It is interesting that this Halloween week, the big horror release in cinemas is rated M18, while two films on Netflix are tagged R21 for gore. Horror is becoming tamer for mainstream cinema - see this year's hits It and Get Out - while television is fast turning into a sanctuary for those who like their scares raw and bloody.
Saw (2004) was a breakthrough, not because it was the first work of escape-room horror, as films such as Cube (1997) had come before, but because it was the first such movie to gleefully embrace torture porn.
Six sequels followed the first Saw movie (2005 to 2010) and while they were generally successful at the box office, freshness was leaking away because the format's tight structure - one reason for its success - was also creatively restrictive.
A seven-year break does not seem to have recharged the franchise's creative batteries. Jigsaw(M18, 92 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2 stars), the eighth in the series, is a recycled product.
An unseen person has locked five persons in a barn and death in the jaws of an elaborate machine awaits each person.
Meanwhile, detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and pathologists Logan (Matt Passmore) and Eleanor (Hannah Emily Anderson) race against time to see if the serial killer, John Kramer, alias Jigsaw, thought to be dead, is alive and building new flesh-ripping devices.
The plot, always cheerfully outlandish in the sequels, hits new levels of stridency trying to generate twists. Despite a couple of scenes that pay homage to the first movie, gone is the steady drizzle of gore, replaced by short bursts of violence.
The revitalised franchise is more teen-friendly but if, like this reviewer, you enjoy a good squirm, this Saw needs a good sharpening.
The knife that performs the dark deed in 1922 (R21, 102 minutes, now on Netflix, 3 stars) is plenty sharp.
A lean, slow-burn work of psychological horror based on the 2010 Stephen King novella, it opens in rural Nebraska where Thomas Jane as farmer Wilfred is sunburnt to a crisp and makes too many mumbly noises. But he is fairly good as a man chased by the aftermath of a ghastly deed.
Not much happens and much more could have been made of the rural Gothic atmosphere, but this tale of vengeance from beyond the grave is still strong enough to warrant a watch.
In contrast to 1922's grimness, there is the silly fun of slasher comedy The Babysitter (R21, 85 minutes, now on Netflix, 3.5 stars).
Director McG (Terminator Salvation, 2009; Charlie's Angels, 2000) leans heavily on caricature and overstatement.
In the case of this film, a goof on Home Alone (1990) and Scream (1996), his style - campy, with a touch of sadism - is a good fit.
Awkward teen Cole (Judah Lewis) has overprotective parents who hire attractive babysitter Bee (Australian actress Samara Weaving) when they go away. The pair get along well, until one night, when he spies his guardian performing dark deeds downstairs.
There are a few good pop-culture gags here, but it is the strong central performances of Weaving as the hottie and Lewis as the nerd that elevate this to more than just an exercise in ironic B movie-making.
For blood and guts of a different kind, there is Patti Cake$ (NC16, 106 minutes, opens today at The Projector, 3.5 stars), a heartwarmer about a girl trying to make it in the man's game of hip-hop that has won acclaim at the Cannes and Sundance film festivals.
Patricia "Dumbo" Dombrowski has three strikes against her: She is a white, plus-sized woman trying to break into a rap world that treats her as a joke.
That is not the only thing holding her back: Patti is broke and caring for a borderline abusive alcoholic mother and wheelchair-bound grandmother.
Australian actress Danielle Macdonald is funny and endearing as Patti, the New Jersey girl who feels every putdown hurled her way, then channels her rage and yearning into the art form that feeds her soul.
• There will be a launch party for Patti Cake$ today from 6pm at The Projector, featuring women rappers, DJs and dancers.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2017, with the headline 'Horror pales on the big screen'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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