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Lyin’ on a prayer

cry wolf 2005 dvd

CRY_WOLF

2 Stars  2005/12/87m

“BeLIEve.”

Director/Writer: Jeff Wadlow / Writer: Beau Bauman / Cast: Julian Morris, Lindy Booth, Jared Padalecki, Jon Bon Jovi, Kristy Wu, Sandra McCoy, Paul James, Jesse Janzen, Gary Cole.

Body Count: 2

Laughter Lines: “Tonight you could’ve gotten laid, but instead you got fucked.”


As usual, a young blonde woman runs through the woods at night, heaving in her breaths, a flashlight behind indicating her hunter isn’t far behind. She hides, the mystery maniac loiters, produces a cellphone and calls ‘Becky’. The victim’s phone rings, revealing her whereabouts to the killer. Gunshot.

Like so many other teen horror films of this era, an aerial shot of autumnal trees reveals a posh looking, secluded school: Westlake Prep. Here, we’re introduced to Owen Matthews, a British transfer student. His first encounter is with doll-like flame-haired Dodger Allen, and later inducted into her group of friends, who meet after hours in the school’s chapel to play a game centred around lying: Who can be the most deceptive. This is Cry_Wolf‘s main thing – deception. Spoilers ensue.

cry_wolf 2005

Infatuated with Dodger from the off, Owen and she concoct a newer, better version of their game, selling a big lie to the entire faculty for the lolz. Remember 2000 campus thriller Gossip? Yeah, it’s that all over again but with knives.

Owen, Dodger, and the others invent a campus-cruising psycho called The Wolf, who wears a camo jacket and orange ski-mask, and slashes up students around Halloween. Tying it to the disappearance of the girl from the beginning only helps create an atmosphere of paranoia across the campus. Media teacher Jon Bon Jovi – yes, really – sees through the ruse and cautions serial-school-changer Owen about his behaviour.

cry_wolf 2005

A mystery game player begins sending IMs to Owen, claiming to be the actual killer, and threatens the group, his room in tossed, there’s a stranger following him and Dodger in the library, someone deposits a knife in his bag that tumbles out during class… Who is doing it? Why, etc…

Needless to say, somebody dressed in the camo and ski-mask clobber starts offing those in on the joke in the precise scenarios they dreamt up when they created their work of fiction.

cry_wolf 2005

Cry_Wolf is one of those films that thinks it’s way smarter than it actually is: Some moderate fanfare surrounded its US release that it packed an amazing twist. Well, it doesn’t. Nobody is dead beyond the girl from the start and Bon Jovi, who is Owen’s main suspect and, it turns out, the apparent slayer of woods-girl. The rest is written off as a joke on the new boy.

As it happens, Dodger has manipulated eeeeeverybody to cover up the fact that she is the killer, insanely jealous of an affair between woods-girl and Bon Jovi, she went the long way round to fool Owen into killing him. The rest of the story, The Wolf, the others being in on the gag, is all by the by.

cry_wolf 2005

So it’s ultimately one big lie of a slasher film, not a slasher film at all, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Hey, does that make it über smart? No, it makes it über fake and thus über annoying. At least April Fool’s Day was able to trade on likeable characters, not obnoxious, schemey teens who all seem to hate each other. There’s nobody really to root for: Owen’s not particularly sympathetic and drools after Dodger like a lovestruck puppy, while she is textbook bitchy girl material, and the others fulfil various SBC-101 roles with little to add.

Nicely made and casting a British lead was brave, but the amount of contrivances required for the idea to float is ridiculous to the point it makes Brenda’s big plan from Urban Legend look totally doable.

cry_wolf 2005

Blurbs-of-interest: Julian Morris was also in Sorority Row; Lindy Booth was in Wrong Turn and American Psycho II; Jared Padalecki was in House of Wax and the Friday the 13th reboot; Gary Cole was in The Town That Dreaded Sundown (remake-quel thingy).

Loser Kills All

cruel world 2005

CRUEL WORLD

2 Stars  2005/85m

“On this show, you get voted killed off.”

Director: Kelsey T. Howard / Writers: Ed Hansen, Paul Lawrence & Paul T. Murray / Cast: Edward Furlong, Daniel Franzese, Laura Ramsey, Andrew Keegan, Susan Ward, Joel Michaely, Nate Parker, Nicole Bilderback, Aimee Garcia, Brian Geraghty, Sanoe Lake, Jaime Pressly, Sam Page.

Body Count: 10


Reality TV reject Furlong is so incensed by his national humiliation that he decides to produce his own show, housing nine college kids and giving them a series of bizarre tasks to carry out, which either see them eliminated or ‘sent home’. And by ‘sent home’ we mean the Angela Baker definition thereof.

He starts by murdering the woman who rejected him on a show called Lovers Lane. This is much-emblazoned star Jaime Pressly. I’m not really sure what she’s famous for, but the artwork makes a big deal out of her sub-Barrymore role in this.

Four guys and five girls enter the house – all of them walking stereotypes of the laziest kind: The fiery Latino girl, southern belle, bitchy backstabbing (literally) gay, slow-but-kind Utah farmboy… After a task pushes her too far, one girl opts to quit and is kicked into the pool and drowned; Another is voted out, driven away, and buried alive; A third chased by Furlong’s hulking, mentally-challenged brother (Franzese, who was in Mean Girls around the same time) and is locked in a shed, never to be heard from again.

cruel world 2005

Eventually, the dwindling contestants catch on, find bodies, and are forced into further challenges: Two guys have a caged fight to the death, then they’re made to stand on cones for hours on end… All very Survivor.

Cruel World has some good ideas but lacks the budget or creative team to see them through. Is it satirical? OK, so where’s the wit and barb? Is it horror? OK, why are most of the kills so dry? In its inability to choose what it wants (hey! maybe that’s a super-clever reference to the rejection of the killer!!) it ends up a mess. There is a well done decapitation of a contestant who escapes, and many of the actors went on to better things, but like any reality has-been it’s almost instantly forgettable and no more deserving of your time than My Little Eye, Kolobos, Voyeur.com

Blurbs-of-interest: Laura Ramsey was in Venom; Aimee Garcia was in 7eventy 5ive; Brian Geraghty was in the 2010 Open House.

City of the Doll

Cult of Chucky is pending. I noticed I’ve only reviewed two of the other films in the series, so let’s countdown to the release by rectifying that…

Day One:

 

child's play 1988CHILD’S PLAY

3 Stars  1988/15/84m

“You’ll wish it was only make believe!”

Director: Tom Holland / Writers: Don Mancini, John Lafia & Tom Holland / Cast: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, Dinah Manoff, Brad Dourif, Jack Colvin.

Body Count: 5

Laughter Lines: “He said Aunt Maggie was a real bitch and got what she deserved!”


The inauguration of a horror icon begins here with the hokey but fun enough debut, which gives us all the information we need as to how the spirit of the Lakeshore Stranger – Charles Lee Ray – projects his soul into a talking Good Guy doll using voodoo mumbo jumbo.

Said talking doll is purchased from a homeless guy by hard-up widow Karen Barclay, for her six-year-old son Andy’s birthday. Andy is overjoyed with his new friend, and soon begins relaying the slightly odd things Chucky is apparently telling him. This is bad news for his babysitter, who receives a blow to the face from a toy hammer and tumbles out of an apartment block window.

The homicide detective from the Strangler case is assigned and immediately suspects Andy of the killing and the death of the Strangler’s accomplice soon after. Andy is packed off to a clinic for observation, blaming Chucky who, of course, just prattles off his three phrases.

child's play 1988

Karen is quick to discover that there is more to Andy’s story when she finds the batteries that came with the doll are still in the box, in what’s easily the film’s creepiest scene. She tries to convince the detective but his instinct is to believe she’s just trying to protect her son from the consequences but then stumbles upon some coincidences between the case and that of the Strangler. Da-da-daaaaa!

Chucky himself finds that the longer he stays a doll, the harder it will be to find rebirth into a human soul and the more vulnerable to harm he becomes, and the only viable soul is that of the first person he revealed his true self to – Andy.

Relatively high-end production values distinguish this film from the dying slasher genre at the end of the 80s, raking in decent profits as Jason, Freddy, and Michael experienced diminishing returns. Child’s Play achieves its distinction – and probably a chunk of its success – to avoiding most slasher movie rules, at least in this first one, with murders by accident or voodoo as opposed to the doll-with-a-blade in the sequels.

child's play 1988 hicks sarandon

A fair amount of debt should be owed to Freddy Krueger, as Chucky soon becomes efficient with his potty-mouthed one-liners in Brad Dourif’s inimitable drawl. Imitators soon appeared in the shape of Puppetmaster (and its ten sequels!), Demonic ToysDolly Dearest, and even the more recent Annabelle, proving a degree gold had indeed been unearthed.

A lot of weight also rests on the shoulders of Alex Vincent who, aged just seven, does well with the dark material without descending into territory of annoying child who the audience secretly wants to see thrown into a meat grinder (see Absurd for that kid). He also gets to utter that awesome climactic line: “This is the end, friend!” For her part, Hicks does a great job as his beleaguered Mom and defacto final girl.

child's play 1988

Mancini’s original script was far more psychologically based, with the doll serving as an excuse for Andy’s psychosis and a critique of the marketing-to-children boom in the greed-obsessed 80s. Everyone remembers the urban legend about Cabbage Patch Kids right? As it is, despite the final act descending into outright parody as the doll that just won’t fucking die, something of a modern classic in spite of itself.

Blurbs-of-interest: Hicks was another Mom-on-the-run in 1982’s Death Valley, which featured another pre-teen kid as the lead; Alex Vincent returned for the next film as well as Curse of Chucky and Cult of Chucky; Brad Dourif was also in Chain LetterColor of NightDead Scared, Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies, Trauma, and Urban Legend.

Valley of the Mid-Range Franchises: HOLLOW MAN

hollow man 2000HOLLOW MAN

4 Stars  2000/18/112m

“Think you’re alone? Think again.”

Director: Paul Verhoeven / Writers: Gary Scott Thompson & Andrew W. Marlowe / Cast: Kevin Bacon, Elisabeth Shue, Josh Brolin, William Devane, Kim Dickens, Greg Grunberg, Mary Randle, Joey Slotnick.

Body Count: 6


It’s doubtful the director of Total Recall and RoboCop would approve of anybody dubbing Hollow Man a slasher flick and most reviews at the time seemed oblivious to the pretty by-the-number stalk n’ slash opus that takes up the final act of a very ambitious movie.

Kevin Bacon is at centre-stage (sort of) as self-worshipping scientist Sebastian Caine, pioneer of a government project that turns living things absolutely invisible thanks to your go-to miracle serum. After initial and successful tests on animals, Caine volunteers to be the first human guinea pig in a scene that – at the time at least – was amazing enough to earn the movie an Academy nomination for best FX work (it lost to Gladiator).

He uses his new invisibility to do what most narcissistic heterosexual guys would do – he spies on his female co-workers, plays pranks on the other team members and is generally an ass.

However, when neither he nor the team can crack the restorative process, the consequences of having no reflection, no eyelids to enable sleep, and little conscience to begin with, Caine begins sliding down the rabbit hole. The latex masked made so he can be seen by the others is later removed and he discovers that former squeeze Linda (Shue) is now involved with other co-worker Matt (Brolin). Their lack of progress and Caine’s changing personality prompts a plan to confess all to the Pentagon and take their punishment for the deception.

hollow man 2000 kevin bacon

Predictably, Caine won’t have it and resolves to locking the rest of the team in their underground laboratory and killing them one by one. How’s that for a masked killer?

Gory stuff but not in the usual slashed throat / decapitated head way – the transformations in and out of invisibility are graphic as we’re given explicit glances at the interiors of the body, which isn’t so pretty – and Bacon happily goes full frontal again, levelling the objectification-by-gender table.

The FX work is the star here, and the film straddles its hybrid sensibilities between sci-fi, action and horror comfortably, almost as if it’s been concocted in a lab itself, with elements of Scream married to The Invisible Man and coated in Verhoeven’s clinical style of direction and Shue makes for a spunky heroine.

Listen out for the awesome Wonder Woman joke.

*

HOLLOW MAN II hollow man 2 2006

3 Stars  2006/15/92m

“There’s more to terror than meets the eye.”

Director: Claudio Faeh / Writers: Gary Scott Thompson & Joel Soisson / Cast: Peter Facinelli, Laura Regan, Christian Slater, David McIlwraith, William MacDonald, Sarah Deakins, Jessica Harmon, John Shaw, Bruce Dawson.

Body Count: 11

Laughter Lines: “You’ve really outdone yourself this time, usually when you people make a mess at least you can see it.”


Verhoeven returned as executive producer for this efficient enough straight-to-DVD sequel, in which the last of three invisible assassins from the DoD’s ‘Silent Knight’ operation is desperately trying to track down Laura Regan’s biologist, the only person with the knowledge to prevent his body deteriorating the same way as his predecessors.

In the meantime, he’s happy to eliminate anybody who gets in his way as well as various government high-ups responsible for his condition. For the most part, this is a chase-flick with biologist and the cop assigned to protect her on the run from Mr Invisible.

While clearly made for a helluva lot less than the first film, it’s still a handsomely put together and what visual FX are in play are done well enough, if not as CG-centric as before. Where a bit more investment could’ve helped is in the script itself, which, although armed by a good enough story built around the future of the project (events from HM1 are briefly referenced), there doesn’t seem to be very far to go with it. Perhaps it would’ve worked better as a TV show?

hollow man 2 2006

No more or less slashy than before; there’s a naked teen tryst in an early scene where, of course, when it’s time for the guy’s clothes to come off, the girl gets spooked so we only see her boobs and nothing of him. Yawn.

Blurbs-of-interest: Kevin Bacon was an early victim of Mama Voorhees in Friday the 13th; Christian Slater was in both Mindhunters and Playback; Laura Regan was the heroine in My Little Eye; Jessica Harmon was in Fear Island.

Kincaid lives!!! …for a few minutes

the back lot murders 2002

THE BACK LOT MURDERS

2.5 Stars  2002/91m

“The stage is set…”

Director/Writer: David DeFalco / Writers: Paul Arensburg, Steven Jay Bernheim / Cast: Priscilla Barnes, Charles Fleischer, Jaime Anstead, Brian Gaskill, Corey Haim, Lisa Brucker, Carrie Stevens, Heather Tindell, Dayton Knoll, Lori Dawn Messuri, Ken Sagoes, Alejandro Escos, Tom Hallick, Angela Little, Nancy O’Brien, David Solomini.

Body Count: 17

Laughter Lines: “You have assets: Use your ass and your sets.”


This production is a mess, but it’s an occasionally entertaining mess with some amusing lines – largely courtesy of Charles Fleischer as the put-upon director – and an interesting backdrop for the carnage to take place against. Mild spoilers ensue.

Your off-the-shelf horror movie rock band are about to hit it big and are shooting their debut video on a Hollywood studio back lot where The Lost World: Jurassic Park was filmed. Six months earlier, they fired their temperamental songwriter after he smashed a bottle over a barmaid’s head – will that have any bearing on what’s to come?

Also on set is the lead singer’s bimbo girlfriend Janey, whose father runs the label they’ve signed to, and bitchy PR woman Stephanie, who wants the video to be cutting edge – so much that she’s willing to cut a few other things in order to see that goal realised?

back lot murders 2002 ken sagoes

Well somebody seems hell bent on making it a video to remember, starting with a couple of special effects folks (this is one slasher flick where the black guy – Sagoes who was Kincaid in two mid-Elm Street sequels – does die first – ironically he first to die in The Dream Master as well!), and filming each slaying by camcorder.

As numbers dwindle, highly-strung, campy director Henry deals with an endless parade of morons trying to get on screen: “Wow you’re an actress? In Los Angeles? How unusual.” But the rest of the film is expanded by long dull scenes of couples exploring buildings and the Elvis-masked killer not showing up soon enough. As usual, the scantily clad babes all flash their boobs before being chased away after their boyfriend is stabbed in the back.

Dim-witted Janey is somehow nominated to be the heroine, despite the film offering up a couple of other viable options earlier on (Henry’s assistant, who I think survives by leaving, and Wendy the fog lady), leaving us without a strong heroine figure to root for, just about the only remaining girl not to take her top off.

back lot murders 2002

The late Corey Haim’s comparable bit-part would go unnoticed if you – like me – didn’t recognise him. Barnes, however, is great in her sub-Betsy Palmer turn. Despite the curiosity of the Psycho house and a few other set pieces, this is one production probably better left in the lot – especially if you happen to watch the DVD featurette where the director claims it’s a “thinking man’s horror movie”. Right.

Blurbs-of-interest: Barnes was in Stepfather III; Fleischer was the dream doctor in the original Elm Street and was also in Chain Letter.

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