Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

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Dagger, Switchblade, Butcher Knife, Revolver, Scalpel

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Reviewed by: Jenicide

The success of John Carpenter’s Halloween took the horror scene by storm, inspiring a host of copycats, among the first of which was He Knows You’re Alone. While thematically different, the film is so structurally similar to Halloween that making comparisons between the two is inevitable, and He Knows You’re Alone suffers because of it.

Amy Jenson is weeks away from her wedding, when she finds herself being stalked by a killer who targets young brides-to-be. Detective Gamble, whose own fiancée fell victim to the maniac, pursues him in a quest of revenge. Meanwhile, Amy tries unsuccessfully to convince her friends that the man following her is real, and not a result of pre-wedding jitters.

Amy & Marvin Killer Ray

While the killer does not use any sort of disguise, He Knows You’re Alone is clearly inspired by Halloween’s formula. His stand-and-stare stalking technique, as well as his knife-centric attacks are straight out of Michael Myers’ playbook. Moreover, the film features a heroine who is the only one aware that something is wrong and a man obsessed with stopping the killer. Yet, these similarities become overkill as homage descends into straight-up copying. Several scenes are almost the same as in Halloween, such as the chase between Amy and the killer, where he breaks a car window with his bare hands, or the confrontation between the killer and Gamble. Even the music is similar, attempting to replicate the stinging piano strikes of Halloween, with much less effectiveness.

Tom Hanks Yesssssssss Aquarium Head

On a positive note, the film’s opening scene should be commended for its movie-within-a-movie psych-out, which inspired imitators of its own with similar tricks being seen in films such as Blowout. Also featured in the opening scene is a cleverly executed kill set to the rhythm of a horror film so that the screams are synchronized and nobody realizes what has happened. The scene was memorable enough that it was practically recreated in Scream 2. Also worth mentioning is a young Tom Hanks in his debut performance, who stands out as the best character in the film, despite being in it for roughly five minutes. Perhaps it was his winning charm that earned him the best lines in the movie, a short speech on the nature of fear.

Gamble Killer Window Smash

He Knows You’re Alone is an okay film, but its weaknesses prevent it from being good. It tried desperately to be the next Halloween, but the film ultimately fails to match its quality in terms of writing, cinematography, and suspense. In the end, it’s worth watching once in a blue moon when nothing else is on.

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Bare Hands, Straight Razor, Tire, Barbell Weight, Garden Shears, Skewer, Fire Poker, Fillet Knife

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Reviewed by: Jenicide

Starting in the 1970s, with horror classics like Black Christmas and John Carpenter’s Halloween, holiday-themed slasher films became a big hit. While one’s birthday does not really qualify as a holiday, Happy Birthday to Me is definitely of this pedigree. Though this sub-genre is guilty of flooding the horror scene with a number of bad movies, this one stands out in terms of production values and in keeping the audience mystified, making it pretty decent overall, despite some shortcomings.

Virginia Wainwright is a content girl on the outside, among her friends, yet is troubled on the inside with a past she struggles to remember, due to a tragic car accident. As her birthday draws near, Virginia’s friends start disappearing, and she begins to regain memories of her accident, while suffering from increasingly frequent blackouts.

Cast Pic Head on a Tray

While Happy Birthday to Me comes off looking derivative of Friday the 13th, the film was in the works at the same time, but was released a year later. And while, like Friday the 13th, it follows the now-classic formula of “mystery killer stalks a group of teenagers”, it features a much higher gore factor and better production values than some of its cheaper peers. The special effects are creative with such memorable moments as the character Steve’s death by shish kabob (as depicted on the original film poster). Another standout is the bloody birthday party scene, where the killer is revealed; the typical “discovering of the dead bodies” that we see toward the end of many slasher movies is here done with exceptional style.

Weird Glasses Guy Bloody Poker

The whodunit appeal is the most noteworthy quality of the movie. It tosses red herring after red herring at the audience, as just about every character becomes a suspect. When this is done right, it’s great; when it’s done wrong, it really stretches believability. The impact of this type of movie hinges heavily on the effectiveness of the ending, when the killer is revealed. It eventually seems obvious who is responsible for the murders, but then the film offers up a surprising revelation, that though startling, hurts the plausibility of the entire story with a killer whose methods and motives are ridiculous. The twist of the movie just seems out of the blue, with no logical connection to the progression of events we’ve just seen.

Corpse in Chair Birthday Macabre

Despite the weak ending, the effective mystery and gore of the movie makes for an overall enjoyable experience.  Still, the twist was memorable enough that it seems to have inspired a host of other surprise endings in slasher movies like The Initiation and Sleepaway Camp. Happy Birthday to Me is by no means a masterpiece, but it is one of the more polished specimens among the glut of slasher films to come out of the early 1980s.

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Razor Glove, Bed Sheet, Coffee Pot, Sledgehammer Booby-Trap, Light-Bulb Explosive, Jar of Gasoline, Fire

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Reviewed by: Pontifex Aureus

A boogeyman that haunts your dreams, the sound of blades scraping stone, flickering shadow, fire, smoke—this is the stuff of childhood nightmares. This is why this film hit me so close, too close, as a child, because it deals with something that I (and all people) know something about: nightmares. As adults, our boogeymen tend to be real-world characters like home-invaders and psychopaths, but as children, our first boogeymen hid in the shadows of our bedroom closet, or under the bed, and made creaks and bumps in the night. You imagined something was there, watching, and you hid under the covers waiting for sleep to save you, but the terrors would follow you into your dreams and become more real than ever. This is the sense of primal fear that A Nightmare on Elm Street captures so well, the fear that comes from within your own mind.

In an archetypal American suburb, the kids of Elm Street dream of violent death at the hands of a razor-fingered man with burnt flesh named Fred Krueger. When people start dying in real life, teenager Nancy Thompson becomes determined to uncover the truth behind Krueger’s past in order to find some way to combat this deadly menace that exists only in her mind.

Freddy's Boiler Room This is God

Much has been said about A Nightmare on Elm Street’s ability to toy with the audience’s perception of reality; with its mind-bending dream-within-a-dream sequences, you’re never quite sure of what’s real and what isn’t. But this is only part of what the film accomplishes as a whole: it captures the look, sound, and feel of a nightmare and, in so doing, creates one of the best representations of nightmares committed to film.

Freddy in the Tub Johnny Depp Hero in a Half Shirt

The ambiguity and strangeness of the narrative makes you feel disoriented and wary, as it should, since this is just the feeling we would expect of a nightmare. But this alone wouldn’t be enough, not without the chaotic, disturbing imagery brought to us by the boogeyman himself, Fred Krueger. He shape-shifts, his arms become impossibly long, he gleefully mutilates himself just to see the look on your face—this is a villain that is not bound by the laws of physical possibility and that makes him truly unpredictable in a way that other movie-monsters seldom achieve. And perhaps the most overlooked aspect of director Wes Craven’s nightmare-world is the sound. The soundtrack ranges from ominous to campy in an interestingly disjointed fashion, but when I talk about the sound of A Nightmare on Elm Street, I refer specifically to the subtle sound effects and strange inflections of speech. One of my favorite parts is a classroom scene where Nancy slips into sleep while listening to a recitation of Hamlet: “…were it not that I have bad dreams…” that voice—a hoary, unreal whisper hits especially close to the truth of dream-experience. Perfection.

I'm Your Boyfriend Now Nancy and John Saxon

By its very abstract nature, A Nightmare on Elm Street is greatly open to interpretation. Legions of horror fans have put forth dozens of theories, dealing variously with the sexual subtext of the film or the coming of age of Nancy into the bleak adult world inhabited by her mother and father. While arguably true, I feel these theories are subservient to a greater theme; I believe this film is above all, an examination of the enemy within ourselves. We are the victims of our own fears—fear of death, fear of sex, fear of growing up and though we wish salvation were as easy as wishing those fears away, they lurk within us always, ready to sneak up from behind and grab us by the throat. Watching the movie as a child, I felt this fear without understanding it. As an adult, lying in bed, watching the shadows on the ceiling, hearing the house creak, I know that something is watching. It watches from within. If you’ve never seen this movie, get to it. If you have, see it again; you’ll find new treasure every time you do.

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Kicks, Bare Hands, Cane, Knife, Teeth, Towel Rod

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Reviewed by: Pontifex Aureus

In essence, Cronos is a vampire movie. It’s a very different kind of vampire movie, but a vampire movie nonetheless, and while it can be considered a horror movie, I prefer to think of it as a dark fantasy movie. That’s because Cronos is not scary—not one little bit. But don’t let that bother you, because while it may not be scary, it is original, it is highly imaginative, it is rich with devilish imagery and possesses a thoroughly human character. These characteristics are hallmarks of all high-quality dark fantasy.

In Veracruz, Mexico, an elderly antiques dealer, Jesus Gris, and his granddaughter stumble upon a strange and ancient artifact created by a 16th century alchemist. The artifact, the Cronos Device, grants the user eternal life, as Jesus soon finds out upon accidentally triggering the insect-like machine. The price for eternity is steep however, as Jesus begins to develop a terrible craving for blood and draws the attention of an evil man who would claim the device for himself.

Jesus and Aurora Cronos Close-Up

You have to admire a vampire movie that never once uses the word “vampire”. Cronos is a wonderfully understated movie, never clobbering you over the head with its themes. It’s just as well that the film doesn’t mention vampires, since the movie is more about humans than vampires. We have three central characters: Jesus Gris, a kindly grandfather and respectable shop owner who becomes so addicted to the vitality offered by the Cronos Device that he winds up licking blood off a men’s room floor. We have Dieter de la Guardia, a ruthless businessman so against the idea of natural death that he spends his life in a germ-free room with a cabinet full of his own body parts. And lastly, there’s Angel de la Guardia, the bootlicking nephew to Dieter, who wants nothing more than for his uncle to die and leave behind a fat inheritance.

Jesus Using Cronos Nose Bleed for Dinner

In much the same way that a vampire is motivated by its desire for blood, these people are motivated by their desire for power. Each is ruled by their desire—the desire for youth and vigor, as in the case of Jesus and Dieter, or desire for wealth, as in Angel’s case. Each is a kind of power. They live wretched lives and all but Jesus are willing to kill to fulfill their desire. It’s this complex interplay of human frailty that makes Cronos such a sly winner. Keep this in mind while watching and you’ll find a rich layer of symbolism throughout the film (lots of religious subtext—Jesus Gris is phonetically similar to Jesus Cristo, the Cronos Device is concealed in an angel statue, Angel de la Guardia means literally “guardian angel”, and so on).

Perlman Broken Nose Jesus Vampire

Aside from all these subtle qualities, Cronos has several other things going for it as well. Being a Guillermo del Toro movie, it carries his visual flair for dark fantasy. The Cronos Device itself is a work of art, looking like a golden clockwork scarab, it is suitably creepy and evil-looking. There’s also the wonderfully muted performances by the whole cast, but especially by Federico Luppi in the role of Jesus Gris, as he transforms from twinkly-eyed grandpa to skin-peeling vampire without ever feeling over-the-top.

Cronos is a sumptuously dark fairy tale brought to you by the modern-day master of dark fantasy; if you’re a del Toro fan, you should find plenty to like here. Incidentally, this film also marks the first collaboration between del Toro and Ron Perlman, for you Hellboy fans out there. So if you’re looking for scares, look elsewhere, but if you’re looking for a visually striking, stylish, thought-provoking vampire movie, then look no further than Cronos.

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Teeth, Anchor, Bare Hands, Wooden Post, Machete, Rifle, Torch

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Reviewed by: Pontifex Aureus

From one of horror’s more bizarre subgenres, porno horror, comes Joe D’Amato’s Erotic Nights of the Living Dead. Never heard of porno horror? Then congratulations—you’re a well-rounded person who doesn’t waste time on rubbish. Anyway, porno horror is exactly what it sounds like; an unholy combination of horror and hardcore pornography, but instead of bringing these two elements together in any uniquely startling or disturbing way, Erotic Nights of the Living Dead simply takes a lackluster horror plot and haphazardly slaps in porno scenes whenever the story drags (which is constantly).

main cast maggot face

A boat captain takes a wealthy foreign investor and his female escort to the mysterious Cat Island, so named for its reputation of being haunted by a black cat who controls a horde of zombies. Upon arriving on the island, the three visitors are met by a mysterious woman and her grandfather and strange things begin to happen, yet this doesn’t stop anyone from periodically engaging in graphic sex, at least not until the zombies show up.

The main problem with Erotic Nights of the Living Dead is typical of the porno horror subgenre as a whole—the pacing is absolutely horrible. It is impossible for the movie’s plot to gain any momentum whatsoever when it keeps getting interrupted by sex scenes; the movie comes to a grinding halt every time. None of the sex scenes advance the plot or character development; they are absolutely unconnected to the rest of the film and truly serve no purpose other than to pad out the running time of what is essentially 60 minutes worth of actual movie.

zombie and doctor island girl and main guy

Because the movie can’t keep a sense of pace, it can’t develop any atmosphere either, and without atmosphere, there can be no real horror. Erotic Nights absolutely fails as a horror movie and isn’t a particularly good porno either. Not only is the pornography prosaic and by-the-numbers, it also lacks any sense of true eroticism; there is no titillation, only exploitation. Moreover, the main male sex actor is fairly gross-looking and appears to have genital warts…gag! The only really amusing porn moment was of a woman who opens a bottle of champagne with her hoo-ha. That, at least, was outrageous enough to achieve novelty value.

zombies at night island girl

Overall, the film is very boring, with scarcely any zombie mayhem at all; I would estimate that about 95% of the zombie action occurs within the last 10% of the movie. And even when the action finally comes, we’re met with a pretty lame zombie horde that apparently bleeds chocolate milk. And for being erotic “nights” of the living dead, the film is pretty damn bright, with all of the night scenes having clearly been filmed in the day and then tinted a nasty ultra-blue. Adding to this laundry list of problems is bad special effects, bad makeup, and a bad English dub replacing the original Italian audio (which, I’m sure, is probably not any better). Avoid this movie like Joe D’Amato avoids good production values, because for all its gross sex, the only one who’s truly fucked is the viewer.

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Reviewed by: Pontifex Aureus

Originally titled “The Texas Nail Gun Massacre”, Terry Lofton’s seminal cheese-fest, Nail Gun Massacre, featured the tagline “Cheaper than a Chainsaw” in a sly (no wait—ham-fisted) homage to the 1974 classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. If by “Cheaper than a Chainsaw” they meant the entire cost of production, then yeah. Firmly within so-bad-it’s-good territory, Nail Gun Massacre is actually quite watchable; in fact, if Nail Gun was in on its own joke, this bad horror movie could actually pass for a good comedy. But despite Nail Gun Massacre’s numerous crimes against cinema (bad acting, bad FX, total lack of atmosphere), perhaps its greatest failure is in its fundamental inability to tell a coherent story. It really says something about a movie when being formulaic would be an improvement.

In the town of Seagoville, Texas, a crew of construction workers gang-rape a young woman and soon thereafter, local construction workers are being murdered by a crazed killer with a nailgun. Wondering who the killer is yet? Have you figured it out? Anyway, a local sheriff and doctor begin investigating the series of nail-related murders and bumble around without ever meeting the killer until the lame final confrontation.

Nail Gun Killer Doctor and Sheriff

If that synopsis is vague and unsatisfying, well, so is the movie—a symptom of the lobotomy-style storytelling. This is an even more fatal flaw than simple bad writing; writing can be bad and still be coherent, but if the storytelling itself is bad, if it has no logical progression, no structure, no clear sense of direction or purpose, then you’re left with pointless nonsense.

For example, experienced horror-viewers will know that in slasher flicks, you have your cast of kill fodder; usually a group of teenaged friends introduced at the beginning of the movie. Not so in Nail Gun Massacre; instead we are introduced to the cast of characters in sporadic bursts, two or three at a time, throughout the movie, and most of these characters do not meet, interact, or have scarcely any relation to each other at all. The plot structure of this movie is like a blob of ice cream melting in the sun—messy and all over the place.

Nail Hand Nailed Prayer

In addition to that, Nail Gun Massacre also features all the usual problems that bad movies have. Bad acting? How about a guy that falls over dead onto a BBQ grill, starts tipping over, pushes himself back up, and then looks at the camera? Bad FX? How about wobbly nails and a non-firing nail gun? Bad writing? Here’s a direct quote: “Do you remember when you could sit outside and not worry about the mosquitoes and the killers?” Even the soundtrack is bad; it is literally someone yelling WAAAHH and MUAHAHA into a synthesizer so persistently that you’ll find yourself daydreaming about what death is like.

Roadside Nailer Nail Face

And the ending? Jeeesus…there’s simply not enough room to go into that in a single review, so I’ve added an addendum at the end; look there for a more in-depth discussion of one of the stupidest endings in all of horrordom. Still, despite repeatedly spitting in the face of all that is good and decent in film, Nail Gun Massacre is a fun movie to watch, if only to laugh at how much of a train-wreck it is. But I can’t recommend this movie for the same reason I can’t recommend huffing spray paint—it’s bad for you and it’ll make you stupid; but, meh…it’s kinda fun.

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Addendum:

Let’s get this spoiler out of the way right now: the killer is Linda, the girl that gets raped at the beginning. Oh my God! Bet you didn’t see that coming! Especially since the killer’s fairly snug jumpsuit reveals to us early-on that the killer is obviously a woman. Although, there is actually some controversy about the killer’s identity, and understandably so, because the storytelling is so horrendously poor and the movie is so war-crime-ingly directed that you may very well not notice who the killer is.

Many people, after having seen Nail Gun Massacre, believe that the character Bubba is the killer because early in the movie, he very unsubtly states that he’ll be seeing the victims “…sooner than [they] think.” Plus, at the end of the movie, the killer dies, is unmasked, and is revealed to be Bubba. Okay…that’s a strong case for the “Bubba is the killer” theory, but hear me out.

Number one: since the whole movie takes place in broad daylight, we can very clearly see that the killer is female, judging by the curvaceous hips and the fact that the killer is way shorter than Bubba. Number two: At one point the killer states: “You guys played with me; now it’s my turn to play with you” and “…nobody came when I screamed”. Number 3: After Bubba’s death, when the doctor declares that it’s all over, the sheriff utters the unbelievably corny line: “Is it? Is it over?” Number four: as the doctor and Linda walk off into the sunset, Linda’s right arm falls to her side, revealing that she is holding the killer’s motorcycle helmet, and we hear a dramatic DUUUNN from the soundtrack as this happens.

Okay, so those are some good reasons for thinking that Linda was the killer, but if that’s the case, then WHY DOES BUBBA SAY HE’LL SEE THOSE VICTIMS SOONER THAN THEY THINK?! Why would Bubba EVER see the victims AT ALL if Linda was the one doing the killing? Was Bubba also killing? If so, nothing happens in the movie that would suggest this other than him wearing the costume at the end—but then that could be explained by saying that Bubba was merely taking the rap for his sister. My guess is that the character Bubba was a clumsy attempt at inserting a red herring into the storyline, but it is done so poorly that it defies all sense and logic. Secondly, we need more than a dramatic DUUUNN to highlight the fact that the killer is Linda; what should be a cool Basic-Instinct-style surprise ending is instead so lazy and ambiguous that many people don’t even notice it. Or maybe I’m just imagining things and Bubba really was the killer; in any case, the ending should not be this difficult to figure out!

So there you have it: one of the most colossally incompetent and nonsensical endings to a horror movie ever. Whether you believe that Bubba was the killer or Linda was, the ending still leaves you with logical loose-ends so flagrant that you’ll rage against the audacity of the mind that created Nail Gun Massacre.

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Bare Hands, Kitchen Knife, Knitting Needle, Wire Hanger, Revolver

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Reviewed by: Jenicide

October is near. Yes! Our favorite month of the year is approaching. So what better time to get to a favorite upon many horror fans than a review on the 1978 classic, “Halloween”?

When it comes to horror films, John Carpenter’s Halloween is considered by many as a holy grail of a horror movie; one that introduced the iconic masked killer, Michael Myers. More than likely, if you are reading this, you know how the movie goes, but to be consistent in our reviews, here’s a quick synopsis for you: A young Myers is left in the care of his older sister, Judith, whom he murders in cold blood on Halloween night, 1963. Fast forward fifteen years later, Myers, having been under the care of his psychiatrist Dr. Loomis, (played by the late, great Donald Pleasance) makes his move and escapes. Loomis realizes the evil nature of his patient and is hell-bent on recapturing Michael, whether he gets support or not. Now back in his hometown of Haddonfield, Myers stalks three high school girls who are unaware they are now his targets. Particularly the level-headed, reserved Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis’ film debut). Their Halloween turns from a carefree evening of babysitting and teenage hi-jinks to death and terror.

Halloween Girls Michael Myers Young

So what made “Halloween” such a beloved masterpiece? It relies on basic ingredients and excellent execution; the suspense factor, a creepy score (composed by Carpenter), and great acting. The suspense is played out beautifully throughout and reaches a crescendo during the final game of cat and mouse between Michael and Laurie. Adding to the suspense is the spine-chilling music featuring those edgy, stinging notes that are now so iconic. The acting is subtle and effective with extra points going to Nick Castle for his nuanced performance of Michael Myers; he is able to convey mysteriousness and an animal-like quality all under a blank, emotionless mask. He is not a man, he is an evil presence in the shape of a man; the fact that he is even credited as The Shape shows that he is not to be understood as a human character, but as a malevolent force of nature. All these elements combine to create a dark atmosphere that makes this film scary without the need to rely on buckets of blood.

Ghost Michael Myers Tombstone

“Halloween” was made cheap but with a lot of love. It only had a $300K budget, with the director maintaining full creative control of the film and with hardly any special effects at all. It simply utilizes pure fear under circumstances that could happen to the average person in an average town. You could relate with some characters; they could be your friends, the kids you babysit, or so forth. Many members of the crew were friends of Carpenter and the late producer Debra Hill, so they all pitched in when needed. And today, it still ranks as one of the most successful independent motion pictures ever.

Of course, there are the sequels and the remakes that stemmed from this film. Some entries, building on Myers’ inhuman character, present him as being literally supernatural (is he? Or isn’t he? Was this really implied in the original film? Oh, so much to think about!), and delving deeper into the roots of his madness while upping the gore factor. This leads to great discussions/debates on the character and the quality of the series…but we can get into that in another review.

Loomis Gun Myers Face Emerge

Overall, “Halloween” is an excellent film and a must-see on your horror movie bucket-list, if you have one, or if you’ve been living under a rock. This film proved it could terrify you without bloody guts or massive gore. Michael Myers became a household name in the horror realm, alongside other characters under the new slasher sub-genre, where the movie monsters were redefined by putting them in human form. Not to mention catapulting Jamie Lee Curtis into her classic “scream queen” status that led to a steady career in the mainstream world. Donald Pleasance’s career was also affected as he went from playing villain-type characters to avenging Loomis-type roles which continued until his passing in 1995. Plus, John Carpenter, who achieved notoriety after this, went on to make more classics throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s that we will be sure to review in due time. As one of the early films that helped define the elements of the slasher genre, Halloween is well respected and highly recommended for your viewing pleasure.