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Written Off

the letters of death 2006

THE LETTERS OF DEATH

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

WRONG TURN 2: DEAD END

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.

Dog’s Dinner

madhouse 1981

MADHOUSE

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.

 

To Sir With Blood

bloody reunion

BLOODY REUNION

2.5 Stars  2006/93m

“Class dismissed.”

A.k.a. To Sir With Love

Director: Dae-wung Lim / Writer: Se-yeol Park / Cast: Yeong-hie Seo, Mi-hee Oh, Seong-won Jang, Dong-kyu Lee, Ji-hyeon Lee, Hyo-jun Park, Seol-ah Yu, Hyeon-Soo Yeo.

Body Count: 8

Laughter Lines: “Just go if you need to shit.”


South Korea has given us a few decent slasher films over the last few years: NightmareRecord, the awesome Death Bell and its sequel. Bloody Reunion sits nicely in the group, the title giving away much that you need to know in terms of plot. Mild spoilers follow.

A group of young adults gather at the home of their elementary school teacher, Mrs Park, whose poor health indicates this might be the last time they get to see her. The reunion has been organised by nice girl Mi-ja, who serves as a sort of live-in assistant to the woman, and the attendees include the usual types: the funny guy, the moody biker type, engaged but seemingly miserable couple, a girl who permanently keeps her shades on and talks about how good she looks these days.

Through intermittent flashbacks, we learn that Mrs Park gave birth to a deformed son who was locked in her basement after her husband, unable to deal with the child’s looks, hanged himself. It also transpires that, despite attending the party, none of the students actually really liked Mrs Park, and each recall her nastiness towards them, be it rejecting her ‘Teacher’s Day’ gifts, highlighting they were from a poor family, or mocking them for crapping themself in class.

bloody reunion 2006

Arguments ensue, weird scenes unfold, a bunny-masked loon begins stalking them with a box-cutter, making one guy swallow razor blades and stapling a girl’s eyelids (open or shut, I can’t remember). Everyone suspects fellow aide of Mrs Park, Jung-won, who was the only member of the group nice to her absent son. Hmm…

Bloody Reunion tosses us a curveball at the end, which makes things certainly more interesting, but a bit confusing in a sub-Haute Tension manner: Did that person even exist? Did any of this happen? Huh? Don’t expect all your questions to have been answered. And don’t eat the cake.

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*

class reunion massacre 1976 the redeemer

CLASS REUNION MASSACRE

1 Stars  1976/18/84m

“No more pencils, no more books, no more students…”

A.k.a. The Redeemer; The Redeemer: Son of Satan

Director: Constantine S. Gochis / Writer: William Vernick / Cast: T.G. Finkbinder, Gyr Patterson, Damien Knight, Nick Carter, Nikki Barthen, Jeanetta Arnette, Michael Holdensworth.

Body Count: 8

Laughter Lines: “You mustn’t make me chase you – I could die of a heart attack!”


The words most commonly associated with this pre-Halloween outing are surely “what the fuck!?” ’76 wasn’t such a good year for the slasher film; with the much-needed influence of John Carpenter and Sean Cunningham’s groundbreakers replaced by the lamentable likes of Blood Voyage and Drive-In Massacre. It’s not very assuring to state that this is probably the best from that year.

After an unthinkably long and boring shot of a quarry lake and a few credits, a hand rises from the water and a mop-topped child wearing flares and a nasty sweater appears and gets on a passing bus that takes him off to church where he is in the choir. Is it supposed to be abstract? Or is it just mental? What the fuck 1.

Meanwhile, a stranger murders the caretaker of an abandoned school and moulds a mask of his face, then cuts out the yearbook pictures of his six chosen sinners who need to be redeemed for various non-descript reasons. Things finally get underway as the Class of ’67 return for their nine year reunion (What the fuck 2) discover they’re: A) alone, say “where is everybody?” three times in about ten seconds; B) locked in and; C) begin to die by blow-torch, shotgun, knife in the head and drowning.

When lesbian Kirsten is the only one left, you expect a long chase before she gets her own back on the killer… but no. Killer then goes back to the church where the flares-and-sweater boy is, and returns to the lake at the end. What the fuck 3.

Explanations? Drugs would seem to the prime suspect. The film manages to achieve absolutely nothing and so just comes across like a Christian propaganda film. I’m guessing that the hordes of other graduates from ’67 were absolutely delightful in every thinkable way then? Hope their nine year reunions were more fun.

*

STAGE FRIGHTstage fright 1980 nightmares

2 Stars  1980/80m

“Screams of terror silenced only by the splintering of glass!”

A.k.a. Nightmares

Director: John Lamond / Writers: Colin Eggleston, John Lamond & John Michael Howson / Cast: Jenny Neumann, Gary Sweet, Nina Landis, Max Phipps, John Michael Howson, Briony Behets, Edmund Pegge, Sue Jones, Adele Lewin.

Body Count: 8


An erratically paced and schlocky Aussie production that plays as a kind of homage to Hitchcock, with a killer who favours shards of broken glass to do away with the cast of an independent theatrical production called A Comedy of Death.

Could the nutter be no other than schizophrenic beauty Helen (Neumann, pre-Hell Night decapitation) whose nasty daddy blamed her for causing the car accident that killed her mother seventeen years previously?

There’s not a whole lot of mystery going on here so the supposed ‘twist’ is no more than an invitation for the viewer to groan at the lack of imagination the writer has shown. Nevertheless, it’s not all bad. Stage Fright has a mixture of impressive and wonky performances from its cast, which ties in quite ironically with some of the rantings of hack director Phipps, who is tormented by bitter gay critic Howson (both of whom are expected to meet with the sharp ends of a smashed window sooner or later…)

The UK pre-certificate release is notably shorter than the rest of the world’s, even skipping a couple of early murders and leaving a yawn-worthy long gap between the assembly-line ‘trauma from the past’ opener and the first murder; and the incessant POV work in the backstage area becomes annoying. An amusing take on the Psycho shower-scene in the rain is an eyebrow-raiser towards the end but the film is just way too weird to be more than a passing interest for genre dorks.

*

frightmare 1981 the horror star

FRIGHTMARE

2 Stars  1983/83m

“He was terrifying in life. But even more in DEATH!”

A.k.a. The Horror Star

Director/Writer: Norman Thaddeus Vane / Cast: Ferdinand Mayne, Jennifer Starrett, Luca Bercovici, Nita Talbot, Barbara Pilavin, Jeffrey Combs, Carlene Olson, Scott Thomson, Donna McDaniel, Alan Stock.

Body Count: 10

Laughter Lines: “We did something bad! I know something is after me!”


There are so many extraneous elements in this one… A group of film students decide to steal the body of recently departed Christopher Lee-esque star Conrad Razkoff from his extravagant mausoleum, and use him as the centerpiece for a party.

Disgusted by the theft, Conrad’s wife employs a medium to communicate with his spirit and inadvertently brings him back to life to kill his captors. Although it sounds pretty inventive when compared to the stack of its contemporaries – more so as it was shot in 1981 and left for two years.

The paper-thin teen characters are dispatched in quick succession, some by Conrad’s puzzlingly unwarranted psychic abilities, some hands-on, but in all cases with little blood. Under-lit scenes plague this film from start to finish – most of which is set in a gothic mansion that the kids inexplicably have access to, but the scenery is sorely underused. It looks a little like Hell Night but isn’t half as good.

*

PLAYROOMplayroom 1989 a.k.a. schizo

2 Stars  1989/18/84m

“Last stop… is hell.”

A.k.a. Schizo

Director: Manny Coto / Writers: Jackie Earle Haley & Keaton Jones / Cast: Chris McDonald, Lisa Aliff, James Purcell, Jamie Rose, Vincent Schiavelli, Aron Eisenberg, Petar Bozovic.

Body Count: 8

Laughter Lines: “He sounded like the fucking Exorcist!


Passable supernatural slasher from the same director as Dr Giggles, and co-written by the future Freddy Krueger! Nicely shot in the former Yugoslavia, where Chris Hayden’s family were murdered years earlier during his father’s archaeological dig of an old tomb. Haunted by fractured memories, Chris is attracted back to the site and takes his magazine editor girlfriend, a photographer, and photographer’s vacuous model significant other.

No sooner do they arrive then his ‘imaginary’ childhood friend Daniel reappears to torment him. Is Daniel actually an immortal Prince who took pleasure in torturing local peasants with a variety of nasty devices set up in the hidden chamber Chris’s father died searching for?

Chris eventually locates Daniel’s ‘playroom’ and the fun begins when he offs his cohorts, while girlfriend Jenny is abducted by the man accused and incarcerated for the murders (late professional weirdo Schiavelli) who has escaped to put an end to the madness.

Although there’s a fair bit going on plotwise, Playroom doesn’t go anywhere with its ideas, quickly doing away with the handful of victims before a laughable store window mannequin (representing Daniel’s true form) stalks Jenny for a short while, and Chris prances around with his pickaxe before his gory comeuppance. The stock threat-isn’t-over ending is a letdown considering how annoying Daniel is, but this is one room that should be off limits hereafter.

*

sleepy hollow 1999SLEEPY HOLLOW

2.5 Stars  1999/15/102m

“Heads will roll.”

Director: Tim Burton / Writer: Andrew Kevin Walker / Cast: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Marc Pickering, Jeffrey Jones, Ian McDiarmid, Michael Gough, Christopher Lee, Lisa Marie, Steven Waddington, Claire Skinner.

Body Count: 17


Gothic fantasy movies just don’t come more lush than Tim Burton’s efforts, and in this thinly disguised slasher film,  based on the novel by Washington Irving, a legendary headless horseman lops off the noggins of the inhabitants of the small north eastern town of Sleepy Hollow in 1799.

Johnny Depp (looking much more comfortable than his debut in A Nightmare On Elm Street) plays Ichabod Crane, the constable from New York sent to solve the mystery. As it turns out, the horseman is in fact real and is being controlled by whomever has stolen the skull from his grave. Gorgeous Christina Ricci is his beau, and together with Marc Pickering as the orphaned son of a recent victim, they make an attractive team.

The entire supporting cast ends up decapitated by the murderous ghoul, played to the hilt with some fabulous FX and gory enough slayings. The only drawback is that it lacks a certain something in that when it does get going, it’s never for long enough to excite, and the plays for laughs become too frequent, especially when it could have been really eerie. Apart from that, this is everything you’d expect from a gored-up Tim Burton flick.

Blurbs-of-interest: Stage Fright: Briony Behets and writer Colin Eggleston were later in Cassandra; John Michael Howson was in Houseboat HorrorFrightmare: Luca Bercovici was later in Stag Night; Jeffrey Combs was in Castle Freak and I Still Know What You Did Last SummerPlayroom: Aron Eisenberg was in The Horror Show; Chris McDonald was in The Collection; Jamie Rose was in Just Before Dawn; Vincent Schiavelli was in MiloSleepy Hollow: Depp was in From Hell; Christopher Lee was in Funny Man and Mask of Murder; Lisa Marie was in Silent Night; Marc Pickering was in Kill Keith; Casper Van Dien was in Skeleton Man.

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