Sunday, November 5, 2017

Review: Halloween Pussy Trap Kill! Kill!

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet


Halloween Pussy Trap Kill! Kill! (aka Halloween Hell House)
Directed and edited by Jared Cohn
Cleopatra Entertainment / MVD Visual
82 minutes, 2017

To be honest with all  y’alls, this review is going to be a bit schizophrenic, or at least seeing both sides of the coin, as it were. Take it as you wish, just know it is honest.

 The obligatory story prologue takes place on a Pakistan battlefield in which some US soldiers come under direct attack by the bad guys, including one who has great indignities done to his body and mind.

From there we are taken to a more present Halloween where all-girl “punk” band Kill, Pussy, Kill are playing a show at a club and are preparing to take a van to play their biggest one yet at a festival. Their clich√© and bright colored costumes remind me more of the Josie and the Pussycats film with more skin and tighter tops than, say, anything Riot Grrrl. With internal stress brewing within the group and the male manager (white dreads? really? why not a man-bun?) who is trying to keep them all together, they end up in a situation that is thematically more reminiscent of the Saw franchise, Cube (1997), or In the House of Flies (2012).

They are under the control of some guy doing a Jigsaw in another room, playing “games” with the group white sitting in front of video monitors, where they have to make life and death choices or suffer harsh consequences, such as being sprayed with an acidic liquid (don’t worry, I won’t give too much away).

Sometimes it feels like the women aren’t characters, but rather they are just there for the body count. There is very little we know about them, or even learn to care about. This is a flaw of many of these types of films. In the three previously similar storylines I mentioned above, they all gave us people rather than characters who the viewer may not even know what they are named.

When the architect of the whole experiment explains why he’s conducting it, one of the Pussy members says it best for me: “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” The Saw series was essentially a morality tale about our culture (or at least they started that way), but this one lacks that, though it seems to try to give the “don’t waste your life” message while wasting lives: when I was in elementary school, we had to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the weekly assembly. If we stumbled with it or seemed unenthusiastic, the Assistant Principal would get angry and scream at us from the stage, “There are boys dying overseas for you, so you better say it again with meaning!” That’s a similarly nonsensical comment as to why these women are put through these rigors.

Among other things, part of the problem to me is that some of it is not very well researched. For example, at some point the nerve gas sarin is used, as we see it fill a room. Even the most basic of research will show that it is odorless and colorless (it’s a florescent hue here). Also, after being sprayed, the effected in this basement torture chamber live, even though the smallest amounts of the gas are extremely toxic (thank you, Wikipedia).

The voice of the villain, who is swathed in bandages, is Dave Mustaine of Megadeth. This is a similar theme to In the House of Flies, where the bad guy is voiced by Henry Rollins of Black Flag (etc.). At least Henry’s is instantly recognizable. Mustaine? Not so much (at least not to me).

Now, before y’all get on my case about the negativity, I do want to say that a bit after the halfway mark, when “new players join the game” (as the swathed one posits), the film starts to get better. However, I find it interesting that the strongest character is a man, as one is also the weakest (his companion). The women vary in strength but tend to get a bit screechy, rather than steely.

Richard Grieco
Part of what improves the story is beyond the basement. We learn that Mr. Bandageface is not alone in this escapade, but has an equally insane nephew, spouse, and possibly…a child? Anyway, the wife is played with extreme gusto by Kelly Erin Decker, who I think makes her scenes standouts. She’s hysterical in a killer statuesque, cute and nerdy-looking way; I want to see a film of just her character. Richard Grieco (who is also a producer) shows some aplomb as the drawling garage owner that brings the group into the situation in the first place. I’m not totally sure, but they seem like the family out of House of 1,000 Corpses (2003), more than The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) or The Hills Have Eyes (1977).

The basement setting is an old one, again reminiscent of Saw, which seems to be the go-to theme, as the victims go from room to room, with commands that are disastrous to others, and even to the psyche of those who continue on.

There is a smear of gratuitous nudity (not a complaint), but what stands out even more is the gore. It looks flippin’ great. Ron Karkoska does a bang-up job on the makeup effects, all of it practical as far as I could tell. There’s lots of it, as well, so that was quite satisfying.

Also a stand-out is the acting by the whole cast. Although Decker won my heart in her naturalness, that does not take away from any of the cast. No wooden line readings, just full gusto. The big cameo, though, is held by Oscar winner Margaret O’Brien (that young girl who sat by Judy Garland as she sang “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in Meet Me in St. Louis in 1944), who appears as a drug-induced hallucination. Nice touch having her as an evil grandma!

As for the extras, well, there is a ton, many of them different variations of a “Making Of.” To start, there’s “Basement of Blood” (4:51), “Behind the Scenes” (8:27) that is called “Plot Description” on the menu, and a “Video Diary” (10:03) which focuses on Richard Grieco, how the Kill Pussy Kill band originated, and the final day of shooting (the prologue). A cool featurette is a mock “ZH1 Beyond the Music” (7:32) documentary about the band after the whole situation (with one of the Pussy’s putting on an out-of-context British accent) that is about twice as long as it needs to be. There’s also a nice focus on “Jared Cohn: Director of Horror and Action (6:24)”. In addition are two music videos, one by Jyrk!: “Last Halloween” (4:03) in which the singer seems to be channeling the emo version of Dave Vanian, and Kill Pussy Kill’s “Superstar” (3:22). Last up is a Slideshow (2:10) and the film’s trailer (1:41).

This is conjecture on my part, but I am surmising that the problem is that the director, Jared Cohn, is possibly a bit too prolific? I kinda wish he would focus more on the project on hand and not worry so much about everything else. If he did even two or three films a year instead of five or six, the quality control may be a bit more followed through. I truly respect his work ethic, and some of his films, but I do wish he would slow that mustang down, Sally. I mean that as a positive statement, because his films look good (Director of Photography Pascal Combes-Knoke deserves a huge nod for that, too), from lighting and editing, but it’s the story quality that feels rushed.

I like the hats off to Russ Meyer in this film’s title, but I also appreciate the original name which is often referred to in the extras, Halloween Hell House. But fear not, it can still be used, as they have set it up so it can be a franchise if it catches on. And honestly, compared to what’s out there these days, it could and possibly should. But please, one film at a time! Who loves ya, baby?!




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