There’s nothing original about the latest trio of films I checked out from various horror subgenres, but do they deliver and chills and thrills nonetheless?
THE CHANGED (2021)
I’m guessing a decision was made to distribute this movie only if the poster art made it appear that it is a zombie film—Tony Todd with zombie eyes, bluish hands reaching towards a main character. Nothing indicative of what occurs in the film.
This is more like Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets They Live…without the pods, the glasses, or the excitement. We are tossed right into the gist of the plot, with our main guy telling his neighbor (played by Tony Todd) that everyone everywhere has been acting weird lately, and he’s convinced it’s some government conspiracy. Tony Todd’s response is…weird.
Very quickly we learn that people are indeed “changing” after other people forcefully kiss them. There are definitely metaphors for sexual assault and STDs in there. Unfortunately we don’t get to see a man-on-man conversion, but we do almost get girl-on-girl kissing action, but there’s a cutaway before it can happen. Yay!
Anyway, after some fleeting glimpses of figures running by the camera, which sets this up to be scary, the entire movie becomes about our leading man, his wife, and their teen neighbor holding Tony Todd hostage in an effort to get him to confess why he and others are changing. I imagine the reason there are no special effect is because they had to pay Tony Todd most of their budget to get him to stay strapped to a chair for a whole movie.
Todd’s big monologue is straight out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers—just give in and you’ll never have to worry about feeling anything again. There are other “changed” people that lurk outside the house, but there’s simply no tension or suspense here. You’ve seen it all before, done better.
THE LURKING FEAR (2023)
This is an incredibly derivative film and has a slow start, but if you like these kinds of movies and haven’t seen one in a while, you might just find it satisfying.
So what kind of movie is it? It’s not found footage, but it is about a TV crew filming a documentary at an abandoned mental institution where a mad scientist experimented on patients. There are just a few flashback sequences to establish that backstory, then there’s a bunch of blah blah blah in the present day to cement the story. Highlight? The host dude is hot.
About 40 minutes into this 80-minute movie, we get to the point—there are slightly mutated human cannibals still living in the basement of the mental institution, and our main characters are trapped inside with them. CHUD!
There’s some suspense and plenty of gore and torture, but I’m just a bit too numbed to this subgenre to be impacted by any movie that doesn’t make things super terrifying. On top of that, I have to wonder if twists are really twists when you’ve seen those exact twists dozens of times before….
HAPPY BIRTHDAY (2023)
This film seems to be trying too hard to rise above the simplicity of slashers…by overthinking how to present the basics of slashers, resulting in totally diluting the slasher aspects. This could have been called Happy Birthday to Me (the killer literally writes that on a wall in blood), but that title is a staple of the slasher genre so they didn’t dare go there.
There are two stories going on here. One has a group of friends heading to a house in the woods for a birthday celebration.
The other story, presented sporadically in flashbacks with muted gray tones so we know it’s flashbacks, takes place in the same house, where the treatment by a sleazy stepdad causes a mentally ill teen to unravel when she comes home from a mental institution to celebrate her birthday.
In the present day we get some classic 80s slasher elements—couple goes off to have sex, killer tears off the main girl’s blouse so she’s running around in her bra, dude gets attacked while on the shitter.
The killer doesn’t wear a mask, however he did escape from a mental institution and uses sharp weapons to kill victims. The kills just aren’t very suspenseful. In fact, the absolute best death scene is when the crazy girl in the flashback finally snaps.
If there’s one unique element here, it’s that the killer didn’t escape the mental institution to start killing for his own selfish reasons. it’s a six degrees of slasher!