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Killing Time

totally killer 2023

TOTALLY KILLER

4 Stars  2023/105m

“Murder is so 1987.”

Director: Nahnatchka Khan / Writers: David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver, Jen D’Angelo / Cast: Kiernan Shipka, Olivia Holt, Julie Bowen, Lochlyn Munro, Charlie Gillespie, Troy L. Johnson, Kelcey Mawema, Stephi Chin-Salvo, Anna Diaz, Liana Liberato, Ella Choi, Jeremy Monn-Djasngar, Nathaniel Appiah, Jonathan Potts, Randall Park.

Body Count: 7

Laughter Lines: “Let’s give it up for Angie, who wishes there were more people killed.”


Happy Death Day took the time-loop from Groundhog Day and put a masked killer in the mix; Freaky took the body swap from Freaky Friday and switched a teenage girl with a hulking psycho killer; and now Totally Killer takes the time machine from Back to the Future and throws a teen-hunting wackadoo at it.

Slasher films have been entrenched in an inflexible straitjacket of rules and tropes since forever, so this recent advent of pilfering major plot elements from big films and staple-gunning a teen slasher opus to it has made for a welcome mini-cycle of inventively comical ways to keep the genre from being stuck in its own loop of recycled motifs.

totally killer 2023

In the requisite suburban town of Vernon, 35 years have passed since the unsolved Sweet 16 Murders occurred: Three teen girls slain over a short period. Jamie’s mom Pam (Julie Bowen from Modern Family) was the only member of the clique not to meet the business end of a knife and has remained anxiously on edge ever since.

On Halloween night, Jamie revolts and heads off to a concert, leaving Pam to be attacked and killed by the maniac. Devastated, it’s a very fortunate coincidence that Jamie’s best friend Amelia is building a time machine in an old photobooth for her science fair project – and it works! Well, it works when the killer attacks Jamie and the action of the knife blade penetrating the device gives it the jolt required to zap the girl back to 1987, on the eve of the first murder… So far, so Marty McFly.

totally killer 2023

Intent on stopping the killer and thus saving her mom in the future, Jamie tries to blend in and befriend The Molly’s, a Mean Girls crew made up of the victims – and dear ol’ mom, all of whom are your typical John Hughes era rich bitches, along with their vapid boyfriends. Jamie tries to explain the situation to the cops, but as they’ve not yet seen Back to the Future, the concept is lost on them. Instead, Amelia’s mother Lauren, who first drew up the plans for the time machine, is instantly onboard.

While Lauren works out what they need to do to return Jamie to the 2020s, she continues to shadow the teen versions of her parents, the future high school principal, coach, sheriff and various others. Preventing the murders proves difficult though, as time just bends around her and changes it up, rewriting the future as it goes. Interestingly, characters in 2022 are able to sense the changes, with Sweet 16 Killer Tour Guide Chris seeing the adjustments manifest as Jamie runs interference in the past. A helpful ‘time is happening all at once’ explanation makes sense of all this, and is kinda zen.

totally killer 2023

Jamie manages to convince the others she’s psychic rather than explain the time travel thing, and the friends band together to try and trap the killer before he wipes the rest of them out, resulting in a great finale inside one of those Gravitron fairground rides where you pretty much get pinned to the wall of the spin dryer.

The plot was criticised for being too similar to The Final Girls, where a girl essentially time travels back to save her mother, although acting like that was the first film to build itself around this idea is about as productive as pointing out how much that one had to copy from Friday the 13th in order to function. The entire genre liberally steals from its contemporaries and just bends things to fit.

totally killer 2023

Maybe not quite as fun as Freaky, but definitely top tier inside it’s burgeoning sub-sub-genre. It’s a Wonderful Life has already been co-opted and changed to It’s a Wonderful Knife for the end of 2023, doubtlessly scattering other producers to hunt for tried and tested plots that they stir a dead teenager template into. Can’t wait.

Blurbs-of-interest: Liana Liberato was in Scream VI; Lochlyn Munro was also in The Tooth FairyFreddy vs JasonScary MovieHack!, and Initiation.

In the shadow of the rainbow

cruising 1980

CRUISING

4 Stars  1980/18/102m

“Al Pacino is cruising for a killer.”

Director/Writer: William Friedkin / Writer: Gerald Walker / Cast: Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Richard Cox, Karen Allen, Don Scardino, Joe Spinell, Jay Acovone, Randy Jurgensen, James Remar, Ed O’Neill, William Russ, Powers Boothe, Gene Davis.

Body Count: 5

Laughter Lines: “C’mere. I wanna show you my night stick.”


How many 80s/90s films dealt with ye olde sexy police woman going undercover as a stripper/hooker/exotic dancer to weed out a serial killer? Tons. Literally, this was the plot to every third steamy late night cable thriller back in the day.

So it says quite a bit about social attitudes that inverting the template, inserting a male cop into a gay environment where he has to blend in – really blend in – resulted in critics mauling the film, protesting from gay rights groups concerned about the depictions in the film, and, to this day, fierce online debates about it all.

cruising 1980 shades

Friedkin’s bleak, grimy film takes place in ’79-’80 New York City, where the discovery of dismembered body parts in the Hudson River leads investigating detectives to trace victims to the seedy underground leather scene. Enter Pacino’s Steve Burns, selected by his superior given his physical similarity to several of the victims. Burns agrees (somewhat eagerly) to go undercover and infiltrate the community to try and lure the killer.

His girlfriend (Allen) is kept in the dark and, as Burns goes deeper into the clubs, bars, and general life, he finds himself torn in two directions. The leather-clad, silky voiced killer, meanwhile, continues slaying men in public park cruising grounds and a porno theater, often heard singing a little rhyme in a creepy tone. The cops begin focusing on a suspect who works in a steakhouse that has many of the same type of knife being used, and Burns hangs out with his sweet natured playwright neighbour, Ted.

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Friedkin deliberately fucks with us throughout, changing which actor plays the killer more than once in difference scenes to disorientate and confuse – at one point, an actor who played the killer then switches to be the next victim (although all are overdubbed by James Sutorius). Such is the interchangeability of the larger situation, the homogenic aesthetics of the scene, and the ambiguity around the film’s coda.

Cruising is a confronting vehicle, likely especially for heterosexual audiences in 1980, with the added discomfort of watching men casually and intimately touch the ‘straight’ lead. Gay men remain divided on it; at a time then gay rights were gaining a little bit of traction (just prior to the AIDS crisis), protestors saw the film (based on a novel and a series of genuine, unsolved murders) as a step back towards optics they were trying to distance themselves from: Predatory, sex-fuelled, vampire-esque lifestyles of hedonism that, by day, could be the guy at the store, at the gas station, waiting your table…

cruising 1980 al pacino

Around 40 minutes of footage was excised over around fifty submissions to the MPAA which, according to Friedkin, mostly consisted of X-rated antics captured at the clubs. It does feel like something is missing as we speed towards the end, but the is-it-or-isn’t-it note things end on is, it seems, likely intentional and plays into the is-he-or-isn’t-he nature of existing as a gay person in society, especially at that point.

But it is a slasher film? Hmm… like a leather daddy straddles his sub, Cruising can play around with versatility. More than enough is borrowed from stalk n’ slash antics for it to be of interest (oddly, the film it reminded me of most was Maniac, from which Joe Spinell plays a skeezy beat cop here). It’s probably too high-end, too polished, despite the filthy gutter it plays in, to qualify, but …why the hell not? Taste the rainbow.

cruising 1980 al pacino

Decidedly not for all audiences – gay or straight – relievingly non-judgmental about the counter culture it explores, and exquisitely shot. Have fun spotting all the before-they-were-famous faces: Ed O’Neill, Powers Boothe, James Remar, Burr DeBenning.

Blurbs-of-interest: Don Scardino was the lead in He Knows You’re Alone; Joe Spinell was also in The Last Horror Movie; James Remar was in The Surgeon; Gene Davis (the crossdressing informant, DaVinci) played the nudie killer in 10 to Midnight; Burr DeBenning was in A Nightmare on Elm Street 5.

“Alexa… kill those people.”

m3gan 2022

M3GAN

4 Stars  2022/15/102m

“Friendship has evolved.”

Director: Gerard Johnstone / Writers: Akela Cooper, James Wan / Cast: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Ronny Chieng, Amie Donald, Jenna Davis, Brian Jordan Alvarez, Jen Van Epps, Lori Dungey, Stephane Garneau-Monten, Amy Usherwood.

Body Count: 6

Laughter Lines: “I have a new primary user now: Me.”


That’s right – it sounds exactly like Child’s Play. And Dolly Dearest. And Annabelle. Actually, this campfest has more in common with the 2019 Child’s Play reboot than any of the others, as the age old tale of our reliance on technology coming back to bite us in the ass. But this one is better.

Starting as it means to go on with an all-out assault courtesy of the commercial for a Furby-like toy, PurrPetual Petz. Nine-year-old Cady irks her parents by playing with the talking, tablet-integrated toy during a roadtrip to a ski lodge, which ultimately turns fatal.

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Shortly after, Cady is sent to live with her aunt Gemma, a toy designer who gifted her the annoying thing and is clueless about raising a child, let alone a bereaved one. They connect over one of Gemma’s early inventions, a robot controlled remotely. Cady’s uptick in mood inspires Gemma to revisit an AI companion she’d been working on as a side project – Model 3 Generative Android: M3GAN.

Gemma introduces her prototype M3gan to Cady, pairs her with it, and in no time at all she has a new friend who spews facts, reminds her of chores, sings her ballad versions of Titanium and Bulletproof, and hangs around looking a tiny bit sinister. The trope of ‘protect the human’ programming inevitably leads to interpreting all outsiders as a threat, starting with the neighbour’s aggressive dog, just as Buddi started with a claw-happy cat in the Child’s Play redux.

m3gan 2022 violet mcgraw

A nasty pre-teen bully is next to cross the line and ends up being chased into the road and slammed into by an SUV. Gemma begins to suspect M3gan’s configuration might need some work, but finds the doll is against having the hood popped, and learning that M3gan is interfacing with various digital assistants and household smart appliances. However, Gemma’s boss has set up a showcase to show M3gan to the world, planning on retailing her as a stand-in nanny to rich families at $10,000 a pop. M3gan, of course, has other plans.

More people die, M3gan sashays down corridors with confident swagger, stopping at one point to grace a fleeing victim with a dance. If you thought Chucky’s hokeyness was the height of camp, strap in: The bitchy snap-backs, the shades, the digital hijacking of a Ferrari that she zooms off in… I haven’t cackled with glee at a film this much in a long time.

m3gan 2022 ronny chieng

A rare January horror release that made bank, thanks to smart marketing (and TikTok), this won’t be the last we’ve seen of this doll. Whispers of teaming her up with her red-headed cinematic grandpa are already doing the rounds.

Start spreadin’ the news

scream vi 2023

SCREAM VI

4 Stars  2023/18/122m

“New York. New rules.”

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett / Writers: James Vanderbilt & Guy Busick / Cast: Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Courteney Cox, Dermot Mulroney, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Hayden Panettiere, Liana Liberato, Jack Champion, Josh Segarra, Devyn Nekoda, Samara Weaving, Henry Czerny, Tony Revolori, Skeet Ulrich, Roger L. Jackson (voice).

Body Count: 13


It’s 1997 all over again! What felt like a chance-it-and-see resurrection of Ghostface to hack and hew anew in 2022’s requel clearly paid off as the sixth instalment went rapidly into production for a release just 14 months after its predecessor, almost as rapid a turnaround as the films of yore.

In keeping with that speed, Scream VI takes the not unfamiliar step of moving things to a collegiate setting, rather than keep us in Woodsboro, just as Scream 2 hauled ass to a leafy campus, replete with youthful flesh to be slashed and torn. This time though, we’re going to college in New York City. It’s goodbye manicured lawns and imposing academic buildings, hello apartment living, city alleys, and the subway. It’s also goodbye Sidney, as Neve Campbell declined the offer made to her for returning.

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Scream may be a franchise that prides itself on observing and bucking genre tropes, but is also married to many of its own making, and so starts with the familiar opening kill. We run into Samara Weaving’s film professor, waiting for her date to show up at a swanky NY restaurant. Messages through the Flirtr app detail a delay, so he calls her instead… A brief exchange over meta-slashers (“not that one”, when he asks her what her favourite scary movie is) and she is lured outside to help her date navigate when he allegedly gets lost down a between-buildings alley and encounters something scary.

It’s a ruse, obvs, and in true old-school style, the audience begs her not to go into that alley alone. The expected outcome ensues, but then something altogether unexpected happens, leading into The Opening Scene – Part 2, a little peek at Jason Takes Manhattan, and the title slashing its way onto the screen.

scream vi 2023 melissa barrera jenna ortega

We’re soon reacquainted with our youthful survivors from before, the Core Four: Sam, Tara, Chad, and Mindy – all either attending or living close enough to Blackmore University. The latter three are in deep with their college experience, while Sam struggles to come to terms with the events of last year, as a series of online conspiracy theories posit that she was the killer and framed poor, sad Richie for it all. In a grim reflection of the age we live in, he is sainted, she vilified.

When news of a double-slaying and uncovered Ghostface paraphernalia reaches them, Sam immediately wants to get far away from New York, but is convinced to stay by her roommate Quinn’s detective father (Mulroney), who informs Sam that her ID was found at the scene. Mindy gets the chance to give a brief meta-overview of the situation before the sisters are attacked again, this time in a bodega, where Ghostface makes quick work of the storekeeper and a couple of patrons.

scream vi 2023 ghostface

The cops discover DNA belonging to earlier killers on the mask, which happens again at ensuing crime scenes, each working backwards down the line of Amber/Richie, Jill/Charlie, Roman, etc. towards the inevitable earliest purveyor of the mask – Daddy Dearest, Billy Loomis.

Enter Gale Weathers, who broke her promise not to write a book about the latest Woodsboro murders, and thus has fallen out with the sisters Carpenter – so gets socked in the mouth again. Also enter Kirby Reed, last seen squirming from her stab wounds in Scream 4, now an FBI agent with a vested interest in the case, and allowing for some cute comedic relief when sharing the scene with Gale. The latter succeeds in finding a shrine to all things Ghostface, kept in a deserted New York movie theatre, decked out with clothes worn by victims and killers (Tatum’s green sweater and Mrs Loomis’ white pantsuit vie for centre stage), weapons, Jennifer Jolie’s burnt fax machine, the TV used to squash Stu’s head…

scream vi 2023 shrine

Assaults against the Core Four continue, with a red hot tense scene involving a ladder between high rise apartments that could’ve come out of The Poseidon Adventure, and a suspense-dripping attack at Gale’s penthouse flat, in which she asks if the killer minds being put on hold, up there with Sidney’s “I’m bored” hang-up from the 2022 movie.

Eventually, of course, all things lead back to the shrine, where a plan to entrap the killer is thwarted by the killer’s foresight, and then it’s the unmasking ritual, exposition, and turning the tables. While the motive is more believable than that of the previous film, it leans into campy theatrics here and there, once again showing that the assailants seem always to underestimate their opponents at the crucial moment and their big schemes flop.

scream vi 2023 courteney cox

As with any Scream movie, there’s much to like here, from the high-end production to neat visuals, in-jokes atop in-jokes, and way more action than expected – by the end I was exhausted by how paced it all was. Working against it, however, is a lack of sharp, witty dialogue, and a shortage of new characters who mean anything – given the high body count, only one character with anything to really do is murdered, the rest are made up of bystanders, people killed entirely off-screen, or have so few scenes beforehand, that we barely know their name let alone are provoked by their loss.

This in hand with upped levels of violence gives the film an edge, cold front to it. In Scream 2, Kevin Williamson killed his darlings by offing Randy, but here, everybody we saw previously is safe, despite several of them being stabbed or shot – in fact one person is virtually gutted, but returns a little later with ability to run. The high-stakes from before where nobody seemed safe aren’t welcome this time around. That said, I didn’t want any of them to die, as it’s a likeable cast roster, but with so much packed in, those who do meet the sharp end of the knife are barely missed, and it’s hard to consider how Sidney would’ve fit in if they’d succeeded in securing her.

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This is a very high-BPM banger of a movie, and I needed to watch it a second time to fully get my head around it. Fortunately, it was better with a sophomore viewing, not least because the friend I went with jumped and jolted and suspected everybody before proclaiming “I told you!” to the entire cinema when the unmasking happened.

Blurb-of-interest: Liana Liberato was in Totally Killer.

Candy King

candyman 2021

CANDYMAN

3.5 Stars  2021/15/91m

“Say it.”

Director/Writer: Nia DaCosta / Writers: Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld / Cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Vanessa Williams, Rebecca Spence, Kyle Kaminsky, Michael Hargrove.

Body Count: 17

Laughter Lines: “Ain’t a dick on the planet good enough to offset a demonology hobby.”


Look up the user reviews for this on IMDb and you’ll see all manner of people declaring it the worst thing they’ve ever seen, calling it racist because “only white people die!!!11!1!” (not true if you pay attention), without commenting on any other facet – there’s no reflection on the aesthetics, the production design, the direction, the acting: All of which are top drawer. Some spoilers follow.

I can’t be the only person sick of hearing people call anything and everything at odds with their worldview ‘woke’. It’s become the new term for conservative-leaning types to bulldoze the things they see as left aside without having to justify their judgement. I’ll be writing something else about this and how it relates to slasher films at some point, but it carries some weight with the new Candyman film because, if we’re alert and aware enough to appreciate the origins of what woke means, it has its place here.

candyman 2021

We haven’t seen hide nor hair of Daniel Robitaille since 1999s rather dismal Day of the Dead and, following his recent success with Get Out and Us, Jordan Peele’s involvement with slasherdom’s only prolific black killer seems perfectly timed. But what to do? Unlike most of his brethren (save for Freddy), it’s not easy to just recast the role of an undead, and thus un-aged, mythical blood-shedder, so what to do without Tony Todd…

Conveniently to the plot, time changes everything, including Cabrini Green, which has been gentrified, and is home to artist Anthony and his art dealer girlfriend Brianna. It’s no real secret from the get-go that Anthony is the grown-up baby abducted by Candyman in the 1992 movie. Brianna’s brother Troy shares with them the legend of Helen Lyle, who is locally remembered as a madwoman who tried to kill the child.

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Intrigued by this but unaware he is said child, Anthony explores what remains of the projects and meets one of the few remaining residents, William Burke, who tells him about the legend of Candyman, however in this telling, the hook-handed one was a rather harmless eccentric named Sherman Fields who, in the 70s, gave out candy to the local kids. When a white girl found a razor blade inside a sweet, the cops blamed Sherman, who went into hiding inside the walls of the apartments. A young Burke encountered him one day, screamed, alerting the cops, and they beat the man to death.

Anthony is galvanized by the concept raised around the subject of gentrification and racial injustice. His work at a gallery show draws condescending dismissal from snobby critic, Finley. Yet when the letchy gallery owner and his intern say ‘Candyman’ five times into the mirror that makes up part of Anthony’s piece, they’re hooked to death and suddenly the artist’s work is getting attention, much to the concern of Brianna, who found the bodies and pretty much inherits the running of the gallery.

candyman 2021 Teyonah Parris Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

Finley is murdered next when she invites Anthony over to ‘reassess’ his work and he dares her to summon up Candyman; Then a group of high school girls try it out in a campus bathroom. Unravelling, Anthony visits his mom (Vanessa Williams, reprising her role and looking only a few months older than she did in ’92) to find out the truth surrounding Helen Lyle and Candyman. Brianna is also trying to find him and tracks his movements to the laundromat where he met Burke, where she is abducted and forced to watch while Burke transforms a honeycomb-skinned Anthony into the next Candyman, rapidly explaining that he witnessed his own sister slain by the ghost of Sherman Fields, and understands Candyman ‘recruits’ black men killed by white systemic violence.

The final twenty minutes or so of Candyman seems rushed and murky. I had to look up an explanation of the climax and then watch it back to make sense of it. Burke’s flashback seemed shoehorned in without a clear transition between the scenes. The same goes for the threads surrounding Brianna and Troy’s artist father – it’s left curiously unresolved (for now at least) and made me wonder if the cutting room floor was full of extra material that would have fleshed out these strands and tied things up a little more neatly.

candyman 2021 bathroom scene

Where is Tony Todd, you caw? Fear not, he appears, seemingly as the grandmaster of the ‘Candymen’ so to speak. As the residents of Cabrini, before it was demolished, put a moratorium on the mention of his name, he ceased to exist as a legend until Burke succeeded in recruiting Anthony back into the fold, making him the most recent avatar for the story to continue and spread. It’s fiendishly clever and evil on Candyman’s part (kinda reminded me of Freddy using Jason to kill in Springwood so that he would be recalled to mind).

DaCosta’s direction is heavy on mood, with a truly unsettling opening credits that reverses the overview of Chicago to an underview, where we’re forced to look up, and the use of shadow puppetry is a great aesthetic. There’s also an appealing lead in Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony, and a refreshingly without-comment depiction of a gay couple in Brianna’s brother Troy and his boyfriend Grady, also allowing one of my favourite lines when the latter suggests they try the Candyman chant at the art show, to which Troy quips: “Black people don’t need to be summoning shit!”

candyman 2021 shadow puppets

So what about all the ‘racism’ then? Sigh. I’d say to those people crowing about it that they need to consider films one to three were told through the lenses of white characters, specifically white women haunted by Candyman, and now the perspective has shifted to be seen from black characters. And that’s about it. Yes, most (but not all) of the victims are white, but it’s not as if the black characters come out of things unscathed in any way: The film’s major villain is black FFS! In short, the type of people overusing the term ‘woke’ to object to things they don’t like just need to get the fuck over themselves and, while they’re at it, choke on the fact that it made bank. Gimme those sequels.

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