One of the most impressive feats I’ve come across in indie film-making in recent years is the creation of a shared slasher universe by British production company Mycho Entertainment.
Created by director and producer MJ Dixon, the company's first feature film, Slasher House was released back in 2012 and introduced viewers to the Red Angel, a slasher hunter, and a host of psychotic villains who would each go on to get their own spin-off movies.
First came 2014’s Legacy of Thorn, featuring and expanding on the mythology of the hulking masked killer who first appeared in Dixon’s short film, Thorn back in 2009.
Then came Cleaver: Rise of the Killer Clown, a spot-on homage to classic slasher Halloween and a fantastic chiller in its own right. Released simultaneously with Cleaver was the micro-budget psychological thriller, Hollower, starring everybody's second-favourite cenobite, Nicholas Vince. This was a film so good, so genuinely unnerving that it landed a well-deserved place on my Top 10 Horror Movies of 2016.
This weekend’s Horror-on-Sea festival sees the big screen premiere of Dixon’s return to the tale that launched it all — Slasher House II, another adventure with the tough as nails Red and Mycho’s biggest and most ambitious film to date.
Can it continue the run of hits?
SLASHER HOUSE II (2017)
Dir: MJ Dixon
Stars: Francesca Louise White, Luna Wolf, Sophie Portman, Jamie B. Chambers, Sam Cullingworth, David Hon Ma Chu, Wellington Grosvenor, Tiana Rogers, Bam Goodall, Jason Impey
SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I’ll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.
Red (White, taking over the role from the original Slasher House’s Eleanor James) is still hunting her father, The Demon (Chambers), the nightmarish serial killer who slaughtered her family. Aided by tech-savvy assistant Luse (Portman), she investigates a number of murders, hoping each one will lead her to her nemesis.
It is on one of these cases, during which she faces the panda-masked Stripper Ripper, Jacob Jakushi (David Hon Ma Chu), that she saves the life of stripper Amber (Wolf), an individual who goes on to become a valuable ally in Red’s mission for revenge.
After crossing paths with a team of heavily armed operatives obsessed with capturing slashers for their own nefarious purposes, Red once again finds herself in a series of pitched battles against a host of monstrous adversaries — ranging from the hulking, cybernetically enhanced MoleMan (Cullingworth) to the decaying, skeletal Gravestone (Goodall) — each leading her one step closer to the truth about the mysterious Slasher House…
THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): The one thing that has truly struck me with each of Dixon’s Mychoverse movies to date is his strong visual style. Think slashers by way of Argento, with a crisp, striking colour palette, all blood reds and other-worldly greens.
Slasher House II takes his unique, anime style to the next level, with the bright wigs of both the female lead characters, Red and Amber, making them look more like manga heroines than live-action characters. The villains also have a host of striking looks, with The Stripper Ripper’s oversized panda mask bearing more than a passing resemblance to Afro Samurai’s nemesis Kuma, and MoleMan looking like he walked straight out of the pages of a D.C. comic book.
With even more money spent on this movie than his previous, already very impressive-looking films, the fruits of Dixon’s labours are clear to see. As well as enhanced production values in the look of the film, it’s also reflected in some ambitious effects sequences from Bam Goodall (the Gravestone puppet is very cool indeed, while the scenes with Molly Bannister’s, ahem, friends are another triumph) and some great fight choreography.
This marks a new kind of Mychoverse movie, combining the visceral horror of Dixon’s previous efforts with a more action-packed, Blade-esque feel.
There are some really quite excellent action sequences in which the very capable White shows some impressive martial arts moves — but that’s not all she brings to the table. She is a good actress and delivers some great one-liners with a snarky, world-weary ease that makes her Red a very different character to James’s helpless amnesiac from the previous film, a characterisation decision that eliminates comparisons between the two actresses. She’s great, and I for one would be glad to see her continue in the role for Red’s subsequent adventures.
Wolf also impresses, starting in a role which acts as audience surrogate, before bringing some nice humanity and humour to some of the movie’s later, heavier scenes. Obviously she’s very easy on the eye, but she’s also got an inherent likeability that marks her out as one to watch. She’s a real find and I hope she continues to work with Dixon and company.
Equally talented is the wonderful Ms Portman. Sadly she doesn’t have as much screentime as the other two leading ladies, but she does make the most of what she has.
Opposite our heroic femmes fatales, Chambers does excellent work as the lead antagonist, bringing a chilling line delivery to his physically daunting performance.
Equally imposing is the hulking Cullingworth who doesn’t just look the part, he backs it up with a surprisingly witty performance and quickly establishes a fun rapport with White.
Of course, the cast are helped by the fact that they have such a strong script with which to work. Dixon writes fine dialogue and tells a suitably satisfying story that successfully builds, expands and even encourages viewers to revisit Slasher House. It comes with some excellently worked twists and turns, while the non-linear structure adds some intriguing depth to the storytelling process.
I love the fact that this is a movie that completely builds on the whole Mychoverse mythology, faithfully including some nice shoutouts to its predecessor while blowing the whole story wide open to make a bigger, more complex world in which he can spin further stories. Bravo sir!
Speaking of these stories, viewers of the previous movie will be well aware that several of the villains of the original Slasher House received their own spin-off films. So, even though we’ve had no official confirmation yet, it’s probably safe to assume that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of some of these new movie maniacs.
So does this second wave of villains hold up? Do they warrant their own flicks? The answer is a resounding ‘YES’.
Each deserves their own movie, but I’d be especially keen to see Molly’s backstory, while a serial-killer James Bond movie with a globetrotting Jacob Jukushi would be awesome.
However, the movie I’d most love to watch is an expanded version of the scenes we were shown with the teens who accidentally awaken Gravestone. Those scenes were so marvellously executed, poking gentle, loving fun at old-fashioned slasher flicks that Dixon would only need to build on those to create a must-watch slasher/comedy. Fingers crossed!
It is Dixon’s incorporation of (and clear love towards) the subject matter that is arguably the film’s greatest strength. Dixon is one of us, a fan of horror, sci-fi and action, and all the cool genre-blenders that combine these. He makes the sort of movies that he wants to watch, films by a fan, for the fans.
With well-executed homages combined with exciting new developments, the Mychoverse is a love-letter to the genre… and Slasher House II might just be the best example yet.
THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): The biggest problem that Slasher House II is going to pose to the casual fan is that it very much relies on the viewer being familiar with the original movie, the characters and the existing mythos surrounding the shadowy 'Slasher House'. If you haven’t seen it (or to a lesser extent the other Mychoverse movies), you’ll probably struggle to make sense of a lot of the film’s events.
Of course, this is only to be expected with a sequel, but it's worth reiterating here.
My recommendation? Watch the original flick, then the spin-off sequels, then Slasher House II. Trust me, you’ll appreciate it.
I suppose the next biggest problem is that, while this film marks a noticeable leap in production values, at times the film’s ambition does overreach its means a little. It is a very impressive effort, but if you're more used to shiny, larger budget wide-release horror such as Blumhouse’s output, this may seem a little rough around the edges.
Finally, for those long-term fans who are looking to get every last mystery explained and everything resolved with a neat little bow on top, be warned that this is just the next chapter in a far bigger and wider storyline. Those expecting resolution to any queries re: the Mychoverse will need to wait a little longer.
Nevertheless, with the steady improvement that Dixon is showing with each passing film, I'm sure the eventual conclusion will be more than worth the wait.
Finally, an argument could be made that this is the least 'scary' of the Mychoverse films. It does have its moments (those of you who get the heebie-jeebies from creepy dolls may want to look away), but maybe it isn't as frightening as some of Dixon's other films. Regardless, I'm going to go on record and say that it's certainly the most fun!
THE VERDICT: MJ Dixon is a talented director who has shown real skill and vision thus far in his career... and Slasher House II might just be his best film yet.
It's fun, witty, high-tempo and furthers the deep and rich mythos of the Slasher House universe. Think Blade II by way of Halloween with a little Anime thrown in for good measure.
I would recommend this movie just on Mycho's sheer ambition alone, but this is a genuinely good film in its own right and one I strongly implore you to check out as soon as possible.
In the meantime, check out the film's official Facebook page here. Give it a Like while you're there too, I'm sure the good folks over at Mycho would appreciate it!
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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.