Initiate 800th slasher flick

initiation 2020

INITIATION

3 Stars  2020/18/93m

“Murder is trending.”

Director/Writer: John Berardo / Writers: Lindsay LaVanchy, Brian Frager / Cast: Lindsay LaVanchy, Isabella Gomez, Lochlyn Munro, Jon Huertas, Froy Gutierrez, Shireen Lai, Gattlin Griffith, James Berardo, Yancy Butler, Maxwell Hamilton.

Body Count: 4


Minor spoilers. At Whiton University, frat boys and sorority girls party, drink, make-out, partake in all the cliches we’ve been watching on film for the past forty years. (I wonder, what do students who don’t pledge the Greek system do with their time?) Anyway, after intervening in a potentially awkward situation, science major Ellery takes her so’sis Kylie home and tries to find out why she was passed out on the bed of douchey frat Beau, behind a locked door in a room that also contained Ellery’s swim-team superstar brother Wes… There’s chatter about ‘what happened last year’, but Kylie just doesn’t remember.

initiation 2020 lindsay lavanchy shireen lai

The campus has an ongoing problem with frat boys “identifying ho’s to protect the bro’s” by adding single exclamation marks as comments on photos. Ellery tries to covertly run a DNA sequence on Kylie’s shorts to find out if her brother was involved in something bad, but before she can get her answer Wes is brutally murdered by a hooded killer wearing a reflective mask (that looks like the Transformers symbol) and power-drilled to a door.

The cops come, they interview his friends, his sister, evidence is discussed, the figurehead of the school makes a speech – but is he just scrambling to cover up something more sinister? Notably, a number of older male characters growl and grumble to their sons and legacies about keeping quiet. Two more boys from the frat are slain, then Ellery and her friends find themselves locked in the main building on campus, with the killer roaming free.

initiation 2020 gattlin griffith

Initiation is definitely an impressive looking beast and opts to treat its psycho-killer opus with a dose of reality, insofar that the killer is neither superhuman, nor able to effectively teleport to just the right place he needs to be to pounce. When hit, he limps, when stabbed, he bleeds; would-be victims are able to escape from him by hiding in good places.

It also inverts the standard expectations to some degree; the victims are all male and most are attacked when vulnerable, in states of undress – one has literally just finished masturbating! – that satirise the cow-girl templates of dumb bimbos screaming with their tops off.

initiation 2020 isabella gomez lindsay lavanchy

So why only three stars? The film plods a bit at an uneven pace, taking a full thirty minutes for anything horror-related to happen, and early on I was lost in a pool of characters who seemed to have confused purposes, culminating in no absolute lead to identify with rather than a bunch of possible suspects, as well as others who just disappear from the story altogether. It could have done with a bit of a re-edit, perhaps starting with the murder and then flashing back to the events that preceded it. A couple of the actors are also clearly way older than their characters. In more pertinent terms, I correctly guessed the killer towards the end due to the weight given to their otherwise minor presence.

Blurbs-of-interest: Spot Debra DeLiso from Iced and The Slumber Party Massacre as the assistant, Dana; Lochlyn Munro was also in Freddy vs. Jason, Hack!, Scary Movie, and The Tooth Fairy.

47 Christmases later…

it's me billy 2021

IT’S ME, BILLY

3 Stars  2021/43m

“You always knew he’d call back.”

Directors/Writers: Dave McRae & Bruce Dale / Cast: Victoria Mero, Shelby Handley, Malaika Hennie, Caro Coltman, Bryan Charles Peter.

Body Count: 2


I know it’s June, but here we are.

Fan films have come a long way since the days of a few friends, dad’s camcorder and a cheap dime store mask. As studios dither and overthink their franchises, resulting in legal disputes and long delays (*cough* Friday the 13th *cough*), fans with talent took matters into their own hands and the past few years have seen some low-rent output that’s arguably often better than what millions of dollars from a Hollywood studio could buy.

Into this hall of fame can be welcomed It’s Me, Billy, which gives us a 47-years-later sequel to seminal proto-slasher Black Christmas. College girls Sam, Emma, and Justine tried to access the house on Belmont Street where Sam’s late grandmother, Jess, was the sole survivor of the 1974 murders.

They journey on to Jess’s remote house in the wake of the woman’s death and before long receive a strange phone call from what sounds like several insane voices arguing with one another. Expectedly, Sam is soon on her own trying to fend off an insane killer until we’re escorted to an interesting final revelation that nods towards the distinct possibility of another follow-up in the future?

it's me billy 2021

It’s Me, Billy certainly looks and sounds the part, with its snow-dusted exteriors of jagged trees and empty roads; the score is a strong echo of the ’74 film and every little creak of a floorboard is like a cacophony of clanging metal pans in the dark. It’s also well acted by its primary cast of three.

The coda is interesting but negates the film somewhat, as it all leads up to a moment where the film simply stops when it’s just about to spark to life. This sense of incompleteness is a disappointment but if there’s a future plan here (a la Never Hike Alone) then great. And it’s still better than the 2019 ‘remake’.

Nightlife / Nightdeath

open 24 hours 2018

OPEN 24 HOURS

3 Stars  2018/18/103m

“Welcome to the graveyard shift.”

Director/Writer: Padraig Reynolds / Cast: Vanessa Grasse, Brendan Fletcher, Cole Vigue, Emily Tennant, Daniel O’Meara, Tomislav Stojanovic, Selina Giles.

Body Count: 8


Spoilers in aisle four.

A Canadian production, mostly filmed in Serbia, shrinks things down to a single-location boonies gas station, where recently paroled Mary (Grasse) lands a job covering the 10pm-6am shift as cashier.

Her crime? She set fire to her serial-killer boyfriend, The Rain Ripper, after he offed 35 young women, including several in front of her. Traumatised by this, Mary still suffers from flashback hallucinations that James is coming to get her. “He can’t even walk” says her best friend Deb, reminding her that James is locked up.

If that’s so, who is the rainmacked figure Mary keeps seeing lurking? Who keeps calling her? Who plays the old 50s love song down the phone like James used to before he went out on the hunt for a victim? Her gruff parole officer Tom convinces her she’s imagining most of it, but also cautions her that some of the victims’ relatives blame her for their loved ones’ deaths.

open 24 hours 2018

As the clock ticks away, Mary gets a couple of quirky customers, is checked on by day-employee Bobby, hears doors creaking in the empty market, finds strands of hair in blocked toilets, and a number of hallucinations. Then James shows up and tells her he is real. But… is he?

Yes. To put it bluntly, he has broken out of jail, clearly can still walk, and has somehow tracked her down to the gas station on her first night working there and abducted a few schmucks to kill in front of her – because he loves her. Or something.

Open 24 Hours doesn’t unfold in quite so typical slasher style, with victims captured for killing later when James has Mary where he wants her. The run up to this event is still decent though, making the most of the rain-soaked locus, shots where Mary’s stalker is stood behind her in the frame, but balances delicately along the beam of reality vs. paranoia: Can her mind be trusted?

open 24 hours 2018

In a post Haute Tension world I wouldn’t have been surprised if the twist was that Mary herself was the killer and projecting it all on a not-even-there James, but the film (wisely?) opts for the more acceptably obvious outcome: He’s real, he’s a killer, she’s the final girl. In that sense, Open 24 Hours wraps up to taut girl vs. loon final act that doesn’t pander to too many cliches. A tacked on ‘later’ scene is needless, but it at least assures us that Mary was okay as much as someone could be in that scenario.

A worthwhile effort for fans of nicely made indie-flicks that wring a lot out of a small cast and set.

Blurb-of-interest: Brendan Fletcher was in Freddy vs Jason.

Recurring Nightmare

bad dreams 1988

BAD DREAMS

3 Stars  1988/18/84m

“When Cynthia wakes up, she’ll wish she were dead.”

Director/Writer: Andrew Fleming / Writers: Michael Dick, P.J. Pettiette, Yuri Zeltser, Steven E. de Souza / Cast: Jennifer Rubin, Bruce Abbott, Harris Yulin, Richard Lynch, Dean Cameron, Susan Ruttan, Damita Jo Freeman, E.G. Daily, Susan Barnes, Louis Giambalvo, Sheila Scott Wilkinson, Sy Richardson.

Body Count: 9 (+24)

Laughter Lines: “If you wanna fit in with the 80s, you’re at least two divorces, a condo, and a yeast infection behind the times.”


Of all the Elm Street rip-offs, just a glance a the name and details of this should tell you it’s one of the most overt. Although, being pedantic about it, Bad Dreams targets Elm Street 3 for much of its pilfer source, not least by casting from that movie Jennifer Rubin (who played ex-junkie Taryn) as the lead.

Rubin is Cynthia, the sole survivor of a mass-suicide at the Unity Fields cult in 1975, where self-styled prophet Harris (Lynch) poured ladles of gasoline over his flock before burning them and himself to death. Thirteen years later (finally not five, ten, or twenty!) Cynthia wakes from a coma and is placed into the mental care of Dr Alex Carmen and joins his therapy group of oddballs to assist her integration into the 80s (see Laughter Lines).

bad dreams 1988 richard lynch

Among the other group members are anger-prone Ralph, sex obsessed couple Ed and Connie, seldom spoken Lana, jittery journalist Miriam, and Gilda, who just mutters stuff about destiny. Their issues aren’t particularly clear or realised well, unlike the Dream Warriors kids, where individual personalities were nailed down with ease by Craven’s script.

Cynthia neither fits in, nor wants to be there, but when she starts to see her dead cult leader in elevator or walking down the corridors, she thinks he’s come back for her to complete the transition to the next plane of existence blah blah blah. These visions coincide with the apparent suicides of the other group members, who drown, fall out of high-storey windows, and in one icky case throw themselves into a giant ventilation fan, causing blood rain throughout the clinic.

bad dreams 1988

The cops who have been waiting thirteen years for answers around the cult’s demise see Cynthia as the common link between the deaths, despite the fact she has alibis for each, Dr Carmen is fired, and Cynthia put into isolation where Freddy Harris can get to her more easily.

At this point, Bad Dreams releases its twist, revealing circumstances to be much more earthbound than we’ve been led to believe. It’s unexpected and a decent deception, but it renders a majority of the film redundant and leads to a soggy climax that feels half-baked before the credits just start rolling and Sweet Child O’ Mine kicks in.

bad dreams 1988

It’s a bit of an ‘Oh… okay’ moment, but the film is at least well made, boasts some interesting supporting characters and witty dialogue here and there. The flashback scene to the cult wilfully burning their own faces is intensely and unsettling. More time with the therapy group characters would’ve added some sorely missing depth to proceedings and meat for the actors to get their teeth into.

So how much does it borrow from Kruegertown?

  • Set on a psychiatric care ward a la Dream Warriors
  • Heroine repeatedly taken back to a creepy old house in her dreams/flashbacks
  • Death by fire
  • Ghoulish otherworldly stalker who the ‘adults’ can’t see (sometimes) appears all burnt up
  • Cynthia put into isolation ‘for her own good’
  • Doctor dismissed by hospital for getting too involved
  • Two cast members from Elm Street movies appearbad dreams 1988 bruce abbott jennifer rubin

Blurbs-of-interest: Harris Yulin was later in Wes Craven’s My Soul to Take; Richard Lynch was in Laid to RestCurse of the Forty-Niner, and Rob Zombie’s Halloween re-do; Charles Fleischer, the doctor from Elm Street 1, appears here briefly as the pharmacist.

Lights on, nobody home

darkroom 1989

DARKROOM

2.5 Stars  1989/15/86m

“Where old passions develop.”

Director: Terrence O’Hara / Writers: Rick Pamplin, Robert W. Fisher, Brian Herskowitz / Cast: Jill Pierce, Jeffrey Alan Arbaugh, Aarin Teich, Sara Lee Wade, Allan Liberman, Stella Kastner, John O’Connor.

Body Count: 9


College girl Janet returns home to her rural family home for a break – joining mom, grandpa, her sister and her cousins, who live with the family after a suspicious fire killed their parents along with Janet’s photographer father some years back. His darkroom still exists in the basement of their remote house. Someone in the cast is sneakily taking photos of people before killing them, occasionally wearing a creepy worn yellow rainmack while doing so.

When Janet’s boyfriend Steve turns up, mom asks them to go look for AWOL sister Paula, who has shacked up in a trailer with a temperamental local who, it seems, has killed her, and attacks anybody else who crosses his path. Lots of running back and forth ensues, with all vehicles unavailable or immobilised, the phone out, and the nearest neighbours ten miles away… Ideal working conditions for your common or garden slasher killer.

A nice credits sequence and some good photography make Darkroom look better than expected, though for a Nico Mastorakis production, most of the kills are tame or occur off camera entirely; the killer’s motive is hazy and seems almost shoehorned in in place of something that would really wrap things up satisfactorily.

An okay 86 minutes but you might get more out of developing some old photographs.

Blurb-of-interest: Aarin Teich was in Bloodspell.

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