July 4, 2013

Midnight Horror: Hatchets & Cleavers

Having looked all over the internet for a picture of this multipack before being forced to scan it myself, it looks like I might have an exclusive here for the first time in years. Despite being released last October, nobody else has reviewed "Hatchets & Cleavers" yet. There aren't even people complaining about it on Amazon!

Thus, it falls to me to break the bad news about this penultimate Echo Bridge Home Entertainment 8 movie pack. On the bright side, I only have one more of these collections to watch and write about before I'm done with them forever. Yay!

Loaded (1994)

"Seven young adults gather at a country home to shoot a horror movie. But they quickly learn that friendship, seduction and jealousy can be a very dangerous combination."

Originally called "Bloody Weekend", this is a BFI funded (and Miramax distributed) movie which stars Thandie Newton and a load of other Brits who no one has ever heard of. It's also as far from being a horror movie as possible so it makes no sense that it's part of a horror movie collection.

Basically, "Loaded" is a drama about emotionally immature art student types who alternate between poncing around while making a crappy handycam movie and talking about their relationships until, after an hour, they all get high on acid, have an accident, and go into low-rent "Shallow Grave" territory.

It's not a bad movie for what it is, and there are brief flashes of nudity, but it never really takes off. Good acting performances, and one character who sounds a lot like David Walliams, don't make up for the story being a whole lot of nothing which just fizzles out at the end. There are no scares either.

The Ridge (2005)

"A group of young adults head off to a vacation home in the mountains where they are joined by a legendary murderer known as The Ridge Runner."

Moving on from irritating British teenagers, "The Ridge" now presents a group of Americans with such a lack of communication skills that most people will turn these neurotic stuttery-gutses off in the first five minutes. If Vicky Pollard has an American equivalent, it's every character in this movie. Nothing they say makes any sense even within the internal logic of their own conversations.

Of course, what we have here is another batch of irksome cannon fodder all ready to be offed by an athletic serial killer in the most ungratifying offscreen ways that the low-budget will allow. Even for a generic slasher clone, this is an extraordinarily bad one.

Among all the lousy camerawork, improvised dialogue and non-acting, "The Ridge" is nothing but tropes, clich├ęs and extremely alienating, pussified, teenage WASP behaviour. It also takes ages before it becomes anything other than a load of talk.

Animal Room (1995)

"When Arnold Mask is sentenced to isolation in a controversial program at his high school called 'The Animal Room', he is pushed to the brink by a gang of bullies."

"Animal Room" is another drama which doesn't belong in a horror collection. Just because it contains a brief discussion of "Night of the Living Dead" is too much of a stretch. By that token, it won't be long before "Juno" appears in a "Midnight Horror" multipack for mentioning "Suspiria" and "The Wizard of Gore".

Despite being almost as gritty as "Scum" (1979), "Animal Room" is very much a product of '90s America, a lot more punches are pulled, and it's hard to sympathise with any of the characters. Think "The Breakfast Club" with an R-rating and aspirations to be more "cult" than it really is. A home-invasion scene borrows so heavily from "A Clockwork Orange" that all claims to originality are lost at one fell swoop.

Once again, this isn't a bad film, but it probably only remains in print because it stars Matthew Lillard as a psychopathic bully and Neil Patrick Harris as his victim. There are some great performances (especially from Gabriel Olds as a half-way house looks-wise between Brandon Lee and James Franco), and a fair bit of violence and swearing. Unfortunately, it's all rather dated, uneven, and cringeworthy with it.

I enjoyed the novelty value of "Animal Room" being a movie that I'd never seen or heard of before, but it's not something I'd ever want to watch again. Although it's very brief and you don't see anything, the animal cruelty to a rabbit has no place in my entertainment.

Dirt Boy (2001)

"While reading the best-selling serial killer book 'Dirt Boy', Matty Matthews begins to make mysterious connections between the story and a small Cape Cod community."

I don't often do this, but I skipped most of this one on fast-forward because it's boring. Maybe I'll watch it one day after I've had my brain damaged by a stroke or something.

"Dirt Boy" is only a self-referential crime thriller with the gimmick of being a story within a story anyway, and it's not something that I could ever get into. Slow-moving, slightly comedic, murder-mystery movies starring uncharismatic leads simply aren't my cup of tea.

Hollywood Scarefest Premiere Edition (2010)

"A collection of award-winning shorts from the annual Hollywood Scarefest premiere."

Whenever I see this kind of short movie labelled as "award winning", it makes me wonder what exactly that award was for. In every case here, the award was presumably for being a crappy film school project.

The 6 shorts are:
"Vision" - a futuristic eye transplant with a criminal rehabilitation twist.
"Horla" - based loosely on the short story by Guy de Maupassant, an artist gets interfered with by some kind of succubus. (In black and white.)
"Recharge" - a dreary sci-fi about a quality inspector in a battery factory who kills people in gas masks for no apparent reason. (Also in black and white.)
"Cellular" - badly filmed images of people talking on cellphones which looks as if the camera was damaged when they made it. It turns into body horror as addiction causes the phones to embed themselves on the users' faces.
"Last Stop Station" - a tabloid photographer stops at a "gas station"... literally! Lots of dry ice and a couple of thieving Grim Reapers appear. (Black and white again.)
"The Suffering: Static" - a moderately attractive blonde falls asleep in front of the TV and sees herself getting murdered on it, but which side of the screen is reality?
"Fait D'hiver" - a Dutch horror with subtitles about a bald businessman stuck in traffic whose phonecall home reveals his wife to be having an affair. The twist reveals that he called the wrong number.

"Fait D'hiver" is a nicely reworked "Tales of the Unexpected" episode and is the best of a bad lot.

Green River (2008)

"Haunted by her sister's mysterious disappearance, Charisma and her friend Allison, return to Green River for answers."

The aerial shots of a car driving along a road during the opening credits look like an homage to "Burnt Offerings" or "The Shining", but that's as good as it gets. Everything goes downhill once the story begins.

Nothing happens for the first half of the movie other than a couple of uncomfortable-looking city girls get intimidated by the mere existence of hillbillies in a backwoods setting where much prettier girls have already disappeared. Red herrings, plot holes, and overuse of the "Chekhov's gun" trope abound, not that whoever made this movie understood how to use any of those devices properly anyway.

The camerawork is nice, and there's lots of scenery to look at, but all attempts at creating a tense atmosphere fall flat. From the constant expression of disgust on the stressy brunette Alison's face, blonde Charisma must have been farting next to her continuously out of spite. Sexier leads or some hot lesbian action might have made things more interesting. Hiking though woods and a failed bit of rock climbing provide a miniscule amount of characterisation but far more padding than is necessary.

Once the girls kidnap a suspicious game warden, the movie changes gear into the kind of "torture porn" that the Hallmark Channel would make if they did torture porn. I have to admit that Kristina Hughes' performance as an increasingly more horrible psycho-bitch is kind of entertaining, but her acting is still pretty bad.

I suppose there are worse ways of spending 90 minutes in front of the television, although I can't immediately say what they are without digressing far too much. The ending makes absolutely no sense at all.

Followed Home (2010)

"Four young adults witness a deadly attack during a weekend trip to the mountains. But the tragic experience continues as the killer follows them home."

As soon as the hot brunette during the prologue told whoever was on the other end of her phone, "the cabin down the street gets super loud" that was nearly the end for me. The correct word is "VERY' or "REALLY" not "SUPER" (ugh!) unless you are a Japanese marketing executive. Oh God, I hate this "super" nonsense that's crept into common usage via YouTubers from the West Coast in the last three years. Fortunately, the hot brunette then gets stabbed by a masked attacker so I was able to continue my appraisal of this low-budget crap with the satisfaction that someone else hated her grammar too.

But having suffered through another hour and a quarter of even poorer dialogue and lazier acting, I don't have anything good to say about this lacklustre slasher. The attack scenes are some of the worst that have ever been filmed, the jump scares aren't scary, and I really wish that I had switched "Followed Home" off when I initially wanted to. Five minutes showing one of the girls running round a park with terrible background music tested my patience beyond human endurance, and that's really saying something considering how drawn-out and tedious the rest of the movie is.

Apart from the first girl who makes a second appearance before allegedly dying in the hospital, there aren't even any pretty actresses (or actors, if you are that way inclined) to ogle in this. If I wanted to see girl-next-door types with highstreet tans, I could do that by going to McDonald's or sticking my head out of the window for free rather than buying a camcorder movie starring them.

There's an extra scene during the credits which will satisfy anyone who hates YouTubers (and an "outtake" at the very end), but frustratingly for anyone who cares, the identity and motivation of the killer is never revealed.

The Killing Mind (1991)

"A psychological profiler attempts to solve a case she witnessed as a child—the graphic murder of a woman dressed as a ballerina."

As much as I used to lust over Stephanie Zimbalist, this old PG-13 TV movie of hers isn't her finest hour. To be fair, nothing could ever compare with the level of fame she achieved during "Remington Steele" although I think she was at her most beautiful in "The Awakening" (1980).

While there's nothing fundamentally wrong with "The Killing Mind", and it's a chance to see Danielle Harris and Lee Tergesen in earlier roles, it's a cop movie not a horror. As far as TV movies go though, I found it dated but quite enjoyable.

One minor gripe about this collection is that the order of the titles printed from top to bottom on the two DVDs doesn't match up to their order from left to right on the menus. Since the movies are still on the same disc that they are meant to be, it doesn't make a lot of difference unless you are writing a review, but it's sloppy work.

From my most recent visit to Wal-mart, I can confirm that the $5 bargain bin has quite a few of these packs in it. Amazon, however, claims to only have one left in stock so be quick if you want a new one. You'd have to be very silly indeed to buy that with the best price for a second-hand one being only a penny (plus shipping), but some people are odd like that.

Not to be too negative about Echo Bridge Home Entertainment multipacks, but you do get what you pay for. If all you want is some below average horror entertainment, I wholeheartedly recommend "Hatchets & Cleavers" as the perfect example. The link is above if you need it. As usual, fans of good horror movies should look elsewhere.

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