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!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, or: You Should See Me in a (Possessed Demon) Crown

I really wasn’t sure if Horror in March (not quite the same ring as Christmas in July) would backfire terribly when we settled on the theme. Some of our themes have been very hit or miss lately, though more because of world events and less because of the films themselves (but some have been pretty forgettable). Would a focus on horror deliver as expected or merely repeat a disappointing cycle?

Not to spoil this review too much, but I do feel horror has played a major role in making this month somewhat manageable. Admittedly the significant progress in vaccine rollout has helped too. Ultimately, I think the moral of the story here is to always choose horror, even (and especially) when your reality is rather nightmarish. It’s the right thing to do.

The Film:

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II

The Premise:

Decades after her fiery death, a prom queen returns to seek vengeance against all those who cross her path.

The Ramble:

On a dark and stormy night, a veiled woman arrives at an empty church, seeking to make a confession. What else does one do on a dark and stormy night? Our mysterious young woman reveals that she has committed many sins with many boys and loved every minute of it Oh my.

Who is this figure but the spirit of the titular Mary Lou, 1957 high school it girl and prom queen? Except Mary Lou never got to wear her crown, a fact her restless spirit will never forget. Something of a 1950s rebel, Mary Lou is busted at prom making out with bad boy Buddy (totally the name of a ’50s teen living life on the edge). Humiliated boyfriend Billy opts for a petty revenge scheme, throwing a lit stink bomb towards Mary Lou just as she’s about to undergo the prom queen coronation. This goes horrendously wrong, and Mary Lou literally goes up in flames. Though Billy regrets this immediately and Buddy does try to help (sort of), Mary Lou burns to death–but not before sending a rather murderous glare towards her boyfriend.

Mary Lou, a young woman with dark hair, screams in agony as she burns in a fire.

Thirty years later, Billy is principal of the high school and a father to teen Craig. Good to know your life probably won’t be significantly derailed when–oopsy–you pull a prank that results in the actual murder of your girlfriend. (I know this is totally beside the point, but we NEVER have a single mention of Craig’s mother; it’s possible she died or divorced Billy, but I suspect he may have just sprung from nothing, Greek myth-style.) Goody two-shoes Vicky is dating Craig, who is considered a bad boy because he has a motorcycle, puts sugar in his coffee, gives his girlfriend a cross necklace. You know, all of the typical bad boy indicators.

Vicky, a teen with long blonde hair, cuddles up to her boyfriend in the booth of a diner.

Meanwhile, Buddy has chosen the life of a priest to atone for his sins, but mostly to set up some dramatically tense attempts at exorcism.

Vicky has been nominated for prom queen, so you know she’s a popular girl. However, she is also on friendly terms with that weird kid who tried to invent a potato radio and Jess, the troubled teen with an unwanted pregnancy…so she’s not that kind of popular girl. Helping to plan the prom, Vicky uncovers a chest full of 1950s fashions, including Mary Lou’s cursed prom queen crown. Shortly after, Jess stays late after school and ends up hanging from the ceiling lights, though we know her death isn’t the suicide it appears to be.

Worryingly, these aren’t the only sinister goings-on. Vicky has strange hallucinations about Mary Lou and eerie figures chanting her name. Her troubled state of mind bleeds into her life as Vicky tells off a rival for prom queen, talks back to her mother, and even slaps the shit out of a girl she mistakes for Mary Lou. Given all of Vicky’s strange behavior, her family and boyfriend Craig believe she needs help as soon as possible. Vicky’s mother concedes that an intervention is needed in the form of Jesus. When Father Buddy speaks with Vicky, he is sufficiently freaked out to warn Billy that Mary Lou may have the power to possess and kill her ex-boyfriend. Priests are completely immune to the influence of demons, of course, so no need to worry on that front, everyone. You can go ahead and scrub that idea from your mind because it’s not even in the realm of possibility for Mary Lou to bring about any harm to members of the clergy. Clearly.

Vicky, wearing nothing but a towel, looks sinisterly at her own reflection as she brushes her hair.

When Mary Lou does decide to completely take over Vicky’s life, she cranks up the dial waaaaaay beyond 10. Just in time for prom, Mary Lou is living(?) her best life, bossing people around when it comes to prom, using dated ’50s slang, and showing off nearly godlike murder powers. On a scale of 1 to witnessing one of your classmates burn to death onstage, just how fucked up is the big prom night going to be this time around?

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I know, I know–a completely unrelated sequel to Prom Night that features none of the original cast and was released a full 7 years after the fact has no right being this good. But this is such a fun watch, and I don’t get why this isn’t at least considered a cult classic (as far as I know, anyway). The world wasn’t ready, I suppose.

First, I am always here for an ’80s lewk, and there are some strong statement fashions here. I appreciate when genres steal from other genres as well, and this film does things right on that front. It’s very much a horror film, especially as things escalate in the latter half, but we have some very John Hughes teen movie moments and characters, as well as some elements that feel right out of a soap opera. If horror isn’t going to be melodramatic AF, then what’s the point, honestly?

I do think some of the feminist themes in our film are incidental or applied retroactively. I choose to interpret this as a feminist masterpiece; however, all of Mary Lou’s behavior as a queen bitch isn’t necessarily set up as aspirational (in the way that, to me, it truly is). Most of the time, Mary Lou serves as an example of how one should not live life. Vicky seems to be the ideal prom queen: compassionate, monogamous, organized, high-achieving. As is so often the case, it’s much more fun to see Vicky exhibit supposedly bad behavior than live a wet blanket existence. She’s so repressed that it’s a relief to see her let loose as Mary Lou; I could see one interpretation of the film drawing a parallel between Vicky’s coming of age/sexual awakening and her embrace of Mary Lou’s identity, which so many people around her consider dirty and shameful.

No matter how you interpret things, Mary Lou provides plenty of entertainment and some delightfully creepy hallucinatory scenes.

Would my blog wife dial up Mary Lou’s number for a good time or snatch the crown from her undeserving skull? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Terror Train, or: Japes on a Train

*Spoilers below*

You know, I don’t think we’ve reviewed a single Jamie Lee Curtis film on the Blog Collab. Not for lack of interest; we simply prefer for our picks to fly under the radar a bit more than many of the iconic classics that feature JLC. This week’s pick may very well be a first then–a Jamie Lee Curtis feature, if not…er…quite a modern classic.

The Film:

Terror Train

The Premise:

A costume frat party on a train provides a perfect opportunity for a disguised killer to strike.

The Ramble:

It’s bonfire night for the rowdiest frat on campus, meaning the time for hijinks is nigh. Poor Kenny, the nerdy/sensitive one, is relieved he will shortly be able to ditch the unfortunate beanie all of the new pledges must wear. Kenny is eager to prove how cool he is by sleeping with gorgeous Alana, who is supposedly very into the sensitive young man.

A group of college students wear red letter jackets as they stand outside at a party in winter. Two of the group wear red and white beanies that mark them as uninitiated frat members.

Unfortunately, the frat bros know too well that Kenny is extremely creeped out by dead body parts (like a normal human, honestly). All of this elaborate setup is part of a pretty nasty prank involving Kenny cuddling up to a cadaver intended for the med students to use (which, btw, would likely get all those involved ejected from the program). Pressured into participating in the prank, Alana is clueless about the dead body involved in all of this, and expresses remorse immediately. She’s especially regretful when Kenny is ultimately hospitalized following the incident.

But that’s totally beside the point, right? Completely in the past, never to resurface again. Fast forward 3 years, and we’re ready to celebrate the new year and the impeding graduation of the frat boy/med. student crowd aboard a steam train. Obviously. Everyone is conveniently dressed in costume to amplify the homicidal chaos festive atmosphere.

Alana, a young woman played by Jamie Lee Curtis, sits next to her boyfriend on a train.

Silly Ed is dressed as Groucho Marx, though his comedic stylings are more in line with classic dad jokes. Mercifully, the truly terrible jokes don’t last long–Ed is the first to go, stabbed before the train even leaves the station. Ed falls perfectly onto the train tracks, though not before the mysterious killer claims the costume for upcoming use.

As the train takes off on its novelty journey, Alana and bff Mitchy are thrilled, vowing to be friends forever. Yikes. Meanwhile, David Copperfield is lurking around, prepared to do magic and stand around dark corners. Doc, voted most douchey in the class, is eager to remember his best prank, the one targeting Kenny. This is rather a sore spot for Alana, who (wisely) hasn’t been a fan of Doc since that night. Unfortunately, Doc is very much part of the friend group, as he is dating Mitchy and is a close friend of Mo’s.

The magician David Copperfield performs a magic trick with a rose for the benefit of Alana, who looks on in amazement.

Predictably, Doc is determined to be an asshole, making it clear to Alana that the idea for the party train was all his. Mo, who made the entire evening seem like a surprise planned for Alana, is SOL, and the two get into a fight. Unbeknownst to the group of friends, they are down another med. student–Jackson, dressed in a lizard costume.

This is more or less the way our film unfolds: drama between various couples, David Copperfield magical interludes, more and more grisly murders. Interspersed are scenes with the train conductor and crew, who end up as amateur detectives when they begin to realize something is amiss.

In one of our more dramatic sequences, Mitchy sees Doc and Mo head off to a separate train car with two foxy magician’s assistants. Upset with her boyfriend’s infidelity, Mitchy bumps into lizard man Jackson…or does she? Seeking romantic vengeance becomes a dangerous pursuit, especially when Mitchy realizes just how cold Jackson’s hands are.

A young woman with blonde hair sits on the top bunk in a sleep car, a man in a green lizard costume standing in front of her with a clawed hand on her knee.

Once the number of murders on this train ride becomes impossible to ignore, the crew has the brilliant idea of stopping the train to search for the killer. Because that’s sure to help. Alana has put two and two together, warning Doc that she suspects Kenny is the killer on the train, seeking revenge against all in their group of friends. Can they unmask the murderer before it’s too late?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

There’s no escaping the fact that Jamie Lee Curtis looks damn good as a lady pirate, and that alone carries perhaps 75% of this film.

Beyond that, I didn’t hate this. I can certainly see why this film hasn’t become a horror classic in the way that other JLC vehicles have. There are a LOT of scenes of 20-somethings just standing around in various costumes that aren’t particularly necessary. And while I do appreciate the effort made to make the train crew more than nameless, faceless background characters, most of their scenes are a bit boring IMHO.

Given the opening scene of the film, it’s pretty obvious who the murderer will turn out to be. However, David Copperfield is creepy enough here (and probably generally, to be honest) that he makes for a pretty convincing red herring, especially when he seems to take a shine to Alana. Lines of dialogue he utters to her include “Do you believe in magic?” and, shortly after, “I’ll have to convince you.” Shudder.

I will say, even when it was obvious where the film was going, there were still a few surprises. An extremely spoiler-y one is that Kenny’s most dramatic disguise is that of lady assistant to David Copperfield. Which does leave me with more questions than answers–like for how many years was Kenny an assistant to DC? And does David Copperfield just not believe in background checks, because supposedly Kenny killed someone, perhaps while institutionalized, before becoming an assistant. However, the more important focus here is that it’s problematic to depict people who dress in drag or are gender non-conforming as criminals who are out to trick others. It feels gross, honestly–and not necessarily an attitude that’s a complete throwback. These ideas and depictions are very much alive and well today.

On a final, petty level, I was annoyed that Alana didn’t get the last swing at Kenny. I feel if you’re terrorized by a murderer who kills the vast majority of your friends, you should at least be the one to hit him with a shovel in the end. In horror movie land anyway.

Would my blog wife guess this one’s card correctly or make it disappear altogether? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Aquaslash, or: You Get out of My Park

You know how it is, right? Some days you enjoy a nice day at the water park, and other days you witness a bunch of high school students emerge from a water slide in chopped up body chunks. But seriously…that is the plot of this film. Are you ready for it? Are you really, though?

The Film:

Aquaslash

The Premise:

A killer lurks in the dark and tampers with water slides during celebrations at a water park for a group of graduating seniors.

The Ramble:

To most people with good judgment, the stairs leading up to a massive slide in a closed water park would not be a particularly romantic place to hook up. But don’t tell me you started reading about a film called Aquaslash because you expected any of its characters to behave like rational people with any survival instincts whatsoever. Perhaps not so shockingly, the couple at the beginning of this tale is doomed–bodies disappearing after being hacked to pieces. Worryingly, the unknown attacker has also used the opportunity to tamper with the slide, inserting razor-sharp blades into the middle of the ramp.

Shortly thereafter, a graduating class of high school seniors arrives at the water park to celebrate all of the academic honors and prestigious awards they have earned. JK–they’re a bunch of rich kids who are here to snort coke, have naked raves, and inexplicably enjoy an ’80s theme. You know…teen stuff.

A group of teens in a mix of beachwear and graduation gowns stand at the entrance of a water park.

Obviously there’s a mysterious caretaker of the property lurking around, dispensing cryptic advice. Throw in a group of employees that includes the controlling boyfriend of a high school dropout, the park owner (having an affair with a high school student), and the park owner’s wife (seeking petty vengeance with random high school dudes), and you have achieved soap opera levels of melodrama. Which, btw, doesn’t mix well with a water park unless your goal is to take a bubble bath.

So anyway. The park used to be a real attraction in the area, but it’s lost some prestige lately. Possibly the murders that happened 35 years ago to the day didn’t help matters. Then again, the park owner is usually on speed, hitting on teen girls, or arguing with his wife in public…which is also not a great look.

In a dimly lit restaurant, a red-haired woman, Priscilla, sits across from a dark-haired man.

Tensions are high among the teens too, as emo band leader Josh (who we’re supposed to sympathize with since he looks like a budget Andrew Garfield) sees his ex Kim for the first time in years. Kim, to whom some unnamed but terrible thing happened, is now dating Tommy, winning combo of abusive/possessive/short-tempered. All Josh and Kim want to do is be together…but they can’t. For…reasons.

Josh, a teen holding a guitar, sits on the edge of a small outdoor stage with Kim, a teen with long hair blowing in the breeze. Behind them, two bandmates set up musical equipment.

Meanwhile, queen bee and chief mean girl Alice is looking forward to time alone with her boyfriend, park owner/manager Paul. The two make no effort to conceal their affair, and you’d hope that at least one of the teens would report that shit to a teacher. However, obviously there are no teachers in sight to supervise. Unsurprisingly, Paul’s behavior enrages his wife Priscilla, notable for being hot. Priscilla seems to enjoy accumulating lovers, as she is meeting in secret with Josh’s dad, who happens to be rich (and appropriately obnoxious). At the same time, Priscilla has been prowling the graduating class looking for a hookup.

Of course, it’s at the evening’s bonfire and anticipated ’80s tribute concert that all of the secrets come tumbling out into the open. In the ensuing chaos, anonymous knife-wielding attacker gonna…attack.

Tensions are at an all-time high during the next day’s sea snake competition, a 3-person water slide race. What will happen when the competition begins, and the teens take carefree turns down the water slide…of doom?

The Rating:

1.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I can’t quite justify a full 2 stars (YIKES), but I did get some enjoyment from this. I will give credit for the originality of the premise; however, at the same time, I strongly suspect the entire concept was merely a typo.

For most of the film, we are simply checking off a bunch of teen horror tropes…though it’s sometimes difficult to discern how genuinely self-aware this film is. I’m sure my analysis of human behavior in this film is completely beside the point, but here are a series of thoughts that occurred to me throughout the first 85% of the film (which is almost entirely teen spring break behavior and virtually no horror):

  • Being in a band doesn’t make you less of a douche just because the jock stereotypes around you are complete tools
  • Not even 10 minutes in, and I’m already tired of the water park being called Wet Valley
  • This high school is a hell of a lot nicer than mine if they have an overnight trip anywhere to celebrate graduation
  • For real, the only Black character with more than one line of dialogue is a jock and the class bully? GUYS.
  • The water park logo looks a lot like the Wonder Woman logo. Coincidence?
  • How does no one notice the high school girl making out with the dude in his 40s in broad daylight? Even if both parties are legally adults, it would still not be allowed on a school trip.
  • Wow, almost every person in this movie is a bit too into slut shaming
  • Literally every high school student here is an unhinged psycho

I will admit the ending of the film is fun to watch in a gleeful horror kind of way…but don’t expect it to make a whole lot of sense. And having to sit through an hour or so of painfully stupid teenagers making poor choices isn’t necessarily worth it in the end.

Would my blog wife enjoy a casual splash in the pool with this one or remorselessly push it down a murder slide? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

We Summon the Darkness, or: That’s So Metal

*Significant spoilers below*

It’s March. It’s 2021. In a nightmarish year (that does have some glimmers of hope ahead), what else are we going to do on the Collab but dive into horror? October is much too far away for us to wait, so be prepared this month for some creepy isolated houses, plenty of gore, and…hairspray I guess?

The Film:

We Summon the Darkness

The Premise:

Despite the dangers of an at-large Satanic cult lurking in rural Indiana, three young women invite a group of boys back to their isolated cabin following a 1980s metal concert.

The Ramble:

In 1980s Indiana, metalheads Alexis, Val, and Beverly are off to a concert they’ve been eagerly anticipating for weeks. The girls seem to be thrilled not only for the evening out, but also for the freedom of driving along for miles, stopping for emergency supplies as needed (i.e. Hostess snacks), and teasing out their ’80s hair to new heights.

With big '80s hair, teen girls Alexis, Val, and Bev drive along a highway in Indiana. Alexis is driving, Val is applying make-up, and Bev is eating a Ring Pop.

Along the way, the girls receive a cryptic warning from a gas station attendant, who cautions them about the existence of evil. He’s not entirely off-base here; there have been a series of Satanic ritual murders across the state lately, with the perps still at large. Standing in opposition to Satanism/the moral decline of the nation is fear-mongering pastor John Henry Butler, your standard Mike Pence clone.

It also becomes increasingly clear that the friendship between our leading ladies isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; leader Alexis and flirty Val quite often take sides against “the quiet one,” Bev. I’m guessing that’s not going to create any further tension later.

Despite all of this, things are going quite swimmingly until an ’80s stoner van passes our main trio on the highway, tossing a brown liquid from the window, which temporarily obstructs driver Alexis’ view. Stopping by the side of the road to assess the damage, Alexis discovers the liquid is only a chocolate milkshake; however, it’s enough to draw her ire.

In the lobby of a concert venue, three young men wearing metal- and grunge-inspired clothes talk to a group of young women.

Arriving at the concert at last, the girl gang spots none other than the van involved with the milkshake incident. Deciding to pull a prank on the group inside the van, Val lights a firecracker and tosses it inside. As three guys scramble out in a panic, their mood shifts from irritated to apologetic when they realize how they have wronged fellow metalheads with impressively styled ’80s hair. Bev in particular bonds with mulleted Mark, the drummer in the dudes’ band (because of course they’re in a band).

Following the high of the concert, Alexis impulsively invites the guys to join the girls at her father’s isolated cabin in the woods. And by cabin, she actually means mansion. As everyone settles down outside the massive house with a red Solo cup in hand, Bev seems to get the jitters after discovering a switchblade in Mark’s jacket. When Alexis reassures Bev that they are sisters and will be okay, the two rejoin the party for a round of “Never Have I Ever.” The festivities take a dark turn when, after Alexis claims she has never drugged anyone’s drink, all three girls take a sip. Y I K E S. One by one, the three guys lose consciousness as they realize they, in fact, have been drugged.

When the boys are awakened, they are tied in a room marked with Satanic symbols. Are their abductors members of the Satanic cult committing murders throughout the Indiana countryside? Disappointingly, no.

In a dimly lit room, teens Alexis, Val, and Bev stand ominously, dressed in all black. Alexis twirls a knife in her fingers.

As it turns out, Alexis is the daughter of the Reverend Butler, who leads the religious cult Daughters of the Dawn. The followers of this cult have been responsible for all of the recent Satanic murders, operating on a rotating schedule for homicide duty. This convoluted plan is all in service of driving the unsuspecting public to the comforting embrace of a religious cult when faced with the evils of Satanism. As Alexis remarks using eerily Trumpian rhetoric, “It doesn’t matter if it’s true; it only matters if people believe it.”

Of course, the plan doesn’t go entirely as expected when two of the dudes manage to escape. Meanwhile, Bev, still new to the cult lifestyle, has an increasing number of doubts about her commitment to highly illegal and immoral activities in the name of God. Things only get more complicated when Alexis’ stepmother unexpectedly arrives home, and the girls must cover their tracks while simultaneously coming up with creatively homicidal uses for hairspray.

Who will survive when the lights go out, “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” cranks out on the stereo, and a certain religious cult leader returns home?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I won’t deny there’s a lot to enjoy about this film’s setup. The ’80s metal looks are excellent, and I particularly relish all of the big (or crimped or mulleted) hair on display–and we’ve got some suitably evocative tunes to transport us. I’m here for a girl gang, especially if their bond is so strong they’ll be killing together in the name of Satan.

However, the number of twists just for the sake of having a twist is insufferable. Most importantly, I personally do not forgive this film for promising Satanic murder cults and then not delivering. The supposed big reveal is almost immediately taken away from us for the less intriguing/believable social commentary of religious extremists representing the true danger to our society. No arguments here, but…Satanic cults. Why give up that plot element for a religious cult?

On top of this, the major twist is not thought through. The film does give us a hint that the girls are not who they appear as Alexis struggles to remember the details of her first concert or identify basically any pop culture figures. However, beyond this, the film just demonstrates how poorly planned the cult’s actions are. One: rotating responsibilities for carrying out a series of executions is a recipe for disaster. More people committing murder for the first time = more people making amateurish mistakes. And, considering that part of the plan means giving repressed teen girls (young women? I don’t know how old these characters are supposed to be, honestly) a taste of freedom, it’s a wonder there are any members of the cult left.

There are also a series of confusing contradictions in the murder plan; first, Alexis claims the ritual will look like the work of a Satanic cult. Then, she tries to set up the boys’ deaths as a murder/suicide. Pick ONE. It also makes zero sense that the girls seem to impulsively choose their victims while at the concert. I’m not speaking from experience here, but it strikes me that the victims of your staged murder should be picked out well in advance. And there’s absolutely no reason they need to be metalheads; it’s stated quite clearly that the murders have nothing to do with their victims’ connection to the so-called music of Satan.

As if all this weren’t bad enough, the story ultimately undermines the characters’ agency and shows that their sisterhood is cheap. A group of teen girls committing Satanic murders is maybe not the most original premise for a film, but it’s one I would likely have enjoyed so much more than this. In the end, the girls are merely brainwashed to carry out someone else’s plan, which is deeply unsatisfying. Can women not even have a Satanic murder club without it being all about men???

Speaking of which, I really hated the end, and the degree to which Bev and Mark seemed to have some stupid unspoken connection. Bev was cool AF and the one I related to most with her constant snacking, but, in Mark’s position, I still wouldn’t trust her even a little bit. After Bev drugs him, plans his death, and is complicit in his friend’s murder, Mark is much too willing to believe her sudden change of heart and trust she will help him.

I did have fun watching this one, but I experienced a lot of frustrations along the way.

Would my blog wife bust out her trusty pentagram and stage a ritual murder with this one or come at it with a lighter and a can full of hairspray? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Tales from the Hood 2, or: They Call Me Mr. Simms

Sometimes we dive right into the middle of a horror franchise with ease; we’ve reviewed a later installment of the Child’s Play franchise without religiously watching all prior volumes in order, and a number of Hellraiser sequels. A few have made us eager to watch more; several have made us consider how much more of our lives we’d like to lose to not-even-B-horror (though only briefly).

I’ll leave it up to the reader to determine which of these types of horror sequels our latest pick falls in; however, I will remind you that there’s perhaps a reason the franchise is currently only on film two of two. EDIT: as of October 2020, there are THREE films in the Tales from the Hood series.

The Film:

Tales from the Hood 2

The Premise:

A storyteller recounts four tales of terror for a police robot learning to identify criminal behavior.

The Ramble:

At Dumass Beach Securities, the CEO is the exact kind of sleaze you would imagine with a predictive policing robot prototype designed to arrest criminals before they can act. (Coincidentally, your level of amusement related to the name Dumass Beach sounding much like “dumbass bitch” can determine with a reasonable degree of accuracy to what extent you will enjoy this feature. In my case, this was not a whole lot.)

Little does Dumass Beach know that his visitor, one Mr. Simms, is a storyteller with an agenda. Hired to tell stories that will help the Robo Patriot learn to identify who may one day commit a crime, Mr. Simms clearly spots the ultimate goal is to racially profile people.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Simms uses this as an opportunity to tell stories that are more subversive than Dumass Beach realizes. Which, to be honest, isn’t particularly difficult as the thinly veiled stand-in for Trump is about as likely to pick up on subtext as…well, the real thing. Thus, four stories follow with extremely self-evident messages about race and racism.

In a hallway, a blonde white woman smiles ahead, while a Black woman next to her looks on with discomfort.

In “Good Golly” (whose reasonably clever title I will acknowledge), a group of college friends check out the eerie Museum of Negrosity, a collection of antiquated–and extremely racist–memorabilia. Besties Audrey and Zoe insist that the stereotypes on display here are a thing of the past, and their friendship (between a Black and white girl) is proof that racism is dead and gone. Despite some very college lecture-y explanations of why this is untrue from the museum curator, the girls learn absolutely nothing. Audrey holds fast to her conviction that the golliwog doll is a comforting symbol from her childhood and decides she absolutely must have it…even if it means stealing this racist figure.

Since this is a horror/comedy, be confident that this plan goes horribly awry in a way that manages to be simultaneously creative and boring.

Two Black men stare each other down while a third figure looms in the background, fists together.

“The Medium” is the requisite gangster story, featuring 3 gang members trying to track down $5 million from ex-pimp Cliff. Now a successful businessman, Cliff refuses to reveal the location of the money, which is intended for a foundation. This revelation earns such cartoonish dialogue as “Fuck the United Negro College Fund, and fuck the kids.” Unfortunately, it isn’t long before the gang loses patience, and Cliff ends up dead.

Since Cliff was the only person who knew the location of the money, the gang members are SOL…until one of them has the brilliant idea of using a psychic to connect with Cliff. What could possibly go wrong there?

Two women in lingerie hiss, exposing vampiric fangs.

Our next story, “Date Night,” purports to underscore the importance of bros before hos. Two friends, Ty and Kahad, look forward to meeting two women from Tinder, ostensibly for a date. The two men are actually predators, claiming to be an agent and casting director in a disgusting bro-y way. In fact, the two do have plans to see their dates on film…by drugging them and recording their rape. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two women are not entirely who they appear to be, and the evening may take a nasty turn for Ty and Kahad.

A Black man and his mother look skeptically in the same direction that a white woman is staring.

Finally, “The Sacrifice” is…A LOT. The story alternates between the night of Emmett Till’s murder and the present day. In our contemporary story, pregnant Emily experiences nightmares about Till’s murder, becoming increasingly convinced that he has decided to live…and her baby must die. The baby’s father, Henry is a Black man and local politician who is a lifelong Republican. Ignoring his mother and wife alike, Henry disbelieves the signs that Emmett has a message for him from beyond. However, when it becomes clear that the life of Henry’s child is at stake, he has no choice but to listen to the spirit.

All of these stories are tied together by the Robo Patriot story, “Robo Hell.” What not-so-secret message might Mr. Simms reveal at last to Mr. Dumass Beach?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

I don’t know where to begin. First, let’s be clear that those 2 PPHs earned are purely for Keith David’s commitment to increasingly menacing grins and willingness to pull out all of the stops in his last few scenes.

However, the rest of the film is an absolute mess. Pulling off neither horror nor comedy particularly well, the stories mostly just make me cringe. Women are incredibly flat characters here, including the ONE Latina character, who is also depicted very stereotypically. The themes are about as subtle as a sledgehammer, and the dialogue is truly terrible. Even the Emmett Till story, which is the most genuine of the bunch, comes across as a clumsy after-school special.

If the Tales from the Hood franchise fails to fully launch, this film is the reason.

Would my blog wife channel this one’s spirit or condemn it to Robo Hell for eternity? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Tales from the Crypt presents: Demon Knight, or: Un-Brayk My Heart

It’s the best month on the blog, even if Horror Month is somewhat less of an escape while we’re in the midst of a global pandemic (being especially mishandled by the leadership in my country, the good ol’ “freedom isn’t free” USA). As this week’s film shows, things could always be worse…though I’ve seen demons with more compassion than some of our current world leaders.

The Film:

Tales from the Crypt presents:  Demon Knight

The Premise:

The fight for the key that holds humanity’s only hope for survival comes to smalltown New Mexico when a loner arrives, pursued by demon.

The Ramble:

Rather unnecessarily, the Crypt Keeper is a Hollywood director, which isn’t so much commentary as an opportunity for horrendously cringey puns on actors’ names. I suppose the Crypt Keeper is a necessary part of the film since this is a tale from the crypt…but I could have happily skipped these scenes without missing any of the film’s essence.

A skeleton wearing a director's costume faces the camera from a film set.

Once we dive into the main story line, we’re dropped into the middle of a dramatic high-speed chase. Protagonist Brayker is SOL when he runs out of fuel completely and cowboy-hatted Billy Zane still has his foot firmly on the gas pedal. As an audience with zero context for what’s happening, we’re initially supposed to be conflicted about who the good guy really is here…but we’ve all seen Titanic, right? Billy Zane’s character is known later only as the Collector–ooooh, ominous!

A man in a cowboy hat raises his hands as if in surrender, the police officer behind him looking skeptical.

After the two cars collide in a fiery explosion, there can be no survivors. Thus conclude the local police officers investigating the accident. However, to dramatically prove them wrong (and to keep the film going for another 80 minutes), an unscathed Collector emerges from the wreckage, demanding to know where the man he was following has gone.

As it turns out, Brayker has left a fairly easy trail to follow after attempting to steal a car parked outside of a café. At the suggestion of a man everyone in town calls Uncle Willy, Brayker winds up staying the night at a motel called the Mission, formerly a church.

A man wearing a leather jacket sits at a dingy table, an empty bowl in front of him.

Especially for a horror film, there are a LOT of characters whose names we’re supposed to remember from here on out (in addition to Uncle Willy). First is Irene, the owner of the motel, and formerly incarcerated employee Jeryline who is decidedly not here for your nonsense. Then we’ve got Cordelia, a sex worker who operates out of the motel, and Wally, a postal worker who is in love with her. Unfortunately, Cordelia has terrible taste in men, opting for the appropriately named Roach.

Before the cops and the Collector have to do too much sleuthing, a suspicious Irene tips them off on Brayker’s location. When they apprehend Brayker, the Collector reveals his interest in finding the man: he’s searching for an ancient key that seems to contain a precious liquid (spoiler alert: it’s the literal blood of Jesus).

However, unlike most horror movie cops, these two are at least somewhat suspicious of an actual demon, demanding that the Collector accompany them to the station rather than handing over the key. This is really not part of the plan, and one of the cops soon meets a grisly end as the Collector escapes. Condemning the property, the Collector brings forth demons to destroy those remaining in the motel.

After some setbacks, Brayker manages to keep demons out of the motel using the blood of Christ at all entrances to the building. However, this strategy will only work if no one enters or leaves the motel for the rest of the night. Complicating things is the demons’ ability to possess any of the humans with no one the wiser…until it’s too late.

A woman looks in horror at something offscreen as a man stands behind her, smiling.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Collector spends most of the film sending demons after the crew in the motel and trying to convince the humans to make a deal with him. He really wants that key as it is the last of 7–the other 6 of which are already in the demons’ possession. Of course, the key/Jesus blood is the only way for humanity to hold off the forces of darkness.

As the night goes on, both the human and demonic body count rises, with Jeryline emerging as an unlikely heroine. But does she have what it takes to preserve the key, save humanity, and keep the demonic forces at bay?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

You know, I didn’t hate this. The humor doesn’t always land well, and the explanation for the importance of the relic feels extremely underdeveloped. But overall, I stayed reasonably entertained through most of the film.

Demons pursuing an ancient object in a creepy old house gave me quite a Hellraiser vibe, and I’m not mad about that. However, this film doesn’t particularly pull off the menacing elements that Pinhead and the Cenobites bring to Hellraiser, opting instead for comedy. There were some times when I did find Billy Zane’s flippant approach to demonhood entertaining; it does seem on brand that a demon would have a good time watching humans inevitably fail. With the shaved head and dark eyes, Billy Zane gives off High Priest Imhotep vibes and seems to have made the entire film an audition tape for his role in Titanic.

Actually, the casting is well done in a way that doesn’t always happen with horror. William Sadler comes across like a budget Patrick Swayze, and it works for me. Perhaps the biggest badasses of the film are CCH Pounder as Irene and Jade Pinkett as Jeryline. My complaint here is that Jada in particular isn’t given much to do until the end, reflecting some of the film’s issues with major reveals. There are quite a few plot elements that are thrown in as dramatic twists, Jeryline’s role as the heir to Brayker’s work included (does that count as a spoiler?). This doesn’t always work particularly well; with Jeryline, it undercuts her importance by giving her less screen time. It’s a damn shame, especially because the scenes towards the end of the film are some of the most suspenseful (and badass).

New horror classic? Maybe not. But it’s just enough fun (and gore) that I have no regrets that we’ve included it on this year’s Horror Month watchlist.

Would my blog wife join this one in hell or banish it with a barrier of Jesus’s blood? Read her review to find out!