Written Off

the letters of death 2006


3 Stars  2006/89m

Director: Kapol Thongplab / Writer: ?? / Cast: Mahasamut Boonyarak, Chollada Makratal, Andy Khemplmook, Nahatal Lekbumrung, Anna Ris, Triphon Phromsuwan, Hassapol Kongslb, Boontawat Lorkearujee.

Body Count: 13

Earlier this year I did a thing about the many rip-offs of Final Destination, which garnered quite a few suggestions of films I was unaware of, including this fun Thai export, which crosses the weird accident formula of the FD series with touches of The Ring and those annoying chain letters we all received at some point during the 1980s.

Things kick off with a superb shock that I won’t give away, but American movies could learn a lot from the ejector-seat jolt and the fact that it comes out of nowhere, rather than being ruined by music or is one of those entirely fake ‘innocent person puts their hand on shoulder’ gags. Anyway, young people are dying at an alarming rate, and a group of old school friends meet when one of their buddies takes a tumble over a balcony and, in a make-sure-the-job-is-done-right moment, then hit on the head by a flowerpot.

They discover that each of them has received a letter with a hangman puzzle on it, telling them to send it on to 29 other people within a certain time frame. Unfortunately the subtitles didn’t offer the courtesy of translating the content of the letter, but this was the crux of it: Send the letter to 29 others, try to solve the hangman riddle, or die.

the letters of death 2006

As usual, most of them ignore the threat, so it’s down to nice guy underachiever Seri and awkward-girl-turned-beautiful adult Nattaya to put the pieces together. They soon discover an order to the deaths, too late to save one guy being hauled upside a crane into rebar, or another being blindsided by a flying saw blade… Some even choose suicide as a means to beat the game.

Intermittently, we’re treated to flashbacks of the group’s year in primary school, where bullied outsider Wan was tripped and took a lethal tumble down some concrete steps and never came back to school. Could he be the one who’s sending the letters? Suri, Nattaya, and chief bully Pruek poke their noses in, trying to find out what happened to Wan and where he is now. Pruek is injured in a car accident and ends up being cut in two by broken glass when Wan appears as a hallucination at the hospital and sends him running only to slip on a freshly mopped floor!

With numbers dwindling down to the last four – curiously the endangered females are last on the list, I wasn’t sure if this was to do with the class numbering system mentioned or that only the boys bullied Wan? – Suri and Nattaya travel to find their old teacher to see if he can remember Wan’s real name, which is the key to the hangman puzzle. Meanwhile, a girl drowns in a bath for unclear reasons, and another is caught in a tumbling elevator.

the letters of death 2006

The Letters of Death is a good diversion from the usual hack-n-slash opus, liberally taking cues from Final Destination left, right, and centre, but doesn’t quite pack the creativity to back up its demises: Victims are either just stupid or the offending items that kill them just break for no reason. Asian horror movies lean heavily on the mystic, so Wan is quite possibly pulling the strings from beyond. Either way, it’s not clear enough to underscore itself with a line of credibility. That said, there’s a good last-minute revelation that would see a few sequels in the canon were it successful enough. Twelve years on and nothing has come up, so I’m guessing it wasn’t.

Dinner and a movie?

wrong turn 2 dead end 2007


3 Stars  2007/18/93m

“Evil awaits.”

Director: Joe Lynch / Writers: Turi Meyer & Al Septien / Cast: Erica Leerhsen, Henry Rollins, Texas Battle, Aleksa Palladino, Daniella Alonso, Steve Braun, Matthew Currie Holmes, Crystal Lowe, Kimberly Caldwell, Wayne Robson, Ken Kirzinger, Ashlea Earl, Clint Carleton, Rorelee Tio.

Body Count: 14

A slightly overrated flick for a change, Wrong Turn 2 came courtesy of Adam Green’s buddy Joe Lynch, who throws virtually everything at his project, going OTT on the back of the straight-faced 2003 original, which pit city kids against a trio of backwoods in-breds, marrying together the best attributes of Just Before Dawn and Deliverance with a dash of post-Scream sensibility, without going too far down the ha-ha track.

Cashing on the then-zeitgeist of reality TV horror, WT2 centers around a survival show named Ultimate Survivor: Apocalypse, presented by retired marine Rollins, which sends six aesthetically pleasing youngsters into the woods to fend for themselves against production-created tasks and the like. However, they run afoul of the extended family of the cannibals from last time, including Ma, Pa, several kids – all deformed in even whackier ways than the trifecta of loonies from the first movie.

wrong turn 2 dead end 2007 henry rollins

Masses of drippy gore, a vegan being force-fed minced-person, T&A, 80s-style macho posturing, mutant incest, a backwoods birth, a meat grinder you could drive a truck through – it’s easy to see why gore fans had a lot to shout about. Elsewhere, the film toys with expectations, setting up an obvious final girl, only to kill her early on and nominate a far more rough-cut character as a proxy. Rollins owns the entire flick as the hard on the outside, soft-centered presenter, who learns early on of the threat and goes all Platoon as the situation worsens.

Lynch’s leanings towards Evil Dead-style if-it-moves-throw-a-bucket-of-blood-over-it splatstick isn’t usually my kind of thing, and Wrong Turn isn’t a series I can really get that enthusiastic about (original excepted), but if you catch this during a couple of hours where you haven’t recently, or don’t plan on imminently eating anything, it’s good for some sticky laughs.

wrong turn 2 dead end 2007 erica leehrsen

Blurbs-of-interest: Erica Leehrsen was previously in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and Lonely Joe; Daniella Alonso was in The Collector; Texas Battle and Crystal Lowe were both in Final Destination 3, and she was also in the Black Christmas remake and Children of the Corn: Revelation; Ken Kirzinger played Jason in Freddy vs Jason and played Mason in Stan Helsing.

Return to Wolf Creek

Until last week, I hadn’t seen the original Wolf Creek in approximately 12 years. That viewing just shocked the fuck out of me with its brutality and, despite the 3.5 star rating I stand by, I didn’t care to sit through it again.

Then along came the Wolf Creek TV Series, two seasons, that pretty much kicked the shit out of the cumulative peaks of all the other slasher TV shows combined. I decided to strap on my backpack, break in the hiking boots, pack a knife, and venture back to the original movie.

Knowing in advance that neither Liz nor Kristy will survive slightly reduced the tension watching their various attempts to escape from Mick. Yes, they should’ve at least tied him up when he was out cold; Yes, she wasted some time watching the camcorder footage, but do you want a slasher film or not, armchair critics? (And fuck alla y’all with the misogynistic “they r stupid bitchezzz!” comments at this juncture).

wolf creek liz

Wolf Creek fools us into believing Liz will be the final girl based on her actions thus far, and so when Mick magically appears in the backseat of the car she finds (again, it’s a slasher film, people) and knifes her in the back, it’s still shocking. Mick’s banter while this dying girl tries to crawl away elicits a mix of laughter and shock from most people, more so when he takes her fingertips off and then renders her a head on a stick. That said, it occurred to me that Liz doesn’t necessarily die there and then (a worse fate, you might argue) and it’d be kinda neat if she turned up in Wolf Creek 3 in a wheelchair and was rescued. Dare to dream, I guess. It’s an especially vicious turn of events, heightened by Cassandra Macgrath’s excellently acted reaction, something we’re normally spared in contemporary American slasher movies. The above still really triggers a feeling of repulsion for me.

Final girl reigns seem to be passed along to Kristy, who is momentarily rescued by a motorist, then commandeers his car for herself – even re-watching it I prayed that there was some kind of alternate cut where she was going to make it. Alas, she too is once again sent through the never ending mangle of horror, but (mercifully?) shot by Mick before taking any more of his abuse.

wolf creek kristy

The outcome of Ben being the only one who lives is part of what makes Wolf Creek stay with you. We’re so accustomed to a final girl, that it seems almost perverse to see Ben totter to freedom, although it’s worth noting he doesn’t encounter Mick again, nor does he seem bothered about searching for Liz or Kristy at the camp. His survival is pretty much incidental, even a little “unfair” in light of what we saw the girls go through – Ben suffers the least yet gets to live on. His character returned in the first series of the TV show, having gone mad over the intervening years.

Wolf Creek still stings like a hard slap and as much as I wish one of the girls had emerged as the heroine, the deviation from the standard rules is what sets it apart. Mick, after all, is presented as a heterosexual predator of nubile young women, that one of them isn’t able to rise up and bury an axe in his balls is a necessary jagged little pill of the reality of the events the film is based on. Greg McLean has made an excellent film, it’s just hugely uncomfortable viewing.

Maybe I’ll watch it again in 2030.

Dog’s Dinner

madhouse 1981


2 Stars  1981/18/90m

“Julia thinks she lives alone… She doesn’t.”

A.k.a. And When She Was Bad; Flesh and the Beast; There was a Little Girl

Director/Writer: Ovidio G. Assonitis / Writers: Stephen Blakley, Peter Shepherd, Robert Gandus / Cast: Trish Everly, Michael MacRae, Dennis Robertson, Morgan Hart, Allison Biggers, Edith Ivey.

Body Count: 7

Laughter Lines: “It’s not the dead that scare me… it’s the living.”

A particularly vicious Italian-American co-production; Director Assonitis, who had previously ripped off Jaws with the endearingly naff Tentacles a few year earlier, now turns his attentions to the slasher surge with this Halloween/Psycho combo, which is certainly gutsier than many of its contemporaries, even throwing a deaf child on the heap of bodies.

Julia is a teacher for deaf children, and goes to visit her mentally ill twin sister, Mary, for the first time in seven years, as their birthday approaches. Upon finding that Mary is deformed due to an unspecified illness, Julia flees and later learns sister dearest has escaped and, with the assistance of a well-trained Rottweiler, is doing away with anybody who enters Julia’s life. Hiding away in the rooms of the empty boardinghouse Julia shares with her hippie landlady, Mary may not be the only one with questionable intentions when it comes to Julia’s wellbeing.

Things start off well in this good looking film, but as it goes it becomes annoying and by the finale it’s gotten so ridiculous with a sub-Happy Birthday to Me party-of-the-dead climax, you’ll be considering checking yourself into rehab to recover. Assonitis delivers the goods on a visual level: It’s gruesome with realistic looking dog-maulings, but is probably best saved for a drinking game movie night.



student bodies 1981


3 Stars  1981/15/82m

“13½ murders + 1423 laughs = [Student Bodies]”

Director/Writer: Mickey Rose / Cast: Kristen Riter, Matt Goldsby, Richard Brando, Joe Talarowski, Mimi Weddell, Joe Flood, Carl Jacobs, Peggy Cooper, Janice E. O’Malley, Angela Bressler, Kevin Mannis, Sara Eckhardt, The Stick.

Body Count: 13½

A killer known as The Breather, who wears squelchy galoshes and talks through a rubber chicken, is offing the sexually active couples of Lamab High School, using eggplants, paperclips, and various other bizarre weaponry. Goody-goody heroine Toby is determined to find out who it is before any more of her friends end up dead.

Many-a-joke about farts, erections, urinals, but little to say about the contemporary slasher film trend, bar the first few minutes. Ultimately it knifes itself in the foot with bizarre dream sequences and a really, really confusing ending, plus the feeling it thinks the audience is pretty dumb.

Pandemonium remains the best parody of the era, but at least Student Bodies can declare itself superior to Wacko and National Lampoon’s Class Reunion.

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