Monday, August 29, 2022

I Axe the Questions Around Here


How is it possible that in 2022, a horror diehard who grew up a mile away from one of the country's best independent video stores with the largest horror selection in the state of New York can STILL discover '80s slashers for the first time? 

Humanity is an endless well of wonder. 

Quick Plot: A promising opening murder follows an ill-fated cigarette puffing nurse through a deadly car wash, where an Uncle Fester-ish masked killer chops her up before the credits can roll. We're off to a neat start!

And now, our movie. 

Meet our hero(?) Gerald, an early internet adapter and all-around jerk. Gerald lives with his grandfather? Uncle? Random old man he likes to harass? It's unclear, but we know this much: Gerald is obsessed with computers and is only mildly less horrible than his best friend Richard, an exterminator who despises his much older, much wealthier wife.

Is there anything less pleasant than hearing someone talk about how much they hate their spouse? Yes, I can think of one: watching said jerk publicly seduce a much younger woman who has no reason to be charmed by a man she knows to be married (and a jerk). 

Anyhoo, Gerald and Richard begin dating Lillian and Susan (a pair of local sisters with incredibly low standards) while our axe murderer continues his reign of terror across town. The sheriff is reluctant to take any action, hoping he can pass each death off as an accident or suicide, but by the time six female bodies have piled up in pieces, the jig is up. 

Could it be Gerald, whose prescient computer obsession and gross sandwiches screams "the boy ain't right?" Lillian's mysterious institution-confined cousin with a childhood swingset head injury? Her shifty father? The shiftier town priest? MAYBE THE INTERNET CAN HELP!

Maybe, and I won't spoil the reveal, but it's 100% the best thing about this oddball of a movie. 

Directed by José Ramón Larraz as a co-production between the US and Spain (and filmed in both countries), Edge of the Axe is, in a word, a hoot. There's a mix of decent and laughable acting (though some of that may have been equally hilarious dubbing) that makes the amateur quality kind of charming, and the recycling of sets from one home to another is something that low budget fans have no choice but to salute.

High Points
I don't know that any of it really adds up, but the big reveal is pretty grand, especially for its time. Bonus points for a killer freeze frame final shot

Low Points
Look, I know we had lower standards for our leads in '80s slashers, but there's nothing redeeming about the ones we have here: Gerald is awful, and Lillian's immediate infatuation with him makes us question her sanity well before the film does

Lessons Learned
Nothing offers the promise of a serious relationship more effectively than wearing a gray-on-gray sweatsuit on your first date

The beauty of country music ballads is that they don't have to rhyme

You know it's true love when you start dressing like your new sweetheart just a week into your courtship

Edge of the Axe is occasionally a good slasher, occasionally a pile of garbage, and entirely something that deserves any '80s horror fan's eyeballs. Have at it on Amazon Prime. 

Monday, August 22, 2022

From Orphan to Icon

Released in 2009, Jaume Collet-Serra's Orphan was a breath of fresh air in big screen horror. Torture porn's hold on the genre was slowly being replaced by mixed quality remakes and found footage, making this oddball high concept twisty thriller with A-list actors all the more strange for a theatrical hit. Best of all, it was GOOD. We mostly remember it for having one of the wackiest, most rewarding (and fine: maybe a little insensitive) twists, but even before we discover Esther's secret, Orphan is on fire.

When news rolled out that there would be a prequel with Fuhrman reprising her lead role, I was thrilled. On both a visual and storytelling level, how do you revisit this character thirteen years later (in the real world) when the point of the first film was a) she looked like a child b) she wasn't a child and c) we know where she ends up. It's a lot to juggle for an audience who knows the material, but small tidbits of behind-the-scenes intel (the heavy use of forced perspective, the casting of Julia Stiles, Fuhrman's clear glee with the character) left me with very little doubt that Orphan: First Kill would make my day.

Spoiler alert: it did. 

Quick Plot: You remember Esther, but before she made her way to the snowy suburbs of Connecticut by way of Toronto, our Estonian shortie was better known as violent mental patient Leena. All it takes is a new and naive art therapist to help Leena find her path to western freedom.

The next step is to target the right family, preferably one with a missing child, comfortable bank account, and hot patriarch. Enter the Albrights, proud descendents of Mayflower passengers with a sprawling estate and simmering WASPy tension. Dad Allen is a painter who was deeply fractured by the disappearance of Esther, while mom Tricia continued her fancy charity work and organic smoothie lifestyle while also encouraging older son Gunnar through his passionate fencing training.

Rich people, man. They're something.

Leena slips into Esther's lifestyle easily enough, quickly bonding with Allen over their shared artistic ability. But Leena (who we'll now call Esther because an icon deserves nothing less) senses something isn't quite right, especially when she clocks a private investigator grabbing some of her well-experienced fingerprints.

To say any more about Orphan: First Kill would be cruel, especially since, in an act of shockingly refreshing restraint, the marketing avoided spoiling any twists. Go into it fresh and open knowing you'll be rewarded by the best Lifetime thriller not made by Lifetime.

I mean that as the biggest compliment I have in my arsenal: Orphan: First Kill is a trashy joy (complete with a drool-worthy kitchen). It's slightly less bonkers in some aspects than its predecessor, which had my jaw dropping in the best of ways, but still manages to throw us plenty of juicy curves. Director William Brent Bell (of the underrated The Boy) has a refreshing approach to his style. So much of current horror seems to have learned the wrong lessons from Final Destination, forcing every scene of violence to unfurl slowly as if trying to land on some "Scariest Moments In Horror" listicle. Sometimes, you can just walk into a man's house and kill him as soon as his back is turned. 

If there's a flaw to First Kill (aside from its title, which we'll get back to) it's that the finale seems to be a little TOO close to its Lifetime style, cramming almost too much action into such a short amount of time without room for a proper denouement. Still, considering it honors the original's callbacks to The Good Son, my complaints are minimal.  

Everything here is working as it should. Brett Detar's score is plucky strings with a wicket attitude. Kim H. Ngo's costumes are chic when they need to be and "this girl thinks she's Shirley Temple but is actually Baby Jane" elsewhere. The makeup department and camerawork do wonders at turning 25-year-old Fuhrman into a 31-year-old-channeling-a-10-year-old. THERE'S A LOT HAPPENING FOLKS.

And all of it...well, all of it is pretty darn fun.

High Points
There's something truly wonderful about a film franchise (in the making) that embraces and celebrates women. Vera Farmiga is no easy act to follow, but Julia Stiles is perfectly cast and plays her WASPy foil grandly. And to no one's surprise, Isabelle Fuhrman crawls back into Esther's frills and ribbons with a shockingly robust performance that rightfully gives us a villain, victim, and camp queen

Low Points
When we first meet Leena, we're told she JUST RECENTLY murdered someone, and there's little doubt that it wasn't her debut. So why, goodness gracious WHY is this film subtitled First Kill? Had it been Esther's First Kill, I'd be all for it (since technically, this is Leena's rebirth as Esther) but nope. I doubt it's the fault of the (very good) screenplay, but considering writer David Coggeshall's name is on another one of the worst titled horror sequels of this century, he's an easy scapegoat. That movie? The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia

Lessons Learned
Marriage means occasionally dealing with rich pricks to show your love for your wife

If you want to stay on Julia Stiles' good side, remember this: all macaws are parrots, but not all f*cking parrots are macaws

Kale smoothies are gross, but dead mouse kale smoothies are even worse

I can't imagine that by the time this post goes live, you haven't already heard enough glowing things about Orphan: First Kill to have made you watch it, but seriously: watch it. Streaming on Paramount Plus, it's the rare horror sequel/prequel that fully understands the possibilities of the genre's camp nature and balances that with layered characters who have plenty of places to go. It's a joy. 

Monday, August 15, 2022

Making a Splash

After a decade of complaining about the bland murkiness of found footage horror, it's strange to realize I kind of ... miss them. 

Quick Plot: Like any attractive white 20something couple, Tina and Ben are eager vloggers pumping out videos where they investigate haunted historical sites. Ben is far more into the metrics than Tina, who'd rather just enjoy the history with a glass of wine.

I'm with you, Tina.

Bummed by their lack of views, the couple heads to a remote part of France to scuba dive through an abandoned submerged facility. Unfortunately, the lakeside area is now a tourist attraction but thankfully (or not), a local named Pierre knows a far better off-the-map spot where an entire house is fully intact underwater.

With 61 minutes and 22 seconds of potential air supply, Ben and Tina dive down and float through a shockingly well-preserved mansion decorated with both Christian and satanic icons. Their footage gets quite a boost when they discover a couple chained and masked, clearly having been tortured to death and left as terrifying aquatic lawn ornaments. 

And of course, just as they decide to turn back to shore, the house decides it would rather keep them there. 

Written and directed by the Inside team of Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, The Deep House is a found-ish footage haunted house story with a great premise and some tight execution. Inside was a game-change for horror, bringing French extremity to the forefront. Like most genre fans, I was pretty impressed at its debut, though a rewatch a few years back left me thinking some of its style hadn't aged overly well. 

Who knows how I'll feel about The Deep House in 15 years, but today, I dub it a success. Underwater stories are always going to have some natural built-in tension, but they can also be murky, losing some of the actual watchability due to the limitations of filming in aquatic conditions (yes 47 Meters Down, I'm looking at you). The Deep House manages to show us exactly what we need to see while teasing what's just out of our characters' reach. It's exactly as it should be. 

High Points
The concept of "haunted house under the sea" is pretty spectacular, but the details also go a long way. I don't want to spoil them, but let's say that the way our ghosts exist and move in this plain is perfectly strange and fitting

Low Points
At this point, it's basically a given that any leading male character in a found footage horror film is going to be awful. Actor James Jagger is perfectly fine as Ben, but not surprisingly, Ben is pretty much the worst. You could do better Tina. 

Lessons Learned
You don't go viral by drinking vino

The trashier a hotel looks form the outside, the fancier the bathtub will be inside
Jump scares are a surefire ticket to maximum likes

I haven't heard many positive comments on The Deep House, but for me, it's a high recommend. The film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime (though I've seen it jump from three different platforms in the last year). Find it...wherever it is.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Literally, The Resort

I was born in 1982, which on calendar paper, puts my decaying bones in the age bracket of geriatric millennials or as I like to call myself, a Generation MilleXial (because, get it, I'm right in the middle). This means a lot of things to a lot of very meme-obsessed individuals, but for the purposes of today's review, it means, means I feel very old.

Quick Plot: Lex, or as I will henceforth dub her, Birthday Girl, awakens in a Hawaiian hospital under the questioning eyes of a detective whose IMDB profile pic is as follows:

Sadly, that look didn't make it into The Resort, but I felt it important for you to know.

Birthday Girl was found unconscious on the abandoned Kilahuna Island, the legendarily cursed former home of a multi-million dollar hotel long abandoned after stories circulated of the ghostly Half-Faced Girl. Knowing Birthday Girl wanted to write about the story, her boyfriend (who looks so much like a man-bunned variation of Chris Hemsworth in A Perfect Getaway that I will obviously now refer to him as Poor Manbun's Chris Hemsworth) and best friends Admitted Michael Bay Fan and Instagram Model (sorry, GRAM Model) chip in to take her on a helicopter trip to Kilahuna.

Things go swimmingly. 


I'm literally telling you the truth, since we get a pleasant montage of these very attractive actors slow-motion frolicking through a waterfall. Also, if you find yourself getting bored over the scant but kind of slow 76 minute running time, might I suggest making a drinking game based on how many times characters use the magic word "literally".

And yes, double shots when they use it incorrectly.

Eventually, the quartet makes it to the titular resort, and a few selfie mistakes later, they're being hunted by a ghostly force in the dark. We're about 50 minutes in before the action kicks in, which wouldn't be terrible if it was justified by the ensuing 26 minutes (well, those are some Charles Band-ish timed credits, so probably more like 22). 

Written and directed by Taylor Chien, The Resort is certainly nice to look at. And that's about it. The story doesn't do anything we don't expect, and the scares offer little in the way of surprise. Small tells in the audio quality suggest Chien was working off a low budget so full credit for how he made those dollars stretch. I just wish there was more ground to cover. 

High Points
They're working with screenplay scraps, but for the most part, the cast does an adequate enough job of holding the story together...

Low Points
I just wish there was anything there to actually hold?

Lessons Learned
Unless you like tequila-infused wraps, make sure you use name-brand Ziploc bags to transport your hiking lunch

If you have any reservations that your final runtime might be lacking, be sure to use a lush filming location so you can pad your film with tree shots. It works!

Coyotes don't live in Hawaii

It's summer, which means I enjoy nothing more fully than a cheap horror film set in a scenic tropical location about attractive people put in terrible peril. On that front, The Resort sort of hits some marks, but unfortunately, it doesn't really make much of a splash. You're better off with a different variation on this title: 

Zombie theme parks galore! Get THAT one!

Monday, August 1, 2022

Little Orphan Mary


Has there ever been a film duo more perfect than Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing? 

You don't have to answer. We know. 

Quick Plot: A trio of older, incredibly wealthy Brits are murdered in careful manners that leave their cause open to accident or suicide. Meanwhile, a school bus filled with sinfully noisy Scottish orphans is derailed, perhaps by a justifiably grumper driver, perhaps as a continuation of the conspiracy, or maybe because one of the injured is Mary Harb, the daughter of an infamous murderess. 

Mary is recovering under the care of Dr. Peter Haynes, a caring psychiatrist who senses his young patient is in grave danger. Lucky for everyone, his supervisor Mark is played by Peter Cushing so naturally, Mark's best pal is a semi-retired but very competent Col. Bigham and obviously, he's gloriously inhabited by the towering perfection that is the late Christopher Lee.

Bingham knows that so many related untimely deaths are no mere coincidence. As he continues his investigation, Dr. Haynes strikes up a gratifying (in multiple ways) relationship with Joan Foster, a journalist working to explore the story of Mary's birth mother, Anna Harb. 

A glorious angry redhead ex-con, Anna wants her child back and might be willing to murder a few other orphans and doctors to do so. Or maybe these charitable millionaires have some homicidal plans of their own. It's a mystery!

A delightful one, to be sure. Based on John Blackburn's novel and directed by Countess Dracula (and more excitingly, I Don't Want to Be Born!)'s Peter Sasdy, Nothing But the Night is a crafty little thriller filled with dynamic characters and sharp twists. Even the score makes for a jaunty watch, playfully toying with children's tunes one moment then smoothing out a sexy saxophone to amp the romance in the next. 

I won't spoil the weird, wonderful ending, but it must have been a shock in 1973. It may have even given a certain celebrated comedian-turned-great-horror-filmmaker a few good ideas. With that and the Cushing/Lee blessing, I'm fairly shocked that Nothing But the Night doesn't seem to have the fanbase it deserves. 

Maybe it's the contemporary setting, or that this isn't an official Hammer studio production, or that the horror seems to lean more into mystery novel than supernatural for most of its run. Whatever the reason, it ends today: Nothing But the Night is a surprising little joy. Go get it. 

High Points

Perhaps it's that Brian Hayles' screenplay has a whole novel to pull from, but it's incredibly refreshing to see how almost all of the adult characters are so clearly drawn and fully fleshed out in a story-heavy 90-minute film. Granted, all Christopher Lee really needs to do is show up and the audience is enthralled by his very presence, but his Bingham is somehow immediately recognizable, while Georgia Brown's Joan and Keith Barron's Peter create fully dynamic professionals whose brief chemistry helps to make a quick subplot pop

Low Points

How is it possible to throw in a reference of a famous triple murder but never actually explain the details? And yes, really, I'm just formally requesting a prequel about the glorious Anna Harb

Lessons Learned

A prostate gland treatment is hardly the end of the world

12 is a perfectly adequate amount of men

"Scattergun" and "knocking pen" are very common American terms (that I've personally never heard in my apparently not-so-American life)


At the time I watched Nothing But the Night, it was on but leaving Amazon Prime. I would imagine it's since moved to another streaming site, so do some Googling and grab it. You won't be disappointed.