Tag Archives: TV

Why bother calling it anything else?

slasher

SLASHER

3 Stars  2016/360m

“Everyone in this town has a part. Not everyone has a future.”

Director: Craig David Wallace / Writer: Aaron Martin / Cast: Katie McGrath, Brandon Jay McLaren, Steve Byers, Christopher Jacot, Patrick Garrow, Dean McDermott, Rob Stewart, Mayko Nguyen, Erin Karpluk, Enuka Okuma, Jessica Sipos, Wendy Crewson.

Body Count: 15

Laughter Lines: “He’s made himself judge, jury, and …hangman!”


Harper’s Island, Scream: The TV Series, Scream Queensand now Slasher. The Chiller channel’s Canadian eight-part mystery is the latest loon-with-a-knife outing to go straight to the small screen rather than straight to DVD. The generic quality of the title allows for future seasons to start anew with a body count tale in a whole different place and time.

Eight episodes work out better than Scream Queens’ interminable unending thirteen, as the welcome isn’t completely worn out, hacking through our senses until we can take no more and only seeing Ryan Murphy chainsawed to pieces stands a chance of fixing it.

Here, the small town of Waterbury, Halloween 1988, an expectant couple are slaughtered by a machete wielding loon dressed in a creep executioners garb. Twenty-eight years later, the saved infant, Sarah Bennett (McGrath, recently eaten in Jurassic World), moves back to town with her journalist husband Dylan (the always likeable McLaren, dreads sadly gone, but becoming a familiar genre face). They move into the same house. Where the murders happened. Face palm.

slasher-murder

No sooner has Sarah settled in, opened a gallery, made a few friends, The Executioner returns and begins ridding the township of various individuals based on the Seven Deadly Sins: The abusive old lady across the street goes first, then a merciless developer… Anyone with a dodgy secret has their days numbered.

Sarah turns to her parents’ incarcerated killer, Axl Rose lookalike Tom Winston, for help before The Executioner comes for her, and begins developing a bizarre co-dependant relationship with him, that eventually leads to a rather obvious revelation, given that her late mother turns out to have been giving Maureen Prescott a run for her money. Or rather, more bang for her buck.

Inventive murders include a guy stuck in a hole with a sack of deadly snakes tossed in, a severed head found in a deep fryer, live cremation, eaten by nature, plus the usual stabbings, drownings, and beheadings.

Slasher_Verna

Could it relate to the girl who mysteriously went missing five years earlier? A cinderblock dropped on to a car from a bridge in 1968? Or something else completely?

Slasher has a relatively tight budget compared to the other recent series’, which results in a smaller, easier to manage cast roster, and a body count that doesn’t go stupidly ballistic. It plays more like a 90s Scream contemporary than anything (aided by the same writer and director overseeing the whole thing), drawn out to cover the episode order. But this is no bad thing, despite some of Sarah’s decision making, which sees her become BFF’s with a murderer, and venture down numerous dark alleyways on her own.

The killer’s identity, revealed a little sooner than expected, doesn’t make a whole lotta sense, but things take a real dark turn come the end, which bucks the usual trend of the final girl’s passivity in the face of closure, which was pretty impressive. Here’s hoping Season 2 can at least match the potential on show here, hopefully with a more generous financier.

slasher-sarah-dylan

Blurbs-of-interest: Brandon Jay McLaren was in Harper’s Island, Scar 3DTucker and Dale vs Evil; Katie McGrath was in Red Mist; Erin Karpluk was the lead in Ripper 2.

Killer Cop Out

scream-queens-1338SCREAM QUEENS

1.5 Stars  2015/585m

“Pretty evil.”

Cast: Emma Roberts, Skyler Samuels, Lea Michele, Jamie Lee Curtis, Abigail Breslin, Billie Lourd, Glen Powell, Keke Palmer, Diego Boneta, Oliver Hudson, Nasim Pedrad, Niecy Nash, Nick Jonas, Breezy Eslin, Lucient Laviscount, Jeanna Han, Ariana Grande.

Body Count: 21

Laughter Lines: “This school could survive a few serial killings but I don’t think this university could survive losing me.”


Necessary spoilers follow.

The generally accepted path for a slasher story to take is that young, lively characters are introduced and over the course of the tale we watch them get stalked and slain by a vengeful mystery killer. Unless you happen to be Ryan Murphy. If you’re Ryan Murphy you create a set of obnoxious, nasty, bitchy girls as the centrepiece of your little slasher universe while the audience enjoys the anticipation of watching them die later. And you kill precisely none of them.

For all the masses of hype Scream Queens threw up all around itself like a bulimic sorority girl – Nick Jonas! Ariana Grande! Random fashion blogger girl! – after 13 loooong weeks of enduring little more than a parade of acid-tongued put-downs, the series fizzled out with a damp squib of a finale that was akin to promising a child an Xbox 360 for Christmas and giving them a box with some cat shit in it.

sq3I watched Glee for awhile and, for awhile, it was fun. Pristine acapella arrangements of great songs that slowly began to morph into bland, straight-up cover versions, just as Scream Queens might have begun its life in script-form as an ode to all things stalk n’ slashy. I know Murphy is at the very least capable of decent horror scribblings thanks to the early seasons of American Horror Story and his dealings with The Town That Dreaded Sundown. But for all the “I was obsessed with slasher films” rhetoric, you’d think he watched Sorority Row and half of a Halloween sequel and thought “I can do that.”

Emma Roberts leads the cast as the Kappa Kappa Tau sorority president, Chanel Oberlin, no more than a retread of her role as a bitchy actress in American Horror Story: Coven. She spends much of her screentime calling her sisters sluts, whores, or gashes, making borderline racist comments and reminding us how rich she is. This type of character is supposed to die. The inexplicable supposition that gay men adore this type of high-society, entitled thing has always eluded me, but Murphy and co. aren’t able to write interesting ‘nice’ folks anyway.

Twenty years (never nineteen, never twenty-one) after a girl dies during childbirth at the  sorority, the hardass Dean (Jamie Lee Curtis, a bright spot) goes to war with Chanel and alters the charter to allow anybody to pledge the house, leaving them with just a handful of misfits rather than the usual tide of label-loving, anorexic, bitches who hate everybody. Said group includes Lea Michele’s back-brace wearing weirdo, a candle vlogger, another girl known as Predatory Lez for several episodes, plus the cut-n-dried homespun heroine, Grace.

sq1Coinciding with this, a psychotic killer wearing the school’s mascot uniform – a Red Devil – begins targeting all those associated with the sorority. The ensuing twelve episodes should play along the mystery theme as Grace tries to solve the mystery while Murphy would skewer slasher tropes and rapid fire bitchy girl dialogue. It worked for the aforementioned Sorority Row because they bothered to KILL Leah Pipes, but, save for a few decent lines, it doesn’t work here.

With a murder-count of 20, the show notches up zero heart-pounding chase sequences. There are a few splashes of gore here and there but most of the kills are supposed to be funny rather than horrific. That nearly all the victims are ancillary characters and not the vile, entitled main roster is just salt in the bloody wound.

Were the project to be edited down to a 90-minute film, most of the top-tier cast members wouldn’t even feature as the central clique of bitchy girls spend more time commenting on fashion, body image, boyfriend prospects, or plotting against one another. By the eleventh episode, there have been at least three attempts to murder the person they suspect is the killer. There’s so little going on upstairs in this show that it’s forced to recycle the same material just to fill out its half-season quota.

scream-queens-jamie-lee-curtisEventually, several different characters are revealed to have committed murder at one point or another, at least two of them get away with it, while the production pinky-swore that there would only be four characters left standing for the say-it-ain’t-so summer camp set season two, there are in fact ten. It reeks of Murphy et al being too afraid to lose their cast members in case, god forbid, a second season is greenlit. It’s a slasher story, fucking grow a pair and kill someone other than the pizza guy, the replacement mascot, or any other one-episode arc extras!

Even the ‘good guys’ are made up of bland, barely drawn out bores who are too serious and not worth rooting for. Niecy Nash’s hopeless security guard rocks the boat with the best lines but is still marginalised and written as a dimwitted moron; Curtis chews up the barbed dialogue, easily outperforming her co-stars in the laughter stakes; and there’s a very good soundtrack to prop things up. Here though, the positives abruptly end.

How a so-called slasher tale could be so wimpy and gutless is a testament to some atrocious decision making. It’s like Jason restricting himself to murdering hitchhikers and rednecks around Crystal Lake but never bothering to hunt down the pot-smoking, sex-having camp counsellors!

This makes Scream – The TV Series look like Scream – the movie.

scream-queens-red-devilBlurbs-of-interest: JLC’s slasher credentials go from Halloween, Halloween II, Prom Night, Terror Train, Road Games, in the early years up to Halloween H20 and Halloween: Resurrection more recently; Emma Roberts was in Scream 4; Oliver Hudson was in the Black Christmas remake; Steven Culp made a brief appearance in the same episode as Jason Goes to Hell was name checked (incorrectly, I might add).

Smallscreen Scream

scream-tvSCREAM – THE TV SERIES

3 Stars  2015/450m

“You’ll never see it coming.”

Cast: Willa Fitzgerald, Bex Taylor-Klaus, John Karna, Carlson Young, Tracy Middendorf, Tom Maden, Amadeus Serafini, Connor Weil, Jason Wiles, Amelia Rose Blaire, Bobby Campo, Brianne Tju, Bella Thorne.

Body Count: 11

Laughter Lines: “I’m not in support of splitting up, nor am I retiring in three days. And I will not be right back.”


There’s a sad irony that the final episode of this show was prefaced by the passing of Wes Craven by a matter of days.

Lukewarm reception to Scream 4 put the brakes on plans for a fifth (and possibly sixth) installment, with the puppetmasters above realising that TV is now where it’s at, news of Scream: The TV Series didn’t exactly set the whole thing alight again, and when it was revealed that Woodsboro, Sidney, Gale, and Dewey would not be involved in any way, plus the iconic Scream mask would be altered, people were like…

scream-cartoon

Small-screen slasher plots don’t tend to work so well, as Randy-clone Noah points out in the first episode here. Harper’s Island was fun until it got stupid. But it had to get stupid. If slasher movie characters were like the rest of society, they’d do the smart thing, call the cops, and barricade themselves safely out of harm’s way.

So, with Scream being the self-aware, make-the-joke-about-yourself-before-somebody-else-does class clown of slasher franchises, how does it stretch from 110 minutes to 450?

You stick with tradition in the first instance and kill off a hot nubile girl who’s alone at her house. Said hottie is Queen Bee of Lakewood High, Nina Patterson, who just happened to have uploaded footage of her bi-curious classmate Audrey macking with another girl. A few tormenting texts and a decapitated head in the jacuzzi later, and Scream Lite has claimed its first two victims.

Cut to Sidney Prescott Emma Duval, our nice-girl heroine and choice plaything of the masked loon, who may or may not have something to do with the requisite 20-years-gone murders that occurred in the town, courtesy of local deformed kid Brandon James. Before the debut episode is up, we’ve learned his teen crush was no other than Emma’s mom Daisy (Middendorf), also the town coroner, and secretly the grown-up girl now calling herself Maggie.

scream-ninaThe murder shocks the town as expected, bringing along crime podcaster/Gale Weathers stand-in/Lisa Loeb look-a-like Piper Shaw, who begins poking around for clues. Elsewhere, Emma tries to build bridges with her estranged friend, the recently-outed Audrey, finds out her boyfriend isn’t all he’s cracked up to be, and attracts the romantic attention of intense new-boy, Kieran, who just happens to be son of the Sheriff, who is dating Maggie. And breathe.

For the next couple of episodes, there’s a murder thrown in – teenage girls, natch – and then things dry up for three consecutive episodes, switching to almost Scooby Doo levels of teen mystery solving, punctuated with an occasional phone call from the killer. As Noah points out early on, it’s got more in common with fellow teen-fare Pretty Little Liars (of which, Lucy Hale had a cameo in Scream 4), and too little stab n’ drip.

Things slowly ramp up towards the finale, a grisly farm vehicle demise, and scenes reminiscent of the tension from the earlier movies as things hurtle towards the climax. However, in spite of Noah’s insights, people still find reasons to split up, have flimsy excuses for not being around (“I went for a walk down by the lake…”), and play into the killer’s hands at almost every turn.

emma-screamWorking out the identity of the loon is no easy task: Everyone has an alibi at some point, and based on three of the four movies, we know there can be more than one killer on call. Once they unmask themselves and spew their very familiar motive, it all wraps up a bit too tidily and conveniently, teasing us with a twist that will doubtlessly be the lead in for the second season. It’s also done and dusted in minutes, whereas the exposition scenes in the movies were gloriously detailed and exciting. Everything crammed into the final episode should have happened over two episodes, especially in a series where there was more than enough time to play with.

An entertaining enough stack of episodes, but too many to support the needs of the plot, something that the imminent 15-episode order of Scream Queens (starring Emma Roberts!) may also have difficulty with. One might’ve assumed so much extra time would mean longer chase scenes, juicier tension? Nay. It means subplots. Boring, ultimately pointless subplots and way too many survivors.

Fitzgerald makes for a functional, sympathetic final girl, and Taylor-Klaus and Karna are great as the ones who do most of the detective work and supply the best insights and dialogue.

Will I watch Season 2? Of course, but this is certainly an anemically pale imitation of an essential movie series.

Blurbs-of-interest: Tracy Middendorf was Julie the babysitter in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare; Bobby Campo was the foreseer in The Final Destination.

Die mittelmäßigen film

SCHOOL’S OUT

2.5 Stars  1999/94m

“This class is dying to graduate.”

Director: Robert Sigl / Writer: Kal Meyer / Cast: Katharina Wackernagel, Niels Bruno Schmidt, Marlene Meyer-Dunker, Nils Nellessen, Rita Lengyel, Urs Remond, Sandra Leonhard, Enie van de Maiglockjes, Raphael Vogt.

Body Count: 7

Laughter Lines: “Wine in a plastic class is like a blowjob with a condom.”


The native title of this German made-for-TV stalker flick translates as Scream! For I Will Kill You!, which clues us in on where many of its ideas came from.

At their high school graduation party, a quintet of teen friends concoct some spider-themed pranks for their teachers as a sort of final goodbye treat for themselves. Nina and Tom are having relationship troubles; Anne is worried she may have contracted AIDS, and Philip and Eva just want to party! But what happened to Jessica? Why didn’t she ever turn up? Could it have something to do with the escape of a psychopathic killer from an institution eleven years after he stabbed several women with a huge pair of scissors… Scissors very similar to the pair Eva bought along with her to aid the group’s prank setup?

Before long, the kids are being stalked and skewered by a masked maniac in a harlequin costume, replete with requisite snippers. The first hour of this slickly pieced-together number is involving and nostalgic for early 80s campus slashers. However, once good-girl Nina is safe and sound in the arms of her detective uncle, the wheels begin to work loose as she and fellow survivor Philip try to suss out what really happened, a curiosity which takes them back to school and forces them into a deadly confrontation.

While its TV origins may be responsible for the tame quotient of grue, School’s Out is still better than many American features that have gotten wider international exposure, making it a worth a look for genre masochists.

Followed by a sequel: Dead Island: School’s Out 2.

Other scarecrow-themed horror films are available

SCARECROW

2 Stars  2013/18/83m

“It’s not a myth. It’s not a legend. It’s a warning.”

Director/Writer: Sheldon Wilson / Writer: Rick Suvalle / Cast: Lacey Chabert, Robin Dunne, Nicole Munoz, Brittney Wilson, Carlo Marks, Reilly Dolman, Richard Harmon, Julia Maxwell, Jerry Wasserman.

Body Count: 13


The term ‘SyFy Original’ packs more terror than the cumulative scares of all the movies the channel has produced. Almost.

In an infuriating turn, Scarecrow began surprisingly well and, for a brief naive second, I thought “Hey, maybe they’ve finally struck gold!” The clanging of the pick was sadly just lame old aluminium, neigh gold here. #sadface.

In its favour, Scarecrow features a lot of actors from other lesser-known slasher flicks and wastes no time in cutting to the chase. A quick teen-couple slashening occurs at ye olde Miller farm and unleashes the spirit of the titular villain, just in time for the local town’s Scarecrow Festival.

Don’t get your hopes up. In town, another high school detention puts another pack of assorted stereotypes onto a school bus with their handsome young teacher. Out to the farm they go to help move the scarecrow back to town. This development sires the following ponderances:

  • Does it take nine people to move one scarecrow?
  • Aren’t detentions customarily served inside the school?

Scarecrow doesn’t care for such trivialities. It also doesn’t care to explain what the kids have done, though something about naughty photos of their (now dead) classmates appearing online is muttered – but it’s difficult to believe they all did this together as they don’t seem to get along.

At the farm, a clearly here-for-the-cheque Lacey Chabert turns up, the last of the Miller family who can no longer afford to keep the farm going. Just fifteen minutes into the film, kids are being attacked by an unseen force.

They barricade themselves inside and find that mythically-cursed scarecrow is very much alive and well, and wants them dead. Actually, it wants Lacey Chabert dead, but anyone else will do in the meantime.

As the action kicks off so quickly, Scarecrow soon becomes a bit tedious as numbers are depleted and the surviving members of the group move from house to car to woods to neighbouring farm back to woods and so on…

Points are gained for the surprisingly good FX work of the scarecrow itself, a jet-black liquorice-looking viney chap, who can come out of the ground, even hide inside bodies… They’re lost, however, for strange choices of characters who outlast others and, more crucially, Lacey Chabert wiping her blood on a herd of cows and saying “rather you than me”! No, Lacey, no. Save the cows.

It’s one of those films where the villain only wants ONE person dead, but said person naturally resists, and so everyone else around them has to die!

Things began with a fair bit of focus on the requisite drop-outs who we expect to live for most of the film and then die horribly. But no, again here Scarecrow fucks with us: They go really early, totally off-camera, without any of the expected comeuppance these types of characters normally suffer.

Another character acts so shadily that I was waiting for them to be revealed to be some sort of conduit for the scarecrow. While this person eventually showed another side of themselves, it was something totally different and disappointing.

In summary, a good looking, well made film, but one that shoots its load too early and expects us to hang around enjoying the afterglow. And the cow-thing can’t be forgiven.

Blurbs-of-interest: Lacey Chabert was in the Black Christmas remake; Robin Dunne was in American Psycho II: All-American Girl; Nicole Munoz was the little girl heroine in The Tooth Fairy; Brittney Wilson was in Scar 3D; Jerry Wasserman was in Christina’s House.

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