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New Direction

wrong turn 2021


3.5 Stars  2021/110m

A.k.a. Wrong Turn 7Wrong Turn: The Foundation

“This land is their land.”

Director: Mike P. Nelson / Writer: Alan B. McElroy / Cast: Charlotte Vega, Matthew Modine, Bill Sage, Adain Bradley, Emma Dumont, Dylan McTee, Daisy Head, Tim deZarn, Amy Warner, Adrian Favela, Vardaarn Arora.

Body Count: 20

Laughter Lines: “Remember it’s pizza-movie night. The boys picked something with… inbred cannibals.” / “Again??”

Stand by for a direction you didn’t expect with this series reboot, shot with the suffix of The Foundation, but then just given the same title as the 2003 original so’s not to end up in Children of the Corn territory with an endless array of “what number is this??” confusions. Try not to trip over some of the minor spoilers.

After five sequels of largely sub-par quality that weaved an ever more head-scratching timeline of events, it’s goodbye to Three-Finger, One-Eye and Saw-Tooth and hello to a mountain dwelling community of… people. That’s it really. People who live on the mountain, keep themselves to themselves, but don’t take particularly kindly to interlopers. That said, they’re not deranged murderers either, simply defenders of their land and way of life. They are… THE FOUNDATION.

wrong turn 2021

From the off, it’s evident that the budget and creative thinking has been massively overhauled (and the film even got a one-day theatrical run), as we join Matthew Modine’s stressed out father, driving into a small town by the Appalachians looking for his daughter Jennifer and her friends, who haven’t been heard from in six weeks. Echoes of the more sinister parts of the original (and the Friday the 13th reboot) abound as folks tell him people go missing a lot around there and never turn up – so STAY. ON. THE. TRAIL.

Of course, a diversion to go and look for some historical monument leads to an encounter with THE FOUNDATION and a log flies down the hill, killing one of the group gruesomely. Believing it to be an accident, but now lost, they camp for the night and wake up to find all their phones and one of their friends AWOL. Another trap is triggered and various panic and confusion culminates in short-tempered Adam beating to death a member of THE FOUNDATION with a log.

wrong turn 2021

The surviving friends are captured and put on trial by the elders, who all hang out in animal skulls and camo-garb (for hunting, they say), saying that nobody was going to kill anyone, but nevertheless sentence Adam to death and the others to ‘darkness’, which means the eyes are gouged with a hot poker and they’re left to fend for themselves in a cave. Jennifer manages to negotiate for herself and boyfriend Darius and they become members of the Hotel California that is… THE FOUNDATION.

Back to the present we come to join Jen’s dad as he ventures into the wilderness to find her, and the rest of the film follows their escape attempts, with some unexpected allies recruited along the way.

wrong turn 2021

The differences between Wrong Turn of olde and this reboot are stark, from being thirty whole minutes longer, there are no mutant inbred cannibals (see that Laughter Line – original writer McElroy’s sassy swipe at what’s been done to his vision?) and this steps as far as it can from being a backwoods slasher film, rejigging the entire franchise concept. Rustic traps do continue to feature for fans of inventive squishings and there are some spine tingling scenes involving the disguises used by the forest dwellers.

Good performances from Vega, Sage, and Modine pretty much compensate for all of the ropey amateur-hour acting of the interim sequels. However, the crowded supporting cast means that most of the others fade into the background: Two of the hikers are a gay couple (male for a refreshing alternate to the repetitive girl-on-girl stuff from Wrong Turn 4), but do little other than hold hands a couple of times before being summarily killed off; the others amount to little more than angry guy, quippy girl, and ideal boyfriend.

wrong turn 2021

An interesting premise with some nice ideas about societies that could’ve used a little more exploration. Will future instalments follow on with THE FOUNDATION or can we expect the ever-rubbery-masked trio of people-eaters to return?

Blurbs-of-interest: Bill Sage was also in Fender Bender. Writer McElroy scribed Halloween 4.

A hatchet just before dawn’s wrong turn

nobody sleeps in the woods tonight 2020


3 Stars  2020/18/104m

Director/Writer: Bartosz M. Kowalski / Writers: Jan Kwiecinski & Mirella Zaradiewicz / Cast: Julia Wieniawa-Narkiewicz, Michal Lupa, Wiktoria Gasiewska, Stanislaw Cywka, Sebastian Dela, Gabriela Muskala, Michal Zbroja, Piotr Cyrwus.

Body Count: 12

Laughter Lines: “Fucking locals, B-class Poland – what am I doing here?”

Poland. Land of pierogi, Auschwitz, and questionable human rights for gay people. Our school took us there in the 90s to visit the aforementioned concentration camps. Heavy.

In 2020, the country joined the ranks of Euroslash with this slick looking pick n’ mix of Wrong TurnJust Before Dawn, and Hatchet. Thirty years after a mailman is dragged screaming into the cellar of a remote woodland home, a busload of teenagers arrives at Camp Adrenalina, a rehab joint to prize their cell phones and tablets out of their hands and show them there’s more to life than Instagram and gaming.

Group 4 pits girly Aniela, wannabe player Daniel, shy Bartek, nerdy Julek, withdrawn Zosia, and their guide Iza against the wilderness. They trek, camp, sit around the fire, and find a hollowed out stag. Meanwhile, whatever has been living in that cellar escapes when the old lady who feeds it takes a bad fall and it steals her keys, killing her as it vacates.

nobody sleeps in the woods tonight 2020

When Bartek disappears after a sexy night time booty call with Aniela (in a cute twist he turns out to be a virgin) and all that remains is blood on a nearby tree trunk, the others split into two groups – Iza, Julek, and Zosia to look for help or a phone, while Bartek and Aniela remain at the camp in case Daniel returns. The recon team stumble upon the house and run into the hulking deformed maniac, who manages to kill Iza, leaving the teens to save themselves.

From a hermit living in a shack, Judek and Zosia learn that there are twin killers, boys who found a crashed meteor in the woods years earlier, which leaked tar-like shit that turned them into psychotic cannibals overnight, causing their mother to lock them in the cellar and throw down animal carcasses.

nobody sleeps in the woods tonight 2020

Elsewhere, Bartek looks for help in a remote church, but finds the resident priest there has other ideas, nodding to Poland’s shitty record with LGBTQ residents, and culminating in a grisly woodchipper demise. Eventually, it comes down to Zosia, who we learn lost her family during a selfie-caused car accident – though why she’s at a camp for tech-obsessed teens is never addressed.

Lots of ideas are borrowed from other films: The sleeping bag kill is a direct recreation of that in Friday the 13th Part VII, and there’s a head-to-groin axe split that recalls Wrong Turn 2, but messier. There’s a great scene where Zosia, given the chance to run, instead creeps upstairs with a large machete and slowly tip-toes into the room where one of the loons is napping to take a gruesome revenge.

nobody sleeps in the woods tonight 2020

Nobody Sleeps gets further than a lot of its brethren by carving out nicer characters than expected. Given the need to adhere to certain stereotypes, none of the endangered group fall into assholery, revealing parts of themselves that make you feel sad for them when they meet the business end of an axe. The wheels work loose towards the end, but for a first international horror export it’s pretty damn solid.

Don’t You (Forget About Her)

into the dark school spirit 2019INTO THE DARK: SCHOOL SPIRIT

4 Stars  2019/84m

“Kiss goodbye to your class.”

Director/Writer: Mike Gan / Writers: Patrick Casey, Josh Miller / Cast: Annie Q, Corey Fogelmanis, Jessi Case, Julian Works, Jordan Austin Smith, Philip Labes, Hugo Armstrong.

Body Count: 11

Hulu’s horror anthology series gave us this genial little meta teen slasher pic, that pits a group of high schoolers enduring Saturday detention against a sword toting loon dressed as their school mascot.

When Helbrook High’s senior class president and all-round overachiever Erica Yang shows up for detention one week into the school year, everyone is shocked. Everyone who sees her that is, which is a group made up of substance abusers Russell, Lizzie, and Victor, shy try-hard Brett, and seconds-from-boiling-over teacher Mr Armstrong, who tells Erica he’d have seen her expelled if it were up to him. But what did she do? She ain’t about to share.

into the dark school spirit 2019

The pre-credits scene already showed us a couple of no-good-niks done away with when they snuck in the previous week to set up a digital camera in the girls’ locker room showers, and they become the two most recent additions to a growing list of missing kids from Helbrook. Stories float around of a spectral presence, a teacher who died in a prank gone wrong who eliminates all the bad kids. Weird clangs from the vents are attributed to her vengeful ghost.

School Spirit may owe a large debt to The Breakfast Club (are all-day Saturday detentions actually a thing??) by way of a grab-bag of other educational establishment slash ’em ups, but in 2019 it’s distinguished by nicely written characters who, for a bunch of ‘bad kids’, aren’t just 1D targets for the sharp end of the killer’s weaponry: We learn about their backgrounds to a degree and even begin to care a little about their fate, something that was absent from 90% of teen horror since 2001.

into the dark school spirit 2019

Gruesome demises included a paper guillotine returned to its decapitating origins, axe to the face, screwdriver to the eye, and a cool be-feeting gag for a horny jock. There are also a couple of halfway decent chases down the empty school corridors and a hidden ‘terrible place’ a couple of the luckless detainees discover.

This may also mark the first time we’ve had an Asian final girl in an American production, which, although in the grand scheme of things is a small change, does make a difference, even if it’s to play up to stereotypes of academic excellence. This actually sets up the cheery final twist, that dares toy with the conventions of the final girl at large, but was so wacky and demented I couldn’t help but laugh my ass off.

Four stars is very possibly way too generous, but I was elated watching School Spirit: Back to basics dead-teenager goodness.

into the dark school spirit 2019

Stan 1.0

the fan 1981


3.5 Stars  1981/18/95m

“The final act is murder.”

Director: Edward Bianchi / Writers: Bob Randall (novel), Priscilla Chapman, John Hartwell / Cast: Lauren Bacall, James Garner, Maureen Stapleton, Michael Biehn, Hector Elizondo, Feiga Martinez, Kurt Johnson, Anna Maria Horsford, Dwight Schultz.

Body Count: 5

Fandom can be a dangerous thing: From annoying fan tribes who crowbar whatever artist they’re presently fixated on into every available conversation or Tweet, hijacking any and all news items to remind you how much they love X, to the genuinely frightening fanatics whose love turns deadly.

The Fan came out in May 1981, less than six months after John Lennon was shot and killed by a fan, although it had been in production since the spring of 1980 and was based on a 1977 novel. Naturally, this led to a critical backlash of some degree, in part due to the increased violence in cinema issues present in the era of a-slasher-movie-a-week.

While The Fan has more in common with the late-80s Fatal Attraction-style high-end thrillers than your common or garden Friday the 13th also-ran, it walks long enough in the territory more commonly occupied by stab-and-drip movies to be included here. Bacall is once-huge actress Sally Ross, now approaching 50 and about to debut in a broadway musical. For some time she’s been receiving letters from devoted fan Douglas Breen (Biehn), which become more and more demanding when only Sally’s secretary Belle (Stapleton) replies and upsets him by referring to him as a member of the fan club rather than, well, whatever he considers himself to be.

the fan 1981 lauren bacall

Doug’s fantasy life steps on the feet of his job, which he loses for speaking out against a ‘lazy’ co-worker (played by a young Dana Delany), and he imagines himself to be Sally’s lover – sending a graphic letter detailing just how he will pleasure her, and demanding she reprimand the secretary for her behaviour.

Still no closer to Sally, Doug decides to take disciplinary proceedings into his own hands and slashes Belle in a frenzied attack, blaming this on Sally for not replying personally to him. He then attacks another friend of hers by razoring him down the torso in a pool, again blaming Sally, and eventually forcing her to flee New York for her own safety when the next – which occurs in her own home against her housekeeper – turns fatal.

the fan 1981 michael biehn

The Fan takes an interesting turn at this point, as Douglas wanders into a gay bar and picks up a young guy for a quick hook-up. While ultimately it’s part of a ruse to fake his own death thus luring Sally back out of hiding, it offers up some questions about the type of character we’re dealing with. It’s not a stretch to imagine an over-the-hill female star of musicals being idolized by a gay male, and Doug’s earlier letters promising sexual fulfilment could nod towards a self-loathing, mom-obsessed Norman Bates-type affair. But it’s also problematic, a kind of dis-ownership in deference to blaming any one other than a straight guy for this type of behaviour – homophobia in 1980s America one year after Cruising!?

Anyway, things end after the opening night of Sally’s musical (which was pretty shoddy), when Douglas stabs a couple of hangers-on to get her alone in the theater and finally confronts her. Again, The Fan toys with us a little: Sally doesn’t shriek, she merely faces down her stalker and is able to take advantage of his starstruck position to sashay away. This angers him and he attacks her, but still Sally shows little surface-level fear, instead mocking him and reminding him she doesn’t know him, buying her the time she needs to strike back. A very engaging and diverting ‘final girl’ scene if ever there was, aided by Bacall’s significantly more vast array of acting chop than most twenty-something starlets cast as the heroine. Indeed, the top drawer casting here shows what a huge difference players who can act has on a horror film.

the fan 1981 michael biehn

Even as I typed up this review, on Twitter someone was using hashtags about a plane crash in Asia to talk up K-pop boyband BTS, which illustrates that we haven’t really come so far in almost 40 years, with ‘stan’ culture, toxic masculinity and all the other not-all-there people who can’t seem to distinguish between love and artistic admiration. But we can hope they’ll grow out of it.

Blurbs-of-interest: Michael Biehn was later in Cherry Falls and Bereavement; Dwight Schultz was in Alone in the Dark. Look out for Griffin Dunne as a production assistant.

Greaserial Mom

psycho beach party 2000


4 Stars  2000/15/89m

“Party till you drop. Dead.”

Director: Robert Lee King / Writer: Charles Busch / Cast: Lauren Ambrose, Thomas Gibson, Nicholas Brendon, Kimberley Davies, Charles Busch, Danni Wheeler, Beth Broderick, Matt Keeslar, Amy Adams, Jenica Bergere, Nick Cornish, Andrew Levitas, Buddy Quaid, Kathleen Robertson, Nathan Bexton.

Body Count: 6

Laughter Lines: “In the past I’ve had little use for you head shrinks: Ink-blot tests, ‘I hate my mother’ and all that crap.”

Possibly the only slasher film based on an off-Broadway stage show, enter this one at your own risk, for you’ll either love it or proclaim it’s the worst thing y’ever did see.

Lauren Ambrose, who would shortly after land the role of Claire in Six Feet Under, plays Florence, a plucky smalltown girl who, in the summer of 1962, just wants to learn to surf and hang out with the boys, rather than do boring girly things, like her love-rival Marvel Ann (a pre-stardom Amy Adams). She falls in with a crowd of cool kids in Malibu, led by legendary surfer Kanaka, his protege Starcat (Nick Brendon from Buffy), and their pals, who have names like Yo-Yo and Provoloney and exhibit barely repressed homosexual urges. They reluctantly allow Florence to learn with them, and dub her Chicklet.

psycho beach party 2000 lauren ambrose

Chicklet, however, has multiple personalities, the most powerful of which goes by the name of Ann Bowman, a fearless dominatrix, who may or may not be the mystery fiend who’s been murdering kids with physical imperfections around the area lately: A girl with a cleft lip is killed at the drive-in, one of the surf gang with a skin condition is hacked to pieces, the toxic chick in the wheelchair is beheaded…

Investigating is Captain Monica Stark (played by show’s writer Charles Busch), who notices the action is centered around the surf crowd, and B-movie actress Bettina Barnes, who is hiding out from Hollywood in a beach house, where ‘something bad’ happened, until she is awarded better film roles.

psycho beach party 2000

As kids turn up dead, the surf gang throw themselves a Luau, which includes a great dance-off between groups over a Los Straitjackets jam. Chicklet confides in her dorky friend Berdine that she’s concerned she has schizophrenia, which means she’s either capable of being the Butcher of Malibu Beach, or a target for them. The killer is quite obvious in retrospect, though I was having such a ball with the entire affair it caught me out.

That this was issued on an LGBT film label is relevant; it’s only a slasher flick further down the ladder of homages, waaaay below the campy love letter to goofy 60s surf movies, dripping in their homoeroticism, marrying that with B&W movie schtick, and then finally the slasher trimmings. Think Grease meets Serial Mom, which reminds me I’d love to see a 50s/60s set slasher film one day – Bobby Sox, Hotrods, and a psycho killer.

The cast look like they’re all having a whale of a time, with Ambrose’s comic timing the icing on the cake. Fabaroonie.

psycho beach party 2000 lauren ambrose

“Don’t bet on it, darlings!”

Blurbs-of-interest: Matt Keeslar was in Scream 3; Andrew Levitas was in Hellbent; Nathan Bexton was in Basement Jack.

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