Saturday, May 19, 2018

Hardly Ever Missed, Did I?: Targets (1968)

Targets (1968) (AKA "Before I Die")
Rating: ****
Starring: Tim O'Kelly, Boris Karloff, Nancy Hsueh

If there will be films out there showing the transition of cinematic monsters from folklore ghouls such as vampires and mummies, to maniacal men of slasher flicks, Targets is one of them.

In one of its two parallel plots, Boris Karloff plays a semi-autobiographical character named Byron Orlok, an aging veteran horror actor who wanted to retire, believing he and the roles he plays are outdated as there are far more horrible things people can be afraid of like mass killings and war. This, though, isn't sitting well with most of his colleagues, seeing his claims as either a horrible joke or Orlok just not being satisfied with the current project he is working in, much to the concern of his secretary Jenny and a young script writer named Sammy Michaels. In the end, Orlok agrees to at least make a final in-person promotional appearance at a local drive-in theater for his fans before leaving Tinseltown for good.

In the meantime, we have Bobby Thompson, a clean-cut insurance agent and Vietnam War veteran living in the suburban San Fernando Valley area with his family. Underneath his quiet demeanor, though, is a deeply disturbed gun collector just waiting for the right time to put his sharpshooting skills to the test on some worthy targets. One morning, he finally gets to do what he wanted murdering his wife, his mother, and a delivery boy at his home before spending the afternoon on a killing spree, shooting people in passing cars and, eventually, at the very same drive-in where Orlok is to make his appearance that evening.

More of a thriller than horror, Targets is an interesting fiend of a movie that tackles the subject of human monsters and their place within society, particularly in cinema and the then-ongoing Vietnam war. On one end (and perhaps at a first glance), one might draw the conclusion this film will be nothing more than to show jarring scenes of a madman hunting innocent people down like deers but with Karloff's half of the film focusing more on his character's career and his point of view of what truly makes a horror film scary, this title sides a tad closer to being a dark, modest and quite clever satire of what can be considered terrifying within the ever-evolving modern horror media, thus bridging itself to the unnerving shootout happening in media res, perpetrated by the nihilistic and psychologically damaged.

Amazingly, both halves of Targets work quite well thanks to the strengths they're focusing on; with Karloff's half, it's mostly character study so it definitely helps that his role's a fun one with his "old timer" wit and somewhat snarky remarks for his own works, as well as the fact that his character kinda has a point to his opinion concerning his job as a character actor and the state of horror in that day and age. It also helps that he's surrounded with a decent amount of fair performances by the likes of Peter Bogdanovich and Nancy Hsueh as an enthusiastic script writer and well-meaning assistant respectively, adding some layers within the Orlok character through his interactions with them, thus further shaping some backdrop to his consideration for retirement.

In contrast, we don't exactly see much as to why our gunman spirals into the need to commit his crime despite the presence of dialogue and interaction at his part of the plot. Played by Tim O'Kelly with much  normalcy and quiet demeanor, Bobby spends a fair amount of his screentime being a guy who can easily blend in with the crowd, spending time with his wife and family all the while keeping up with a little collecting hobby. The only bits of red flags here and there are that young Bob here is a Vietnam vet, his collection happens to be of guns and he, at one point, aimed his rifle at his own father during a shootout session. We can tell at that point that he's not right in the head but the lack of further explanation and the way he pulls off this rather near-realistic shootout as if it's simply a thing he has to do (despite he himself not understanding why as well) makes up quite a lot for Target's lack of exploitative blood work and gore for just how depressing and uneasy these shootouts can get. (One scene had us looking at the aftermath of a shot victim in which their own child sits next to them, crying.)

The only matter here that I think could have gone better was the ending; with Bobby now terrorizing the same drive-in where Byron is at, our gunman was soon forced to make a run for it when he realizes he's outnumbered, coming across Karloff's character as he approaches to confront the madman. Without giving away much, let's just say the downfall felt too quick, reducing a killer to a sniveling coward just after a few blow and leaving Byron to question himself if that was what he was afraid of? I guess it can be seen as the film's attempt to further ground the killer in a more realistic plight, if only they didn't show him later smiling, being escorted to a cop car while remarking how he "hardly ever missed", thus pinching a slight side of misplaced cheese and dark humor.

With all of this, Targets is clearly not a slasher film, but it is an interesting watch that says quite a lot regarding "human monsters" in cinema and might as well be one of the few titles out there to drive horror cinema to the modern era. Whether you look at it as a spree killing horror movie or a cinematic satire, this is one recommendable title I encourage all true fright fans to see.

1 female corpse seen (film)
2 males drowned in flood (film)
1 female shot
1 female shot
1 male shot
1 passenger shot with a rifle
1 passenger shot with a rifle
1 passenger shot with a rifle
1 female shot with a rifle
1 passenger shot with a rifle
1 driver shot with a rifle
1 male shot with a shotgun
1 male shot on the face with a rifle
1 male dies from a rifle wound
1 male shot on the head with a rifle
1 male seen shot on the neck with a rifle
Total: 17

Monday, May 14, 2018

I Felt Like Screaming, Too. Out of Frustration: Sumigaw Ka Hanggang Gusto Mo

Sumigaw Ka Hanggang Gusto Mo (Philippines, 1999)
Rating: *
Starring:  Bernadette Allyson, Bobby Andrews, Onemig Bondoc

Honestly, I didn't know my home country tried to cash in with the success of Wes Craven's Scream (1996) back at the late 90s until I read about Sumigaw at a Filipino site somewhere and, after seeing said cash-in, I think it was for the best that I didn't knew.

Sumigaw Ka Hanggang Gusto Mo! is sometimes described as Philippine's answer to Scream (probably because when translated, the title literally meant Scream All You Want. How original) but the only thing it shares with Scream is that it tries to be a whodunit. (Emphasis on the word "try") It follows the survivor of an opening backwoods massacre as he gets questioned by cops for any information he could remember regarding his and his friends' attacker. Unfortunately, the trauma blocked most of the kid's memories of the event, which meant our dutiful investigators have to find another way to get their answers, thus leaving our traumatized teen out to defend himself not only against accusing schoolmates but also a killer who's out to finish what they started.

Looking into it, Scream works as a mystery as it not only builds itself around some very likable characters but it also paced itself to set everything in place, distracting us with red herrings and nasty murders whenever it is possible to keep the reveal and the finale as fresh and exciting as it can be. Sumigaw, however, felt and look more like a rushed mess wherein the mystery is there but standing on a very rickety structure that one wrong move can topple it down, breaking itself into obscurity. Sadly, this film made a lot of wrong moves.

Since this film was released around the late 90s, youth-oriented TV shows were a rave at the Philippines then thus casting the entire cast of the then-hit series T.G.I.S., along with other artists from one of the country's leading television channel GMA probably sounded like a great idea and, to be frank, it could have might as well work, but with a large amount of uneven cheese, too many focused characters roaming around (and little of them dying) and loads of offcamera killings, it's like the movie's afraid to get its hands dirty and tries to make up for it by showering us with a lot of star power doing random crap onscreen disguised as either an attempt to solve the whodunit or build the story to go, well, somewhere. Any drop of blood were done in the aftermath of an offcamera slaying (that is if we ever get to see the aftermath) and the mystery of who killed them dull kids in the beginning, after all the supposed workaround, simply just solved itself by throwing in the most random reveal with an overused motive to boot. (And add the fact that it also rushed in a second yet still unworkable twist simply shows how desperate the people behind this movie were)

The resulting product is neither scary or thrilling, hardly passable as a slasher horror or thriller with barely any redeeming quality. The characters are a joke, the mystery is a joke, and the lackluster production from editing to direction simply felt forced to blindly throw itself to the then-hype of star-powered teen slashers. Sumigaw Ka Hanggang Gusto Mo! is a real low of a movie that only cater to the fans of its stars and nothing else, which kinda shows just how hardly innovative or exploitative Filipino horror can be at times but, suffice to say, at least I have the likes of 1984's Basag Ang Pula and 2012's The Healing to sate my hunger for good Filipino slasher flicks.

What else is there to say but skip this film and forget it ever existed. You have better things to do in life...

1 male kicked off a cliff, falls to his death
1 female murdered offcamera
1 male and 1 female murdered offcamera with garden shears
1 female murdered offcamera with a machete
1 male seen killed, method unknown
1 female found knifed on the chest
1 female found hacked on the chest inside a tool shed
1 male stabbed on the chest
1 female killed offscreen
1 female set ablaze (flashback)
1 female caught inside a chimney, either burned or smoked to death
1 female drowned inside a tub
1 male shot
1 male shot
Total: 15

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Oh-Mah Goodness: Primal Rage (2018)

Primal Rage (2018) (AKA "Primal Rage: The Legend of Oh-Mah")
Rating: ***
Starring:  Casey Gagliardi, Andrew Joseph Montgomery, Jameson Pazak

Ah, Bigfoot slashers, where my love for bodycounting cross paths with my love for monsters of all shapes and sizes. There's few of them around like the 1980 cheesy backwoods horror Night of the Demon, the 2008 Southernfried Wildman of The Navidad and the 2014 found footage-styled Exists, but now it appears we have a new title for the collection, promising Native American folklore, woodland violence and a Rambo-esque Bigfoot in a mask, wielding a friggin' bow and arrow set!

Fresh out of the slammer, ex-convict Max is picked up by his wife Ashley and their car ride home is anything but calm as they argue about where to go from here for the sake of their troubled marriage and a young son they both dearly love. After stopping by for gas and running into a group of hostile locals, the couple suddenly find themselves in a distressing yet unusual predicament when a mauled man slams unto their car and, whilst calling the police to report the accident, something in the woods begin throwing rocks at them, hitting Max and sending him and his wife down a cliff and into the rapids below.

Somehow surviving this, Max and Ashley end up miles into the woods cold and alone, but in their eventual attempts to make it way back to the road, they encounter again the same locals that antagonized them earlier, who just so happens to be hunting nearby, forming a very uneasy alliance after they agree to help them. (But not before playing the couple around for fools) What all of them doesn't know, however, is that the same creature responsible for the mauled man have been stalking them all this time, bent on dwindling their numbers down in the most painful ways possible.

Coming out as a melting pot of Deliverance (1972), Predator (1987), a Friday the 13th sequel and even Pumpkinhead (1988) with a strong dash of "Redsploitation", Primal Rage (2018) can either be a fun mish-mash or an overambitious mess that led to same old "same old" backwoods slasher romp, depending on whose eyes will be viewing it.

For the right audience, there's plenty to enjoy from Primal Rage; the gore comes strong and early with a neat looking human road kill and, after a few scenes of backwoods walking and surviving courtesy of our two main casts, we're soon treated to more human casualties as our creature goes Rambo on the local hicks with knives, axes and the aforementioned bow-and-arrow, done in lovely latex and corn syrup practical effects. The creature himself, named Oh-Mah, also looks wonderfully done with an impressive design and concept, first appearing as a hairy juggernaut clad in tree bark armor and mask like a classic masked slasher, before going full ape cryptid on us in the third act. The make-up work done for this monster are just awesome and I like how they gave it a rather unique (albeit cliched) nearly-supernatural backdrop that allows it to possess some human characteristics such as the ability to use weapons, hide possible evidences of his rampage (like leftover meat) and even bear a warped-up motive, making this incarnation of the cryptid less of an animal and more of a menace.

There's also some good human tension before the monstrous massacre, first between our husband and wife before shifting focus to them going toe to toe against a pack of strangers. These scenes work for me as not only it gave us a couple of protagonists with a level of depth (read, "a" level) but they also allow us to root for their survival a tad easier as it clearly shows these two are not prepared for any of this to happen, even more than your usual backwoods slasher victims. My gripe to this is that some factors to these developments were not fully explored, such as the crime that lead Max in jail in the first place, as well as their time before said crime was made. For a film that nearly ran two hours, a few of those minutes could have been  used better covering these aspects, especially with how much it is hinted for a good part of the movie.

Further issues I have with Primal Rage is that it more or less lost its steam at the third act, with nearly all disposable characters murdered gruesomely by then and one of our protagonists gets abducted for "mating purposes." (yes, this is the second bodycounter I get to see feature Bigfoot getting down and dirty on some poor unsuspecting lass. For the first, please shift your attention to Night of the Demon (1980)) The climax hobbles tediously long on a non-believing Native American-born sheriff trying to get back to its roots to fully understand the threat that keeps killing his people, which clumsily (and psychedelically) adds very little to what was already established, nor did I find any of it to be all that important and/or make any sense, but at least the final fight between Oh-Mah and Max was worth the momentary headache and the kinda groan-inducing twist reveal later that has the word "sequel" written all over it.

For all its good moments and bad ones, Primal Rage could have been worse. It's definitely lacking at some department, but the overall result is still a slick, impressive-looking monster/slasher hybrid that deserves some of the praises it is getting, and too a few criticisms along the way. So if you're anything like me and loves a good bodycounting beasty with a fair amount of gore and guts, then I heartily recommend this picture.

1 male hit by a car, dies from maul wounds
1 male shot through the neck with an arrow
1 male pinned to a tree through the neck with a shot arrow, head thumbed and pulped
1 male decapitated with a hatchet
1 male shot through the mouth with an arrow
1 male shot with a hunting rifle
1 male had his throat cut with a dagger
1 male had his jaw ripped apart, head stomped
1 male cut open with a knife, disemboweled
1 male had his throat mauled open
1 creature had his head pulped with a rock
1 male shot dead with arrows
Total: 12

Monday, May 7, 2018

Gone Postal: Disgruntled (2008)

Disgruntled (2008)
Rating: ***
Starring: Mouzam Makkar, Mark Nilsson, Catherine Warren

I've seen a fair share of bodycount movies featuring office employees going postal, from angry fathers seeking vengeance against their own families to deranged bosses making a kill count out of the people they used to work with. It's a fad that's still going on to this day and while some of these newer titles are less than stellar in my opinion (I still loathe the fact that the potential Korean horror Office (2015) was such a drag and unnecessarily long), I love that we have little gory outings such as this movie to keep this little trope fun.

As the head of the IT department of an online publishing company, Matt McClaine can be too intimidating and viciously stern, so much so that he apparently starts to scare some of his co-workers and he constantly email his boss to do something about a certain laidback-type he is working with for the sake of the team's morale. Needless to say, Matt didn't get the response he is hoping for as, while typing another formal letter to the boss, he discovers in great anger that he is booted off the company. 

Snapped out of the grid, Matt goes homicidal then and there, secretly sneaking back into the office through the maintenance room, locking in all those who are still working there. One by one, he starts to pick off anybody he can grab hold to, which includes the aforementioned laidback feller Matt hates so much Robert Blake, the son of the company head and a hopeless romantic.

Clocking for only an hour, Disgruntled may have the look of a quick-and-easy slasher and, to be truthful, it does delivery all the bloody and chunky needs a bodycounter can deliver to gore-hungry viewers, though it can get really tedious with half of its focus being on the Robert character's egging attempt to win back a failing relationship with a co-worker. Not to say that these scenes are done terribly, they're quite passable really given the film's considerable budget, but they have this generic sense to them and it barely breaks away from just these two main characters talking to one another that it hinders what could have been a fair pacing for me.  

Gladly, Disgruntled knew to remedy the two-cast act with some decent looking slasher scenes and though some of these murders were cheaply implemented (as in we're shown blood splatter while the actual parts where the blade cuts through flesh are obscured offcamera), the rest were horrific enough to satisfy horrorhounds for the gruesome imagery and savage butchery. They even gave our killer a creepy face mask that is either flayed flesh or bloodied latex (I can't really tell even if my life depended on it), though I do find it strange that we have to give this guy a mask seeing everybody he is killing knew it is him, with or without it. Perhaps this is the reason why his co-workers are so afraid of him, coz he works with a lifeless mask on? I dunno, but it sure would have been a funnier slasher if that was the case!

Disgruntled is simply "okay" as a slasher, doing its job to the greatness of its own extent and nothing much else. What it lacks in extreme content and solid plotting due to either budget and/or writing, it makes up for it with a sincerely balanced seriousness and cheese tossed in with the bloody mayhem a disgruntled former office worker can lash out in a horror movie. A worthwhile viewing for open slasher fans, particularly if you have the time to stream online via Amazon Prime, or order it there as a DVD.

1 male sliced to death with a buzzsaw
1 female repeatedly gutted with a screwdriver
1 female bludgeoned with a crowbar, strangled
1 male found murdered
1 female sliced with a buzzsaw
1 male found with his throat cut
1 male found with his mouth nailed shut, stabbed with a screwdriver
Total: 7

Monday, April 30, 2018

Death Farm And Floating Gas: The Lights (2009)

The Lights  (2009)
Rating: **1/2
Starring:  Kerry Wallum, Joe Estevez, Derek Lee Nixon

Once in a while, I find titles that not a lot of people seem to know about and I take both pride and fear on this fact. I take pride as sometimes said unknown titles can be real gems and I, in turn, can spread its goodness by covering it for you all, but on the other hand I fear that I might be wasting my time instead, trying out a movie that may have a very decent reason for their obscurity. The Lights is one of these barely heard and/or discussed titles and, as far as I am concerned, I can't really decide where I stand in this.

In The Lights, we follow four teens driving through and enjoying rural America to find a perfect spot to watch a strange meteor shower later that night. While the youngins' go about their road trip, an enraged husband somewhere just killed his wife after finding out she's leaving him for another man, pushing this whacked-up widower to a killing spree targeting anyone who enters his property. This being said, take a wild gander where the teens will end up camping nearby that evening...

Now as simplistic as The Light's story sounds, I cannot help but feel there's more to it than what it is letting on. See, while a good bulk of the movie definitely acts like any slasher story would with teenagers being teenagers and a killer racking up a bodycount, once the third act starts in which our maniac eventually comes upon our protagonists, it got a tad weird. Can't really say if these will dwell into spoiler territory as I still have no idea what it all meant, but the anticipated meteor turns out to be more like floating glowing balls of multi-coloured gas (hence "The Lights") and the timeline of the road trip and our murderer's killing spree before the teens arrive was revealed misconstrued for some reason. Then it even got weirder with the movie's trippy final shot, leaving my brain on the fry trying to figure out what I just saw.

It's like the more The Lights slowly progresses to the end, the stranger it gets, and albeit it's a nice way to stray us off from the norm especially with how the film starts out like any other of its kin, a little closure to some of the questions it shoved at us would have helped me like this movie a bit better. What exactly are the lights and what is their purpose for existing in the plot? Apart the fact that they're the reason to have these kids go out (thus leading them to be hunted down by a hammer wielding nutcase) no friggin' clue and the movie just seems content leaving it at that. Mystery is fine and all, but too much unanswered ones in a single sitting may not work well for some people, especially when the premise of a story revolves around them.

I will admit it, however, that this lack of answers made The Lights slightly memorable, probably even more if if it's odd scripting and randomly insane killer already did the trick. It's nothing that groundbreaking in terms of production as it is as amateur as some small budget horror films can be, but the characters are decently acted, there's a generous amount of cheese to cover some misgivings and the kills, though kinda tame, works quite alright with The Lights' strange tone. Given that the story does not entirely make a lot of sense, as a slasher, at least, it aimed for something new for our entertainment and whether it worked or not falls on who's watching. So though it didn't completely won me over, I'm not stopping you, dear reader, to miss the chance seeing this obscure oddity.

1 female killed offcamera
1 male brained with a hammer
1 male bludgeoned with a hammer
1 male hammered on the face
1 male stabbed with a machete
1 male shot with a shotgun
1 female knifed on the gut, dismembered
1 male decapitated with a machete

Monday, April 23, 2018

Something Something Something Jump Scare: #SCREAMERS (2016)

Rating: **
Starring:  Tom Malloy, Chris Bannow, Griffin Matthews

Let me get this out: I have a love-hate relationship with jump scare tactics. 

If done right, the gimmick can be a fun way to get my heart pumping and send me into giggle land, but overuse and/or badly timed jumpers can get really annoying and lower the standards of whatever horror-themed genre using it. For a while, #Screamers seems to understand this but all good things can't last...

Shot in a mockumentary/found footage fashion, the movie centers on the entrepreneurs and staff behind an internet media company called Gigaler.com as they try to contact an anonymous poster who shared a popular viral "screamer video" at their site in order to strike a deal with them. The problem with this, however, is that the poster appears to be connected to a girl who have been missing for two years, prompting our main crew to track them down and investigate in hopes of making a name for their site. That is, of course, if they all will make it out alive...

With a running time of approximately 80 minutes, #Screamers mostly filled this space with a tech-oriented mystery surrounding the strange nature of an equally strange viral video, as well as lengthy expositions about why Gigaler is so innovative and daring for a website company and the drama that goes behind the computer screen which I guess was supposed to build character. It's a move that I can learn to like or at least be patient with given that the payoff at the end will be worth the trouble and the walk down to said payoff is interesting to say the least. I admit in this case that the early banters between the staffs and their bosses were some of the funnest aspects of the movie and the titular screamer videos were decently fun for a quick jump scare. Still, one can only go so long without seeing good horror in a horror film and this is where #Screamers failed.

After so much drama and intrigue shoved down our throats for the first quarter or so, you expect #Screamer will finally pick itself up and lead us down the path of workable thrills and bloody spills like any good slow burn horror movie. And, to be fair, it did exactly that at the last 20 minutes or less, but the problem here is that the plot still tries to tediously build some more tension and possible red herrings within this short span. Whether this is to unnecessarily fatten up an already cluttered story or not, all I know is that it turned the movie's slowburn direction from engrossing to downright annoying, further shooting itself in the foot when the resulting horror scenes end up feeling rushed, dull and kinda annoying.

That creepy grinning figure that is this movie's villain? Barely lives up to its unnerving look; apart from possibly being named "Francis" (Not that it's a terrible name. Just a terrible name for a villain, even after that little red herring they threw in about Francis Tumblethy, a Jack The Ripper suspect. Now I know why a certain Deadpool (2016) bad guy preferred to be called "Ajax"...), the killer "murders" his victims strangely and annoyingly by simply lunging/charging at them, shrieking his "screamer video" scream and "offscreening" them into nothingness one by one. It does this for the last few minutes of the film, jump scaring almost everyone to an off-camera death before giving us one last heartstopper that we more or less saw coming. Let how lazy that finale sounds sink in for a moment...

I was really hoping this movie would do okay just for the premise itself, but apart from an kinda inspired backdrop behind the found footage horror format and hints that "Francis" is supernatural, #Screamers misses its goal as an entertainment piece was too far out of line thanks to its desperate attempt to do something different. I admire the effort, but if the motive behind said effort was either lost or barely reached, what exactly was the point of all of this? I suggest skipping this unless you really wanna subject yourself to a mystery with a lackluster outcome.

1 male jump scared, killed offcamera
1 male jump scared, killed offcamera
1 male killed offscreen
1 female jump scared, killed offcamera
Total: 4