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“Sometimes we’ve got to cut ourselves just to make sure we still bleed.”

carverCARVER

3 Stars  2008/98m

“Life imitating art, art imitating death.”

Director/Writer: Franklin Guerrero Jr. / Cast: Neil Kubath, Matt Carmody, Ursula Taherian, Jonathan Rockett, Kristyn Green, David G. Holland, Erik Fones, Luke Vitale, Natasha Malinsky.

Body Count: 13


Isn’t it funny how psychos have such unique names. This is questioned in Dark Ride, indeed why is it always Jeremiah, Elias, or Isaac? And if your surname happens to be Slaughter, Gore, Knifey, Cutty, or Carver then it appears you can skip that career aptitude normalizing test (Ms Hoover: “…or cant.”)

“Yay,” it’s another Hostelian torture porn flick with shades of the Texas Chainsaw remakes, which would have you believe that it’s based on true events, this time concerning a quartet of twenty-somethings who swanned off camping, never to return…

Brothers Pete and Bryan and trying for some before-college bonding and meet up with their fun lovin’ criminals friends Zack and Rachel for the trip, where they soon run into Kate, another camper whose friend has gone AWOL (actually decapitated at the beginning).

The kids befriend the part-disabled bar owner, Billy Hall Carver, and accept free drinks and fifty bucks in return for clearing out some junk from his barn, where anti-wilderness Bryan turns up some old film reels that feature what look to be amateur slasher flicks…with very realistic effects work. The rest of the gang take no heed of his paranoia and enjoy a night of drunken partying, during which Zack meets a very icky fate at the hands of Billy’s obese brother Bobby, who first drags the boy off the can and handcuffs him to the wall, then rips the shit-covered fitting from the wall and empties its contents over the boy before taking a wrench to his genitals and squeezing until his balls burst – like, literally at the camera! I expect all male viewers crossed their legs at this point.

Meanwhile, Pete convinces his brother to return a stolen reel of the maybe-snuff-movie to the barn, where they are soon boxed in by Bobby, who is hauling a corpse back for further dismemberment and soon turns his attention to offing them one by one as they struggle in vain to find a means of escape, which leads to a painful arm-under-a-heavy-door scene, which, in addition to your crossed legs, will have you folding your arms around yourself, Carver evidently being produced by Yoga enthusiasts.

Despite its grisly nature and lots of seen-it-all-befores, it is the assembly line elements that work in favour of the picture, rather than against it, wisely avoiding the usual dumb-character pitfalls (save for a couple of fatal misjudgements). Bobby likes to kill to the tune of a cheery country song about a turkey in the straw (“hee-hee-haw”), which provides a surreal audio backdrop to the scenes of horror.

Nominating a final boy is also something a bit different to the usual fare, although his actions towards the end raise questions, with a not-so-twisted twist pulled out of the bag as if we hadn’t seen it chugging down the roads towards us ages ago… Even so, there’s some enjoyment here, thanks in main to characters who haven’t got ‘obnoxious moron’ stamped on their foreheads and nice interplay between the actors.

ICE CREAM MAN

ice-cream-man2 Stars  1995/18/84m

“I scream, you scream, we all scream for the Ice Cream Man.”

Director: Norman Apstein / Writers: David Dobkin & Sven Davison / Cast: Clint Howard, Justin Isfield, Anndi McAfee, JoJo Adams, Mikey LeBeau, Olivia Hussey, Lee Majors II, Jan-Michael Vincent, David Warner, Karl Makinen.

Body Count: 9

Dire-logue: “You little turds are gonna learn you can’t run from the ice cream man!”


There’s an IMDb review of Ice Cream Man titled ‘I Scream, You Scream, We All Screamed when we saw Clint Howard’s face.’ Quite appropriate.

Ron’s bro is the titular tormentor, Gregory Tudor, in this strange B-flick, in which he thinks nothing of grinding up the locals – mostly parents of the kids who accurately suspect that he’s the one behind a spate of disappearances.

A quartet of plucky kids decides to investigate for themselves when one of their gang vanishes (secretly a willing captive in Gregory’s aged ice cream parlour). Meanwhile, cops Lee Majors II (!) and Jan-Michael Vincent (!!) look into Greg’s past at the Wishing Well Sanatorium and try to pin something on him. Hussey plays a kooky ex-nurse who has a garden of plastic daisies. And there’s a fat kid named ‘Tuna’.

Similarities between this and 1991’s C-flick Mr Ice Cream Man are obvious to anyone who’s seen both, though the budget and crew competence here run circles around the other film. There are also rumours that the crew of the older film sued those of the latter, which was reportedly part-financed by Converse Footwear, hence the numerous shots of trainers/sneakers throughout.

The comic trimmings don’t always work; there’s a completely extraneous and prolonged scene in the mental institution that doesn’t seem to add anything relevant to proceedings and was probably inserted to pump up the running time. Disappointingly, our fiend doesn’t murder any kids at all, settling for cops, a neighbour’s dog, and a couple of unfaithful parents instead. The idea of a murderous ice cream man could be scary if he was offing the little darlings on the block – it was freakin’ scary in serial killer flick When the Bough Breaks. Ergo, it wouldn’t be hard to make a truly scary film of this ilk, but after two botched attempts to get the scoop into the cone, I doubt anyone who try balancing a third on top…

Blurbs-of-interest: Howard had a small role as a luckless patient in The Dentist 2; Hussey was, of course, the lead in Black Christmas.

“For the love of God – stop singing!!”

sssshhh

SSSSHHH…

3 Stars  2003/15/167m

“Think twice before you suspect…”

Director: Pavan S. Kaul / Writer: Arshad Ali Syed / Cast: Tanisha, Dino Morea, Karan Nath, Gaurav Kapoor, Suvarna Jha, Kushal Punjabi, Teena Choudhary.

Body Count: 12

Dire-song-lyric: “Without you, my love won’t be placated…”


Yes, it’s another Bollywood slasher flick, but is it any better than Kucch to Hai? Does it shamelessly rip-off its American counterparts? Do the songs have any relevence to the rest of the plot? Yes, yes, and no.

This time, it’s Scream that gets a virtual remake in the warm climate of India where, six months after her big sis was murdered, college teen Mahek is still finding it difficult to cope, knowing that the murderer is still at large – and now he might just be calling her with new threats? This trauma is partially offset by the arrival of hunky suitor Suraj, whom she soon accuses of being the killer when the clown-masked psycho attacks her at home.

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Suraj later saves Mahek from a further attack and love blossoms between the two of them, much to the chagrin of her childhood friend Rocky, who also claims to love her, although he chooses to communicate this through a bizarre song at a house party. Meanwhile, it is assumed the killer perished in a freezing lake after another failed attempt on Mahek’s life and her friends decide that they could all do with a vacation to neighbouring Thailand for some sun n’ fun.

Gears shift into I Still Know What You Did Last Summer territory as the gang party on down at the convenient Punjabi disco before being kicked out over some unclear faux pas. They then go off to some remote island huts where the killer reappears and begins trimming the guest list, which includes a sub-aqua throat slashing. With numbers reduced right down to the final handful of survivors, the killer is revealed along with a cringeworthy exposition. So whose arms will Mahek fall into? Will they be the right arms or the arms of DEATH?

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The obvious problem with a story that suits an 85 minute runtime being stretched like old 80’s spandex to fit a film that’s just thirteen minutes short of three hours means that parts of Sssshhh… have more drag than a gay cabaret bar but it also has the upside of more developed characters and nothing is rushed or brash. Four songs punctuate proceedings, one over the credits, then party song, trip-to-the-airport song and disco song, they lend nothing to the horror plot and deal only with the love triangle between the three leads.

Sticking with a film this long will be difficult for western audiences and the horror on show is pretty cheesy; being from India, there is definitely no nudity – they don’t even have on screen kissing yet! – and the bloodletting is tame and badly effected, as is character behaviour, although we should remember that the genre conventions are not bedded in in this part of the world so the back-to-basics approach was actually fun to watch and some of the chase scenes were very good. You need to be really hell bent on slasher or Bollywood flicks for this one.

Decade of the Afraid: Best of the 00’s – Part 2

So, with sequels, reality slashers, remakes and torture-porn outta the way, let’s turn to the ASIAN tidal wave of horror, first beginning with, ugh, more remakes. The Ring, The Grudge, The Eye, One Missed Call, Shutter, Pulse… The list goes on, like, forever. Having done so well in the USA, they sort of got their own back by putting a continental twist on the American slasher film.

Korea, Thailand and Japan were at the forefront of these ‘rip-offs’, which pretty much recreated plots from the Scream gen, mixed it up with the usual creepy ghosts from those earlier films and came up with some interesting stuff…

cryingtreeNightmare had the ghost of a dead girl taking revenge on her friends for a prank gone wrong; Record was pretty much the same with definitive I Know What You Did Last Summerian influences; Thai flicks The Crying Tree (left) and Scared pit people in the woods against a psycho, or psychos in the case of the latter, while 999-9999 came up with a good ploy to virtually remake Final Destination with Thai spices.

ssshhh

India also got in on the game with epic slasher musicals (I shit you not!), Kucch to Hai and Ssshhh…, which interspersed the murder plots (again lifted from the I know what you did… school of slasher-plotting) with songs, usually about the romance between the leads. Hilarious if you can sit for over 3 hours.

Now, let’s talk about me. Me, me, me! What did I like from the last ten years? Well, much of it really. Fill yer plate with teenagers and then cut them up and I’ll most probably derive some pleasure from it. Before we get to the bests and worsts, here are a few GUILTY PLEASURES of mine. I take no responsibility for any coronaries suffered when you read that I somehow liked some of the following…

darknessfallsValentine is a film I love in spite of its striking similarity to cat shit. It’s bad, we all know it’s bad. The book was trashy but sustained something of a coherent plot and packed a great twist, both of which were ignored by the cheesy script for the film and lots of stuff made no sense. But what can I say? Cast of game glam girlies and a killer in a creepy Cherub mask – does it for me.

Darkness Falls is another rubbish studio horror flick and one of the first PG-13 rated body count films. Although it starts very well, things get boring and remain frustratingly dry, with Chaney Kley and Buffy‘s Emma Caulfield hiding in the light to save themselves from the ghost of a witch (known as the Tooth Fairy) who was burned by the townsfolk 100 years earlier. Again, stupid but so fun.

There were also gay slasher flicks Hellbent and The Gay Bed & Breakfast of Terror and dumbassed urban-legend-ghost-story flick Fingerprints, with Lou Diamond Phillips, Sally Kirkland and a killer dressed as a train conductor!

Now here’s what sucked. Not strictly from a bad film angle, otherwise the list would be populated with a bunch of barely seen DVD titles, no, here’s what was insultingly BAD

2001’s Ripper turned out to be an impressive effort, performing well enough to generate its own sequel, suffixed Letters from Within, which sent the lone survivor to a European institute. In a castle. An actress friend of mine auditioned for the role of “black girl with attitude” – I’m thankful she didn’t appear in it. It really sucked, with almost no connections to the plot of the first film (bar the one character, tellingly played by a different actress). It’s a sequel, so why be surprised though?

cry_wolf

Crud in a different way is Cry_Wolf, another young-audience friendly PG-13 “thriller”, which sells itself as the slasher film it never manages to become. Obnoxious, slappable teens at a prep school have a liars club, make up a rumour about a campus cruising psycho known as The Wolf and goreless murders begin. Only they don’t. It’s all a big ruse because of some love triangle between Lindy Booth and freakin’ Jon Bon Jovi’s media teacher! It was an upsettingly dreadful denouement in a film that ends up as nothing but a big budget cheat, attempting to seem cool with referential dialogue and a Cruel Intentions-styled backing. You’ll cry alright.

afdAnother film all about tricks and lies was the godawful “remake” of April Fool’s Day, one of the best of the 80’s. As with Cry_Wolf, over-privileged snots are the primary cast members. Nobody is remotely pleasant. Just fucking die! Or, yet again, don’t. Scout Taylor-Compton, having already ruined the legacy of Laurie Strode in Rob Zombie’s Halloween redux, has a lot to answer for. The joke’s on us!

Another day, another remake, albeit more of a faithful adaptation of a book came in the shape of the horrible Children of the Corn TV flick with David Anders, Kandyse McClure and one of Dexter‘s kids as Isaac. It fails on almost every level.

A straight-up slasher flick came in the shape of See No Evil, starring WWE wrestler Kane as a hulking loon who dwells in an abandoned hotel and likes to pluck out victims’ eyes for random reasoning. Cue eight delinquent offenders sent there to fix up the place and carnage ensues. Not as bad as the others in this category, it was just disappointing. Really, really disappointing, as was slasher-laced anthology flick Heebie Jeebies, which concerns a girl who dreams the future and sees the deaths of her high school friends and, in her infinite wisdom decides they should all go to a creepy old farmhouse for the weekend “for their safety.” Stupid moose. They all die. There’s a story about rock monsters, which sucks. It all sucks.

shrooms

Finally, Shrooms. Inexplicably given a cinema release around Christmas in 2007, this is the tale of American tourists in the Irish woods, magic mushrooms of the intense variety, dogging, and death. It all leans towards the rather stupid twist. Director Paddy Breathnach’s follow up, Red Mist, was a bit better.

Right, that’s what sucked, here are the slasher films n’ franchises that proved (to me at least) that the age of the slasher film was not necessarily over…

THE BEST OF THE 00s

I don’t want to create a countdown as some film series were important to the decade, so starting with this in mind, if the fourth was to be the last, then the entire Final Destination cycle started and ended in the one decade.

fd3The inarguable awesomeness of the general premise (flaws included) made this series an instant winner. The original (and best) film had the guts to feature a tragic plane crash, keying in on a common fear before shifting to a slasher film with an invisible killer in Death, who doesn’t like to be evaded by cheeky teens and therefore they die in a variety of gruesome ‘accidents’.

The form was perfected early on in 2003’s Final Destination 2, which is the ultimate catalogue of inanimate objects plotting our downfall. By the time the third instalment appeared in 2006, nobody had to be psychic to see what was coming. The plot hadn’t developed significantly and 2009’s 3D entry sank to new depths of desperation. Nevertheless, these disposable-teen safety films-gone-wrong should be regarded as some of the best of the 2000’s.

wrongturn

Not nearly as inventive but far more intense was 2003’s Wrong Turn, a back to basics survival slasher film, which placed a group of city kids in the wooded territory of a trio of hideously inbred cannibalistic brothers who have been collecting victims for years. Brutality is core in this snappy flick, which never takes its foot off the accelerator once the action begins. Great turns from heroes Desmond Harrington and Eliza Dushku, who barely make it out alive as it is, emphasise how important likeable characters are in modern horror, something absent in almost all of the entries in the crop-of-crap list.

In a similar vain, 2006’s grimy Brit-flick Wilderness put teens on a tiny island with a vengeful killer, although this time they’re all from a young offenders institute being punished after one of their number is bullied to the point of suicide. Nice guys don’t exist here, but the revenge angle and use of a quartet of trained dogs made for one of the better British horrors of recent years. Yes, I preferred it to The Descent. Off with his head!

Doing what we do just as well, Simon Pegg starrer Hot Fuzz outdid Shaun of the Dead as Pegg’s retentive small village copper investigates a series of murders that nobody else believes is happening. Hmmm… Sticking with the comedy, 60’s beach party horror pastiche Psycho Beach Party has the surf dudes of a Californian beach on the hop from a loon who bears a prejudice against anyone with disabilities. A campy mini-classic.

malevolenceThere was still a lot of arty goings-on in horror during the decade, influenced largely by the onslaught of horror from the East, who were making the rest of the world’s horror look pedestrian on a visual front. Thank God, then, for Malevolence, Stevan Mena’s snail-paced atmos-builder, where screw-up bank robbers haul a couple of hostages to what they believe to be an abandoned farm. The regional, beyond help ambience made for a terrific sleeper, a prequel to which was completed in 2009 but not yet released.

In a similar spooky vain, creepiest slasher film of the decade – and possibly ever – goes to Session 9, which, in one sub-five second shot (a future Pant-Soiling Scene) made me almost cry with abject fear! A little love also for UK-Canadian production Ripper: Letter from Hell, at the other end of the spectrum to its dire sequel, this Jack the Ripper combo of Urban Legend (easily my favourite 90’s slasher) and Copycat worked out very well.

On the flipside of these po-faced terrors, light-hearted Shredder wrapped up a spunky slasher film on the slopes of Colorado, while Aussie Scream-contemporary Cut brought in Molly Ringwald and Kylie Minogue to battle a killer who appears whenever the unfinished slasher film he featured in is shown. It bombed at the box office but struck a great balance between laughter and Jason-style body counting.

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Later came Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, a documentary style insight into the preparation a wouldbe psycho killer goes through before becoming the slasher film it parodies – and does it all with great wit, a fab cast and visuals.

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Jason was re-born at the end of the decade in Platinum Dunes’ ‘reboot’ of Friday the 13th, which may as well have donned the suffix Part 12 for all it recreates.

Over at MGM, dodgy-past director Victor Salva attempted to create a horror icon in The Creeper in the first two Jeepers Creepers films, flawed in their legacy by featuring a villain who only appears for 23 days every 23 years! The first film was half-perfection, half-ham. The third film, due in 2011, will likely make or break the series’ potential.

jason-voorheesjeepers-creepers

Lastly, we move to Europe to close in on what I consider to be the best slasher thing going in the 2000’s. Anatomy, the German medical-school slasher from the beginning of the decade showed that the killer-with-a-sharp-object genre can still be intellectually challenging.

However, it was a most unlikely country that produced not one, but two of the most visually stunning, intensely produced and overtly satisfying slasher films. Douze points go…to Norway.

The land famed for the Northern Lights, fjords, vikings and herring had never really been an active participator on the horror scene until 2006, when skiers-in-peril film Cold Prey was made. Yet another back to basics approach abounded with the simple tale of a reclusive killer taking out the young people who enter his environment. The craftsmanship and appreciation of the technique of generating tension is second to none for the period. Character interactions, escape attempts and eventual showdown between the lone survivor and killer all put most others to shame.

That said, the 2008 sequel ticks every box you could want out of an effective follow-up. While the hospital setting isn’t anything new, we do get the original actors back to play their own bodies, there are characters we care about, which means there’s heartbreak and pain, love and loss, intensity, bloodshed and plenty of action. I’ll attempt to give both of these films faithful reviews in the near future to go into more detail but, for now, let me say that Cold Prey and Cold Prey II were, for me, the best slasher films of 2000-2009.

coldprey_poster_lgcoldprey2

Decade of the Afraid: the Best of the 00’s – Part 1

Can 1990 seriously be twenty years ago? I feel so old! Decrepit! Call me Grandpa Voorhees. OK, so no, time is time and we can’t change it etc etc…and I was only 11 when it turned from ’89 to ’90, leaving behind the funkiest decade.

Now we kiss goodbye to the 00’s (unless you’re a pedant who insists each new decade actually begins at the “01” year). A quick filter of an Excel spreadsheet informs me that I saw 225 slasher films shot between 2000 and 2009, so while most people do their ‘best of 2009′ lists, VeVo looks back at the best – and worst – of the last ten years. Take my hand, it could get self-referential!

Firstly, there were the SEQUELS to franchises from the 80s and 90s that just kept comin’ – or in some cases took forever…

scream3The most successful slasher franchise of the era bowed out in 2000 with Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Aquette finally shutting the door on years of being stalked by Ghostface in Scream 3. Although rumours abound of a resurgence in 2010, nothing is yet set in stone.

Also out for more was Urban Legends: Final Cut, Halloween: Resurrection, Seed of Chucky and overdue returns for Jason and Freddy in, respectively, Jason X and Freddy vs. Jason, which looked like it was going to usher in some miserable years of cut-n-shut head-to-headers, thankfully, in spite of its massive success, nobody saw fit to copy it.

We waited approximately five years for Return to return_to_sleepaway_campSleepaway Camp to get it’s DVD release and then all moaned that it wasn’t very good; and as the DVD box-set extravaganza began, studios dished up cheapo sequels to fill out cardboard space, among them Urban Legends: Bloody Mary and I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, which proved that it is indeed possible to fuck a movie franchise up the arse and leave it in a violated mess in the corner.

mylittleeyeThe 00’s was also the decade of REALITY TV, kept afloat mostly (in the UK at least) by Big Brother, which stranded a dozen or so morons in a house without a psychopathic killer! Before long, slasher movie makers jumped on the bandwagon. Halloween: Resurrection came late to the party, cheapo exploitation fare such as Voyeur.com and Cruel World went for the lowest common denominator while arty stuff such as My Little Eye was so depressing that I’d rather have been forced to watch the shows proper than sit through it again…

Arguably – and this does spark “debate” (a.k.a. childish name-calling and tantrums) – the biggest thing to happen within the genre came around about 2003.

REMAKE AFTER REMAKE AFTER REMAKE

Surely it started out as something relatively innocent…:

Harried Writer: “I really don’t think we can write another one of these. What else is there to do?”

Exec: “Okay, well it’s been almost 30 years, no one will really care if we, uh, what’s the word I want to use?”

Harried Writer: “Remake?”

Exec: “Oh, no, no, no – I know – reimagine.”

Harried Writer: “That’s not a word.”

Exec: “Do it or get out.”tcm2003

And thus it came to pass. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was remadeimagined, soon after generating a sequel of its own, reinvigorating the losses made by the admittedly patchy 80s and 90s ventures and opening the floodgates for execs everywhere the pillage the catalogue of “people only remember the title”-style horror films.

I’ll admit that some worked out fine; I, for one, enjoyed the TCM redux and also Friday the 13th. The rest were made up of agreeable distractions that were fine so long as you didn’t compare them to their source material (Black Christmas, Sorority Row, House of Wax), some that slipped under the radar and others that should just burn in hell for all eternity. However you look at it, we were left with this:

remakesThe main ‘problem’ with a lot of these remakes – aside from the evidential lack of imagination infecting the industry – is that, in most cases, the nihilistic days of the early 80s horror scene are over, and in their place came a bunch of anodyne, inoffensive PG-13 rated films that barely register on the horror scale.

However, this was not true for all involved and another commonality of the decade was the sub-genre of TORTURE PORN!

From its original instalment in 2004, the Saw franchise has, like Friday the 13th back in the 80s, seen a new sequel every year. As of 2009, we’re up to Saw VI and a seventh appears on IMDb already for Halloween 2010. Not really slasher flicks, Saw and Hostel (plus its sequel), were cleverly plotted horror films with a lot of grue, death death death and crazy loons killing people in creative ways, often placing American tourists elsewhere on the globe where the locals have a few screws loose.

The Hills Have Eyes remake (plus its sequel – Dear God, how often will I have to type that?) flirted also in this darker than dark arena of extensive violence; Uwe Boll’s naff Seed and the Brazil-trip-gone-wrong saga Turistas and Wolf Creek were the closest relatives of the slasher film.

Extreme violence isn’t my thing; although some of these films were well plotted, nicely made yadda yadda, the public fascination with their forbidden horrors appeal seemed to have waned by the close of the decade.

In Part 2 (next week, alright?) – the rise of the genre in the Far East and VeVo’s best and worst slasher flicks of the decade.

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