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Let’s go round again

happy death day 2017

HAPPY DEATH DAY

3 Stars  2017/15/96m

Get up. Live your day. Get killed. Again.”

Director: Christopher Landon / Writer: Scott Lobdell / Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken, Caleb Spillyards, Blaine Kern III, Rob Mello.

Body Count: 8… kinda


It would be impossible to forego mentioning Groundhog Day in the same breath as Happy Death Day - ostensibly the same idea, but staple-gunned to a slasher-lite opus.

This film provided a rare opportunity for me to go to a horror movie with VeVo’s lover, who is largely against bloody violence for entertainment, but hates Bill Murray to the point where they could use this film to project those feelings on to and imagine it was him being murdered over and over again…

At Bayfield College, self-centered sorority girl Tree (short for Teresa) wakes up hungover in the dorm room of sweet-natured Carter, grabs her clothes and a Tylenol, and is outta there. She walks by a girl trying to sign her up for an environmental campaign, sprinklers soaking a couple, a frat boy keeling over, a needy ex, and gets home to her sorority, where the bitchy house president Danielle is quippy with her, and finally rejects her nice roommate’s attempt to give her a birthday cupcake.

happy death day 2017

Tree goes through her day, classes, getting naughty with her professor, and then heads off for a frat party. Alone. Down dark areas of the campus. In a short tunnel, Tree encounters a creepy music box playing ‘Happy Birthday’ and is attacked and killed by a loon in a baby-faced mask that matches the school mascot.

Then she wakes up in the dorm bed. As most of us probably would, Tree stumbles through the day writing it all off as deja vu. This time, she sees the music box and goes the other way, making it to the frat house, where it turns out the party is a surprise for her birthday and, this time, ventures off upstairs with a guy, who is murdered before she is attacked a second time and killed with a shattered bong.

happy death day 2017 jessica rothe

Then she wakes up again. And again. And again. Tree is knifed, struck with a baseball bat, drowned, and hit by a bus as she tries to work out who it is who’s after her and why. With Carter’s help – after she’s convinced him each morning – Tree knocks names off the list of suspects and goes about making reparations to her unruly life, reconnecting with her estranged Dad, apologising to her suffering roommate, and ending the affair with her teacher.

But who is trying to kill her and why? Happy Death Day‘s eventual revelation is a tad contrived, but at the same time I didn’t guess it correctly, so perhaps I’m just being picky. It helps that Tree’s resurrections aren’t unlimited – each time she wakes up she’s weaker than yesterday, so the clock is ticking on solving the mystery before she’s gone for good.

happy death day 2017 jessica rothe

While almost entirely bloodless (it was a PG-13 Stateside), what murders there are besides Tree’s happen mostly to schmucks who get in the way of the killer and are undone each new dawn, resulting in a ‘real’ murder count of, well, none. It’s still a slasher film of sorts, in the same way April Fool’s Day is, despite not being… kinda?

Katie Cassidy-a-like Rothe is great in the lead role – balancing comic timing with final girl aplomb and going from nasty victim-type to appreciative heroine over the runtime. Rachel Matthews as bitchy Danielle is also a hoot and gets most of the best lines.

happy death day 2017 jessica rothe

A fun diversion, checking most the boxes Camp Daze failed to, and a surprising box office success that will hopefully trailblaze the way for some more theatrical slasher flicks, although whether audiences will embrace straight-up stalk n’ slash over this kind of concept remains to be seen.

Christmas. In August.

secret santa 2015

SECRET SANTA

2.5 Stars  2015/78m

“Open a box. Leave in a bag.”

Director/Writer: Mikey McMurran / Cast: Annette Wozniak, Geoff Almond, Keegan Chambers, Brent Baird, Nicole Kawalez, Tony Nash, Matthew Chisholm, Astrida Auza, Alexandra Simpson.

Body Count: 11

Laughter Lines: “You seem like a good person, please don’t do this.” / “On the contrary, I’m a psychopathic killer… with a knack for body dismemberment.”


I should take a certain amount of responsibility for this picture as I donated to the Kickstarter campaign that funded it. Look, my name is in the credits!:

secret santa 2015

Anyway, shot for a mere $6,000 CAD and garnished with that grainy 80s VHS look (but still including iPhones n’ shit…), Secret Santa is another of those back-to-basics productions.

A group of students taking some pre-Christmas holidays exams gather together for a festive party and, during the titular exchange, unwrap an array of weaponry ranging from a meatcleaver, through garden shears, hairdryer, and electric carving knife. “I didn’t get you that!” they caw, and we’ve already figured out that each gift represents the method of dispatch for its recipient.

Even at 78 minutes, it takes some time to get to the party, via the obligatory opening murder (the girl who takes a shower, obvs), exam stress, heroine Nicole’s guilt over how she’s earning money to pay her student debts, her boyfriend cheating with the nominal easy-lay, and some bizarre subplot about one of them being on drugs or something? I honestly didn’t understand his deal.

secret santa 2015

Secret Santa dances a line between adding comical lines and references and outright parody. A couple of moments are genuinely good, like the killer attempting to toss the hairdryer into a bath but the cord coming out of the socket, and the two-hour exposition from the killer, once unmasked.

The identity of the fiend is the ace up the sleeve here, although in many ways it makes next to no sense and signposts the departure from horror to comedy, but there’s something almost genial about the reveal, which reminded me of Slaughter Studios.

Hopefully the film will shift enough to finance a future, higher-budgeted project, because there’s definitely a talent at play there.

Make America Gory Again

uncle sam 1996

UNCLE SAM

3 Stars  1996/18/86m

“He wants you… DEAD!”

Director: Larry Cohen / Writer: William Lustig / Cast: Christopher Ogden, Isaac Hayes, Anne Tremko, Leslie Neale, David ‘Shark’ Fralick, Matthew Flint, Tim Grimm, Robert Forster, Bo Hopkins, Timothy Bottoms, P.J. Soles, Thom McFadden, Zachary McLemore

Body Count: 13


This pre-Scream-rules cheap n’ cheerful holiday hacker from the creators of the Maniac Cop trilogy is about as subtle as politics is honest, but is nevertheless kinda endearing in it’s own cheesy way.

We begin with the obligatory flashback to an unspecified moment in time in Kuwait where two soldiers discover the bodies of a helicopter crew shot down in ‘friendly fire’. The remains of one of the men is shipped back to his hometown of Twin Rivers three years later (where it’s been all this time I don’t know) where his widow is living with his sister, whose son Jody is obsessed by his Uncle Sam and with joining the troops.

For no particular reason, Sam’s corpse – in the living room of the house! – is reanimated, dons an Uncle Sam costume put aside for the July 4th celebrations the next day, and goes about destroying those who aren’t patriotic enough  (“people who don’t respect the American way of life should have the butts kicked”) including swastika-spraying teens, crooked congressmen, pacifists and dope-smokers.

The body count goes ballistic and things get pretty gory and there’s a psychic blind kid in a wheelchair, which is always good! But the most compelling thing is that cast rota, stocked with big names for such a little known Troma-esque movie. Isaac Hayes is fitfully amusing as a surviving soldier and P.J. Soles has a short but sweet role as a neurotic mother.

The biggest mystery is why no one really seems to care when people are killed. Both the widow and her sister’s boyfriends end up as dog meat and neither seem all that bothered! A curious oddity that seems fitting again with the bizarre administrative situation in the US of A at present.

Blurbs-of-interest: P.J. Soles was Lynda in Halloween, but also had the lead role in Innocent Prey and a part in The Tooth Fairy; Robert Forster was also in Maniac Cop 3 and the Psycho remake; David ‘Shark’ Fralick was later in Spiker; Isaac Hayes had a part in Return to Sleepaway Camp; Bo Hopkins was also in A Crack in the Floor and Sweet Sixteen; William Lustig also directed Maniac.

Pumpkin Face

pumpkin karver 2006 dvd

THE PUMPKIN KARVER

1.5 Stars  2006/15/88m

“Every face is a work of art.”

Director/Writer: Robert Mann / Writer: Sheldon Silverstein / Cast: Amy Weber, Michael Zara, Minka Kelly, Terrence Evans, David J. Wright, David Austin, David Phillips, Alex Weed, Charity Shea, Mistie Adams, Briana Gerber, Jared Snow, Jonathan Conrad.

Body Count: 8


Weber and Zara are siblings new to the small town of Carver (groan), after a Halloween prank at their expense ended with Zara accidentally killing her sister’s boyfriend. One year on – to the day, as ever – they attend a big party away from adult supervision where a killer in the same mask as that used in the prank begins turning the faces of partygoers into human Jack-o-Lanterns.

A creepy old local pops up every now and then to torment Zara about the sacred job of a Carver and some babble about the ‘evil within’.

Given that the story strands a large number of characters in the middle of nowhere, nothing actually happens until the last 25 minutes, when it probably should’ve spread out the action to maintain interest.

the pumpkin karver 2006

As it is, The Pumpkin Karver is a pretty boring affair with too few flourishes to make up for slack pacing and a stupid, unexplained ending. Combine these elements with annoying characters (too many of whom survive) and it has all the appeal of a rotting pumpkin on November 12th.

Blurbs-of-interest: Amy Weber was in Kolobos; Terrence Evans was the old perv in the wheelchair in both Texas Chainsaw Massacre re-do’s; David Austin and Charity Shea were in (the fairly similar) Scarred.

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