Vicious Fun review

Funny how we always fall back into the horror groove, no matter which theme we’ve picked. This week is no exception as we hang with some bad people in a very pleasing 80’s setting. What more do you want by way of an introduction?

I must say a fond farewell to this month’s anti-awards season films though, they’ve been an eclectic bunch.

VICIOUS FUN (2020)

Blood, murder and self-help.

Joel, a caustic 1980s film critic for a national horror magazine, finds himself unwittingly trapped in a self-help group for serial killers. With no other choice, Joel attempts to blend in or risk becoming the next victim.

Director: Cody Calahan
Starring: Evan Marsh, Amber Goldfarb, Ari Millen

Genre: Horror, Comedy  IMDB user rating: 6.5
My score: 3/5 Runtime: 101 mins


1983, Minnesota. One moody night, a serial killer zeros in on a young woman out alone, kindly offering her a ride. She agrees but the tables are turned when he tries to lock her in his car, and she deftly stabs him in the throat, killing him dead.

This is our introduction to Carrie (Amber Goldfarb), an undercover serial killer hunter who has beef because of something deep and dark from her past.

Meanwhile, horror journalist Joel is interviewing B-movie director Jack Portwood for his magazine, Vicious Fanatics. He mentions his idea for a film about a murderous taxi cab driver but is soon dismissed from Portwood’s office for criticising his choice of shock value over suspense. Back home, Joel deals with the agony of unrequited love, witnessing his crush (and housemate) Sarah (Alexa Rose Steele) being dropped off by her sleazy boyfriend Bob.

On a whim, Joel follows Bob (Ari Millen) to a Chinese restaurant where they strike up a conversation. Bob, unaware of who Joel is, starts slagging off Sarah’s loser roommate, then leaves him with the drinks bill, another woman on his arm. So far a pretty uneventful evening but what’s a lovelorn boy supposed to do? That’s right: get blathered and make a complete nuisance of himself.

Unfortunately for Joel, when he awakens from his booze induced slumber, the restaurant’s closed and he’s been locked inside. He realises he’s not alone when he stumbles across a very unusual bunch of people having what looks like a self-help session.

The group wrongly assume Joel is Phil, the killer they’ve been expecting and welcome him into the fold. Joining Joel is unofficial group leader Zachary (David Koechner), cannibal chef Hideo (Sean Baek), co-ed camp killer Mike (Robert Maillet), sadistic clown accountant Fritz (Julian Richings) and… Carrie. They’re eventually joined by a latecomer – Bob.

Surprise, BITCHES.

Posing as a killer taxi driver, Joel doesn’t do a bad job in his new undercover role of serial killer but things go awry when his true identity is revealed, making him a sitting duck for the rest of the group. Luckily, Carrie is there to help a brother out, explaining her reason for doing what she does along the way.

From here not much will surprise you as Joel fights for his life, his love Sarah and maybe even a new purpose in life.

With moderately amusing consequences.

THOUGHTS

This was fun in places but didn’t go as deep as I’d have liked. I love the concept and wish we’d got more of the self-help aspect – and definitely more fish-out-of-water behaviour from Joel.

The idea of a horror nerd having enough knowledge of the genre to pass himself off as a true killer is brilliant and a bit more of that black humour wouldn’t have gone amiss really.

Apart from that, the 80s aesthetic is always going to appeal greatly. Throw in a fairly light yet blood-drenched plot and I’m in. Whether we’ll remember Joel and Carrie in a weeks time does remain to be seen though.


What does Jill make of Vicious Fun? Would she take it on as her trusted sidekick or leave it in a room full of psychos? Find out here.

Hellbender review

Interesting fact: Hellbender is also a type of salamander.

Another interesting fact: this week’s film is a family affair, filmed in lockdown while most of us were rewatching our favourite shows and refreshing the news feeds every eight seconds (just me?). That – it my eyes – makes it a little bit special – and maybe more forgiving about the sometimes shoddy SFX.

But is it any good? Read on pals for the truth. If you dare.

Hellbender (2021)

Growing up is Hell.

A lonely teen discovers her family’s ties to witchcraft.

Director(s): Zelda Adams, John Adams, Toby Poser
Starring: Lulu Adams, Toby Poser, Zelda Adams, John Adams

Genre: Horror IMDB user rating: 5.8
My score: 4/5 ∙ Runtime: 86 mins


Teenager Izzy (Zelda Adams) lives with her mother in the woods. Their home is incredibly remote, buried in the heart of the forest surrounded by all the delightful things Mother Nature has to offer. Which is lucky, as Mum (Toby Poser) only pops into town once a week or so for non-foragable items, such as drum sticks and vinyl.

Despite really wanting to join her mother in town on these jaunts, Izzy is relegated to the bench as she lives with a de-habilitating autoimmune disease that puts her at risk. This is also the reason the pair live the way they do, and have since Izzy was just five years old. The women live a pretty dope life despite the isolation – they form a band called Hellbender – and are totally aesthetically a piece of me, with a sound that ain’t too shabby either.

One day, while wandering in the woods, Izzy bumps into a lost hiker (John Adams). The hiker is the uncle of a girl who lives on a neighbouring mountain and after taking a wrong turn, he ends up trespassing on Izzy’s land. This may seem innocuous to everyone else, but Mum isn’t happy and dispatches with Uncle quickly, in a very creative way which sets us up for the rest of this ride.

Later Izzy defies her mother’s strict rules by hiking to the edge of their land. Here she stumbles across Amber (Lulu Adams) a girl similar in age. The pair hit it off well and arrange to meet at the house the following day. Of course Izzy doesn’t share this with her mother when she gets back. The next day, she joins Amber and her friends where they drink tequila and Izzy shows off her drumming skills.

Things pop off dramatically when two things happen. First, Izzy eats a live worm which causes her to feel and act very strangely – and two, the real owner of the fancy house returns and chases the kids away. In the ruckus, Izzy acts threateningly towards Amber which derails their new friendship. She also bumps into the house owner who’s extremely angry and threatens police intervention. This doesn’t come to anything – for reasons – and Izzy returns home.

Meanwhile, word is that a man’s gone missing and he turns out to be Amber’s uncle. Weird huh? With Izzy acting extremely out of sorts, Mum is forced to share a few home truths about her heritage and weirdly, it turns out some of her history just doesn’t add up. As Izzy comes to terms with this new information, with which comes great responsibility – will her mother’s fears come to fruition?

Spoiler: yes, they probably will.

Thoughts

I liked this. It’s pleasingly witchy, quite rich in detail and looks absolutely stunning in places. There are some dodgy effects here and there, but not enough to drag me out of the story – or stop rooting for our central pair.

While Izzy makes some dramatic decisions on discovering her new powers, I still liked her. I’m sure I’d feel exactly the same if I was suddenly omnipotent and still a teenager. It’s just a shame this seems to be cyclical and at the cost potentially (and eventually) of her mother’s life. I do really like the opener too which harks back to Mum’s own mother and her fate, which is padded out later in the film when Izzy asks about what happened to her grandmother.

There is a very psychedelic element to some of the scenes, as the women experiment together with different foods and spells – one particular standout is the frankly disgusting vomiting of blood into each other’s faces. This is fun but it might distract at times from what the hell is going on. Luckily, at under 90 minutes this is a really tightly paced piece.

Incidentally, the same family made another film – The Deeper You Dig (2019) – which I also enjoyed recently. There seems to be a strong theme running through both stories and it leans heavily into the relationship between mother and daughter, which is powerful and complicated. I’d say the Poser-Adams’ are a family to keep an eye on.


What does Jill make of this witchy little number? Would she vomit blood and gore into its face – or let it live? Find out here.

The Stylist review

Our anti-award winning season continues as we plunge the depths for the films that would never stand a chance with the academy, or any other board of stuffy prize givers. Which is a shame for the films but hey, the Razzies have always seemed way more fun – and having just stalked their website, I can’t believe I’ve never sought out Diana the Musical.

Watch this space, I guess!

For now however, let’s explore the seedy underbelly of hair styling.

The Stylist (2020)

A lonely hair stylist becomes obsessed with the lives of her clients and descends into murderous madness.

Director: Jill Gevargizian
Starring: Najarra TownsendBrea Grant

*Spoilers*

Claire (Najarra) is a hairstylist working long hours at the salon. While outwardly shy and reserved, our girl harbors a secret. A pretty big one as it goes – our girl collects the scalps of her clients and displays them secretly in her cellar. Any time she’s feeling low, she puts them on and imagines herself in their lives.

We’re introduced to Claire as she takes on a client from out of town, a woman called Sarah. As the woman relaxes with a glass of red, she expels her own secrets, confident they’ll never see each other again. Claire’s intrigued by Sarah’s tales of work and home life – even though she’s smug and annoying – which may be why she’s compelled to murder and add her to the basement collection.

Things take a turn when Claire’s contacted by a regular – Olivia (Grant) – who desperately needs a stylist for her wedding. Claire’s usual stance on weddings is no thank you given how intense they are – but she says yes and the pair start to bond – which delights lonely Claire who lives alone and has no friends or family to speak of.

After their first time hanging out outside the salon, the pair connect over their stories about absent fathers but Claire berates herself afterwards and takes out her frustrations on the kindly barista at her local coffee shop. Which is a bit silly given its proximity to the salon (and CCTV cameras) – plus, the person who nails your coffee order is worth holding on to if you ask me.

After this particular murder, Claire decides to lock up the cellar/basement and focus on Olivia and their fledgling friendship. At Olivia’s hen do, to which she secures an invite, Claire comforts the bride-to-be when she expresses doubts about the nuptials – but overhears her other friends slagging her off in the loo. They mock the idea of inviting the stylist to the hen party which infuriates her – and experience teaches us not to mess with the girl holding the sharp scissors, am I right?

You can probably see where this is going. As Claire clings tighter to her new friend – turning up at her work, calling too many times – the more Olivia backs away. During a tense encounter, Olivia firmly requests that Claire not be ‘like this’ on her actual wedding day. Devastated and embarrassed, Claire reopens the cellar and her behaviour becomes even more unhinged. After more murder and a cheeky bout of breaking and entering – we’re getting closer to the big day. Will the fragile friendship make it?

Meanwhile, the authorities are looking for the missing barista AND Claire’s first client. Which makes dealing with warring bridesmaids, my MIL and Glynn’s ex in the lead up to my big day seem like a walk in the park.

Will Olivia’s wedding day go off with the bang she’s expecting? I think we can confidently say no. No it won’t.

Thoughts

See, this is exactly why I’ll do anything to avoid going to a salon. The Stylist is a little light on storyline, after you get beyond the delight of a murderous hairdresser and it has a tendency to lag a bit – but overall, it has solid bones and is quite effective.

We get little to no true backstory for Claire, which is chilling but I also want to know how the cellar came to be and who her first victim was, after all after Sarah’s murder, everything’s already set up and ready to go. Also, if she’s targeting clients then why is it only now the community have noticed people missing? Claire’s motivations do seem a bit weak but there is a sexual undertone to her attachment to Olivia, so I think there are some really interesting themes there that I wish we’d explored more.

The topics of loneliness and making friends as an adult feel quite close to my heart though and I sympathise with Claire. As a viewer I did have a snap out of it attitude to some of her behaviours but I recognise a lot of those feelings in myself. Claire just doesn’t seem to have the confidence facade so many of us adopt, especially at work.

Other than that, the scalp wigs really annoy me. Has Claire never mainlined Drag Race? What’s with the rough finish around the hairline? I feel as though Claire, who seems pretty fastidious in most aspects, would do a better job of that, especially since she’s keeping them for later use.

– Genres: Drama ∙ Horror
– IMDB user rating: 5.6
– My score: 3/5
– Runtime: 105 mins


What does Jill think about this one? Would she hit it up with her most dazzling dye-job or shave its head instead? Find out here.