Wicked Wednesday

Wicked Wednesday: Final Exam (1981)

It has come to a point in my life where I’ve asked myself, “Have I watched too many 80s slasher movies?” After watching Final Exam, I’m leaning towards “yes”.

There is nothing wrong with this movie. It’s not even the straw to break the camel’s back. But at some point during the course of these 90 minutes, I realised I’m a bit over the formula.

While one of the earlier Halloween knock-offs, Final Exam easily fits into the slasher mold. A group of students at Lanier College are preparing for their final exams of the school year.

During a chemistry exam, a fraternity stage a mass shooting ‘prank’. The frat boys involved receive no punishment when their coach steps in to help them against the sheriff. It’s ok, though, as the real joke will be on them.

Afterwards, one of the frat’s pledges, Gary, is asked to break into a professor’s office and steal the exam. He does so quite easily, but is then hazed by his potential brothers. He’s tied to a tree in his underpants, freezing in the cold. After an age, he’s finally released – by a motiveless killer.

After Gary’s death, his fellow frat brothers are killed off, as are the nerds and girlfriends. None of the deaths are particularly interesting or gruesome. The death in the gym reminds me of a very tame version of Killer Workout or Fatal Games (both of which were much more fun and memorable) – but was easily the best bit of this movie.

Then we reach our final girl: Courtney. We don’t know anything about her other than she’s insecure because her roommate is really confident. Courtney finds everyone on the campus is murdered, and the sheriff sure as hell isn’t about to arrive and help. She’s eventually chased throughout the school and escapes to the top of the school’s clock tower.

During the ensuing scuffle, the killer falls from a height, seemingly dead. When Courtney attempts to escape past time, he grabs her – forcing her to stab him ’til he’s real dead.

There’s never a backstory given to the killer, only that he killed at another university before attacking Lanier College. In some ways, I could see where this angle could really work. It’s why I love Black Christmas. But mystery doesn’t have to mean boring.

Perhaps I need a long break from the genre. Or next time only seek out something with a very serious reputation (whether that be good or bad).

Final Exam is by no means bad. It certainly tries to do something a little different with its frat-boy shenanigans. (Though those have, unfortunately, aged very poorly.) Personally, I didn’t care about any of the characters other than the nerdy Radish. They weren’t likeable or dis-likeable enough. And if you aren’t cheering or mourning the deaths, what’s the point?

This all being said – I’m always a sucker for an 80s slasher movie. I’ll probably be here again next week with another one…

Wicked Wednesday: Escape Room (2017)

***Warning: The following post contains an excessive use of exclamations and all caps.***

Turns out there are quite a few horror movies called Escape Room. I could almost dedicate a month to solely watching escape-room themed films. (I’m definitely not.) No, this isn’t the semi-successful one from earlier this year. No it isn’t the other one starring Skeet Ulrich and Sean Young. This is the other, other one. The one free to watch on Netflix.

A girl has priorities, and that’s saving myself from spending money on movies I probably won’t like. I’ll save my money for real escape rooms. Certainly wish I had escaped watching this movie.

Heh-heh.

Escape Room is essentially what is says on the label: a group of friends go to a secret escape room for a man’s birthday.

The birthday boy, Tyler, is a real tool. He’s cheating on his girlfriend, Christen, with the not-so-subtle Natasha. He hates on homeless people for fun. He thinks he’s really intelligent despite constantly being proved otherwise. And he’s just an all-around asshole.

And in slasher movies, I enjoy a really hate-able cast. That is, as long as they’re fun to hate. Somehow Christen and Tyler have assembled the worst group ever as friend to surround themselves with. And it’s a blessing when they all start dying off.

About half of Escape Room is literally just the groups trying to play the game. They begin in three separate rooms to be later reunited. It isn’t until later that they realise Christen is nude in a cage, not playing along.

Though it turns out that watching other people solve clues isn’t always fun. This is mostly due to the script’s leaps in logic and the ease in which the players guess the answers to the clues. Perhaps it would have been a bit better if the viewers could have helped solve things along the way, but er, the script isn’t quite so refined.

Soon Tyler’s sister and her boyfriend get strapped in a room and are “acid gassed” to death. So the three remaining player know for certain that this isn’t just a simple game.

Somehow Tyler knows they need to leave the room by using the ventilation system (?). But they discover more puzzles along the way, one in which kills Anderson, Natasha’s husband.

But Natasha and Tyler (the remaining two) find themselves back in the original room. The two find the last puzzle: a lever linked to the exit door. Tyler puts Natasha in charge of pulling the lever, and her arm is ripped off.

Tyler leaves Natasha to die alone, and he comes face-to-face with a screen of Christen. They’re finally able to talk to each other, and Tyler spends his last remaining two minutes in the escape room blaming Christen for everything.

At the one minute mark, buttons light up in their respective locations. They’re each given an option: “Save Me” / “Save Him/Her”. Tyler, of course, saves himself. Christen choose to save him.

She escapes.

Christen goes to a payphone and calls 9-1-1. The call is hacked (again – ?) by the man who orchestrated the escape room. He kindly reminds Christen that she brought everyone there so it’s her fault they’re dead. She wanted an escape and she got it. OR DID THEY WANT TO ESCAPE HER????

Uh. I guess that’s an option?

There is a lot here that’s very confusing:

  1. There is a friend at the dinner party who cannot join in on the game. Why this character is important is never explained.
  2. Why the heavy hints that Christen was the one plotting the escape room? Just as a red herring?
  3. The fuck was that video footage of the sex party? Just ‘cus?
  4. WHY WAS THIS CHRISTEN’S FAULT?? There’s a line at the end that the ‘organiser’ delivers to Christen, something about them escaping her. It literally makes no sense. Unless she deserves to suffer because she’s so boring?
  5. Why did I even bother with this movie?

It seems like these are things the world may never know.

It’s safe to say that this is one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a while. It’s the usual culprits: the editing, the acting, the dialogue, the plot. But Escape Room fails on to hit any marks.

This film tries desperately to be the next Saw but is very, very far from it. I certainly think with the right script it could be something interesting. It’s really just bemusing that the movie opted out of any sort of twist. I mean, why play it so straight? This is a movie about puzzles, dammit! WE NEED TWISTS!

Maybe one of the many other Escape Rooms have done better, but I’m a bit too jaded to find out.

Wicked Wednesday: Paganini Horror (1989)

You probably can’t tell from the films I tend to write about, but I love Italian horror. They just get me. But I tend not to write about these things. First of all, I prefer watching them subtitled in Italian (which makes note-keeping a bit trickier), and sometimes – just sometimes – I like watching movies for my own enjoyment.

I made an excuse for Paganini Horror, as my copy from 88 Films had sat on my shelf unwatched a few weeks too many.

This was a complete blind buy. I had never seen this 1989 film before but it had all the right ingredients: Venice, Daria Nicolodi, fictional bands, Donald Pleasence and Luigi Cozi. Plus the slipcase promised this would be my new favourite bad movie. What isn’t inciting about that?

And for one, this actually lived up to all my expectations and more!

Singer Kate is a bit washed up, and her manager isn’t happy with it. Kate continues to churn out uninspired music. But her drummer, Daniel, gets an idea and makes a trade with the mysterious Mr Pickett.

In exchange for money, Daniel is given a sealed, unpublished work by the Italian composer Niccolò Paganini. It was apparently written for some sect after selling his soul to the Devil (very Faustian of him).

Kate immediately takes to the music and agrees to use it. She’s inspired to create a “Thriller”-style music video and call the song (surprise!) “Paganini Horror”. The score sounds exactly like ELO’s “Twlight”, but I guess we’ll keep quiet about that (sorry, Jeff). Paganini was clearly well ahead of his time.

The band go to an old house in Venice to create the music video. They’ve got a larger budget than Bonnie Tyler for white cloths and a whole lot of mannequins. While the video seems to be going well, it doesn’t take long for things to start going south.

There are strange going-ons in the Venetian home. The group find a room full of strange light and noise that terrorises them. Band members and crew start getting killed off by the ghost of Paganini, dressed in a skull mask.

Though, this isn’t some typical slasher affair. The deaths are creative (even if they are off screen): death by violin mould, being incinerated next to an hourglass, electrocuted by invisible barrier.

When we spiral into explanation-territory, the story begins to become a bit of a head-scratcher. Kate discovers true secret to defeating Paganini: playing his piece backward. Why? Well, something about music being the key to the universe (I think).

Paganini Horror is an ambitious horror movie, quite clearly hindered by time and budget. It certain gets convoluted, but it’s worth it for the excellent Italian cheese.

Cozi apparently wasn’t happy with the film’s outcome, and if you read about the original story, it’s quite clear why. Paganini Horror may well be a part of the “horror movies that never were”, joining the ranks of Book of Shadows and Deadly Friend. We’ll never know what the film would have been like if producers allowed his original vision, but I certainly think what we did get is memorable and entertaining.

For me, Paganini Horror will certainly go down in the books as a classic. Maybe not for the reasons it wanted to be, but that’s fine, right? If you can parallel the mastery of Pod People, I really think you’re doing something right.

Wicked Wednesday: Tales of Halloween (2015)

Halloween eve is finally here!

As always, the day snuck up on me faster than I could imagine. It’s been a heck of a month, so it was really nice to just sit down and watch something with some good Halloween spirit. Unfortunately for me, I chose Tales of Halloween.

Anthologies are, at the best of times, a mixed bag. There aren’t very many anthologies that I’d flat-out say I enjoy, let alone enjoy it from start to finish. Tales of Halloween is even more ambitious than the usual, as there are ten short stories! Not only are there ten films from ten different directors, but several are connect with a fairly-similar style throughout.

But when that style isn’t to your taste, it makes for a very bumpy hour and a half.

While made in 2015, this movie feels much more dated than that. Think “punks” in bad wigs listening to bad pop-punk and women in very short costumes (including one meant to be underage). And a very random cameo from Adrianne Curry. I mean, who even remembers her? These things are just…well, I’m bored by these things. It felt much more 2005 than 2015, and I had to double-check my dates again just to be certain.

There were a couple stand-outs in the pack, for me. First, I love the insanity that was “Friday the 31st”, written and directed by Mike Mendez and Dave Parker. The opening sequence is of a woman in a Dorothy costume running from a Jason Vooreehs-like killer. After the girl dies, an alien stops by planet Earth for trick-or-treating (because of course).

When the alien doesn’t get a treat from the killer, it becomes angry and possesses “Dorothy”. The killer gets his own when he must face a Deadite-style Dorothy in combat. It’s completely nuts, but it’s also hilarious and works quite well.

But my absolute favourite was Axelle Carolyn’s segment, “Grim Grinning Ghost”. One, this stars both Alex Essoe and Lin Shaye. But it’s also a great little ghost story that’s pretty effective. Oh and there’s a cute dog.

🙂

Otherwise, there were a lot of lows. Again, I don’t think it’s necessarily because they’re bad. They just aren’t my thing. 100% not my thing. There were some segments that irritated me so much, I would have loved to fast-forward them. But I didn’t because I’m a champ (also it might not far to judge things otherwise).

A lot of the themes overlapped, and I get it. There’s a great gag about creepy children and children getting scared or killed. But it was slightly overkill that six of the ten went this direction. So it’s not really surprising that the ones that didn’t go this route were the more interesting ones (though not necessarily for the better).

There’s a lot of cameos here, which is fun to see. Landis, Barbeau as the DJ, Dante, and everyone’s favourite camper Felissa Rose. But my favourite part was the inventive animated title sequence. Whoever did those did a fantastic job. Some of my favourite credits I’ve seen in a long while!

On a different note, one of the biggest disappointments was that there were only two women writing or directing in this project. Two. Perhaps if there was more of a diversity in directors, the stories would have felt a little more unique.

That being said – Halloween is nigh! May it be full of ghouls, goblins and trick-or-treats.

Wicked Wednesday: Sabrina the Teenage Witch s2e7 “A River of Candy Corn Runs Through It”

Halloween-themed TV episodes are some of my favourites. Classics like “Halloween” from season two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and “The Tale of the Twisted Claw” from Are You Afraid of the Dark? are solid highlights. We love watching beloved characters navigate parties and awkward experiences like ours – just in better costumes. It’s even more entertaining when things go desperately wrong for them.

So to give myself a mental break after a whirlwind of a few weeks, I decided to indulge in the delight that is Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Thankfully there are plenty of Halloween episodes in this series. And I would have watched all of them, but it’s £2 an episode, and we’re still a week away from payday, folks.

Sabrina and the aunts are looking forward to a quiet Halloween away from the relatives. After lying to the their family, they plan on a night of movies and candy corn. That, of course, is definitely not how things are going to go.

After Libby begins bragging about her freak-free Halloween party, Valerie has the knee-jerk reaction to throw a party at Sabrina’s. The witch is not very happy, but asks her aunts anyway. To Sabrina’s surprise, Zelda and Hilda actually agree to let her have the party.

On the day of the party, things begin to go awry. First Harvey cancels. Then the furniture begins to talk. Then the talking furniture get magical termites. All in time for the guests to arrive.

The rest of the party, Sabrina and her aunts spend dashing around, pretending that everything is normal. That, not unusually, makes for a rather boring party. But as several “cool guys” arrive at the party, things really turn into a disaster: the furniture all begin to react at the same time, candy corn pours from the wall, Salem talks, Valeria falls through the floor, and a group of Halloween carollers crash the party.

Unsurprisingly, this actually amazes the teenagers instead of horrifies them. Knowing that she’s made a good mistake, Sabrina begins to enjoy herself as well. She summons 10,000 Maniacs to perform just in time for Libby’s arrival to rub it in her face.

Episodes like this are silly and harmless, but they are also some of the best bits about Halloween. I’d be really happy with a candy corn river and talking cats – and I even hate candy corn. I’m not one to push for “wholesome” television, but there really is something enjoyable about watching 20 minutes of nice.

It’s certainly a good way to put yourself in the Halloween mood. We’re only a little over a week away now, kids!

Wicked Wednesday: Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel (2018)

My parents were visiting Britain these past couple weeks. The last of which they stayed with me in my tiny London flat. I love my parents, but it can be difficult to find things that all of us can enjoy. Throw my husband into the mix, and it’s even more complicated.

Usually any decision making is left to me. I’m very bad at making decisions. But it must be the Halloween spirit in the air because everyone actually encouraged me to pick out horror movies.

Both of my parents are a bit…prudish (conservative?), so it’s always a tricky affair. But when I saw Hell House LLC calling to me, I thought it was time for a rewatch. It scared me enough the first time around, surely it would creep everyone else out a tiny bit.

And it was interesting seeing this movie again with sets of fresh eyes in the room. I picked up on many of the same thing as the first time: it’s a subtle build up with a slightly-confusing pay-off in the end. My family, on the other hand, got to enjoy it for the first time. My mom had to physically leave the room and didn’t come back until the ending.

So inspired by the rewatch, I decided it was time to tackle the sequel: Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel. This 2018 movie has been on my to-watch list for a long time, but had purposefully avoided it due to the mostly-negative reviews of it.

The Abaddon Hotel picks up a few years after the original events of the film. Since the release of the documentary, the interest in the Abaddon Hotel grew. But of course, with all the idiots heading into the house for dares – none came back out alive.

Enter straight-laced “investigative journalist” Jessica Fox. For some reason, despite the number of people who have disappeared, she’s determined to get into the hotel and explore things for herself.

The others dragged into her horrible plan are her fellow staff members Molly and David, and original Hell House documentary maker Mitchell (not actually in the first movie). Mitchell was a part of Diane’s team. Diane had disappeared after her interview with “Sara”, and Mitchell is rather determined to solve the mystery. Also along with them is a medium and his camera man. But don’t even bother with them, they die right away.

Much of the movie switches between several different medias: the shaky footage of Jessica’s pals inside the hotel, an TV interview of three guests included Mitchell and an idiotic politician, and the different footage of all the missing boys.

It’s rather distracting, actually. As it’s difficult to understand why we care about any of these people. The initial scenes are about a man named Jackson who went missing after breaking into the hotel. We get to see an interview with his mother that’s actually very compelling. But…it just ends there. It doesn’t matter. And that sort of sucks.

The movie’s decision not to focus on one singular story makes for a very incoherent plot. It’s as shaky as most of the camera work. Glancing back at my notes, I stopped writing after the first 15 minutes or so after realising nothing I was watching actually mattered.

Unlike the original Hell House, much of its sequel has us watching people running around scared. Do you want people running around a haunted house? Great. Then you get it for at least 50% of this movie. The climax of Hell House LLC was great because it spend most of its time building up, and the pay off was (mostly) great because of it. Say what you will about the ending.

In The Abaddon Hotel, we’re immediately shown not-so-subtle images of the cloaked figures. It’s the same scared as the first movie, but they happen straight off the bat. I can see where the idea was to terrify right away, but mostly comes across as lazy and…boring.

Hell House LLC II fails to comply with the idea that less is more. We learn too much about Hell House, which makes it less scary in many ways. If there was a need to fill in the gaps, I think a prequel would have been more interesting. The creation of “the story” is better than over-explaining something in retrospect. Seeing the answers to the first movie was, well, rather disappointing (namely: the walls).

We also learn too much about Alex, the founder of Hell House. Where his story line went was just stupid. It actually takes away from what made the first movie good. Alex apparently signed some deal with Andrew Tully, the hotel owner and cult leader who had hung himself decades earlier. I liked Alex as a character in the first movie because he was just a no-nonsense asshole. Giving him a paranormal element took away from the realism of the first movie.

There’s something that many found-footage sequels have in common: they forget to make likeable characters the second time around. We like certain found footage movies because of the believable cast. Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield. You remember the people and they look like us, thus making the world feel rounder as a whole. Alex was totally ruined for me. The new batch of characters were not interesting. So when they died, it felt more like a shrug.

In this sequel, the acting is…bad. Pretty damn bad. Straight off the bat, the first scene with Molly and Jessica is wooden and cringe-y. It immediately takes you out of a “this is real” mindset and immediately reminds you that this is all fake. And in the world of found footage, that’s a pretty big crime to commit.

As they say, “lightning never strikes the same place twice.” And that, unfortunately, is very true for Hell House. There are many familiar scares here, but they just don’t work the second time around.

Wicked Wednesday: Trick or Treats (1982)

Eegah! It’s already October! And here I was, all ready to suck in the loveliness of September. Turns out I just slept through the entire month because I can’t believe that it’s already time for Halloween!

Now, usually in October I just like to revel in everything Halloween-y, but that doesn’t mean I set out to watch anything specific during the month, bar the last week. (And that one time I watched The Day After Halloween which was…a choice.) But this year, I thought subtly be damned – let’s go all out!

And it’s not very surprising how many Halloween themed horror movies there are. Though I’d be curious to see which holiday has more movies from the genre dedicated to it, Halloween or Christmas.

Choosing the first movie for October was pretty easy. Upon opening Prime a couple weeks ago, Trick or Treats was the first recommended movie for me. And the lure of Halloween, pranks and Peter Jason was great.

Shame the movie didn’t live up to expectations…

Trick or Treats is one of the million copycats that arrived in the wake of John Carpenter’s original Halloween film and its sequel. But this one doesn’t even try to be subtle about where it gets its inspiration from:

A young actress, Linda, is called on Halloween night to babysit a child. But the family she’ll be working for have a secret. Years earlier, the husband, Malcolm, was thrown into a asylum because of his wife, Joan. And it just so happens that on Halloween night, Malcolm has made his escape.

Linda spends most of her night being harassed by the young boy, Christopher. He’s an aspiring magician who loves to play pranks. Does that sound like a fun movie to you? If so, you’re in luck! Large swathes of these 90 minutes are dedicated to stupid pranks.

Meanwhile, Malcolm is finally making his escape. Why was he put into the asylum to begin with? Well, there’s no reason other than a throw away line about him being “mad as a hatter”. So.

Malcolm assaults a nurse and takes her uniform and wig. With that, he makes his way out onto the city streets. He eventually sheds his nurse garb after being harassed by strange men. He steals the clothing from a homeless man. Oh and on the way he keeps making calls to his old home, wanting to threaten his ex-wife Joan. But silly boy somehow doesn’t realise that Joan and Linda don’t have similar voices.

So the whole night makes Linda frustrated. It gets significantly worse for her once Malcolm makes his way into the house.

And well, that’s it really. It’s really just is the plot of Halloween but with pranks to pad out those 90 minutes. I was surprised to see that the running time was so sort, especially since it felt like I was watching one of the longest movies of my life. There’s just some really strange choices when it comes to storyline.

Trick or Treats feels like a parody of a Halloween film. It’s incredibly farcical. The characters make completely silly choices and have the weirdest dialogue. So maybe that was the point? But I’m not convinced either way.

There’s a lot not to like about this movie. At least Peter Jason as Malcolm is a treat? Though it isn’t nearly enough to make this movie watchable. If you like kids playing stupid pranks for a couple hours, I guess this one was made for you.