Dircted by Marcel Walz
I’m one of the relatively few critics that dug last year’s Blind. A camp delight from start to end, it took viewers into the world of corny music videos – where everyone owns a disco ball, and a visually impaired woman has a house full of candles. It was so very extra – a musical equivalent of cheesecake, baked with a delicious mix of melodrama, stalk and slash and dancing. So, you can imagine I was delighted to learn original director Marcel Walz and writer Joe Knetter are back with a more slasher style sequel: Pretty Boy.
Yes, The Ken Doll mask-wearing killer returns. Don’t worry if you’ve not seen the first – we get a handy, if surprisingly lengthy, highlight reel at the beginning (for a film in which many think nothing happens, it sure takes a while to summarise). Then, picking up where Blind left off, with him having kidnapped his onscreen idol Faye, our killer carries her out of her home and ends up stumbling across a party where people drink, have sex and, erm, play charades. Appropriately it’s themed around the 1980s and taking place on the most romantic day of the year: Valentine’s. Among our guests, we have a pink-haired trust-fund kid who works with a record company, the performer with a tragic backing story he wants to entice and a girl who decides mid fornication she doesn’t want to cheat on her boyfriend. Luckily there’s a butchers knife handy, so Pretty Boy can take them out stalk and slash style. If you think this sequel sounds a little different, then you’re right – this is probably more like what many of the disappointed audience thought they were getting themselves in for the first time.
Still, Pretty Boy has much the same DNA: the intentionally trashy dialogue, the glitzy Hollywood sets, the Argento lighting and even a welcome recycled musical cue. Still, those who loved Blind may not love this one as much, though I think the people who hated it will hate this one less. The tone is way darker, particularly in the second half, where it makes an unexpected turn and becomes a different type of horror. We’re not talking a From Dusk Till Dawn turn here – it’s still an old school slasher. But it loses a lot of its charm, becoming something altogether darker. Later sections let us know more about the man behind the mask, which is probably the right move since he was faceless before. But the long-winded dialogue and unnecessary cruelty make it way less fun than its predecessor. I’m all for dark horror films, but I don’t think this is the right franchise for one that gets this dark. Yet I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t effective and conceptually engaging. It just made me miss the movie where a guy in a fabulous white suit, covered in blood, boogies to an exposition-heavy tune or two.
It’s a shame, as the first two acts are enjoyable, with much better pacing than Blind. Pretty Boy scores more kills in the first half-hour than he did in the entire of Blind, with the standout involving a couple mid-coitus. Jason would be proud. Some of the dialogue drags, and one gets the feeling that Walz and Knetter need to enter their scenes later and exit faster. The characters also pair off early on, meaning the movie lacks the group dynamics that make films like Friday the 13th so enjoyable (an excellent reference to the round the campfire story trope notwithstanding). Still, the often ostentatious characters meet the premise well – props to the creative team for making an often heteronormative subgenre more inclusive too, with LGBT+ representation. And though they’re there to be taken out, each at least has some personality, and a couple of them are afforded more psychological depth than I was expected. Not that I was sad to see them go – this is a gleeful slasher after all. The real star of the show though is Sarah French, returning as Faye.
While she has almost nothing to do for half an hour or so, Faye is a good avatar for the audience, who will likely be as confused as her by the end. The situation is nasty enough, to begin with, but she conveys the terror of not even being able to see what’s happening during them. Jed Rowen, who is mute, acts well with his body – showing a more interesting conflict in his character than I was reasonably expecting. He’s creepy as heck, but there’s also a real vulnerability and submissiveness to him. It’s these facets I hope to see more of in any further sequels – please, please, please. I could be massively in the minority, but while I can’t give it a rating, or at least none that would be meaningful to readers no matter what they thought of Blind, I’d love more: even if I urge Walz and Knetter to try a sweeter recipe again, who can resist another piece of cheesecake? Let’s make this a new franchise, as well as a FrightFest tradition.