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Hole in your soul

MY SOUL TO TAKE

2.5 Stars  2010/108m

“Only one has the power to save their souls.”

Director/Writer: Wes Craven / Cast: Max Thieriot, Emily Meade, John Magaro, Zena Grey, Nick Lashaway, Paulina Olszynski, Denzel Whitaker, Jeremy Chu, Jessica Hecht, Frank Grillo, Raul Esparza, Danai Gurira, Harris Yulin.

Body Count: 10

Dire-logue: “If things get too hot, turn up the prayer conditioning.”


Unaninmously slated upon its US release in October 2010, Wes Craven’s first written and directed horror flick since New Nightmare holds the rather prickly honor of having the lowest grossing opening weekend for a 3D movie to date.

But then, by that October, there was barely a cinema on the planet that didn’t have at least one 3D feature playing at any given time. Piranha 3D didn’t rake in the wads that they expected and for reasons unknown, My Soul to Take was stuffed into the post-production 3D-ifying machine seemingly to bolster its chances of doing any business.

Time was, Wes Craven’s name attached should get bums on seats but the last Scream flick was a decade earlier (the fourth movie’s imminence notwithstanding) and remember if you will the mess that was Cursed? His last semi-successful output was 2005’s Red Eye, which was a pretty good distraction, if barely a horror film at all. So what went askew with My Soul to Take?

The story goes like a combo of Elm Street and 1989’s clunky Shocker: in the small township of Riverton, a family man has a schzoid-psychotic break and discovers he is the Riverton Ripper, the serial killer who has been terrorising the locale of late. He flips, slays his pregnant wife and is gunned down by the cops but won’t seem to die. In a true Halloween 4-style ambulance crash, his body disappears into the (Riverton?) river and is never seen again. Simultaneously, six women in the town go into labour – hmmm.

Sixteen years later, a group of kids known as The Riverton Seven who were all born that night gather for Ripper Day, an annual sorta rite-of-passage event. One of the kids was predictably born to the Ripper’s dead wife and seems to have inherited dad’s schizophrenia and so could just be the one who starts knocking off the others throughout the course of the day.

In the first instance, My Soul to Take plays out like any other slasher flick: we meet the meat: five boys and two girls who all turn sixteen together. Bug is instantly singled out as the lead, a quirky brooding sort who has a history of mental unbalance but is strangely the object of lust for several girls at school, including his two female birth-mates, devout Christian Penelope (who can sense something bad coming) and valley girl-lite Brittany, who bows to every command of the school Queen Bee, Fang. There’s also jock bully Brandon, token Asian Jay, blind black guy Jerome and Bug’s bestie Alex.

The high school melodrama is entertainingly surreal: Fang dictates almost everything, from who gets hit and how hard to who her following of airhead girls can and can’t have the hots for. And Bug is off the list.

There’s an amusing show-and-tell scene where Bug and Alex present a piece on the Great American Condor and get some semblance of revenge on Brandon and then things shift into horror gear proper as the teens start piling up dead, stalked and offed by a loon dressed as the Riverton Ripper (mangy coat, plastic mask and dread-like hair) who eventually decides to pay a visit to Bug’s place.

Considering the film nearly reaches two hours, it’s amazing how few scenes there are: after it gets going, we jump from murder to murder for a time and then everything else occurs at Bug’s house, where a midriff revelation about his and Fang’s relationship opens up some questions about the past before we find out just who is possessed by the Ripper’s vengeful spirit.

Up until this point, I was wondering why everyone viewed My Soul to Take so harshly. Then came the ending. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced such a flaccid, rookie climax as this – it just…happens. Craven didn’t put the strongest finale on Elm Street and I’ve never minded that but it’s as if he got to the last page of the script and thought “bollocks! I’ve completely forgotten to think up an ending for this!” and just grabbed the nearest feasible character to make the possessee.

The gravity of how flat the ending is easily robs a star from the rating but even so, Craven’s direction feels restrained and almost pedestrian when we’re all too aware of what he’s capable of achieving on a tight budget. The film looks better than most but there’s nothing – visually or scripted – that has his stamp on it and some of the characterisations leave a lot to be desired.

Curiously, the most intriguing character is Penelope, who speaks to God as if he’s beside her and has some idea of the storm that’s coming and yet she’s rather heartlessly killed off early on. It would’ve been easy to turn her into a parody of the middle-American religious zealot but Craven succeeds in drawing out her personality, which is probably the most appealing on show, but then elects bitchy Fang as a sort of secondary hero? What gives, Wes?

Elementally, a frustrating film that seems to have arrived about fifteen years too late and a bit of a bum note for Craven, although not as dire as many have cited.

Blurbs-of-interest: Frank Grillo was in iMurders. Music was by Marco Beltrami, who worked on all three Scream movies. Craven’s other slasher flicks include The Hills Have Eyes Part II and Deadly Blessing.

FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III

friday33.5 Stars  1982/18/91m

“A new dimension in terror!”

A.k.a. Friday the 13th Part 3: 3D

Director: Steve Miner / Writers: Martin Kitrosser & Carol Watson / Cast: Dana Kimmell, Paul Kratka, Richard Brooker, Tracie Savage, Jeffrey Rogers, Catherine Parks, Larry Zerner, Rachel Howard, David Katims.

Bodycount: 12

Dire-logue: “You get on top of me…or I could get on top of you?”


To everything there is a season blah, blah, blah… By the summer of ’82, the slasher cycle had peaked commercially and the critics were getting pissed at the veritable tidal wave of cheap-ass flicks trying to emulate the success of the original set. Friday the 13th Part 2 raked in a huge amount of cash for its tiny budget, opening up the prospect of a Jason-led franchise to huge profits. Thus, it begat the third entry, which was given the added bonus of being shot in 3D, the form of the moment…

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Directed again by Steve Miner, this was where things started to get just a little bit silly. Continuity was launched out of the window by relocating from New England to California, where Crystal Lake now appears less green and lush, more yellowy-brown and muddy. This does not stop a group of teenage friends from driving out to a ranch on the lake for a weekend. There’s pregnant couple Debbie and Andy, stoners Chili and Chuck, chubby prankster Shelly, his blind date Vera, and finally Chris, who is returning to the ranch for the first time in years after “something happened to her.”

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At the ranch is Rick, Chris’s horny hook-up for the weekend, who wants nothing more than to jump her bones. The group seem oblivious to what happened at Camp Packanack and the deaths of a shopkeeper and his wife the previous evening but Chris keeps seeing things, barn doors that swing closed and stuff, while a shady stalker hangs about at the side of the frame (in place of the point of view shots used in the first two films).

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Shelly and Vera take a trip into town and end up crossing swords with a trio of leather-clad, chain-swingin’ bikers, who follow them back to the ranch where they intend to burn down the barn but are intercepted by Jason, who gets them first. As night falls, Chris and Rick take off for some alone time and Shelly tries to connect with a reluctant Vera, who resists his come-on and so becomes the victim of another practical joke involving a hockey mask…

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“You want fame? Well this is where you start paying…in pitchforks.”

After all manner of things are thrust towards the camera (spliffs, juggling balls, a yo-yo…), Jason acquires the mask by forces unseen (for now) and begins stalking and killing the friends in cheesy 3D-ized fashion, using a speargun, a poker, electricity and his soon-to-be inseperable machete. Blood gushes in amounts limited by imposed cuts (more so for the UK until the DVD release restored them) and an eyeball is popped until Chris is the only one left alive and must go up against Jason, who turns out to be the same man who attacked her at the lake a couple of years earlier, all on her own.

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Friday the 13th Part III shows a definite drop in the quality of its storytelling than the previous films, probably since it was clear the low-budget would allow for a huge return, less creative effort was invested than before. The story, therefore, suffers in the face of this and the requirements of the 3D effects, with evidently took precedence over any plot turns and acting. It’s like open-mic night as the teen cast struggle with making their dialogue believable.

There’s also a reliance on recycling motifs from 1 and 2; Kevin Bacon’s infamous murder is re-staged, bodies fly through windows and fall out of trees and the ‘shock ending’ is practically a shot-for-shot retread of the canoe gag. An alternate ending that involved a dream-decapitation was, for some reason, done away with. The existing ending does house a decent scare as Jason appears at a window without his mask, hissing at Chris. That part wigged me out for a few years… Jason’s make-up is so different from the Farmer Ted get-up of Part 2, as is his alleged escape from the cabin (removing the machete from his shoulder before the shock ending, where it was still firmly embedded there) that it looks like nobody involved could even remember the preceding film!

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Even in the throes of terror, Dana never forgot the dance moves to ‘Tragedy’…

Friday 3 is still fun; it’s cheesy and funny with enough of its own charm to raise a smile, serving as the first in the series that didn’t seem bothered by everything that went before it. Curiously, although it pairs nicely with the fourth film, The Final Chapter, that film used almost the same plot again, sans the reliance of 3D trickery. It’s gotta be seen, it’s Jason after all and everyone should see how he originally got his hockey mask!

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Blurbs-of-interest: Dana Kimmell was also in Sweet Sixteen; Steve Miner later directed Halloween H20Twisted Nightmare was shot at the same location.

SILENT MADNESS

silentmadness2.5 Stars  1984/18/87m

“The screaming never stops.”

A.k.a. Beautiful Screamers; The Nightkillers; The Omega Factor

Director/Writer: Simon Nuchtern / Writers: Robert Zimmerman, William O’ Milling & Nelson DeMille / Cast: Belinda Montgomery, David Greenan, Viveca Lindfors, Solly Marx, Sydney Lassick, Roderick Cook, Stanja Lowe, Ed Van Nuys, Dennis Helfend, Philip Levy, Tori Hartman, Katherine Kamhi, Katie Bull, Elizabeth Kaitan.

Body Count: 11

Dire-logue: “Just because the goddamn broad is so good looking don’t mean we all have to think with our dicks!”


Amazingly cool poster art and 3D aspect side, this no-frills co-ed campus slasher is pretty much a run of the mill two-star effort until it caught me out with a quite unexpected twist, which elevated it above the dime-a-dozen girls’ school terror subset.

A psychotic named Howard Johns (Marx) is accidentally released from an institute in place of the intended out-patient John Howard in the administrative error from hell! He gravitates back to the scene of a seventeen-years gone massacre at a sorority house and begins knocking off the girls who haven’t left for fall break in a re-enactment of the previous slaughter.

Meanwhile, Montgomery is the psychiatrist who believes something to be amiss when the creepy Dr Kruger (who speaks with a ridiculous English accent) claims that Johns is actually dead. So she goes to the sorority house where the nail-gun murders occurred and poses as ex-alumni while Kruger dispatches his duo of equally creepy attendants to catch and kill the wayward loon. Murders are intermittent and sloppy while Montgomery explores the house’s boiler room, which is roughly the size of a concert arena, allowing for drawn out stalk-a-thons therein.

Lindfors is amusing as the slut-hating housemother, whose role was far more obvious when I watched the film a second time. Some of the murder setups are seemingly intentionally funny: one girl is playing a video game and shouting (at it); “look behind you! slash! run!” while her friend is suspended upside down on a piece of gym equipment, Johns wraps one end of a skipping rope around her neck and the other around a barbell, which is then tossed out of the window! Acting, characterisation and credibility are all washed away in a tide of silliness and the roster of familiar faces seem wasted.

Blurbs-of-interest: Sydney Lassick was in The Unseen and was also Carrie‘s English teacher; Katherine Kamhi was the bitchy counsellor Meg in Sleepaway Camp; Elizabeth Kaitan (the skateboardin’ sister) was in Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2 and played Robin in Friday the 13th Part VII. Paul DeAngelo, also from Sleepaway Camp, is the first guy killed.

That’s a mighty big ‘THE’

thefinaldestination THE FINAL DESTINATION

2 Stars  2009/15/82m

“Rest in pieces.”

A.k.a. Final Destination 4

Director: David R. Ellis / Writer: Eric Bress / Cast: Bobby Campo, Shantel VanSanten, Haley Webb, Nick Zano, Mykelti Williamson, Krista Allen, Andrew Fiscella, Justin Welborn, Jackson Walker.

Body Count: 10 (+51)

Dire-logue: “Sorry for being blunt but… Your life’s in danger and I think you’re gonna die.”


Curtain down time for New Line’s death by…well, death franchise? The absence of a numerical suffix in favour of that big old ‘THE’ seems to suggest that the series is bowing out after nine years, four movies and half a dozen or so tie-in novels (one of which I almost had the chance to write…).

Alas, all good things come to an end. Arguably, all that was good in Final Destination-dom came to an end when the credits rolled at the end of the second movie as the third attempted a re-start with a new cast and tale of doom, only to shoot itself in the foot with an over-abundance of sadism for laughs. That said, it was still a decent flick, something that can’t be said for numero quatro, a 3D-ized experience so over-simplified that it looks as if the script were written by a group of thirteen-year-olds high on E numbers.

As per usual, things begin with a big accident and death en masse, this time occurring at a racetrack/speedway where quartet of youthful friends Nick, Lori, Janet and Hunt escape their grisly deaths after Nick has a premonition that an accident on the track will send all manner of car parts flying into the audience, sticking and squashing punters until the place begins to collapse on top of them. As in all the films, he who has the vision is last to die in it, conveniently allowing us to witness that oh-so-important order-of-death list… Along with the kids, a handful of other characters make it out for temporary further living, several of whom aren’t even allotted names that register: there’s “Racist” (as well as “Racist’s Wife”), “Cowboy” and, my favourite, “MILF/Samantha”.

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A creative sequence of credits that CGI-ify deaths from previous films intercepts while the audience laugh at the frankly comical ways the “characters” were done away with at the raceway and re-adjust their 3D specs for the onslaught. People begin to die in a variety of bizarre and/or ironic ways, always gorily, sometimes with humorous trimmings, although killing off the nice soccer mom was callous and cruel, especially as her two sons were annoying and in close proximity enough to have been done away with…

In between deaths, Nick has pop-up visions of what will kill the next victim. Lori and he try to convince their friends who, of course, take no notice. The only person who believes them is Mykelti Williamson’s security guard, a widower with an alcohol problem, making him the sole “character” with any - and I mean any - information given about his life. They intervene, save a life, think they’re safe, toast to it, realise they aren’t and it all ends very strangely with some sort of second premonition that, when thwarted, proves it was an entirely meaningless effects boaster designed to pad out the minimal running time.

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OK, so there’s stuff to laugh at, the car wash scene is clever and an ass is sucked out, plus there’s plenty of dire-logue: Nick tells Lori it feels as if there’s something in the room with him. Yes, Nick, your girlfriend. She’s right there, touching you… You’re talking to her. The set-ups to each death are amusing, albeit somewhat unrelaxed and rushed and the 3D supplies some additional goo to fly at the audience.

But why, in four films, has no one ever questioned what force opposes Death and dishes out these premonitions and further hints? Why has nobody tried a seance or gone to a spiritualist or a gypsy to try and break the curse? The original film may have toyed with pop-psychology theories of our mortality but with each film comes more cynicism, thanks in main to characters so underdeveloped they aren’t all afforded names, let alone backstories, parents, jobs and lives. They serve only to be cut to pieces by shrapnel.

In this sense, The Final Destination reminded me of the original Japanese Ju-On: The Grudge, a film pieced together by vignettes of the haunty-housey stuff. Instead now, we get unrelated people dying in entertaining ways punctuated by dull scenes of Nick, Lori and George talking about it. There’s no mourning, no sadness. Hell, after Hunt dies he’s never mentioned again!

At the end of it all, what sucks outweighs what’s fun, but how can you complain going into a film like this – what did I expect, Oscar-worthy acting and high drama? Well, GSCE-level acting and any drama would’ve sufficed. The CGI wasn’t that impressive, the usually creative deaths weren’t that creative and the script was pure crap. And yes, I could have done better. I imagine it’ll end up on my DVD shelf next to 1, 2 and 3 once it’s on sale in a couple of years but it’s time New Line laid this one to rest.

Blurbs-of-interest: Bobby Campo was later in Scream – The TV Series; Andrew Fiscella was in the Prom Night remake; Phil Austin, husband of the ‘MILF’ was in Chain Letter.

SCAR 3D

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SCAR 3D

2.5 Stars  2007/18/79m

Director: Jed Weintrob / Writer: Zack Ford / Cast: Angela Bettis, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Christopher Titus, Devon Graye, Brittney Wilson, Tegan Moss, Ben Cotton, Monika Mar-Lee, Al Sapienza.

Body Count: 10

Dire-logue: “Hey altar boy! Come up here and take my virginity. I’m not graduating with it!”


Released in high-definition 3D for the cinema experience, on plain-old 2D DVD, is Scar up to much sans gimmick? In true Voorheesian mediocrity, it’s a yes and no affair.

Angela Bettis helps matters no end by virtue of the fact that she takes the lead as Joan Burrows, returning to her hometown of Ovid, Colorado (despite the film being Canadian) for the first time since 1991 when she and her best friend Susie were held captive and tortured by silver-tongued serial killer Bishop (Cotton), who plays a brutal game of slashing and maiming the girls in turn until one of them caves in and tells him to kill the other.

Through a series of flashbacks that occur throughout the film, we learn Joan eventually gave the order and managed to free herself and kill Bishop with a funky organ-sucking contraption used to embalm corpses. It’s one of those wicked “yeah, get the fucker!!” scenes.

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Back in the now, no sooner does Joan arrive back home (to stay with her cop brother and his soon-to-be-graduating niece, Olympia) then identikit murders begin, targeting Olympia’s gaggle of friends. Did Bishop somehow survive? Or is Joan so traumatised that it is she behind the madness?

Scar is like a slasher film in fast forward. Everything happens in no time at all with little complication. Things end in a similar fashion to how they began, with Joan bargaining for Olympia’s life. It’s a lot like W Delta Z (more commonly known as Waz) and the torture scenes are quite intense and grotesque. Inspite of male victims outnumbering females 5 to 3, most of the killings occur off screen and we only see pretty young girls being horribly tortured, which says a lot about the project. Also, the killer’s motivation, when eventually revealed, amounts to little more than “I like killing.” Deep.

Not an awful film by any standards, it’s nicely put together with its bleeding heart grossly splattered down its sleeve – it’s just forgettable and proof that grisly effects work, 3D or not, cannot compensate for an under written story and flat characters.

Blurbs-of-interest: Bettis starred in May and the Toolbox Murders remake. Brandon McLaren is also in Harper’s Island and SlasherTucker and Dale vs Evil and Slasher; Brittney Wilson was later in Scarecrow; Ben Cotton was also in Harper’s Island, Stan Helsing, and The Tooth Fairy.

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