Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Demonic. Deadly. Delicious: The Muffin Man (2006)

The Muffin Man (2006)
Rating: ***
Starring: Chris Ippolito, Michael Shepherd, Allison Lynch

"I'm here to warn you that the entire staff of this donut shop is in danger of being murdered by a homicidal and possibly immortal serial killer. Also, I'll have a coffee. Black. And a honey cruller."

Yep. It's one of those movies.

In this direct-to-video indie-treat, the scene starts with baker Desmond Bailey decorating some kid's birthday cake with a bowl of fondant purposely contaminated with a not so sweet special ingredient: rat poison. As you would've guessed, our baker is a serial killer who's already responsible for a series of cake poisonings that took the lives of 29 victims and, following the receipts of the tainted cakes, a pair of detectives arrive at Desmond's bakery that night to put a stop to his 'baked bads'. The pastry maker, however, isn't going down without a fight, killing one of the detectives with a hurled tray of muffins (!) before brawling against the other, only for it to end with his head getting covered in dough and shoved into an oven, baking the crazy confectioner to death.

This should have been the end of our nightmare-maker baker, but some otherworldly forces out there say otherwise and up rises The Muffin Man, a supernatural being with a bloodlust for anyone involved in bread-based businesses. 

Flash-forward five years later, the staff of a small donut shop, Gonuts Donuts, (where 'you'll go nuts for their donuts!') gets a visit from the surviving detective, Hank Egger, now grizzled after tailing the Muffin Man throughout its worldwide killing spree. He warns them of the arrival of the supernatural murderer and strongly urges them to close shop early and go home, but as a typical response to horror movie doomsayers, none of the staff takes his tale of an undead killer baker seriously. That is, of course, until The Muffin Man arrives to end them all, with eyes glowing red, demonic voice spewing hellish threats and a giant scrumptious muffin for a head...    

If you're diving into The Muffin Man (2006) with the mindset that you're about to watch what's basically a live-action horror cartoon revolving around a murderous pastry hacking away dumb people while spewing overly long threats, then you're certainly the kind of people this movie is aiming for as there's no doubt this title is a special brand of fun, nonsensical silliness! It's shlocky, yes, with not-so-stellar acting and characters written to be caricatures of lowbrow employees barely running a small establishment, whisked into a mix of low-budget special effects, sound design and video quality, the resulting mess is still this type of tongue-in-cheek ham and cheese junkfood horror that embraces the goofiness of the premise and it isn't afraid to be a little more outrageous with its zaniness! 

As an oddball bodycounter, the baking-themed murder do rely more on caricatured absurdity and belly laughs than chunky gore, with one poor fella getting literally flattened to death with a rolling pin as an example. The titular 'Muffin Man' not only looks the part of a comical killer dough demon with its baker uniform and the humongous, vaguely-humanoid muffin head, but its overly exaggerated evilness apparently comes with lengthy declarations of ungodly torments, some of which awfully sounds like heavy metal verses such as This world has not prepared you for the torment you will know! You're looking at Hell's infernal kitchen!

All of these in a measly yet satisfying 40 minutes. End credits included. A workable run for a small budget production without completely overcooking its humor.

The Muffin Man (2006) is a delectably guilty morsel of a mini-flick, one that's charmingly good as a low cost movie about a homicidal hellspawn muffin can be. Fans of weird horror comedies of the cheddary-kind, bite into this one!

1 male gets a hurled tray of muffins impaled into his chest
1 male had his head baked inside an oven
1 male killed offscreen
1 female drowned in a dumpster bin full of donut grease
1 male crushed flat with a rolling pin
1 male stabbed in the head with a pump full of strawberry jelly
1 female stabbed through the face with a rolling pin
Total: 7

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Door-To-Door Nightmares: Door (1988)

Door (Japan, 1988)
Rating: ****
Starring: Keiko Takahashi, DaijirĂ´ Tsutsumi, ShirĂ´ Shimomoto

Yasuko, a housewife, lives a rather regular life in a high-rise urban apartment with her husband Satoru and young son Takuto, with the only snags in her happy mundane days being Satoru's workaholic tendencies which often have him spending more time in the office, as well as the constant barrage of spam messages from phone calls, mails, and door-to-door sales. Little did she expect, unfortunately, that a particular visit from an uncomfortably forward salesman one day would set off a series of stalking and harassment, hurling Yasuko down a disturbing path of distressing encounters and increasing violence which soon ends in an unsettling and brutal home invasion.

Marketed as an extremely rare late-80s home invasion slasher flick that never got a screening outside of Japan until very recently, Door (1988) is more of an Italian giallo-inspired stalker horror that leans towards style and direction rather than an increasing bodycount. The story is simple and straightforward, slowly burning its way from the everyday normalities of a small family, to the sinister scares and creepy set-pieces perpetrated by either our villainous stalker or Yasuko's growing paranoia, all in a pace that's best described as organic. It does take a while to get to the action going, in turn, and a few scenes did feel like they're padding for time, but the build-up is made mostly bearable and captivating thanks to the lurid cinematography and free-floating camera work effectively capturing just how alone and helpless Yasuko is in her predicament. A good portion of visual shots are even done in positions showing wide spaces behind or around certain characters to further convey this sense of isolation, greatly working with the narrative as it soon establishes that Yasuko's husband, Satoru, is essentially neglecting his family being so focused on his job, plus her neighbors would prefer to turn a blind eye to the attacks as they retreat to the safety of their own apartments and the cops are unable to help Yasuko that much as she never got a good look at the salesman so she couldn't provide them a proper description of her stalker. All of these elements melded well to create an intense and atmospheric plot that'll only get more shocking as it reaches its climax.

These last 20 minutes of Door (1988) is this movie's cream of the crop, an impressive scattershot of bloodwork and ferocity as Yasuko and her son Takuto, now trapped in their own home, are forced to flee from room to room and fight with whatever they can against a deranged salesman gone full maniac on them, knife at hand on one moment, a roaring chainsaw in the next. Gore makes its welcome presence around these parts, not overly splashy but a gnarly display nonetheless. Cinematographer Yasushi Sasakibara's phenomenal camera work captures the pure chaos and claustrophobic terror in an array of interesting shots, while Junichi Kikuchi's wild editing helps keep the hectic pace of the attacks, juxtaposing with the eerie slow burn that came before. Granted all of these end with a single kill only, the gradual escalation of edge and suspense made the wait all worth it, even more so when the death itself is crazy violent, cathartic in a very macabre way.

Keiko Takahashi, wife of Door's director, Banmei Takahashi, carries the film as our lead Yasuko, doing a fantastic job making the character sympathetic enough to make us feel for her during her loneliest and most helpless plights, definitely selling a lot of the film's more crucial moments. In turn, Daijiro Tsutsumi, playing our stalking salesman Yamakawa, lands quite an impression with his transition from a calm yet disturbed creep to a manic madman prone to sexual violence, despite the character having very little background to explain his sudden spiral to depravity. He's simply crazy. Dangerous. Sometimes that's all we need from a good horror villain and Tsutsumi nailed his part.

Door (1988) undoubtedly have most of its bits and pieces working in its favor, resulting to a terror flick that swims in shuddersome unease and nightmarish fear before rewarding us with a bout of thrilling savagery. A psychological horror with grit in its teeth, I say don't miss this one! 

1 male stabbed with a barbecue fork and brained with a bat, nearly decapitated with a chainsaw
Total: 1

Monday, February 12, 2024

The Old Home: Next of Kin (1982)

Next of Kin (Australia, 1982)
Rating: ****
Starring: Jacki Kerin, John Jarratt, Alex Scott

Made and released during Australia's boom of exploitation flicks, this cult classic slasher thriller is an anomaly in aesthetics but well deserving of its status of a genre-defining favorite among many!

Returning back to her home town after receiving news that her dear mother passed away, Linda Stevens (Jacki Kerin) sees herself inheriting Montclare, a gothic yet luxuriant nursing home that her mother and aunt Rita created out of their own manor. Knowing little about the place, Linda entertained the idea of just selling it away and getting on with her life, but seeing the pleasant hostility of the home's head nurse Connie (Gerda Nicolson) and local medic Dr. Barton (Alex Scott), who both have been running the Montclare during the times Linda's mother was ailing, she sensed something rather off about her situation, opting to ponder over her decisions a bit more and maybe even managing the place while she's at it. 

When one of the elderly residents is found dead at the bottom of a bathtub one day, Linda's stay in Montclare took a turn for the macabre as she's now catching glimpses of a mysterious figure hanging around the grounds, getting phone calls from someone heavily breathing on the other line, as well as finding sink and baths mysteriously left open to run. Furthermore, she discovers her late-mother's diary detailing something evil lurking within the manor and her aunt's eventual descent into violent madness twenty years ago. When asked about the home's dark past, Dr Barton and Connie decline to speak about the matter, forcing Linda to seek help from a local boy she's romancing named Barney (Pre-Wolf Creek John Jarratt!) in uncovering what's really going on in Montclare...

To call Next of Kin (1982) a slasher is only true for about a third of the movie as the rest play out more as a slow burn psychological thriller crafted with effectively haunting imagery, stylized scenery, and, too, intriguing characters for the premise to focus on. It's a direction that may not work for most, but the film's steady and controlled pacing undoubtedly help build the story and tension towards a workably dark and gothic mystery behind the enigmatic horrors hidden in Montclare, fleshing out the devil in the details and, too, raising the dread the further the situation deepens. There's a mild surrealist bend to its execution, making use of a good deal of superb camerawork and uncannily eloquent visuals to give this Ozploitation piece a psuedo-supernatural sense in its scares, adding more on its creep factor. In turn, the narrative is well-acted and tainted with low cheese, influenced greatly by the Old Dark House horror outings down to the very tropes of apparent hauntings and suspiciously secretive individuals, with lead actress Jacki Kerin navigating her character through this unraveling plot with a fair range of being warmly nostalgic towards the old town she grew up in and simply downright horrified once a nightmarish turn starts a horrifying killing spree. 

It isn't until the closing act where the murdering steps in, as a genuinely enthralling reveal sets off a good old fashioned cat-and-mouse stalking and terrifyingly villains on the prowl. It's a rewarding payoff after an hour of build up, one that may have rushed the bodycount since most of the murders were done offcamera, but the striking imagery of the slaughtered bodies do make up for it, plus the overall eeriness of the attacks, done hauntingly through expressive camera work and sound design, are among the most efficient I've seen! 

So, not the most carnal slasher out there, but Next of Kin (1982) manages to maintain a noteworthy cult following for just how it stands out in tone and style compared to most other bodycounter horror flicks. It's a genuine horror gem spellbound with a patient yet captivatingly dark storytelling, exploding into a visceral display of tormented realities and murderous psychosis just right before the film meets its reaches its strange yet captivating conclusion. If you're yet to see this, then you owe yourself a viewing of this psychological mini-masterpiece from our friends down under! 

1 elderly male found dead in a bath tub
1 elderly male found drowned in a bath tub (flashback)
1 female found dead from a slashed throat
1 male found murdered, face bloodied 
1 female found murdered, body seen in bath tub
1 male found dead from a head wound and a syringe to the neck, body seen in bath tub
1 female stabbed through the eye with a hat pin comb
1 male had his head blown off with a shot gun
Total; 8