Slasher

The 6th Friend

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Six friends throw a party for their college graduation. When an uninvited guest shows up things get out of control, leading to traumatic events. Five years later the women agree to meet again to reconnect and try to move on from what happened. As soon as night falls it becomes clear that the girls are not alone. Is it the same uninvited guest coming for revenge, or is it something much more sinister?

The 6th Friend has a lot of potential. The story is simple enough, but still fun and interesting. The filmmakers do a great job of building the suspense and paranoia once the friends are gathered at the cabin and realize they are being hunted. While the characters can be a bit stereotypical, they are still enjoyable. From there, however, the film goes a bit downhill. The filmmakers try to generate hysteria by causing confusion. Is the killer the same man from 5 years ago, is it his ghost, is it a demon, or is it maybe even a copycat killer? This is great and would have made for an intriguing and suspenseful film. Unfortunately, there are two huge mistakes made that give away the “big twist.” I won’t get too much into what that is, because I don’t like to give spoilers, but I will say I figured everything out very early on in the film (certain elements even before the opening credits). With just a few minor changes the plot could be elevated in a way that makes every twist and turn much more thrilling.

As I mentioned before, the characters can sometimes fall into certain archetypes commonly seen in horror films. This is especially apparent in much of the dialogue. That being said, there are still many instances of well-written banter between the characters that is both humorous and charming. Much of it depends on the acting. While in general the performances are fine and there is great on-screen chemistry between the six friends, some of the performances leave a bit to be desired. For me the strongest performance came from Tania Nolan (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) as Sahara. There is something about her performance that comes across so natural on the screen. I believe she is Sahara and knows these women and has been friends with them for many years. While none of the performances by the other five women could be considered bad, per se, there is one role that stands out to me as the least enjoyable. Chantelle Albers (Moo Moo and the Three Witches) plays Melissa. Her mother owns the cabin the friends are staying at, and she is an aspiring starlet. Watching Albers in the role I can’t help but feel that she plays Melissa a bit exaggerated. This may be a conscious decision since Melissa is trying to use her tragic past as a means to get into the acting world, but there are times where Albers goes a bit over the top. While none of the remaining performances stand out as being terrible, but they don’t stand out as being amazing either. They are good enough to enjoy watching the film.

This is a film that doesn’t have many visual effects. The biggest effect involves distorting shots when the killer is in view. This technique emphasizes the notion that the killer could potentially be a supernatural force rather than a flesh and blood murderer. This would be an effective tool if, as I mentioned before, the clues to the truth were less obvious. One big positive is the design for the mask the killer wears. It almost looks like a skull within a skull, and it is downright creepy. My only complaint about the mask is that I wish it was in the movie more. Aside from scenes involving the mask and the killer, there is one other part that stands out as having amazing effects. That doesn’t mean that the filmmakers didn’t use simple tricks to create terror. There is a segment where a few of the friends are running through the woods to get away from the killer, then one of them gets caught in a noose. It creates such a great amount of suspense and is also quite well done, as it appears to be a real hanging. This particular scene is likely the most intense sequence of events that occurs in the entire film.

The 6th Friend is a film that many viewers may feel a bit blasé about. It isn’t terrible, but it isn’t particularly thrilling or scary either. If anything, I found the scenes involving humor to stand out more than the scenes of terror. The story is fine, the performances are fine, and the villain has a very unsettling mask. With just a few minor adjustments I truly believe this film could be much more frightening and exciting. As it is now, it is a  fun, light thriller that audiences will likely enjoy well enough. However, with the many amazing films to come out so far in 2017, it may quickly be forgotten.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10 (no pun intended)

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Lake Bodom

Lake-Bodom-2016

In 1960 four teenagers were murdered at Lake Bodom in Finland. Decades later, two teenage boys invite two girls to go camping with them. What these girls don’t know is that they are going to the same spot where those teens lost their lives so many years ago. One of the boys is determined to test his theory about who committed the murders. Once the group arrive at the lake things quickly go down a dark and twisted path that some may not survive.

One of the most interesting aspects of this film is that the murders in 1960 are true. Four teenagers went camping at Lake Bodom, and only one survived, although he suffered terrible injuries and mental trauma. To this day the murders remain unsolved. Instead of doing what most films do with true events, and trying to recreate them on film, the filmmakers of Lake Bodom decided to simply use that as a springboard for their story. The previous murders are acknowledged and used as the motivation for this new group to camp in the same spot. From there the plot dives into intrigue, deception, betrayal, and many equally interesting layers.

What makes Lake Bodom stand out to me is that every time you think you have things figured out, a new layer to the story is revealed. While I love that about the film because it keeps the audience guessing, it also felt like there may be one too many layers to the plot. If the filmmakers had held back just a little bit the film would have a stronger overall story. It is almost as if they try to put too many twists and turns into the plot to the point where it is hard to determine where the filmmakers wanted to go with the film. Despite that, I will say the layer that could be taken out does at least make audiences call into question if what they see is real or not.

Lake Bodom is the most visually stunning film I have seen so far at the Phoenix Film Festival/International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival. Every single shot looks like it is a work of art. The cinematography in the forest setting is not only gorgeous, but is done in a way that looks eerie as well. The filmmakers even do a great job of filming primarily at night, but there is enough light to clearly see what is happening. This is not easy to do without the artificial light being completely obvious. While watching the film it just looks like moonlight, and that only adds to the creepy atmosphere and beautiful style of the film.

The entire cast of Lake Bodom is amazing. Nelly Hirst-Gee (If You Love) portrays the innocent and broken Ida. She is the damaged one of the group and has to go through more of an emotional transformation to find her own strength, and Hirst-Gee does an amazing job in that role. Mimosa Willamo (Headfirst) plays Nora, the strongest personality in the group. Willamo stands out because, much like Hirst-Gee as Ida, she reveals the many aspects of Nora in a compelling way. The two male leads, Santeri Helinheimo Mäntylä (Bitwisards) as Atte and Mikael Gabriel (Flowers of Evil) as Elias, also give excellent performances. Both male characters can come across as creepy and sweet in turn, and both actors convey that very well. One thing they all have in common is that at different points during the film you call into question each of their motives and intentions.

Since this is more of a slasher film, most of the effects are on the minimal side. There isn’t a ton of blood and gore. There is enough blood to feel realistic for the injuries, but not so much that it turns into an over-the-top bloodbath. The kills themselves are also fairly minimal. There is really only one death that is a bit more unique. This one stands out because the way this character is killed fits in so well with what they say just before their death. This is clearly a deliberate choice by the filmmakers to give the audience a bit of an “ah-ha” moment. Also, by keeping things simple with the effects, it forces audiences to focus more on the story at hand.

Lake Bodom is a film filled with murder, betrayal, obsession, and deception. The many different aspects of the film add a lot of intrigue, but it also makes the film seem convoluted at times. Despite that it is still a stunningly filmed story with superb acting from the four leads. It also gives audiences a great mystery that twists and turns in ways that will keep you guessing from start to finish. This is another film that will appeal to many different types of horror fans and non-horror fans alike.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Fear, Inc.

A horror movie buff has his friends come in from out of town to celebrate Halloween. He wants to experience big scares, but finds the typical haunted houses and mazes predictable. A stranger tells him about a mysterious company called Fear, Inc. that will create terrifying scares catered to what he fears. Despite his friends warnings, the horror fan calls the company. It doesn’t take long for him to realize that he has made a grave mistake. He has put his friends and himself in peril as this dangerous company plays its wicked game.

What made this film stand out to me is that it strikes a cord with true horror fans. The discussions the friends have and the movies referenced are all parts of conversations we have had with other horror fans. There are also quite a few hidden gems throughout the film. They are almost like little inside jokes for genre fans to notice. An example of this is when the two lead males dress up as Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees for Halloween. The reason this is hilarious is because one of those two actors was in the movie Freddy vs. Jason. I almost died laughing when I saw them in costume and made the connection.

In terms of the overall story, this film reminded me a bit of The Houses October Built. Both feature characters that are disillusioned by what Halloween haunted houses and corn mazes have to offer in terms of scares. As a result, they look for something more intense and terrifying. This leads the characters down a path they wish they hadn’t gone down. It plays into the idea of people wanting bigger scares to get the adrenaline going, but how far should it really go?

Fear, Inc. did a great job of making sure the audience understood the company manufacturing scares was not on the up and up. They will do whatever it takes to scare the participants, even if that means by physical means. The lead character thinks it’s all fun and games, but when it clicks in his head that the gore might be real things take a turn. The film quickly goes from more of a comedic style to an intense thriller. The end of the film is what really makes Fear, Inc. shine through. The filmmakers managed to create an ending that felt familiar to horror fans, but it was also something new and exciting that kept the audience guessing. The only downfall to the plot that comes to mind is a few minor questions I have (I don’t necessarily want to call them plot holes) about how certain things were achieved.

This was a film that had an all-around great cast you could tell had fun making the film. Lucas Neff (Raising Hope, Glitch) was quite lovable as the lead, Joe. I used to watch Raising Hope, and I almost didn’t even recognize him in this film. Not only did he physically look different, but he plays such a laid-back character compared to how I was used to seeing him. I loved watching Neff portray Joe as this carefree guy that thinks everything is a game until things go too far, and then we get to see his more intense side. Caitlin Stasey (Reign, All Cheerleaders Die) was also delightful as Joe’s girlfriend, Lindsey. She stood out to me because of how she could change her character’s disposition at the flick of a switch, while still making it seem natural.

Since this is a horror film made to appease genre fans, there was of course a healthy amount of gore. The filmmakers were very clever about how they showed the blood and guts. Much of what we see looks better than a low budget horror film, but also not too realistic. It is this odd in-between area where it could possibly be real, but it could be fake as well. It helped us stay in the same mindset as Joe so the audience is never sure if what we are seeing is real or all part of an act. This helped us to try to figure things out along with Joe.

If I had to say one thing about this movie it’s that it is fun. This film was a perfect homage to the horror genre and the loyal fans. Fear, Inc. is a film that makes you laugh and gasp in turn, and it keeps you guessing from start to finish. It is a movie that will be added to my list of  must-watch films for Halloween. If you are a true fan of horror, this is not a film you should pass up on. It may not be scary, and there may be one or two things that could have used a bit more explaining, but it is the most fun I’ve had watching a horror movie in  while.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Throwback Thursday Movie: The House on Sorority Row (1983)

It’s graduation time for a group of senior girls in a college sorority. After their house mother squashes their plans to throw a graduation party at the sorority house, the girls decide to play a prank on her. The prank goes too far and ends in murder. Now the girls are being killed one by one. They must try to survive while also attempting to hide the evidence of their dark deed.

Even though this film is 33 years old, I had not seen it yet. Since I am undertaking the 31 Days of Horror challenge, it only felt right to watch this classic slasher flick. The plot is simple enough. Most people who went to high school or college are familiar with senior pranks. When the girls in this sorority try to prank their shrewd house mother, it accidentally ends in her death. The girls have their whole lives ahead of them, so instead of calling the police, they decide to dispose of the body before people arrive for the graduation party. As with any good slasher, nothing goes quite to plan, and the girls are killed off one by one. The twist in this film was actually fairly good. For most of the film I thought the ending was going to go one way, but it did a complete 180 on me at the climax of the film.

While the story is fun, what makes this film so great is how you can see the influence it left behind. Many films and TV shows have come out since this film was made that clearly drew inspiration from it. Many slashers I have seen over the years have certain aspects that appear to have come from this film. The most obvious connection to The House on Sorority Row can be seen in the first season of Scream Queens. The entire premise of the first season clearly was inspired by The House on Sorority Row, just in a more satirical form. It’s amazing to think that this film paved the way for so many other great slasher flicks.

The acting in this film was surprisingly good considering both the content and when it was made. Kate McNeil (Monkey Shines, As The World Turns) was great as the lead, Katherine. She was innocent, sweet, and everything you expect from a final girl in a slasher film. I was also a big fan of Eileen Davidson (The Young and the Restless) as Vicki. She was the perfect antithesis to Katherine. She was a slutty bitch who doesn’t take shit from anyone (especially not their house mother). She also managed to portray her character without feeling over the top in her performance.

Since this is an early eighties slasher film, the practical effects are generally kept to a minimum. It is really only the occasional smear of blood when someone is stabbed or shot. The only true practical effect involved a severed head in a toilet. I loved this effect because it was both gory and hilarious all at the same time. They appeared to have achieved this by having the actress under the toilet with her head sticking up through the hole (although I could be mistaken). Either way it was definitely a stand out moment in the film.

The House on Sorority Row is a film that every horror fan should see at some point. It’s influence can be felt in many later films and TV shows. This is the kind of cult classic that has a story most will be familiar with, but it is still a fun watch. It may not be as big as some of the other slashers such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween, but it deserves a certain level of respect and appreciation. If you haven’t seen this film yet I would definitely recommend giving it a try. If you have seen it, still watch it again to enjoy the slasher genre in its purest form.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

31

A group of carnies gets kidnapped while on the road. They are brought to a massive compound and forced to play a twisted game by three people dressed as old English aristocrats. The game is called “31”. All the carnies have to do is survive 12 hours in the compound while being hunted by one twisted clown after the other, each one more dangerous than the last. These clowns specialize in murder and mayhem. Will the small band of unwilling participants be able to survive the night?

31 was a hodge podge of really great ideas and some not so great ones. Overall, I think the concept was a really fun and exciting one. There wasn’t ever a dull moment during the film. The opening scene was one of the best parts of the entire film. It was a monologue by the aptly named “Doom-Head” clown. The scene was intense, even though it was just Doom-Head talking to his victim. That was a great way to start the film (even though there were some editing errors where the amount of blood on his face drastically changed between cuts and drove me crazy). After such a strong opening, the rest of the film was filled with a mix of high and low points. Most of the film was fun and exciting; I laughed, I gasped, and I had a lot of fun. Unfortunately, there were definitely some holes in the plot, which was where we run into the low points. Most of the holes surround the orchestrators of this event known as Father Murder, Sister Serpent, and Sister Dragon. Who are these people? How are they funding this? What do they do when it isn’t Halloween? How did they find the psychopaths to participate in their murder game? We may never know.

One of my biggest issues with this film was the character of Charly, played by Sheri Moon Zombie (Devil’s Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses). Anyone who has seen a Rob Zombie film knows that he is going to have his wife as the star and hero of the film. That I don’t mind, but Charly was such a pathetic “hero”. There were times in the film where she definitely rose to the occasion and did what she has to do, but at the same time there were scenes where she was made out to be such a weak person. It was too extreme to see her go from one end to the other, making her character unbelievable. Also, the wig they had her wear throughout the film was so distracting for me. Every time Zombie came on screen all I could look at is the ridiculous hair. The various clowns, on the other hand, were fantastic. They were such extreme caricatures of demented personalities that you couldn’t help but laugh at them as they were hunting their victims.

The biggest standout performance was, of course, Doom-Head. He was played by Richard Brake (Water for Elephants, Spy). If this film had just been his opening monologue, I would have been completely satisfied with that. Brake managed to play a ruthless killer who clearly enjoys what he does, and it made you enjoy watching him at work. My only complaint was that I wish he had been in the film more. Jeff Daniel Phillips (Lords of Salem, Halloween II) also stood out as the carnival worker, Roscoe. Of all the carnies, I found him to be the most likable and realistic character. I was rooting for him to survive the game more than any other character (maybe it had to do with his sweet sideburns).

The clown makeup and costumes in 31 were delightfully strange and minimal. The various clowns were all made to look ridiculous, and only slightly clownish, in order to add to the insanity. For example, Sick-Head was a little person who was a Spanish speaking Nazi clown. He primarily looked like a Nazi with a painted on Hitler mustache and a swastika on his chest. The only aspect that looked clown-ish is the white painted face and red nose. Probably my favorite clown look was Death-Head, who was this mammoth of a man. He wore a little white leotard and the tiniest tutu I have ever seen. It was hilarious because Death-Head was so huge and terrifying, yet he was running around in the least threatening outfit one could possibly think of. Again, he could only really be thought of as a clown because he was wearing such a comical outfit. It was all a fun juxtaposition by having murderous lunatics in ridiculous costumes.

Rob Zombie gave us a film that has everything you expect from a Rob Zombie film: excitement, bloodshed, and bad guys that you can’t help but love. This was definitely not his best film, but it was a lot of fun to watch. He always succeeds in making me laugh at the most inappropriate times. If the various plot holes had been filled, or at least briefly touched on, and if the hero character was a bit stronger I would have enjoyed 31 that much more. As it is, 31 is a thrill ride that lacks a bit in substance, but makes up for it in carnage and madness.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Neon Demon

Jesse is a young aspiring model from a small town. She is new to the big city, but she soon lands a modeling contract with a big agency. Jesse’s quick rise in the modeling industry and her rare beauty make the other models jealous. Jealousy can quickly turn to obsession. In a world where beauty isn’t everything – it’s the only thing – the most gorgeous and cutthroat will be the ones to survive.

Neon Demon has a relatively simple story that many models at various stages of their career can likely relate to. You get multiple different perspectives: the fresh meat that is quickly becoming a modeling favorite, the “has been” that has been under the knife one too many times, the model that can’t catch a break no matter how hard she tries, and the makeup artist that views it all from the fringes. The audience follows fresh-faced Jesse on her journey to stardom, but there is a constant awareness of how her rise affects her “friends”. Beyond this relatively to-the-point plot, the film greatly lacks in dialogue and proper pacing. There are large periods of time where there is absolutely no conversation between the characters. Even when there is some dialogue, the line delivery tends to be widely spaced. It makes the film seem to move at a snails pace, coming dangerously close to boring the audience. Things pick up a bit during the final act, where there is still not much talking, but there are at least some interesting events that make you laugh, cringe, and gasp all at the same time.

The moments that are devoid of dialogue are filled with stimulating artistic visuals. Many of the key moments are shown as a metaphoric display of neon lights and glitter. For example, when Jesse reaches her peak of the modeling industry, the audience is shown her internal transformation from an innocent girl into the “neon demon.” It is almost as if you are watching a piece of art move and breathe. Many of these visuals are accompanied with an amazing score. The music almost has an eighties video game feel to it, which fits in well with the use of neon lights in dark spaces throughout the film. There are even times when the makeup for the models is reminiscent of certain video games.

Since there was so little speech in Neon Demon, it makes it somewhat difficult to really judge the acting. I love Elle Fanning (Maleficent, Super 8) and think she is a fantastic actress. In her role as Jesse, however, she seemed a bit vacant through most of the film. I’m attributing this to the directing more so than her acting because it is a common theme with those playing the models. All three of the main women playing models were generally stiff, but there was a little something that made each of them different. Fanning at one point makes a change to a more seductive, menacing persona. Bella Heathcote (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) played Gigi, who is also quite rigid. On top of that, she manages to come off as both pompous and insecure all at the same time. Then there is Abbey Lee (Mad Max: Fury Road) as Sarah. What makes her stand out is her desperation to make it in the modeling world. Jena Malone (Sucker Punch) was probably the only main character that was able to show more emotion throughout the film because she wasn’t a model. She played Ruby, the makeup artist who is the first to befriend Jesse. Ruby is probably the most real and down to earth of the four main girls, but you do not want to get in the way of what she desires.

Did I love Neon Demon? No. Did I hate it? No. Would I watch it again? Most likely. Neon Demon is a film that is visually stunning, but it is lacking in substance, much like the models the film focuses on. As I was watching the film I couldn’t help but think if it had been an art installation in an upscale gallery, I would have thought it was absolutely amazing. Seeing as it was a film, I thought it wasn’t paced well enough and it didn’t have enough plot or dialogue to really keep me interested. This may sound harsh, but from the little experience I have with Nicolas Winding Refn I feel like his films lean towards being pretentious. The film tries to be a profound and artistic commentary on the modelling world, but unfortunately it errs on the side of being as vapid as that industry.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10

Hush

A deaf writer is trying to finish her next novel. In order to help herself focus, she moves into a secluded house in the woods. One seemingly normal night, the unthinkable happens. A maniac in a mask begins to terrorize the writer. If she can’t find a way to escape, she might not live to see another day.

This was a film with a thrilling plot and some shocking scenes. While the idea of a woman with some kind of impairment being stalked by a psychopath has been done before, I appreciated the attempts at originality in how this film was made. One unique aspect that made this film stand out was the decision by the filmmaker to intermittently take away all sound from the film. This allowed the audience to experience intense moments the way the main character would. I also appreciated that, after the initial shock of the situation, the female lead wasn’t a helpless damsel in distress. She was a strong survivor that pushed through whatever was thrown at her. It would have been easy for the plot to have a defenseless main character, especially since she was deaf, so the simple fact the film went against that grain made it more interesting.

One aspect of the plot that bothered me a bit had to do with the villain of the story. The character himself was fine. He was cool, calculating, psychotic, and clearly enjoyed the suffering he put his victims through. My issue with him had to do with the mask. When you first see this madman he is wearing a terrifying white mask. As we have learned from many slasher films, masks give an anonymity that makes the villain more frightening. If you can’t see their face it makes it more difficult to tell what they are thinking or what they are capable of. It also make the villain seem less human, and therefore more threatening. This film chose to unmask the villain very early on in the film. While I can appreciate that this was likely an attempt to stand out from other thrillers involving masked men, it immediately made him seem less threatening. It was almost as if he went from being a menacing, mysterious evil presence lurking in the shadows to a creepy ex-boyfriend that can’t take a hint.

The star of the film, Kate Siegel (Oculus), did a fantastic job portraying the deaf writer, Maddie. When you see an actor or actress in a role where they do not speak, the way they emote is incredibly important. Siegel definitely succeeded in showing what her character was going through with facial expressions and body language. What I also found quite impressive was her ability to not react to the sounds going on around her. This is obviously an important trait of a deaf character. There would be loud noises happening feet from Siegel’s character, and she wouldn’t even flinch or make the slightest indication she could hear what was happening. John Gallagher Jr. (10 Cloverfield Lane, Newsroom) was also great as the man terrorizing Maddie. As I mentioned before, he wasn’t quite as frightening as you expect a character like this to be, but that was more to do with the loss of the mask than his acting abilities. In fact, just like when I saw him in 10 Cloverfield Lane, I didn’t even recognize him in this film. Gallagher has an incredible ability to immerse himself in a character to the point that I don’t even recognize him.

Hush is an intense film that makes some attempts at re-imagining your typical thriller, but it is a film with its flaws. There are parts that made the film quite unique, such as the total loss of sound at certain scenes and how the filmmakers chose to show Maddie’s internal thoughts. On the other hand, I believe the unmasking happened a bit too early in the film. It made the film lose some of its intensity early on and made scenes that could have been scary fall a bit flat. Looking past the flaws, Hush was still enjoyable to watch and had moments that made me gasp. Viewers that have a certain level of empathy will likely enjoy this film more than others.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10