SHUDDER AND SHRIEK: killer pants, a killer game, a forbidden attic, and a soul collector

Shudder has consistently managed to bring new content to its service slowly but steadily throughout the pandemic, which sort of ensures that you’ll watch everything there is to offer since your aching for more each week. So how did these four turn out for me?

SLAXX (2020)

If you tell me there’s a movie about a pair of pants running around, the first thing I’m going to think of is the Dr. Seuss story “What Was I Scared Of?”, which totally failed to teach me not to be scared of disembodied pants, thankfully.

Running just 77 minutes long, Slaxx is a fun little indie horror comedy that entertains with some laughs, some camp, and some gore, but isn’t exactly wild enough to be a total blast.

It’s actually a bit understated considering its silly premise, and the commentary embedded in the overdrawn explanation as to why the pants have become murderous kind of kills the fun in the final act.

The story focuses on a clothes store that is about to announce the first gender inclusive jeans that form-fit to any body. I was really expecting a fun, “woke” killer plot line based on that introduction, but that specific detail becomes irrelevant, and the pants simply go on a killing spree.

The film really does walk a surprisingly straight line between standard “slasher” and over-the-top midnight movie rather than going, say, the Attack of the Killer Donuts route, which it easily could have done.

Most of the kills are relativity tame, with just a few really delivering on the buckets of blood. Hell, late in the film it’s even mentioned that basically everyone in the store was killed by the pants—off screen! I have to wonder why we weren’t treated to a bloody massacre in a denim dungeon of death?

STAY OUT OF THE FUCKING ATTIC (2020)

The title really says it all, and thankfully, the film delivers on what you’d expect. There’s something freaky in the attic. And also in the basement.

If you like this kind of movie, you’ll be very satisfied, because it’s done right, but it’s also as derivative as they get.

Three workers—all ex-cons trying to turn their lives around—come to a mansion to do a job for an eccentric old man. He gives them specific instructions not to go in the attic or the basement. Uh-oh.

They find signs of some strange stuff going on before even venturing that far, but they decide to stick with it. And then they find more evidence of troubling occurrences in the mansion.

Deformed humanoids, experiments, a Nazi past—you’ve seen it all before, but when it’s done effectively with good effects and atmosphere plus some surprises, it’s always enjoyable enough. I just have to wonder when the old Nazi experiments backstory is going to stop be phased out as a go-to trope.

GAME OF DEATH (2017)

A killer board game splatter flick, Game of Death is simply a stylish, exploitative, fun gore fest that isn’t trying to be suspenseful or scary.

The bizarre opening, featuring kids hanging by a pool, incorporates scenes of male masturbation, cunnilingus, and an old drag queen watering a lawn while simulating cunnilingus. If only all that sexual debauchery carried through the rest of the film.

The kids find an old board game with one simple rule—kill 24 people before the timer runs out or they will begin dying one by one.

They learn it’s more than just a game when someone’s head simply explodes. Ah. The kind of family fun Monopoly could never deliver.

And so comes a moral dilemma for each character as the kids go on a killing spree and some of them start to wimp out. That’s it. That’s the movie. There’s enough head exploding to make Scanners jealous, plus plenty of bloodshed that spares a head here and there, as well as some quirky animated sequences meant to appeal to the geek and video game crowds.

THE SOUL COLLECTOR (2019)

When you water it all down, The Soul Collector is basically a story of a white family being terrorized by a Black man. And it isn’t in a satisfying revenge way for something awful the whities did to him. He is really just victimizing them for his own personal gain. WTF?

Overall it’s a good horror plot, so I think it might have been better from a social awareness stance in these troubled times in which we live if the family he targeted had simply been a Black family, but it is what it is. So how’s the horror?

A man, his wife, and his daughter come to an old farmhouse he inherited from his late father. An older Black man who roams the woods shows up and says he used to work for the father, befriends the daughter, and is given a shed to stay in by the family. Little do they know he is in need of souls to pay back a supernatural debt.

Personally, this slow burn just didn’t give me any feeling of dread, and I didn’t find it frightening or suspenseful. The man carries around a sack with something in it, and naturally that something begins coming out.

I love the concept, but the something is not as creepy once it’s out of the bag. And since there are only three people in the family, this is one of those films loaded with faux promises of something about to happen before simply cutting to the next scene without delivering on anything because we need what few characters there are to stick around for a while. Which begs the question, if the man needs souls, why has he set his sights on a small family when there’s a whole village of his peers nearby getting all up in his business? Feed their meddling asses to the damn bag!

The film is padded with occult practices in the woods and plenty of exposition about the curse, and eventually the family is drawn into the rituals, but I didn’t find any of it compelling enough to keep up the momentum. Plus, it was pretty much all over for me when the daughter landed in another dimension.

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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