31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Hatchet”

 

 

Hack/Slash or Slap/Dash?
Hack/Slash or Slap/Dash?

Sometimes, watching horror movies, you feel quite at odds with your peers.  The UK poster for writer/director Adam Green’s “Hatchet” features rapturous pull quotes which would have you believe that this unashamedly retro slasher flick is quite the big man on campus.

Arriving at a time when Jigsaw ruled supreme and every other fright-flick was feverishly grasping for a slice of the torture and humiliation pie, “Hatchet” must have seemed like a breath of (Gator) fresh air.  Full of old-school stalk-and-slash kills, yet boasting a certain genre self-awareness, this grisly tale of Louisiana mutant maniac Victor Crowley was practically made for the horror festival circuit and to inspire enthusiastic debate amongst forum posters.  Hell, Kane Hodder’s front and centre as the movie’s anti-heroic slasher – how much more cred with the grue ‘n’ gore crowd do you need?

The film sees a mismatched band of New Orleans tourists heading out to the bayou on a haunted swamp tour boat and expecting to see nothing more than swamp gas, the odd reptilian river dweller and hear a spectral yarn or two from shyster tour guide Shawn (Parry Shen).  Chief amongst these tourists are nerdy college kid Ben (Joel David Moore), his utterly sceptical best friend Marcus (Deion Richmond) and mysterious local gal MaryBeth (Tamara Feldman).  When their boat breaks down and begins to sink, the tourists soon come under attack from both the swamp’s many-toothed gators and Mr Crowley himself, whose tolerance for visitors is non-existent.

Where this movie succeeds is in building a convincing back story for Crowley and in ensuring that we know just enough about the tourists before Victor’s blade begins to bite.  As well as our core trio, the film sees cameos from horror icons like Tony Todd (the charmingly disreputable Reverend Zombie) and Robert Englund (who doesn’t make it past the opening credits) and even finds room for Mercedes McNab, otherwise known as Harmony in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, who forms a winning comic partnership with Joleigh Fioravanti.  as bickering actress wannabes doffing their tops for a sleazy videographer promising fame in a regionally-themed “Girls Gone Wild” rip-off.

The major issue that I do have with “Hatchet” is that whilst it certainly passes the time quite agreeably and shows a pleasing commitment to delivering old-school horror with delightfully gross practical gore effects, it never exactly lives up to the advance billing of being a game-changing fright fest.

Rather, Adam Green’s film is, at heart, an unapologetic slasher homage and doesn’t seem to be too hung up about providing meta commentary of the “Scream”/”Cabin in the Woods” variety.  Judging it on it’s own merits, it’s a slightly rough-around-the-edges, speedy horror movie which delivers on the kill front, has the seemingly prerequisite number of topless young women, has a decent Final Girl in the form of MaryBeth and even delivers my favourite staple of the 70’s/80’s horror film, the cyclical nightmare ending.

That said, it really doesn’t offer anything new and the advance claims of Green doing something different are hard to reconcile with the enjoyable but scarcely revolutionary film he’s directed.  In comparison to the torture-driven fare on offer at the time, “Hatchet” is preferable experience in that you don’t want to have your memory scrubbed of what you’ve just watched.

More fun than an axe in the head, but not the best horror movie that I’ve watched this October.

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Dream Home”

The body count isn't an exaggeration...
The body count isn’t an exaggeration…

Buying a house can be murder.

We’ve all been there, even before the global financial meltdown made the idea of owning your home something akin to science fiction for many people.  In Pang Ho-Cheung’s satirical horror movie, “Dream Home”, Cheng Lai-Sheung (Josie Ho) endures hardships and horrors which would dissuade most people from pursuing their dream of owning an upscale apartment with a view of Hong Kong’s harbour.

Cheng works two jobs and cares for an ailing father, having saved relentlessly since her youth to afford a flat which would give her family a better standard of living.   She has a loveless affair with a wealthy married guy and has friends who are so resigned to renting rather than buying in one of the world’s most populous and expensive cities that they’d sooner blow their cash on lavish trips to Tokyo than save for a deposit.

Our anti-heroine’s tale of property-induced madness is told in a non-linear style, with the present of 2007 juxtaposed with episodes from Cheng’s youth which show us roughly how she came to be the hammer-wielding, single-minded one-woman harbinger of death we see on screen.

And here we get to one of the issues with the movie – and it’s a biggie.  Whilst the privations and suffering which Cheng undergoes are numerous, they still seem out of proportion to the level of bludgeoning violence she metes out to the inhabitants of the apartment building she visits.  One killing – of a pregnant woman – is so particularly vile that it unbalances the film and could be a deal-breaker for some viewers.  You might say that it was for me, as it became impossible to sympathise with Cheng after this point.

Nonetheless, I watched the whole film and found “Dream Home” a confused movie.  The tone ramps between syrupy, sepia-coloured memoir, acid-tongued economic satire and bloody slasher black comedy without ever sticking the landing.  We get one particularly gruesome bloodbath in a hipster flat where a character has their intestines abruptly removed and sits enjoying a calming cigarette as friends and a pair of hookers are messily dispatched.

I get the sense that this film was swinging for the kind of horrific intensity and jet-black humour of “American Psycho”, blending commentary on the banal cruelties of climbing the career and social ladder with the over the top carnage of a prime 1980’s slasher flick (albeit with a Final Girl who’s also the murderous villain).  That’s all very well, but the literal blood & guts on display seem to override everything, becoming the focus.  And our leading character Cheng feels like a sketch, rather than a fully-realised protagonist.

I can’t say that I enjoyed “Dream Home” at all.  Gore in place of plot, a cast of mostly detestable knife fodder and satirical underpinnings which seem like an afterthought – none of these factors add up to a compelling film for me. The final moments of the movie, which seem to offer a comeuppance for our anti-heroine, come rather too late and seem like an attempt to provide a rap across the knuckles for somebody who deserves somewhat more punishment for her crimes.

 

 

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria:”Cold Prey: Resurrection”

She's back and she's brought a friend...
She’s back and she’s brought a friend…

Life has a funny way of messing with your plans, and this weekend was no exception.

My steady progress of watching a horror flick a day during October went awry on Friday when my Mum was taken ill. What with one thing and another,  it took me until Monday the 20th to get back on the scary wagon, unless you count watching the “Strictly Come Dancing” results with Mrs Rolling Eyeballs as suitable horror fodder.

With a semblance of normality restored, I sat down to watch the sequel to “Cold Prey” – “Cold Prey – Resurrection”.  Following a model established by “Halloween 2”, this follow-up to the 2006 fright-fest is set almost entirely in a due-to-close hospital.  Jannicke (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) is brought there after being found wandering in the snow, having killed the backwoods mountain man who murdered her friends in the first movie.  Traumatised by her experiences, she’s horrified to learn that police have recovered the bodies of her friends and the killer, who awakes in the hospital determined to finish what he started.

“Cold Prey” wasn’t a horror film which reinvented the genre, but it showed a commendable commitment to establishing character and location, a trait which this sequel also displays.  It’s at least half-an-hour before the mayhem truly begins, with the stories of the hospital staff, patients and local police force all having moments of character development before the Mountain Man rises from his slumber and stalks the corridors anew.

The second movie in the series – a prequel, “Fritt Vilt 3”, came out in 2010 – builds on the strong points of the first film and concentrates on delivering a series of tense set-pieces.  There’s a particularly effective police breach sequence in which the characters actually behave like sensible rational people (before getting diced six ways to Sunday).  If you’ve ever shouted at the screen whilst watching a horror flick, wondering why people going into the big scary house don’t wait for back-up, then this film will satisfy your desire for protagonists with two brain cells to rub together.

That said, there are certain inescapable tenets which the slasher sub-genre has to adhere to and the climactic showdown in “Cold Prey 2” is no exception.  Having spent the majority of the running time in civilisation, the end of the film sees the villain and our heroines – we get two Final Girls this time, Jannicke and hospital doctor Camilla (Marthe Snorresdottir Rovik) – hopping on a snowmobile and tracking the Mountain Man back to his remote hotel lair to finally vanquish their warmly-clad foe.

As a sequel, “Cold Prey 2” does a decent job of providing a briskly delivered cocktail of scares and thrills, also finding time to pencil in some of the back story hinted at by the first instalment.  Fans of Nordic Noir might even enjoy the sequence where the local chief of police pieces together how come so many skiers and snowboarders seem to disappear in the mountains – I thought that I was watching a cop procedural drama for a couple of minutes.

Overall, this is a satisfying horror movie, albeit one which seemed to ramp up the violence and gore in a way that the original movie didn’t seem to feel was necessary.  If that’s a turn-off, please feel forewarned, but don’t miss out on a decent example of the modern European horror thriller.