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Totally Killer (USA, 2023)

I wasn’t quite sure about adding Totally Killer to my list this year. It came out after I’d started the challenge, and I’d not really paid it much heed. Also, I’d already reviewed a slasher comedy in the form of You Might Be the Killer. A few people I know mentioned it was fun, however, and I felt like I could do with something light after Shrew’s Nest. This proved to be a wise decision.

Totally Killer is currently available on Prime Video in the UK.

Totally Killer 1

Synopsis

Jamie Hughes is a teenager living in Vernon, a small town where three young women, all friends of her mother, were murdered in 1987. From walking tours of the murder sites to a podcast series about the crimes, the influence of the Sweet 16 Killer still haunts this town. No one knows who the killer was beneath his creepy Max Headroom-inspired mask. He is assumed dead until he unexpectedly returns, 36 years later, killing Jamie’s mother on Halloween.

Luckily for Jamie, her friend Amelia has been working on a time machine for the school science fair. Sure, this makes Amelia sound like an overachiever, but she borrowed the basic design from her mother. As the pair try to get the device working, the Sweet 16 Killer attacks Jamie, who escapes into the past by the skin of her teeth.

Now, back in 1987, Jamie attempts to stop the original killings and expose the Sweet 16 Killer’s identity, hoping to rewrite history and save her mother’s life. Of course, this would be easier if the victims had any sense of self-preservation. In need of allies, Jamie tries to befriend her teenage mother, who turns out to be the chief mean girl of the high school, and seeks out scientific advice from Amelia’s mother.

Will Jamie be able to make any real changes to the past? Why did the Sweet 16 Killer return after so many years? And if Jamie does rewrite history, what kind of life now awaits her in the present?

Totally Killer 2

General Thoughts

It was interesting watching Totally Killer so soon after Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II. Both Jamie and Mary Lou are young women plucked from a different time, navigating the strange new/old world of 1987. Despite being a possessing spirit, Mary Lou stands out more thanks to her dated slang. Jamie fits in better, although this is largely because Totally Killer wants to use her to critique the social mores of the 1980s rather than wring out comedy from awkward social situations.

It would have been easy for this social satire to be preachy or clumsy, but Totally Killer handles it deftly. Whenever Jamie encounters an aspect of the era she finds bizarre or unacceptable, she largely comments to herself and moves swiftly on. Even when she does challenge other characters, it’s over with quickly. Taking quick jabs still has the desired effect, but stops the joke from dragging or getting repetitive.

As with films involving time loops, time travel movies of this ilk seem to have developed a specific cinematic grammar. Once we start getting odd moments of focus on characters and locations who don’t seem terribly relevant to the story in the present day, you know these are going to prove important in the past. This was blatant enough in the first act of Totally Killer that I had to force myself to stop looking for them and just enjoy the film.

Much of the final act takes place in a fairground funhouse called the House of Dolls, filled with creepy mannequins arranged in dioramas. Not only is this a great setting for a murder spree, but it gives the FX team a chance to go to down with the kinds of makeup designs you don’t normally get in slasher films.

Totally Killer 3

Verdict

If you’ve so much as read the elevator pitch for this Totally Killer, you have a good idea of what you’re going to get. While there are a couple of surprises, Totally Killer knows what kind of film it is and leans into it. While this could be a problem if handled badly, the knowing approach turns its predictable aspects into a framework that allows us to have fun elsewhere. This isn’t a story that will blow your mind, but it offers more than enough thrills and laughs to justify itself.

One of the things I appreciated was how deftly Totally Killer cuts through a lot of the bullshit I was expecting. The screenwriters know how many time travel and slasher movies you’ve already seen and trusts you to keep up with genre conventions. Instead of forcing Jamie to play fish out of water for half the film, it allows her to quickly integrate herself into the past by taking advantage of the laxer security of the day and by making lots of Back to the Future references.

Ultimately, Totally Killer is a film that promises an uncomplicated good time and then delivers. It’s as smart as it needs to be, and energetic enough to whisk us past the more ludicrous plot points before we have a chance to overthink them. Definitely worth a watch if you fancy a palate-cleanser between darker or more serious films this month.

The October Horror Movie Challenge

Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.

If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:

  1. Dark August (USA, 1976)
  2. Huesera: The Bone Woman (Mexico/Peru, 2022)
  3. The Banishing (UK, 2020)
  4. Brooklyn 45 (USA, 2023)
  5. Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell (Japan, 1995)
  6. Pyewacket (Canada, 2017)
  7. Grave Robbers (Mexico, 1989)
  8. You Might Be The Killer (USA, 2018)
  9. No One Will Save You (USA, 2023)
  10. The Sect (Italy, 1991)
  11. Last Night in Soho (UK, 2021)
  12. Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (Spain, 2017)
  13. 47 Metres Down (UK/USA, 2017)
  14. The Oskars Fantasy (Philippines, 2022)
  15. In the Earth (UK, 2021)
  16. Something in the Dirt (USA, 2022)
  17. Blood Flower (Malaysia, 2023)
  18. Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (Canada, 1987)
  19. Older Gods (UK, 2023)
  20. Come to Daddy (New Zealand, 2020)
  21. Shrew’s Nest (Spain, 2014)
  22. Totally Killer (USA, 2023)
  23. The Premonition (USA, 1976)
  24. Murder Me, Monster (Argentina, 2018)
  25. The Gruesome Twosome (USA, 1967)
  26. Talk to Me (Australia, 2023)
  27. Gaia (South Africa, 2021)
  28. Demon (Poland, 2015)
  29. Juju Stories (Nigeria, 2022)
  30. El Conde (Chile, 2023)
  31. The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Hong Kong/UK, 1974)

A Final Note

If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.

If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!

Come to Daddy (New Zealand, 2019)

It’s pretty much tradition that I accidentally pick at least one film for each October Horror Movie Challenge that turns out not to be horror at all. Well, Come to Daddy is this year’s pick. While it was tagged as horror on both IMDB and Prime Video, I can’t see it as anything other than an ultraviolent black comedy. Even so, it’s a fun film that will appeal to horror fans, so let’s review it anyway.

Come to Daddy is currently available on Prime Video in the UK.

Come to Daddy 1

Synopsis

After receiving a letter inviting him to visit, Norval takes a long journey to his estranged father’s house on the coast. His father abandoned his family when Norval was a young child, and they have not seen each other for 30 years. When Norval arrives, however, his father seems less than happy to see him. While Norval tries to forge some kind of connection, his father’s behaviour grows ever more bizarre and violent.

Norval soon learns that his father’s life is filled with more dark secrets than he ever imagined. The house is riddled with hidden passages, concealing shocks and revelations. As the truth comes out, Norval is forced to deal his father’s eccentric and highly dangerous business associates.

Will Norval be able to patch things up with his father? What is the source of the strange sounds in the walls? And just what is Norval’s relationship with Elton John anyway?

Come to Daddy 2

General Thoughts

Some of the mystery of how Come to Daddy came to be classified as horror was solved when I checked the credits. Director Ant Timpson has worked as producer on a number of terrific horror films over the past 15 years. These include The Field Guide to Evil and Censor, which we’ve discussed here, along with fan favourites like Housebound, The ABCs of Death, Turbo Kid, The Greasy Strangler and Deathgasm.

Come to Daddy is Timpson’s first feature film as director, but his production experience has clearly served him well. While Come to Daddy may not be a horror film, its weirdness, shocks, and bloody excesses definitely feel like they’ve come from a creative team who love the genre.

Timpson’s track record as a producer also helps explain why a debut feature from a New Zealand director has such a strong international cast. As well as Elijah Wood’s memorable lead role (and even more memorable haircut), Come to Daddy features standout performances from character actors like Stephen McHattie, Michael Smiley, Martin Donovan and Madeleine Sami.

While Timpson shot the film in New Zealand, the coastal location is meant to double for somewhere in California. I’m not sure how well this will convince people who know California better than I do, but it at least looks beautiful. For all its dark secrets, Norval’s father’s beach house would make a terrific spot for a long weekend getaway, just as long as you can ignore the strange noises in the walls.

Come to Daddy kept reminding me of the darkly comedic thrillers Charlie Higson wrote in the 1990s. If you find this film to your taste, you should check out Higson’s King of the Ants, Happy Now, Full Whack and, especially, Getting Rid of Mr Kitchen.

Come to Daddy 3

Verdict

Despite being a dubious pick for the month’s challenge, I had a hell of a lot of fun with Come to Daddy. From the outset, there is a real tension between its breezy, sun-drenched tone and the darker undercurrents it hints at.

In a film filled with vibrantly strange characters, Stephen McHattie’s performance as Norval’s father stands out as delightfully unhinged, convincing us that he is not only dangerous, but a complete arsehole. While we’re never in any doubt that he is hiding something, the film keeps us guessing for just long enough.

This leads us on to the main difficulty in reviewing Come to Daddy. It is difficult to explain what makes the film work so well without getting into serious spoilers. There are some big surprises even within the first act, and I guarantee the story will not go where you expect it to. Norval’s descent into the lies and violence of his father’s life leads to increasingly strange places, and a final act that is unrelentingly weird.

So while Come to Daddy may not have been the horror film I was expecting, it was certainly not a disappointment. Definitely worth a watch if you like your comedies bloody, brutal and batshit crazy.

The October Horror Movie Challenge

Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.

If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:

  1. Dark August (USA, 1976)
  2. Huesera: The Bone Woman (Mexico/Peru, 2022)
  3. The Banishing (UK, 2020)
  4. Brooklyn 45 (USA, 2023)
  5. Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell (Japan, 1995)
  6. Pyewacket (Canada, 2017)
  7. Grave Robbers (Mexico, 1989)
  8. You Might Be The Killer (USA, 2018)
  9. No One Will Save You (USA, 2023)
  10. The Sect (Italy, 1991)
  11. Last Night in Soho (UK, 2021)
  12. Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (Spain, 2017)
  13. 47 Metres Down (UK/USA, 2017)
  14. The Oskars Fantasy (Philippines, 2022)
  15. In the Earth (UK, 2021)
  16. Something in the Dirt (USA, 2022)
  17. Blood Flower (Malaysia, 2023)
  18. Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (Canada, 1987)
  19. Older Gods (UK, 2023)
  20. Come to Daddy (New Zealand, 2020)
  21. Shrew’s Nest (Spain, 2014)
  22. Totally Killer (USA, 2023)
  23. The Premonition (USA, 1976)
  24. Murder Me, Monster (Argentina, 2018)
  25. The Gruesome Twosome (USA, 1967)
  26. Talk to Me (Australia, 2023)
  27. Gaia (South Africa, 2021)
  28. Demon (Poland, 2015)
  29. Juju Stories (Nigeria, 2022)
  30. El Conde (Chile, 2023)
  31. The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Hong Kong/UK, 1974)

A Final Note

If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.

If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!

Older Gods (UK, 2023)

I stumbled upon Older Gods as I was scanning new releases on various streaming platforms, hoping for inspiration. Unsurprisingly, the mention of Lovecraftian horror caught my eye. While the trailer didn’t look overly promising, I thought I’d give it a try. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by films that looked unassuming before. Let’s see if this will be one of them.

Older Gods is currently available on Prime Video in the UK.

Older Gods 1

Synopsis

Chris has made a spur-of-the-moment journey from America to a remote country house in Wales, to investigate the disappearance of his friend Billy. In doing so, Chris has left his heavily pregnant wife behind, with no explanation, much to her dismay and that of his family.

Billy has left a stash of documents and videos for Chris to sift through, much like Professor Angell in Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”. These represent Billy’s investigation into a secretive cult and the cosmic entity they serve. A study Billy quotes talks about the roots of their beliefs being in the “Primordial Fear”. This is the very essence of cosmic horror — the madness that comes from truly understanding our insignificance in the vastness of everything.

The cult worships an entity known only as “The Origin”, a deity that dreams our reality. If it were to awake, we might blink out of existence. Rather than placating this god, the cult is trying to awaken it, believing that no one can be insignificant if no one exists. They pursue this goal through acts of murder and torture, each feeding the god and pushing it towards wakefulness.

After spending about two-thirds of the film going through all these notes and hiding from the obvious cultist skulking around the garden, Chris finally takes action. For someone who has dropped everything to come to Wales and find the truth, he is awfully reluctant to actually investigate.

Happily, the film picks up from this point as Chris finally puts down the notes and engages with the cult directly. Will it be too little too late, however, either for Chris or for us as viewers?

Older Gods 2

General Thoughts

Like In the Earth and Something in the Dirt, Older Gods is a product of the early pandemic. It was shot with a small crew and a very limited cast. Much like Something in the Dirt, it largely takes place in a single residence — a house in the countryside, this time, instead of an apartment. And like In the Earth, it makes use of outdoor locations, with fairly obvious social distancing in effect.

I wonder if anyone has written the definitive book on how the early days of Covid shaped media. It was certainly a weird time for television. Even once programmes had moved past using Zoom to connect remote participants, panel shows in the UK were erecting plexiglass barriers between panellists, and chat shows kept guests at such a distance from one another that they all looked rather lonely. This is echoed in the isolation of the actors in these films.

There is also a certain kind of tension in all three that’s hard not to relate to Covid. While only In the Earth explicitly mentions a pandemic, each film deals with some kind of infection, whether pathogens or the spread of dangerous ideas. There is also a sense of the madness of isolation, with characters living outside normal social structures, adopting strange beliefs and behaviours.

Another thing Older Gods made me think about was how much I dislike the presentation of research in most visual media. Of course, it’s difficult to make sifting through piles of notes look interesting on screen. One solution, of course, is to have your protagonist look meaningfully photographs as if they contain all the information and context they might need. Bonus points if these pictures are stuck on a wall.

Older Gods does at least break this up with videos, although I’m not sure that us watching Chris watching a talking head on a screen explain exactly what is going on makes things any more interesting.

Older Gods 3

Verdict

I feel guilty for not liking Older Gods. It’s the kind of ambitious indie horror film my conscience tells me I should be supporting. There’s some real imagination in its concepts, and I admire what they managed to achieve under a variety of restrictions. The problem is, however, that it’s simply not very good.

There are parts it gets right. The rationale for the cult is inventive, and the glimpses into its madness are the kind of thoughtful Lovecraftian horror I wish there was more of. This is a story that captures the corrosive effect of cosmic insanity.

When it comes to execution, however, Older Gods falls badly short. With the exception of a couple of supporting parts, the acting is pretty awful. I’m sure the decision to have the protagonist be from Denver was an attempt to make the film more commercial in the US, but having an actor who could do an American accent would have helped.

Mostly, however, there just isn’t enough happening to engage us. Older Gods might have made a terrific short film, but it drags as a feature. There are too many scenes of Chris passively absorbing Billy’s notes and videos. While there is the occasional moment of tension or action, they are smothered by the unrelenting exposition.

Worst of all, what starts as a dark and interesting resolution takes a sudden swerve into cheap sentimentality, dissipating any horror we might have felt. While I understand that the film is trying to explore grief and healing, this ending is so tonally at odds with what came before that I kind of hated it.

Writer and director David Roberts clearly has a good grasp of what makes cosmic horror disturbing. I genuinely hope he revisits the genre someday, only with a stronger film.

The October Horror Movie Challenge

Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.

If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:

  1. Dark August (USA, 1976)
  2. Huesera: The Bone Woman (Mexico/Peru, 2022)
  3. The Banishing (UK, 2020)
  4. Brooklyn 45 (USA, 2023)
  5. Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell (Japan, 1995)
  6. Pyewacket (Canada, 2017)
  7. Grave Robbers (Mexico, 1989)
  8. You Might Be The Killer (USA, 2018)
  9. No One Will Save You (USA, 2023)
  10. The Sect (Italy, 1991)
  11. Last Night in Soho (UK, 2021)
  12. Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (Spain, 2017)
  13. 47 Metres Down (UK/USA, 2017)
  14. The Oskars Fantasy (Philippines, 2022)
  15. In the Earth (UK, 2021)
  16. Something in the Dirt (USA, 2022)
  17. Blood Flower (Malaysia, 2023)
  18. Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (Canada, 1987)
  19. Older Gods (UK, 2023)
  20. Come to Daddy (New Zealand, 2020)
  21. Shrew’s Nest (Spain, 2014)
  22. Totally Killer (USA, 2023)
  23. The Premonition (USA, 1976)
  24. Murder Me, Monster (Argentina, 2018)
  25. The Gruesome Twosome (USA, 1967)
  26. Talk to Me (Australia, 2023)
  27. Gaia (South Africa, 2021)
  28. Demon (Poland, 2015)
  29. Juju Stories (Nigeria, 2022)
  30. El Conde (Chile, 2023)
  31. The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Hong Kong/UK, 1974)

A Final Note

If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.

If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (Canada, 1987)

Right, we’re heading back to the eighties. Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II is another film I’ve been meaning to catch up with for a while. It’s one of those films I’d always see on the shelves of my local video shop back when it came out, but never paid much mind to.

While I have a certain fondness for slasher films, this came out at a time when I was burnt out on the genre. So, it seems, were the filmmakers. This is neither a sequel to Prom Night nor, really, a slasher film. It took me years to learn that, however, by which time the video shop was a distant memory. Happily, the film surfaced recently on Amazon’s Freevee service, allowing me to make Mary Lou’s acquaintance at long last.

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II is currently available on Freevee in the UK.

Hello Mary Lou Prom Night II 1

Synopsis

Mary Lou is an archetypal bad girl, attending a Canadian high school in the 1950s. Her unashamed sexual promiscuity puts her at odds with both her priest, at confessional, and her boyfriend, Billy, at the prom. When Mary Lou cheats on Billy with his friend Buddy, Billy is so upset that he decides to ruin Mary Lou’s moment of glory, as she is crowned prom queen. This all goes tragically wrong, however, when the stink bomb he throws on stage sets fire to Mary Lou’s dress, immolating her.

Now, thirty years later, a new generation is preparing for senior prom. Vicki, forbidden from buying a new dress by her pathologically Catholic mother, goes rooting through the theatre props stored in the school’s basement. When she uncovers an old chest containing Mary Lou’s prom queen tiara, this, of course, raises Mary Lou herself from the dead.

Slowly, the spirit of Mary Lou takes control of Vicki, turning her into both a vessel and the instrument of her vengeance. She torments students and faculty members alike, including the now middle-aged Billy and Buddy. But, most importantly, 1987 is the year she will finally be crowned prom queen, no matter how many people she has to kill to make it happen.

Hello Mary Lou Prom Night II 2

General Thoughts

While it may seem odd that Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II has no real connection to Prom Night, it is hardly alone in being a slasher sequel in name only. The most famous example must be Halloween III: Season of the Witch, an ill-fated attempt to turn the Halloween franchise into an anthology series. Despite being a fun and unusual film, fans shunned it for not being what they expected, and it has taken decades for it to receive any kind of critical re-evaluation.

Similarly, Silent Night Deadly Night 4: Initiation threw out the slasher formula of the earlier films in favour of an original and much weirder story. And while Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge sort of builds on the first film, it is such a different type of story that it almost feels like an intrusion from another franchise. Personally, I love seeing horror franchises take risks like this, but I do understand those who believe it a form of bait-and-switch.

Rather than a Prom Night sequel, what Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II really wants to be is Carrie. Here, we have an overbearing, joylessly pious mother, the disastrous pranking of a prom queen, and a teenage girl going on a telekinetic killing spree. The ghostly possession angle may be different, but there are too many similarities to ignore.

And as an aside, I wish more filmmakers capitalising on 1980s nostalgia would watch this film. This is far more like the more sombre ’80s I remember than the dayglo leg-warmer fantasia people we see in films made by people who only know the era from pop culture.

It also makes me feel very old to realise that if this film were made today, the flashbacks would take place in the distant days of 1993. Remembering how the 1950s felt like ancient history when I was young doesn’t help.

Hello Mary Lou Prom Night II 3

Verdict

While it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, I rather enjoyed Prom Night II: Hello Mary Lou. The tone is a little more serious than I might have liked, and it takes a while to build atmosphere, but it delivers when it counts. It seemed a bit odd that a film that seemed to centre on a high school prom didn’t spend much time on the event itself, but I’m not really complaining. The ending feels muddled and self-contradictory, although that was pretty standard for horror films of this time.

Despite many of the special effects being fairly primitive, there are a few especially unsettling scenes. Vicki’s glimpses into Hell are executed with simple set dressing and basic makeup, but they do the job nicely. The scene in which Mary Lou really starts to take over, binding Vicki with bedsheets before turning her hobby horse into a leering monstrosity, is especially strong. And the gross-out horror of Mary Lou’s physical rebirth is like some deranged mashup of Frank’s resurrection in Hellraiser and the tar man from Return of the Living Dead.

My only real complaint is some of the sexual skeeviness that was endemic in ’80s genre films. It’s not surprising that a scene in the girls’ locker room becomes an excuse for nudity, but I was a bit more put out when a previously sympathetic male character demanded a blow job from a girl who was clearly unwilling. There is also an uncomfortable connection between Mary Lou’s murderous cruelty and her sexual appetites. One scene suggests that she is bisexual, which is presented as part of her predatory nature. This is all very much of its time, but it’s still disappointing.

These qualms aside, if you’re in the mood for some exquisitely 1980s horror, with all that implies, Hello May Lou: Prom Night II is certainly worth 90 minutes of your life.

The October Horror Movie Challenge

Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.

If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:

  1. Dark August (USA, 1976)
  2. Huesera: The Bone Woman (Mexico/Peru, 2022)
  3. The Banishing (UK, 2020)
  4. Brooklyn 45 (USA, 2023)
  5. Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell (Japan, 1995)
  6. Pyewacket (Canada, 2017)
  7. Grave Robbers (Mexico, 1989)
  8. You Might Be The Killer (USA, 2018)
  9. No One Will Save You (USA, 2023)
  10. The Sect (Italy, 1991)
  11. Last Night in Soho (UK, 2021)
  12. Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (Spain, 2017)
  13. 47 Metres Down (UK/USA, 2017)
  14. The Oskars Fantasy (Philippines, 2022)
  15. In the Earth (UK, 2021)
  16. Something in the Dirt (USA, 2022)
  17. Blood Flower (Malaysia, 2023)
  18. Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (Canada, 1987)
  19. Older Gods (UK, 2023)
  20. Come to Daddy (New Zealand, 2020)
  21. Shrew’s Nest (Spain, 2014)
  22. Totally Killer (USA, 2023)
  23. The Premonition (USA, 1976)
  24. Murder Me, Monster (Argentina, 2018)
  25. The Gruesome Twosome (USA, 1967)
  26. Talk to Me (Australia, 2023)
  27. Gaia (South Africa, 2021)
  28. Demon (Poland, 2015)
  29. Juju Stories (Nigeria, 2022)
  30. El Conde (Chile, 2023)
  31. The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Hong Kong/UK, 1974)

A Final Note

If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.

If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!

Blood Flower (Malaysia, 2023)

I was looking for some more Asian horror to watch this month. When I saw some positive user reviews for Blood Flower on Shudder, I decided to give it a try. Also, I can’t remember if I’ve seen a horror film from Malaysia before. Let’s see if this was worth a punt.

Blood Flower is currently available on Shudder in the UK.

Blood Flower 1

Synopsis

Iqbal is the teenage son of a pair of exorcists, who has inherited his mother’s psychic powers. When his mother is killed during an exorcism, Iqbal’s father places a magical constraint upon his son’s abilities to prevent him from meeting the same fate.

This is all undermined when Iqbal’s father agrees to water a neighbour’s plants. These are not ordinary plants, however. Many are carnivorous, and even the less sinister ones are rare and unusual. The oddest part of the hothouse apartment, however, is the locked room with a protective magical seal on the door. Not a standard feature of most hothouses.

Despite being told not to, Iqbal borrows the apartment keys and shows the weird plants off to his friends. Inevitably, the friends break into the forbidden room, where only Iqbal can see a shadowy entity trapped in a beam of light.

With the seal broken, people from all over the apartment block start dying in hideous ways or becoming possessed by the evil spirit. Will the demonic entity triumph, or will Iqbal be able to reclaim his mystic exorcist powers and save the day? Let’s face it — you don’t need to watch the film to know the answer.

Blood Flower 2

General Thoughts

I’ve mentioned before how much I love seeing the classic tropes of horror through the lenses of other cultures. Blood Flower is filled with the kinds of demonic possessions and exorcisms we’ve seen a thousand times, with the only real difference being the religion of the exorcists. It turns out that just substituting Koranic verses for Latin chants doesn’t actually make this very different from the fictionalised Catholic exorcism rites we’re more used to seeing in horror movies.

Similarly, the djinn here work much the same as demons in western films. It’s interesting contrasting this with something like Under the Shadow, where the djinn felt like something different and truly dangerous.

After complaining about a few of this month’s films spending too long setting things up before getting to the good stuff, I shall now do the opposite. I contain multitudes. It’s neat that Blood Flower plunges us straight into horror, but we’re expected to care about characters we don’t even know yet. As a result, there’s no real tension or poignancy when we’re clearly being expected to feel such things.

Blood Flower 3

Verdict

Blood Flower is a real wasted opportunity. A lot of talent has clearly gone into this film. The makeup effects are terrific and the cinematography is slick and polished. A number of the individual scenes are imaginative, although not as many as I might have liked. Overall, however, it feels flat and unengaging.

While the overall film may not have worked for me, I did appreciate how nasty it was willing to get. Appropriately, given its name, Blood Flower does not shy away from bloody violence. There is enough murder, mutilation, and cannibalism to satisfy the most hardened gorehound. One scene, in particular, in which a ghost feasts upon the remains of a baby, is the kind of thing that might have sparked a moral panic in the 1980s.

And yet too many of these scenes of horror feel like they were lifted wholesale from The Exorcist, The Evil Dead, The Sixth Sense or even Supernatural. While homages aren’t exactly uncommon in horror, this was more like a wedding band playing covers. Blood Flower is at its best when it tries to be its own thing, but such moments are too few. What we are left with is an unfocused story that tries to pack in too many shocks at the expense of any tension or emotional engagement.

I suspect that Blood Flower will be the goriest, most grotesque film I’ll see this month. It’s just a shame that doesn’t make it a good one.

The October Horror Movie Challenge

Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.

If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:

  1. Dark August (USA, 1976)
  2. Huesera: The Bone Woman (Mexico/Peru, 2022)
  3. The Banishing (UK, 2020)
  4. Brooklyn 45 (USA, 2023)
  5. Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell (Japan, 1995)
  6. Pyewacket (Canada, 2017)
  7. Grave Robbers (Mexico, 1989)
  8. You Might Be The Killer (USA, 2018)
  9. No One Will Save You (USA, 2023)
  10. The Sect (Italy, 1991)
  11. Last Night in Soho (UK, 2021)
  12. Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (Spain, 2017)
  13. 47 Metres Down (UK/USA, 2017)
  14. The Oskars Fantasy (Philippines, 2022)
  15. In the Earth (UK, 2021)
  16. Something in the Dirt (USA, 2022)
  17. Blood Flower (Malaysia, 2023)
  18. Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (Canada, 1987)
  19. Older Gods (UK, 2023)
  20. Come to Daddy (New Zealand, 2020)
  21. Shrew’s Nest (Spain, 2014)
  22. Totally Killer (USA, 2023)
  23. The Premonition (USA, 1976)
  24. Murder Me, Monster (Argentina, 2018)
  25. The Gruesome Twosome (USA, 1967)
  26. Talk to Me (Australia, 2023)
  27. Gaia (South Africa, 2021)
  28. Demon (Poland, 2015)
  29. Juju Stories (Nigeria, 2022)
  30. El Conde (Chile, 2023)
  31. The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Hong Kong/UK, 1974)

A Final Note

If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.

If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!