Tag: horror-comedy

Murder Party


Murder Party (2007)
★★ / ★★★★

“Murder Party,” written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, is a charming horror-comedy that might have benefited greatly if it had a more sinister undercurrent about artists and their art. Instead, what results is a somewhat watchable, playful romp but one lacking intrigue.

On his way from the video store before Trick-or-Treating begins, Christopher (Chris Sharp) crosses paths with a piece of paper being blown by the wind. Written on it is a so-called event called Murder Party, an address, and an instruction to come alone. Under the impression that it is some sort of a fun Halloween party, Christopher makes a last-minute costume made of boxes, bakes a pumpkin cake with raisins as contribution, and takes off to attend the event. The address written on the invitation takes him to a secluded warehouse where five people wearing costumes—three men and two women—await their victim.

Most of the attempts at comedy come in the form of slapstick. The deaths are often silly and surprising, almost always in consecutive order, and so the gasps of horror are consistently followed by chuckles or laughter. The writer-director has a talent for shaping scenes that involve accidental deaths. Notice that with scenes that lead up to a death, they are often very busy: characters are talking at once, there are many body movements in the foreground or background, the editing employs quick number of cuts. Once such a strategy is recognized, one can anticipate that within the next minute or so, a character will drop dead.

In a way, however, ironically, this makes for a rather predictable viewing. Still, one might argue that the film is not about who dies but how one dies. There are some creativity during the death scenes and I enjoyed that there is an overall joy to the process—whether it be a performer trying his or her best to capture a specific emotion before signing out or how the special effects involving gore tend to evince a level of camp. Neither the performances nor the effects are always convincing or on point but there is an undeniable sense of fun.

The picture falls short when the subject of art is brought up. Each of the five potential killers is a sort of artist one way or another but we never get a clear picture of what each person wishes to accomplish with his or her art, their endgame, especially when he or she results to extreme ways to make a statement. The most we learn is the type of medium he or she specializes in and that they are vying for a grant.

It would have been a refreshing move if we knew more about the aspiring murders’ respective motivations more than the protagonist’s—especially when the protagonist is so passive and plain as Christopher is in the film. To have made the antagonists more interesting would have been a pretty big statement in itself.

The Final Girls


The Final Girls (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

With the theater exits blocked and the fire quickly spreading, Max (Taissa Farmiga) comes up with the idea of slashing the screen and leaving through there. Instead of safety, however, she and her friends (Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch) end up in the movie they were watching—an ‘80s cult slasher flick called “Camp Bloodbath”—and it appears as though the only way to get out of it is to survive until the masked murderer named Billy Murphy (Dan B. Norris) is killed.

“The Final Girls,” based on the screenplay by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller, has creativity coursing through its veins but it is not as fun and fully realized as it thinks it is. What results is a picture that is worth sitting through once, given that one is in the mood for a silly horror-comedy, but it will likely not be remembered ten years from now. This is because it does not push the envelope far enough—whether it be in terms of scares, gore, kill scenes, or more subtle nudges to the slasher pictures of the past.

What stands out is the way it attempts to establish characterization, particularly the relationship between the lead protagonist and, Nancy (Malin Akerman), her dead mother. Genuine human connections and emotions are far too often ignored within this sub-genre and so it is a breath of fresh air that these two characters share scenes we can relate with and hold onto. I was surprised to have felt a certain longing between mother and daughter who have zilch chance of existing again within the story’s “real” reality, only in the fantasy that is the movies.

It works because Farmiga and Akerman are performers who are able to dig from within themselves when necessary and deliver feelings and thoughts beyond the lines that must be uttered. The mother-daughter bond makes the film special, in a way, because even though horror-comedy is almost never taken seriously, the writers dare us to treat it otherwise. Todd Strauss-Schulson directs the more personal scenes with real sensitivity and respect—which I admired because such an avenue is a rarity in horror and horror-comedies.

The weak treatment of the supporting characters is expected but disappointing nonetheless. While all of the actors are game—Adam DeVine is wonderful as his usual manic self—to look however and say anything in order to garner a giggle or a laugh, one cannot feel as though there ought to have been a freshness injected to each their characters. Although the self-awareness runs rampant, it does not strive to go beyond its usual bouquet of jokes. I grew tired of the self-awareness eventually.

At least one really good scare is absent—which is a miscalculation. The best of horror-comedies tend to fluctuate when it comes to its tone—a juggling act among fear, disgust, suspense, amusing one-liners, and laughter that makes the stomach hurt. The majority of this film is composed of amusing one-liners and occasional unexpected turns—which ultimately feels rather flat as a whole.

Still, “The Final Girls” offers a few moments that are strong. It does, however, need to reel in the visual acrobatics—one standout sequence takes place in the beginning and the other toward the end—because these just look silly, crazy, and trying too hard to impress. ’80s special and visual effects may be dated but at least there is a charm about them.

All Cheerleaders Die


All Cheerleaders Die (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

While performing a cheer stunt, Alexis dies due to a broken neck. Her passing means there is one opening in the cheerleading team and Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) wants it bad. Since she despises the cheerleaders and the jocks, she concocts a plan to infiltrate the popular kids’ inner circle, pretend to like them, and ruin their senior year. Her first target: Tracy (Brooke Butler), one of the cheerleaders who jumped at the first opportunity to date Alexis’ former boyfriend named Terry (Tom Williamson).

Written and directed by Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson, “All Cheerleaders Die” is a horror-comedy with energy to spare but it falls short from becoming truly memorable because it fails to embrace an extreme. It is neither horrific nor comedic enough to seep into the subconscious successfully and so the result is a meandering picture in tone and content, a remnant of ‘90s horror teen flicks with accompanying visual effects worth a few snickers.

Part of it is satire but it does not work. Although the script attempts to subvert genre tropes and expectations, especially horror films’ depiction of women, the jokes are not sharp enough to outweigh the overbearing self-awareness. A lot of movies mistake satire for self-awareness, vice-versa, and this one is no exception. Satire is more subtle, at times employing a straight-faced mask to get the point across. Here, everything is tongue-in-cheek so the requisite edge is not quite there.

None of the characters are likable. There are a few hints that Maddy may be an outcast prior to her stint as a cheerleader. Given that she is an outcast, the material fails to give a good reason why, at least within a time span when it really matters, she wishes to turn a clique’s senior year into a nightmare. Thus, the only reason why we root for her is because she is an outcast. That is not good enough. That makes her a caricature, not a character worth rooting for.

One of the football players, Vik (Jordan Wilson), is supposed to be a nice guy but—again—like Maddy, he is underwritten. He is too reluctant to do the right thing to be worth rooting for, too bland to be a potential hero from left field. I did like, however, what is done to the character within the final few minutes. It is the correct decision. If he had been given more substance, we probably would have cared more.

The visual effects made me smile, perhaps out of embarrassment. On one hand, the blood, floating rocks that luminesce, and the like look so cheap. On the other hand, the filmmakers are not shy in featuring such subpar visuals that it is almost refreshing. In some instances, the unremarkable effects complement the increasingly outlandish storyline.

At least “All Cheerleaders Die” is not predictable. With movies of its type, I tend to know what is going to happen when and to whom like clockwork—no matter how clever the filmmakers think they are being—so it becomes a bore real quick. Here, I relished the small surprises and found myself enjoying the ride for at least half the time.

Zombeavers


Zombeavers (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Mary (Rachel Melvin), Zoe (Cortney Palm), and Jenn (Lexi Atkins), sorority sisters, decide to have a weekend getaway at a cabin in the country. Right next to the cabin is a lake where beavers have made a dam. The girls are unaware that the beavers that swim there have been exposed to a biohazard material quite recently and this toxic compound has made the beavers rabid-looking. Soon, the girls encounter these deranged-looking beavers—which prove very difficult to kill. The hospital is about thirty miles away.

“Zombeavers,” directed by Jordan Rubin, is ridiculous, cheesy, gory, nonsensical at times, occasionally very funny—and proud of these traits. We get exactly what we expect from the horror-comedy sub-genre with a playful title. At the same time, however, I wished it had been more willing to surprise, whether it be how certain characters are treated or when it comes to the biology or physiology of these so-called zombeavers. Also, the third act could use a bit of work.

I made an incorrect assumption with respect to who the final girl was going to be. Mary, Zoe, and Jenn are not exactly the stereotypical “good” girls so it makes guessing a bit more challenging. Do we go for the girl who had been cheated on by her boyfriend, the girl who insists that they have a “no boys weekend” so they can bond, or the punk-rock girl who has something dirty or inappropriate to say every two minutes? I liked these characters. I was surprised that the screenplay by Al Kaplan, Jordan Rubin, and Jon Kaplan does not simply treat them as bodies to be slaughtered.

The zombeavers look more like giant rats than actual beavers. I was okay with this. I was never scared by how they looked like but just about each time they made an appearance, I could not help but be amused. They are obviously animatronic objects of some sort but this is preferred over CGI. I enjoyed that there is a texture to these zombeavers rather than simply looking glossy or fake. It is difficult to pull off CGI in horror films and the filmmakers here seem to be aware of such a limitation. In a way, it is good that the budget is limited. Otherwise, a less effective movie might have resulted.

The first few attacks are executed nicely. A standout involves the girls and their boyfriends (Hutch Dano, Jake Weary, Peter Gilroy) being attacked by the rabid beavers on a raft. Beavers are not only great swimmers but they are quite good at chewing wood. It is very “Jaws”-like in that we get a real feeling that there is little to no chance at escaping. The way they manage to escape is so wrong yet genius.

As with many horror-comedies, one has to be in the mood for this kind of picture. The dialogue is sophomoric, the special effects are cheap-looking, and the premise is outrageous. But why see it? Because everyone involved is willing to go all the way. Because some of it works, the ones that do not become an afterthought.

My Name is Bruce


My Name is Bruce (2007)
★★ / ★★★★

Jeff (Taylor Sharpe) and his friend visited a graveyard to meet a pair of girls and expecting to get laid. But when Jeff accidentally woke up the Chinese protector of spirits, Guan-Di (James J. Peck), Goldlick, a small town with a population of 339, began to live in fear because Guan-Di seemed to kill indiscriminately. Jeff had a solution. Being a lifelong Bruce Campbell fan, he decided to kidnap the B-movie horror veteran (playing himself) so that he could help the town regain peace and quiet. “My Name is Bruce,” written by Mark Verheiden, was amusing because it took many jabs at Campbell. From his appearances in many independently produced horror and science fiction films, many of which were considered to be unsuccessful, to the dirty details of his personal life, I began to wonder how much of it was accurate. Campbell was shown to be a diva on set, prone to treating women with disrespect, and often relied on alcohol to keep his sadness at bay. He was also shown to be unkind to his fans. However, in reality, his fans adore him immensely so we get the sense that perhaps not much of it was true. The hyperboles were played for laughs; they weren’t smart but they worked. I especially liked the scene in which Campbell tried to convince himself that he wasn’t a loser… as he revealed to us where he hid various liquors and imbibed them as if they were water. The story was relatively thin but it didn’t need to be groundbreaking because each scene served to refer to other Campbell movies where he had to battle aliens and other monstrosities. He did a lot of running, screaming, and admitting of guilt. Despite the film’s inherent silliness, I stuck with it because its enthusiasm didn’t waver. However, the pacing felt stagnant when Bruce tried desperately to be liked by Jeff’s mother (Kelly Graham). The disastrous dance scene at the bar was an awkward attempt at slapstick. Furthermore, there was no chemistry between the actors. I was more interested in Jeff and the disappointment he felt when he realized that the man he looked up to was far from extraordinary: Bruce was only wonderful in Jeff’s imagination and the B-movies he cherished. His perspective, given focus and sharpness, could have been the emotional core of the film. B-movie fans will be amused by “My Name is Bruce,” directed by Bruce Campbell, but those who aren’t quite used to deliberate bad acting and barely passable special and visual effects will most likely be disappointed. That’s why the picture needed to have something all audiences can relate with. Nevertheless, Campbell’s love for the genre shined through and I consistently wondered what groovy thing he would try to pull off next.

The Cabin in the Woods


The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Five friends decided to drive to an isolated cabin in the middle of a forest for a needed weekend getaway. While playing a round of Truth or Dare, the cellar popped open. Curt (Chris Hemsworth), the athlete, said the wind must’ve done it. Marty (Fran Kranz), the fool, scoffed at the improbability of such a statement. Jules (Anna Hutchison), the whore, was just dared to make out with a wolf hung on the wall, tongue and all, so strange and comedic that it was almost erotic. As a dare, Jules chose Dana (Kristen Connolly), the virgin, to go down the cellar and investigate. Her eyes scanned over trinkets behind a shroud of black. She screamed. Holden (Jesse Williams), the scholar, came rushing to her assistance. Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, “The Cabin in the Woods” was drenched in irony and satire but it also worked as an astute criticism of the stagnancy of the kinds of horror movies released since the slasher-fest eighties. In this instance, the five friends were appropriately not given background information because we’ve familiarized ourselves, to the point of being inured, to their respective archetypes. Instead, much of the screenplay was dedicated to challenging our expectations of them as well as their rather unique circumstance. For example, with Curt’s impressive physique and propensity for holding onto a football like it was a requisite organ, we didn’t expect him to know much about books let alone cite a respectable author. There was a very funny joke about his and others’ stereotype, so we were constantly aware that the material was one step ahead of us. I watched the movie with a smile on my face because I found it so refreshing. Instead of me sitting there trying to psychically push the material to reach its potential, it was ambitious enough to set the bar for itself. It challenged its audience by thinking outside the box in terms of the inherent limitations of the genre. We’ve all wondered why characters in scary movies, after escaping an assault mere ten seconds prior, tend to drop their knife, gun, or whatever weapon that just saved their lives. The film acknowledged this phenomenon without flogging a dead horse. The first half took inspiration from Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead II,” although more tame with regards to the comedy and horror. The second half, on the other hand, was a surprisingly electric conflation of twisted originality that seemed to stem from a series finale of a television show, cartoonish gory violence, and exorcism of authority. What connected the two disparate halves was our curiosity about what was really going on. Notice the characters did not explain anything to us in detail. The filmmakers were smart enough to assume that we were capable of observing, thinking on our own, and putting everything together like a puzzle. By simply showing us what was happening without having to explain each step and why certain events had to transpire a certain way, as a dry lab report would, it was already one step ahead of its peers. I wish, however, that the last few scenes didn’t feel so rushed. So much tension was built up until the final confrontation but instead of milking our nerves, I felt like it was in a hurry to let go of the weight it collected over the course of its short running time. Directed by Drew Goddard, “The Cabin in the Woods” was a fun frolic in the dark forest of clichés because a handful of them were subverted with fresh ideas. I wouldn’t want to come across that towering zombie that used a bear trap as a weapon, though. He could give Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers a run for their money.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil


Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

A group of college students were driving up to the mountain to have some fun when they encountered two hillbillies, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), in a gas station. Having seen a lot of scary movies and heard of stories about grizzly murders in the woods, the college kids couldn’t help but translate Tucker and Dale’s every action as a possible chance to kidnap or kill them. In truth, the duo were only there because Tucker had recently bought a vacation home, a cabin, and they could use a bit of relaxation before heading back to work. “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil,” written by Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson, directed by the former, had a chance to really sink its teeth in horror movie clichés about hillbillies being nothing but churlish, incestuous, often cannibalistic, folks but it ultimately felt superficial because the one-liners and the physical stunts lacked range. The set-up was this: The young men and women were so stupid, they ended up killing themselves by accident. Cut to Tucker and Dale’s shocked and horrified reactions. The material was very funny during its initial gags, but the filmmakers failed to detach from the formula, ironically constructing its own clichés by making fun of clichés. The title promised the two friends fighting evil. After they rescued Allison (Katrina Bowden) from drowning, Allison’s friends thought that she was kidnapped because they observed from afar. This triggered Chad (Jesse Moss), innately irascible and shamelessly sporting an ugly popped collar, into a state of rage to the point where he ended up being as ruthless as the murderers his group of friends feared. The movie wasn’t specific in the “evil” that Tucker and Dale had to fight. Was it the negative stereotypes regarding hillbillies that became embedded in the genre’s bones over the history of cinema? Was it the apocryphal placidity in hateful individuals, who lived in the suburbs or cities all their lives, and their secret yearnings of violence just waiting to be unleashed? Furthermore, it failed to acknowledge that stereotyping can be a good thing; it helps our mind to process information faster than it normally would. For instance, they allow us to respond quickly to potential dangers. Relying on stereotypes and neglecting to put more thought into them, hence failing to sympathize with others who are different, is the real tragedy. If the screenplay had focused more on that message, tragedies even outside of horror movie conventions could have been effortlessly highlighted. The story really shouldn’t have been about the body count. Allison was in the process of getting her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, hoping to establish a career as a counselor. I expected her to be more self-aware. The subplot involving Dale and Allison falling for each other was a nuisance, almost worthy of a dozen eye-rollings. Wouldn’t it have been too much to ask if they didn’t pine for each other so profusely? With every bloody confrontation between the hillbillies and the college students, it was interrupted by Dale having to explain to Allison what had transpired. Given that we just saw what happened, the little summaries felt repetitive and I started to wonder if the filmmakers were simply biding their time to push the material to a typical ninety-minute mark because the script became indigent of fresh ideas that cut deeper than boning knives.