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May 23, 2015

Movie Review: "The Killer 4 Pack" (2014; MVD Visual/SGL Entertainment)

...as an ardent and embraced lover of genre films...especially those produced independently, and on nothing less than a shoestring-budget (...I've found that they tend to try harder, aspiring to be something great, despite their limitations), this viewer...every year, about the May time frame...harbors a desire...a dream...a fantasy, to attend the Festival de Cannes, in France, and exclusively, albeit waywardly partake of the genre film offerings, often featured there. Just wander about the film festival, taking in and 'binge-watching' (...man, don't you just love these social 'terms of the moment') the newest of the new, and some often nostalgically celebrated, as far as the realm of horror and dark fantasy, both big-budgeted and micro-budgeted alike...

...alas, this viewer's own financial limitations have, at least for the time being, curbed any possibility of one day attending the internationally renowned film festival (...understandable, as word has it, the cost of attending the yearly fest, is one of those 'ouch' level of expenses...Yikes!!); still, such obstacles hardly gives cause to cease and desist the dream itself. And as amiable consolation and substitute for what cannot be, but might be, one day...well, there's always the much more compact and convenient venue of home video. Browsing the store shelves...or perhaps more succinctly, the item entries listed over at Amazon or Ebay...one cannot help but express a measure of exhaustion, in filtering though the countless multi-movie collections, out there. Public domain trash, side-by-side with mainstream pairings and couplings. Bargain basement bounty...titles, merging over titles, blurring into more and more titles. It would be so easy to miss the occasional jewel, or jewels amongst all of this generic colored glass...tarnished jewels, to be sure, but jewels, nonetheless...



...such is the case with this particular quartet of independently produced genre feature films. So, come on...let's go, shall we?? Hey, the streets are amassed with elbow-to-elbow people, and the festival is open for business, right...ripe with genre movie greatness. And look...uh, see that dark and grimy back alley, just passed the flickering theater marquee bulbs?? Yeah, the one where...say, do you hear the faint screams and agonizing wails of pain, coming from there?? Naw...it's nothing. Now, don't be scared...nothing to fear, right?? Come, take my hand...let's go exploring over that way, shall we??...

...a young and attractive social worker, temp job coordinator and private detective...once a Chicago police detective, and now working in a major metropolitan area, north of the Mexican border...is curiously taken aback by a rash of mysterious and gruesome deaths, which are targeting the nameless population of derelicts, in and about the city area. The sadistic murders are being perpetrated by a cadre of young suburban psychopaths, both male and female, who get their psycho-sexual kicks in capturing, torturing, viciously slaughtering, and in the process, videotaping their hapless and random victims, whom they carefully select and stalk, in order to ensure their anonymity. The detective is compelled to take things personal, and as such, take matters into her own hands...having gotten little-to-no help from the local law enforcement...when the next victim is a young, naive, Spanish speaking girl...whom the detective knows intimately, and who is desperately seeking employment, so that she can rejoin and help support her family, down in Mexico...

...in the midst of her ensuing investigation, the detective is further perplexed and horrified, when someone...or perhaps some thing...is beating her to the punch in her search, as one-by-one, each member of the plaguing psychopathic group, is systematically, as well as sadistically dispatched, quite bloodily. The question is...who or what is doing the killing of the killers?? Is it someone within the killers' group, who appears to be having a change of heart, regarding their heinous and bloodthirsty activities?? Is it the local police captain, who happens to be the father of one of the psychopaths...and is, himself, a neo-Nazi, white supremacist?? Is it a member of the dead girl's family, who has since found out about the shocking and unspeakable death of their daughter...and has covertly sneaked across the border, in search of retribution and revenge?? Or is there something much more sinister and monstrously unearthly at work...relentlessly seeking it's own comeuppance...but from beyond the grave???...
..."The Day of the Dead"...not to be confused with that similarly monikered, gawd-awful attempt to remake George Romero's cult classic, which came out the very same year as this (...and really should be referred to, in the verse of it's original Spanish film title, "El dia de los muertos", to further separate this way better film, from that laudable and ridiculous Romero imitator)...further exudes independent director Ricardo Islas' auspicious beginnings as a filmmaker, well worth keep an eye out for; this viewer had previously partaken of one of his earlier works, from a couple years earlier, which cleverly and ambitiously focused on a particularly under-appreciated, albeit favorite infamously historical character, the Countess Elizabeth Bathory, in 2005's "Night Fangs". Although possessing some strong horror elements, ""El dia de los muertos" is hardly a straight out horror film, and instead, incorporates a great sense of flavorful intrigue and mystery. Reportedly based upon true events (...good gawd!! Really??), the ensuing mystery takes on an intriguingly investigative, almost seemingly CGI-ish motif, played out simply, though still amiably compelling; the dialogue, though not particularly executed very well, at times...seemingly, the film's only real flaw...is nonetheless realistic enough. And there are several deceptive 'red herring' moments of misdirection, which aspire to not make things too predictable, with the satisfyingly gripping conclusion, twisted enough to satisfy most viewing sleuths...

...in a puritan, late 18th century community, a young woman, Abigail, embraces a demonic influence, and is 'graced' with an accursed offspring, which she names 'Jezebeth'; repulsed by the abomination, Abigail attempts to save her soul by releasing the demonic child to the local clergy. All of this, Abigail meticulously documents in her diary, with the future and whereabouts of her daughter, becoming shrouded in mystery...
...switching to 'today'...a boarding house...and four young women, residing there. Two of the women, Lenora and the other...coincidentally named Jezebeth, are consistently and understandably at odds with each other, with Lenora being a devoted Christian, and Jezebeth drawn toward a much darker and sinister side. Somehow (...as in, it's never really explained), Jezebeth happens upon Abigail's long-lost diary, and after having conducted a series of demon-summoning occult rituals, she finds herself the willing host of the original Jezebeth...now a full-fledged demon...who manifests itself through it's modern human namesake, as a vampire. The demonic Jezebeth entity, now walking around in a willing human vessel, proceeds to reign her/it's influence over the remaining occupants of the household...seducing, torturing and attempting to 'turn' them over to a much darker and sinister realm of reality. With alternating reactions of surrender and resistance by the remaining occupants of the house...the latter of which are met with subsequent pain, torture, and much worse...the invariable question remains: Can Jezebeth be stopped??.....
...some say that the artistry of mathematics, when rendered perfectly, is an exquisitely beautiful thing...and others say that creatively, sometimes the whole is far and above more than the sum of all the whole's parts. With regards to "Jezebeth", it is the latter equation, which more aptly applies. There's no doubt that the storyline offer in this particular film is pretty simple and ordinary...there's a curse inflicted 'so many years before', and years later, the curse is 're-awoken', to plague unsuspecting victims, and etc, and so forth, and a ya-da-da, ya-da-da, ya-da-da..." However, the makers of "Jezebeth" have herein managed to up the ante, as far as pumping some unconventional life into these basic and simple proceedings. First off, the whole film seems creatively wrought from a very surreal, dream-like world, or perhaps more accurate, a nightmarish one; it's almost like this entire character play was photographed and filmed by one who would close one's eyes to darkness, for moments at a time, and then open them again...without disturbing or excerpting the whole of the story, itself. Kind of like waking from a dream, and in trying to remember the dream, it's broken up into bits and pieces, which start to erode and fade away, the more one tries to remember the dream...but one still gets the basis crust of the dream itself...

...and secondly...which, in a way, is not at all surprising, considering "Jezebeth's" co-production venue was partially comprised of a music production company...is the film's harrowingly kick-ass soundtrack...a nice melding of progressive hard rock, coupled with some delectably grating death metal rock.With the assist of a great music coordinator, director Damien Dante orchestrates the film's proceedings, using occasional musical moments, cleverly inspired by and hinted towards the likes of movie macabre composer Claudio Simonetti, and yet, goes full brunt on the decibel level, at just the right moments, with hard-rocking riffs from underground bands like Slam Bang, Gregori 3 and Supermercado (...so much so, in fact, that this viewer couldn't keep himself from pulling out the C/C, and ordering the soundtrack...which is available...right away). In the end, what might have made "Jezebeth", a mere well-worn and lackluster horror excursion, was made uniquely and creatively fresh, with some unconventional tweaking of the visuals, as well as the framing audio...Bravo!!!.....

...(interestingly enough, this viewer, close to the time of posting this review, became privy of a reported 'Jezebeth' phenomenon promotion, which not only included the original soundtrack, but also novels, comic books, as well as a western-themed sequel, which was submitted at film festivals, this past Halloween. Yeah, I'd buy into a franchise, as far as this...)

...while on route to the desert, to take pictures for their collegiate photography class, a young couple, an angst & opinionated sexy friend, and a bespectacled tag-along nerd boy are made privy to the local legend of a mysterious psycho killer, named Quiltface. Ignoring the suggested dangers, and pooh-pooh-ing what they call a ridiculous story, the hapless quartet are further warned away from the area...least they meet their doom. It seems that ol' 'Quiltface' had 'come back from the war', having received some nasty & grotesque facial scarring; as the result, he had become insane, and rooted himself in the desert, waiting for unsuspecting intruders, whom he would stalk, kill, take their facial skin, and sew the various pieces together, to form a gruesome, Picasso-like mask, to hide his ugliness. Of course, none of this 'malarkey' phases the foursome, and they proceed to their intended locale, to take their pictures...as well as indulge in a little touchy-feely. Once in the midst of the blazing desert heat, they...Wait!! What's that in the distance, atop that hill in the road?? A dark silhouette hulk of man, carrying...What's that, he has in his hand?? Is that a machete??  Whoa...look!! He's charging...he's running towards us...machete, raised for the kill strike...a raging growl, emanating from beneath the gruesome-looking patchwork mask on his face...he's...he's...NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!.....

...and how many times have we run into this scenario, before?? Without missing a beat, this viewer would be inclined to quip the classic Browning line of poetry, "...let me count the ways...", if not for the fact that quoting such a line would be as cliche as the very premise of this film, itself. You see, essentially, what we have here, is the classic 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' story, but pared down to it's bare bones basics...pared down so much, in fact, that there's hardly a story to be found here...just a single-beat set up, and the other foot falling, being that of the killer. But then, the lack of an engaging storyline is hardly the only problem with "Carnage: The Legend of Quiltface", or simply "Carnage Road", as the opening titles indicate; heck, even the most mundane of slasher flicks, at least have some interesting and clever kills in the film, if anything, to appease even the most salivating, drool-emitting gorehound...and this one has none. Oh, there are killings in the film, to be sure, but they happen off-screen, and we, the viewing audience are not even afforded the benefit of the gruesome aftermath...save for a couple of lingering, cheezy looking 'machete in the head' shots. Heck, even the killer's gruesomely hodge-podge patchwork mask proves nothing particularly special; we're not even given a real good look at it. Truly, the only thing that this beat-by-beat predictable horror flick has going for it, is the performances of the various victims, who all play their parts with an enthusiastic, albeit as-expected vigor. But other than that, there's really nothing else to hope for, in this yawner...Come on, director Massimillano Cerchi!! Considering the 'so bad, it's good' coolness of your previous low-budget outings, "Holy Terror" and the amusing 'Hellrasiser' knock-off, "Hellinger", surely we can do better than this.....

...ah yes, another year of college...another rousing game of Rush Week...and yet another opportunity to raze and torture the unsuspecting, brandie-newbie plebe freshmen, as subsequent initiation into their desired fraternities. And that's what one such rowdy fraternity has in store, as the senior members rattle their combined brains...while tapping a kegger, and at the same time, talk shit about tapping some of the local neighboring sorority sluts...in an effort to come up with just the right challenge for the new fraternity inductees. Hey, wait a minute, guys...hick, hick!! What about...hick, hick...that so-called abandoned and haunted warehouse, just on the...hick, hick...outskirts of town?? Hell, yeah!! We can set them up to stay the night at that @#$%ing place, go in ourselves, and freak the @#$% out of them!! Boo-Yahh!!! But wait...uh, didn't a couple of kids go there one night, about a year ago, and mysterious disappear, without a trace?? Nahhhh...that's complete bullshit; nothing'll happen to anyone, except for some good, old-fashioned scares. Come on...it'll be fun.....
...pssst!! Hey, viewing audience!! Yeah, you...come over here, and let me let you in on a little secret. Uh, unbeknownst to those dumbass drunken college jocks, whom you've just met, and who are planning to freak the shit out of some hapless fraternity inductees...a cadre of sick, twisted and demented psychopathic killers have chosen to hole up at that very same warehouse. And well, they just ain't gonna take too kindly to their hidey-hole being invaded by some drunken college punks...no siree, bob!!...

...basically, what we have here with "Hellweek", folks, is essentially 'American Pie Meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre', which would be all fine and dandy, if not for the fact that getting from point 'A', to point 'B' is an excursion into dullness, which might just cause some viewers to push the 'stop' button on their remote, before the gratuitous meaty bloodshed of the film...most of which is poorly executed via CGI...kicks in. The first 40 some-odd minutes alone (...with the exception of an opening, 'breaking news special report' broadcast, exuding upon a hapless local girl, who mysteriously disappeared, a year earlier) is slow and tedious juvenile build up to the invariable bloody confrontation at the warehouse...the plan for the hazing...the pre-hazing party...the jocks, swilling and swishing brewskis, while posturing about who at the neighboring sorority, they are going to 'nail'...the sorority girls, chirping the occasional 'like, this' and 'oh my gawd', every other sentence, talking about the 'douchebags' at the neighboring fraternity, and doing mundane stuff, like visiting a tarot card medium, just for kicks, and suggesting that there's a supernatural presence at that abandoned warehouse, and that no one would think twice about going there...yeah, that kind of stuff...
...and given a good amount of patience, the latter third of "Hellweek" does warrant one's attention, as the prerequisite psychopaths, who have staked a claim on the aforementioned warehouse, seem to be the more interesting characters in the film...acting all whack-a-doo...decked out in hick-looking overalls, suspenders, varied masks, clown make-up and pigtails...maniacal-gleefully reflecting a sort of mish-mash between the killers in "2000 Maniacs", "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and...well, "Spider Baby" comes to mind, as well. And is is worth the wait, to get up to that point?? If one is willing to forgive the cheap, cartoonish CGI gore effects, shuffled amongst some amateurish practical effects, as well as an overall 'tainting' of the film stock, with faux ticks, scratches, lint hairs and the light projector flicker, in an effort to make the film look grindhouse-ish (...hence, this special edition cut of "Hellweek" is called 'The Grindhouse Edition')...eh, yeah, it might be worth it. Hey, if anything, one could always just listen to the audio, for the first half of the movie, while cleaning the urine stains and scum off one's bathroom floor and toilet; at least you'd be getting something done, right??...

...in the end, this 'Killer 4-Pack' is pretty much a mixed bag...kicking off with a couple of tarnished jewels, followed by a dud, and finally, the horror movie equivalent of a Tootsie Pop. Not bad, for a total running time, described on the DVD cover, as 5 hours and 98 minutes; however, this viewer begs to differ, at this point, as he more accurately clocks this overall relatively satisfying binge-watching horror fest, at 6 hours and 38 minutes...a difference of...Oh wait...well, how about that?? (...tsk, tsk) Oh, you guys (...tsk, tsk); very funny, 'ha-ha'...yeah, yeah...you got me good with that one.....

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