Tag Archives: slasher horror

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

You know what there are not a lot of? Documentaries about serial killers. Well, no, that’s the opposite of what is true, there are actually like a ton of those. By literal film-reel weight, I mean. But there aren’t very many documentaries about uncaught serial killers. Well, that might not be true either. Because, like, Unsolved Mysteries, right? I’m pretty sure that show became a genre once there was a Court TV. But, okay, this time I’m going to be right: there are very few documentaries about uncaught serial killers from the perspective of the serial killer. Including, you understand, interviews and other literal documentary footage.

Before yesterday, as it happens, I would have said there were actually no such documentaries. But now I have seen Behind the Mask[1], and I can say that there’s one, anyway. It actually starts off playing for comedy to some extent, both because our slasher[2] is personable and funny in the confines of his soulless psychopathy and also because the very concept of a documentary crew following around a murderer is kind of laughable. But the moment when the horror of what they are witnessing (and, let’s be honest, doing) finally begins to sink through, the movie shifts from comedy to the finest example of post-modern horror I’ve seen since Scream. This is definitely a must-see for genre fans, and I’m sad I had never heard of it until a month ago!

[1] I should note, incidentally, that the mask itself is in fact at the intersection of cool and creepy to such degree that I’m very slightly surprised there hasn’t been a sequel based on that alone.
[2] Oh, right, I lied a little bit. “Serial killer” is the best way to portray the type of person I mean in a documentary setting, but truthfully this guy is a slasher; some famous previous-movie slashers are his heroes, and there’s obviously some nod to the idea of, if not the supernatural, at the very least that these guys work damn hard to appear supernatural.

Scream 4

A good long span of time has passed since the last Scream movie. In case you don’t remember, they are popular for reinventing the slasher film via clever, self-aware postmodernism at a time when the genre had very nearly died. Also, for stabbing really a lot of people and creating a brand new interchangeable killer via a consistent ghost-faced mask and voice modulator for perpetual victim Neve Campbell in every movie.

Which actually is where Scream 4 comes into play, with Sidney Prescott returning home on tour, on the heels of a successful book about her quest to stop feeling like a victim. It’s too bad, really, about the new person-or-people who have grabbed onto the same M.O. to start threatening a new batch of teens, including Sidney’s cousin, along with the woman herself and also perpetual co-stars Deputy Dewey and Gale Weathers.

I can’t detail more, both because horror movies don’t lend themselves to fine detail in the first place and especially because this series has continued its unbroken streak of leaving me unable to guess at the identity of the murderer-or-murderers[1], and I’d hate to remove the fun of it for anyone else. The writers definitely took the self-aware schtick to a whole new level, which did not bother me, though I can imagine it having played a little stale to some viewers. As usual, also, my companion and I were in the vast minority of laughers at the showing. I know sometimes I laugh at things a movie didn’t intend, but I also know the Scream movies are the kind that do intend more of the laughs than not, and as usual, I have to wonder why so many people are watching different movies than I am.

[1] That’s the second such reference, so I will point out that it is not meant to be a spoiler of these events, only an acknowledgment of the trend from previous entries in the series.

Sorority Row

One of the things I like best about horror movies is how there are no surprises. I mean, there are, obviously, but they’re all of the shocking, jumpy, and/or dramatic reveal types. There are no archetypal surprises, though. The story goes exactly the way you expect it to, and the characters act exactly the way you expect them to. Take Sorority Row. If you know the title and that it’s a horror movie, there are immediate expectations set up in your mind. There will be a bevy of attractive, sexually permissive, emotionally distant sorority chicks, at least most of whom have distasteful personalities predicated upon their innate senses of superiority over the common throng of humanity. And through some slight, real or perceived, they (and their similarly described boyfriends) will “earn” a series of brutal murders. All that, just from title plus genre.

The reason I’m okay with this is that it leaves the slate clean for the important parts of the movie. Like, how will someone die next, and who will it be? Who is the killer? Is it a g-g-g-g-ghost? Or someone with more plausible motivation? Will the movie take itself seriously and therefore be bad? Will it take itself seriously and be so bad that it’s entertaining on those very grounds? Or will it not take itself seriously and instead be equal parts ridiculous and awesome within its self-awareness?[1] Most importantly, will Carrie Fisher kick some ass?

These questions, you can clearly see, are far more interesting than the ones raised by mainstream movies. Which of these characters should I care the most about? Where is this storyline going? Who has secret tragic cancer that will be revealed in the second act? That shit simply doesn’t rate, is all I’m saying.

[1] It’s this one.

Halloween II (2009)

This right here is a difficult review. Because I’ve just reviewed a movie that, however barely serviceable its plot, understands the way horror sequels work. Because John Carpenter’s Halloween II is the best horror sequel ever made. Because I enjoyed both Rob Zombie’s remake of John Carpenter’s original Halloween and his other movies that I’ve seen. Because it will pretty much require a non-stop spoiler parade to really explain myself. But mostly because, despite a deep inner craving to love Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, I kind of hated it. So, that’s the short version review. The longer one[1] includes, as stated, dangerously high spoiler levels.

[1] Everything below this footnote, basically

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Friday the 13th (2009)

Without meaning to, I let a good two months slip by before I finally saw the Friday the 13th remake. And when I did see it this weekend at the dollar theater, it was by myself and a little bit creepy. I mean, not the movie, which was every bit the traditional slasher flick. No, it was the theater crowd. Five minutes before the movie started, there were four men scattered in various parts of the non-stadium theater with decaying seats. It was starting to feel like I imagine a porn theater did, back when those were still around. But yay, some people finally came in together, even a woman in one case. And thus the day was saved and I was able to focus on the plot.

Basically, this is a reimagined Friday the 13th Part 2, after a straight port of the original movie was covered in black and white flashbacks prior to the title screen.[1] The reimaginings are a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s pretty smart to have the new victims not be a batch of camp counselors come to reopen Crystal Lake a few years after a series of brutal murders. Because, that would never happen, right? Much less four times in a row as in the original series. On the other hand, it’s strange to have an explicit hero character in Jared Padalecki[2], roaming town and environs in search of his missing sister. One of the brilliances of the Friday the 13th series was that the characters were almost always on an equal footing going in, such that there was no way to guess who might live.[3]

The important part, though, is that they waste no time getting to the action, which follows the formula almost to a tee. A large number of TV-recognizable[4] young people in the woods who take drugs and engage in premarital sex are punished by a deformed, avenging spirit with a machete. Do heads roll? Are pokers shoved through faces? Are feet liberally stabbed? Are minorities slightly more likely doomed than everyone else? Yep, it’s a slasher movie. 14 bodies. 6 breasts. Drive-in Academy Award nomination to Julianna Guill for flirting so hard with the Asian kid that she literally burned his lip and then having the grace to be hung from a pair of antlers in penance, and also for her “spectacular” talents.

[1] Not that it matters one way or the other, but I’m almost surprised they didn’t take the color out of the original’s footage and use that, instead of filming their own version. They added some new footage right at the end, sure, but it still could have been done.
[2] That guy from Supernatural. Yeah, that one.
[3] Caveat: the We Have Seen Your Breasts, You Must Therefore Die rule was of course always in effect.
[4] Sam Winchester[2], Dick Casablancas, Kira the Bajoran (not technically young, her), and a handful of others from shows I don’t watch.

Hack/Slash: Friday the 31st

I’m not sure yet, and I’ve been… well, “burned” is a little strong, but I’ve been bitten by this before. Anyway, although I’m not sure yet, it looks like Friday the 31st marks the Hack/Slash series’ evolution from a novelty into something pretty damn cool. The character development that has always been its strongest suit (well, aside from the art) has been supplemented, in the form of people that slasher-slaughtering hottie Cassie Hack and her hulking companion Vlad have saved over the past couple of books, who are now banding together and offering to help out with finding new problems to solve and people to save.[1]

And at some point, I guess the series got picked up by a publisher, because after a normal one-shot (though, also as usual, continuity-influencing) issue co-starring Chucky[2], the book collects the first two storylines / four issues of the monthly Hack/Slash comic run, still apparently ongoing. The first storyline serves as a reintroduction to the characters and premise for people who might not have been aware of the haphazard schedule[3] under which all the one-offs were printed, and the second features a Cthulhian death metal band and more virgins than you can shake a stick at. And since there are at least two more books yet to go, I’m certainly looking forward to what they throw at me next. I mean, in several months when I read volume 4. Not literally next.

[1] And helping out with any unexpected costs or emergencies that might crop up. If the first such emergency and offered assistance is any indicator, I’m going to like the new Scoobies. Both directly and thematically.
[2] Yes, the evil doll.
[3] And probable spotty availability; though in both cases, I am purely speculating here.

Black Christmas (2006)

Ah, December 25th, with its hour or two of presents around the fireplace starting at 7 AM or so, plus also some stuff about Jesus, maybe? Assuming you’re into the Jesus, that carries you until about noon. And now you’re left with a big long day full of a holiday feast, maybe some football, and not much else. Also, everything is closed. Everything except the movie theater! Which explains why just about everyone in three cities was piled up in front of the theater a block from my house. The part that warms my heart is that the majority of them were trying to see Black Christmas. Sure, it was only on one screen and long since sold out. But whether they got to see it isn’t especially my point. Just that they wanted to. Plus, no picketers trying to take back Christmas from those bad, bad people who are trying to destroy it by filming a movie set during the time of year. (But, y’know, with blood. And a few boobies.) Of course, by 10 at night, most such picketers are home in their beds, aren’t they?

Anyway, nothing to boycott here; they may as well have called it Black Holiday, for all the Christmasness that is explicitly involved. I mean, trees and presents, sure, but approximately nothing to do with Jesus. Of course, then they’d have to boycott the movie for having not been named Black Christmas, due to the War on Same. And I’m pretty sure even these people might spot that irony.

Well, okay, technically there are things to boycott, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t approve of sorority girls being murdered in a variety of increasingly gruesome ways and occasionally taking showers, or of bizarre families where the mother murders her husband, locks her son in the attic because of his rare liver disease (symptoms include yellowing of the skin, requiring a diet rich in eyeballs, being unnaturally hard to kill, and passing the latter trait to offspring), and eventually… well, that would be a spoiler. But let’s just say there’s such a thing as bad nudity and leave it at that.

The best was the deadly icicle, and the worst was the goofy chase through the drywall. But it completely knew that it was supposed to be a funny teen slasher movie, and it delivered admirably. I’m so, so glad this stuff has come back. The ’80s, after all, were finite.

Dark Ride

It is Saturday. Which means the first night of the Horrorfest thingy is over. Which means that I watched three movies last night, sure, but it also means I only got four or so hours of sleep last night. The part where I have three more movies to watch tonight? It’ll probably be tough. But that’s okay, because I got a t-shirt out of the deal, plus lots and lots of movies. Makes me feel more like myself again. The only downside so far is that there have only been three new previews in total, and nothing to get me excited the way Slither[1] did this time last year. Well, and the aforementioned lack of sleep. Nevertheless, I forge ahead, because falling behind at this point would be suicide. Literally!

The first movie of the night was Dark Ride, a by the numbers psycho teen killer thriller. Some years ago, one of the ubiquitous carnivals along the Jersey shore was closed down when it was discovered that a teenager had been living in the unlikelily literally-named Dark Ride, snatching people out of the cars as they came by (it’s like a haunted house, but with a track running through it so you don’t have to deal with all that irritating exercise) and killing them in gruesome ways. Years later, a set of circumstances converge to create mayhem: the ride is finally scheduled to reopen, the psycho killer has escaped from his mental hospital, and Meadow Soprano and her friends drive through the town on their way to spring break. And of course, like all good college students, they cannot resist the opportunity to break into the abandoned ride and spend the night taking drugs and engaging in premarital sex. After all, it’s far cheaper than a motel room would have been.

I’m going with the Joe Bob style of review summation, because it’s just that kind of weekend. Seven bodies. Two breasts. Head rolls. One of the most psychologically damaging sex scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Drive-in academy award nomination to the psycho killer, for menacingly dragging a scythe along the wall throwing off sparks despite never using it as a weapon, and to the crazy hitchhiker girl for saying, “So, I hit him in a very sensitive place, if you know what I mean. DING-DONG! Of course, I lost my ride.” I came away from this movie with two important lessons: 1) Never slap a vegetarian on the head with meat. 2) No statement that begins with ‘Guess what I found in the bathroom!’ will ever end well.

[1] Now available on DVD!

House of Wax (2005)

So, wow. I can honestly say that I did not expect what I got out of my trip to the movies this morning. House of Wax looks on the surface to be a typical teen slasher pic, with vaguely recognizable male leads (unless I was a 15 year-old girl, in which case I’m pretty sure I’d have posters of them all over my bedroom) and more recognizable female leads (since my house is mostly packed for moving already, I can safely remain mute on this particular topic) all chosen for their relative shirtless hotness, and then sent out into the killing fields for 90 or so minutes of blood-splashing fun.

Don’t get me wrong. It absolutely was every bit of that. It would have to be, in order to achieve an accurate description as ‘American horror, subgenre teen’. But it had several other points of interest. First, I’m noticing a shift in the killer rationale. It used to be, all you had to do to get dead in one of these movies was engage in any of underage drinking, drug use of any kind, or pre-marital second base. These days, it seems like you have to be an asshole first, and then all that other stuff just impairs your judgment instead of being casus belli themselves. I like this, because the killer is then a bit more human.

Additionally, it looks like some people are finally getting it through their heads that it’s time to get back to the root of what made horror movies in the 70s and 80s great. I started out feeling like I knew who would live and who would die, of course, because the trends have gotten way too easy to spot. But by the halfway mark (before anyone actually had died, you understand), I was no longer confident in my picks at all. That’s a good feeling, because it also serves to make everything feel a lot more real.

Most of all, though, from the opening frames, I never felt like they held anything back. Every iota of promise the movie had, it delivered on, including a scenery-chewing finale worthy of Nicholson being directed by Scorsese (although perhaps not in precisely the way you think I mean). Well, almost every iota. There were essentially no boobies, despite half of the female cast being best known for them. (And the topical Paris Hilton jokes were both few and transparent to future viewers who may not get them.) Still, though, I’m prepared to call this the best American horror movie since Scream, or Scream 2 at the outside. (I purposefully leave out Japanese horror and British horror (well, Shaun of the Dead, anyway) to make this comparison. Still, though, it’s high praise. If you see one horror movie this year… well, probably see Dark Water. But if you see one non-Japanese horror movie this year, pick this one. Because it was really, really good.)

Seed of Chucky

This happens to me all the time. I’ll go to a theater, get in right on time or a smidge early, and the place is empty. Then, before the end of the previews, or even a few minutes into the movie, a handful of other people show up and my dreams of having the place empty are crushed. Who are these people with no interest in previews? And especially, who are these people who don’t mind missing some of the movie? I mean, if it was a kid movie and they’re bringing the five year-old and the infant, okay, no big. It’s hard to run on time under circumstances like that. But for quality slasher horror, I just can’t imagine the excuse. Unless you’re bringing the five year-old and the infant. Obviously, that would be different.

Speaking of confused kids with terrible parents, I got out to see Seed of Chucky tonight. Which is nice, because now there are only four movies I need to see but haven’t yet. Five if you count Alexander, which I of course do not, because nobody who’s seen the preview for that could possibly believe it will be any good. Stupid Oliver Stone. Ahem. Back on track, then.

So, Seed of Chucky is the story of Glenn, voiced by Billy Boyd, as he and his family (composed of a pair of serial killers who died and later demonically possessed a pair of Cabbage Patch looking toy dolls) try to find their place in the world. They must face down such challenges as finding new bodies to inhabit, cutting back on that nasty murder addiction, and artificially inseminating Jennifer Tilly. I think we’ve all been there. Haven’t we, Gina Gershon?

And, in the case of Billy Boyd, the challenge of finding a new agent. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this movie. It had multiple beheadings, spurting arteries, boobies (both real and plastic, and not in the way you think I mean), lots of good pop-culture jokes, and a brilliant casting couch line, “What do I have to do to get you to see me as a virgin?” So, what has Billy to complain about? Quite simply, that while his summer job was voicework for a sexually confused and genetically psychotic (if very Burtonesque) doll, fellow hobbit Dominic Monaghan has landed a plum role as Driveshaft’s bass guitarist on ABC’s brilliant Lost. What’s a Scotsman to do?

Well, setting a personal assistant on fire isn’t a bad start.