdered by driving into the countryside. (Which meant they'll be far from civilization and any potential help, surely making themselves convenient for the killer to pick off one by one. And some of you wonder why I often root for the killers in these films...)

One car bomb decimated, two girls burnt to a crisp and a Carbine gun opened fire later, Melinda is chased into the woods where the killer finally corners her and this is when the movie begins to shift the curve because next thing you know, she's bound to a hospital bed and stuck inside an insane asylum where a doctor high on religious fervor plans to reunite her with a long lost family member ala surgery. Melinda must now find a way to escape the demented doctor and his crazed cohorts before she suffers a fate worse than death, all in the meantime taking a gander or two to what kind of delusions the sick surgeon is feeding himself, his staff and his congregation of patients.

From teen slasher to medical-cum-cult horror, To Become One (2002) has the ambition to better itself and be more than just another slasher flick which is admirable, yes, even more so when the production only had to work a couple of grand. However, the clumsy execution of this gesture shows that the film still bit more than it could chew and it's distracting to say the least, more often within the movie's clunky ventures to stylize itself with warping colors and overly active camerawork, as well as dripping the horror drama elements with too many talky scenes that are just made worse by wearisome writing. There are no likeable characters to root for and the killer could have been this movie's strong point as they do rock a good gas mask and black trench coat combo, and the murders they commit have a decent splash of blood and gore to them, but all that's tossed away the moment they're unmasked midway into the movie and, before you know it, they're just annoying to watch.  

Finishing on an inevitably frantic note, To Become One (2002) is too much of an overworked yet underwhelming chore to watch as a whole; while the slasher half have a lot of dumb moments, it's somewhat entertaining with its badness, which is a lot more than I can say about the pretentious wannabe psycho-drama we're treated with in the other half. If you think about it, it doesn't really add up now, does it? Why does the killer even have to stalk and massacre Melinda's friends if the main goal here was to get her to the hospital and settle her for surgery? Why waste all that precious time and energy? I don't know. All I can tell is that there is a good idea to be found here, it's just messily handled in this blunder of a film. 

1 female sliced in half with a sword
1 female ran through with a digging bar
1 female had her head skewered with a digging bar
1 female had her neck crushed and slashed open with metal claws
1 male garroted with a thin wire
2 females decimated with a bomb
1 elderly male passes away
1 male stabbed in the back with a knife
Total: 9

Thursday, November 9, 2023

I Dream A Dream of A Better Dream: Heebie Jeebies (2005)

Heebie Jeebies (2005) (AKA "The Oak Hill Picture Show")
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Alex Balestrieri, Deb Billing, Amy Booth

Whoa, wait, wait, wait, let me get the story straight here: a girl with clairvoyant dreams gets a nightmare of her old high school friends getting killed off, so she fakes an invitation for a reunion and have them meet up at an abandoned, dilapidated farmhouse in the middle of nowhere in order to protect them. At a farmhouse. A dilapidated and abandoned farmhouse. In the middle of nowhere.

...This chick hadn't seen enough horror films to know that is the stupidest place to try and protect a bunch of people from a rampaging loon with a machete, had she?

Well, to no one's surprise, as day goes to night, our killer starts skulking around the farmhouse to prowl on them and hacking away their heads. (Mostly offscreen, but have a nice way of revealing the headless states of the victims, plus there's a fair dash of gore to be seen) There's supposed to be a big reveal as to who this mysterious slasher is but it's hard to miss the fact that we have that one shmuck missing during an entire slasher attack, even more so when you only have five characters to work with, so it's not hard to figure out who's headhunting that night.

Now, it would have been a relatively short straight-to-video movie if Heebie Jeebies (2005) was just a straight-up slasher, so it also took the liberty of treating us with intermittent segments focused on our lead girl's nightmares, making this film an oddball anthology pic with a prank involving a moron with a prop scissor stuck on his head gone horrible wrong, gargoyle-like critters that only comes to life when its pitch-black dark (quite convenient for a low-budget shlock like this, am I right?) and a hit-and-run accident that gets worse when a good Samaritan suddenly gets involved. None of these are any better to watch than the main plot as they're all tedious, horribly shot, barely coherent audio-wise and crappily acted. Interestingly, only two of these segments tie in to the slasher backdrop, leaving the remaining one quite out of place, only adding more strangeness to an already bizarre bodycounter.

The last act fortunately delivers well on the stalk-and-stab action, but with very little salvageable at that point, it barely matters. I'm sure it looked good on paper, a slasher film that sidelines as an anthology, but with a lack of structuring, solid direction and proper ingenuity to work along its minuscule budget, Heebie Jeebies (2005) is simply a frustrating mess of a movie. Hard to watch with its distractingly low quality. Hard to sit through with its clumsy writing. Unless you're a curious horror fanatic or a die-hard slasher completist like moi, I say don't bother with it. You can do better with that video rental money...

1 male decapitated with a garden shear offscreen, head later seen
1 female decapitated with a machete
2 males slaughtered offcamera, mangled bodies seen
1 male killed, scream heard
1 male decapitated
1 female bashed with a shovel, fed into a woodchipper
1 female head found
1 male gets a machete dropped into his face
1 female decapitated with a machete
1 female hit by a car
Total: 11

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

China Doll Chopping: Bloody Night A Go Go (2005)

Bloody Night A Go Go (Japan, 2005)
Rating: **
Starring: Mitsuru Akaboshi, Maria Kitazawa, Wataru Koga

In just a short span of an hour, Bloody Night A Go Go (2005) shows us what Japanese surrealism could do when merged with the typical teen slasher horror.

Seven teenagers decided to sneak inside a mall after hours to try out its new Summer attraction, an indoor haunted house, just for the fun irony of it all as the shopping center does have a reputation of being haunted by the ghost of a young boy named Kenji. Unbeknownst to the group, Nanako, the youngest of them, appears to have a bit of history with the ghost boy and it's tied to a double murder that deeply traumatized her. Not long after the gang settle in the empty mall and starts canoodling inside the scare house, someone donning an overgrown china doll head, wielding a meat cleaver and dishing out some mean acrobatics begins hunting them down one by one. Could it be the infamous child ghost spooking up the place? Or perhaps it's an actual loon loose inside the mall?

In the meantime, we have an oddly-acted cooking show full of Chinese stereotypes, four girls working at a maid cafe hanging out in an apartment telling ghost stories and a ten minute post-credit rap battle, I kid you not.

Bloody Night A Go Go (2005) flirts its standard bodycount story of doomed kids getting hacked to death by crazed maniacs with the strange and abstract, loaded with candy color lighting, uncanny camera effects and a schizophrenic direction. The resulting show is near-parodic and nonsensical in its structure, assaulting conventional horror tropes with showcases of trippy visuals and overacting talents yet still maintaining a good service of gimmicky deaths and bizarre villains. It's practically weird for the sake of weird, playing well into its offbeat execution that isn't without its hammy charms and fair laughs that often dips in the edge of silliness. Admittedly, there are moments where the movie tries to be serious and creepily atmospheric, but the effect is mostly lost within the whacky eccentricities of the tone, especially when you have scenes where the clunky-headed slasher effortlessly teleports and somersaults their way into slaying their victims before striking a mean pose, or when a wad of fermented beans is lethally sticky to the point it can tear someone's face off. So, less of your everyday paint-by-number dead teenager pic and more of a chaotic abstraction disguised as one. 

Without a doubt, Bloody Night A Go Go (2005) is a difficult film to recommend, particularly if one is not in tune with quirky horror done in low-budget unrealism, but if you're are looking for something a tad out of the ordinary for your slasher needs then this one is a fair enough pick to try out. Yes, it can be a bit much, but if you can see the uniquely funny and cheesy side of this short Japanese feature then this little obscurity might be worth at least a viewing.

1 male and 1 female hacked to death with a meat cleaver
1 male slashed with a meat cleaver (dream)
1 female hacked to death with a meat cleaver (dream)
1 male killed inside a photobooth, corpse photographed (dream)
1 female hacked with a meat cleaver (dream)
1 male gets a mannequin hand stabbed into his face
1 female electrocuted to death with live wires to the groin
1 male had his head vacuum-sealed, suffocated
1 female gets fire extinguisher foam sprayed down her throat, killed
1 male had his face smothered in bean paste and stuck on a locker, torn off by force
1 female had her throat slashed with a meat cleaver
1 female hacked on the face with a meat cleaver
Total: 13

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Kangaroos Loose In The Top Paddock: Safety In Numbers (2006)

Safety In Numbers (Australia, 2006)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Jessica Napier, Ben Tari, Henry Nixon

In this rare Aussie export, six former reality TV stars find themselves going to an island for what may have been a reunion show, only to find the place seemingly deserted and trashed. Unknown to these chuckleheads, a jealous ex-contestant who got booted from the show have been waiting for them to get there, biding their time for the perfect opportunity to murder the bunch, or at least have enough deadly traps set around the island for these wankers to walk into.  

Now, see, Safety In Numbers (2006) could have been a good enough slasher film with that premise alone. Not a great slasher per se, but at least entertaining enough to earn an occasional watch should one be looking for a casual island-set survival bodycounter to pass the time with. Sadly, the film simply fails to execute any form of genuine interest from this simple plot, not with its characters being as bland as stale bread and twice as dumb despite the actors themselves being competent in their roles, or its kills, though bloody, mostly done either offscreen or edited in a way that we only see the weapon or trap approaching before it smash-cuts to a scream. Camera work is as dull as the near-barren island setting, too, and there's not much drama, atmosphere or tension to speak of here since, again, the victims are too dim and cliched to feel invested in. 

The killer doesn't show up in the flesh until the third act were it suddenly goes full cat-and-mouse mode and, once more, it could have been a great deal of fun with the perp chasing down the obligatory final girl while more or less surviving at most four attempts on their lives, but this is soon tarnished by a clumsy twist reveal and finale where it hints the possibility of another loonie offing people, but never bothering to do anything of actual substance with it so we're not even sure if this is what they're suggesting! 

Bestrewed with a poor script, lackluster characters, tame kills and an infuriating ending, Safety In Numbers (2006) is a rarity that deserves its obscurity. An ocker mess of an uninteresting slasher, we'd be better off watching or even doing almost anything else...

1 male bludgeoned on the head
1 male trips a spiked spring trap, impaled
1 female killed offscreen, later seen impaled in the mouth with a spear
1 female hit by a hurled log trap, killed
1 male found murdered in a pit
1 male found murdered in a pit
1 female shot with a harpoon
1 male missing, presumably killed
1 female killed offscreen, dismembered arm seen
Total: 9

Rave a Cave to The Grave: Bone Cave (2011)

Bone Cave (2011)
Rating: *1/2
Starring: Justin Rose, Jeremy Jusek, Andrew Hartl

...Yeah, I'm not even gonna beat around the bush, this is just terrible.

Two college slackers named Mike and... T Rad... want to earn some good cash so they throw the mother of all raves inside a secluded cave for novelty's sake. Lights were set. Tunes were played. Stolen drugs were passed around as party favors. Things were going great - until it isn't. The cave just happens to be the lair of some face-painted creep who goes by Bones Magee and, for the lack of a better term, he has aspirations to be the next wise-cracking slasher villain. Like, he utters terrible one-liners before and/or after hacking someone to death with his assortment of bone-related weapons. So, yeah, Bones Magee soon crashes the party, forcing Mike, T Rad, some hot goth-punk chick named Annora and the few remaining partygoers to try and survive the Bone Cave.

Honestly, I wanted to like Bone Cave (2011). It has cheese factor, a stupidly entertaining villain and some of the kills were gruesome enough, but its pacing is atrocious, taking a very long while with us just watching two boring bozos trying to plan a rave before anything interesting happens, all in the meantime enduring acting chops that range from stiff to dull just to pour salt on the wound. The murder spree wouldn't takes place after almost an hour of lackluster plot building, and its insultingly done and over with no soon after, leaving the last fifteen minutes or so focused solely on Bones Magee hammily monologuing this movie's excuse of a twist, while our survivors equally cheese it out with responding banter. 

Throw in a couple of dated computer graphic effects here and there, plus an entire massacre that happened offscreen, implied only through blood splashes on prop rocks, looped audio of actors screaming and annoying heavy rock playing in the background, and you have one of the cheapest slashers to come out of celluloid. Seriously, Bone Cave (2011) earned its spot on the crusty bottom barrel of horrid horror lameness for not only how crappy the overall quality of it is, but also for how braindead boring it is. 

Avoid it.  

1 male skewered with a pike
1 female impaled through the forehead with a pike
1 female had her face melted with acid
1 male bashed on the head with a skull-decorated pickaxe
1 male hacked on the side with a bone hatchet
1 female had her throat crushed
1 female hacked on the head with a bone hatchet
2 females slashed with a bone hatchet
A number of victims massacred with a skull-decorated pickaxe
1 victim seen crushed in a grenade-triggered cave-in
1 male had his head crushed with a stereo set, electrocuted
1 female hacked on the back with a bone hatchet
1 male hacked on the head with a skull-decorated pickaxe
1 male falls to his death
1 male dies from a bone hatchet hacked unto his back
Total: 15+

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Death by Scuba: Amsterdamned (1988)

Amsterdamned (Netherlands, 1988)
Rating: ***
Starring: Huub Stapel, Monique van de Ven, Serge-Henri Valcke

One part-slasher, one part-cop thriller, Amsterdamned (1988) follows a series of murders happening around the murky canals of Amsterdam, perpetrated by someone in full diving gear. The victims are chosen by random, often pulled into the water to be savagely slaughtered before having their corpses displayed out in the open for every unfortunate soul to see. Tasked to solve this case is one police detective Eric Visser (Huub Stapel), your typical hardboiled single father-type who plays by his own rules, only to find himself constantly one step behind our killer and following leads that may or may not hit dead ends, resulting to more victims falling prey to our murderous scuba diver and putting the city in a state of panic.

Made by Dutch director Dick Maas, this serial killer horror thriller follows all the norms one would find from your usual police procedural flicks revolving around detectives diving deep into their investigations, piecing together potential motivation or maybe even a pattern from each crime scene in hopes of solving the murders before more people fall victim to it. What set Amsterdamned (1988) apart from its kin is the unique premise of the killer prowling the canals before emerging to abduct and murder their victims underwater, which means a lot of Jaws (1975)-style bodycounting that pretty much sets this film for outrageously amusing underwater slasher shlock!

Some fine examples of this include the very opening scene of the film wherein we spend a good build-up watching through the frogman killer's point-of-view as they swim the canals at night, before popping up to murder a prostitute with a stolen butcher knife and dragging the body away. The gnarly part doesn't happen until after the credits, however, when a daytime tour boat goes through the arch of a bridge only to have itself dragging against the prostitute’s dangling butchered body, smearing blood over the glass windows before falling in through an open roof, much to the absolute horror of the passengers. Another equally odd yet entertaining scene happens further into the movie where we see a random girl in an inflatable floatie chilling in the canal, getting a Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)-inspired demise as the killer sticks their knife through the inflatable before carefully positioning it to angle where they can just run it right between the girl’s thighs!

When not entertaining us with slasher murders, Maas also set up some thrilling action sequences from car chases pursuing motorcycle-riding suspects through Amsterdam's narrow streets, to this film's most highlighted sequence concerning a high-speed boat chase through the city's network of canals and bridges, filled with an unabashed amount of stunt work jumping over the top of bridges, skidding through cafes, crashing through other boats and Huub Stapel being dragged behind his running boat in the midst of the pursuit. Without a doubt, the city of Amsterdam is used to its full effect during these thrill rides, shot as beautifully as the inventive escapades themselves. 

The only drawback here is that, in order to get to these fun set-pieces, we do have to sit through some very standard slow moments like our lead detective's romantic endeavors with a widowed diving enthusiast named Laura (Monique van de Ven), whose suspiciously unamused therapist friend (Hidde Maas) doesn't appear to appreciate the fact that the ruffled investigator is getting a tad close with the lady, or the little side-plot of Visser's cheekily snarky daughter and her friend attempting to track the killer paranormally through an ouija board. It's a lot of establishing banter and quirky moments, which isn't exactly a bad thing for cheese and giggle's sake, but they have the tendency to slow things down and stretching the film's run needlessly for almost two hours.

Still, some of these little moments do tie in to the mystery nicely enough, leading to this movie's final act and perhaps its most suspenseful set-up wherein Laura believes she has entered the killer's house and does her darnest to hide away from the suspect while finding the opportunity to get the jump on them. It has some tension, a good reveal to the killer's motive that's more or less in par with what you would get from a B-grade slasher, though I do wish the finale have a bit more pep to it as it concludes rather anti-climactically. 

Amsterdamned (1988) definitely fits the bill as an entertainingly bad flick, one with a premise that sounds absolutely silly but executed with enough gusto, cheesy charm and cynical tongue-in-cheek to keep its fun factor rolling strong! 

1 female stabbed to death with a butcher knife
1 male found decapitated
1 male dragged into the water, later found mutilated
1 female pulled into the water, later found murdered
1 female gets a hunting knife ran through her groin
1 male drowned inside a sinking houseboat
1 male stabbed to death with a hunting knife
1 male shot in the mouth with a harpoon
Total: 8

Thursday, November 2, 2023

There Lives a Phantom Freak: Phantom Fun-World (2023)

Phantom Fun-World (2023)
Rating: **
Starring: L.C. Holt, Celeste Blandon, Jace Carson

In 1997, the Phantom Fun-World indoor theme park found itself in damning controversy when four staff and two responding police were brutally murdered, apparently by the owner's disturbed young son. The scandal was enough to shut the place down and left alone for a very long while until, that is, recently, under new ownership and a fresh start away from its dark past. With its grand reopening drawing near, troubled teen Andi gets herself a job at the park in order to provide for her 16-year-old brother Cole while their estranged mother sorts her own life out. Unbeknownst to her and the rest of the new hires, someone obsessed over the park's grim history and its Phantom mascot is paying their respect, depopulating Fun-World of its staff night by night with the seeming intention of keeping it closed forever...

Concept-wise, Phantom Fun-World (2023) has the very potential to be a fair enough throwback to Golden Age slashers with a plot that kinda resembles Friday The 13th (1980)'s only in a carnival-esque setting, peppered with decent practical gore effects and a few good stalk-and-stab antics towards the end as our survivors fight off a decent-looking killer with a unique mask. The problem rises from its obvious microbudget; the Fun-World itself is more of a glorified single-floor arcade that just happens to have bumper cars and a Merry-Go-Round than the exciting theme park it's advertised to be, thus failing to properly utilize a fun backdrop. Writing attempts a flair of the melodramatic for potential character development but it's so stinted yet forced that it's less engaging and more tedious to sit through, something the movie's range of hokey to amateur acting, nor its dubious audio quality hardly helps. In fact, there's an entire sequence here involving Andi's snarky bestfriend being attacked by The Phantom and the whole thing is shot like something out of Rob Zombie's own brand of horror, complete with slow-mo's and muted flashbacks of the victim being happy, just to show how devastating this is supposed to be. Would have been effective given that we get to know the character maybe a tad more than just 'that snarky friend", so the result is more eye-rolling than tear-jerking.   

Actually, come to think of it,
the resemblance is rather uncanny...

Still, giving credit when credit is due, Phantom Fun-World (2023) at least made itself worthwhile whenever it focuses on the killings, may it be for the gnarly gore effects, the classy stab on your usual cat-and-mouse chase, or the unintentional hilarity of The Phantom's absurd durability. Friday The 13th (1980)'s Jason Ari Lehman is here in a fun cameo as the original owner of Phantom Fun-World, while The Phantom himself is played by L.C. Holt, who donned the Lamb Mask in the awesome home invasion slasher You're Next (2011), and he's certainly giving his all in his role here as another mute murderer.

Mediocre it may be, if you're not looking much for your horror viewing then Phantom Fun-World (2023) is serviceable enough for a low-budget slashing good time filled with blood, cheese and a good shot of a killer. Other than that, you can definitely do better... 

1 male hacked with an axe, eyes thumbed
1 male knifed in the head
1 male knifed to death
1 male had his jaw torn off
4 males murdered with a knife (flashback)
1 male had his throat cut with a knife (flashback)
1 male knifed to death (flashback)
1 male knifed in the neck
1 female beaten to death against a wall
1 male knifed to death (flashback)
1 female dies from multiple knife stabbings
1 male beaten to death with a police baton
1 male knifed to death
Total: 16 

You bring me gum-gum?"

In The Deep Guilty Woods: Dark Windows (2023)

Dark Windows (US/Norway, 2023)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Rory Alexander, Vanessa Borgli, Anna Bullard

After uneasily attending the wake of their friend Ali, who passed away from a fatal car crash they're all involved in, friends Tilly, Peter and Monica decides to retreat to a country house owned by one of their grandparents to recuperate and grief in their own way as they let matters back home settle down. The stay was rocky at first with Tilly still blaming herself for the crash as she's supposedly the one driving that night, Peter downing himself with booze to numb his guilt much to the worry of his two friends, and Monica is more or less rushing to move on by acting as normal as possible, but honoring the memory of Ali and for the sake of their own friendship, the trio forgives one another and do their best to unwind from all the trouble and celebrate their late-friend's life by simply enjoying one another's company.

This is basically the story of Dark Windows (2023) for the first half; a whole lot of character building and melodramatics, practically slow-burning its way to the cat-and-mouse theatrics and, frankly, I dig it. The acting is spot-on and the writing has soul to it, making the characters likeable yet flawed as we do get to know how much of the car crash was indeed their fault and how the guilt of this fact is eating them inside despite the varying kind of brave faces they're putting on. This conflict makes the cast human, sanctioning cathartic outcomes as the film slowly builds its tension by the time our three friends would soon learn to their horror that somebody else have made their way to the farmhouse.

It starts with recordings of Ali's voice uttering familiar phrases from the night of the accident getting played at random times. And then the sound of shuffling around the house. Next a shrine dedicated to their late-friend is suddenly changed to reflect an ominous promise of their own deaths, not to mention the horrifying fact that none of them even made the shrine to begin with! Once an arm shot out of a window to grab a handful of one of the girls' hair, the three have no choice but to try and survive the night as the intruder prowls and brutes their way into getting them, undoubtedly in revenge to what happened to Ali. 

These resulting attacks are very much ripe with well-crafted tension and suspense as the three try to plan out their escape not knowing whether the masked villain is still inside the house or out there waiting for them to make a run for it. Interestingly, not a lot of kills were committed during the backwoods home invasion (save for one accidental fatal braining), rather a lot of brutalizing and capturing were done instead and the murders were only set in the end through a more torturous affair as the killer go through the victims one by one while they're bound in chairs. The casualties are rather low in number due to the fact that the focus group is also relatively small, but it has heft since we did get to know these victims-to-be, plus the overall gloom atmosphere hanging throughout the film simply adds to the effectively depressing beat of the scene. Honestly, it's not an easy sight to sit through, no matter how unique some of the kills can get. 

By the end of it, Dark Windows (2023) is a slasher flick that mostly earns its slow-burn approach; the characters have depth, the scares and thrills have a good punch to them, and the all-in-all direction has quality to it. The only thing I'm sure will divide its audience is its ending which may either leave them feeling too pessimistic from the whole ordeal, or feeling lacking as it kinda ended abruptly just when the tension was getting real high. Personally, despite it missing the benefits of a good stalk 'n stab approach and maybe even a higher bodycount, this movie is pretty alright for a bleak horror outing, just expect nobody is getting out of this flick 'okay'... 

1 female implied killed in a car crash
1 male bludgeoned on the face with a baseball bat
1 male had his head bagged and filled with vodka, drowned
1 female had her arms shattered with a hammer, neck broken
Total: 4