November 13, 2012

Death Rattle Double Feature: Turn of the Century Slashers

The turn of the century served as a re-awakening of the dormant slasher genre following the success of Wes Craven's SCREAM. At the time, it would have been easy to dismiss the slasher resurgence and grow annoyed by the over-saturation of bad (and very similar) slasher movies and floating-head posters, but as a fan of the genre, I now look back on that time and wish there would be another slasher renaissance. I mean, seriously, when was the last time you saw a mainstream slasher movie in theaters with popular young actors that wasn't a remake, re-boot, or sequel? MY SOUL TO TAKE? The slasher genre is fairly dead now, even in the straight-to-DVD market, and a few new trends have come and gone since the wave of post-SCREAM slashers.

HOSTEL, SAW, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. They're all trendsetters and I'm fine with the movies and trends they inspired, but there isn't much in terms of horror movies that hit the spot for me like those with a masked killer stalking young babes and killing them in memorable and creative ways over a soundtrack of contemporary tunes. Below are reviews of two random slasher movies from the early 2000's that got the releases they did thanks in part to Wes Craven.

URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT (the second of three URBAN LEGEND movies and a film that doesn't have much of a connection to its predecessor) takes place at a Film School and revolves around a group of students - led by Final Girl and aspiring director Amy - who are working on a horror movie that they hope to submit for the coveted Hitchcock Award, which will supposedly guarantee an easier transition into Hollywood once the people involved graduate. Problems arise during production, however, as a creepy figure in what looks like a fencing mask kills the cast and crew members one by one.

UL2 stars out very promising as a young woman who has nothing to do with the main characters wakes up in a bathtub with her kidneys removed and is eventually killed by the mysterious masked figure. The fact that her kidneys were removed is of course a callback to the original URBAN LEGEND, which involved a killer who based his murders on various urban myths and whatnot. But then, for whatever reason, the urban legend signature of the killer is completely dropped and the film turns into a regular slasher. However, it's before that element is dropped that the film becomes fairly confusing for a number of reasons. For one, there are a lot of characters and there's just way too much information to absorb for such a simple premise. In fact there are so many characters that there's an actor who plays two different people! And therein lies the problem of the movie, in that it think it's much smarter than it really is when it's actually just convoluted as fuck.

URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT tries too hard to be clever and deceptive and Hitchcockean that it forgets to be a good slasher movie. The kills are too few and far between, which is not a good thing considering how many characters there are, and the kills are forgettable at that. I mean, you go from someone getting their kidneys removed to a bloodless death where someone gets beaten with a camera? Luckily, the film does play catch-up towards the end as far as the body count goes, but it does so in a way that isn't very satisfying. The film is also inherently "meta" considering it takes place at a Film School and there's a movie-within-a-movie being shot, but there's too much "inside talk" for it not to go over a lot of peoples' heads, and it's too dumb for the people who would get it to truly buy it, if that makes any sense. And the characters. Dumb, shallow, annoying, or just plain ol' blah. For example, there's the female security guard who conveniently turns up whenever something bad happens. You know she's not gonna be the killer because it would be way too obvious. Because of how the characters and plot are established, I had a bad feeling that the ultimate reveal would be disappointing. It was.

On the bright side, Eva Mendes is in this (one of many familiar faces to have gotten a start in Turn-of-the-Century Slashers), but she plays a lesbian. No girl-on-girl action, sadly, but you can kinda see her nips through one of her tops if you stare hard enough and concentrate. So I've heard. Strangely, the lead actress (who reminds me of a bootleg Julia Stiles) looks like a lesbian but plays a straight chick, which was perhaps the most confusing thing about this film. Also, it's pretty bad when Joey Lawrence is one of the highlights of a movie. WHOAH! That's not a knock against Joey because I think he's been pretty entertaining in what little I've seen him in (even REST STOP, which I actually enjoy), but you know what I mean. As underwhelmed as it may seem I am by this film, I didn't hate it and would probably watch it again. There's something about the look of the movie and the mood that hit the spot for me. I had fun watching it and certainly wasn't bored, but the stupid ending that tried to be cute did leave a bad taste in my mouth.

VALENTINE (directed by the guy who did the first URBAN LEGEND movie, funnily enough) is a movie that I got to see in theaters when it came out, and it was easily one of my favorite experiences watching a movie on the big screen. It was packed, people shut up during the scenes when you were supposed to be quiet, and people (ie. girls) screamed and yelled when it was appropriate; one of the cases where loud reactions from the audience actually improved the viewing experience, and I thought it was a pretty good movie to boot. Did the viewing experience enhance what would have otherwise been a shitty movie, though? For years I championed this movie based on dated recollections, but it's held up surprisingly well in recent years, and, watching it now, I actually found it to be a lot better than it has any right to be.

A group of twentysomething girlfriends are stalked by someone leading up to the titular holiday. Someone's leaving them morbid greeting cards that turn traditional poems into threats of physical harm. One of them - a medical student - is axed right away by a killer in a cupid mask in order to establish the antagonist and a sense of lingering danger, and things slow down for a bit once the other girls realize what's going on and paranoia ensues. It's suggested that the stalker is someone from their past, which is explained in the opening sequence of the movie. A cop comes into the picture and does some investigating while a number of different men and love interests are introduced and become the film's red herrings. The thing is, the amount of red herrings makes sense. The girls are all young, attractive, and available, so they're destined to be surrounded by creepy douchebags. Plus, a couple of the girls partake in some weird dating service that allows for some of the film's more comedic moments but introduces a revolving door of suspects nonetheless.

One of the things that this movie gets right is how it establishes the characters. It may take a little bit of effort on the part of screenwriters, but it's not impossible to have a group of characters in a slasher movie with some depth, even if they're meant to be unlikable. The core group of characters here are stereotypical to a degree, but they all have back stories and aren't just fodder for the killer. When something happens to one of them, it matters and it's not just another notch on the killer's belt. I also enjoy how painfully of-the-time the soundtrack is. Nu Metal reigned in the early 2000's, and the soundtrack is full of songs by artists that were huge at the time, like Linkin Park, Defontes, Static-X, Disturbed, and even Orgy for fuck's sake. Admittedly, Nu Metal is a guilty pleasure of mine and a genre of music that brings back fond memories of the early 00's, which were the hands down the funnest years of my life.

The cast, for the most part, is pretty good too. Denise Richards looks a little older than the character she's supposed to be playing, but who cares? It's Denise Richards and she's playing a slut. Playing the Final Girl is Marley Shelton, whose peers from this era sort of passed her by and got big leading roles, which is a shame since I've always liked her based on what little I've seen her in. Also starring in VALENTINE is David Boreanaz, who was popular at the time for his roles in BUFFY and ANGEL, as the love interest of Marley Shelton's character.

Aside from how well-written it is (in comparison to some of its brethren anyway), it's just a fun movie. The kills and scenes of violence aren't exactly plentiful, but they're still memorable, namely a scene involving a hot tub and a large power drill, and another involving the Cupid killer using a bow and arrow. Anyway, while the characters are, uh, "fleshed out" well, there are one or two huge plot holes that seem to be there on purpose for the sake of moving things along and getting certain characters to where they need to be. Whatever though. These movies were designed to make money, not be masterpieces. Like URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT, VALENTINE hits the right beats and is a decent slasher movie if you're willing to accept it for what it is. From the 80's slasher-esque opening sequence to the twist ending, it's a blast to watch.


  1. Whenever I think of Urban Legends 2 I'm reminded of the super forced conversation about Pam Grier the lead girl has with the security guard. Makes my skin crawl. Valentine is one I've been meaning to see forever. Will have to amend that soon. Good stuff, sir.

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Cody! I hope you enjoy VALENTINE. I may have been a tad generous in my review, but I do think it's a better movie than what most reviews out there would suggest.