2016 was a big year for horror movies about people being held in one location against their will. Green Room, Hush, and 10 Cloverfield Lane all featured our protagonists caught in a pickle, stuck in a room or house trying to escape. I’m always interested in one-location films because I love to see how the filmmakers work around only having one type of location available to film in. It’s harder to make your movies more engaging when you can only work with a bunch of dingy rooms in an old house, so when they pull it off it elevates the film to something a little more special for me. When I heard that Fede Alvarez (director of the 2013 Evil Dead remake, which I love) was going to be making another horror film set mostly in one house, I was totally sold.
Don’t Breathe is Alvarez’s second full length film, and sees him pairing up with Jane Levy again as his leading lady. Levy played the drug-addled Mia in Evil Dead, and returns in Don’t Breathe as Rocky, a young woman in a broken family trying to escape her shitty life in Detroit with her younger sister. Rocky, her boyfriend Money (played by Daniel Zovatto who was Greg from It Follows, and yes, Money is the character’s real name) and her friend Alex played by Dylan Minnette (Goosebumps, Prisoners) break into houses and sell off whatever valuables they can steal to get by. Alex’s father works for a home security alarm company, and Alex takes advantage of his knowledge of the security systems to help their burglaries go off with out a hitch. After finding out that a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) came into a large amount of money after his daughter was killed in a car accident, our intrepid band of deplorables set their sights on his house for what could be the last heist they’ll ever need to pull.
So Hellraiser was pretty dope and I knowing myself as well as I do, I think I’ve resigned to watching all the Hellraiser movies now. It’s honestly the last big horror franchise I have to burn through, and then I’ll have the Big Four series of ’80s horror icons under my belt: Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and Hellraiser. These are mammoth titles, sprawling between nine and twelve films. Not many modern horror franchises have managed to get up there in numbers yet. I’m sure they will, given enough time, but even a series as popular as Paranormal Activity only has six films. It’s been six films over six years mind you, so I don’t know how saturated audiences will get with Paranormal Activity, and when they’ll have had enough. A long running franchise is not necessarily a mark of quality, either. Look at Halloween, or A Nightmare on Elm Street. Those series both have more shitty movies than good ones in them. Point is that Hellraiser is a staple horror franchise that I feel like I need to fully experience, warts and all to really call myself a horror fan.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II is obviously the sequel to the original Hellraiser, taking place hours after the wild events of the first film.
Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) is admitted to a psychiatric hospital where she’s trying to convince the staff and the investigating police that her story about the Cenobites, her zombie uncle Frank, and Hell is true. Meanwhile, the head of the hospital is obsessed with the puzzle box and the mysticism surrounding it, and attempts to learn as much as he can about the afterlife. Unbeknownst to him, exposing himself to such knowledge brings with it rather devilish consequences. Once Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and his gang of Cenobites show up, Kirsty and fellow patient Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) delve into and navigate through Hell itself to try and bring Kirsty’s dead father back. (more…)
So I know I literally just wrote about how well crafted horror movies can be elevated past dumb schlock that appeals to the lowest common denominator audience, but sometimes you just want to turn your brain off and watch some dumb, raunchy horror. As someone who loves the slasher subgenre, more often than not, I’m watching sleazy trash flicks. And boy, did I just watch a sleazy trash flick.
Pieces is a Spanish slasher made to cash in on the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Sure, it came out almost a decade after Texas Chainsaw, but between the marketing “You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!” and the fact that this was released pretty close to the height of the slasher craze of the ’80s, all the ingredients were there to make a stand out exploitation flick.
Pieces (also known by it’s much better title, A Thousand Screams in the Night) is about a mysterious killer on a Boston university campus who has been brutally killing beautiful young women with a chainsaw and stealing various body parts from their corpses. A handful of cops have determined that the killer is either a member of student body or the faculty, and they need to figure out who’s behind the murders and the theft of dead body parts before whatever grim plan that has been put in motion can be completed.
Did that sound interesting? If it did don’t worry, because the way Pieces presents the plot is the least exciting way possible. This movie hits the ground running about as quickly as you can, with murder after bloody murder before grinding to a halt. With a complete lack of proper characters and a molecules-thin narrative, Pieces occasionally fails one of the golden rules I judge slashers on: The movie must be entertaining whenever the villain is not on screen. The victims are not a small group of college student friends who are hacked up one by one. They’re all random students across campus, usually with no relation to one another, and because of this, they’re not worth spending time writing out or developing. Even our main character, Kendall is completely underwritten. He doesn’t have any motivations or reason to be involved in the story, he can be replaced with any other character and the movie would still flow.
You’d think that because of this, Pieces is a slog to get through. Fortunate for you, my beautiful readers, Pieces clocks in at under 90 minutes and what dialogue and exposition there is on screen can be just beautiful. The script is absolutely absurd. The writer of Pieces feels like someone who has never had a conversation with another human being. At the very least, there was an extreme language barrier in the way. The awkward, stilted lines are elevated even further by some of the worst dubbing and ADR I’ve ever heard. I don’t know if the film was recorded in Spanish, so I have no idea why they overdubbed the existing audio, but I’m so glad they did. Even barring the dialogue, Pieces has a couple nonsensical scenes sprinkled throughout that bring it up to good-bad movie territory. If a cop-undercover-as-tennis-coach running into a Kung Fu professor on a jog who then promptly snaps and attempts to kill her before blaming his odd behavior on bad chop suey he ate earlier sounds like something out of a totally different movie, I’m happy to surprise you that what I just described is an actual scene in this movie. It just kind of happens, and then is never touched upon again.
Unfortunately, all of this is still somewhat marred by the complete lack of story and characters, and while I can see through that and find enjoyment over how badly executed this film is, it can see how a lot of people might just find Pieces boring or frustrating. This is definitely a bad-moviegoer’s kind of movie.
Now let’s get to the good stuff. This is a grindhouse flick through and through. Pieces had a couple of the more brutal murders in a slasher flick I’ve seen, most notably seeing the aftermath of a woman getting sawed in half in a small elevator. Sure, the effects would be cheesy as hell to any seasoned horror fan but when paired with excessive nudity (gore’s close cousin in exploitation films), you’re in for a fun hour and a half. And don’t worry, if you were wondering about how realistic the violence is in Pieces, I’ll let you in on a little spoiler. There’s a scene where a woman is stabbed to death, and you can clearly see the rubber prop knife folding and bending when it makes contact with her skin. I don’t know how anyone missed that in editing but regardless, it’s still in the final cut. I’m going to keep this review pretty spoiler free but if it helps convince you to check Pieces out, the ending of this movie is completely bonkers. I’d say the last thirty seconds of Pieces are akin to the very end of Sleepaway Camp in terms of how jarring and unexpected it is. And they both include dicks!
I’d say Pieces is a cut above your average exploitation/ European knock-off horror film with enjoyably awful acting and “suspense”, solid practical effects and some scenes that come completely out of left field. Blood and boobs co-star alongside
cardbord cut outs and wooden planks actors, which is never a bad thing either. So, if you’re looking for a cheesy, dopey horror flick where you can drink a beer or five and laugh and cheer throughout with your friends, Pieces is it.
The horror genre is typically dismissed as distasteful, uncultured schlock, and most of the time, it is. But every once in a while you get someone who crafts something a little off the beaten path, something that uses horror as a means to tell a story rather than just making another horror story. Clive Barker, known best as the author of such books as The Great and Secret Show, The Hellbound Heart, and Imajica used horror as a vessel and a tool to write compelling fantasy stories with intricate backstories and expansive worlds that live and breathe on their own. His stories had an air of sophistication about them. Sure there was blood spilled and guts strewn about, but the stories had human drama that was grounded in real world problems. From marital and family issues, to addiction and obsession (pick your poison: people, drugs, and faith were all under fire from Barker’s writing), to the cultural, class-based, and racial divide caused by the urban Chicago housing projects. Barker had a knack for weaving interesting, grounded tales together that used the macabre to elevate them. Also sex. Clive Barker stories have lots of sex in them.
Barker went through a film making phase in the ’80s and ’90s where he would adapt his own written stories to film. I think Barker’s thought process was that if his material was handled by anyone else, they would neuter it. They just didn’t know it as thoroughly as him. The Hellbound Heart was one of his most popular novellas at the time, so he adapted it into his debut feature length film: the 1987 horror masterpiece, Hellraiser.
This film is about the resurrection of Frank Cotton, a man obsessed with pursuing increasingly extreme carnal desires. After he purchases a mysterious puzzle box and solves it, he opens a gate to hell and promptly dies. His resurrection is brought about when his brother Larry injures himself while moving his family into Frank’s house. After cutting his hand on an old nail, Larry’s blood is spilled on the very floor where Frank held his last breath. Larry’s wife (and Frank’s ex-lover), Julia finds the rejuvenated-from-the-inside-out Frank, and decides to bring men back to the house and kill them, letting Frank consume their blood to slowly rebuild himself. All the while, Larry and Julia’s daughter, Kirsty has found the puzzle box and must deal with the Cenobites, a group of sadomasochistic inter-dimensional beings who cannot distinguish between pleasure and pain. The Cenobites are looking for Frank now that he is back in the material plane, and hope to find him to drag him back to hell once and for all.
We did it! We made it to the end of the original run of Halloween films! Everybody come get drunk with me and celebrate one great movie, a couple okay ones, and a whole slew of shit. I don’t have much else to say in my preamble here, I’m just excited to move away from an old, dated slasher franchise and start working my way through an old, dated, rebooted slasher franchise.
Halloween: Resurrection is the eighth film in the Halloween franchise and the first before Rob Zombie infamously took the reigns. It’s directed by Rick Rosenthal, the director of Halloween II, one of the better in the series and stars Jamie Lee Curtis (!), Katie Sackhoff (!), Tyra Banks (?) and Busta Rhymes (!). Regardless of the quality of this entry into the Halloween series, you’ve got to be interested in how a cast like that would work in a slasher film.
Halloween: Resurrection takes place a few years after the events of the tragically titled Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later. Michael Myers is hunting down his sister Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) before returning to his childhood house to terrify a group of young actors participating in Dangertainment, an awful early 2000s reality TV show. (more…)