Film Review: The Strangers (2008)

Also known as: The Faces (script title)
Release Date: May 29th, 2008 (Russia)
Directed by: Bryan Bertino
Written by: Bryan Bertino
Music by: Tomandandy
Cast: Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, Laura Margolis, Glenn Howerton

Vertigo Entertainment, Mandate Pictures, Intrepid Pictures, Rogue Pictures, 86 Minutes, 88 Minutes (unrated cut)

Review:

“Since we’ve been here, I haven’t heard a dog bark… or a car pass. Nothing. Just us and them.” – James Hoyt

This was a film ruined by its marketing, which is why I never wanted to see it in the theater ten years ago and only decided to finally check it out because it was on Netflix and less than 90 minutes.

But the reason this film was ruined for me before I even saw it was due to one of the trailers where Liv Tyler’s character asks the psychos, “Why are you doing this to us?” And one of them simply says, “Because you were home.”

That killed this picture for me because I knew that those lines were the big reveal of the “mystery” within the film. The shocker moment; the money shot. And I also knew that if I saw this film, that answer was all I was going to get. So I didn’t need to see it, really. Because I’ve already seen home invasion and psycho slasher movies a billion times.

A user review on IMDb refers to this as “stupid people being tormented by stupid killers” and that’s probably the best description of this that there is.

This was a poorly written plot where it relied completely on the psychos just having good luck. It also made them have unnatural stealth abilities, which can only be explained if they were ex-Navy SEALs or trained in the ninja arts.

But seriously, the psychos were stupid, the victims were stupid and I kind of just wanted an asteroid to smash the house and kill them all.

Look, you have two people, holed up in a house with a shotgun and a shitload of shells. Outside are just three people armed with handheld tools from the family shed. How in the hell do you not just blow their f’n brains out in 2 minutes and order a pizza while waiting for the cops to show up.

And then, the only person to get their brains blown out was Dennis from Always Sunny, who just dropped in to say “hey”.

This movie was so painfully stupid that it hurt me physically.

There isn’t much else to say about it, really.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: Probably the sequel I have no interest in seeing, as well as VacancyYou’re Next and the modern remake of The Last House On the Left.

Film Review: Psycho II (1983)

Release Date: June 3rd, 1983
Directed by: Richard Franklin
Written by: Tom Holland
Based on: characters by Robert Bloch
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz, Hugh Gillin, Robert Alan Browne, Claudia Bryar, Lee Garlington, Tom Holland

Oak Industries, Universal Pictures, 113 Minutes

Review:

“Mary, I’m becoming confused again, aren’t I?” – Norman Bates

I didn’t know what to expect from a sequel to a Hitchcock classic. Plus, this came out 23 years after the original, was made by a different studio and had a completely different vibe that embraced more of the slasher side than the classic suspense side.

The thing is, this also did a fine job of building suspense and ultimately, it was a damn good story, kept me guessing and wasn’t something that had an obvious outcome.

I really liked the script, I liked the curveballs and I loved that Norman Bates was actually reformed, even if circumstances pushed his buttons and made his resistance to his killer urges weaken over time. But is he the killer in this picture? You would be safe to assume so but the answer to that question isn’t a simple one.

Now I do feel like the ending of the film was a bit sloppy, after such a good story and great build up towards the finale. The ending felt like something that wasn’t decided upon until production had already started and the producers ended up meddling with things. I don’t know if that happened, it’s just a guess, but it had that kind of weird execution in the third act of the story.

The movie was written by Tom Holland, who would later direct Fright Night and Child’s Play. Kudos to Holland for penning a really compelling, smart script that really gave respect to the original movie while also showing respect to the audience. He also had a lot of layers to his story and explored what happens when a once insane man is clinically cured but has to later deal with the social repercussions of his past actions. How will he handle the hatred; how will he respond when pushed against a wall?

Another person I have to give major kudos to is Vera Mills. She really kills it in this, pun intended. Also, she truly committed to this picture and the slasher style killings. She does get taken out in this and that moment is one of the best in the film. Vera goes out like a friggin’ champ and it was cool to see her do that scene.

Meg Tilly was adorable in the film and it was hard to not crush on her character, just as Norman did. She is not who she seems to be at first glance but she develops mutual feelings for Norman and wants to genuinely support him. Sadly, she gets pulled into his chaotic orbit.

Even though a few things I’ve said here may be seen as spoilers, they are very minor ones, as Holland’s script isn’t as simple as it may first seem on the surface. Plus, just because someone dies in this, doesn’t mean that they’re just some victim. In fact, this feels more like a Clue whodunit mystery than a straight up serial killer thriller. And just when you think you’ve got the answers, you realize that you don’t.

It was great seeing Anthony Perkins return to his most famous role. Even within the context of his past crimes, Perkins is so good in this role that you feel for him emotionally. You know he did horrible things but you also get the sense that he is trying his damnedest to move forward and to truly be a good person. When he’s poked and prodded, you get angry for him. I just don’t think anyone else could have made this work quite like Perkins did.

On paper, Psycho II is a film that should have never been made. The original should have been left alone. But this is a very rare gem, as it’s better than it has a right to be.

The film isn’t as good as it’s predecessor because really, Psycho is a perfect film. But this is a damn good examination of psychological rehabilitation and it somehow makes you care for a man that was once a cold blooded murderer.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Psycho films.

Film Review: Nightmare (1981)

Also known as: Blood Splash, Nightmare in a Damaged Brain (alternate titles), Schizo (Australia)
Release Date: October 16th, 1981 (New York City sneak preview)
Directed by: Romano Scavolini
Written by: Romano Sacvolini
Music by: Jack Eric Williams
Cast: Baird Stafford, Sharon Smith, C.J. Cooke, Mike Cribben, Danny Ronan

21st Century Film Corporation, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Now Paul, you… you believed in these drugs. And, you rebuilt this man. And you did put him back out on the street. But now, he’s out there killing people. And we can’t have that. Now you find him… and you fix it” – Man with Cigar

Nightmare is an Italian slasher film shot mostly on the Florida Space Coast. Sadly, this isn’t a slasher picture that takes place at NASA but how cool would that have been in the ’80s? Like SpaceCamp meets Friday the 13th. I would’ve loved that shit.

Anyway, this primarily takes place on Cocoa Beach but there are a few New York City scenes as well.

The story follows a psycho that has been released to the public, he goes down to Florida and tries to fight his killer tendencies but he can’t. This all ties back to a horrific event from his childhood.

The film is far from spectacular but it is a good example of extensive gore used in a way that has some actual artistic merit to it. The gory scenes are very well done and as tasteful as they can possibly be. Yes, it is absolutely gratuitous but it feels like there is actual purpose behind it and it serves to have meaning to the plot and to character development. You’ll see what I mean when you get to the big reveal (a predictable one) at the end.

I can name dozens of slasher films that are better than this one and there isn’t a ton of killing but for whatever reason, this one does stick with you and it stands out, as it doesn’t try to emulate or blatantly ripoff other films in the genre, it explores different territory making it fairly unique. Also, I’m a Florida boy and I love the setting.

Strangely, being that this is an Italian film with a slasher premise, it doesn’t tap into the giallo style too much. The only thing remotely giallo, besides narrative similarities to that style and slasher films, is the vivid look of the blood once it really starts flowing. I think the director was more interested in trying to make something much more American feeling than replicating other, more famous, Italian horror directors. Kudos to him for that.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Don’t Go In the HouseBlood RagePieces and Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker.

Film Review: Final Exam (1981)

Also known as: Examen Final (Spain, France), Examen (Germany)
Release Date: June 5th, 1981
Directed by: Jimmy Huston
Written by: Jimmy Huston
Music by: Gary S. Scott
Cast: Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice, DeAnna Robbins, Sherry Willis-Burch, Ralph Brown, John Fallon, Timothy Raynor

Avco Embassy Pictures, Motion Picture Marketing, 89 Minutes

Review:

“People are killed every day for no reason at all.” – Radish

This film has characters named Radish and Wildman in it. What’s not to love, right?

Final Exam is one of the seventy dozen slasher films to come out in the early ’80s. It is also one of the most forgettable. It tries to be several things at once but fails at all of those things.

This is a film with multiple personality disorder. It wants to be a teen sex comedy and also wants to be a clone of everything better than it in the slasher genre. It doesn’t meld the two things together very well and it doesn’t do either of the two things very well either. It’s not funny, not scary and the biggest crime against it is that there is barely any blood in it.

Another problem with the film and I’m not sure if it’s an attempt to be artistic or just pure laziness but the slasher has no backstory, no name, no real motivation that you’re ever made aware of and looks generic as hell. He’s just some dude that looks like Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men but severely deficient in coolness.

The dumbest thing in this entire film is the sequence where some frat bros stage a fake terrorist attack on the school in an effort to create a distraction so their other frat bros can cheat on their exams. Seriously, these doofusauruses roll up onto the university lawn in a van and start machine gunning people and then steal the corpses of their victims. Of course, none of this is real, as the corpses come to life, laughing their asses off in the van. It’s a bizarre scene that just comes off as random nonsense that contributes to the overall nonsense that is this stupid movie.

Final Exam sucks. I love slasher films, even really bad ones, but this is such an awful pile of shit that the flies would rather commit suicide than hang around this massive mound of crude excrement.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: Other college/school themed slasher pictures of the era: The ProwlerGraduation DayNight SchoolThe Dorm That Dripped BloodBlack ChristmasThe House On Sorority Row and The Initiation.

Film Review: The Prowler (1981)

Also known as: Most Likely to Die (working title), Pitchfork Massacre (reissue title), Rosemary’s Killer, The Graduation (alternate titles)
Release Date: November 6th, 1981
Directed by: Joseph Zito
Written by: Neal Barbera, Glenn Leopold
Music by: Richard Einhorn
Cast: Vicky Dawson, Farley Granger, Lawrence Tierney, Christopher Goutman

Graduation Films, Sandhurst, 89 Minutes, 87 Minutes (edited cut)

Review:

“I want you to be my date, Rose.” – The Prowler

I haven’t watched The Prowler in a long time but I did like it enough to rent with some regularity when I was a kid in the ’80s and ’90s. I also thought that “The Prowler” had a really cool look. The best slashers always have a cool outfit and a unique gimmick. This is the same reason why I love the bad guy in My Bloody Valentine. Like that movie, this is a film that isn’t spectacular but is made better by having a cool killer.

The film starts with a prologue that takes place in the 1940s. It is used to setup a connection between that time and modern times (or 1981 when the movie was released).

As is typical, someone is murdering young hot girls. It’s a big mystery and the murders are gruesome. You’ve probably seen this all before, maybe dozens of times, and there isn’t much to set this movie apart from its competition but slashers are rarely great and fans of these films don’t watch them expecting to experience a masterpiece like Alfred Hitchock’s Psycho.

Compared to some other films in the slasher genre, this one is a bit tame. Yes, there’s stabbings and gruesome murders but this is nowhere near as gory as some of the harder stuff out there. It certainly can’t compete with something like the Spanish slasher Pieces.

Surprisingly, this was a one and done slasher picture and didn’t churn out a bunch of sequels. But I guess that this early in the genre, studios were more into just making slasher pictures in general and not developing franchises. Friday the 13th only had one movie when this was made and A Nightmare On Elm Street was still three years away. The early ’80s were full of these one and done slasher pictures.

There isn’t much else to point out with this movie other than mentioning that it had two classic film-noir actors in it: Farley Granger and Lawrence Tierney. Modern film fans probably know Tierney best as Joe Cabot, the mob boss, from Reservoir Dogs.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Other early ’80s slashers: The BurningPiecesMy Bloody ValnetineTerror TrainNew Year’s Evil, Happy Birthday to Me, The Mutilator, Sleepaway Camp, The House on Sorority Row, The Initiation, etc.

Film Review: StageFright (1987)

Also known as: Deliria (original title), Aquarius, Bloody Bird, Sound Stage Massacre, Stage Fright (alternate spelling)
Release Date: January, 1987 (Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival – France)
Directed by: Michele Soavi
Written by: George Eastman (as Lew Cooper), Sheila Goldberg
Music by: Simon Boswell, Guido Anelli, Stefano Mainetti
Cast: David Brandon, Barbara Cupisti, Mary Sellers, Robert Gligorov, Jo Ann Smith, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Martin Philips, Piero Vida, Michele Soavi

DMV Distribuzione, Filmirage, Artists Entertainment Group, 86 Minutes

Review:

“In case it slipped your mind, this show opens in just one week from now, and as you can see, those people up there literally stink.” – Peter

StageFright was the directorial breakout of Michele Soavi, who had spent a good amount of time working with giallo maestros Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava before getting behind the camera for this picture.

If you love slasher films or Italian giallo, this film is a good f’n time. You should absolutely love this and frankly, this is pretty high up on any list for either of those genres, as far as I’m concerned.

90 percent of this film takes place on and around a sound stage, as the potential victims of the killer are locked in after rehearsing their upcoming play. The play is about a guy that went psycho, dressed up like an owl in a suit and went on a killing spree. However, now someone is picking off the director, the producer and the cast and that someone dons the costume of the killer.

I love the slasher in this movie. The owl mask is just really cool and chilling. The use of flying feathers and blood throughout the film is also fantastic and really adds a lot to the mystique of the killer.

Like a typical giallo style film, this one uses a lot of vivid colorful lighting, heavy shadows and makes the viewer rely on their imagination a bit, as things are often times obscured and your mind has to fill in the blanks. This actually helps build the tension and the creep factor.

The acting isn’t superb and the dubbing is goofy at times but most of the chicks are hot, most of the violence is presented more artistically than an American slasher flick and this has a magical and surreal quality to it.

Man, I f’n love this movie. It’s certainly not a perfect film but if you love this style and want something more imaginative than just a run of the mill slasher picture, than this should satisfy.

Lastly, I love the music in this and I’m probably going to have to track down the soundtrack on vinyl.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Other giallo and slasher flicks of the time: OperaPhenomenaPiecesTenebre, A Blade In the Dark and The New York Ripper.

Film Review: Venom (2005)

Also known as: Backwater, The Reaper (working titles)
Release Date: September 16th, 2005
Directed by: Jim Gillespie
Written by: Flint Dille, John Zuur Platten, Brandon Boyce
Music by: James L. Venable, John Debney
Cast: Agnes Bruckner, Jonathan Jackson, Laura Ramsey, D.J. Cotrona, Meagan Good, Bijou Phillips, Method Man

Outerbanks Entertainment, Collision Entertainment, Miramax Films, Dimension Films, 85 Minutes

Review:

“It’s a milking ceremony. It’s an old Haitian ritual. The Mambo is saving the man’s soul, clensing him of evil. It’s his last rites. The snakes are charmed by the Mamboto suck out the man’s evil, so that his soul may pass on.” – Cece

Man, this was shit.

And it wasn’t the good sort of shit. It was just stinky, funky, boring shit.

Venom is a slasher film that takes place in the Louisiana bayou. It has elements of voodoo in it too, as this film’s slasher is a victim of cursed ghost snakes that possess it and control it. Ghost snakes brought to life by shoddy CGI, mind you. I guess going to the pet store at the mall and buying a couple pythons for a hundred bucks a pop would have killed the budget. The entire CGI for this film probably cost about eight dollars.

Anyway, we get a group of teens and each one fits a predetermined role that anyone who has watched a slasher film knows exactly who’s who. Immediately, you know the girl who will survive and pretty much know the general order in which these kids will get picked off.

The villain is this scared up gas station worker with a big ass tow truck. He’s normal in the beginning but he crashes into some old voodoo lady, tries to save her but ultimately gets bitten by her cartoon voodoo snakes and becomes a swamp zombie. Seriously, he looks like a shirtless, maskless Jason Voorhees covered in mud like Dutch from Predator. Oh, and the cartoon voodoo snakes often times peek through the holes in his decaying body.

Everything about this film was predictable. Slasher films, however, aren’t known for being well-written affairs but at least the good ones tried to do something unique. I guess the voodoo twist is supposed to be unique but we’ve already had voodoo elements brought into slasher pictures; Child’s Play, Candyman and Maniac Cop III immediately come to mind.

Agnes Bruckner was the final girl in this and I thought she was carving out a nice scream queen career for herself as she did this and The Woods around the same time. The Woods is a better film, by the way, and it had Bruce Campbell in it. I can’t recall anything else Bruckner’s done but I remember seeing her in this and thinking, she might be the ’00s horror hero icon.

Method Man from Wu-Tang is in this too but just barely. I feel bad that he got roped into this when he could have done something better with his time like recording another follow up to Tical.

Probably the biggest reason why this movie sucks is that it has absolutely no balls. None. Every big kill happens just after the camera turns away. Sometimes we get to see the aftermath of a kill but the gore is minimal and this just feels like it was edited for television. Fuck this movie and its lack of anything truly horrifying.

Eh. I’m done. I hate this piece of crap. Granted, it’s not the worst horror movie of its decade but I’d rather get a tick in my urethra than ever watch this again.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: Other mediocre or bad ’00s horror films: Stay AliveBlack X-MasProm NightValentineSorority Row, See No Evil, etc.