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New Releases for Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Funhouse Massacre

Genre: Horror

Directed by: Andy Palmer

Run time: 90 minutes

Rating: Unrated

Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: Whatever happened to fun horror comedies, you know, films like the classics from the 1980’s – “Waxwork,” “Vamp,” Night of the Creeps”?

It seemed back then that filmmakers understood the comedy come happen organically and not feel forced.

I understand the change. Movies like “Shawn of the Dead” redefined horror comedy in a great way, but they also ushered in a whole wave of subpar imitators that were marked by lame humor and clichéd plots where every wink and nod to the audience only made us groan.

In a lot of ways, The Funhouse Massacre reminds me of “Waxwork,” a true guilty pleasure/cult classic from 1988. I only wish The Funhouse Massacre were as solid a film from beginning to end instead of being marked by several fitful stretches where not enough gory goodness takes place.

It’s not for lack of trying, or for lack of a great setup: The Funhouse Massacre opens with an extended prologue set inside an insane asylum for the most notorious serial killers. Robert Englund gamely plays the warden, who is showing off his prized facility when all hell breaks loose and the daughter of one of the killers helps break several of the worst murderers free.

It turns out that not too far away, a Halloween carnival has created an homage to those same killers, constructing an elaborate maze of a haunted house with different rooms modeled after each of their most awful crimes.

And the killers themselves, while they might not be entirely original, they are well-designed and executed. There’s a cannibal, a killer clown, an evil dentist, a cult leader and his daughter, who goes by Dollface, a deliciously nasty vixen who looks like a mashup of Harley Quinn and Magenta.

Of course, you can’t have killers with no victims, and that’s where the “Waxwork” comparisons begin. In addition to a bunch of paying customers wandering the carnival grounds, a group of young adults decides to leave work and go check out the latest haunted house attraction. Of course, they all check off a specific genre box – Jock, Mean girl, Nerdy virgin guy, Shy girl, Stoner, etc.

Much like “Waxwork,” where a group of snobby rich kids arrived at a mysterious wax museum, only to eventually find themselves transported into the various wax exhibits and having to fight for their lives, this group of friends arrive at the funhouse and begin wandering through each room, unaware that the scenes of torture and death they’re watching are real and not just elaborately staged makeup gimmicks. They have no idea that the people portraying the infamous serial killers are the actual serial killers themselves.

Slowly, members of the group start disappearing, one by one.

It’s not a new idea, for sure, but it’s actually not a bad premise for a bloody, fun little B-grade horror flick. And there are definite moments where The Funhouse Massacre realizes its potential and delivers some above-average extended mayhem that surprises and exceeds expectations. There’s a great fight scene between the mean girl of the group and Dollface inside a cramped bathroom stall that is perfectly staged for maximum effect.

I just wish there had been more moments like that and fewer scenes where the writer and director felt determined to force a laugh instead of focusing more squarely on the scares.

Still, The Funhouse Massacre is definitely worth a watch. It’s a nice little reminder of the kind of movies we got to enjoy on a much more frequent basis years ago.

The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Yes, Candice De Visser as Dollface is evil hot.

Nudity – Yes. Gore – Yes.

Drug use – Yes.

Bad Guys/Killers – Take your pick, there’s a whole slew of serial killers here.

Buy/Rent – Rent it.

The Abandoned (Shout! Factory, 87 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Originally titled “The Confines,” The Abandoned tries to tweak the haunted house formula for some unexpected scares, but mostly it just meanders along, becoming increasingly more ridiculous as it lurches toward its conclusion. I was totally stoked for this one too after seeing a compelling and effective trailer that apparently supplanted all the best moments into one two-minute reel. The best thing going for The Abandoned is its amazing set design. If only the actual movie had lived up to the promise of that design.

Monsterland (Image Entertainment, 108 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Some anthologies are great. Some have one or two exceptional segments to help buoy the weaker links. And some, like Monsterland, sadly waste a decent setup by failing to create just one worthy short segment to justify the movie’s existence. Frankly, I was bored.

Kill Your Friends (Well Go USA, 103 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): I get the comparisons. Kill Your Friends, the new artsy-snobby slog through the British music industry, is based on a scathing satire novel by John Niven. “American Psycho,” the older artsy-snobby rip through 1980s corporate excess, was based on a scathing satire novel by Bret Easton Ellis. That’s pretty much where the comparisons should end. Kill Your Friends is no “American Psycho.” Steven Stelfox, capably played by Nicholas Hoult, is no Patrick Bateman. One film defined a generation and remains relevant today. Kill Your Friends, while fitfully engaging, lacks the knife’s edge fearlessness to truly shock and awe. Sure, music executives don’t really care about music and they are basically an alcohol-sodden, drug-fueled lot. But so what? At the end of the day, whether we like it or not, there’s a little Bateman in all of us, lurking like an itch down deep in the blackest corner of our soul. That’s why “American Psycho” worked so well. The same cannot be said for Stelfox, which is why Kill Your Friends sadly doesn’t work nearly as well as initially hoped.

New on Video-On-Demand:

Girl in Woods (Candy Factory, 87 minutes, Unrated, VOD): It takes you a little while, but when you finally realize what writer-director Jeremy Benson is up to with his outside-the-box horror film, Girl in Woods, you immediately appreciate the approach.

Benson, working with a capable and very talented cast, including Juliet Reeves and Charisma Carpenter, is essentially deconstructing the origin of an urban legend and showing how such stories might come to be shared around a campfire late at night.

It’s a tricky tightrope that Benson is walking. He has to hook viewers and invest them in the story of Grace (Reeves), a young adult still suffering from the mental afflictions of watching her father commit suicide and finding her mother (Carpenter) also dead, while also keeping the bulk of surprises to come well-disguised.

Grace is bonkers, but you don’t realize how much so or how much her tragic backstory has impacted her until her fiancé (real-life husband Jeremy London) takes her deep into the Appalachian mountain forest for a romantic hike. Before too long, another tragedy strikes and Grace is suddenly on her own, lost and without any basic survival skills or her medication to keep her in check and grounded in reality.

And that’s when Benson really starts screwing with his audience.

Grace’s recollection of her past, it seems, might not be wholly accurate. Or it might just be what she or Grace 2 or Grace 3 choose to believe. That’s right – once he strands his heroine, Benson doesn’t hold back letting us know that she’s so crazy she has multiple personalities at play, and they don’t always play well with each other.

Making a movie about a protagonist who might not be the most likeable person isn’t easy. Making a movie about the origin story of a possible evil antagonist with multiple personality disorder who mostly believes herself to be a good person is a whole lot more difficult.

When I became aware that Grace might actually be the harbinger of all the bad she blamed on others, I found myself in a quandary. Girl in Woods is a survival horror story that really centers on one person, Grace, with extended cameos by everyone else. In a survival horror story, you are expected to root for the person trying to survive and wrap your knees tightly to your chest when he/she is in mortal danger. Do the same rules apply if the person struggling to survive doesn’t necessarily deserve to survive?

Therein lies the beauty of Benson’s accomplishment.

Does every twist work? No. Are you dutifully impressed once Benson’s entire vision has unspooled? Oh yeah.

Even better, the end credits reveal the groundwork for the movie that most directors would have made – the easy movie with the well-worn plot and identifiable plot conventions, but given what you just witnessed, the end credits are an enjoyable peek at what might have been that I actually enjoyed more because it wasn’t the movie I had watched.

Benson took the steeper, more treacherous road, and it pays off, both in originality and chutzpah. You may not love Girl in Woods once it’s over, but you will definitely appreciate the risk that everyone involved took to create something different and unique.

Rushlights: Unrated Director’s Cut (Dominion 3, 96 minutes, Unrated, VOD): A slice of Texas crime noir, director Antoni Stutz’s definitive cut of his film, Rushlights, makes it way onto Video-On-Demand.

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Kroll Show: Season 3

The Shannara Chronicles: Season One

Never Back Down: No Surrender

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