Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Death Curse Tape (No. Not Sadako's) :Gurozuka (2005)

Gurozuka (Japan, 2005)
Rating: **
starring: Nozomi Andô, Yukari Fukui, Yûko Itô

Japan never seem to like their horror flicks simple as they usually put some depth and/or weirdness to them, one way or another. For many, this is good as it does give us something different for our genre films as well as show us a thing or two about another country's culture and what is their perception of horror.

With this kind of mindset, I find myself both fearful and giddy about Japanese slashers as you wouldn't know what kind of crazy twist this country would do to a rather formulaic horror sub-genre. They already impressed me with the uber-violent yet artsy Evil Dead Trap (1988), showed me they can do it simple with Black Rat (2007), and disturbed me with unrelentless gore with Lesson of the Evil (2012); so what can I expect from Gurozuka?

A whole lot of bitching and barely any killing. Oh, boy...

After finding an apparent snuff film wherein a girl in a mask hacks another to death, two college girls, Ai and Maki, decided to investigate this as a project for their campus' newly revived film club. Tricking three girls from the drama club into joining them, and accompanied by Maki's teacher older sister Yoko (who in turn brought along her possible lesbian lover, Takako, who is no older than the rest of the girls), the group had a simple start despite a few arguments. That was until the following morning came.

Upon waking up, the group discovers their food and phones missing, and everybody was quick to point fingers. However, it seems the commodities are not the only things that will go missing that day as one by one, the girls start turning up dead as someone in a haunting Noh mask and wielding a bloody billhook prowls the woods.

A big part of me really wants to love Gurozuka; the plot itself sounds like an Asian take on a whodunit in the vein of 70s Italian gialli, evident with its heavy reliance on mystery and red herrings, and its lack of exploitative elements and onscreen killings. It also has a workable tone, establishing a sullen and uneasy atmosphere quite early into the group's predicament as it has its shares of double crosses, scandals, personal agendas, things that inevitably say that the bunch is not quite trustworthy among themselves and that anybody can later be behind that creepy theater mask, killing people.

It looks posh for a low budget film and it even packs a few creepy imagery that are in touch with the surrealist nature of Japanese horror. Regrettably though, Gurozuka is still relatively hackneyed as both a slasher and a Japanese horror flick, a part of the blame falling on the absence of rootable characters since nearly everybody here takes their time seriously and most likely having a bone to pick with someone within the group. This is nothing new for murder mysteries or even a few slashers, but it's overplayed and got tiring really fast, eventually making me wonder if a chase scene or two would have made me care for these doomed gals if it ever come to that.

Things further went downhill when, instead of finding ways to defend themselves and be more rootable heroines, the "horror-filled" second act was no more than the girls panicking and hiding from the killer, scarcely fighting off, singing songs to calm themselves (no really) and somehow finding the time to express their deep ingratitude to one another even when they're dying. It all leads to a predictable payoff with a boring little number about someone being in-love on a homicidal (and cannibalistic) level, topped with an open ending that hints a bit of the supernatural. It's convoluted, yes, but still a rather lifeless way to end what could have been a decent b-flick.

Needless to say, Gurozuka are among the many slasher titles out there that had potential. It already have some good elements thrown in such as a fair-looking killer and, again, a workable mystery concerning whether the snuff was real or not, or whether it is cursed. Somewhere in the line, these trappings get trapped within the overambitious direction that burnt this film overcooked, resulting to a somewhat okay but agreeably underwhelming film.

If you are an Asian horror junkie, I guess this film is worth a try. Slasher fans can too if they can keep their expectations low. Really low.

1 female hacked to death with a billhook
1 female attacked with a billhook, later found burnt
1 female found with throat cut
1 female found dead with head wound
1 female dies from hack wounds
1 female stabbed on the chest with a nail
Total: 7

Monday, February 1, 2016

I Spy with my Little Cam: Alone With Her (2006)

Alone With Her (2006)
rating: ***1/2
Starring: Ana Claudia Talancón, Colin Hanks

If there's one thing that slasher films taught me is that humans can be the ultimate monster; murderers, rapists, psychopaths, almost everything we fear in life are brought upon criminals one way to another, may it be through something as big as wars...

Or something small like an individual stalking.

Doug is a man that simply exists; he has no job, no family, no friends, and the only thing that keeps him going is his terrifying agenda of stalking women. His current target is a girl named Amy, whose room he bugged with hidden cameras in hopes of learning more about his new prey.

We all see this through the perspective of Doug's multiple cameras and the realism of the situation is among the many pros Alone with Her have; the further the story goes, the more we see Doug invade Amy's life with a nice guy facade, building to more uneasy and dire situations such as Doug's attempts to ruin Amy's work and peer life just so she can be more vulnerable to his advances (which includes getting her fired and murdering a few friends) as well as skincrawling "normal" moments such as Doug's courting that Amy nearly feel for. We get to see most of these scenes in detail, so the film can get a bit slow which, seeing how effective these scenarios go with the tone and direction the plot was heading to, exactly the kind of slow burner pace welcome for this creepy chiller.

Since a lot of the factors here were more on creeping the audience with realism, another element that made Alone with Her worthwhile are the talents involved; Colin Hanks took the role of Doug and, I have to say his portrayal of the pathetic yet dangerous creeper was spot-on, both in action and looks. He's vividly unnerving, which is in complete contrast of the friendly and "normal" portrayal of  Ana Claudia Talancón's character Amy, in turn making the stalkings all the more triggering and had us worrying for Amy's fate in the end. There's no superhuman monster, no dumb teenagers doing dumb things, just two kinds of people that you can encounter everyday, being themselves in both good or bad way and it's all what the movie needs.

Judging from all of this, it's safe to say that Alone with Her is not a slasher in any way, but I believe this is just as interesting of a watch as any bodycounters out there. With most of the recent slashers hacking up unsympathetic and bland casts just for the sake of kill count and gore, it is kinda sad that we can't feel and be afraid for them just as we did back then; I guess this is where Alone with Her comes in, reminding us that human monsters can still be scary in the movies, especially if it can easily reflect what can happen or is happening in real life.

If you find voyeuristic tendencies scary or just want something different for your found footage thrillers, Alone with Her is a good title to start with. Kinda makes you wonder if someone is watching you right now...

1 female falls down a flight of stairs, killed
1 female strangled
Total: 2

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Curse of the Evil Jet Pilot: Blood Relic(2005)

Blood Relic (2005)
Rating: **
Starring:  Billy Drago, Joshua Park, Jennifer Lauren Grant

At 1983, a fighter pilot named Hank Campbell goes crazy and murdered some of his colleagues, seemingly under the influence of a cursed talisman. (We know this cuz we saw him holding it, experience weird obscure flashbacks after doing so, and violently coughed blood at a mirror. Y'know, the usual supernatural possession gig)

He was caught no soon after, unknown to them that he had hidden the talisman in a hidden compartment and plans to get it back upon his release. Which will be 22 years later, in the present. By then, the hangar's transformed into an air & space museum, wherein a group of teenagers with sex and booze in mind worked at, and plans on hanging out at after their shifts are over. Of course, this calls for the arrival of a killer fighter pilot in full gear and helmet, but could this be Campbell underneath the helm? Or somebody else full of rage?

As cheap as disposable razor and it shows on more than one occasion, Blood Relic can be challenging to watch due to the fact that it is terrible cliched and underwhelmingly cheap. It was one of the few titles I was hoping to see solely because of what the killer was wearing and the plot-point that it all took place inside a museum, a location that already proved itself a wonderland of potential havoc with films like Wishmaster (1992) and The Lamp (1987, AKA The Outing). Sadly, due to the budget, the entire film instead took place in the old hangar inside of an air & space museum, which means not only are we left with boring long hallways and cheap-looking break rooms for the slaughter to take place on, but the killings are hardly memorable or unique as the props and displays were never that implemented into the story.

Instead, the get the basic slasher plot of dumb and sexed up teens drinking beer, being jerks, getting it on with rape fantasies (no, really), doing random seances, before meeting their demise at the hands of a killer fighter pilot with the ability to not only strip a victim naked, but noose her and rig said noose to a door as an elaborate trap in a matter of a single minute or two. (I'm more concerned at the fact he had to strip the victim naked. Was there really a need for that?)

To be frank, easy and logicless killings are a few things I can actually accept coming from a cheap slasher, but to make the last third so dull and slow with all the useless expositions that we pretty much figured out halfway into the film? That's bound to bore and/or upset some folks, more even when the film decided to throw off a rather ridiculous twist ending that has its smart moments, but overall a "meh"-worthy way to end a B-grade shlock. (And even at that, Blood Relic was dang slow. Jesus, just die already, killer! Stop talking!)

Not gonna lie, Blood Relic had the potential of being a good film if the producers have the budget to work with. It seems like they already pictured a unique slasher with the inclusion of a cursed talisman, an idea that I really like, but I guess the lack of funds had them doing things the "standard" way and gave us this insufferably bland bodycounter instead. I did also like some of the scenes in the middles, mostly the brutal snuffings that occurred there, but that's all there is that I find enjoyable from this title.

Shame, really; if you want to give it a shot, I won't stop you, but if you want a real museum carnage, I recommend The Lamp if you're into low-budget B-flicks, or Wishmaster if you like moderate-budget b-flicks!

1 male stabbed on the head with a hunting knife
1 male shot
1 male shot
1 male shot
1 male had his neck slashed with a knife
1 male hacked with an axe
1 female hacked to death with an axe
1 female knifed to death
1 male killed, later found gutted
1female hanged on a wire noose
1 female found decapitated
1 male found murdered
1 male bludgeoned to death with a board
1 female pushed back-first to a buzzsaw
Total: 14

Monday, January 25, 2016

Orchard House of Terror: Grandmother's House (1989)

Grandmother's House (1989) (AKA "Grandma's House")
Rating: ***
Starring: Eric Foster, Kim Valentine, Len Lesser 

With their mother gone years ago and recently losing their father, David and his older sister Lynn are now parentless; fortunately, they still have two loving grandparents who are more than happy to take them in and live a comfortable life next to a beautiful orange orchard.

But things aren't as sweet as it seems when, later that night, David caught a glimpse of his grandparents attacking and apparently killing a wandering woman near their new home. Unsure if what he saw was real or not, the boy decided to ignore this as much as he could, which was easier said than done when more bizarre things started happening at the orchard. As each day passes, David grows more uneasy with his grandparents and began to question his own sanity, as well as survive a sudden deadly turn for his new life when a knife-wielding psychopath decided to show up.

Quality-wise, Grandmother's House is a neat thriller with a commendable atmosphere and visuals, many of which plays well in building up the intrigue concerning the character's situation as everything around the titular house isn't what they seem to be; the grandparents are obviously hiding something but when a certain character suddenly began to appear alive and (un)well over and over again, seemingly stalking our lead boy, the film toys around with expectations and delivers more than one twists to catch us off guard.

The problem, however, is that not all of these twists work; the first sets the movie shifting into a different tone as a rather workable slasher. In here, a maniac began to work their way through a beautiful orchard and various bystanders with their trusted knife, intent on catching the children. The chase scenes here are among the bests I'd seen in a bodycounter, enough to actually make me forgive the little killings occurring then when the stalk-and-slash set-pieces were viable enough to be intense, scary, and even a little adrenaline-fueled once the killer grabbed hold of a convenient truck. (Think the opening of Jeepers Creepers only in an orchard and two kids trying to outrun the vehicle on foot)

Sadly, once the chase is over and the film prepares to wrap things up for a finale, the story messily works its way to this; characters act weird (Like dangerously weird) and we are suddenly slapped on the face with this last minute shocker that both confirmed and revoked our assumptions. I frankly don't know what to make of it (it just came out of nowhere), but seeing how weird some of the acting and scripting were prior to this, I guess it's in par with the movie and that makes it "okay" on a B-flick standard.

Grandmother's House is good when it wants to be and it shows on the majority of the play; I love the little mystery and little slasher scenes but I think they could hadve acted some of these scenes better and tie all the events up to a more impressive finale. Nothing that big to be considered a fan classic but a decently fair run as a rentable title. I say give this house a try!

1 female body seen (dream)
1 boy knifed to death (dream)
1 male body found underwater
1 male knifed to death
1 elderly female found stabbed to death
1 female gutted with a knife (mostly offscreen)
1 elderly male hacked to death with an axe
Total: 7

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Yo-Ho-Horror: Jolly Roger: Massacre at Cutter's Cove (2005)

Jolly Roger: Massacre at Cutter's Cove (2005)
Rating: **1/2
Starring: Rhett Giles, Tom Nagel, Kristina Korn

Homicidal clowns, maniacal robots, avenging wildmen, and even Bigfoot itself. What else can we throw in as a slasher villain?

How about a supernatural undead pirate?

Technically, if one would consider John Carpenter's 1981 horror flick The Fog as a slasher (or at least a slasher/ghost story hybrid), this isn't the first time we have an undead pirate causing havoc and bloody killings. But unlike the mushy foggy specters of Carpenter's semi-classic, the titular monster here was closer to your standard quip-talking B-grade horror villain, which is either cringe worthy or funny depending on your taste on slasher flicks.

At the seaside town of Cutter's Cove, six teenagers were having fun that night until two of them decided to up their game by, what else, having sex. Finding a good spot next to a conveniently (and I mean conveniently) unearthed treasure chest, the couple decided to open their find and see if there will be any loot inside; instead, they found a skull, which should send them gagging but, for some reason, these kids laughed at it instead and threw it into the water. (Its either these teens have strong stomachs or they're insensitive. Possibly both.)

However, by doing so, they awakened and revive the infamous Jolly Roger, an undead pirate hellbent on killing off the descendants of his traitorous crew back in the pirating days. Fortunately for him, all of the descendants of said crew reside in Cutter's Cove (how...favorable for him), so he wastes no time starting on his massacre, starting with the teens. (Of course) Two of these unlucky teeners survived, a dull troubled couple whose account of a rotting pirate dismembering their friends didn't sit too well with the local cops and are now on the run cuz the boyfriend has a police record for beating the tar out of someone many moons ago, thinking this might worse their situation. (Oh, and running away from the cops wouldn't?)

As the two lovebirds try to find out what or who killed their friends, Jolly Roger goes on with his business of decapitating doomed bloodlines, easily weeding them out by using his otherworldly powers while spatting out pirate-themed one liners and even getting frisky at a local strip club. (The latter, I kid you not) It soon becomes a race against time before more folks are slain, and it's up to the teen love dolts and a convinced detective to stop it

Coming from the indie film company The Asylum (which many of you would have known for their infamously cheap mockbuster titles), I guess I should have seen a lot of the terrible coming from this movie, but what surprised me is that this dreck actually had some fun moments in it.

Read, "some"; while the scenes involving our living characters were as dull as watching a tortoise outwalk an old guy with a walker, something that the atrocious acting and scripting didn't help elevate, when it comes to the supposed horror scenes, the titular villain somehow help lessen the low-quality blow with his cheesy personality, hilariously bad pirate one-liners and the decent gore effects used for the massacre itself. Whenever he is around to either terrorize or do his devil's deed of collecting heads, it's bound to be an odd scene as almost all of the characters that he interact with seems barely fazed at the fact they're looking at a decomposed corpse walking and talking to them. (Let alone said walking talking corpse is a pirate) It can be a little awkward but hey, so long as it ends with one headless idiot or two, I'm sold!

Personally, I believe the real blow-back this film suffers from is the budget itself; the idea is a fun one and judging from the Jolly Roger make-up, the producers really liked it as well, but if only they had the money to better the quality, the story, or even the talent, I bet my soul that this movie would have been cult-classic worthy for its silliness and demented shlock.

If the movie's lack of logic and credible backdrop hadn't given you a clue that Jolly Roger wasn't meant to be taken seriously as well, then I guess the real problem here is you. Massacre at Cutter's Cove is a film made for B (or even Z) grade film enthusiasts, people who can stomach the stupidity and weirdness that only these kind of films can offer. While it's no winner on my book as a "good" horror movie, I can look past the unimpressive audio and video, questionable talents, and ridiculous premise for an hour and 20 minutes of low budget Yo-ho-horror. Approach with caution but try not to let it get into you and remember to loosen up!

1 female had her shoulder sliced with a sword
1 male hacked with a sword
1 female ran through the head with a stick
1 male decapitated with a sword
1 male decapitated with a sword
1 female scared to a heart attack, dies
1 male shot with a musket, neck sliced until head tore off
1 male had an arm torn off, bludgeoned to death
1 female decapitated with a sword
1 male had his throat cut until beheaded
1 male set ablaze, decapitated with a sword
3 male heads seen
1 female decapitated with a sword
1 male ran through with a sword
Total: 16

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Late Night 80s Munchies: Lost After Dark (2014)

Lost After Dark (2014)
Rating: ****
Starring: Sarah Fisher, Mark Wiebe, Jesse Camacho

Set in 1984, a group of eight teenagers decided to ditch prom night and steal their school bus to drive all the way to a friend’s lake view cabin for fun times’ sake. That was until they broke down in the middle of the backwoods road and the only house nearby was that once belonging the infamous Joads, a family of murderous cannibals who were killed for their crimes a long time ago. Hoping to find shelter and something they could use to get help, the group went on completely unaware that the remaining Joad son still lurks there, setting his teeth and an assortment of farming tools on hunting them down for food.

Among the many slasher films of late were throwback attempts to recapture the grit, simplicity, and entertainment from the bygone days of the 80s, the slasher film's golden age. While many of these throwback films were comical or cheesy in nature, Lost After Dark apparently tried and take the subgenre back to a serious route which was surprisingly enjoyable and effective as a straight run through the classic backwoods slasher with a surfeit of assortment victims and a bloodier set of killings to make any gorehound happy.

Taking cues from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Friday the 13th (1980) and Madman (1982), the movie is pretty much like any of these backwoods hack-a-thon, taking a much-needed direction of build around its casts and their situation first before letting the maniac have his way with them, much like how earlier entries like The Burning and Just Before Dawn went with their plotting and pacing. This normally calls for some cheesy moments and awkward character interactions but the movie kept this to a minimal and instead made an effort with its script and flow, thus winding up with supposedly clichéd characters with some level of depth varying per cast.

We get this for half the running time and once the killings start, Lost After Dark further surprises us by handling their blood and gore with a style reminiscent of both old school and modern horrors, something that most throwback slashers tried and succeed at a certain level. (Though I’m yet to see any of them use a “missing reel” gag as effective as this film did) This being said, you can expect a lot of practical effects being put into good splashy use as the Joad son do nasty disembowelments, a good dose of machete kills, and one fair tribute to Lucio Fulci’s obsession to eye mutilations to keep the blood and guts flowing.

With those expected to survive longer dispatched early and the lengths some took to stay alive, the film also made sure that we are treated to something different once in a while, leaving many of us guessing who will be left to fend for themselves, leading to a climax with an unexpected final girl going through enough of an ordeal to earn her worth. I guess if there will be any drawback, it's that the ending may feel one exposition too long, with a final shot that simply shouts “sequel-friendly”. It's a little tired as a cliche, but this hardly dents the overall final product.

Lost After Dark is all what it is; a fun bloody slasher that does a lot of the right and little of the wrong. The characters are likable if not interesting, the killer is pretty rad despite looking like your average hobo, and the murders are blood-red juicy, all done with a rather competent looking production that looks, sounds and feels like a lost 80s horror movie.  If you love slashers, particularly 80s slashers, then this is a treat you shouldn’t pass up.

Joads be damned and hunt you down if you ever pass this one up!

1 female found hanged
1 female forced to a bear trap, crushed
1 male had his throat slashed with a hunting knife
1 female hacked on the gut with a hoe
1 male skewered with an antique barn beam drill
1 male pushed eye-first to a glass shard
1 male found wrapped in barbwire, bled to death
1 dog had its neck snapped
1 female ran through with a pitchfork
1 male crushed underneath a car
1 female repeatedly bashed against a tree
1 male decapitated
1 male implied shot (flashback)
A number of Joad clan members shot (implied in flashback)
1 male seen murdered
Total: 14+

Saturday, January 16, 2016

And just like that...

I turned 24 years old back at January 15.

And found out that Angus Scrimm, who played the infamous Tall Man in all Phantasm movies, died back at January 9th.

I guess that's one drawback of being a 90s baby-slash-horror fan: you get to see and experience all of these wonderful horror flicks back at the good old days, love them and, for some, admire their monsters, only to realize that the wonderful actors who played these monsters have aged significantly around these days. I guess this is why entertainers from actors to musicians put a lot of effort whenever they're on screen or air. So we can remember them for their talent and become immortal.

And with the kind of character Mr. Scrimm was known for, I guess he already had that made: I'll be frank, The Tall Man is one of the two movie monster that actually scares me, the other being The Devil's Rejects version of Otis B. Driftwood. The fact that this monster seemingly have full control over his life and the life of others, as well as being armed to the teeth with impossible weapons and an army of various lackeys, both living and undead, is enough of a reason why I am thankful that he is pure fiction.

Still, I have Mr. Scrimm to thank for the gloomiest horror franchise I've ever laid eyes on (Yeah, no. No matter how comical Phantasm III was, in the end you can't help but feel gloomy over that fact that there seems to be no end to The Tall Man's reign) and I do pray him a good afterlife and/or loving memories from his family, friends and fans.

So, I'm 24 years old. What does that mean?

Absolutely nothing. I will continue being a geek but perhaps learn to mature a bit. Rome wasn't build in a day, as they say, so here's to more birthdays to come and hopefully, some good slashers this year!