Sunday, February 4, 2024

Al Filo del Terror: On the Edge of Terror (1990) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

Armando Sanchez, alias El Griego, is a ventriloquist whose act has gotten stale. Instead of accepting the criticism, he gets mad and punishes his dolls. Despite his daughter Karlita's protests, he destroys one. Things don't improve, until he comes up with a sneaky idea-Griego dresses his daughter up as a new doll. It's a smash hit, but people soon become suspicious, and Griego becomes homicidal to protect his secret. But he's not the only one who's about to get violent, as his abused dolls are planning their revenge...

Al Filo del Terror (On the Edge of Terror) promises to be a horror centreing on ventriloquist dummies. A pretty ripe concept for the genre! And this film has a bit of a difference. It's the human master who's the bad guy, and the very much alive dolls are subject to his brutality. It's an interesting spin on things, and I was curious to watch, even if I was going in with Mexican VHS expectations.

The film starts off very quickly, with no real introduction to these living dolls, where they came from, or what their owner knows. Just BAM, they're alive, no questions asked. The ball gets rolling, showing an effective character portrait.

El Griego thinks of himself as famous, enough to the point where he insists assistants hold up mirrors for him at exactly the right angle. Because he's a star, don'tcha know. And yet his audience consists of about 20 chairs in a high school auditorium, half of them empty. And the audience he does have look about as interested as a paint-drying convention. except for one guy who's a little too entertained!

It's no wonder Griego's act isn't doing as well as it used to, because it is truly awful! It's embarrassing to watch him do these squeaky voices, lame jokes, coupled with the sour look he gives when a show doesn't land. Naturally he takes no blame, thinking it's everyone else's fault and lashing out. It's his ungrateful audience, the critics, etc. Obviously he didn't decline. Everyone must just have it out for him. And then there are the dolls themselves. Clearly they are the uncooperative ones! In fact, if the dolls are actually real living beings, that does beg the question of if Griego is even a ventriloquist at all!

This attitude is close to getting him fired if he can't breathe new life into his act. Eventually he hits upon the solution to all his troubles-Dress up his daughter and make her a new doll. Perfect! No-one will know the difference. The crazy thing is this actually works! Despite still only being a guy making silly voices, just with a new doll and a couple extra jokes, somehow this works well enough to even break into America! Yeah, I can imagine this Spanish speaking ventriloquist with his clown doll really setting the States alight.

Despite being an aging ventriloquist with severe anger issues, Griego is a surprise hit with the ladies! He's got one lover on the side, then tries his luck with others. There's also a would-be blackmailer, who digs his employer a body pit that comes in handy more than once, and Griego figures since there's room, BANG, so much for his blackmailer.

The other characters include Griego's brother-in-law (who I thought was his dad for most of the movie), who's aware of the guy's negatives, but is forced into his scheme (going so far as to call it a demonic fraud, and looking on sadly during the make-up process like the girl's being killed! Overstating it just a little), and ultimately meets a sticky end. Daughter Karlita is a sweet girl, who has a special bond with the dolls, yet is a little dopey and trusting. There's also an old maid(?), Karlita's friend, and a few women, including a plucky journalist. I was a little confused who was who at times, which may be because I don't speak Spanish, and because some look the same. Maybe it's the film itself, who knows.

And the dolls are a friendly bunch, and slow to anger, but when they cut loose they'll roast and slime you!

You're probably wondering after all this how this is a 'killer doll' movie, when I've barely mentioned them. That's because they barely appear! Despite an early introduction, they vanish for large swathes of movie, and it's only in the final minutes when they enact their revenge. It's a shame, because that's the movie at its most bonkers, with dolls spitting fire and slime at their tormentor. They're so powerful it makes you wonder why they didn't do this 80 minutes sooner!

Besides this, Al Filo's biggest problem is that it would've been fine at 70-75 minutes, but the 92 minute runtime leaves the movie full of fluff and dead air. You could cut out so many scenes that accomplish nothing, and be left with a much tighter film. Instead it takes forever before anything horrific or crazy happens. It's the middle act which suffers the most. By the end, Edge of Terror feels like a perfectly adequate, if overlong drama about a crazed artist and his daughter, that the makers decided to turn into a killer doll film, but didn't change enough to compensate.

The film borders on black comedy, like one part where Karlita is trying to calm her friend's suspicions. See, her father is a good guy, not as bad as he seems...before immediately cutting to him punching his brother-in-law! For the heinous crime of removing his daughter's make-up. Because it's only logical to wear clownface 24/7!

Interestingly, Al Filo has a somewhat del Toro style flourish. With the 'ugly monsters' being friendly and persecuted, little girls as the heroes(ish), and a brutish human who proves to be the real villain. This is the kind of story I could totally see him remaking! While we're on the subject, that does make for an interesting topic, seeing these VHS-based Mexican horror flicks from the 90s, and comparing them to Del Toro's feature debut Cronos! In terms of quality these obviously don't compare, but they share a nice co-existence. It's little films like this that led the way.

While Al Filo may not be the best at showing scale, it's the dolls that are the most important thing to nail. So does the movie succeed? In a way. They're clearly people, but the make-up is good, and the pyrotechnics at the end are pretty neat.

The acting is ok, with Fernando Almada giving a strong lead performance. Karla Talavera is a cutiepie, and everyone else does fine. Dwarf actors must be so grateful for weird horror movies. Because while they may yearn for audiences to accept them in normal roles, they know horror has always had room for 'em! Are you making a film with aliens, trolls, mutant elves, or killer dolls? You know who's on hand to help! As with Herencia Diabolica (and Munecos Infernales if we go further back) it is a little weird when the dolls are portrayed by real people, but they do fine jobs, despite the goofy voices.

Al Filo del Terror is an interesting little horror, but doesn't quite get there in the end, and is a bit of a bore in places. Worth watching if you're really into Mexican horror, or killer doll films! Besides that it can be skipped...

This post is for The Shortening, a blogathon set up by Emily of  The Deadly Dolls House of Horror Nonsense.

Friday, February 2, 2024

Herencia Diabolica: Diabolical inheritance (1993) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

Mexican horror has had its highs and lows. The monster and luchador pictures of the 50s and 60s are definitely a high! The 90s on the other hand? Well, you can guess their cinema had declined a fair bit! This was the VHS phase, where budgets had been stripped to an absolute minimum. In this environment comes Herencia Diabolica, or Diabolical Inheritance.

A businessman and his pregnant wife move into a new home, where they find a clown doll, belonging to the now-deceased old owner. Strange things soon begin happening, and the doll shows a life of its own, and when the wife discovers the secret, she is killed. Years later Tony and his son still live in the house, and he soon remarries. But the cycle begins again when she too realises what's happening and tries to stop it. Making her the doll's new target...

Herencia Diabolica has been called the Mexican Child's Play, and really it's pretty different, but the general vibe is there. A kids' doll is wreaking havoc, and the only ones who suspect are next on the chopping block. It gets off to an alright start. A bit slow, but we soon get a big setpiece where the apparent heroine is terrorised by the nefarious doll, and...killed!

It definitely feels like the movie peaks early. So where can it go from here? Behind of course. We sit through a semi-montage of the guy being a morose widower, raising their kid, meeting a new woman and falling in love again, and getting married.

It's here when the film begins to repeat itself. The new wife notices something's amiss with the doll. These scenes are broken up with things like a riveting visit to a petting zoo, where the towering sight of a King Kong sculpture is the closest thing to scary. It's 46 minutes in before we finally get something new, when the wife attempts getting rid of the doll.

It was at the hour mark when I was just about ready to yell at the screen "Is anything actually gonna damn happen in this movie?!". Just think of what we could've got! Investigation into the doll's history, escalation of the doll's antics, more than one murder in the first hour. Instead we just get repetition,, and people talking. Nothing interesting either. Even if you understand Spanish their dialogue amounts to mundane comments about taxes or the day's weather.

At one point Herencia becomes pretty hallucinatory, and almost verges on a Mexican version of Black Devil Doll from Hell, right down to the shot-on-video look (although this looks more like a 'real film' than that at least).

The final act does get fun again (with a lynching murder being a highlight), but it's basically just the first setpiece, but a little bigger, and ends in pretty much the same way. Nothing stops the doll, and the girl dies, again! How many wives is this guy gonna lose before he realises it's the doll! The movie ends on a bit of a downer, and one that isn't really any different to what's been seen before, so it's not even fresh.

The end credits are pretty amusing, keeping up the doll's evil laughing till the screen goes black. It must have given the pint-sized actor a sore throat!

The cast here is pretty amateurish in some ways, but they get the job done. Some line deliveries and reactions are pretty cheesy. The best performance is Margarito Esparza as the evil doll Payasito. He gets some great evil grins and cackles! He has a pretty fun presence too, running around energetically. It's he who really carries the movie, and without him it'd be dead in the water.

Herencia Diabolica is directed by Alfredo Salazar of all people. He wrote a few Santo entries, the Wrestling Women series, Mexican Batwoman, and was also the occasional director, helming weird western El Charro de las Calaveras! Most of his work was in the 70s, with a quiet period of over 10 years before Herencia, his final film.

The score is one of the film's best qualities! It's a bit cheesy, but effective and varied. We've got quieter ominous tunes, bombastic ones, tender character bits, and more. As well as a focus on ambient noises in places. It gets the job done in building a good atmosphere.

The effects here are cheap, but decent. The make-up/costume for the doll is colourful and a little hard to take seriously, but that only makes it more fun to watch! One thing I really loved was the studio logo sequence that begins the film! It's endearingly cheap, but also visually neat! Who doesn't love an Aztec pyramid, some lush greenery, and tribal fluting to open a movie. It's especially nice seeing reminders of Mexico's indigenous past in their media.

Herencia Diabolica is a movie that was alllmost good! In a cheesy z-grade trash sorta way, but good all the same! But it squanders its potential, and is a pretty boring watch.

This post is for The Shortening, a blogathon set up by Emily of  The Deadly Dolls House of Horror Nonsense.

The Hoboken Chicken Emergency (1984) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

The New Jersey city of Hoboken is in the midst of a crisis. Thanks to a trucking dispute, there may be no turkeys for Thanksgiving! Young lad Arthur is sent out by his dad to find a turkey before the shortage really kicks in. Instead a slight detour takes Arthur to the residence of a mad scientist, who's more than willing to give the boy a live chicken for the money...with a difference. No. 73, aka Henrietta, is a 10 foot chicken. Despite his surprise Arthur takes his new pet home, and they bond quickly. But will his parents accept her? And how will the rest of the community react?...

The Hoboken Chicken Emergency is an amazingly titled TV movie, based on a book. This is chintzy 80s TV in the best way, from the Scott Joplin soundalike music, to the almost-pantomime effects, and the kooky characters, right down to the VHS/channel bumpers. The story is basic and silly. It doesn't require you to turn your brain on, although this sense of childlike logic does make you wonder a few things!

When protagonist Arthur is out looking for a turkey, he notices a feathery commotion up a few stories, involving a strange man hanging out the window. So he decides it'd be a smart idea to go up and investigate! Thankfully he's not in a horror movie, and meets up with a mad scientist. Because of course they frequent New Jersey, and if you haven't seen 'em you're just not going to the right places. There he manages to walk away with a 266 pound superchicken for only $20 bucks! Might not've been what he wanted, but that's a great bargain!

Despite initial skepticism Arthur and Henrietta quickly become friends, and he even teaches her how to use a slide, and calms her down during a few local panics. But it's when he's forced by his father to take her back, and she escapes that the chaos really begins.

No-one in the film questions the existence of a giant chicken, and react as if a monster is on the loose, even coming up with an unflattering nickname. Henrietta feels very distressed by this, and begins vandalising the town in response. Kicking cars, knocking over bins, smashing windows, etc. So what's a town to do when tormented by mutant fowl? Well they try the Jaws route, hiring an out-of-town fixer, leading to a zany failed scheme. But it's Arthur who comes up with the winning idea, with the scientist's help. All Hoboken must do is remind Henrietta that she's a loved and valued part of the community! Naturally. They do this with emblazoned shirts, and billboards saying things like 'Have you hugged your chicken today?'.

This is enough to bring the community closer and warm them to Henrietta, ending her rampage. And there's a heartfelt reunion between a boy and his chicken, complete with multiple slow-motion replay. It's a schmaltzy conclusion, and one that may leave you groaning or clapping.

Peter Billingsley is a mixed lead. Some of his line deliveries are pretty bad, with awkward pauses. But others are decent, and he overall has a decent screen presence. You can totally see this as like an extended dress rehearsal for A Christmas Story! So fans of that movie, you owe much to Hoboken Chicken Emergency! The parents do fine, as does Clive Revill as the mad scientist. One of his disguises might be a little...questionable, but at least he's not actually in yellowface! Dick van Patten is fine as the shifty mayor, and Gabe Kaplan shows up for a short role. Alice Ghostley narrates the film, acting as though she's intimately acquainted with events, despite only having a couple of short scenes. And Henrietta plays her part well. Chickens are talented actors after all!

The effects here are...exactly what you'd expect on a TV budget! The opening credits look like they were drawn in crayon and put through a cheap slideshow. While other effects are fake, deliberately so. Giant chicken Henrietta is the main attraction, and she is suitably goofy. I don't think convincing is exactly the right word to describe her, but you can't deny it is a giant chicken! And it's well-designed, and just cheesy enough, but not too much of a joke.

The Hoboken Chicken Emergency is a cute little time waster, running at an easy 55 minutes. Nothing amazing, and very silly, but if you're after a zero-budget kids movie about giant chickens rampaging across New Jersey, this is perhaps your only chance. So enjoy!...

This post is for The Shortening, a blogathon set up by Emily of  The Deadly Dolls House of Horror Nonsense.