*GASP!* It’s You!

Being attacked in a car once again, here we find Nancy Stephens – Nurse Marion from the original Halloween (plus II, H20 and Kills) – as a mother out to pick up her son from school in 1979’s TV movie Death Car on the Freeway, when she honks at THE WRONG MOTORIST, a loon known as the Freeway Fiddler, who loves nothing more than ramming young female drivers off of LA’s highways, while playing hideous bluegrass fiddle music from an external speaker.

nancy stephens death car on the freeway 1979

The unseen fiend slams on the brakes when she tries to get by, and she gets caught up on his tow bar and then dragged down the freeway, while the cops give chase. It’s not clear if she survives the accident, but I hope she lived to collect her son.

Candy King

candyman 2021

CANDYMAN

3.5 Stars  2021/15/91m

“Say it.”

Director/Writer: Nia DaCosta / Writers: Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld / Cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Vanessa Williams, Rebecca Spence, Kyle Kaminsky, Michael Hargrove.

Body Count: 17

Laughter Lines: “Ain’t a dick on the planet good enough to offset a demonology hobby.”


Look up the user reviews for this on IMDb and you’ll see all manner of people declaring it the worst thing they’ve ever seen, calling it racist because “only white people die!!!11!1!” (not true if you pay attention), without commenting on any other facet – there’s no reflection on the aesthetics, the production design, the direction, the acting: All of which are top drawer. Some spoilers follow.

I can’t be the only person sick of hearing people call anything and everything at odds with their worldview ‘woke’. It’s become the new term for conservative-leaning types to bulldoze the things they see as left aside without having to justify their judgement. I’ll be writing something else about this and how it relates to slasher films at some point, but it carries some weight with the new Candyman film because, if we’re alert and aware enough to appreciate the origins of what woke means, it has its place here.

candyman 2021

We haven’t seen hide nor hair of Daniel Robitaille since 1999s rather dismal Day of the Dead and, following his recent success with Get Out and Us, Jordan Peele’s involvement with slasherdom’s only prolific black killer seems perfectly timed. But what to do? Unlike most of his brethren (save for Freddy), it’s not easy to just recast the role of an undead, and thus un-aged, mythical blood-shedder, so what to do without Tony Todd…

Conveniently to the plot, time changes everything, including Cabrini Green, which has been gentrified, and is home to artist Anthony and his art dealer girlfriend Brianna. It’s no real secret from the get-go that Anthony is the grown-up baby abducted by Candyman in the 1992 movie. Brianna’s brother Troy shares with them the legend of Helen Lyle, who is locally remembered as a madwoman who tried to kill the child.

candyman 2021

Intrigued by this but unaware he is said child, Anthony explores what remains of the projects and meets one of the few remaining residents, William Burke, who tells him about the legend of Candyman, however in this telling, the hook-handed one was a rather harmless eccentric named Sherman Fields who, in the 70s, gave out candy to the local kids. When a white girl found a razor blade inside a sweet, the cops blamed Sherman, who went into hiding inside the walls of the apartments. A young Burke encountered him one day, screamed, alerting the cops, and they beat the man to death.

Anthony is galvanized by the concept raised around the subject of gentrification and racial injustice. His work at a gallery show draws condescending dismissal from snobby critic, Finley. Yet when the letchy gallery owner and his intern say ‘Candyman’ five times into the mirror that makes up part of Anthony’s piece, they’re hooked to death and suddenly the artist’s work is getting attention, much to the concern of Brianna, who found the bodies and pretty much inherits the running of the gallery.

candyman 2021 Teyonah Parris Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

Finley is murdered next when she invites Anthony over to ‘reassess’ his work and he dares her to summon up Candyman; Then a group of high school girls try it out in a campus bathroom. Unravelling, Anthony visits his mom (Vanessa Williams, reprising her role and looking only a few months older than she did in ’92) to find out the truth surrounding Helen Lyle and Candyman. Brianna is also trying to find him and tracks his movements to the laundromat where he met Burke, where she is abducted and forced to watch while Burke transforms a honeycomb-skinned Anthony into the next Candyman, rapidly explaining that he witnessed his own sister slain by the ghost of Sherman Fields, and understands Candyman ‘recruits’ black men killed by white systemic violence.

The final twenty minutes or so of Candyman seems rushed and murky. I had to look up an explanation of the climax and then watch it back to make sense of it. Burke’s flashback seemed shoehorned in without a clear transition between the scenes. The same goes for the threads surrounding Brianna and Troy’s artist father – it’s left curiously unresolved (for now at least) and made me wonder if the cutting room floor was full of extra material that would have fleshed out these strands and tied things up a little more neatly.

candyman 2021 bathroom scene

Where is Tony Todd, you caw? Fear not, he appears, seemingly as the grandmaster of the ‘Candymen’ so to speak. As the residents of Cabrini, before it was demolished, put a moratorium on the mention of his name, he ceased to exist as a legend until Burke succeeded in recruiting Anthony back into the fold, making him the most recent avatar for the story to continue and spread. It’s fiendishly clever and evil on Candyman’s part (kinda reminded me of Freddy using Jason to kill in Springwood so that he would be recalled to mind).

DaCosta’s direction is heavy on mood, with a truly unsettling opening credits that reverses the overview of Chicago to an underview, where we’re forced to look up, and the use of shadow puppetry is a great aesthetic. There’s also an appealing lead in Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony, and a refreshingly without-comment depiction of a gay couple in Brianna’s brother Troy and his boyfriend Grady, also allowing one of my favourite lines when the latter suggests they try the Candyman chant at the art show, to which Troy quips: “Black people don’t need to be summoning shit!”

candyman 2021 shadow puppets

So what about all the ‘racism’ then? Sigh. I’d say to those people crowing about it that they need to consider films one to three were told through the lenses of white characters, specifically white women haunted by Candyman, and now the perspective has shifted to be seen from black characters. And that’s about it. Yes, most (but not all) of the victims are white, but it’s not as if the black characters come out of things unscathed in any way: The film’s major villain is black FFS! In short, the type of people overusing the term ‘woke’ to object to things they don’t like just need to get the fuck over themselves and, while they’re at it, choke on the fact that it made bank. Gimme those sequels.

Harlow-een

texas chainsaw massacre 2022

TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE

3 Stars  2022/81m

“The face of madness returns.”

Director: David Blue Garcia / Writers: Chris Thomas Devlin, Fede Alvarez & Rodo Sayagues / Cast: Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher, Mark Burnham, Jacob Latimore, Moe Dunford, Nell Hudson, Olwen Fouéré, Jessica Allain, Alice Kriger, William Hope.

Body Count: 18+

Laughter Lines: “Wish I’d known y’all were coming – I’d have put my face on.”


A friend asked me what horror film I was watching next. “Texas Chainsaw Massacre“, said I. “The old one?” I took a breath to answer, then had to stop as I tried to unravel what film this new one was.

As I understand it, there’s the original, it’s three 80s-90s sequels, the remake, the prequel to the remake, another sequel to the original that ignores the existing ones, a prequel to the original, and now this ‘requel’. Had it been released before Scream (2022), it might have escaped much of the ridicule that greeted its release. Some spoilers.

texas chainsaw massacre 2022 elsie fisher sarah yarkin nell hudson jacob latimore

Shooting began in Bulgaria in 2020 but the original director was turfed out, his footage scrapped entirely, and replaced by David Blue Garcia. A planned big-screen release was called off and the film ended up debuting on Netflix to a tidal wave of “worst film ever!!1!” criticism, primarily for its heavy pilfering from the 2018 Halloween requel.

Despite this less than promising start in life, TCM ’22 is an unrelenting 81-minute rapid-fire gorefest, spending about twenty minutes conjuring up the set-up: A quartet of city Gen-Z types arrive in the ghost town of Harlow, Texas, which they’ve …bought? (“Gentrifuckers!” complains a local). In the wake of their self-driving Tesla will be a coach of young entrepreneurs, with a view to turning the place into a mecca of artisan bakeries, restaurants, and art galleries for city life ex-patriots. Oddly, a similar subject was touched on in 2021’s Candyman re-whatever.

texas chainsaw massacre 2022

Upon arrival, they discover the sole remaining residents – an infirm orphanage owner and her last charge, a hulking figure who hangs back in the shadows: I think we can all guess who that is. A dispute over her right to be there results in her having a heart attack and being carted off by the sheriff. Mystery-companion goes along, as well as one of the newcomers. When the old woman expires in the back of the van, he flips, kills the deputy and causes the van to crash in a field.

In what is probably the film’s best scene, the surviving passenger Ruth (Nell Hudson), witnesses the wackadoo remove the face from the dead lady and don it for himself. She plays dead when he investigates his mess, and tries to track him through the wing mirrors while contemplating her escape.

texas chainsaw massacre 2022 sarah yarkin

Back in town, the bus of investors rolls in, occupying the attention of lead …town …buyers (?) Dante and Melody. Melody’s younger sister Lila, a survivor of a school shooting, doesn’t want to be there and goes off exploring on her own. Upon hearing that the old lady has died, grizzled local contractor Richter confiscates the car and bus keys until Melody and Dante can prove they legally own the orphanage, and didn’t just kick the poor woman out, causing her death. They look for certificate in the house, coinciding with the return of Leatherface, who makes quick work of Dante, while Melody hides from him.

A storm sets in and the investors take their party back aboard the bus while Melody is accosted in a tense scene, culminating in a sewage pipe being cut open and leaking on to her head. Saved by Lila, the sisters race back to the bus and a scene that rivals the raft moment from The Burning ensues as Leatherface clambers aboard – and the Gen-Z’s raise their phones and threaten to cancel him.

texas chainsaw massacre 2022 bus

What unfolds pretty much sums up the franchise’s title: A good 15-20 people are buzzed to pieces by the world’s most fuel-economic chainsaw, with just Melody and Lila able to escape through a skylight. As they scramble for escape, in rolls a truck and out climbs Sally Hardesty – survivor from the original, who has been waiting for almost fifty years to face down Leatherface. Like Laurie. She brings a shotgun and a ‘fuck it’ attitude. Like Laurie. She stalks him back to the orphanage, ordering him to ‘say her name’, under some illusion that after a couple of hours with her half a century earlier, he’d have any idea who she even is. I imagined he was way too busy trying to work out which timeline he’s in.

Ultimately, Sally flops and she’s chainsawed to fuck before being able to be of much help to the girls, who then go through the standard motions to the end, with the suspiciously insensitive caveat of Lila having to use the very thing she fears – a gun – to defend herself. The NRA presents the Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

texas chainsaw massacre 2022 sally

Early whiplash reviews were overwhelmingly negative, crammed with the usual “IT’S WOKE!!1!” accusations. But is it? The hipster-esque characters are all portrayed as negative stereotypes, with the redneck white guy turning out to be something of an almost-hero, all the non-white characters meeting grisly ends… If anything, the film goes all out to satirise so-called ‘woke tropes’. Much of this is enabled by strange attempts at comedy peppered throughout, the threat of cancellation met with instant death-by-powertool could not possibly underscore this any more powerfully – and yet, thick people everywhere continue to whine that progressive propaganda is being forced down their throats. A grisly last-second shock is lashed to a gag with the Tesla, is almost slapstick, giving the whole thing a gory cartoon value.

texas chainsaw massacre 2022

Let’s just ignore the fact that all-powerful, nimble Leatherface must be, minimum, in his late sixties.

There’s a lot wrong with it, but it somehow manages in spite of itself, with nice photography and some familiar but effective sequences in the first half.

Blurb-of-interest: Sarah Yarkin was in Happy Death Day 2U.

Sail into danger

sneekweek 2016

SNEEKWEEK

3 Stars  2016/113m

A.k.a. Summer Party Massacre; Scream Week

Director: Martijn Heijne / Writer: Alex van Galen / Cast: Carolien Spoor, Jelle de Jong, Jord Knotter, Holly Brood, Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing, Sanne Langelaar, David Lucieer, Jonas De Vuyst, Ferry Doedens, Frank Lammers, Kimberly Klaver, Diederik Ebbinge.

Body Count: 11


So, Sneekweek is actually a real thing: Held in the Netherlands and billed as Europe’s biggest sailing festival, it becomes the rather unlikely backdrop for this Dutch slasher, which was released in two versions during its theatrical run – one of which was edited to attract a younger audience.

Despite a scene in which characters watch Scream on TV (and complaining it has been dubbed), this has more common ground with I Know What You Did Last Summer. Five college kids are hazing a group of young men for a room in their much sought-after house by keeping them in a tub, dumping ice in and seeing who can last the longest with the least amount of genital shrinkage. Down to two guys, the girls’ favourite, Eric, loses consciousness and dies. Anxious for their futures, they cover it up, bribe the surviving pledge, Peter, with an offer of the room if he stays quiet, and call an ambulance once it’s too late and they’ve papered over the evidence.

sneekweek 2016

Two years later, the six roomies hit Sneekweek, which appears more to resemble Spring Break, with lots of EDM-screaming club nights, fairground rides, sexy young folks posing, and a police commissioner clucking around ordering his minimal force to break up fights and keep the peace.

Boarding in an arty, secluded lakeside house, the first sign that something’s off is that none of them own up to being the one who found the rental. Nominal heroine Merel is first to see a figure in a shiny silver mask, but the others think she’s off her face and continue to bed-hop until one of them is attacked outside a club and Peter is arrested when he finds her. The next morning, Merel finds him hanging from the boat’s mast in an apparent suicide. The local cops are keen to flex their investigative muscle, but are sidelined by their boss, and the remaining teens ordered to stick around until the attacker is caught.

sneekweek 2016

Nasty ringleader Boris insists the party go on, so blasts into town with two of the other, leaving Merel and her friend to find the body of a missing girl in the boatshed. Despite commenting on Scream, the girls have learned nothing and decide to split up – one to go to the cops, the other to find their friends.

Another murder occurs and the police arrest Eric’s unhinged mother, who cut and run from her clinic’s day release. They also place the remaining kids on an available yacht for the night in an effort to keep them safe, but ultimately just leave them in a barrel ready to be picked off by the powertool-favouring killer, who leaves a spinning powerdrill in the back of one and engineers another to be sucked into the propellers.

sneekweek 2016 carolien spoor

Sneekweek fudges cloaking the identity of the killer effectively enough, giving a little too much away too early on, just leaving a question over who they’ll be to the late Eric that drove them to get power-saw themed vengeance. It also doesn’t deliver much in the way of gruesome demises, with the nastiest character we’ve been waiting to see cark it allocated a rather dull kill scene, although there’s a reason for that revealed during the exposition scene.

A decent enough film with high end production gloss that should set it apart from most of its ilk, despite suffering from predictability and a reliance on some dumb character behaviour (at one point Merel runs away from the safety of the house and into a cornfield). Very similar to Austrian flick Party Hard, Die Young that came along two years later.

sneekweek 2016 ferry doedens holly brood

Five Cream

scream 2022

SCREAM

4 Stars  2022/18/114m

“It’s always someone you know.”

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett / Writers: James Vanderbilt & Guy Busick / Cast: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Melissa Barrera, Jack Quaid, Marley Shelton, Jenna Ortega, Mikey Madison, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Dylan Minnette, Sonia Ammar, Kyle Gallner, Roger L. Jackson (voice).

Body Count: 8

Laughter Lines: “You want me to help you and the host of a morning show to commit murder?”


“Why isn’t it called Scream 5!?!?” people hollered. Well, watch it and this year’s Randy sub – his niece – will explain exactly why. Did you really want a film named 5cream? Some spoilers follow.

OK, I’ll cover a bit of it: It’s like Halloween (2018) being both a sequel and a reboot – a ‘requel’ as the character, Mindy, puts it during a scene where Woodsboro’s endangered teen-populace discusses the Stab movies, now up to their eighth instalment with a film simply titled Stab.

As ever, it wouldn’t be a Scream movie without the obligatory opening kill, and we meet a teenage girl alone in her cutesy home, making some food, texting a gal-pal, when the phone insistently rings. It’s ‘Charlie’ from her mom’s ‘group’, who’s chit-chatty and slowly steers the subject on to scary movies. The Babadook is her answer when asked what her favourite is, and there’s an amusing disagreement over ‘elevated horror’. It’s not long before he has her playing a game and then she’s attacked by Ghostface, who slices and dices, slashing towards the camera as the title thunders on to the screen.

scream 2022

Here’s where Scream 2022 fucks with us. She isn’t dead. The girl – Tara – is recovering in hospital when her estranged big sister, Sam, returns for the first time in some years, her dorky boyfriend, Richie, in tow. Sam has a difficult past, at odds with Sheriff Judy over past troubles, and when she sees a vision of Billy Loomis in a mirror, it’s a big “huh!?” accompanied by a call about her “family secret,” which we’ve pretty much got figured given her age and so the film wastes little time in clueing us in that Sam found out her real daddy was Billy, became a tearaway, and bailed as soon as she hit 18.

When someone is murdered for realz (a “woah!-is-that-really” Kyle Gallner), Sam and Richie visit Dewey for help, who was force-retired, separated from Gale, and living in a trailer. Reluctantly, he joins them in gathering Tara’s friends, as he’s been through enough of these to know the killer will be among them. At the home of Randy’s sister, Martha (Heather Matarazzo joyfully returns for a cameo), Mindy addresses the requel details around legacy characters passing the torch to the next generation, setting up nicely for Gale and Sidney to re-enter the fray, and also explaining why only the events of the original seem to matter (Roman who?).

scream 2022 neve campbell courteney vox

Given that Courteney Cox had asked to be killed off in Scream 4, you should be worried about the fates of our mainstay trio far more than ever before – Scream ’22 doesn’t shy away from its brutality and it’s genuinely sad to have to say goodbye during a tense showdown in a deserted hospital ward halfway through.

Sam and Richie strive to get Tara out of Woodsboro, but end up waylaid and having to stop at the home of Tara’s BFF Amber, where the obligatory adultless teen party is raging. Despite their knowledge of conventions, characters continue to find reasons to venture off alone until all the main players remain and it’s revealed that Amber’s house is where Stu used to live!

scream 2022 ghostface

The finale playing out back where things began is a real moment. The zoom out that reveals Sam in the doorway that Dewey staggered out of 25 years earlier with a knife in his back genuinely gave me the chills. It also allows for a revisit to Randy’s “turn around” moment on the couch, being watched in Stab by Mindy, saying the same thing in a fun infinity mirror moment. More interestingly, when Gale and Sidney turn up, they’re so aware of the conventions and deceptions it makes for some excellent dark humour and some great fights between good and evil.

Most fans were weary of a continuation without Wes Craven, and the direction and aesthetic favoured by directors Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin is certainly not a pale imitation; there’s a reduction in gloss, less colour, which gives the film an edge of feeling more dangerous, like it means business where the previous couple of instalments were softer and lightly sugarcoated. Where they’ve had to adhere to Scream lore, they rearrange the cups, hiding the prize in a different place.

scream 2022 jack quaid melissa barrera david arquette

What flaws there are are minor at best: There’s not really a high-concept kill scenario that lives up to the inventiveness Drew Barrymore scene, or Sarah Michelle Gellar’s torment in Scream 2, compensated for with harsher, nastier grue instead. The new characters seem slightly less fleshed out, but this is also addressed when Richie addresses them en masse from Gen Y to Gen Z, and the identity of one of the killers seemed quite evident given how little the actor had to do up until that point.

Things are left wide open for further sequels, with enough characters left standing to do it all over again, probably without the need for Campbell and Cox’s characters to be dragged out of retirement once again. It seems like the passing of the baton that Scream 4 flirted with carrying out has actually worked this time.

scream 2022 neve campbell

And for those who were hoping for a Kirby Reed return – look closely at the YouTube videos shown on screen when Richie is watching the review of Stab 8.

Blurbs-of-interest: Courteney Cox had a small cameo in The Tripper, directed by David Arquette; Jack Quaid was in Tragedy Girls; Jenna Ortega was in Ti West’s X; Marley Shelton was in Valentine; Kyle Gallner was in the Nightmare on Elm Street remake.

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