Since I don’t have as much time to write longer reviews than I used to, I figured I would just post shorter reviews for horror/cult films that I feel deserve your attention.
Directed By: Danishka Esterhazy
Starring: Hannah Gonera, Frances Sholto-Douglas, Mila Rayne, Alex McGregor, Reze-Tiana Wessels, Rob van Vuuren, Jennifer Steyn, Schelaine Bennett
Runtime: 86 Minutes
SCORE - 3 Howls Outta 4 (7 out of 10)
Plot: Dana, daughter of the only survivor of a massacre in 1993, is going on a weekend trip with her friends. After their car breaks down in the very same town where her mother once fought the Driller Killer, Dana and her friends must come face-to-face with the man who has haunted her mother’s life for the past 30 years.
Despite me being skeptical due to its October premiere on SyFy, the 2021 remake of the popular 1982 slasher THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE is a good time from beginning to end. Telling the familiar story of the original between two generations of girls [the 1990s and the present day], female filmmakers Danishka Esterhazy and Suzanne Keilly bring the terror of Russ Thorn back to the forefront for a newer generation. This means more of a slight focus on social commentaries on toxic masculinity and women taking charge instead of playing the victims. However, unlike with 2019’s BLACK CHRISTMAS, the message never overtakes the slasher premise, with the film poking fun at the “wokeness” of its commentary to give depth to both the female and male characters involved. The final act does become Slasher 101, with the characters suddenly becoming stupid and almost helpless, to the point where it almost derails the message the film was providing for the first two-thirds. But thanks to a mid-film twist that I didn’t expect at all, SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (2021) manages to stand apart from the other films in the series.
The film is also helped by solid direction by Esterhazy, who doesn’t shy away from gory drill deaths, including an inventive one involving a drill and a guitar string that mutilates a victim’s face. The pacing is strong, the movie looks polished, and the tone and homages to the first two films in the franchise are welcoming. All the actors do well, adding as much depth to their archetypal characters as they could. I just found this remake to be a pleasant surprise and worth anyone’s time who is looking for a decent and modern slasher flick that does a whole lot right and embraces what it is without any shame.
Starring: Bruce Willis, Frank Grillo, Costas Mandylor, Adelaide Kane, Lochlyn Munro, Johnny Messner, CJ Perry, Brandon Thomas Lee, Eva De Dominci, Trevor Gretzky
Genre: Adventure/Action/Science Fiction/Aliens
Runtime: 88 Minutes
SCORE - 0.5 Howls Outta 4 (2 out of 10)
Plot: In the year 2524, four centuries after humans started colonizing the outer planets, retired General James Ford gets called back into service when a hostile alien fleet attacks soldiers on a remote planet. The threat against mankind soon escalates into an interstellar war as Ford and a team of elite soldiers try to stop the imminent attack before it’s too late.
At least it has the perfect title to describe this awful movie.
Bruce, what the F happened to your career??
COSMIC SIN started off okay - like a live-action Halo or Gears of War with interesting lore and action that reminded me of DOOM or Paul W.S. Anderson’s RESIDENT EVIL series. A war between humans and aliens, aliens infecting humans and possessing them, and raising the stakes as characters get killed or infected by one-by-one creates a bit of intrigue during the film’s first act, making me think that maybe all the negativity against COSMIC SIN may be a bit unwarranted.
Then, I watched the rest of the film. Boring, uninspired scenes of people spouting dialogue without much action, and then a pretty silly and predictable final act with cheap special effects that make me wish I was watching ARMAGEDDON, INDEPENDENCE DAY or watching someone play Halo or Gears of War [which would be more entertaining than watching this]. There’s shaky cam throughout for some unknown reason and it’s grating. Some of the actors try to make the movie good [Frank Grillo deserves better and Brandon Thomas Lee has potential in the business], while Bruce Willis proves he’s only doing movies for the paycheck now as he sleepwalks through the film. The action isn’t all that exciting when it happens and the creature designs are barely explored, probably due to a small budget. COSMIC SIN is an ambitious project without anything in the production coming close to matching that ambition. For a 90 minute sci-fi/action movie, it should not feel twice as long. If it wasn’t for HOME SWEET HOME ALONE, this would have been 2021’s worst film of the year for me.
Directed By: Christopher Landon
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Celeste O’Connor, Misha Osherovich, Uriah Shelton, Dana Drori, Katie Finneran, Melissa Collazo, Alan Ruck
Running Time: 102 Minutes
SCORE - 3 Howls Outta 4 (7 out of 10)
Plot: A mystical, ancient dagger causes a notorious serial killer to magically switch bodies with a 17-year-old girl.
A mash-up of FREAKY FRIDAY and FRIDAY THE 13TH, 2020’s FREAKY is a fun time if you like horror-comedies with more laughs than scares. The body swap aspect to a standard slasher formula elevates Christopher Landon’s movie and separates it from his more popular works [the HAPPY DEATH DAY series]. It allows the lead actors [Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton] to have fun playing one another - with Vaughn going from a silent and menacing killer to a confused teenage girl finding herself, while Newton does the opposite. Vaughn, in particular, is fantastic in how he changes his persona and seems to be having fun playing a young girl trapped in a man’s body. I also enjoyed Misha Osherovich as best friend Josh, who provides a lot of the sassy, comic relief.
Christopher Landon directs a polished and well paced movie, while visualizing some cool death sequences - like a champagne bottle being forced down someone’s throat before it breaks through said throat, or a buzzsaw demise that slices a victim vertically in a great effect. It’s never the goriest film out there, but there is enough murder to satisfy slasher fans looking for cool death effects.
What brings the film down are some story elements, like not enough character development for either of the leads prior to the switch. There’s also a mother-daughter subplot involving grief, alcoholism and fear of abandonment that doesn’t get enough time devoted to it to make its resolution mean much. And the last part of the film feels a bit tacked on, despite a nice portrayal of female empowerment for the victims.
FREAKY isn’t as good as the HAPPY DEATH DAY films, but it’s still a fun ride from beginning to end that pleases both the slasher fan and comedy fan in me. It has enough laughs, cool death scenes and game actors to make this worthwhile for anyone looking to swap an old horror classic for something new.