Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Slaxx, or: The Wrath of Couture

Not necessarily being a follower of high fashion, I don’t always understand the world of high-profile prestige brands. Luckily, this week’s film doesn’t require any insider knowledge of trending styles, though it does embody the spirit of exaggerations like “I’d die for those shoes” or “kill for that coat.” Maybe a bit too literally. Either way, brace yourself for the first groundbreaking killer jeans film on the Collab (and likely last unless a franchise is born).

The Film:

Slaxx

The Premise:

Just ahead of the launch of a major fashion company’s miraculous shaping jeans, a pair of the pants comes to life, driven by a thirst for vengeance and blood.

The Ramble:

Young tenderhearted Libby is eager to start a job with The Canadian Cotton Clothiers, a trendy yet ethical fashion brand. As they say in the South, bless her heart. Libby is a seasonal worker who has been hired by manager Craig to support the launch of Super Shapers, a revolutionary new product. These jeans are woven from cotton grown in experimental fields in India and promise to use heat-activated technology to mold themselves to the wearer’s shape in the most form-flattering way possible. By no means is this the stuff from which nightmares are made.

With a single-minded focus on the CCC brand and maintaining their own “ecosystems” (the section of the store they are responsible for), Libby’s coworkers are largely vain narcissists who have no time to help the new hire. The exception is Shruti, who is totally checked out of her job and unwilling to assist anyone, but in more of a Daria way than anything else.

Because the clothes at The CCC are on the cutting edge of fashion (and employees are required to buy and wear the brand while on the clock), theft is a major problem at the store. Though certainly the message of the film invites us to question who is stealing from whom. Craig often looks the other way on violations of company policy (particularly when he is perpetrating them), but draws the line when employee Jemma arrives for the launch wearing a pair of the currently unreleased jeans. Instructed to change clothes before the company’s CEO Harold arrives to deliver a stirring motivational speech, it turns out the pants are exactly the kind of fashion statement you would be caught dead in. Because the pants kill her.

Ahead of the launch day, the store will be on complete lockdown, with employees locked in the building and prohibited access to their devices as they prepare the store overnight. The one exception will be a visit from YouTube star & influencer Peyton Jewels, who will be granted an exclusive preview to promote the Super Shapers to her followers. This will allow for 10 minutes total when the lockdown is lifted as Peyton enters and leaves the premises, aka the setup of a classic horror dilemma.

Unsurprisingly, the bodies begin to pile up. When Libby finds the body of Jemma, Craig is determined to cover up the death until Super Shapers have launched. As a result, all hell breaks loose when Peyton visits and begins filming. When Libby and Shruti realize the jeans will temporarily stop the violent rampage to appreciate the sounds of Bollywood musical numbers, they learn the pants have a sort of humanity. Is this the key to declaring the new fashion trend officially over?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I will give this one a lot of credit for originality. Has there ever been a horror film about a killer pair of pants that’s also a critique of fast fashion and the questionable ethics of an industry built on exploiting extremely underpaid and highly dangerous labor? Well, this is the one.

On a technical note, I appreciate the…level of emotion the filmmakers are able to convey through the pants. Is a weird sentence to type. The, uh, green screen actor(?) gives authentic movement to the jeans, allowing them to convey menace and even joy as the scene demands. Lighting and sound effects work together to create genuine moments of suspense (and quite a few gory deaths).

All of this being said, there are some issues with the film’s approach. The short run time and the number of characters whose sole purpose is to die make it difficult to invest in the storyline. I can somewhat root for Shruti, but even she falls a bit flat for me. Libby is our lead and the way her youthful optimism is exaggerated is annoying AF. The majority of the other characters are so awful that it’s clear early on they will die, but none of these deaths really feel like a big payoff. I would have liked the story to focus in on these horrible characters, honestly, rather than trying to have it both ways.

While I always appreciate a piece with some social commentary, this one is extremely heavy-handed. The over-the-top dialogue gets old fast, and a lot of the representation of India and Indian characters comes off as pretty stereotypical. I got a little bit of a kick from the Super Shapers’ SS logo being a very clear nod to the scary Nazi death squads…but only the first couple of times it appeared onscreen. This also got pretty old, as did the lack of nuance or trust in the audience to connect the dots.

No regrets on watching this one, but it didn’t change my life like a pair of Super Shapers or even particularly challenge my participation in morally reprehensible systems of production. Though I will avoid purchasing new clothes for at least a week or two. Probably.

Would my blog wife still be first in line for a pair of killer trousers or refuse to even snag them from a secondhand clearance rack? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Goodnight Mommy, or: Double, Double, Toil and Trouble

Even though the worst offenses in horror are historically committed by masked serial killers, sadomasochistic demons, and/or possessed toys, I’m most easily disturbed by the creepy children of horror. Most likely because horror is very effective when it comes to amplifying the uncanny in everyday situations, and children are already rather confusing and terrifying to me. If it worked for The Babadook, surely it can work for twins in a pastoral Austrian setting?

The Film:

Goodnight Mommy

The Premise:

As a woman recovers from facial surgery, her twin boys begin to believe the face under the bandages isn’t really their mother.

The Ramble:

Elias and Lukas are identical twin brothers living in a beautiful but isolated home in the countryside. Though initially relieved when their mother, a reasonably successful TV actress, returns home after major cosmetic surgery, it’s not long before the twins become suspicious. Their mother, whose face must remain bandaged, insists all of the blinds remain closed as she limits her exposure to sunlight. Becoming fixated on cleanliness and quiet, Mother commands that the boys leaver her in peace and play outside only. Holding an undisclosed grievance against Lukas, Mother speaks to Elias but not to his brother.

Despite Mother’s dedication to cleanliness, there are creatures lurking around, including the masses of cockroaches the twins collect in a glass enclosure. If you watch this film, you’re going to spend a lot of time looking at cockroaches, FYI.

After the boys find a cat in…uh, pretty much a catacomb, they take the cat in to help it recover. When the cat ends up dead, they are convinced their mother had something to do with it. Or, rather, they are convinced the impostor pretending to be their mother had a hand in all of this. Mother’s definitely doing little to evoke sympathy as she’s cold during interactions with her boys and quick to anger.

Other unsettling clues emerge when the boys find old pictures of their mother posing with a woman who is seemingly her double, and when they find an online listing of their house for sale. Escaping the house to seek help, the boys attempt to explain the situation to a priest in a nearby town. Perhaps not surprisingly, the priest believes the twins’ mother over the boys’ seemingly exaggerated tale.

Determining that they must take matters into their own hands, Elias and Lukas capture the impostor with bandages and refuse to let her move until she reveals the truth. And the twins seem to have quite the knack for psychological (and physical) torture…

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

It’s on me for choosing a slow burn film and then not particularly feeling like watching a slow burn when it came to viewing time. The film’s conclusion is really disturbingly dark and effective, and I appreciate its willingness to take things to extremes when the time is right. However, some of the subtle efforts to build tension fell a bit flat for me, and I spent quite a bit of the first two-thirds waiting for something to happen. I can see why The Babadook overshadowed this one, honestly (same year of release!).

Because so much of the film is from the twins’ perspective, finally getting some insight into their mother’s behavior is a major turning point in the film. Maybe not surprising as movie twins are almost always up to no good, but Elias and Lukas get so disturbing so fast.

Though much more of a psychological horror than slasher, there are some pretty upsetting moments throughout with bugs, burning, and the use of adhesives. Lots of visual interest in mirrors and doubling does set up questions about identity, reality, and the ways appearances can be used to hide the truth in plain sight. The ways in which grief can be all-consuming becomes increasingly apparent throughout the film in highly spoiler-y ways.

I don’t regret watching this one at all, but I am at least 10x more afraid of twins than before.

Would my blog wife keep this one safe and snug with its cockroach pals or burn it to a crisp with a magnifying glass? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bad Hair, or: What Have You Done for Me Lately?

I’m happy to report that, despite concluding the Fear Street trilogy months ago, the opportunities to enjoy horror that embraces a late ’80s/early ’90s aesthetic are far from over. What’s more, this week’s feature is a Justin Simien film, which almost makes me forget that we’re fresh out of new seasons of Dear White People. Almost.

The Film:

Bad Hair

The Premise:

After a new weave opens up career possibilities for ambitious Anna, she quickly realizes her hair has its own horrific intentions.

The Ramble:

As a young girl, Anna’s older cousin helps her relax her hair for the first time, a process that involves strong chemicals that can damage the hair and scalp if not used correctly. Unfortunately for Anna, the process burns her scalp, leaving a permanent scar.

Years later, in 1989, Anna lives with the scar and wears a natural hairstyle. She works for TV channel Culture, which features music and programs by Black artists. After pressure from the higher ups to make the channel more profitable, Anna’s beloved boss is replaced with Zora, who is much less interested in challenging the status quo.

Quietly ambitious Anna manages to impress Zora with her ideas to shake up the channel, even as her friends fail to earn the respect of the new boss and Anna’s secret lover breaks her heart. The one thing holding back Anna from complete success? According to Zora, it’s her hair.

Upon the recommendation of Zora, Anna goes to salon to the stars, Virgie’s. Taking pity on Anna, Virgie accepts her as a client while providing the warning that the process will be extremely painful–to the point that Anna passes out during the styling. Virgie has special products of her own that she keeps secret, but are so reputable that Janet Jackson-like star Sandra is a client.

With her powerful new hair changing her career as promised, Anna isn’t too concerned about Virgie’s warnings that she must never let her hair get wet, nor is she bothered by the odd glow Sandra’s eyes have at times. Anna is sought after at work and in the glamorous parties she now attends, though her friends and coworkers aren’t so lucky.

While it’s somewhat alarming that Anna’s hair seems to have a will of its own that is particularly drawn to blood, it isn’t until her creepy landlord attacks her that the hair’s violent power becomes apparent. Does Anna control her new look…or does it control her?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I feel conflicted because, while I absolutely love Justin Simien’s work and am floored by the stellar cast of this film, I was…kind of bored at times? I think there are too many things this film aims to accomplish, so a lot of the elements receive only surface-level attention.

One of the major successes of Simien’s stellar series Dear White People is the attention given to character development; even at times when I’m frustrated by some of the character choices in the show, I appreciate and understand their motivations. Here, a lot of the characters are fairly one-dimensional, and Anna is honestly not super interesting. She begins having a bit of an awkward nerd (aka Lionel Higgins) character arc, but instead of actually growing, it’s the hair that takes over her personality.

This connects to my confusion about the film’s message, which I want to be the empowering story about the uses of Black women’s anger that it could be. Some of the themes about beauty expectations are promising too, but they end up feeling at times like a criticism of individual choices rather than the effective social commentary they could have been. I would have liked for Anna’s hair to be a tool she uses to unleash her anger, however problematically. But Anna doesn’t control what her hair does, so the story is more or less that a woman lacking agency becomes a woman…still lacking agency. It’s a bleak message that doesn’t quite fit with the film’s tone, and not always compelling in this story.

Either way, I’ll absolutely be watching Justin Simien’s Haunted Mansion reboot.

Would my blog wife literally kill in the name of good hair or let it run out of hair oil? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Censor, or: Big Brother Is Not Letting You Watch

It. Is. Horror Month! Though effectively every month can be Horror Month here on the Collab, there’s something special about embracing the genre as the leaves change, the evenings draw in, and the most wonderful time of the year approaches (aka Halloween).

This time around, we’re focusing in on horror that takes a feminist/psychological angle. I’m not sure if that’s a real film genre, but those seem to be the kinds of films that recur on the Collab anyway.

The Film:

Censor

The Premise:

A film censor begins to see connections between the work of a disturbing horror director and the childhood disappearance of her sister.

The Ramble:

As a film censor in 1980s Britain, solitary Enid takes pride in her work. Though the gruesome scenes of eye gouging, assault, and all manner of gory violence is not for the faint of heart, Enid’s analytical focus on the content as it relates to a specific viewer rating drives her to remain detached. After all, her lofty motivation is to protect the eyes of innocent children and minimize reckless violence on the lawless streets of England. Not only that, but the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) could be implicated for releasing pictures deemed too extreme or inappropriate.

Outside of work, Enid is troubled by the recent news from her parents that, after years as a missing person, her sister Nina has finally been declared legally dead. Enid, who seems to spot lookalikes of her sister quite frequently, believes Nina is still missing and will eventually be located.

Meanwhile, a murderer known as the Amnesiac Killer blames his crimes on a film that was approved by Enid and her coworker. An inside leak means journalists and members of the public alike are aware of her role in okaying the film, and she is harangued day and night as a result.

Moving on to the next project at the request of sleazy producer Doug Smart, Enid is deeply disturbed as she views Frederick North’s Don’t Go in the Church. Having trouble distinguishing between fiction and reality, the film’s premise bears striking resemblance to long-buried memories of what happened to Nina.

Drawing a connection between Nina’s appearance and that of leading lady Alice Lee, Enid becomes convinced that Alice is her missing sister all grown up. Determined to reconnect with her long-lost sibling, Enid makes her way to the film set where North’s final collaboration with Alice is being shot. Will Enid confront the man who seems to be responsible for her sister’s abduction and reunite the family at last?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

This film is so effective at creating a moody, tense ambience and then bringing it all to a horrifying conclusion. Enid is a fascinating if not entirely sympathetic character, and her role itself makes for a very unsubtle (but interesting) commentary on violence, censorship, and paternalistic notions of safety. She makes me automatically suspicious–let’s face it, a censor is never the hero of a story. Yet understanding the character and her unraveling makes for a compelling film. I can’t help drawing connections between Enid and the traumatic experiences of modern day censors for social media platforms.

With the story’s focus on things that are intentionally stricken from the record–through abduction/murder, through censorship–the nature of reality and memory are essential themes. I find a lot of questions about what drives violent or monstrous behavior implicit here, as well as the ways art influences perception and vice versa. Like censorship itself, Enid is crafting her own reality…for better or worse.

There are some elements of the film that could have been woven together more effectively and fleshed out, but I enjoyed myself a lot here. I would happily watch more of director Prano Bailey-Bond’s work in the future.

Would my blog wife appreciate this one’s realistic eye gouges or strike it from the record altogether? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Perfection, or: Cello, Is It Me You’re Looking for?

I’m quite sad that LGBTQ month on the Collab is drawing to a close…until I remember that we are mere days away from October, a true time of festivity for our horror-loving hearts. It doesn’t hurt that this week strikes a happy medium between these two themes with a rather twisted lesbian romance at the center of an unexpectedly vomit-filled, bug-infested horror.

The Film:

The Perfection

The Premise:

When the former student of a prestigious music school reunites with the academy’s most famous pupil, so many ulterior motives are revealed.

The Ramble:

A former student of Bachoff, the World’s Most Prestigious Music School, Charlotte is in Shanghai to help judge a competition for the next open spot at the academy. Having suffered a fall from favor after leaving the school to care for her dying mother, Charlotte isn’t prepared to meet star pupil turned darling of the cello world Lizzie.

While Charlotte fangirls over the world-renowned cellist, Lizzie herself reveals that she briefly met and idolized Charlotte when they were children. After judging the competition, Lizzie makes her intentions known by inviting Charlotte to perform a cello duet. Before spending the night together, the two witness one of the evening’s attendees suddenly become violently ill before collapsing onto the ground. Though concerned it may be a serious plague, Charlotte and Lizzie are mostly unconcerned.

As the two women bond, Lizzie invites Charlotte to join her as she travels across the Chinese countryside for the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately, the journey is off to an inauspicious start as Lizzie is extremely hungover. Determined to power through it, an increasingly agitated Lizzie boards a bus with Charlotte only to insist the bus stop shortly after. Lizzie becomes extremely ill, and the disconcerted bus passengers insists she disembark after she claims to see bugs in her vomit.

Left in the middle of nowhere to fend for themselves, Lizzie only becomes more distressed as she sees bugs crawling under her skin and becomes convinced she’s dying. Because these bugs all seem to be beneath the flesh of her right arm, Charlotte presents Lizzie with the only logical option: immediately severing her arm with a meat cleaver. Say what now?

Weeks later, Lizzie returns to Bachoff missing an arm, and therefore is of no further use to head of the academy Anton. Unceremoniously removed from the institution, an enraged Lizzie blames Charlotte for the accident and is determined to make her pay. But who is really…pulling the strings in all of this (sorry not sorry)?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

More interested in setting up dramatic plot twists than telling a coherent story, this film is nevertheless quite fun to watch. The casting of Allison Williams means you know underhanded schemes will happen, and Logan Browning is great here too (as always).

Because this becomes a revenge film, it loses a lot of its effectiveness by going for shock value instead of clearly establishing the villain early on. I also wish the relationship between Charlotte and Lizzie had been better defined as the film’s conclusion left me wondering how well they knew each other as children, and not entirely convinced by their motives.

Would absolutely watch a horrendous sequel, though, if given the chance.

Would my blog wife perform a duet with this one or cut all of its strings? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, or: Warrior Queens

It would be a shame to let this month, focused on LGBTQIA+ films, pass by without a musical number and a drag queen or two, wouldn’t it? This week’s film checks off these boxes and more, serving up the fiercest looks on impossibly tall stilettos.

The Film:

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

The Premise:

Deciding to become a drag queen at age 16, Jamie prepares to debut his identity at prom while dodging discouragement from family, classmates, and school administrators.

The Ramble:

Leading a fairly quiet life in Sheffield, openly gay teen Jamie aspires to a glamorous life in the spotlight. In response to his unsupportive classmates and dreamcrushing teacher Miss Hedge, Jamie claims his plan is to be a performer, but this is only part of the story. Jamie really dreams of becoming a drag queen but is too nervous to admit this even to his bff Pritti.

Jamie, a teen with short bleach-blonde hair, sits across from his friend Pritti, a teen wearing glasses and a hijab.  She is looking at a pair of very high-heeled glittery red stilettos.

Luckily, Jamie’s mother Margaret and her own bestie Jay are extremely supportive. Knowing her son’s love of glittery fashion accessories, Margaret gifts Jamie with his first pair of stiletto heels for his 16th birthday. While it seems there are no secrets between mother and son, it’s clear pretty early on that Margaret is massively covering for Jamie’s absentee father, who has zero interest in being a part of his child’s life.

Disappointed in his father’s absenteeism yet again, Jamie is nonetheless thrilled with the heels in which he will take his first steps to success as a drag queen. Sharing the good shoe news with Pritti, Jamie finds his bff somewhat confused yet unshakably supportive. She encourages Jamie to show off his developing drag queen identity at prom, despite putdowns from cookie cutter homophobic bully Dean.

Jamie sits at a work table in the family kitchen, holding his mother's hand. Both look at each other as they sing.

By chance, it’s around this time that Jamie finds a local drag shop owned by Hugo Battersby, former drag queen Loco Chanelle. Along with some practical advice on preparing for and performing drag, Hugo gives Jamie a history lesson that contextualizes its significance for those involved, identifying earlier trailblazers as true warrior queens. Color me disappointed that none of the drag acts featured Boudica or even Xena, Warrior Princess.

Getting to work right away, Jamie starts saving money for fabulous drag gear, learning to apply makeup, and hoping in vain that his father will suddenly decide to support his son just a little bit. Ahead of prom, Jamie debuts his drag identity Mimi Me, despite attempts from Dean to derail the evening.

Jamie, wearing a robe, looks into a mirror as a drag queen applies makeup to his face. Three other drag queens prepare for their act as they sing to Jamie.

As Jamie begins to find confidence while in drag, he must contend with the fact that he feels ugly and insecure as himself. Complicating matters are the school administrators’ words of discouragement on learning that Jamie intends to wear a dress to prom. To top it all off, Jamie realizes with dismay that his mother has been lying about his father maintaining even a modest level of interest in his son’s life.

At a definite low point, Jamie turns to a night of binge drinking and antagonizing footballers. Now that he’s fallen from those very stylish heels, will Jamie be able to pick himself back up again?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is such a fun, upbeat film that it’s impossible not to find some charm in it. (So much better than the misguided The Prom, thank god). I enjoy the choreographed dance numbers so much, and it’s welcome to see a film with a heartfelt message, especially in the context of…everything. In terms of casting, our lead Max Harwood and (obviously) Richard E. Grant are so perfect here, and the brief Bianca del Rio cameo is superb. Richard E. Grant’s character and songs are firmly my favorites.

I cannot overstate how pleased I am that this film’s heart depends on family and friendship. And, most of all, that no one has a problematic romance with the class bully who was only terrible because he hated his own secret gay identity. I cannot tell you how tired I am with this trope, and we dodged it entirely, praise the lord.

What holds me back from a full 4 stars is how persistently light and upbeat this is, even when dealing with troubling themes. The story doesn’t fully explore these themes and suffers for it, at least in my opinion. I welcome affirming stories like this one, but I think pushing things into slightly more serious dramatic territory could have only made the emotional resonance more powerful. I loved the bejeezus out of the Richard E. Grant number “This Was Me” that celebrates drag and the LGTBQ community in the 1980s and would have wholeheartedly embraced more songs of this nature (speaking of which–the song was added for the film, and I could not imagine a stage production without this number).

Another issue is that, while the story is about Jamie’s identity, Jamie is a bit self-involved. The single-minded focus on his character means we don’t get to explore the nuances of more interesting supporting characters (okay–I’m primarily talking about Loco Chanelle). Every single non-Jamie character is either there to support or discourage him in cartoonishly awful ways, and he doesn’t always do much for them in return. Jamie is a bad friend to Pritti at times, though full credit for always having her back when faced with Dean. Honestly even Jamie’s character development isn’t that great, as there’s a lot of external focus on his appearance and not as much exploration as I would have liked about his internal motivations to do drag.

As a result of little secondary character exploration, I didn’t believe the change of heart so many characters have at the end. The school’s acceptance of Jamie is sweet but feels hollow and somewhat confusing too. Fully recognizing it’s possible to want contradictory things, I found it odd that Jamie seems to want to stand out but also for everyone to love him. Sure, I understand the impulse, but a bit more self-awareness from the character may have helped him recognize the impossibility of both of these things being true.

That being said, I would watch this 6 more times just for the brief scenes featuring Richard E. Grant in drag.

Would my blog wife help this one pencil in elegantly arched brows or snatch the tiara from atop its perfectly styled wig? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bound, or: Blood Money

It’s no secret that we L O V E film noir on the Blog Collab, particularly when our story involves a femme fatale who can expertly fire a pistol between drags on a cigarette perched in a dainty silver holder. This week, we have more than enough 1940s noir ambience to go around, along with a butch ex-con, illicit schemes and affairs, and elegantly crafted scenes of violence. Oh, and it’s the first film by the Wachowskis. Have we died and gone to heaven or, you know, been resurrected Matrix-style?

The Film:

Bound (1996)

The Premise:

A woman seeking freedom from the mafia begins an affair with another woman whose former life of crime may help them escape the mob with a case of stolen money.

The Ramble:

Out of prison and keeping a low profile, the excellently named Corky finds work renovating a recently vacant apartment and completing general building maintenance in Chicago. Quietly minding her own business doesn’t seem like a feasible option for long when Corky catches the eye of neighbor Violet, who lives with Caesar, a man who is quick to anger and heavily linked to the mafia. A winning combination indeed.

Corky, a woman with shaggy dark hair wearing a dirty A-shirt style tank top, leans against a kitchen sink. She is gazing intently into Violet's eyes, a woman wearing a low-cut black dress with a curly 1940s-style bob and makeup.

After Violet pulls the classic earring-down-the-sink maneuver, she and Corky begin a sexual relationship, sharing an unspoken and intense connection. Based on their understanding and Violet’s long-held desire to leave the mob life behind, she loops Corky in on a plan to fool everyone and escape the mafia with millions of dollars.

As Violet explains, recently tortured and murdered schemer Shelly was skimming money from his own mob crew with serious commitment–to the point that these funds fit nicely into a suitcase worth over $2 million. For a brief window, all of the money will be in Caesar and Violet’s apartment before big boss Gino Marzzone passes go and collects it. In a rather gruesome turn, all of the money has to be cleaned and air-dried first as Gino’s hothead son Johnnie shoots and kills Shelly, covering the cash in blood.

Wearing a black spaghetti strap top and dark red lipstick, Violet sits with one hand propping up her head. She is staring contemplatively at the many $100 bills clipped to fishing line as they air dry.

Like any film noir-style hard-boiled detective worth their salt, Corky is pretty fucking suspicious of Violet’s motives in all of this. However, the allure of both the money and Violet herself soon have Corky returning to her life of crime, outlining a brilliant, foolproof plan that of course could never go wrong in a million years.

Mob associate Caesar embraces Johnnie with a fake smile. Johnnie is wearing a bandage on his nose from an earlier punch Caesar gave him.

What follows is a very tense unraveling of the game plan as Caesar proves to be way more of an unhinged, trigger-happy murderer than expected. I will leave it there–but is it because I’m tired, bad at explaining heists, or terrible about planning my time this week? No doubt the answer to this question generates as much suspense as the film itself.

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Violet’s character is the closest we get to a 1940s femme fatale in a 1990s setting, so she is now our new idol. At least I can only presume. What’s truly excellent about both of our leading ladies is their approaches to navigating a violent, male-dominated world; they each have different strategies, and they work together in perfect harmony. There’s no pitting these identities against each other or implying there’s a more appropriate way to be a woman and express one’s identity. Both Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon are wonderfully cast.

From virtually the first minute of the film, suspense is driving the narrative forward, whether because of the tension between Violet and Corky or the increasingly troublesome case full of cash. As such, the pacing never slows down, and my interest as a viewer never waned. Some of the scenes are horrifically violent yet beautifully and even lovingly filmed. I’m such a fan of the last few scenes of the film and some of the brilliant one-liners these characters have…but also every scene, to be honest.

A couple of criticism do come to mind. First, though the film pivots on a lesbian relationship, the film is quite overwhelmed by white, male, and heterosexual characters. This film could pass the Bechdel test more comfortably as well as include more diversity, especially as it takes place in Chicago. Another drawback that comes to mind is that the relationship between Violet and Corky is a bit too easily established, and the trust between them not wholly earned. However, they’re so vividly drawn characters that it’s impossible to be mad about that. The romance between our two leads is hot (and definitely R rated) without being creepy or voyeuristic.

Would my blog wife devise a convoluted plan with this one or smoke a cigarette around it with no small measure of disdain? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Saving Face, or: Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Given the global pandemic still very much happening and its impact on my current mental/emotional state, I could probably keep watching horror for the next 500 years and still not satisfy that unique sense of dread and calm the genre inspires in me. I’m worried the world is an awful place but feel a certain tranquility when it shows its true colors.

Anyway.

It’s probably for the best to do a bit of a reset in September ahead of the most wonderful time of the year (Halloween). This week, we have a lesbian romance with hints of soap opera drama and a hearty dose of navigating cultural identity. Plus vending machine snacks.

The Film:

Saving Face

The Premise:

As a young Chinese-American surgeon pursues a romance with another woman, she learns her mother has been keeping a shocking secret of her own.

The Ramble:

Wil is a promising young surgeon who gives her mother Gao a lot of cred in their Chinese-American community in Queens. On the marriage front, Gao insists that Wil is much too busy and successful to date. Hmmmmm…dramatic secrets related to identity would suggest otherwise.

Wil, a young woman dressed casually in sweatpants, bends down to talk to her mother, Gao. Gao is sitting on a bed, eyes closed in meditation.

As Gao plays matchmaker at the community’s weekly gathering, she is unknowingly the source of her own gossip, as the widow of over 20 years is stunningly gorgeous and very single. A man by the name of Cho is quite clearly gearing up to make a move, though it’s taken years for him to work up the nerve.

One fateful night, Wil meets the one person her mother is decidedly not trying to set up her daughter with: a ballet dancer named Vivian. In a demonstration of how close-knit the community is, Vivian happens to be the daughter of Wil’s boss. But she’s quite attractive and her love language seems to be vending machine snacks, so poor Wil doesn’t stand a chance.

Wil, dressed in a loose-fitting button-down shirt, stands close in front of Vivian, who touches the sleeve of Wil's shirt.

Meanwhile, Wil realizes through shocking gossip that Gao is keeping even more secrets than her daughter. As it turns out, Gao is pregnant and refuses to divulge the father’s identity. Ooooooh, things are getting more scandalous than the Chinese soaps Gao watches religiously. Wil’s grandfather is especially disappointed, evicting his daughter from their shared apartment and telling her not to bother coming back without a husband. The tables are turned on Gao as Wil attempts to find her the perfect (and perhaps somewhat gullible) husband.

Wil reclines on a futon, arms behind her head. Her mother Gao sits next to her, knitting. Both are staring ahead at an offscreen television.

Now with the complication of having her mother as a roommate, Wil has to work double time to keep her own secret love hidden. A relatably awkward tomboy, Wil is quite sweet when bonding with Vivian. However, conducting their relationship as if it’s an illicit affair isn’t what Vivian has in mind. She begins actively considering an offer to dance ballet in Paris…even though her heart is with modern dance and with a certain socially graceless doctor.

After a number of horrible dates, Gao ultimately accepts a proposal from Cho. While Wil is initially relieved, she’s troubled that her mother still seems rather closed off and unhappy. What’s more, Wil’s grandmother experiences a health crisis, sending the family into a spiral just before the wedding. Taking a cue from Gao’s soaps, the discovery of a shocking letter on her wedding day could spell disaster…or might it lead two generations of Chinese-American women to carve out space for themselves within their own community?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really enjoyed this. Our story feels real, slightly melodramatic twists and all. I think this is largely because the characters and their relationships ground the story. There’s an attention to detail and nuance that makes the love, especially between mother and daughter, convincing. It involves just enough tension for us to believe this is true with all of the messiness and conflict that comes along with family.

The tone is perfect; overall, this is a very sweet film. However, there is enough of a cultural and familial clash that I was somewhat concerned about how it would all turn out. I was relieved when (spoiler?) our leading ladies found a way to fully embrace their own unique identities and place them within Chinese-American culture, not as disparate pieces. I loved that even Wil was shocked by Gao’s secrets and made some of the same assumptions the Chinese community made since it is a part of her identity.

This is the kind of film where I respect the director, Alice Wu, even more as I learned about her process of making this movie a reality. Look it up! It was really a labor of love. My favorite fact so far is that studios really pushed to make all (including the leads!) or at least some characters white to bring more star power to the film, but Wu insisted on maintaining a Chinese cast.

Related: consider that this film was the first major US release since The Joy Luck Club and until Crazy Rich Asians to star an Asian cast. And while we do now have Shang-Chi to enjoy, we’ve still got a lot of progress to make for representation.

Would my blog wife romance this one with vending machine fare or leave it at the altar for another film? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Slumber Party Massacre, or: Drill, Baby, Drill

Though it’s not officially a horror month on the Collab…it’s the Blog Collab. It’s never not horror month. In a world that seems especially horrific currently, we don’t have answers on the Collab. We only have horror–horror from the ’80s, thank god.

The Film:

The Slumber Party Massacre

The Premise:

After a serial killer escapes from prison, he grabs a power drill as his weapon of choice to terrorize a group of high school girls at a slumber party.

The Ramble:

Though a mass murderer’s recent escape from a prison in Venice Beach, CA is headline news, no one seems too concerned. And though I’m not usually one to call for an increased police presence, this feels like a good opportunity to have a few more patrol officers out and about. But no–it’s relatively easy for the escaped killer to murder a phone repair woman in broad daylight with a power drill.

Oblivious to the danger, senior Trish and her friends are looking forward to a girls only slumber party as her parents will be away for the weekend. Though there are boys around who are all too keen to crash the party, the girls insist they won’t be welcome. Also decidedly not invited is new girl Valerie. As Valerie happens to be gorgeous, naturally athletic, and an agreeable person, Trish immediately dislikes her.

A group of teenagers walk together away from their school building.

Before you know it, one of the girls who is locked inside the school also gets murdered in broad daylight. This is possibly the saddest death as none of her friends seem to notice or even question why she’s not around for the slumber party? I could be misremembering–but, like many an early horror character death, she’s both gone and forgotten.

That evening, Valerie most definitely has more important things to do than sit around and obsess about her snub as the party goes on next door. She insists to her precocious little sister Courtney that she doesn’t care at all about the petty squabble with Trish’s girl gang. Nevertheless, Val is watching quite closely out the window…and she’s got a bad feeling that has nothing to do with the rivalry.

A young woman with feathered blonde hair looks suspiciously around a room.

Something doesn’t seem right to Trish either. Honestly, I’d be concerned too: the kindly neighbor who has agreed to check in on Trish makes himself feel right at home by just showing up in and around the house, incidentally holding a butcher knife. Meanwhile, the boys who are ostensibly among her friends have decided to creep on the evening’s activities by the open window as the girls undress. Quite a few people here really need a refresher on trespassing and consent, and probably the meaning of friendship while we’re at it.

When one of the girls (Diane maybe?) breaks the code of sisterhood and invites her boyfriend to meet her outside the house, there is a horror movie price to be paid quickly and violently. The party goes from bad to worse when the pizza delivery guy shows up dead on the doorstep, making the fatal error of turning the pizza box upside down. Relatably, this doesn’t prevent the girls from stress eating.

Three young women sit back to back on the floor in front of a fireplace. They are each holding a knife.

As the two boys who have joined the party decide to make a break for it to get help, Val considers whether she should finally listen to her gut and investigate the party next door. But will there even be any partygoers left by then?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

My biggest issue here is how surprisingly slow the first half of the film is, despite multiple onscreen power drill murders. It takes quite a while for the power drill killer to catch up with the slumber party crowd, and the effect doesn’t necessarily build suspense. If you’re going to murder people with power tools after escaping from prison, you should probably waste no time. Then again, one lesson we learn from this film is that police interest in investigating serial murders in 1980s Venice Beach is negligible.

When we do finally get into the swing of things, it’s quite satisfying. I can’t think of other horror films that feature a power drill as the murderer’s weapon of choice, and there are some creatively gruesome deaths as a result. Apparently the filmmakers didn’t catch on to the sly humor of screenwriter Rita Mae Brown, so there are some genuinely funny moments even if the tone is a bit off the mark at times.

Annoyingly, our characters are all pretty one-dimensional. Remembering names or any distinguishing characteristics is next to impossible. Even the power drill killer isn’t a particularly interesting person, opting for murdering teen girls…because? That’s just what crazy people do, according to the film’s logic. I was hoping for even a brief backstory that might help us unpack the killer’s motives, but we don’t get any such preparation from the filmmakers.

I wish the Val/Trish stories had been woven together more effectively too. I have to admire Val’s resourcefulness when she unwittingly stumbles across the active site of a serial killer at work. However, she is completely separate from most of the action of the film, and it all gets a bit clunky in terms of pacing. There are some fun elements of ’80s horror at work here, but they don’t necessarily align to become a classic.

On a side note, I love the extremely ’80s horror theme music.

Would my blog wife invite this one to the slumber party or lock it outside with a power drill killer on the loose? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

A Classic Horror Story, or: Nailed It

*Spoilers follow*

Something about this month feels right for horror. And here’s a degree of separation from last week’s film: ritual sacrifice in a pastoral setting, connected by Nicolas Cage. Last week’s film featured Italian-American Cage fighting animatronics possessed by Satanic serial killers; this week stars Italian actors terrorized by cult members that owe much of their existence to 2006’s modern classic Wicker Man.

Sorry–no bear costumes in this one.

The Film:

A Classic Horror Story

The Premise:

While traveling to southern Italy, a group of strangers is stranded in the woods where a cult engages in ritual human sacrifice.

The Ramble:

Take a ride share through the Italian countryside, they said. It’s a budget-friendly alternative to renting a car that offers more convenience than public transit, they said. And obviously traveling across a remote landscape with a handful of strangers and poor cell phone reception will never take a sinister turn.

A group of four people stands in a dark room, looking with dread at the scene before them.

For our crew of 5 on the road, it’s clear from the beginning that a fairly straightforward journey to southern Italy will not end as anticipated. All have different reasons for traveling, and some are more eager than others to spill the details. Young couple Sofia and Mark are off to attend a friend’s wedding, while reserved Elisa is visiting her parents (who have pressured her into having an abortion). Another elusive passenger, Dr. Riccardo, seems to have little patience for his fellow travelers. And driver Fabrizio is an aspiring filmmaker cheerfully recording the journey.

Impatient with the cautious driving of Fabrizio, cocky Mark decides to take the wheel of the RV. Late at night, he fails to notice a dead goat lying in the middle of the road. Fabrizio takes the wheel, swerving to avoid the animal, though this plants the vehicle firmly in the center of a tree trunk. Both Fabrizio and Mark blame each other for the accident, in which Mark is injured and requires medical care. Luckily, there’s a doctor in the house. Unluckily, no one is getting any cell reception whatsoever.

As the crew wanders in search of help, they find a creepy, isolated cabin in the woods. Of course they do. Uncovering more ominous signs like a sacrificial site complete with decapitated pig heads, taxidermy animals, and antique photographs of people wearing animal heads, it becomes increasingly clear that the group has stumbled upon a murder cult rivaling that of Lord Summerisle.

A figure wearing a grotesque mask with an oversized tongue holds up a jar. On either side of the figure are two people tied to wooden stakes.

Fabrizio, self-appointed nerd of the gang, explains the symbolism of the three brothers depicted: Osso, Mastrosso, and Carcagnosso. Legend has it these figures came from another world, promising starving people hope…but at the cost of sacrifice. In ritual sacrifice, victims would have their tongue, ears, and eyes cut before their deaths because, you know, the legend.

As everyone is getting properly freaked out, the 5 discover a young girl in a wooden structure, her tongue having been cut out. When they free the girl, one of the group is caught by several cult members and becomes the first to undergo the gruesome ritual. While the survivors attempt to escape, they merely find evidence that [in the voice of Six from Battlestar Galactica]: “All this has happened before. All this will happen again.”

Two young women and a girl lie on a wooden floor, bathed in the soft light of a lantern on the ground between them.

As the RV has disappeared, the group has little choice but to spend the night in the creepy cabin. While it seems they will have each other’s back as they stand guard, Elisa wakes in horror to discover several of the party in the beginning stages of the ritual sacrifice. Even more disturbing is the conspiracy that begins to unfold as Elisa connects the gory dots. Could it be that (gasp) not all is what it seems in the land of cult murder and taxidermy headwear?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Okay, there are a lot of gaps in logic here that you have to be comfortable with. This film opens up more questions than it’s willing to answer with its major twist, and this isn’t entirely rewarding. Like one of our leading characters, it has a certain smug satisfaction with the proceedings, which can be downright irksome.

Overall, though, I can’t deny that this is a lot of fun to watch. There are very clear references to Evil Dead, Midsommar, Wicker Man, and more than I can remember at this point. For the most part, the balance of comedy and gore works. I also very much enjoy the commentary on the cutthroat nature of the film industry; the events of the story occur largely because a failed director has powerful connections that allow him to live out his fantasy.

Some of it falls apart here, though, as there’s too much snide social commentary thrown in at the end. We’ve got your attention economy, corrupt government, mafia, and social media boxes all checked off. The messaging about abortion is confusing too; I wouldn’t say this is necessarily an anti-abortion film, but the tone is…odd. Elisa apparently doesn’t have a strong interest in the path her parents envision for her, but I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what exactly any of her interests are and how that relates to what she ultimately decides.

Credit where credit’s due: this film did more to promote an anti-bullying message than Melania ever did.

Would my blog wife chauffeur this one through the woods or cut off its ears without hesitation? Read her review to find out!