Saturday, August 12, 2017

Slit Mouth Woman in L.A. Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Unsuspecting victims in the USA fall prey to some of Japan's most famous urban legends.

Review: Up front, do not be misled by that title. This film is more akin to an anthology, and the slit mouth woman serves as only a segment/wraparound. As with similar instances in the past, I was intrigued by an East meets West production and this held much potential. Unfortunately, this film is ridiculously low-budget, full of idiocy, and a total waste of that aforementioned potential. Yet, at the same time, I can appreciate what the filmmakers were striving for and the core premise is creative. Furthermore, the filmmakers were having fun with the material, and I can't completely fault them when they understood this was never going to be a mainstream hit.

Slit Mouth Woman (Kuchisake-onna): So the slit mouth woman is supposed to be some kind of disfigured woman, or supernatural entity, that will ask you if she's beautiful. Depending on your answer, she will use her huge shears to slice your face up like hers. There have been many movies about her, though, I've yet to review one. In this instance, some blonde girl believes she is transforming into the titular character. Though the production is home video levels, I kind of enjoyed the premise at hand, and the makeup effects were passable. Between each of the other segments, we cut back and forth to this story with blondie here becoming increasingly disturbed. By the end, she does become the slit mouth woman, however, I did not understand how any of this was happening whatsoever. Blondie's sister was using the power of suggestion or something...? I don't know. I mean, the sister is studying Japanese urban legends, kills blondie, carves up blondie's body and dresses her to look like the slit mouth woman, and then blondie's ghosts actually comes back as the slit mouth woman....I guess. There is a third sister, who we will get to later, but I'm not sure how that was supposed to all connect. Nevertheless, this was okay for what it's worth, but, goddamn, I was about to turn into the slit mouth man if I had to hear blondie scream "MONICA!" one more time!

Kokkuri-san: More or less, Kokkuri-san is supposed to be the ghostly force within a Japanese equivalent of the ouija board. A bunch of movies have this in it--sometimes just for the shits and giggles. Plus, other Asian countries have their own equivalent. Well, Kokkuri-san contributes next to nothing in the plot as it's pretty much a lesbian love triangle with a couple dweeby guys dragged along to raise the body count. We have three chicks working in a maid cafe--mmhmm...maid cafe. Seriously, do those exist in the USA and where do I find one?! Anyway, the three girls are in love with one another or something, but someone starts to kill them off. The editing is already pretty much shit throughout the entirety of the film, however, it's especially bad in this segment. You will think there is an unknown party as the killer never explained, but this is simply due to horrendous editing accompanied by confusing storytelling. In essence, one of the girls is jealous that the other two are dating, kills one of them, and then that first victim returns as some kind of onryo/zombie hybrid. After killing a bunch of people, the ghost is defeated by the last maid pretending to not be a lesbian any longer. Right. The girls are cute, but this segment was especially stupid since it had almost nothing to do with the urban legend. Also, I don't fully understand how the slit mouth woman connected into this tale as they implied.

Furen the Evil Hunter: I tried to look this up since the only urban legends I know about are ones featured in movies. From what I can tell, there doesn't really appear to be any urban legend associated with this entry. If anybody knows, share it with me. What we do get is a spiritualist coming to the USA to supposedly deal with these Japanese, supernatural forces; somehow this involves the devil, an evil priest, and zombies. I guess the filmmakers wanted to indulge the action genre with some DBZ-esque shenanigans and the spiritualist, revealing his name to be Onmyoji, blasts the devil back to hell with a wannabe kamehameha wave. Why not, right? Would have been funnier if they had this guy fighting the slit mouth woman. Despite the overwhelming levels of cheese, I thought this segment was amusing due to the fish out of water setup.

Umeko's Friends: With the final segment, I don't really understand what was supposed to be going on. I guess Umeko is supposed to be a Sadako wannabe? Hell, was that even a Japanese girl under that wig and makeup? Regardless, the plot reminded me of the "Hagane" segment in "Kowai Onna." Some guy helps a Japanese man stranded on the road. With promises of good food and a cute sister, the guys decides to go home with the Japanese man. There, the food is rice with locusts, and the sister, Umeko, acts creepy with giant, disheveled hair. Immediately, the sister loves the guy and tries to bang him but is rejected. Later on, the guy is with his girlfriend when Umeko and her brother try to start trouble. This results in the brother using a kind of voodoo doll to hurt the main guy. Out of nowhere, the one lesbian from the maid cafe brings Onmyoji over to help fight the spell. During this spiritual battle, Umeko's brother dies and Umeko wants revenge, somehow transforming into her own Sadako/slit mouth woman hybrid. In this form, Umeko manages to kill the main guy and his girlfriend and then hangs out with their dead bodies. Finally, it's worth explaining that Umeko is supposed to be the third sister to blondie who became the slit mouth woman. Could have definitely put more effort into linking all the segments, that's for sure.

Overall, I see this film as a missed opportunity. The idea of Japanese urban legends somehow spreading to the USA was awesome, but the phenomenon is not properly explained in the story. I mean, why was any of this happening in the first place? They build up this mystery throughout yet do not deliver. Two of the best Japanese urban legends, teke teke and Hanako, should have been included in place of the spiritualist and Umeko. There needed to be a bigger budget for the production, and the red screen edits were atrocious. Just fucking transition your shots! I am going a bit easy with my rating since I appreciate the effort put forth and ideas at hand; I'll cut the filmmakers slack for their ambitious approach as well. I can't recommend this, but, then again, I watched this on Amazon Prime so if you want to kill some time on a plane ride, or whatever, there's that.

Notable Moment: When Onmyoji even makes a joke about how all they need is Sadako to complete this cast of zany creatures he's fighting. What's kind of funny is that a lot of Asians will reference Sadako as the archetype of long-haired ghosts, yet non-Asians I hear say, "she looks like 'The Grudge'."

Final Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Beyond the Gates Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After their father's disappearance, two brothers stumble across a video board game that comes to life.

Review: Here we go again..."Beyond the Gates" could--no, should--have been something extraordinary! Instead, this was an enormous waste of potential and indescribable letdown. With a story that had all the makings of a love letter to the 1980s, I can't understand what the hell happened. Yeah, the budget was peanuts, but, still, virtually everything is off--from the tone to the style to the general aesthetics. Other than a couple synth tracks and the VHS tapes, there's nothing else worthwhile. I mean, I'm picturing this shit to be like "Jumanji" meets "Night of the Demons" or something along those lines. What we get is a whole lot of bullshitting in order to eat up a ridiculously short running time. Seriously, take away the end and opening credits (which were cool by the way), and you're left with a 75 minute film comprised of mostly unrealistic yapping. Argh.

In fairness, the core premise is fucking amazing! You have a cursed, or haunted, video board game that comes to life, altering reality in deadly ways. Two brothers, kids of a father who owned a video rental store (with an affinity for the VHS medium), are dragged into this game in order to free their missing father and save their own lives. Unfortunately, we do not get some epic adventure or bizarre story reminiscent of "The Dungeonmaster." Oh no. The brothers don't start the game until the 25 minute mark and inconsistently take the game seriously for the majority of the running time. They don't even enter the game world until 70 minute mark, goddamnit!

So what are the filmmakers wasting their time dealing with? Pointless family drama that is not executed properly at all. They act like this hunt for the father and having to kill him is somehow dramatic and cathartic. I'm thinking, we don't know jackshit about this dude except that he sure loved VHS. Yeaaaah, just having a character say it was "tough" growing up ain't fucking cuttin' it in my book...not when your dealing with this kind of badass premise. There are also all manner of shenanigans that go nowhere like that dweeby store owner trying to act creepy, why the father had a picture of the chick from the game, and what was the big deal with the video store? There are so many holes in the plot that it's as if every third page of the script were ripped out.

But what really irked me was the complete debacle of paying tribute to the '80s that the filmmakers clearly wanted to depict. Sure, the characters making references to fake movies would have been nicer with real movies--I can overlook that--but where is the cheese factor? Where is the fun or the over the top? Where is the heart? "Beyond the Gates" has little soul. The acting wasn't doing any favors either.

You know what, I can't even declare this a failure...I want this shit redone. FIX THIS! Remake this movie again with a bigger budget and someone who can properly capture the tone and style of the '80s. Get the crew behind "The Void" or "Stranger Things" or just anyone who understands how to do this era justice. Here, I'll help. Skip all the "dramatic" bullshit at the beginning--start the movie off with the brothers (cool with each other and with fun, playful banter) going through the father's video store and discovering the game as your opening scene. Get rid of the girlfriend character and everyone else; they're useless and stupid. Make the brothers go into a surreal world where the video woman appears ethereal and serves as their guide/antagonist. Keep the thing with 4 keys except make each key a neon-colored VHS tape and contained inside an '80s-centric area: maybe a slasher area paying tribute to masked killers, a sci-fi world that is like "Aliens" meets "Tron," a lighthearted, treasure hunt area similarly to "The Goonies" meets "The A-Team," and, last, an action world fighting terrorists and/or ninjas. Or crank this shit up to eleven and mix and match ideas; think "Jem" fighting Jason or Indiana Jones meets DnD. The potential is endless! As the brothers fight their way through the worlds, they claim the keys, get some girls, free the dad, and, hell, save the damn world! Why not, right?

I'm giving "Beyond the Gates" a mediocre rating simply due to my profound love for the basic premise. However, that's about all she wrote for this movie. There are a few decent aspects here and there, but, fundamentally, the filmmakers dropped the ball. This movie is nothing at all as one might imagine or hope it to be. The production is pure amateur hour through and through. Typically, I can forgive this shortcoming but not when the story dicks around with unnecessary scenes, pointless bullshit, and plain meandering with the material. I don't recommend this film since it is nothing more than a disappointment waiting to happen. What a shame.

Notable Moment: When the brothers first walk into the father's video store and are surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of VHS tapes. What a beautiful sight.

Final Rating: 5/10

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Silver Bullet Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A small town is plagued by murders and only a paraplegic boy realizes the killer is actually a werewolf.

Review: For the most part, "Silver Bullet" is as generic as a werewolf movie can come, however, what saves the story is the amusing dynamic between Corey Haim and Gary Busey. I mean, Gary Busey is pretty much playing Gary Busey, but somehow this enhances the entertainment value rather than detracting from it. Don't get me wrong, there are good ideas spread throughout the film; for example, making the identity of the werewolf a pivotal plot point. But, come on, son, they couldn't even produce a solid werewolf costume! Sometimes the werewolf looks like a damn bear in the shadows, but, when brought into the foreground, he's looking like a scrawny twig and fake as fuck. Also, the constant cuts to the werewolf's eyes and other limbs demonstrates a lack of a proper, and complete, special effect.

Now, "Silver Bullet" is based on a story by Stephen King, but the film only loosely follows the events of the story. This is especially bizarre given that Mr. King also wrote the screenplay. Nevertheless, cooler elements like the werewolf killing people on each holiday are dropped. The main character, Marty, played by Mr. Haim, uses a motorcycle-esque wheelchair to get around which is unique. Having Marty as a paraplegic does offer a degree of originality, yet, there is, realistically, only one scene that fully plays up the potential; we see Marty watching a bunch of kids play baseball and he stares at them longingly. I'm not sure why the sister is the narrator of the events since Marty and the uncle, played by Gary Busey, are the heart of the story. It's tough to adequately express, but Marty and the uncle felt believable together--a genuine sense of love formed from an established relationship between them. This kind of depiction is hard to display in even the best of movies.

The kills are acceptable...I guess...but the gravity of the situation is never instilled properly. Like, the town sheriff, played by John fucking Locke, is just chilling out while his townspeople are being turned into wolfy chow? Or that trash-talking asshole would simply carry on as usual after a bunch of people are slaughtered in front of him? And Marty's best friend is shredded and Marty is mad about fireworks?! AND the uncle is making jokes the same day as the dead friend's funeral?! Yeaaaah, okaaaay. The whole town is supposed to be scared, angry, and paranoid, however, every scene and character reaction would imply the opposite to be true. Should have called in the damn Monster Squad to take care of this shit. "Only one way to kill a werewolf." Damn right, Rudy! Speaking of which, the reveal of the werewolf's identity is done well despite the shoddy effects I previously mentioned.

In the end, "Silver Bullet" is not going to blow your mind and lacks the '80s charm since the events are supposed to take place in the '70s. Despite this, the actors are able to create a different kind of magic through the character interactions. This felt like a real family and, thus, made the characters endearing and you want to see them survive. While the werewolf design needed improvement, and the film's tone needed major adjustments, the film gets the job done in presenting a decent werewolf tale.

Notable Moment: When Reverend Lowe dreams that everyone in town transforms into werewolves during a funeral. Cool scene...though there is a hint of over the top cheesiness.

Final Rating: 6/10