In certain fashionable circles, fashion has a romantic image as something worth bleeding and suffering for. Horror, as the mischievous younger brother of all cinematic genres, has literalized that aesthetic: “Killer clothing” occupies its own space as a horror subgenre, even though it crosses over with other subgenres, like slashers, ghost stories, monster movies, and Italian surrealism. Elza Kephart’s movie Slaxx, now streaming on Shudder, is just the latest addition to the collection. It’s slim-cut, tongue-in-cheek, and nasty when necessary; as minutes tick away and the body count climbs, the sheer preposterousness of the plot, hinging on a literally killer pair of pants, becomes endearing. Viewers will likely even cheer for the pants against phony activist capitalism.
Slaxx is unique in the sense that horror hasn’t produced many films where clothing attains free will and sinister purpose. It isn’t the only horror movie of its sort, but it is one of few. But looking back to the 1980s, it’s possible to put together a proper line of evil apparel, from jackets to dresses to shawls to shoes. The niche is small, and it’s never been especially fashionable compared to horror’s other brands, but these films add up to one unforgettable wardrobe.
About that killer-pants movie: It rules, hard. Look, any movie whose logline boils down to “clothes that actually slay” is silly on a molecular level, and if you can’t appreciate that kind of movie not in spite of the silliness, but because of the silliness, you have no reason to watch them. But the sheer abandon with which Elza Kephart directs Slaxx and marshals its core theme through the wanton butchering of just about every member of its cast makes for great horror.
Set over the course of a night in a self-styled ethical fashion retailer, whose practices turn out to be not so ethical and whose managers happen to be avaricious prigs, Slaxx instills the concept of “sentient jeans on a rampage” with real meaning about the innate apathy of corporations guided by their bottom line. “Fair trade” sounds great for social-media ad campaigns, except that nothing’s fair when making money is the end game and human casualties are the price paid to win. You know what else sounds great? Watching vengeful trousers kick a gory hole through that smug, hollow ethos.
Slaxx is streaming on Shudder.
Quentin Dupieux, the multifaceted Parisian eccentric, makes movies that reject logic, so your mileage may vary with anything he does. But Deerskin’s fashion-forward slasher about male vanity sticks the landing: the more leather attire his protagonist, Georges (Jean Dujardin), acquires, the more his sanity splinters. One moment he’s soaking in his manly image in the mirror. The next, he’s talking to his fringe jacket about becoming the only person in the world to have a jacket, and bringing the dream to life by massacring everyone who doesn’t surrender their coat to him. The film refuses to explain either his mania or his murder spree, but that’s a feature instead of a bug. It’s enough that Georges’ rugged obsession turns into carnage. Go with it.
Deerskin is streaming on HBO Max.
“A provocation. For what else must one wear?” There are any number of reasons to watch Peter Strickland’s In Fabric, which frankly functions better as an ode to the work of Dario Argento than the Suspiria remake released the same year. But In Fabric star Fatma Mohamed might be the best reason of the bunch. Every line of dialogue Strickland’s screenplay gives her, she treats like a meal, like grandiloquent, baffling poetry meant to persuade her victims to purchase clothing they’re otherwise hesitant about.
Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) falls prey to Mohamed’s coaxing at the film’s start: Looking for a pick-me-up after hard days on the job as a bank teller, she walks out of department store Dentley and Soper’s with a possessed red dress. It moves on its own, agitates dogs when Sheila wears it, attempts to suffocate Gwendoline Christie mid-orgasm, and leads Sheila into a fatal car accident before moving on to its next owner, Reg (Leo Bill). In Fabric’s giallo roots and Strickland’s phantasmagoric filmmaking give gravity to a patently absurd idea. Both the dress and Mohamed are one of a kind.
The Red Shoes
No, not that The Red Shoes, or even the other The Red Shoes; this is South Korean filmmaker Kim Yong-gyun’s 2005 take on the old Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a pair of shoes that force their wearer to dance. In this version, the shoes torment whoever wears them with terrifying hallucinations. They also hack off their current owner’s feet, and no matter how hard people try to get rid of them, they always come back. The big question hanging over The Red Shoes is “Or do they?” But really, that can’t dampen the novelty of footwear gorily killing people, even if the film is, for the most part, uneven and in desperate need of cohesion.
The Red Shoes is available to stream on Kanopy.
Technically, clown suits count as clothing, right? Birthday clowns play dress-up as part of their vocation; gaudy striped pants and a polka-dot vest comprise an outfit. So Clown, a movie about a devoted dad slowly turning into a child-eating abomination courtesy of demonic metamorphosis, qualifies. No one would wear clown clothes and call it fashion, but they would wear a dead animal’s skin, so it’s the grimmest of punchlines that the skin of an Icelandic demon starts the unsuspecting main character’s transformation from man to fiend. Eleven years after release, Clown feels like a real win for writer-director Jon Watts and his cowriter, Christopher Ford; the whole thing started as a fake trailer for an Eli Roth movie that Eli Roth had no knowledge of or involvement with, then became an actual feature film. Now, years later, Watts is directing Spider-Man movies. Quite the leap.
Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II
A sequel in name only to the 1980 slasher Prom Night, Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II isn’t entirely about killer clothing; it’s about a killer prom queen whose wicked spirit, in one particularly memorable scene, kills a side character with a cape. That said, the discovery of an old prom outfit is the film’s inciting incident: Decades prior to Hello Mary Lou’s events, Mary Lou Maloney (Lisa Schrage) is crowned queen of her high school prom, then burned to a crisp in a stink-bomb prank gone wrong.
When kids in the film’s present day stumble on her gown, sash, and crown, her ghost wakes up and starts going around getting kids dead, including lynching Jess (Beth Gondek) using the cape as the rope. It’s a tense, inventive, surprisingly sad sequence, and possibly the only one of its kind in the whole horror canon. If superheroes shouldn’t don capes for their own safety, maybe we should do away with capes as prom accessories just in case their wearers’ wraiths think of using them as murder weapons.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks
A bit of a cheat, perhaps, since Bedknobs and Broomsticks isn’t a horror movie, it’s a family-friendly fantasy movie. (In case it isn’t clear by now: none of the other movies on this list are safe family viewing.) But this film’s idea of “family-friendly fantasy” concludes with animated suits of armor and military uniforms ganging up on Nazis. Bedknobs and Broomsticks’ “Substitutiary Locomotion” musical number predates Harry Potter’s Piertotum Locomotor spell by 36 years on paper and 40 years on screen, and while that spell is technically used to fight off fascists, watching wizarding fascists get chased off by statues isn’t anywhere near as satisfying as watching actual fascists get chased off by plate mail to the dulcet sound of Angela Lansbury’s singing voice.
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