Monday, August 29, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Before You Wreekh Yourself

Year: 1985
Director: Mohan Bhakri
Cast: Javed Khan, Deepika Chikhalia, Birbal
Run Time: 2 hours 11 minutes

Plot: Cheekh opens on the cruel and dictatorial Thakur (Madan Puri) doing cruel and dictatorial things before cutting to many years later. His daughter Deepa (Deepika Chikhalia) falls in love with the sculptor Sunil (Javed Khan of 1989's Khooni Murdaa), but a killer who is clearly seeking revenge for Thakur's past wrongs is lurking around the house. Also, Deepa and Sunil accidentally murder their friend Rohit (Raza Murad), so they must keep anyone from finding the body.

Analysis: A quick note: This film was only available to me in unsubtitled Hindi, so please take my review with a grain of salt. As always, I am focusing on the visual element of the film as well as how well it hews to the slasher formula, which is one that doesn't really require much script retention in the first place.

So it turns out that Bollywood was one of the quickest international cinema spaces to really hop on the slasher trend outside of North America. But after pumping out two films apiece in 1980 (Moodu Pani, Saboot) and 1981 (Sansani: The Sensation, Sannata), India seemed to have tired of the format until 1985 kicked things right back into gear. For my money, I'm glad they did, because Cheekh is the first film out of the five that actually feels like a slasher, which is very exciting.

Mind you, it's not always the best movie qua movies. There is an unfortunate reliance on shakycam when the filmmakers want to drum up some drama, there are a few quite egregious breaks of the 180 degree lines, and the shot of a man's gaze panning back and forth between a jar of poison (labelled, of course, "POISON") and his wife goes on for what feels like minutes too long. Oh, also there's a recurring gag that I believe is meant to be comedic where the punchline is that a woman is repeatedly sexually assaulted. Whee.....

That all definitely takes points off for Cheekh, but believe you me I've sat through much worse for this project. And as far as Bollywood slashers go, this is the cream of the crop. It's got a much better distribution of kills than the previous entries, keeping the pace up throughout, and even including a heaping helping of honest to God chase sequences! There may be a few too many scary moments that turn out to be pranks (including one that, if it happened in real life, would absolutely shatter the friendship between these people), but honestly that's still pretty consistent with the slasher formula. All that's missing is people doing impressions that are 30 years too old for them, and it's entirely possible that they did and I just missed it.

Finally, I'm proud to report, Cheekh is effectively scary more often than not. It's incredibly effective at drumming up nightmare imagery when it wants to, whether it's the material around Sunil hiding Mohit's body by slathering him in plaster and turning him into a sculpture, the scene where a medium accesses the spirit realm with a glowing red crystal ball, or several of the dynamic, quick-cutting sequences that blend chases with other frantic movement (especially dancing, because this is a Bollywood movie, after all). It's true that Cheekh is being graded on a scale that is heavily weighted toward 3/10 to 5/10 movies, but I had a blast with this one and that can't be discounted.

Killer: Deepa's Friend!
Final Girl: Deepa (Deepika Chikhalia)
Best Kill: I'm a sucker for any movie character in a wheelchair being dumped down the stairs, which is a real meat and potatoes murder movie classic.
Sign of the Times: Deepa's friend pranks her by dragging her into the water with her, which is not something you can do lightly in the age of cell phones.
Scariest Moment: The statue that Sunil has made of the corpse seems to come to life and chase Deepa.
Weirdest Moment: A woman takes a bath, wearing a full bra and panty set that is just getting drenched.
Champion Dialogue: N/A
Body Count: 11
    1. Killer's Dad is stabbed in the gut.
    2. Killer's Mom is stabbed in the gut.
    3. Thakur has his wheelchair pushed down the stairs.
    4. Man is burned to death.
    5. Rohit is shot accidentally.
    6. Woman is stabbed.
    7. Bathtub Lady is whipped or something.
    8. Doctor is killed indistinctly.
    9. Karate Man super jumps and falls onto a blade.
    10. Statue Man dies from various injuries sustained during a prolonged chase.
    11. Deepa's Friend is shot.
TL;DR: Cheekh is far from perfect, but it's the best slasher Bollywood has put out in the '80s so far, in terms of both tension building and nightmare imagery.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 798

Friday, August 19, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Looks Like It's Me And You Again Tonight, Rosie

Year: 1985
Director: Leland Thomas
Cast: S. E. Zygmont, Suzanna Smith, Brian Burt
Run Time: 1 hour 25 minutes

Plot: Bits and Pieces follows Arthur (S.E. Zygmont), a mother-obsessed killer in the San Gabriel Valley, as he attempts to hunt down Rosie (Suzanna Smith), a potential witness to one of his crimes.

Analysis: Apparently, even five years after the release of Friday the 13th, we were still down to rip off Psycho occasionally, for old time's sake. The one wrinkle that Bits and Pieces offers is that it does so by way of ripping off 1980's Maniac, so I guess that's something. It at least adds another creepy mannequin to the offing, which never hurts. 

Really, there's almost nothing to Bits and Pieces. The film alternates between stalking scenes, vague Herschell Gordon Lewis style kills that indiscriminately splash red tempera paint everywhere they can rather than depicting violence with any sort of clarity, and scenes of bland police procedural that abruptly give way to a creepy age gap romance between the cop and a young woman who was friends with the first victim. 

The one thing it has going for it (other than the fact that there are multiple scenes set at a male strip club, which I believe to be a first for the subgenre) is that it's fully committed to being itself. When it's doing a topless scene, it's doing a topless scene, with bared breasts that are just outrageously huge. When it's doing a kill scene (sometimes these overlap, of course), there's plenty of gusto if not any skill. It's not a horrible film to sit through, even if it has legitimately nothing to offer to a slasher-fatigued 1985 cinema landscape.

Killer: Arthur  Hill (S. E. Zygmont)
Final Girl: Rosie Talbot (Suzanna Smith)
Best Kill: After being interrogated about Rosie's whereabouts, her friend Jennifer is stabbed in the throat. No, it's not slit or slashed. Just stabbed. Like, straight in there.
Sign of the Times: When Rosie goes to write her paper, she sits in front of a typewriter.
Scariest Moment: Rosie finally looks at the newspaper that has been on her desk all morning and sees the front page news that her friend was murdered.
Weirdest Moment: Rosie's mom asks her to describe her night at the strip club and gets really horny about it.
Champion Dialogue: "Watch where you're going, apple ass."
Body Count: 8
    1. Tanya is sliced down the middle with a knife.
    2. Woman is killed, but the relevant weapons and body parts are offscreen.
    3. Mommy is stabbed to death.
    4. Jennifer is stabbed in the throat.
    5. Rosie's Dad is conked in the back of the head.
    6. Rosie's Mom is drowned in the tub.
    7. Lt. Carter is shot.
    8. Arthur Hill is shot and stabbed with scissors.
TL;DR: Bits and Pieces is just a generic Psycho riff with some added Herschell Gordon Lewis sleaze, but it's not altogether horrible.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 487

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Da Be Dee, Da Ba Die

Year: 1985
Director: Charlie Wiener
Cast: Jamie Spears, Terry Logan, Peter Brikmanis
Run Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

Plot: Blue Murder sees a mysterious killer targeting the folks behind the production and distribution of dirty movies. The killer has been menacing investigative journalist/weekly columnist Dan Blake (Jamie Spears, who as far as I can tell is not Britney Spears' father, which is great news for him) in an attempt to get him to write a column condemning pornography, which will somehow get the theaters shut down. Blake teams up with Lieutenant Rossey (Terry Logan) to get to the bottom of this.

Analysis: Blue Murder is a TV movie from Canada. If you're thinking "gee, that's a weird thing for a slasher about the porno industry to be," well, you have more sense than the producers of Blue Murder. Rather than being the prurient slasher promised by the poster, it is instead the thing that all audiences in the mid-'80s apparently craved even more than sweet, delicious cocaine: bland police procedural.

Even though it does its slasher due diligence and features a black-gloved killer with an M.O. that involves placing a creepy crown mask on his victims, the film is deeply committed to exploring the underbelly of the city as Blake and Rossey wander around milling around with various anonymous Canadians, most of whom never appear again or figure into the story in a way that actually matters. The kills are also much more "crime movie" than slasher, focusing heavily on the use of guns, the burning of warehouses, and the like.

It's not even good at doing the procedural thing, presenting scenes of investigation in an incoherent jumble that don't seem to connect to anything that comes before or after. Somehow, in spite of this, it's practically impossible not to guess the identity of the killer within ten minutes. 

The true strength of the movie is the fact that it is absolutely bananapants. Because of its kaleidoscope of random white people, the constantly shifting landscape of characters sometimes vomits forth a truly ineffable presence, like the gay stool pigeon relaxing on a yacht with a harem of prettyboys, or the high-roller who informs us that he has been bankrolling Rossey this whole time, even though this reveal amounts to absolutely nothing.

Even though the investigation is incoherent and poorly presented, the fact that the film can only occasionally mimic real human behavior leads to some truly delightful scenes, including - I kid you not - a scene where Blake and Rossey discuss the details of the case while Blake is perched on a toilet at the head of a tub that Rossey is currently taking a bath in. It truly needs to be seen to be believed. While nothing else reaches that kind of ludicrous pleasure, there is something pleasantly delirious about how the film's narrative slips ineffably past you (for instance, the body count reported by the cops is always at least seven kills higher than what is shown onscreen, in a bit of unintentional surrealism), and it's hard not to be drawn to a scene where a farm girl you met one scene ago comes home to her father yells at him about how her mother left them years ago, only to learn that her mother never left and has just been hiding in the next room over, at which point she tells her daughter to fuck off.

It's hard not to feel like I dreamt Blue Murder, and while it is an ineffably bad movie, that is nevertheless a quality I prize very much.

Killer: Father Richards (Peter Brikmanis)
Final Girl: Dan Blake (Jamie Spears)
Best Kill: This is really like picking the best ant at your picnic, but I guess... the projectionist being hanged in the opening montage, while offscreen, provides the creepiest image and implication.
Sign of the Times: One of the cars in the movie has those headlights that flip up when you turn it on.
Scariest Moment: The killer sneaks into Dan's home in the middle of the night to warn him.
Weirdest Moment: As if I could ever get enough mileage out of the bathtub scene.
Champion Dialogue: "If you don't, I'm gonna cram your skull down the toilet."
Body Count: 15; not counting the various inflated body count numbers given by the police throughout the movie (and a couple of the names I'm a little shaky on).
    1. Frank Cole is shot offscreen.
    2. Stryker is shot.
    3. Porn Actor is shot.
    4. Porn Actress is shot.
    5. Porn Actor #2 is shot.
    6. Projectionist is hanged offscreen.
    7. Linda is shot in the head.
    8. Vince is shot.
    9. Some White Man dies in a fire.
    10. Markham dies offscreen.
    11. Peter is shot.
    12. Max is garroted.
    13. Debbie is axed offscreen.
    14. Debbie's Friend is axed offscreen.
    15. Father Richards is shot in the back.
TL;DR: Blue Murder is an incoherent, bad slasher that at least has the decency to be absolutely banana pants.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 824

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Census Bloodbath: In-Die-A

Year: 1981
Director: Irshad
Cast: Vinod Mehra, Bindiya Goswami, Kavita
Run Time: 1 hour 58 minutes

Plot: Sansani: The Sensation opens with two mysterious men arriving in a rural Indian village. Almost instantly, people around town start to be murdered, and suspicion falls on one of them: Ajay Sachdev (Vinod Mehra of the previous year's Saboot), who has been staying in a local boardinghouse and fallen in love with lovely local maiden Nisha (Bindiya Goswami). Ajay knows he isn't the killer, but he sets out to discover who is, and whether or not they're linked to the mysterious woman in white who drifts through the graveyard in the middle of the night.

Analysis: A quick pair of notes. First, oopsie doopsie, here is another film that I missed during my many rounds of research on Census Bloodbath. Turns out that people aren't standing in every corner of the Internet extolling the virtues of early '80s Bollywood slasher cinema, so you really gotta dig in there for yourself. Second, this film was only accessible to me in unsubtitled Hindi, so plot details will be understandably fuzzy, and my review should be taken with a grain of salt, though I focus on the visuals and adherence to the slasher formula, which transcend language.

OK. So, I do love Bollywood cinema, but either my tastes skew more modern or the slasher is fully incompatible with the style. I think it's the latter. The cheap, tawdry nature of the American slasher film refuses to be bent and ends up snapping in half, leaving the Bollywood attempts at the subgenre anemic and boring most of the time, especially when it comes to the Ramsay Brothers (Saboot, Sannata), who were seemingly obsessed with slashers and yet had no idea how to make one.

Sansani is much the same as its predecessors, making a film that is much too noble and demure to sink to the depths that the slasher requires. The killer admittedly is wearing a kind of cool gimp mask-looking thing, but there is no blood at all and every kill but one is entirely offscreen to the point that it's unclear if the characters were even murdered at all or just dropped dead from boredom. The distribution of the kills is also tremendously uneven, leaving huge impenetrable swaths of movie where nothing happens. 

Fortunately, Sansani has its share of Bollywood pleasures to alleviate the pain of how terrible of a slasher it is. It is a full-on musical, for one thing, opting for about four musical numbers and a reprise rather than the one and a half songs we typically get in an entry like this. None of the songs are particularly exciting to my Western ear, though one of the dance numbers does pull off a neat trick where a drunk observer's double vision makes it look like there are three women dancing rather than two.

There are also two heavy doses of ridiculous kick-punching action in the third act that somewhat make up for the fact that the movie has completely forgotten it's a slasher by that point. Overall, it doesn't quite crawl across the line to becoming something I would recommend to anyone other than demented completists like myself, but it is certainly a bright spot in a sub-subgenre that hasn't really produced anything but drivel thus far in the marathon.

Killer: Beast Man
Final Girl: Nisha (Bindiya Goswami), but only incidentally
Best Kill: The kills are entirely bad, so I guess I need to pick the one where you can actually see what happened, which is when a man gets impaled in the gut with some kind of spear. OK, I guess you can sort of see what happened.
Sign of the Times: I don't pretend to be an expert on Indian fashion trends through the ages, but Ajay's shirt becoming slowly unbuttoned as the movie goes on feels sartorially horny in a way that only the early '80s could get away with, at least in America.
Scariest Moment: The killer attempts to strangle a woman with a strip of fabric, though he is unsuccessful.
Weirdest Moment: The night after the bulk of the characters get murdered, the survivors get drunk and party.
Champion Dialogue: N/A
Body Count: 6; though the kills are so vague, the number could be higher or lower by a factor of two, depending.
    1. Someone is shot (probably).
    2. Man #1 is impaled in the gut.
    3. Old Man dies offscreen, probably of poison.
    4. Man #2 dies offscreen.
    5. Beast Man is beaten with a chain.
    6. Woman is shot in the back of the neck.
TL;DR: Sansani: The Sensation is a bland, barely there slasher that is at least better at being a Bollywood movie than many of its early '80s counterparts.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 798