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Brilliant Australian slasher that forever revokes the shame of Houseboat Horror...
As I've said before, it's an often-touted fact amongst those who know their horror movies that the Australians haven't exactly excelled themselves with the level of their output within the slasher genre. It's fairly ironic then that within the space of a month I've found two credible efforts that successfully manage to disprove that age-old fallacy. First I came across the creepy Cassandra, which mixed erratic photography and razor sharp editing to a surprisingly credible effect. Then I discovered the ambitiously restrained and meritoriously tense Symphony of Evil. Taking a large slice of Halloween's appetizing pie and filling the spaces with a few Hitchcockian nods just for good measure, this confident TV movie is perhaps one of the most commendable and long forgotten late entries to the stalk and slash cycle. It succeeds mainly because it chooses to follow the path of down to earth realism over farfetched gore and gratuitous shock tactics. For example, the heroine of the feature is not an archetypal buxom bimbo that's played simply for eye candy instead of character. She's a life-like young woman that finds herself in a tricky situation, which helps to give the film an undeniably naturalistic edge. Director Craig Nahiff also accepts with glee, the challenge of giving his female characters complete control of the script without relying on sexual overtones to make them appealing. There's no needless nudity or even any slight references towards it; and to be honest, it isn't something that's missed. Surprisingly enough, and adding further flame to the Film's girl power' agenda, the only male that's signifigant in the screenplay finds himself thrown at the mercy of his ex-wife (now there's a thought) in order to help him prove his innocence!
Symphony of Evil even boasts a classy score that's vaguely reminiscent of John Williams' theme from Oliver Stone's masterpiece JFK. After it plays over the credit sequence, we're thrown headfirst into the action. A car pulls up outside an apartment block in the middle of the night, and out steps a young student. She kisses her female partner goodbye, then heads up the staircase into the building. We also see that there's a suspicious looking character lurking around in the shadows trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible. Once inside her flat, the youngster takes off her coat and gets changed to the strains of a Rossini Symphony. Suddenly, there's a frantic knock at the door. She opens it and a masked stranger that's immediately (and rather obviously) reminiscent of Jamie Blanks' psycho from the tawdry Valentine - greets her. There's a brief struggle, but the maniac easily overpowers her, and the last thing we see is her body hurtle through a glass window and land with a thud on the cold hard concrete floor below, artistically splashing a small trickle of blood over a white rose in the shrubbery. The suspicious looking guy that was standing outside approaches the victim, and attempts to resuscitate her; but she struggles, which effectively makes him look like the culprit. This fact is further proven by a gang of spectators shouting, `Stop that man he's killing her' from their windows! The luckless fellow panics and legs it off into the night, grabbing a strange key that the girl was clenching tightly in her hand as he leaves.
Some time later, the victim's neighbour - Kate Martin () returns home to the scene, which by now is shrouded with Police cars and ambulances. It was her friend, Anna that we just saw assaulted, but luckily she's still alive (barely) and on her way to intensive care. Meanwhile, the local constabulary, who must've received their Law Enforcement training from the Salvation Army, (simply because they catch him about five times, only to mindlessly let him escape again), are pursuing the accused through some sewers. Down at the station, Detective Turner questions Kate and Anna's musical lecturer the emotionally overwrought DR. Steiner - who informs us that the girl was ambivalent about her desires' and also that she didn't have too many friends. Whilst at the Nick, Kate catches a brief peak of the artist's impersonation of the guy seen standing over the body, and she's a little more than surprised that it looks uncannily like her ex-husband
Kate returns to her apartment, where low and behold, the bloke who was framed for the violent attack visits her. It is of course Mike, her ex-hubby, who's much more loveable rogue than homicidal maniac, so us viewers know that he has just got to be in the clear. Unfortunately, he dropped that strange key down the drain, which has pretty much scrambled his chance of easily proving his innocence. He believes that Anna is the only one that can get him out of bother and asks Kate if he can borrow her car to get to the hospital. He even attempts to add a little charm, by remarking, `C'mon for old times sake.' His ex-Missus agrees, but doesn't let him leave without adding the sarcastic remark, `I hated the old times and the new ones aren't any better!'
Mike arrives at the hospital to try and put himself in the clear, but he isn't the only person that's decided on an after hours visit. The masked killer doing a very credible Michael Myers impersonation has also turned up, and let's just say, that Mike's illusions of being a free man have just been effectively shattered. Even more so, because an officer has just caught him inexplicably running away from the scene of the murder. I don't think that any amount of charm's going to get him out of this one! His ever-faithful ex-wife visits him, and reluctantly decides to help clear his name. Even if she does feel sympathetic concerning the fate of her ex-partner, the real reason that she intervenes is purely down to a dangerous curiosity that looks obvious to have strong repercussions on her own good self later in the runtime. Much of the following plot line is filled with clues and twists that I'd be bang out of order to spoil for you, so I'll just run through some of the highlights.
Remember that schoolyard urban legend about someone's neighbour that had his car stolen, only to have it returned a few day later? So the story went: upon searching the freshly delivered automobile, inside the victim a note and two opera tickets offered as an apology. Of course, whilst the unfortunate individual was basking in this opportunistic gift, the thief came back and rather brazenly burgled his house and re-claimed the car. The genius of course, was the fact that he knew exactly how long he had to commit the impeccably planned deed. Well judging by the year this was released, it could have been this smart psychopath that boosted that yarn into public awareness and caused it to be spun continuously throughout the world ever since. Yep, sure enough, between mimicking Mr Myers' habit of hiding behind washing lines and stalking Kate from the shadows whilst making a creepy point of holding a bright red rose in one hand, this cheeky maniac re-enacts that legend to perfection. He even goes as far as to turn up later at the opera and suspense-fully chase the heroine and her comical Johnny Cash loving buddy out of the theatre!
But for real nail biting suspense par excellence, nothing can beat the part in which the sword brandishing assassin murders Detective Turner. Check some of the photography as he pursues the baffled officer along a claustrophobic corridor and then slices her to shreds. The beauty of the sequence being that it is carried out with only the smallest drops of blood being spilled, a la John Carpenter - fantastic! Of course, the final scene is equally as impressive, utilising a great use of carefully built shock tactics and razor sharp tension as Kate finds someone's chilled out corpse in a Smokey freezer. There are also some of my favourite horror-fied objects littering the place too; I just can't see how those nightmare-inducing mannequins cannot terrify anyone!
One thing that I haven't yet mentioned about Nahiff's debut is the fact that it resolves around the classical music that the girls study, thus giving the director the chance to include some instantly recognisable operatic cuts that make for an authentic and undeniably agreeable ingredient. There are simply loads of other wonderful elements to appreciate about Symphony of Evil. These include: fairly comfortable performances from the effortlessly likeable leads, and more importantly, it looks like the director was well aware of his budget restrictions, but managed to spend the funds he had wisely and in the right places. For example, Frank Stragio's score does wonders to help create the atmosphere, which works because in the moments where not a lot happens, you're always aware, that something's just about too. Even though this may have lifted more than a slight nod of inspiration from Halloween and its follow-up (the killer stalking the hospital, the Michael Myers-alike disguise et cetera), it's probably one of the few efforts that almost comes close to sharing a slice of its glory.
Although the revelation of the killer's identity is hardly jaw dropping, there's really not much wrong with Symphony of Evil. It's filled with suspense, realistic characters and it has to be said, tonnes of cheesy antics! (Watch out for some of the dialogue between Kate and her humorous buddy!) This may be a tad too archetypal to share a perch with Halloween and Black Christmas, but it sits comfortably alongside such classics as Curtains, Terror Train and Intruder - yes, it is that good. Despite earning the respect to be trusted with bigger budgets from this offering, Nahiff never bettered his work on this atmospheric murder-mystery. Heaven's Burning was a so-so thriller that had the added bonus of starring Russell Crowe, and his most recent movie Black and White was promising, but hardly a worthy follow-up to such an ambitious debut. It just goes to show that bigger budgets don't always make better movies, and he found the perfect medium with this made for TV classic.
The only real problem to be found here, is the fact that you may have quite a struggle uncovering a copy. As far as I'm aware, it hasn't yet seen the light of day on DVD and it's unlikely that it ever will. That's a real shame, because I seriously can't recommend this enough even to the slightest fans of psycho-killer entertainment. If you like slasher movies, then you'll like Symphony of Evil there's really nothing else to it. Perhaps if this had been a bigger hit, Australia would've lost its reputation for being below par when it comes to horror filmmaking. It seems surprising that films like the insipid Houseboat Horror or the rancid Cut manage to live on in reputation, but a real treat like this disappears from the face of the planet? Still, I suggest you start up a favourite search on ebay and just hope that there are still a few copies floating around. That's where I got mine from and it only cost £1.99 a real bargain! This is well worth the effort of tracking down
Terror Night (1987)
Tough to track down, but surprisingly worth the efforts...
Lance Hayward's Terror Night was one of the surprisingly large amounts of slasher movies that inexplicably vanished from existence very soon after it was initially unleashed in the eighties. Actually, whilst trying unrewardingly to search out some information on the flick's production, I came across a statement from notorious B-movie mogul Fred Olen Ray - that said it never even acquired a US release. I guess that would of course, explain why it seems to have completely disappeared from cinema history. If it wasn't for the odd user comment posted on the IMDB or the fact that I managed to track down a copy (without a cover), I'd be inclined to believe that it was still laying in a vault somewhere, waiting for a label to pick it up for circulation. Information on whether or not it was shelved would be much appreciated from anyone who knows the facts of its history. I'm starting to believe that it may have surfaced briefly outside America only, which explains the reader's reviews and the fact that this copy has German subtitles. If that is the case, and it was withheld in its country of origin, then it's pretty hard to imagine a reason why it never gained the exposure it deserved. It really isn't all that bad; - certainly no worse than the majority of bottom-of-the-barrel genre-pieces that were appearing around '87. It's a damn site better than schlocksters like The Last Slumber Party or the incredibly awful Blood Lake turned out to be. And on top of that, it's a lot more authentic.
Nick Marino's splatter opus even boasts one or two alluring qualities that may have allowed it to reach cult status, if it was given the right chances. Firstly, legendary one-eyed filmmaker Andre De Toth supposedly shot a few scenes and offered his overall guidance to the director; and secondly it plays a great deal like a more successful and charmingly remembered horror film from the early eighties, Fade to Black. Although a few of the necessary trappings were firmly in place, FTB wasn't really a slasher movie by any length of chalk. It was mainly notable for a brief early appearance from Mickey Rourke, just before he hit the big time with Diner and Rumble Fish respectively. This on the other hand, is stalk and slash to the core; but chucks in a few winsome alterations to the traditional formula that I actually found fairly engaging. There's a few imaginative murders, some great disguises for the killer and even a brief cameo from grumpy old horror movie favourite, Cameron Mitchell. Amusingly enough, he's billed as the star, even though he turns up for two minutes and then disappears quicker than a rabbit with an amphetamine addiction. He later made a lucrative habit of showing up and sodding off in slashers like Memorial Valley Massacre and Jack-O. In fact, the only genre movies that he could have rightly been credited as any kind of lead were The Toolbox Murders and The Demon. At least in both of those, he actually bothered to hang around for more than a snippet of dialogue or two.
After a neat credit sequence that's deliberately modelled on those of late '20s cinema, (it even includes a corny 'rag-time' melody a la Al Jolson!), we leap headfirst into the action. We're shown a dilapidated mansion that once housed legendary Hollywood screen star Lance Hayward. Hayward was immensely popular in his day, starring in a number of successful hit-movies before he retired and disappeared into seclusion. Attempts to track down the actor's whereabouts have been unsuccessful. Some say that he relocated to Switzerland and changed his name, while others believe that he must have passed on to the big ol' silver screen in the sky. It's unlikely that he's still alive and kicking, as nowadays he would be over ninety years old. Due to the authority's failure to track him down, a real-estate agent and a Lawyer have arranged to meet at the property and negotiate the building's sale. They plan to demolish what's left of the once beautiful abode, so that they can use the space to develop something more useful than the ageing eyesore.
The first guy arrives a little early, so instead of waiting with the amiable 'security guard' (who really doesn't look too reassuring), he decides inexplicably to drive out into the dense forest that surrounds the grounds and wait amongst the trees. Of course, in a slasher movie, lone-trips into the woodland usually mean that someone's about to suffer a painful death; and this one certainly isn't trying to break the mould in that respect either. A psycho that's dressed in prohibition-era gangster attire, jumps out of the bushes and clumps the unlucky fellow on the back of the neck, effectively knocking him to the ground. He drags the unconscious guy over to a tree and ties his arms around the trunk, before attaching his legs to the rear bumper of his automobile. The luckless seller awakens just in time to learn that he's about to be ripped in half by a totally out of period Frank Nitti impersonator, with some serious animosities towards estate agents! The actual murder (which is nice and gooey) is intercut with stock footage that we later learn is a mix of scenes from Hayward's history of moviemaking. As in the tradition of Fade to Black, each murder is themed by one of his fictional screen credits; and he wears a prominent guise for each bloody deed.
The Lawyer arrives and the security guard stops him to reminisce about a flick called The Mobster and The Lady, in which Lance's character killed a 'rat' using exactly the same methods that we just saw rehashed on that decidedly unfortunate visitor. It's beginning to look like the star has returned to forcibly reclaim his property, and he's not willing to negotiate the sale possibilities with any money-snatching property-developers. But admittedly, his reappearance does kind of beg the question: If this guy's meant to be in his nineties, then I can't really see him being too much of an agile homicidal maniac. 'The psychotic geriatric' doesn't exactly sound terrifying, does it? I know that Michael Myers' slo-mo stalking was creepy, but maybe a Zimmer-frame is taking things just a little bit too far?
After the discussion, the guard is sent home and the attorney meets a sticky end courtesy of a spear through the stomach. Again, the slaughter is intercut with scenes from one of Hayward's previous cinematic successes, this time it was 'Pride of the Bengal Lancers'! Just so that no one thinks that we're watching a sequel to that cheesy old anti-estate agent slasher, Open House; we meet a gang of typical eighties teens - all hairspray and heavy metal - that chuck us into more formulaic and instantly recognisable territory. Every one of the six youngsters is little more than an overused cliché, from the nerdy movie-geek to the loud-mouthed insensitive pair that look certain to suffer a gruesome fate for their apparent over-brashness. They all meet up at an apartment where the six-o-clock news plays on the television, and the major topic is the fate of Lance Hayward's estate. One dim-witted bimbo that's sure to regret the extent of her imagination comes up with the idea that they should drive up to the house and take one last look around before it's bulldozed into oblivion. They all agree on the plan and pile aboard Todd's van for the journey. Unbeknown to them, there's already a pair of rowdy rockers with very similar motivation en-route to the mansion, which takes the body count possibilities up to a whopping eight should-be victims!
After the gang has arrived, they bump into a drunken hobo (Aldo Ray) that's staggering around the grounds, giving us his best Crazy Ralph impersonation. He stops to incoherently warn the youngsters that there's a murderous psychopath roaming the woodland, before donating some corn syrup to Hayward, who's cunningly dressed as a Pirate. Of course, his warnings don't do much to discourage the eager beavers, and neither does the sure to be surviving girl's brief sightings of an ominous shape lurking suspiciously between the trees. They carry on up to the property and discover that a window has already been broken to summon them inside the intriguing location. Once they've entered, they find plenty of nostalgic memorabilia littering the vast foreboding rooms, and a few patent signs that they're not alone, which (of course) they fail to take into account. Before long, each of them finds comically inept reasons to take fateful lonesome strolls that only lead them back to their agent's hopeful waiting lists. On their journey into obscurity, they meet the resident psychopath, and suffer one of his fairly imaginative ideas for cinematic slaughter...
As I said previously, Terror Night doesn't deserve its impossible to track-down status. To be honest, I found it to be a mindlessly diverting splatter romp, with a few alluring elements that work to its credit. It's fairly gooey in places and the killer's vast array of slaughter patterns and disguises were a whole lot of fun. I especially liked the knight in armour, which was used to a similar effect by David Hess in that underrated slasher from 1980, To all a Goodnight. The masked-desperado and Robin Hood were two other humorous camouflages, and there's a big enough bloodbath for him to don an impressive number of costumes. The use of old movies to accompany the murders was an interesting touch; although I must admit that I'm considering the fact that these additions may have had something to do with the flick's total disappearance. The end-credits do not acknowledge where the footage was borrowed from, and one has to wonder whether Marino infringed a few copyright issues, which eventually resulted in the film being shelved? It's only an assumption, but I'm pretty sure that something must have landed this otherwise promising debut - deep into troubled waters. Although the synopsis of 'teens exploring a derelict abode' may sound tediously formulaic, things don't follow suit as closely as you'd expect from a regular genre-piece. The conclusion was somewhat authentic and it does at least try to add a new sheen to the woe-be-tired formula.
Unfortunately, it isn't plain sailing all the way through; and this does suffer a few too many conspicuous flaws. It's inadequately lighted to the point of frustration in places, and it lacks the visual gloss that made a few of its counterparts more memorable. The most obvious blemish that plagues Terror Night's armour, is the fact that it doesn't solve the mystery that it takes the time to build throughout the runtime. We never find out what Lance Hayward actually is, or what was the motivation behind his carnage. Even after the conclusion, we still never learn if he's a ghost, a zombie or just a normal bloke blessed with extremely youthful looks for a ninety-year-old? I won't mention the lamentable performances of the youngsters, or Cameron Mitchell's slumming ten seconds of screen time, simply because, slasher movies have never been noted for their competent dramatics. However I must note the final scene, which breaks all boundaries of nonsensical narrative to helm a conclusion that's, well, - 'bizarre' isn't a strong enough description. Put it this way, it is truly shocking... But for all the wrong reasons!
Terror Night is one of the few slasher movies that had the potential to be a lot better than it eventually ended up, but somehow lost its way between the months of pre-production and the final days of shooting. It's a shame that we'll probably never find out how it might have turned out if it was given the proper chances, and it looks as if it probably suffered a bit of a nightmare production. Still, for fans looking for an extremely rare genre-piece, it does deliver the goods on a few levels. It's packed to the brim with hokey gore and there's some excessive nudity that always interests fans of exploitation. It's just that it never really manages to excel above moderately watchable.
Strange Behavior (1981)
Authentic take-on the slasher formula
Small Town Massacre really pushes the limits for being classed as a traditional slasher movie. Most of the post-Halloween additions basically stuck with the lone-maniac stalks teenagers scenario; but Michael Laughlin's impressive opus includes multiple killers and a completely authentic conclusion to an engaging mystery. Despite those blatant discrepancies however, it still wouldn't seem right to class this amongst any other horror sub-category, as it does include many of the genre's prominent trappings. One of the assassins sports a white mask and you'll also find a shockingly large amount of cheese, which is no less than hilarious in places. The thing that really lifted this above many of its counterparts from the peak year of 1981, were the surprisingly strong performances from a refreshingly competent cast. Academy Award-winner Louise Fletcher and Michael Murphy lead respectively, while Dan Shor and Dey Young provide credible youthful support. It also boasts a great periodic soundtrack, which includes tracks from Tangerine Dream and Lou Christie (more on that later). Unfortunately, on the down side, the frame cropping for videotape transfer from the cinematic release is no less than abysmal in places. There are times throughout the movie when the actor's faces are completely cut from the screen, and one could be forgiven for initially believing that a cack-handed camera operator was at fault for the incompetent photography. The reality of the matter is that the leap from the silver screen to VCR certainly wasn't kind to Laughlin's spacious set-locations.
I remember many years ago, when I was only knee-high to a hubcap, noticing this suggestive cover signalling for my inspection like a beacon in the foggy night sky at my local video store. After checking the plot synopsis and wondering what words such as 'mutilated' could possibly mean, I decided that one-day I would have to pluck up the courage to actually purchase it and find out for myself. Of course, those movies rarely - if ever - terrified me as much as I had expected them to, but I kept that same copy right up until this day, and was indeed intrigued to see if my glowing memories had served me as well as I'd hoped for.
It opens with a youngster studying in his bedroom; his parents inform him that they're leaving, so he sparks-up a sly cigarette and turns on the radio (cue some cheesy eighties grooves, via the Pop Mechanics!). He's puffing away merrily, when all of a sudden; we're thrown into darkness, courtesy of a convenient power-cut. To solve the problem, the teen heads downstairs, picking up a handy candle en-route and sparking it up with a lighter. With the small amount of light that emerges from the flickering flame, he begins making hand shapes in the shadows; only soon we learn that he isn't going to be enjoying these creations on his own for much longer. Another silhouette appears, clenching a knife, and let me just state that those will be the last finger puppets that he'll be making for the foreseeable future. Next we learn that this isn't going to be a typical trip into whodunit's-ville, because we see the killer's face as he blows out the candle.
Soon after we meet our central family of characters that will guide us through the story, - the Bradys (no not the Brady bunch, unfortunately!) John (Michael Murphy) is the local Sheriff, who's got some serious personal hygiene problems (well, would you cut your toenails at the kitchen table?). His son, Pete (Dan Shor) is an intelligent young student that's debating his educational future and deciding which college that he wants to attend in the fall. His dad wants him to leave the area and pursue his career options elsewhere, but Pete has decided to stay rooted in his hometown of Galesburg. His only problem is that he doesn't have enough money to submit his application, but thankfully his scrawny buddy Oliver, knows 'a fast and easy way to make money'. The local Hospital is paying 200 dollars a time, for student's participation in un-clarified medical experiments, which Ollie describes as two simple sessions. These scientists prove that they are well ahead of their game with a demonstration in which a dead professor manages to control the mind of a chicken to make it obey his every command. Ingenious stuff, I'm sure you'll agree. An extremely sadistic-looking nurse called Miss Parkinson controls the moneymaking experiments, and Pete makes an appointment to visit her the following day.
The night before his date with the medic, Pete informs his mother in-law, Barbara (Louise Fletcher) that he's got a party to attend; a fancy dress gathering no less, - and oh what a memorable celebration it turns out to be. One beaming female describes it as 'an honour of independence', which I guess is one way of putting it. A more descriptive term though, would be a no holds barred romp of amazingly sidesplitting comedy that will have even the most sinister viewers holding their guts with paroxysms of laughter. The highlight is when the teens begin to boogie and we get a wonderfully daft sequence in which all the comically dressed revellers do a synchronised dance routine that looks like it has been borrowed from Grease, more than a slasher film. They start by doing the 'locomotive', before they take it in turns to jump in front of the camera and do the 'hokey-cokey' in quick succession (!) The song that invites this unforgettable sequence is no less than Lou Christie's classic sixties dancehall favourite, Lightening Strikes. Falsetto king, Christie was notable because he was one of the very few vocalists to emerge between the death of Buddy Holly and the Beatles' worldwide explosion as a teen idol, and sustain a strong career for a long time after. The musical months from1960 to 1963 are often referred to, as the 'lost years' because very few artists appeared around the time that were not crushed by the big-beat phenomenon that was launched by British bands such as The Rolling Stones and John Lennon and crew. There's nothing that I can remember ever witnessing that compares to watching Batman and Robin taking it in turns to boogie, and its moments like those, which make this film so decidedly enjoyable. Anyway, the fun doesn't last for too long, and soon we get back to more of what people were truly expecting, - the horror side of things.
Cut to two youngsters that probably couldn't handle watching any more grooving, because their sides had almost split, so they've headed out to the peaceful serenity of a parked car, in an attempt to escape the hilarity. We sail into traditional territory when Lucy rebuffs Waldo's romantic advances, because she claims that she has to get home very soon and they should be leaving right about now. Once the budding lothario has learnt that he isn't going to get anywhere that particular night, they decide to split; only that might not be such an easy task, as the car seems to be firmly rooted in the mud. Waldo jumps out to push, telling the strumpet to gun it, only his problems don't end there. In fact, things get a whole lot worse or the unfortunate fella when he bumps into a masked maniac that stabs him in the throat with a large blade. Then we get a suspenseful chase through the woodland, as the psycho pursues the terrified female back to the party, making the effort to stab her in the ankle as he goes. His murderous intent is ruined when the partygoers hear her frantic screams, so the assassin decides to heel it from the scene very abruptly. Before he disappears into the pitch-black night, he removes his mask to reveal a face that we already know fairly well. And so the plot thickens...
The following morning, John interviews many of the teenagers - including the killer -, but none of them has any recollection of the events that unfolded. He realises that he has a maniac roaming around the town, when Barbara discovers the mutilated body of the teen that was murdered in the opening scene, craftily disguised as a scarecrow (perhaps as a nod to Dark Night of the Scarecrow?). Meanwhile, Pete keeps his appointment with the enigmatic nurse, which amounts to not a lot more than him taking a strange pill that he says, 'makes him feel a little high'! Earning 100 dollars for getting stoned; that must be every student's dream! To add to his good-fortune, he pulls a stunning blonde receptionist (Dey Young) and the two go out for dinner, which results in the beginning of a microwave relationship. That night, another of the town's teenagers and a cranky cleaner are murdered in a fairly taught sequence that mimics Halloween's use of building fear from staging creepy occurrences in the background of the screen's focal point (a door opening slowly behind the unsuspecting soon-to-be victim etc.) Due to previous experience, John decides that he knows what is behind this sudden spate of murderous mania, and heads off to investigate, which results in a fairly shocking showdown and an unexpected twist in the story.
Small Town Massacre has enough confidence in the strength of its truly shocking and fairly intelligent conclusion, not to ruin the rest of the movie with pointless false-scares and gratuitous gore. Although, saying that, there is at least one un-watchable scene, where Pete gets a four-inch syringe pushed into his eyeball, while strapped to a chair! It would be truly terrifying to viewers who have a strong phobia of medicinal needles, which is quite a common fear amongst non-diabetics. As I said before, this isn't really a traditional slasher movie, but it succeeds because it tries a refreshing alternate setting to a genre that was all ready beginning to grow tired, even that early on. Aside from the licensed tunes that may bring back fond memories for fans of nostalgia, we're also offered a neat acoustic guitar-based score that provides the film's accompaniment; and a more typical synthesizer lick for the moments of horror. Although this is supposed to be set in Illinois, Chicago (Halloween?), it was actually filmed in New Zealand, explaining some of the beautiful shots of scenery that break up the story. The cast offer a few genuinely credible performances and the characters that they portray are fairly approachable and above all likeable, so that you feel for their individual torments. Laughlin also manages to build suspense in places, especially towards the finale with the will-he won't-he cliffhanger.
Sadly, the chopped screen does cause a few viewing problems, and it's clumsily edited to the point of aggravation in places. There are a few plot-holes that I can't really tell you about without including a spoiler; but overall, it's competently written and makes the most of the authentic ideas that it has on offer. The BBFC don't admit to cutting anything from the murders, although there were a couple of suspicious jumps, which were impossible to tell whether they were the fault of lazy editing or outside censorship intervention?
All in all, I actually thoroughly enjoyed watching Small Town Massacre and certainly suggest that you hunt it out if you're a fan of slashers or tacky eighties horror. It's been OOP for quite a long while now, but you may be able to track down a copy under one of its four aliases, if you run a search with a video-finding agency. The fancy dress scene alone makes it worth a budget asking price, and it also boasts a few edge of your seat thrills that separate it from the influx of its more formulaic counterparts from '81. It certainly deserves a visit from people looking for a different take-on the genre
Grand Guignol revived for the eighties...
Over one century ago (1897 to be exact) in the dingy back streets of Montmartre, Paris, an eccentric ex-secretary to a Police commissioner named Oscar Metenier, opened the Theatre du Grand Guignol. For 65 years, groups of performers staged one-act plays that depicted graphic scenes of murder, mutilation and torture. Famous works by authors such as Charles Dickens and James Hadley Chase were adapted for Grand Guignol and made into, some might say, horrific gore-laden masterpieces. People's morbid curiosities kept the shows ever popular, all the way up until the Nazis invaded France during World War II. Perhaps because the French population was experiencing true horrors of their own, the urge to see such events portrayed on stage, quite obviously became a lot less alluring. The theatre never recovered, and it finally closed its doors for the last time in 1962. William Lustig's Maniac is basically Grand Guignol for the cinematic audiences of the eighties. A movie that viewers of a quainter disposition will describe as depraved, demoralising and redundantly mean spirited, while others have touted its story telling as artistic, ballsy and daring. Although its often labelled as a formulaic stalk and slash offering, it is actually a member of the sub, sub-genre that differentiates itself from the Halloween and Friday the 13th created format. Along with Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, Mardi Gras Massacre, and Don't go in the House; Maniac offers something refreshing, by giving the killer characterisation and making him more than just a loony in a mask with a machete.
The plot portrays the life of Frank Zito, an insane and stammering psychological mess of a man, with more than a few severe problems upstairs. His story unravels around his decent into madness, which stems from his seclusion and isolation from the outside world. He is a lonely, redoubtable character, with no friends or companionship; he's just alone with his fragmented mind to torment him. His desperation to feel accepted by civilisation results in him creating his own 'family' from female mannequins. To add realism to their beings and to make them as human-like as could be possible, he furnishes their heads with the scalps of women that he butchers remorselessly. In the first ten minutes, an unfortunate prostitute is ruthlessly slaughtered for no apparent reason, and the misogyny continues all the way through the movie; as nurses, models and innocent bystanders are gorily slain for nothing more than the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The creepiest thing about these murders, is the fact that Zito has no apparent understanding of the results of his actions. He reads headlines, which describe the feelings of a city left in fear by his spate of madness and he watches news updates that inform us of the aftermath of his bloodthirsty rein. But his reaction is non-existent; he shows no knowledge of any wrongdoing, almost like he is unaware that he commits such atrocities. His mental downfall takes a U-turn, when he meets up with Anna D'Antoni (Caroline Munro) a photographer that attracts his attention for the first time when she snaps him wondering through a park. We finally get to see a thoroughly different side to his character, - a romantic, insecure personality that's been buried beneath years of self-inflicted misery and emotional torture. There is a constant battle between two separate personalities that rages inside Zito's mind however, and Anna's fate depends upon whether the good or evil side emerges victoriously...
The opening sequence stays true to its stalk and slash counterparts; as the masked, heavy breathing Zito kills a loving couple on a beach. Lustig describes the scene as a homage to Jaws, only this time the monster is out of the sea and on land, thus explaining the beach setting. It's a well-handled commencement, with Savini adding the magic that he is most reputed for; and Robert Lindsay's competent photography creates energy that prevails throughout the whole movie. Although body count material is introduced without any characterisation or development, it can be argued that the story resolves around Zito; and to him, victims are only objects or playthings anyway. I have always considered Bill Lustig to be a highly underrated filmmaker. Maniac Cop was yet another great movie, although I would consider this to be one of his best - probably because he was relatively unknown when he worked it. The parts that were filmed inside the killer's flat are shot in complete silence, which effectively adds to the feeling of seclusion and abandonment. It's like the viewer is inside the character's apartment, but also inside his own remote world, where his loneliness has degenerated into an unrelenting insanity. It's added moments like these that make Maniac all the more creepy. The subway scene adds some awe-inspiring suspense, as Frank stalks a nurse through the station. Lustig does well to keep the atmosphere tense and the viewer is always aware that something is about to happen, meaning there is never any allowance for comfort in the fact that any of the characters will escape to safety. He also manages at least two effective jump-scares, the final Carrie-esque jolt being particularly memorable. Jay Chattaway provides a superb score to accompany the visuals, and Lorenzo Marinelli's editing is equally impressive.
Although you could never call Joe Spinnell a fantastic dramatic performer by any of his pre-Maniac work, Frank Zito (named as a nod to Joseph Zito the director of The Prowler and friend to Lustig and Savini) was undoubtedly the part he was put on this planet to play. It's a convincing performance that allowed the actor to immerse himself deep into something that he had researched thoroughly and accurately, giving his character a vivid portrait of realism that was necessary to create the child's nightmare-like quality that the movie possesses. Spinnell is Maniac and Maniac is Spinnell, there's no doubt about it; it was his signature role. It's impossible to imagine another character actor fitting the bill so perfectly. Not only does he play the part; he also looks and sounds it too. He wasn't the only one that hit a career high under Lustig's direction though; the ever-adorable Caroline Munro gave her most realistic portrayal too. Her star had just reached its zenith in 1980, before she became a scream queen in less memorable flicks such as Slaughter High and Faceless, which would supplement her income, well into motherhood. This also offered a chance to break away from the bikini-clad bimbo roles that she had been given up until that point; and it gave her the chance to try something a little different. I strongly respect her refusal to do any nudity, which cost a further contract with Hammer in the early seventies. It takes a strong women to reject such offers for the sake of her modesty, and Munro proved that she was just that; and her career strengthened because of it. It's worth noting that the pair were reunited two years later for Fanatic (aka The Last Horror Film), which lacked the gritty edge and invitingly sleazy surroundings of its predecessor, but attempted to cash-in on the fame that Lustig's film had earned from its gruesome reputation.
Maniac was filmed on super 16 mm and like the best slashers from this period, it was shot for the most miniscule of budgets ('under a million dollars'). A lot of the on-location work was staged illegally, without any insurance or authorised permission. Lustig anecdotes about the exploding head scene (no less than Tom Savini's, by the way), where they had to fire a shotgun through the windscreen of a car and then make a quick getaway, before the Police arrived to investigate the gunshot! Munro was given only one-day to rehearse the script before starting work, due to replacing Dario Argento's wife of the time, Daria Nicolodi. Admittedly, it does seem pretty strange that a woman with a name as Italian as Anna D' Antoni, would be played by an English Rose; but she does a good enough job and is truly a sight to behold. Many, MANY countries rejected this movie on the grounds of its unnecessary violence towards women; including the censors here in the UK, who made sure to add it to the DPP list almost immediately. The Philippines' board of film review was so outraged by what they discovered that they told the producers to take it to Satan instead of their country, and went on to describe it as 'unentertaining' and 'unfit for Human consumption'! Of course, knowledge of those monstrosities, only made it seem all the more curious to youngsters that had heard such tales of unruly degradation, and were eager to check it out for themselves; thus earning it a massive cult following. Upon release, it became immensely popular, although it was heavily criticised for its brutal violence. Spinnell said that the blood was never on screen long enough for his creation to be considered too gruesome. He lied; - there are parts of the movie that are limitlessly gory and blood-soaked. You'll find decapitations scalpings and dismemberment, - if you can name a gory way to slaughter a female, then you'll find it somewhere in here. Maniac is one of the only video-nasties that have managed to retain its shock factor, even after twenty-four years!
I saw an edited copy of this in the mid-nineties and was unimpressed. Perhaps my attentions were elsewhere or I was expecting something more? I can't be sure, but last night, watching it once again for this review, I found myself captivated. There are flaws, yes for certain. It's unlikely that a beauty as striking, as Anna would give the time of day to a misfit like Zito in the first place, and the end sequence is a little bizarre to say the least. But all niggles are forgiven when you acknowledge the effort that has been put into making this production as realistically as they possibly could. Credit has to be given to Spinnell for believing in the project and his dedication and research into serial killers deserves recognition. I haven't yet seen Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer, although I'm told that the two movies have a great deal in common, so I'm after a copy right now. Maniac has earned itself another fan, and I believe that it deserves to be seen. There has never been, and probably never will be, another movie so depraved and disturbing; so grab a copy whilst you've got the chance. It's an innovative and daring take on the standard slasher genre, which succeeds because it is just that.
Hide and Go Shriek (1988)
Hide and go shriek.
Contains a small spoiler
In these times of extreme political correctness that really began to surface in the Reagan and Thatcher era of the eighties, before the New Labour government underlined them in bold print. Even the slasher genre - one of cinema's most simply structured - has had to suffer the expense of revamping so as not to offend a minority. The first case that was questioned was the lack of any non-white cast participants, which was at least a fair criticism. Many of the early offerings were made up of strictly Caucasian actors and actresses, and although it was most probably only the mistake of absent minded casting directors. One can understand how it may have looked slightly prejudiced. Far more absurdly, it was considered sometime in 1987 that Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger et al's sexuality was somewhat un-clarified; and so what we really needed was a camp transvestite knifeman to even up the ante. Hide and Go Shriek (or 'Close your eyes and prey' as this copy was titled) took it upon itself to fill that void, by releasing a standard splatter flick with all the routine ingredients, only they've chucked in a 'crossly dressed' twist. Why they thought that horror's most popular theme (as it was around the time this was made) needed camping up was a mystery? I mean, please don't take me the wrong way, I am by no means homophobic. In fact I don't even have a problem with men who feel more comfortable in a pair of suspenders than they do in slacks! We live in a democracy and I believe that everyone is entitled to do what he or she wants to, behind closed doors and in the comfort of their own homes. But let's look at it this way, would you have felt the same about Michael Myers if he had relinquished the Shatner mask and instead gone for some pink blusher, mascara and a ra-ra skirt? I can't see it hitting the same switches some how! I think you'll firmly agree.
The first shots were surprisingly creative, showing the desolate back streets of a gloomy American city, shrouded with graffiti and the smoke bellowing from the chimneys of an industrial slum. Perhaps it was meant as a comment on the seedy urban atmosphere and it's equally socially inept inhabitants that our plot may resolve around? Either way, it was a great way to set the mood, and the music at this point was also worth noting. It sounded a bit like a shabby, yet impressive synthesizer rehash of James Cameron's Terminator theme-tune. The next sequence was a lot less inviting, as we see a man applying make-up in front of a mirror in a dingy room. The director only gives us close ups of his lips, eyes and cheeks, so we haven't exactly got a full-on positive identification of this sleaze-ridden character. Next up, he's seen driving along a road filled with prostitutes that all (unsurprisingly) look startled when they witness his bizarre attire. One hooker that was obviously desperate for the cash approaches him and climbs into the car. Soon after we see that she's been stabbed in the stomach and left to die in an alleyway. It looks as if this guy's got some serious issues.
Have you guessed whom we're introduced to next? Why of course you have, its four cheesy eighties knuckleheads, with haircuts that you and I wouldn't even wear to a fancy dress party. There's Randy, whom looks like Vanilla Ice's deranged alter ego. Craig and John are your typical mulleted jocks, whilst Shawn's a dead ringer for Donnie Osmond circa 'Puppy Love'! They're all planning on spending the night at John's dad's large furniture shop, so they can make good use of the fresh double beds and get up to the things that seem to p**s off so many psychopathic serial killers. They're going to sneak in just before he locks up and leaves, giving them about twelve hours to cut all kinds of capers inside the spacious store. It wouldn't be too much fun if just four guys went alone now, would it? So next we get a good look at their four raucous girlfriends all in low-cut tops and short skirts, discussing philosophical subjects like marriage and how their boyfriend's sexual performances compare with one another! Kim and Bonnie are exceptionally good-looking, whilst Melissa and Judy are less attractive but still manage to look like they spent half a year in make up and half a million dollars on hair spray. It seems that Judy's still a virgin, commenting on how nervous she gets when the subject arises. She's really looking like an obvious aspirant for surviving girl responsibility at this point, unless of course she's dumb enough to succumb to desire whilst sharing a king size (bed) at the party. They all head round to John's place to meet up and 'embark on the adventure of their lives'. They show us exactly how excited they are by performing a synchronised 'moon-walk' around John's midi-van, before climbing aboard for the ride. Whilst on their journey, they take the time to stop at a junction and play 'musical car seats'! Yep, strangely enough, the troupe all jump out of the wagon and run around in circles before hopping back in and driving off. Why? I haven't got the foggiest, but perhaps they were a little like Beavis when he goes all 'Cornholio'. You know, get all hyperactive when they've munched too much candy? I can't say for sure, but one has to wonder what type of people think-up some of this stuff?
The posse soon arrive at the location for their party, where we first meet John's father, Phil. More importantly, we see the bald and tattooed Freddy for the first time, which looks a lot like he could definitely be psycho-assassin material. He's an ex-con that did six years in choky for armed robbery, before being released for his good-behaviour and getting himself a job living-in and looking after the conveniently spacious store. Donnie, sorry, Shawn seems to think that 'he looks creepy', an opinion that is shared by one of Phil's higher-up associates whom comments, `A couple of the dock-workers are odd (but) this one -' Me thinks me smells a mystery emerging! Once the teens get inside the impressively dark emporium and lock the doors, they decide a game of hide and go-seek is in order. What they don't know is that an uninvited guest wants to make his own rules, and replace the existing title with the more fitting 'find and go-kill'.
Close your eyes and prey suffers from a conspicuous lack of decent lighting, but for once it works to the flick's advantage. Some of the gloomy shots help invoke a seriously eerie atmosphere and the inclusion of mannequins always helps to make things spooky. They just have that aura of horror that surrounds them, which they just can't seem to shake off in the movies. The killer is usually seen only in silhouette, cackling crazily in the darkness. When he murders the teens, he steals the clothes from their corpses (male or female) and tricks his next victim into believing that he's actually their friend. He then coaxes them off to a secluded corner and before they've had a chance to realise that he isn't who they thought he was, he charges like a bull in a China shop and brutally slaughters them. Skip Schoolnik manages a fair amount of suspense and he also chucks in one or two neatly edited false scares that actually work. There's hardly any really graphic gore, although one decapitation was pretty nasty and all the killings are fairly interesting, not to mention gruesome. (Anyone fancy impalement on a triple spiked statue?) When the teens realise that there's a maniac locked up with them, unlike the multitude of dumber than dumb slasher massacre material, they do the right thing. They each grab a weapon, find a corner and stick together until help arrives, instead of wondering off to 'just check out that strange sound.' If the campers over at Crystal Lake had decided to do that a few times, perhaps Jason's body count wouldn't be so high and America wouldn't be suffering from an extreme shortage of Camp counsellors! There were a few smart sequences that warrant a mention. The most notable was when some of the surviving teens desperately bang on the sound and shatter proof - thick glass windows at the front of the store, to try and attract the attentions of the cop car that's literally parked right in front of them. Imagine how they felt when they see their only chance of survival climb back in the vehicle and speed off without looking back. Talk about bad luck!
Unfortunately, all those above average moments are completely ruined as soon as the MALE killer is revealed and he says things like, `A housewife's work is never done.!' Dressed in bondage gear and full make-up he reveals his motives for murder and ruins the entire movie. I won't spoil them for you, but let's just say that they're the most stupid conclusion too what looked to be a promising launch. The acting's horridly unconvincing, especially from Bunky Jones (what a name!) who's pathetic portrayal of a woman in peril was as rancid as a flea-bitten mongrel's back teeth. There isn't a great deal of murders either; leaving too many survivors for my liking and the sequel-friendly ending brought a lump to my throat. (Surely they didn't plan a follow up?) It doesn't even manage that many inadvertent laughs (except for the musical car seats and the moon walking!). Mind you, one thing that I did find amusing was when the 'shy' and 'in-experienced virgin' says that she wants her 'first time' to be special. She then does a full-on lap dance that would earn her a fortune in most strip joints! Erm, wasn't she supposed to be nervous? Is that really what insecure people do? The goody gumdrops persona was running a bit thin by that point! This does have one significant element that actually works however, - a truly, truly terrifying killer. A camp transvestite with a switchblade! Makes me shiver just thinking about it; and I for one certainly wouldn't want to bump into him in a dark alleyway!
It's a shame that they had to ruin this offering with the inclusion of a pointless plot-twist just to keep everybody happy. I'm sure that the gay community didn't feel left out that there hadn't yet been a homosexual psycho-killer, so it really was just pointless. If you do want to enjoy this slasher that manages the odd interesting moment, then turn it off at the 117-minute mark. If you're not prepared to do so, then leave it at the bottom of the bargain bucket.
Deadly Blessing (1981)
Wes Craven's first slasher movie...
At first glance, one could be forgiven for believing it was fairly paradoxical that it should be Wes Craven that ended up directing Kevin Williamson's tribute to the slasher films of the early-eighties. The polished offerings that garnered his respect up until that point had not actually been the traditional stalk and slash flicks that Scream so lovingly references. Despite what a lot of people constantly presume, A Nightmare on Elm Street was far too supernatural to be classed in the category. That isn't meant as any kind of criticism, because a little originality goes a very long way in horror flicks. But at the end of the day, Freddy Krueger was by no means a slasher movie bogeyman and neither was Horace Pinker from Shocker, which too is often wrongly confused as a formulaic Halloween spin-off. His abilities to merge with electricity and assume the form of other humans completely spoilt his chances of joining the brand that Mr. Myers and his knife-wielding accomplices frequent with their own stringent guidelines. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is - that Craven did create a little-seen offering that can neatly slot itself alongside its counterparts and was indeed good enough to rub shoulders with a few of the genre giants. His 1981 opus - Deadly Blessing, makes good use of the clichés that hadn't been so severely overused at the time of its release and he also includes a few authentic ingredients of his own, which mark an intriguing addition to the formula. The net result is a fairly decent offering with a few exquisite moments that act as solid examples of the talent that would later manifest itself almost annually over the following decades. Surprisingly enough and adding further evidence to the cult possibilities, this was not only notable for marking the debut into slasher territory for one of the most accomplished and prolific Horror filmmakers of our time. It was also an early movie role for the woman who would later become one of the late eighties' sexiest leading ladies. She was famously responsible for the most memorable leg-crossing scene in movie history and she also managed a credible Clint Eastwood role-reversal in The Quick and the Dead. You guessed it; one of the scrumptious females terrorised by the mystery killer is an extremely young and barely recognisable Sharon Stone!
It takes place on a small farming community deep in the Texan countryside. The narrator informs us that the town has remained untouched by time, which is an evidently honest description. Horse and carts replace automobiles and the way of life looks to have remained unchanged since the days of the Lawman and Ranchers. We're soon introduced to a happily married couple, Martha and Harry, who own a beautiful piece of land and an impressive home. We also bump into Faith, a young artist that's busy painting a picture in the middle of one of the fields. The plausibly deranged looking William - whom doesn't seem to like the young lassie very much - approaches and spoils her tranquil pastime by snapping the artwork and calling her the 'incubus'. He then begins to chase the youngster across the spacious grassland, continually repeating the satanic words whilst in pursuit. Thankfully Harry, who warns the assailant that he could get into trouble if Isaiah catches him, calms things down, before there's any chance of bloodshed. Isaiah is the preacher of a local religious cult called the Hittites, which William and most of the locals are all strict members of. They're an old-fashioned god-fearing clan that follows the bible's teachings faithfully, without any lapses. Strangely, they're so stuck in the days of old - that they only speak in the nearest possible language to Old-English. So cue plenty of amusing usage of words like 'thine' and 'thee', or 'thou'! (If thine right eye offends thee, pluck it out - etc.) They allow no forgiveness for sinners and a swift canning and probably the possibility of being sent to bed without any dinner, punishes any wrongdoing that's reported to their master!
Tonight is a very special night for the young lovebirds. It's their first wedding anniversary and they proceed to celebrate the occasion the way that anyone who's deep in angst usually does! While they're otherwise engaged in their 'celebrations', a heavy breathed intruder enters the abode in impressive steadi-cam and takes a suspicious look around the house before exiting through an open window. Later that night, Harry decides to go outside and repair his tractor. Why he didn't wait until the following morning for such a chore is rather questionable, but off he heads to the barn, presumably to get the job out of the way. Upon arrival, he notices that someone (or something) has mysteriously turned on the machine and left it running. Whilst he searches for a reason behind the occurrence, an unseen assailant climbs into the driver's seat and runs him down with the vehicle's giant wheels. When her husband doesn't return, Martha heads out to investigate his disappearance, and finds him squished against the wall, - covered in blood. Judging by the later lack of any lawful involvement, the killing is put down to an unfortunate accident. That's always a neat way of helpfully underlining the fact that there's definitely going to be a few more murders before the end-credits roll.
Clearly un-wanting to be left alone with her grief, Martha invites up two of her friends from the city to offer her some support. Vicky and Lana turn up, all beaming with innocence and looking a little too content with life to live long and unthreatened existences. That night, William pays them a visit with the unlikely motive of trying to find his missing shoe. He comes across the frankly not looking too devastated widow, stripping to get changed by an open window (as you do), and so he stops to take a perve (err, as you do!). Maybe one-day we'll find out the cause of that mysterious phenomenon that prevents slasher females from hanging curtains in their bedrooms/bathrooms? It's a strange old plague that they all seem to catch, which also makes them perform other equally senseless acts, like: Never calling the Police in times of peril or not escaping danger-laden areas when offered the perfect chances! Once she has finally covered her modesty, the peeping Tom becomes re-aware of his surroundings and notices a hunting-knife holster on the window ledge. Before he has the chance to realise that he could be heading for a slashing if he hangs around that particular spot any longer; a black gloved assailant grabs him around the throat and stabs him in the back. Could it have been punishment for his perverseness? Or is there something far more sinister unravelling around this creepy old farmland? The next day, to help take her friend's mind off the loss of her hubby, Lana goes out to give her a hand with some of the work in the fields. The tractor has problems again while they're grafting, so Lana heads to the barn to find a replacement spark plug. Once she's inside, the door and windows slam shut, as if by a supernatural force. Then the mysterious assailant stalks her in one of the tightest and most skilfully crafted sequences of the slasher era. After a successful jump-scare, she finally sees a way out of the claustrophobic nightmare and heads for the exit. Just as she's about to leave, William's corpse - which was strung up by rope - drops down in front of her, marking the perfect finish to a superb scene. I was certainly starting to believe that the tractor must have some involvement in all the mayhem. Both times something horrific has happened; it's been because someone has tried repairing that foreboding hunk of metal. Attack of the killer tractor; now that sounds intriguing!
The Sheriff decides to turn up this time and he warns the girls that they definitely shouldn't hang around any longer if they don't want to suffer a similar fate to poor old Will. He helpfully tells them, `If someone did do it, it wasn't someone that you'd wanna tangle with, believe me.' He then goes on to say, `If something happens, I aint gonna be here in time for nothing but clean up'! Now lets be honest, if you were facing a threat that sinister and you had a place to disappear to for a while, no one would blame you for hitting the roads - sharpish. But that would make a pretty short and boring movie, wouldn't it? So the three luckless ladies decide that a little thing like a mutilated corpse isn't going to spoil their gathering and they unwisely choose to stay put. This must annoy our resident psychopath, who's probably feeling a little disappointed that his reign of terror hasn't been taken a little more seriously. He pops by later that night (he has a habit of doing that) and dumps a poisonous snake in Martha's bathtub. (Another great piece of work from Craven.) Shockingly enough, it's Lana that the killer's taken a real disliking too (perhaps because of the quality of her performance?). She has a pretty tough time throughout the whole movie. When not being stalked by the nut-nut (who seems to like wearing black, I mean, what's wrong with blue or green psycho garb?), she's having pretty nasty nightmares about some guy dropping a big spider in her mouth and whispering her name, '- like a lover'. After a couple more decent killings, - including that popular old 'two lovers making-out in a car' chestnut, which has become a slasher necessity over the years - the culprit finally reveals himself and a suspense-filled battle for survival ensues...
Wes Craven hadn't unearthed the visual trademarks that would set him apart from the rest of the horror-helmers when he made Deadly Blessing. He still managed some superb set pieces however, which proves he was learning his lessons very quickly and striding up the ladder to success with the pace of a cheetah on speed. The barn-scene has already made a place for itself amongst horror aficionados as one of the classiest of its kind, but that isn't the only moment that shines with the incandescent brim of professionalism. The nightmare-sequence was equally as spellbinding and because it's a Craven flick, his own prior successes have allowed him not to strictly follow the suit of the films that this shares its genre with. Although at heart, it's a slasher film with all the necessary ingredients that keep it in the category. The constant use of snakes and spiders as a skin-crawling alternative to masks and kitchen knifes, is very inviting; and of course there's the satanic sheen and the supernatural twist at the end. The IMDB states that the UK version omits the final scene so as to avoid confusing viewers. Not True! The copy I watched ends exactly the same way, although I must admit that I'm also aware that there are two separate prints floating about somewhere. Yes, it does add a bit of an unnecessary puzzle to the plot when the Incubus crashes through the floorboards at the end. You're left wondering just who exactly was the killer? Was it the Human or the Incubus?
There are a couple of chinks in the otherwise gleaming armour. The murder scenes are sparse and spaced too infrequently and the cast are less than competent; especially Sharon Stone who delivers a comically amateur performance. It's worth noting that Lana is probably the most approachable and sympathetic character that she's ever played. She's certainly a lot different from the ice-cold personas that Stone would later become famous for. If I had to pick an early-eighties slasher that I was sure would've acquired a DVD release by now, then it would be Deadly Blessing. But no, despite Craven and Stone's popularity, it remains locked in a vault somewhere un-restored. It's also become pretty hard to find on VHS, which makes me wonder whether the director would rather just forget its existence? If that is the case then it's hard to understand why. Boasting a terrific score, polished production and adept direction, it's everything a slasher movie needs to be. If you can find Deadly Blessing, then it's definitely worth checking out.
Night of the Demon (1980)
Big Foot goes postal!
Night of the demon was one of the many flicks that were banned in the UK way back in the glorious heyday of the slasher movie. The censors were obviously concerned that audiences seeing an unfortunate biker getting castrated by a violent mutation may never be able to recover from such intense and unrelenting horror. Either that or they were worried that Joe-public would be so inspired by their findings herein - that they would begin taking long and danger-laden camping trips in order to solve the mystery that surrounds the legend of Big-Foot? Who knows, but some brain of Britain decided that the best thing to do for all concerned was to chuck this in a vault along with the rest of its blood splashed counterparts from that period. It was resubmitted and heavily edited ten years later by leading ex-video nasty distributor, VipCo films. I was fortunate enough to acquire a pre-release time code copy, which contains all the yucky gore that was deemed far too un-appropriate for casual viewers' consumption by our always over-protective big brother at the BBFC. In all fairness, director James C Watson is somewhat extreme with his over-use of visual suggestion. In the first five minutes alone, a fisherman is forced to a life collecting disability benefit, courtesy of bumping into the 'demon' who was out on his rounds and hungry for a dismembered limb or two. The movie continues in this gratuitous vein all the way through, never bothering to add a touch of suspense or atmospheric uneasiness. Instead, it relies on grotesque images to boost the shock factor, breaking new grounds for outright exploitation.
The first scene takes place in a dingy little room that I guess is really supposed to look-like it's a Hospital ward. A guy lays bed-ridden, with his mug covered by bandages and plasters. Two doctors and a Sheriff discuss his injuries, stating that, `. his face is horribly mutilated (and) most of the skin is burned away'. Any man with his extreme medical conditions must have some sombre tail of woe that (graphically) details how he ended up in such an uncomfortable position in the first place. When the lawman asks for his description of the events that left him so severely disfigured, he kicks it all of with the cheesily intriguing build up, `Those horror stories that you heard about the forest.they're all true!' So begins the flashback that will narrate us through his gore-laden adventure.
Apparently, the man without a face (heh, no pun intended!) is Bill Nugent, an anthropology lecturer (a popular career amongst slasher alumni, I'm sure you'll agree), that you could say is somewhat obsessed with uncovering the truth behind the legend of the murderous Big Foot. He and a group of budding students have decided that a journey out to the location where the stories came from should offer some strong clues on solving the mystery. They are to be joined on their excursion by Carla Thomas, the daughter of the unfortunate angler that I told you about earlier. She warns the volunteers of the dangers that lie ahead, by telling them the tale of a man who was brutally murdered whilst on the nest in the back of a van with his girlfriend. The young woman that survived the murder was especially memorable, because she seems to think that portraying fear amounts to making ecstatic grunts that sound more like she's sharing a bed with Ron Jeremy (or me!) after he's swallowed a bag full of Viagra! Despite the fearful advice, the group decides to continue with their trip and head off in small boats down a long winding river into the wilderness, just like Burt Reynolds and his pals did in Deliverance.
They arrive at the destination and we get another flashback (within a flashback) that shows us the fate of a previous victim of the hairy beast, who actually looks more like an unshaven member of the heavy metal group Twisted Sister, than any kind of rare Big-foot mammal! This one involves a guy in a sleeping bag - being swung round in circles before plummeting on to a dangerously miss-placed branch, effectively leaving him impaled and hanging upside down! The next morning, the group decides to interrogate the local townspeople, in a scene that's almost identical to the similar setting from The Blair Witch Project. (I believe that this was credited as one of the inspirations.) They're told tonnes of conflicting rumours from the villagers, but every story that they hear has at least one thing in common; a hermit that lives in the hills and goes by the fitting name of 'Crazy Wanda'. Apparently, she had a baby that was, `Awful to look at, deformed.a Mongoloid.'(!) The somewhat straight talking woman also gives us her opinion on what made the sprogg look so retarded, `It could have been down to malnutrition', she wisely comments. Hmmm, I don't think so somehow! Now they finally have a real lead, so they head deeper into the forest and conveniently further away from civilisation, making any sort of rescue attempt certain impossibility.
As darkness falls, the group sit around a bonfire and discuss their findings so far. They learn from the professor that they've arrived at the point where years earlier a motorcyclist took his last piddle in the bushes, due to the creature showing up and 'copping a feel' with horrifying results! Apparently in the edited print, the actual castration is removed, as where in the full version we see the victim stagger along for a while, with red syrup spurting from his flies! During the night, they're awoken by mysterious sounds emulating from within the trees. Nugent and his buddy investigate and come across a black mass, which looks more like a Country dancing festival, but I suppose it was meant to look really creepy. A young girl lies in the middle of the chanting crowd and we see that she is awkwardly consenting to intercourse with a strange fellow that looks suspiciously like a member of The Monkees. The anthropologist immediately thinks that it's rape and spoils the party by emptying a can of petrol on the ground (where he got it from, I don't know!) and starting a forest fire. The revellers take off running in different directions, leaving the heroic visitors to head back to their tents feeling like they've done a good deed. As wrongful repayment for their helpful services, the next morning they wake up to find their boats missing, meaning they're stranded without any ammunition, or in other words, doomed! Their luck worsens when two of the teenage students take a stroll under the moonlight for a spot of nookie, which is always a bad idea. Their fondlings come to an abrupt halt when the guy's back is violently scratched by the killer's fury hand (or should that be paw?), before he disappears back into the bushes. They sit round and chat about the assault, but strangely enough, not one of them realises that they're on a crash course for destruction if they hang around this area any longer. What more proof do they need? They should be plotting their escape not continuing an investigation that's sure to end in disaster! I'd hate to enrol at the university that these guys attended. I've heard about students suffering blood, sweat and tears for their assignments, but as Eddie Cochran so truthfully said, that's something else!
Eventually they stumble across Wanda's cabin, which is situated in an area that pays homage to the worst murder scene ever filmed. Two girls are grabbed by Big Foot and bashed into each other unconvincingly. They're both holding knifes in their hands, which results in them spraying blood over one another, because they were too dumb to think of 'dropping the blades' (doh!) After a while, we're finally introduced to the crazy hermit who really doesn't help too much, because she's been left catatonic by her involvement with the walking carpet. (Just typical, you find someone with some clues and they can't frigging speak!) Before the remaining hunters even have the chance to shout 'Help me Wanda', old Mr. Grisly turns up and reveals himself to the unwelcome tourists. He expresses his apparent distaste that they've come traipsing into his area without direct permission, by surrounding and then violently murdering them one by one, in one of the goriest final scenes in the whole history of splatter flicks!
Watching Night of the Demon is like attending a horror reunion filled with parts that were 'borrowed' out of all the more popular films released from the mid-seventies to when this hit the shelves. We start in traditional Friday the 13th territory, with victims getting picked off in the woods by an unseen assailant. Then we sail into the realms of Eaten Alive with a rape sequence, which is watched by a baying gang of hillbilly crazies. Chuck in some Rosemary's Baby, as we get all sacrilegious with the inclusion of a demonic offspring and plenty of Christianity cursing. Finally we take a trip into the world that was prominently inhabited by Lucio Fulci around this time, with a gore-tastic showdown that's not a million miles away from the House by the Cemetery. There are some truly blood-soaked scenes that have made the uncut version highly sort after, selling for big bucks on ebay. The most amusing of the bunch, is when the assassin pulls out one bloke's intestines and spins them around his head like a cowboy twirling his lasso! Perhaps his true ambition was to be accepted as a hairy Southern wrangler? Hey, now there's a plot twist!
The cast manage to offer nothing but putrid performances all the way through. It's not like they're bad actors trying to look good; they just aren't any kind of actors at all, and shouldn't be in a school-pantomime, let alone a movie. Dennis McCarthy's music sounds like he dropped a few trips and then blew the flute over some Jazz that's been played badly, which is as annoying as it sounds like it should be. The photography is also highly unprofessional, juddering in places like the cameraman was in desperate need of more methadone to calm his nerves! Most of the characters remain nameless (and pointless) all the way through; in fact I'm sure that it was only Bill Nugent that was addressed by a title? The plot suffers from narration that's about as much use as Stevie Wonder guiding you through a mile-long maze, and we never even find out a reason why the Big-foot has such animosity against human kind in the first place? It would have been nice to perhaps learn an interesting motive for his apparent hatred.
It's not all that bad though; I actually found this to be highly unforgiving with its level of outright brutality. I'm no stranger to gory mayhem, but it actually manages to come across as rather sickening in places, but thankfully in a good way. If you try to put yourself in the victim's shoes and imagine seeing your friends getting gorily slaughtered right in front of you. Or even worse having your 'old boy' pulled off whilst you're out in the woods for a stroll, then Night of the Demon rather successfully displays the message that it sets for. James Watson even manages a decently unexpected jump scare at the end that caught me right off guard. Certainly, this is a vigorously bad movie, but it's a fun bad movie, which makes all the difference. It also deserves credit for trying something a little authentic. The POV shots and various references keep it tightly nailed into the slasher genre, but at least it isn't just another masked killer on a campsite offering, like the majority of its cousins from this point in the cycle. If you want some gory fun then check out the UNCUT copy only. You won't be scared, but you'll find a few giggles and some mindlessly amusing cheese!
Don't forget you Night vision goggles!
Scalps was (or were, don't you hate titles that have dodgy reviewing punctuation) an early movie for exploitation director Fred Olen Ray. He was also behind the more recent slasher flick Final Examination, which actually had its plus points that included casting Debbie Rochon. She always manages to brighten up cheesy horror flicks just by making an appearance. I've heard that this has achieved cult status because it's become somewhat hard to find and is supposedly packed with gore in the full print. Sadly, I wouldn't know anything about that. Why I hear you ask? Well firstly, the copy that I acquired was the BBFC's 18 certificate that was released in the mid-eighties. It was a time when anything more than a brief trickle of blood, was considered far too harsher viewing material for public consumption by the numbskulls over at classifications. Secondly, even if this were a full super-duper director's cut that hadn't been anywhere near any spoilsport scissor happy' censors, it still wouldn't have made the slightest inkling of difference. You see - Ray seemed to forget the most fundamental law of visual physics when he set out to produce this little rarity. He failed to notice that if you want to see clearly in the dark, then you need some of that miracle stuff that God kindly gave unto us many moons ago, in order to help set mankind on its way to achieve a habitable environment. Yes that's right, the mysterious little natural element - which there thankfully isn't any real shortage of - that goes by the unmistakable name of light'. Being a self admitted slasher movie completist, you could say that I've become somewhat accustomed with incompetent illumination over the years. The category certainly has a lot more badly brightened occupants than professional ones. But this marks the first effort that I've ever seen, which was filmed without any added lighting at all - whatsoever! Seeing as Horror' is a genre that creates its signature definition best in the darkness, I knew that I was in for one hell of a tough time with this one
Unlike most of its fellow bogeyman cousins, Scalps at least offers a refreshingly authentic location as a backdrop to slaughter some teenagers. The opening shot pans down on a sun-splashed desert highway, as an open-back truck heads off the road and drives up to park by some caves. A man (or a spirit?) in a lion's mask watches it from a distance, showing us that he's not too happy about visiting trespassers, by snarling up his lip at the top corner - a la Elvis Presley! Just as I thought he was going to burst into a rendition of Jailhouse Rock, out steps the guy from the truck, clenching a shovel and swigging a bottle of Whisky. At this point I was fairly convinced that the impressively masked fella was sure to be our psychotic killer. That wouldn't have been any real mean feat either, because he looked kind of creepy and to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever sported the facial features of the king of the jungle as a murderous disguise as of yet! Come on admit it, a killer Lion sounds kind of cool, doesn't it? Anyway forgive my nonsensical rambling so we can get back to the feature. Right, here we go; the uninvited intruder begins poking about in the sand and then he picks up a quite frankly undistinguished stone from the ground. However, we soon learn that this is no ordinary lump of gravel. As the unlucky fellow tries to clean it off with his blade to get a better look at his find, an old Indian face appears on the screen with mystically blazed eyes and an intimidating grin! Unfortunately for the trucker, I don't think that this particular spirit is any kind of genie that's going to grant three wishes after you've rubbed his stone (!). All of a sudden, the guy's hand that he's holding the knife in - begins heading towards his throat as if the ghost has mysteriously possessed it. After an unconvincing struggle with the disobedient fist, his days of taking soil samples have definitely ceased to exist! These crazy explorers never learn, do they?
Next up we come across anthropology lecturer, Bill Margot, who is coincidentally planning an excavation trip out to the dessert. (Don't tell me you didn't see it coming!) To be honest though, I wouldn't really be interested in taking part in any expedition that this particular Doctor plans out for his students. Because when he can't find a paperclip in his office, he says to an onlooker, `That's archaeology you know, unearthing things!' Umm ok, so people go through years of studying at University just to learn how to find a paperclip? Well, I must admit that's a new one on me. As if you hadn't already guessed, the group that has signed up for his project consists of six consenting young adults, three girls and three fellas that all sport early-eighties threads and cheesy grins. Just before they leave, we learn that Mr. Margot won't be joining the troupe, because Fred Olen Ray couldn't afford the extra actor's wage. Sorry, I mean err; he's going away for a couple of days and won't arrive at the location until Sunday. He waves them on their way and they head off, whipping along the lengthy and winding roads out to sand land. We know for sure that they really are lengthy and winding too, because we see almost five minutes of footage that shows nothing but the characters driving along them cheerily grinning. (Whoopee!) They stop off at a garage for supplies and meet up with the shaky old Indian, Billy Iron Wing'. He's either a recovering alcoholic or he's taken one too many trips to the spirit world, judging by the way he kept on trembling like a belly dancer in a cauldron of hot ashes. He tries to warn them about the repercussions that lay ahead if they go out digging for artefacts, but as you should certainly know by now, that sort of advice always falls on deaf (and dumb) ears. So they mock his knowledge and continue on their journey.
A little more driving and checking the map ensues, until they eventually turn up at the location that's been marked off for them by the absent Doctor. Before parking up, they pass by the open-back truck from earlier and we see that the man with the murderous hand', has rotted into a fairly convincing skeleton. (Suspiciously quickly too, judging by the condition of his pick-up!) The youngsters notice upon arrival that an ominous crow, which is never a good sign, has followed them all the way to their destination from the motorway. Then, in a scene that's missing from the UK print, D.J. predicts some of the things that will follow over the next hour or so in brief premonitions. Later that night, the rest of the posse discusses the reasons why she could be behaving so bizarrely, and our suspicions are confirmed when her buddy' says, `She's been acting pretty strange all her life!' D.J continues the weirdness by telling everyone that they shouldn't be defiling the graves of the dead' because it will, only anger their souls'. Again she attempts to prevent everyone from digging by informing them that the ground is full of evil', but still no one takes any notice. Just to let us know that we haven't accidentally sat on the remote control and switched to a Discovery channel documentary on how not to dig up artefacts; a haunting score continuously plays in the background. We also get the odd shot of a spirit that breathes heavily and clutches a bow and arrow, but so far, we've been somewhat lacking in the actual Horror' department. So patiently I waited - and waited and waited. Still waiting! By the forty-five minute mark, I was checking the cheesy hand-drawn (in what looks like felt-tip pen) cover to see if this really was a slasher flick!
Finally things liven up, when the gang hears chanting strangely echoing through the ground, and two of them run off to investigate. They find an abandoned campfire, which upon inspection, explodes in Randy's face! After that mysterious occurrence, he too begins acting strangely, telling his girlfriend to shut-up and just generally keeping withdrawn and secluded, only talking about a guy named, The Black Claw'. Apparently he was some kind of ancient Indian renegade that was famous for his rites of black magic and murder sprees. The next night, Randy asks his girlfriend to take a walk with him into the gloomy wilderness. He signals a suspicious departure by telling his buddies that he'll see them MUCH later. Once they get as far away from the others as possible, he transforms into the Indian spirit that we saw running around earlier and then kills-off the unsuspecting female, presumably by slicing her throat? (As I said all the death scenes were edited.) The rest of the group hears her screams and head out in search of the couple, only to discover Louise's mutilated corpse and to learn that Randy's gone berserk! The troupe heads to their car to escape, only to find that the artificial Shaman has got there first and cut the distributor loose, leaving them conveniently stranded. Luckily, Dan remembers the open-back truck from earlier and decides that if it still works, it'll be their only chance of survival. Cue some priceless comedy as he decides that he'll go and check it alone, justifying his madness to the gang, by telling them that he'll -move faster that way'! (!) They offer him the rifle for a little protection, but he tells them, `No keep it man, I'll be ok' (Bad move buddy!) With a commendable knack for unintentional wit, he leaves with the classic line, `Don't worry man, I'll be back before you know it.' Blissfully unaware that the last thing that he'll ever be is coming back'! Before long the murderous Chief turns up and hacks his way through the rest of the posse, until only two remain
Scalps is so parsimoniously produced that night changes to midday and back again conveniently, every time that we really need to see what's going on. One second you'll be watching a chase sequence in the darkness and then in the next, you'll see the character's facial expressions in broad daylight! I'm just surprised that the excavators failed to recognise these amazing changes of atmosphere and add them to their lists of bizarre supernatural occurrences! The movie itself plays like a hybrid of Ruggero Deodato's Bodycount and Satan's Blade, which clearly aren't the two greatest films that you could choose to mix together. The cast are as turgidly amateur as you might expect and the whole thing is devoid of one single element of credibility. To be honest though, it'd be unfair of me to give this a really stinking rating, because I haven't seen how it was originally intended to look. When you stop to think about it, films like Zombie Flesh Eaters, Evilspeak and even Friday the 13th would have been terrible if it wasn't for their memorable usage of the old gooey stuff. Rumour has it that in its unedited form, this certainly delivers on the gore-score, including one victim getting effectively scalped'. (Hence the title!) Well, the UK print could have been called kneecaps' or elbows' as far as I'm concerned, because no one looses the top of their head in this version. In fact, none of the victims has any body parts dismembered at all, unfortunately. And what the hell happened to the lion-headed Elvis impersonator from the prologue? Unlike the king himself, he never did make a comeback!
To be fair though, this does manage the odd enjoyably cheesy moment and the crazy old Indian killer is a plot-point that has the potential be reused (again) in the future. One thing that really did amuse me, were the wonderfully cheesy taglines that graced the memorable' cover. They read things like, in a cave deep in our earth await the demons of a bloody massacre' or Deep in our earth the demons wait'! Err; I think you might be describing the wrong film there mate, what demons? What caves? What massacre? I'm afraid that I really can't recommend or warn you about Scalps. But there is one piece of solid advice that I can give that might just help. Don't get the BBFC's 18 certificate. It's overlong, boring and above all, it's rubbish
Often under credited slasher...
Curtains heralded the directorial debut of Richard Ciupka, a cinematographer that had worked on various cult-movies throughout the seventies and was the main camera operator on the excellent gialli, Blood Relatives from 1982. Peter and Richard Simpson, the Canada-based team responsible for Prom Night were the producers, marking their second joint venture into the kingdom of slash and explaining the healthy budget and strong casting decisions. It's no secret that it suffered a nightmare production that was riddled with problems, which began when lead actress Celine Lamez refused to play a full-frontal nude scene a fair way into the shoot. She was consequently fired and blacklisted from working in Canadian motion pictures for four years. Linda Thornson replaced her, but obviously all the parts that had already been filmed had to be re-shot with the replacement, costing more money and putting a dampener on the set's general atmosphere. After that, things just spiralled further downhill, resulting in various script changes and complaints from the financers that were unsatisfied with Ciupka's work as director. (That came as a big surprise when I found out; I thought he did a superb job!) A lot of scenes ended up on the cutting room floor, which explains the studio stills showing screen-shots that never appeared in the final print when it was finally released after being shelved for three years. I'm fairly sure that some of the conspicuous plot holes that can be found throughout the runtime are most definitely resolved on a roll of film that's stashed away somewhere in a Canadian office, waiting for someone to uncover and re-edit it into a 'director's cut'. Those sorts of on-set complications usually and quite understandably completely ruin most efforts that are unfortunate enough to be plagued by them. Just look at Steve Miner's Texas Rangers. As a filmmaker, Miner usually always manages to deliver the goods, but after one too many accidents involving careless horsemen and an uninspired crew, it reportedly created an atmosphere of laziness'. The film was first rumoured to be unreleasable', before it slipped out silently some months later and bombed like a dysfunctional torpedo. Despite all that worked against it, Curtains is still one of my favourite genre-pieces from the early eighties. Ciupka directs with an exquisite style and confidence, and Paul Zaza's superb score creates a relentlessly foreboding environment that has rarely been matched to such a great effect.
The story resolves around a mysterious director that is trying to produce a film, which he feels soulfully passionate towards. Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon)'s lover and lead actress, the well-respected Samantha Sherwood (Sam Eggar), bought him the rights to the movie, in return for the lead role. She was hoping to play the central character, Audra, whom is an infamously psychotic and eccentric woman. Like the best Method actors, Sherwood discovers that research is the essential key to performance, so she fakes insanity to have herself sectioned into an asylum, so that she can become emotionally closer to the persona that she wishes to portray. Stryker visits her constantly at first, but as time goes by, he becomes concerned that the actress is looking a little too convincing and perhaps she really has gone doolally. So what does he decide to do, tell the doctor that it was all a farce and save the woman from impending delusion? Of course not, instead he just abandons her to rot with the rest of the whacko in the institute, and decides on a casting weekend at his remote New England mansion to find a new Audra! Hmmm, I'm betting that someone's going to have to pay dearly for that endeavour, don't you agree? The auditions consist of six actresses spending forty-eight hours away from civilization and undergoing vigorous dramatic examinations. Stryker himself sums the tests up perfectly, making himself sound like a military instructor, when he says, `The next two days will be unlike anything that you've ever seen before.' All the women have their own unique talents, and they're all attractive and unattached, proving that the crafty mogul has truly got his head screwed on correctly! When they all meet up over dinner for the first time, they discuss what lengths they'd travel in order to win - what would surely be - the role of their careers. The mood is decided when one budding thespian says that she'd ...kill for the part'. The atmosphere gets all the more tense when Sherwood turns up unannounced and looks as if she's going to do just that! As sure as night becomes day, a masked killer makes an appearance and begins working his way through the cast-list one at a time, leading me to believe that he's auditioning for the crown of most creative slasher movie massacre inflictor! As is the thread with the multitude of genre entries from this point in the cycle, we have to decide whom we think is under that impressively creepy mask...
Curtains certainly has more than its fair share of noteworthy moments. The awe-inspiring second killing, which can best be described as skate and slash', ranks alongside The Prowler's late night swim' as two of the best from the genre's peak period. Christie (Lesleh Donaldson) sets out early in the morning, skates in hand, to practise her forte in the bright snow-laden woodland. She finds a fitting pool of ice and places her beat-box down, before treating us to a corny eighties love song and some visually credible skills that were indeed polished enough to rival those of acclaimed Olympic-twosome, Torvil and Dean! After a good couple of minutes watching her whiz around in circles, her performance is cut short, when the tape that she was listening too is mysteriously stopped. (It was a shame cos that cheesy old ballad was actually quite catchy!) She looks over to where the stereo is placed, but sees no one, so heads over to get a closer look. On inspection she discovers a bizarre and spooky-looking doll buried under the snow beside the radio. As she cleans the frost away from its woe-be-tired face, we see the first shots of the mysterious killer as he begins skating towards the hapless female from a distance. Christie looks up to catch the assailant charging in her direction, which is shot in superb slo-mo and backed with some perfectly orchestrated work from Paul Zaza. She soon realises that this uninvited guest doesn't have her best intentions at heart, when he raises a scythe above his head and decapitates the dolly that she was clenching in her hands! After an apprehensive pursuit through the snow-coated trees and an unexpected jump-scare, lets just say, that the world has one less season ticket holder to the local ice rink! It truly is a brilliant experience watching the superbly deranged psychopath in the old-hag mask skate up in slow-framed shots, while the victim struggles to make sense of the situation. The tension was literally impeccable and Donaldson's decent performance as the petrified youngster made it all the more realistic, somehow. You'll be hard-pushed to find a more memorable sequence anywhere in slasher cinema. It's genuinely terrifying.
The final chase was equally as suspenseful, utilising a superb use of lighting and claustrophobic trappings to create a fitting final to a competent offering. The prop-room location gives Ciupka a chance to shine as he makes the most of his previous experience, chucking in tonnes of striking moments. These include, flashing lights revealing the killer hiding in the back of a beaten up Mini, then disappearing when the camera returns, and the quick cuts through shots of strung up mannequins (and even a corpse), which are accompanied by the dieing screams of an unfortunate female. The patent credibility allows this to stand alone as privileged to possessing its own unique environment that separates it from the rest of its production-line counterparts. It's hard to describe, but Curtains has a matchless ambience that remains unparalleled, even today. It's hard to maintain whether it's down to the constant haunting shots of spacious corridors ending in spooky bright lights, the above-average editing or Zaza's terrific score, but one thing is for certain, it's definitely huge on atmosphere all the way through. Even the weaker points of the feature aren't all that bad, although admittedly, the artsy ballet scene and the rape sequence were overlong, somewhat random and fundamentally inexplicable.
Another bonus is the good work from the cast, which is filled with actors that have more undiscovered talent than any kind of reputation or A-list credibility. John Vernon makes a competent - if a little theatrical lead, earning kudos for expelling any pleads for sympathy, while Eggar does a good job as the essential red herring (or is she?). But it's Lynne Griffin that really steals the show more than anyone else does. The dynamic little Canadian actress gets the chance to make up for her disappointingly brief role in Black Christmas, in which she spent most of her screen-time playing a corpse in the attic, with a bag over her head (no fair!) Here, she gives a fantastic portrayal, switching between emotions of anxiety, fear, insecurity and anger, even taking the time to include a stand up comedy routine seriously! I've already mentioned the tremendous use of music, but it's also worth noting the final piece that plays over the end credits. It's a beautifully composed melody that makes the most of the talented musicianship that was on offer.
The flaws are all mostly due to the problematic production. Even though we're unable to tell exactly how much the shoot was affected by the unfortunate occurrences, Ciupka having to use a pseudonym when the film was released proves that it certainly wasn't a rose garden. Some of the characters are far too under developed and one or two of them even remain nameless. It's impossible to pick your choice for surviving girl, because not one of the actresses was on screen long enough to display their individual characteristics, which also had a devastating affect on the mystery. It is a surprise when the killer is revealed, but to be honest, it could have been absolutely anybody, we're not offered any real clues or motives. What's really needed is a total rehash of the picture from the raw footage or the dailies' - so to speak, so that we can get a true look at how it really should have been. Anchor Bay has worked wonders with movies like Maniac, Terror Train and Dawn of the Mummy, putting them to DVD with commentaries and decent extras. It'd be nice if they could raise similar interests to get this flick redeveloped with a commentary explaining exactly what's missing and why. Unfortunately, it's doubtful that anyone would bother funding such an exercise for an effort that wasn't all that successful in the first place. What we're left with, is a half-finished print that still manages to kick up one hell of a storm. Turn the lights down low and prepare to enjoy this decent offering with some of the most plausible directive decisions since Halloween first surfaced in 78. The evident brilliance easily outshines the few not so good moments and that one aforementioned murder alone, redeems the often budget-friendly asking price. I say give this one a go, it certainly gets my vote and is probably a good contender for the all time slasher top-ten.
Interesting insight into the origins of the slasher movie...
Halloween is without a doubt my favourite ever horror movie. It was my first taste of terror and I became obviously aware that I had found something that I loved in those supreme slasher shenanigans. Eager to relive the experience, I ran round to the local video store, hoping that I would uncover something else that could provide me with similar top-notch entertainment. After witnessing a myriad of clones, Friday the 13th, Terror Train etc. I came to the forgone conclusion that it alone -was the true originator of the genre. The older I got and the more knowledge that I gained, I found out that the category had been around long before Michael Myers escaped an asylum and stole a blank Captain Kirk mask to stalk some hapless babysitters. Efforts like Black Christmas, Class Reunion Massacre, Savage Weekend and Drive in Massacre had already laid down the groundwork, all John Carpenter had to do was use his talent to make sure that the rules' were engraved in stone. That's not any kind of criticism on my favourite underground helmer, it's just that I was convinced that he had heralded the idea without any outside inspiration. One other early offering that certainly had strong involvement in spawning horror's most mainstream style, was The Town that Dreaded Sundown. It was mentioned in Scream along with all the other proven founders and as another reference to its necessity, Jason Voorhees pinched the killer's disguise for his murderous debut, before he found a Hockey mask and boiler suit to be a more comfortable form of attire.
It's set in 1946, just a few months after the War, when the world was just beginning to regain some peace and serenity. After a narrated introduction, we switch to a scenario that would be reproduced time and time again throughout the years that followed. A young couple are parked up on a Lover's Lane', isolated in some reclusive woodland. Sammy, tries the usual methods for getting his wicked way with his moody girlfriend, but she gives him the cold-shoulder. Isn't that always the way in slasher movies? One has to wonder why a lady would even drive out into the woods with her beau in the first place, if she were only going to reject him on arrival? Nevertheless, it's become almost as commonplace in these films as a knife-wielding killer. Almost immediately, menacingly shoddy boots appear between the trees and we hear familiar heavy panting that usually always means someone's in trouble. A guy with a sack over his head pops open the bonnet of the lovebird's car and rips out the spark plug lead, so the teens have no escape. Next he smashes the window and pulls the unfortunate boy through the frame, leaving blood dripping from the shattered glass. After the assailant has dealt with him, he returns to the vehicle to take care of the screaming female. Thankfully, he doesn't actually kill those two, but his next victims are not so lucky. And so begins a reign of terror as the hooded assassin continues to bring havoc to the town that begins to dread the time of sundown
To class this as just a routine slasher film would be somewhat unfair. For the best part, this is wholly authentic, boasting a few elements that have remained uncommon to regular genre pieces. It's the only stalk and slash flick that I can think of that's loosely based on a true story and because it's set in the forties, it has a periodic look that's never been reinstated, only in the case of the odd opening prologue on rare occasions. Academy award-winner Ben Johnson sleepwalks his role, delivering a disappointingly colourless performance. Sadly, none of the supporting cast members shows any credible professionalism either. The teenage victims proved to be the worst of the bunch, leisurely moaning please no ' when they were confronted by the killer and sounding more like they were telling a dinner host that they didn't want any dessert, instead of begging for their lives! The director tries to incorporate a happy medium between the fear and some needless slapstick that just feels completely unnecessary. Horror-comedies hardly ever work, and this just acts as further damning evidence. It ends up looking like a bizarre hybrid of Friday the 13th and Carry on Camping (!), which doesn't prove to be as fun as it sounds like it should be. Every time the killer makes an appearance the atmosphere becomes quite effectively creepy, but then the director unwisely chooses to immediately follow it up with some frankly ludicrous attempts at humour, that are truly non-fitting.
Black Christmas was made in 1974 and this was released some two years later; although you'd never in a million years guess that was the case. Bob Clark's classic looks like a brand-new movie compared to this elderly offering, which could easily be mistaken for being at least a decade older. It's literally begging for digital restoration and nothing could be quite as ancient as the horrendously out of place music, which sounds like it would have suited Mary Poppins more adequately than any kind of horror flick. Usually the genre depends on its instrumental-themes to help tighten the tension. Even Carpenter admitted that Halloween would've been a totally different story without the help of the memorable work from The Bowling Green Orchestra'. This is perhaps the worst choice for un-atmospheric accompaniment in the whole history of scary movies. It's not that it isn't played competently, and I sincerely mean no offence to the musicians; it's just that it was the wrong kind of music to set the right state of mind and what we really needed was something far more suited, to escort the often-inviting scenes that were left painfully unaided.
Where it really matters, The Town that Dreaded Sundown delivers the goods exquisitely. Even though he may just be another masked psycho with heavy breath, The Phantom Killer' (as he's known) manages to come across as an effectively sinister stalker. In one scene, he ties a young girl up to a tree and murders her boyfriend right in front of her eyes. On his way over to deal with the unfortunate female after, he finds a trombone lying in the grass and creates himself a weapon by tying a switchblade to the end. It may sound like a silly idea, but keep in mind that he does all this while she's pleading for survival right in front of him, completely unaware of her grisly fate. Perhaps the most disturbing thing is the fact that it's based on a true story, which really helps to make it all the more fearsome. Credit also has to be given for the time taken to acknowledge the fear that was created around the small Texarkana town where the murders took place. Ordinary folk beg the police for protection and the media campaign for the killer to be brought to justice. Nut-jobs offer false confessions and the struggles of the people are portrayed realistically, giving the viewer a chance to sympathise with their pains. Most slasher films concentrate mainly on dispatching some victims and forget to include the extreme grief that it would inflict upon an average community. It was a good use of insight that made a neat change from the norm.
Admittedly, this does look a little long in the tooth to be thoroughly recommended and the attempts at comedy were truly disastrous. Still, if you are a fan of slasher films, The Town that Dreaded Sundown is a decent insight into the roots of the genre. It was released before knifes had become an essential ingredient, so unfortunately most of the murders are committed with a gun. The stalking scenes still build up some credible suspense, and at times it even manages to deliver the odd noteworthy scare. It's just a shame that Charles Pierce presumed that we needed comic-refreshment, when what we really wanted was more morbid mayhem!
James Mangold's psychological thriller/slasher...
* There's a slight spoiler herein, but nothing that ruins the plot
James Mangold's Identity received the most divided reviews of 2003. Playing like a mystery-slasher with a psychological film noir twist, it's almost like an authentic amalgamation of elements from Ten Little Indians, Angel Heart and the kind of shocking conclusion usually found in movies like Jacob's Ladder. Some non-complimentary word of mouth didn't keep audiences away, and the film made a tidy sum in America alone, before repeating the success this side of the Atlantic. I'm of the firm belief that Mangold is one of the most talented and unfairly underrated filmmakers working in cinema today. Cop Land especially impressed me, I also liked Girl, Interrupted and let's face it - any one that can drag a credible performance from Sylvester Stallone must be doing something right! All of his efforts have boasted excellent casting decisions, from re-teaming DeNiro and Keitel to winning Angelina Jolie an Oscar; - the man is certainly one to be watched! Shot almost entirely on a soundstage, this includes some of the most realistic sets and impressive lighting ever set to celluloid.
After a brilliant credit sequence filled to the brim with subtle clues of what lies ahead of you, we jump headfirst into the action. Whilst chauffeuring a conceited actress (Rebecca De Morney) across a desolate dessert road, limo driver Ed (John Cusack) accidentally runs down an unfortunate mother in front of her quiet and traumatised son (Bret Loehr). Her husband (John C. McGinely) is mortified, so Ed drives them to the nearest motel to call for help. The area is in the midst of one of the worst storms in recent history and on arrival they learn that the phone-lines are down and they have no contact with the outside world. The crisis fuelled family and the clearly disgruntled actress render themselves a room from the dodgy manager (John Hawkes), whilst the driver heads out into the gloomy night sky to search for a hospital or medical centre. On his journey he picks up stranded ex-hooker Paris (Amanda Peet) before crashing his Lincoln into a ditch of water that has been created by the excessive downpour. Luckily another car pulls up seconds later and the newly-weds (Clea DuVall and William Scott Lee) inform them that the roads are also flooded in the opposite direction. The group return to the creepy motel, where it seems that they're marooned for the night, whether they like it or not. Things take a turn for the worse, when a grizzled cop (Ray Liotta) that's transferring a homicidal maniac (Jake Busey) turn up in the car park also looking for somewhere to bed down until the weather clears up. A short time later the actress is murdered and decapitated; they find her blooded head in a tumble dryer with a key scripted with the number 10, planted underneath. And so begins the countdown of terror as each of the visitors is brutally murdered by an unseen psychopath, who leaves corresponding keys, by their corpses.
A strong cast has been a necessity to all of Mangold's movies. Here, the always-dependable Cusack plays it straight and Liotta delivers an intense and three-dimensional performance, leading a studded ensemble of intriguing and capable character actors. Too many studios have ignored John C. McGinely for far too long. I believe that he nearly always gives a credible performance in almost everything that he's done. Playing a panicking but quaint stepfather to a needy son was strictly against his typical type, but he handles the part with finesse, never over-pleading for audience's sympathy and just giving us a convincing turn. John Hawkes almost steals the show from the leads on occasion as the shaky motel manager and Rebecca De Morney proves here, more than ever, that she's an actress with an incredible amount of front! Seriously, she brings a great quantity of life to her brief cameo, still looking ravishing as she hits the big four-zero. Even though the characters are introduced in quick succession, it never feels like their personas are underdeveloped and the director does well to expand their individual characteristics early in the runtime, so that he can let the plot take over and dispel any unnecessary time-wasting.
Certain scenes are riddled with a great deal of suspense and the atmosphere is set from the off, never loosening its grip on the viewer's intrigue. The film may not be graphic in the terms that bloodhounds are typically accustomed with, but like Halloween, Chainsaw Massacre or Psycho, Mangold portrays the message through suggestion rather than gratuitous gore. Alan Silvestri's score whips up an amazing amount of tension and the lighting is no less than excellent, even filling in for the music, in the scenes that were screened in near-silence. Michael Coone shows a flair for black comedy in places with his script, and each character has their own secretive mysterious edge that makes them uniquely interesting. The shocks are screened without any build up or warning, so predictability is never an issue and you'll rarely know what's waiting around the corner, or exactly who will be next to die. At various points in the runtime I was awestruck by some of the flashes of genius on display, everything from the use of light and sound was top-drawer professionalism. If I hadn't have learned the truth from the production notes, I would've bet my life that this was shot on location. You'd never in a million years guess that we were watching a soundstage, and the constant barrage of rain was tremendously authentic.
The whodunit aspect was smart and beguiling, all the way up to the final when it falls into an inconsequent twist that's more nonsensical than intelligent. Mangold should have stuck with the 'Last Stop'-type storyline and completely dispersed the use of uncle fester's b**stard offspring as a conclusion. The method taken by Coone is one of the most predominantly used in serial killer flicks and although it's an authentic take-on a tired formula, it's far too obstinate to gather the recognition that it sets out to acclaim. I'd like to see a 'director's cut' that removed the scenes that I've mentioned and just played things by the overused, but still welcoming premise. After the twist, I was left feeling a little let down that the movie was not as clever as it was built up to be. However, I must confess that a small part of me recognised the ingenuity and I was in two minds after the outcome. I guess some viewers will be impressed whilst others will end up truly disappointed, which would probably explain critic's split decisions.
Although there is niggles to be found in places, I recommend Identity as a strong thriller with some great moments, all the same. It's a slasher movie with a brain instead of gallons of blood, and a cast that a maniac would kill for. After Narc and this, lets hope Ray Liotta's next performance wins the Oscar that he's deserved since Goodfellas, just as long as we don't have to suffer any more turbulence! Most definitely worth a rental, if not a full-on purchase! Give it a go.
Dead Above Ground (2002)
Should be Dead. 6ft Under ground!
Well, it all kicked off authentically enough, with stock footage of people turning up in limousines to the (fictional) All-American Motion Picture Awards' in Los Angeles. Director Chuck Bowman intercuts the baying crowds with a decent credit sequence, in which a robed killer slices through the screen with a steel axe! In my review for Killer Instinct, I said that Corbin Bernsen was really slumming it. Two years down the line and still nothings changed! Here he plays Mark Mallory, a director that has just won a prestigious award (yeah, that'll be the day) for his Western. He returns home with his girlfriend, telling her that he's going to use his statuette for
well, I'll let her reply paint the picture, `If you think I'm gonna let you use that as a dildo, you've been hovering up some bad sh*t again!' Charming! Their night of questionable methods for passion is ruined when they reach the front door of his house to notice that it's been vandalised. Someone has painted a bizarre satanic emblem around the knocker and written the words dead above ground' in blood-red paint underneath. Instead of calling the police, Mallory decides to search the place himself and after a fumble in the dark and a smart trick by the caped killer, he discovers that offering to make his assailant a movie star' really isn't going to save him from a fitting demise!
Afterwards, we head over to a school field where we're introduced to our obvious victims and two forsaken Gothics. Dressed all in black (naturally), they prove their joint-weirdness by talking about, `Escaping into the Kelt world to be with the dark gods' because the `Malevolent entities don't ask for photo-ID!' My sentiments exactly! Then we discover that the guy's name is Jeff Lucas and apart from being a credible Gareth Gates look-alike, he's a budding film director too. (Hardly the best surname for a good' director!) The other Goth is his faithful girlfriend, who also worships all things Pagan. For their media studies course, all the kids have made summer video documentary projects, but Lucas has just ignored all that and helmed a gory slasher film, much to the distaste of his grumpy lecturer. He screens the short anyway, and it invokes laughter and insults from the jesting teen-audience. (Perhaps he does have something in common with his namesake after all!) This makes Jeff loose his rag and he warns everyone that they ` will die on the seventh equinox of Maven' (?) He really dislikes his frumpy old teacher and tastefully informs him, his end is nigh'. By now, I was beginning to wonder if the screenwriter had swallowed an encyclopaedia of Shakespeare works before writing this script! Jeff is carted off for a visit with the attractive Doctor Brenda Boone for a psychic examination. She's the kind of counsellor that would make most Hi-school boys pretend that they're hearing voices, just so they could share a room with her for ten minutes! She thinks that he's not crazy and it's just a cry for help, but after he talks a lot more gibberish about cutting eternity into time and space', everyone agrees that he's certifiable' and a real nut job!' (And a really bad actor!)
Surprisingly enough, later that evening he's invited to a pool party with his classmates, where Dr. Boone and his principal discuss his crazy fits and we also find out that he actually *is* the nephew of George Lucas. (I wonder if old Georgie knows about this?) Jeff dreams of being a big-time director just like his uncle, which would lead me to suggest that he gives up the trench coats and eyeliner and invests in some of those stylish' flannel shirts that Lord Skywalker loves so much! It doesn't take long before he blows a fuse again and he slaps a girl with considerable force, knocking her into the swimming pool. Her boyfriend, Dylan, flaws the spiky haired anarchist and he curses everyone again before legging it to his car. Unsatisfied that he's taught him a tough-enough lesson, Dylan takes off after him and after the most leisurely paced car-chase ever filmed, Jeff's brakes conveniently cease to exist and he drives off the edge of a cliff. The car drops about 3000 feet and then explodes into a ball of flames, making survival a patent impossibility. Don't forget that this is a slasher film, and it's unlikely that people are going to be allowed to get away with that kind of punishment, without some loony or another coming back to seek revenge !
Twelve months down the line, a new student has moved into Jeff's old house at Moss Point and is knocking about with his old friends'. Chip reckons that he keeps having nightmares about someone warning him that they'll come back to kill off everyone that was involved in the accident. The Gothic chick suggests that they attempt to contact Jeff's spirit through a séance and she'll be the medium. Later that night, they all sit in a circle and she tries to conjure a spirit guide with the rip-roaring speech, `Spirits of the South that are warm and bright like Atlantis'. Chip starts moaning the words dead above ground' and generally begins looking deranged, so everyone breaks the circle and the séance ends. Before long a hooded killer with a steel axe begins chopping up the teens and their teachers in the exact same ways that were depicted in Jeff's movie one year earlier. It looks as if he's come back from the grave to settle the score
Television director Chuck Bowman has made such a sloppy mess of Dead above Ground, that I'm surprised he can still get work on the small screen, let alone in the movies. Instead of using operatic themes to create suspense and tension, he's chucked in cheap and junky heavy metal that's genuinely painful to the ears. The cast looks as if they'd struggle to get bit parts dubbing a video game and they must've generally believed that expressing an emotion would put them higher up the killer's to-do list, because they remain as flat as ten year old can of coke all the way through. Josh Hammond is perhaps the worst actor on the planet and the lack of any interesting characters means that you couldn't care less if they all died of gonorrhoea or if they invented a cure for diabetes. There's not much of a body count and you'll find more gore in a three-hour teletubbies extravaganza than you will looking through this utter dross. Slashers this crud usually manage to redeem themselves with a little unintentional comedy, but there's no chance of finding any of that here either. The pagan-chatter was occasionally amusing, but everything else was so utterly incompetent that any fun that could have been had is totally ruined by the outright inane-ness of the entire team. Couldn't they at least have thought of a more under-done premise, it's like The Burning never happened, and what's with all the Shakespearian dialogue?
Horror movies are usually big on atmosphere. The only feeling that this creates is contempt for shelling out the money to pay for it. How anyone picked it up to release in the United Kingdom is a miracle, what did they find so appealing to make them think that us Brits deserve to witness it? Dead Above Ground, should be dead under ground' Never to resurface again!
Mr. Jack will make you giggle, full of cheese and full of niggles...
Any film that has horror veterans Linnea Quigley, Cameron Mitchell and John Carradine all in the same feature must surely be worth its weight in gold. Jack-O is notorious for being the second to last movie to include a role for Mr. Carradine senior. He died in 1988 and this was released in 1995, which means that his performance was obviously lifted from stock-footage. It's ingenious how Steve Lathshaw made it work, really. I wish I knew more about where the scenes came from, but I have been unable to track down any information at all. If anyone knows anything further please let me know. The screenplay was adapted from a story by Fred Olen Ray, whom himself has helmed a host of B-movies. He was behind slashers, Scalps and Final Examination and to the best of my knowledge; he's still working today. After this, Lathshaw went on to direct a couple more flicks, including Death Mask, before settling for a more lucrative career in writing. Unlike most American direct to video/cable horror films from the mid-nineties, this actually got unleashed in the United Kingdom. The Midnight Movies label that distributed it released so few, that original copies have now become somewhat of a rarity, selling for fairly good money at film fairs. Although it's by no means brilliant, the qualities lie in its utter trashy cheesiness, with comical characters and tongue in cheek horror.
Many years ago, the families of Oakmoor Crossing tracked down a vicious murderer named Walter Machen (Carradine) and lynched him. He was a powerful warlock and just before he died, he summoned a demon from the depths of hell to seek revenge on the townsfolk. The assassin attacked and butchered lots of people, until a man called Arthur Kelly found a way to stop him for good. Now, present day, three rowdy teens accidentally revive the pumpkin headed fiend, much to their disadvantage. Armed with a decidedly nasty scythe, he heads back to the same town to continue where he left off his killing spree. He couldn't have picked a better night for murder, because it happens to be October the 31st, or in other words, Halloween. Arthur's great, great Grandson, Sean Kelly (Ryan Lathshaw) is only a young boy, but little does he know, that he is the only person alive with the power to stop the bloodthirsty killer. Will he realise his potential before the demon reaches his parents, or will he be too late?
They don't come much cheesier than this lowest of the low' budget Halloween flick. Everything from the killer's laughable Jack-o-Lantern head (like they had them in the 1890s!) to the way they touted his rhyming urban legends (Mr Jack will break your back and chop off your head with a whack whack whack!) was certainly top-drawer entertainment. The most amusing thing, was the woefully out of date cool dude' character, that looked more like Fonzie than anyone from the present day. Complete with quiff, leather jacket and motor cycle, his dialogue alone wouldn't have sounded out of place in a Grease re-make! Over the years, since her debut in Psycho from Texas and inclusion in tonnes of cheapo flicks including Graduation Day and Fatal Games, Linnea Quigley has gained herself a devoted cult following. She doesn't disappoint here, taking a long gratuitous shower displaying at least two minutes of customary T&A, in her first scene alone! Her only real rival for the crown of queen of the schlock-horrors' is that other B-movie favourite, Debbie Rochon. Quigley is probably the better actress of the two, but really it's only down to weather you favour Blondes or Brunettes as to decide which you prefer. They've both done their fare share of trash!
Unfortunately, the lesser-known faces were all mostly pitiful. Gary Doles was the only one that attempted to add a little life to his character and even though he wasn't exceptional, he scores ten out of ten for effort. If you blink, you'll miss Cameron Mitchell's brief cameo. He plays Dr.Cadaver, a creepy TV presenter that hosts a show filled with all things horror. His inclusion in flicks ranging from The Toolbox Murders to Memorial Valley Massacre made it a part that he was undoubtedly born to play. There were two anti-liberal toffs that were there to supply the comic relief, which really wasn't necessary, because the whole thing was little more than an inadvertent giggle in the first place. Their joint talks of people being blind to the Government and the like made them an instant cert for a gruesome demise. A grisly fate for the snub twosome was as predictable as death and taxes.
The special effects were perhaps the lamest that I've ever seen. The lightening looked like it was drawn onto the negatives with a felt tip pen and the killer's lantern head was so blatantly a shoddy mask that it was ridiculous. It isn't really fair to criticise the lack of production though, because I'm sure that this was made with the best intentions from a shoestring budget. They at least manage to chuck in some gooey red-stuff and a fairly well modelled decapitation, which pushes the boundaries of the 15 certificate. Together with the fairly strong nudity, it acts as further proof that the censors must have been either from another planet or smoking an eighth of crack when they rated Christina's House as an 18! Lathshaw tries a few interesting camera angles and the woodland scenes are all surprisingly well lighted. You won't get bored whilst watching and it doesn't hang around to introduce cheesy horror as the central characteristic. Keep a look out for the director's son, Ryan in a starring role. You can't deny that he's an authentic actor', if nothing else!
What did you actually expect from a movie called Jack-O' with a pumpkin-headed killer on the cover and Linnea Quigley in the cast? Of course it's going to be cumbersome, clumsy and misbegotten! But thankfully, it's bad in a good way and fans of mature cheddar circumstances, will find more than enough to fill their hunger. It's better than that other Halloween-based throwaway, Hack-o-Lantern, but I wouldn't expect any brilliance, because you'll be fairly disappointed. Come October the 31st, don't you dare forget that Mr. Jack will snap your spine and cut you in half with a scaly vine ? Oooooooh!
Camping del terrore (1986)
Deodato goes mainstream...
I was lucky enough to search out a totally uncut copy of this enjoyable little killer in the woods flick from a video-search site on the Internet. Titled as 'The Eleventh Commandment' (what a brilliant name!), it included the 14 seconds of gore that were unfairly snipped from the runtime by the spoilsports over at the BBFC for the eighties UK 'Bodycount' print. The cuts were not waived for the recent budget disc release, although it would've easily passed through untouched, if Hollywood DVD had even bothered to submit the full version. Dapper Italian horror craftsman Ruggero Deodato directed it, although one could easily be fooled into believing that this was an American movie. Unlike Michele Soavi's similar Stage fright, which was filmed in Italy but pretended to be located on Broadway, this was shot on location in the wilderness of Colorado with a mixed Italian-American cast. Deodato's biggest claims to fame prior to this, were his gore-laden video-nasties from the early eighties, Cannibal Holocaust and The House on the edge of the Park. He has managed to work steadily throughout the years that followed, sticking mainly to television or genre pieces like Phantom of Death or The Washing Machine. He soon wishes to make a sequel to Cannibal Holocaust, which I can guarantee will be worth seeing. The Eleventh Commandment is a shameless dupe of the Friday the 13th series, but succeeds mainly because of the director's flare for stylish horror filmmaking and a good sense of cheesy frolics.
It commences with quick cutting shots of desolate streets, which was reminiscent of Carpenter's closing for Halloween. Next we skip to a school basketball court where two teams are busy slugging it out under the watchful eye of the team doctor. His daughter, Rose, informs him that she's going to the campground with her boyfriend, Tom. We're pretty sure that they won't be returning when he warns her that she's got to be back before dark because '.those woods are dangerous!' After they've made out and discussed their plans for a wedding (aaah, teenage angst!). Rose, somewhat bizarrely, goes for a wander through the forest on her own, conveniently forgetting her father's fateful warning. She notices a cop car abandoned by the roadside and walks over to check it out. Hearing a strange sound from within the bushes, she investigates only to see the devious eyes of The Shaman staring back at her. Local legend has it that The Shaman is a murderous demon that was summoned by the ancient Indians to watch over their burial ground. He can't be too happy, because nowadays it's become a campsite (and we all know what psycho-killers think about them, don't we!). Instead of sprinting for her life, the bushy haired female decides that it would be safer to sit in the car (!). She soon changes her mind when a large knife slashes through the seat and just misses her body. The killer pursues her into the woodland, before she finds her fate whilst hiding in a tree-trunk. Tom hears the screams of his girlfriend and goes to see what the problem could be. After a decidedly smart stunt from the maniac (more on that later), he is rewarded with a knife through the throat! Before the screen fades, we see that the murders were watched by a little sprogg that was pugged up behind the trees. Fifteen years later, we meet a troupe of troublesome youngsters in a RV that are looking for somewhere to camp down (naturally). On their travels they bump into Ben (the sprogg from earlier) who's on leave from the army and returning home to his parents at the campground. The gang of merrymakers decides to tag along and they all make their way up to the site, where as if by chance, The Shaman has also decided to put in a reappearance...
Deodato hired an interesting ensemble of B-movie stars, including his old buddy David Hess who had worked with him previously, John Steiner, Bruce Penhall and everyone's favourite tough as nails, 'good old boy' Southerner, Charles Napier. All the youngsters are extremely lamentable, but hey, did I mention Charles Napier! The gang of teens is made up of all the typical characters that make sure not to miss any of the conventional platitudes. They're all mind-bogglingly dumb and the girls must be really dirty (not like that) too, because they seem to spend most of their screen time in the shower. or naked somewhere else! When they're not bathing in the nod or throwing buckets of water over each other whilst smiling profusely, they're being nastily dispatched one by one by the old Indian shaman. This psycho-killer has had a right result with this bunch of victims, because they don't seem to notice when their numbers start to dwindle and even when they do come across mysterious occurrences, they usually wander off to check them out on their lonesome anyway! At one point one girl finds her boyfriend in a bloody mess on the floor and instead of escaping, she proceeds to go and lie down on the nearest bed as if to say, `I'm ready when you are Mr. Killer!' One guy meets his death after being 'scared' at the top of a mountain by the demon, who was probably only out for a wander. He falls backward off the cliff, but must have visited a barber in-between loosing his grip and hitting the floor, because the body that rolls down the hill after the impact has completely different coloured hair from the one that climbed up! (Was it that hard to find a blonde wig for the stunt 'double'?) His girlfriend whom was lying below, witnesses the incident but not what caused it. Does she go and check if he's all right or go and get some help? Of course not, instead she decides to run to the bathhouse and take off her top! Just what was it about that shower and stripping?
Good ol' Mr. Nut-nut is probably the most prepared killer in the history of slasher movies. When he kills Rose at the beginning (the stunt that I said I'd come back to earlier), he manages to materialise a wig from out of nowhere that exactly matches the now defunct victim's hair. He then climbs inside the tree-trunk in record breaking time and manages to convince Tom that he's actually his girlfriend, so that he can re-align his Adam's apple. He's not only a vicious maniac; he's also a bloody genius! He should've made a hairpiece as quickly for that stuntman which I told you about above! And while we're talking about geniuses, Rose's father (the team doctor) was another probable candidate for the head of Mensa. He manages to describe word for word the murder of two teens from years earlier without being anywhere near them at the time that they happened. Perhaps even stranger is that fact that the Sheriff that he tells his story too, doesn't find his knowledge of the incident the slightest bit suspicious. So we've got a Doctor with impressive psykenesis, a killer that can switch his guise as quick as a chameleon and a rock-climber that can change his hair colour in seconds. Who said that this was conventional?
The gore scenes that were missing from the UK print aren't really all that explicit. Certainly nothing compared to the 'sick bag at the ready stuff' that Deodato's most famous for. The best was probably when one character has his fingers chopped off with an axe, but as I said, none of them were especially noteworthy. I guess that I've made The Eleventh Commandment (wow I still love that title!) sound somewhat dumb, but to be honest it's actually fairly engaging. Some of the flowing photography was brilliant as victims ran through the woods from the killer's pursuit and there's a fairly outlandish nightmare sequence that's impressive. Some of the murders create a fair slice of suspense and the twist at the end was actually unexpected. Let's just say that it works well to lead you to believe one thing throughout the movie and then it takes a U-turn in the final scene that I didn't see coming first time around. In the beginning, each victim found a teddy bear somewhere before they were murdered, a neat touch that mysteriously evaded the rest of the movie. The attractive females and obnoxious males managed to whisk up a few giggles with their joint cheesiness and some of the eighties-talk was somewhat periodic. (Anyone remember Iron Maiden?)
This is a lot better than most of the Friday rip-offs that were made circa 1985. It never becomes boring and there are loads of laughs to be had at the silly shenanigans of the youngsters. (Were teens really like that in the eighties?) I recommend The Eleventh Commandment as an entertaining alternative to fans that have seen Friday the 13th too many times. It doesn't break new ground or even make anything outstanding from the old, but it's a whole heap of fun. If you fancy a weekend of Italian slashers, get this, Nightmare Beach and Stage fright and you're guaranteed a good time... Enjoy!
Graduation Day (1981)
If you take it for just a tongue in cheek slasher, it's not that bad...
Graduation Day almost came close to being the first horror movie that I ever saw. In the area where I grew up, there were two local video-shops just meters away from each other. One of them was as strict as a nazi head teacher and wouldn't let the eleven year old little-me rent out any 18 rated movies. Luckily, the other guy just wanted to see the colour of your money no matter how old you were, and that's where I spent most of my weekly pocket money! Whilst looking at the ex-rental films for sale, I found this eye catching hand-drawn cover, which was graced with a warning sticker that threatened, '85 minutes of sheer terror whodunit!' Now when you're that young and in-experienced, those words sound extremely intriguing and even rebellious, because I knew that I was doing something that I wasn't yet lawfully supposed to. I took it up to the counter and five minutes later the big sweaty guy returned and told me that the tape had been damaged and he no longer had it. My little world had been shattered, so I asked if I could keep the box for future reference and disappointedly headed home. Around that time, the movie had been deleted and it seemed more likely that I'd find the body of Jimmy Hoffa in my lunchbox than eventually get to view the damned thing. The more I looked at the box-art that promised
Grisly, gruesome murders' and terror beyond my wildest dreams, the more I longed to find out if it could truly be as terrifying' and grisly' as the beguiling blurb had made out. My curiosities never died and some seven years later, when I first learned of Video-search agencies, this was one of the first movies that popped into my head to track down. Finally I managed to get hold of a gleaming copy, knowing that it would have to be an unsurpassed masterpiece to play up to the strong expectations that seven years had built up in my overactive imagination. The point that I'm trying to make is that I hold a lot of sentimentality for Graduation Day, so excuse me if you think that I'm mad after you've read this review
The first sequence was like a bizarre sportsman's dream. A load of budding athletes hop, skip, run and jump in synchronised timing with a disco tune that makes Abba sound like the most cerebral band on the planet. Tactfully, the lyrics say something about everybody wanting to be the winner'. (Get it, athletes and winners?) Director Herb Freed does some of his trademark quick-time cutting that's fast enough to make Mark Goldblatt blush. It's a technique that was evident in his previous offering, Beyond Evil, and the first time that I saw it, I was very impressed. Graduation Day is just overflowing with the method, which involves chopping two scenes together consistently until they build up to a climax. Good once, but after the fifteenth time I was beginning to wonder how much more he could possibly milk the idea. Here he chops between footage of shot put, hurdles, gymnastics and an audience that were clearly watching something completely different. The camera finally settles on one event, the 100-meter dash and a sprightly young teen called Laura Ramstead bursts into an amazing lead. Cheered on by her Coach (Christopher George), the youngster sprints over the finishing line, leaving the opposition more or less at the starting post! Pandemonium breaks loose in the stands, but the runner screams in pain before falling to the floor. Her track team rush to the rescue, led by her boyfriend, Kevin (E. Danny Murphy), but sadly they're too late she's already dead. Next up we meet her elder sister Anne (Patch Mackenzie), who's taken leave from the Navy to visit Midvale high and collect Laura's trophy at the Graduation ceremony. Almost as soon as she arrives in town, a jogger is murdered by an unseen someone with a switchblade and a stopwatch. Soon all the members of the track team begin suffering unfortunate demises at the hands of the hooded assassin, who crosses their faces off of a group-photo with bright red lipstick. It begins to look suspiciously like Anne is inflicting her military training on the hapless students, but if you've seen more than one slasher movie, you'll know that there's bound to be a twist in there somewhere
I do agree that Graduation Day is probably the daftest of all the period slashers. However, I must confess, that I really don't think that it's all that awful. I know, I know, you must think I'm crazy, but watching it last night whilst taking notes for this review, I actually rather enjoyed myself. It managed to keep me interested and the cheesy thrills make a worthy alternative to competent horror. Christopher George turns out a decent performance and the jesting banter between B-movie vet Michael Pataki and Broadway star E.J. Beaker actually works. Admittedly it looked as if screenwriter David Baughn was stuck in the Rock Hudson/Doris Day era, but as light comic refreshment, they made a good job of it. Even the youngsters weren't all that bad, you'll spot a young Linnea Quigley and an infamous early appearance from Vanna White, who spends most of her screen time screaming unconvincingly!
Herb Freed has tried to include everything that was in vogue in 1981. There's a roller-disco, loads of ear-bashing heavy metal and the surviving girl even fends off the killer using (somewhat lame) martial arts, which was pretty hot stuff at the time. (Oh, the days of the ninja!) The direction was somewhat sluggish, but the scene in which the hooded-killer sneaks along a window behind an unsuspecting victim was impressive and some of the music was quite neatly produced.
The Graduation party is by far the most annoying ten minutes ever filmed. A musical group by the name of Felony' takes centre stage at the disco, where teens whiz round in circles on roller skates! They are truly the worst rock' band that I've ever heard in my whole entire life. With their faces painted like seventies glamsters Kiss, they sing a painful song called Gangster Rock', which is no shorter than seven minutes long and just repeats the same verse and chorus over and over again! They're terrible, with a singer that has extreme vocal limitations and not even a decent song for him to attempt to sing. They seriously ruined an otherwise comical sequence that includes Quigley being pursued by the psycho in a fencing mask. Joseph Zito said on his commentary for The Prowler that all the slasher directors were competing to find the scariest mask after Michael Myers' fearful Shatner impression. Quite what made these guys dig out a Fencing visor was somewhat dubious, but it must've impressed John Ottman, because he borrowed' it for his Urban Legend follow up!
It looks as if Freed blew his entire budget on the actors and hiring that abysmal rock band, leaving him with nothing to spend on effects. The gore scenes are so fake that they're derisory, including perhaps the worst decapitation that I've ever seen. Look out for the blatant dummy that's supposed to be a corpse, hanging on the door at the end of the movie. In one murder, a teen is killed by an American football with a sword stuck through the middle. The killer throws it from quite a distance and it manages to slice straight through his stomach. Now that's some throw!
Ok so if you've done your research then you've probably already found out what most people think of Graduation Day. If you're unsure, then trust them, because my opinion may be biased and it's certainly a minority. For what it's worth I found it to be an enjoyable little cheesy frolic, with the added bonus of Christopher George before his demise in 1983. Impressive box-office (nearly $24 million from a much smaller budget) makes me wonder why they didn't make a sequel? It's scary, thinking that this could have become a franchise, imagine Freddy vs. Jason vs. The fencing mask killer! Wow that sounds great! Be warned this is only recommended to bad cinema fanatics. If you'll still confused, just know that Troma recently re-released it and you know what sort of movies they like!
Christina's House (2000)
This house should be boarded up and abandoned
I bet that the excellent marketing that promoted the UK cover of Christina's House fooled many unsuspecting victims' into parting with the wonga to rent it. The front Boldly boasts that it's from the hit-making writers of Poltergeist', backed with a quote from Videoworld, Fantastic! It will scare the hell out of you'. Flip to the reverse and we're informed that star, Brad Rowe is the new Brad Pitt or Leonardo Di Caprio and underneath we learn that this is a must see Box Office smash'. But the real Hyperbole came from the ingenious warning box, which states that we should be prepared for the most terrifying 92 minutes of our lives! Blimey, could this be the new exorcist? Credit has to be given to the buffs over at Xscapade video; I don't think I've ever seen so much brouhaha. They'd make 3000 miles to Graceland look like Citizen Kane if they had the chance! The box-art had me believe that this was some kind of creepy Amityville spin-off, involving a spooky haunted house and plenty of spiritualism. But the truth is, it's just a lamer than lame Scream wannabe that's about as terrifying' as Big Bird from Sesame Street!
Unsurprisingly it's about a girl called Christina that lives in a house. Only joking, it starts with a young cookie sales-girl getting shaken to death by an unseen assailant outside the abode. How he actually broke her neck by wiggling her hips was somewhat questionable, it makes you wonder how people survived twisting' in the early sixties, doesn't it? He wraps the corpse up in a rug and the shot fades. We then get to meet the teen of the title (Allison Lange) and her younger brother Bobby (Lorne Stewart). They live in the house with their creepy father (John Savage) and a weirdo handy man, Howie (Brad Rowe). Any chance of originality is abolished when we learn that she is not yet ready to go all the way with her over-jealous boyfriend, Eddie (Brendan Fehr). Christina is very uneasy in her home because she keeps hearing strange sounds and objects keep mysteriously moving about. It doesn't help that her father seems a little too touchy-feely, which is perhaps something that the local childcare should have taken a good look at! Their mother doesn't live with the bunch, because she's locked up in a loony bin. (I knew that an asylum would pop up in there somewhere.) Maybe the reason she's mad is because she was extremely un-loved by her family? Throughout the runtime her daughter only visits her once and even then, she runs off and leaves without so much as a kiss and cuddle! Before long the obvious happens, people start getting offed by a manaic in predictable and watered down ways. But who's the killer?
The only thing that's worse than an overlong movie - is a boring overlong movie, which just about sums up Christina's House. It's more like a poorly acted teen drama than a horror flick, with the scares amounting to a sandwich mysteriously appearing in the kitchen or the whereabouts of Chris' journal. Truly terrifying! Brad Pitt, sorry, Brad Rowe was about the best performer on offer, but I really don't think that Mr. Anniston himself has got to watch his back just yet, despite the confident praise that Rowe has been awarded on the back of the box. (You should've seen what they said about Lange!) I really couldn't for the life of me work out why this was certificated as an eighteen. You're likely to find more gore in an episode of Colombo than anywhere in this bone-dry slasher. All the murders are committed off screen, just accompanied by a crack' and there's not a lot of nudity either, I think that Lange flashed her breasts once or twice, but there's no actual fornication.
Everyone's played to look mentally deranged, in an attempt to make the most of the mystery. But it's constructed so poorly that you'll guess who's the psycho half way through anyway. Gavin Wilding who was also behind The Wisher - has no idea how to build pace and most of the runtime moves painfully s.l.o.w.l.y. So much so, that I had a job to watch it to the end without falling into a catatonic state of depression. To be fair, the conclusion had an interesting twist, but again, it was so sloppily handled that I bet Stuart Allison was as distressed as we were when he saw what the director had made with his screenplay! The rest of the plot made little sense too, like how the hell did the killer manage to turn Christina's house into a prison with unbreakable windows and unlockable doors, without any of the family noticing? Where did he get the money to do such a thing? And the Sheriff was so deplorably inept that he ignores plenty of blatant signs that something's not quite right inside the property that he's meant to be watching. He even questions a hammer that's thrown through a window so that it lands directly in front of him! The characters are all under developed and we never even find out the reason why the mother was in a madhouse in the first place. The killer's motivation was also left up to our imagination. At the end we learn that he was insane (obviously), but we're left to work out our own ideas for the conclusion.
Christina's House is a movie without one redeeming feature. It's predictable, lame and sloppy rubbish. It's not even really much of a horror flick. In fact, I'm not really sure what it can be classed as. It isn't interesting enough to be a drama and there are not enough murders to make it a worthwhile stalker. All you have to know is that it's bad and doesn't deserve any of your time. It is Perhaps the most diluted slasher to be released in the past twenty years. This house should be boarded up and abandoned...
The Catcher (1998)
Strike one, two and three...
Since Black Christmas hit cinemas thirty years ago, the slasher genre has terrorised nearly every form of escapism that humankind has ever known. From holidays to carnivals, trains and houseboats and even ski resorts and building sites have become the stomping ground of an insane killer with some sort of deadly weapon(s) and animosity scalded into his or her heart. It came as a shocking surprise then, when I first discovered that no one had yet decided to put a deranged slasher at America's (second) favourite past time. That's right, surprisingly enough, not one psychopath had yet invaded a Baseball field, despite a glaring amount of victims and potential. Until now
Yes that's right, this authentic but somewhat obscure offering involves a twisted ex-ball player with murder on his mind and a deadly bat in his grip! Who needs a hockey mask when you can wear a helmet? Who needs summer camp, when you can stalk a stadium? And who needs a machete, when a baseball bat can do just as much damage? Guy Crawford and Yvette Hoffman obviously saw the possibilities, and so, here's The Catcher...
It begins in 1981, Taft California. The camera pans down on a boy and his dad playing catch in their front garden outside a neat little house in a bright and tidy street. The plump elder hurls the eager kiddie a fast ball, which he accidentally drops, much to the dislike of his grouchy father. `I thought you said you were gonna catch it' he shouts threateningly. He continues to holler abuse at the youngster until eventually the child looses his patience and beats him to death with a handy baseball bat. Next we head to the compounds of The Devils' stadium, presumably some time in the future. (We never find out for sure.) The Devils' have been unable to recover from a slump that the players believe is down to the performance of David Walker (David Heavener), their one-time top hitter for the club. It's the last day of the season and Walker has already been thrown out of the game and whilst he's waiting to say good-bye to his teammates, his girlfriend enters the locker room to tell him that she's leaving him. As if that wasn't enough of an excuse to turn someone into a homicidal masked-maniac, next up he finds out that his new manager (Monique Parent) is about to sack him. (Well, we all get days like that, don't we!) Before long, a mysterious killer begins slaughtering the sportsmen one by one using various macabre methods. Is it Dave Walker getting revenge for being fired? Or has someone else got something against the players?
For a direct to video horror movie, The Catcher is fairly well financed. I noticed a couple of crane shots that must have cost quite a bit and the inclusion of cast members that have actually acted' before, makes an impressive difference from the usual Film 2000 schlock. Even though none of them can qualify as good' performers, David Heavener had the odd moment and Parent wasn't dreadful either. The only really obnoxious character was Joe Estevez, who certainly proves that Francis Ford Coppola chose the right brother to send up the Do Lung River to terminate Colonel Walter E. Kurtz! It's a real shame that he hasn't got the talent of his younger sibling, or perhaps he just wasn't inspired enough to give us his best, which is probably the more likely scenario.
Crawford and Hoffman direct fairly well for first timers and the use of dolly tracks and steady-cam means that they haven't scrimped on what's needed to make the right impression. There were various baseball themed killings that were convivial, from death by pitching machine' to a bat up the bottom (!), which was rather cleverly staged to look as if the killer was raping the victim at first, just to add a little dark humour. A B-ball themed slasher wouldn't be much good if you didn't get a customarily cheesy first-person shot through a helmet, would it? Well, we get two; and they don't miss any of the other essential clichés either! Although the suspense is lamentable, some of the photography is moderately good and the mystery is interesting enough to prevent things from becoming too boring. They've included a few decent twists to keep you guessing, and although completists will have seen most of them before in previous efforts, there's the odd authentic touch that was commendable. One scene stuck in my mind, in which the killer and one of the players were dressed in the same garb and the surviving girl has to decide which one to stab with a broken bat. Without giving away the conclusion, let's just say that it works fairly well, without sticking to the conventional story directions.
There's no memorable gore that warrants a mention and most of the murders are either off screen or just involve a splash of corn syrup, which was disappointing. The script could have done with a few re-writes too, we never even found out where the killer came from - after his identity was revealed. Did he escape an asylum, or did he work on a Hot Dog stand? Who knows? The lighting also left a lot to be desired and Paul Amorosi's music was patently under-produced in places, leaving scenes that could have generated tension crying out for accompaniment. The editing and sound mixing was somewhat chop-socky' as well, jumping like a drunk playing hopscotch on occasion. The apparition parts were laughable to say the least and the psycho's motives were never resolved, leaving an unavoidable feeling of half-heartedness. One of the chase sequences involves Monique Parent fleeing Walker through the corridors of the stadium. Although the pursuing shots weren't really that bad, it was obvious to see that she was running' at the speed of a tortoise that was recovering from a leg operation, so as not to out sprint the dolly track!
The Catcher isn't a good film, by any means. But it at least manages to provide a few corny thrills that'll bring about the odd giggle. There are a couple of bright ideas on offer, but the bad ones usually ruin them and to be honest we could've done without Joe Estevez's unconvincing shouting fits. He died at the start of the movie, but makes a comeback later as an imaginary fiend in the killer's mind, which we really didn't need. But like I said, it wasn't all problems; there were certain bits and pieces that proved to be a whole lot of fun. I also go a free postcard with a picture of The Catcher's mask (complete with glow in the dark' eyes) inside the cover! At least now we've had a baseball ground massacre to add to the other more frequently used locations. All we need next is an assassin at the Oscars! Now that I'd love to see...
Violent Shit (1989)
It's Violent alright, but it's also a steaming pile of...
What should I have expected from a movie that says, 'Experience a lesson in real BAD taste' and 'Expect the worst' on the front cover? Starring an actor called K. the butcher shitter and produced by the violent shitters? This was the debut of loud-mouthed German gore fiend Andreas Schnaaaaas. (!) A director that's renowned for releasing 'films' that would get banned in most countries for their titles alone. Shot on a camcorder, Violent Shit makes Nail Gun Massacre look like Spielberg helmed it in his spare time under a pseudonym. Seriously, this isn't a movie at all; it's more like an exercise in restraint. Sitting through the whole eighty minutes is like being locked in a room with Peewee Herman and not killing him. A task that, if completed, will prove a man's machismo so decidedly, that he will be able to walk proud for the rest of his life. If you've checked my review list, you'll see that I'm a forgiving fellow. I'd have to be, because I've seen some utter schlock in my life, but this wipes the existence of the worst of them from my memory. Quite how it went on to spawn three sequels is amazing, and how the crew behind the production was not imprisoned for some kind of breach of human rights was a further miracle. Still, I've started my review so I may as well tell you what left me so bemused.
The credits roll over a child playing in some woodland with a ball. He goes home and his mother threatens him, saying `You wait.Get in here' The door closes and we hear a somewhat leisurely scream. It looks as if the youngster killed his mum with a meat cleaver, because he comes outside splashed in blood with the weapon in his hand. Two decades later, the Police (or Polizei) are transferring the demented looking bogeyman to, erm. well, we don't ever learn; but thankfully an officer sums it up neatly for us. `Now we have to work overtime to bring these retards back to their holes!' I couldn't have put it better myself. I must comment on the security, which was questionable to say the least. I mean, is that how they transfer homicidal maniacs in Germany? In an Herby-esque camper van without any bars on the windows or dead locks on the door? Hmmm. Anyway, one of the coppers makes the fatal mistake of giving in to the call of nature and returns to find his buddies bloodily despatched surprisingly off screen. I thought the killer (we don't find out his name) was giving one of them a love bite, but I guess he was eating his neck! After shouting, `Stop you pig, or I'll shoot' (!) the final lawman meets his bloody end by a patently cardboard machete to the shoulder. His demise was undoubtedly his own fault for leaving such a deadly blade inside the van with a nut-job in the first place, but hey, I guess his rampage had to be kicked off somehow. Without going into the fact that this constabulary's methods for transferring psychopaths certainly needed a complete overhaul, let's just say that the butcher ends up roaming the countryside and killing everyone that he bumps into on his journey.
The plot's is as non-existent as anyone could expect it to be, he legs it around some Greenland, with a blade in his hand and a scar on his cheek(s) offing anyone that bumps into him. The first, a woman driving along listening to UB40's 'Red Red Wine' (has Schnaas been sued or did he buy the rites? - I very much doubt it!) breaks down, then gets thrown on the floor and her breast cut off. After some bizarre camera work involving the photographer spinning the camcorder in circles (yes, you'll get a headache!) a guy gets his penis chopped in half! All these are shot in unflinching close-up with paint-red blood spraying unconvincingly over the surroundings. Then an unfortunate vulgar speeched gardener gets cut in half with a hedge trimmer then his head is chopped in two! The final excuse for gratuitous gore that I'll tell you about (although there's plenty more throughout the eighty minute runtime), involves a woman getting split in half from the vagina upward. Then the killer (we still didn't learn his name) disembowels her, chucking her intestines, liver and every other organ that Schnaas could find a close replica for, - on the floor in front of the camera! I'm making this sound a whole lot better than it actually is, but keep in mind that the 'acting' is no less than ridiculous, the music is played separately from the (German - subtitled in English) dialogue (what do you expect from a camcorder) and the lighting stinks. At one-point things got all anti-religious when the nut-job sticks his head in, I guess what's supposed to be Jesus' stomach! We don't get an explanation on why there he is - the Son of God - stuck on a crucifix out in the middle of the woods! And the ending, oh yes the ending. What the hell?
There's loads of pointless padding, like endless driving sequences showing cars heading down long, boring roads that never amount to anything and there's some X-rated dialogue that brings about a giggle. I guess we can forgive some of the inconsistencies, seeing how this was made tongue in cheek to be consumed in the same manor, but to be honest, a lot of the pointless exploitation was a little too sickening and not in a good way. Schnaas really should have started himself a career in special effects, putting his clearly visible talents to use with more experienced filmmakers. But instead he goes on to make movies like this that will only appeal to gore hounds that are truly forgiving. What's left to say about Violent Shit? Is it Violent? Yes, very. But don't forget, it's also a steaming pile of. You get the picture.
He Knows You're Alone (1980)
Before he became 'Big' (to coin a pun!)he made a slasher...
Tom Hanks; weather you love or hate him, - he's a fantastic actor. From his type-busting performance as a hit man in Road to Perdition to his excellent comic timing in movies like Big and The Burbs, no one can deny the Hankster's got talent. There's not a great deal of actors that can claim to have won two Oscars, let alone two in a row and I'm pretty sure he'll receive one or two further nods before he finally decides to call it a day. Everyone starts somewhere, right. Well his career began here, in perhaps the most misogynistic of all the early eighties slasher movies. Director Armand Mastroianni also kicked off his life's work at the helm of this all but forgotten stalker. He would go on to oversee a few more B-movies before settling for a career in television, which included working on the Friday the 13th TV series. He followed this up with the (actually much better) mystery/thriller, The Clairvoyant, which was released in 1982.
In a scene that was borrowed' and improved upon for Scream 2, it all begins in a cinema. Two young ladies are watching a slasher movie in which a guy with a stocking over his head and a sickle in his hand stalks a randy couple in some woodland. One of the females says that she' can't take it anymore' and leaves the screening room to head for the toilet. After hearing a few suspicious sounds, she hurries out, believing that someone's following her. The anxious youngster returns to her friend that's engrossed in the film and asks if they can go home. The other girl ignores her pleas, thinking that she's just being paranoid. Meanwhile, a mysterious guy takes a seat behind her, pulling a knife from his coat. As the audience prepares to scream at the horror of the feature, the assailant stabs the unfortunate female through the seat and deep into her back. She slumps onto her pal's shoulder and the guy quietly leaves. We soon learn that this particular sicko doesn't take too kindly too soon-to-be brides, since he was dumped many years ago. (What a motive!) We now meet a cop whose fiancé was also murdered by this matrimony-disliking killer. Apparently he's already got a few slaughters under his belt, but he disappeared for a while until now. A few miles away, we're introduced to Amy (Caitlin O'Heaney) and two of her cheeky pals. Amy's getting married in a couple of weeks to Phil (James Carroll), only she's not really sure if she's made the right decision. Marvin (Don Scardino) definitely doesn't want her to walk up the aisle, because he's still madly in love with her. Before long, the killer arrives in town, slicing his way through her buddies and proving himself to be a real nuisance by constantly stalking our bride-to-be...
To say that this was somewhat leisurely' paced would be a considerable understatement. If it weren't for the odd shot of our killer hanging around in the bushes, you'd probably forget that this was even a horror film at all. There are no efforts at building suspense and the pace is literally non-existent. At times, I found myself more interested in Marvin's efforts to win back Amy than any of the supposed terror'. (Maybe I'm getting soft as I turn 23?) It's a film that is just impossible to watch without looking for salvation elsewhere, because it's so painfully boring. I bet that audiences were united in their snores when this played cinemas! Mastrioianni hasn't so much added the odd homage to Halloween as blatantly half-inched all the plot points. Every positive element, like the killer appearing and vanishing in front of the surviving girl's window, had already been done to a much better extent in Carpenter's classic. Even the music at times sounded like the The Bowling Green Orchestra' played in a different key.
The killer doesn't wear a mask or boiler suit. He's not disfigured, horrendously big or deranged looking. In fact, he's just like an ordinary sort of fellow, by no means any kind of raving loony. The actor that plays him at least tries to pull demented faces as he stabs and slices the cast-members, but they just end up making him look laughable, not scary. All the murders are gore free with no imagination incorporated. He only uses a kitchen knife to dispatch his victims and they're usually always off-screen. For a guy whose psychotic rage was caused because he was jilted at the altar, he manages to wipe out a fair few people that weren't even about to get married, which pretty much dissolves the sense in the plot. Mind you, I bet that there are a few divorcees (including myself) that wish that this guy showed up before they made the mistake of getting married! Hey, he could start up a business, let me see Don't make the mistake of getting married to the wrong person; call psycho.com today and get rid of that fiancé ' What do ya reckon? Think it'll work?
The cast were perhaps a little more competent than a lot of the talentless plop that usually overcrowd slasher movies. I grew pretty fond of the heroine (even though she was fairly unconvincing) and I liked the way that Marvin didn't give up trying to win her heart. Tom Hanks gets about ten minutes screen time, but it's amusing to see him looking so young. I was hoping to witness his gory demise, but strangely enough, he manages to avoid the blade of the psycho. Perhaps he began to realise just what he had signed up for and didn't bother returning? He did at least manage an interesting conversation on the subject of fear that actually made a lot of sense. They were probably about the most intelligent lines in the whole film. The director must've foreseen the talent and rewarded him with the juiciest dialogue!
The only redemption for having to sit through something as overlong and un-atmospheric as this - was the final scene. Obviously I won't spoil it for you, but if you've seen it, you'll understand what I mean. It's like the writer knew that he had given us something mind-numbing, so he tried to add a little compensation to the climax, so this wouldn't only be remembered as the' dumbest slasher movie ever made. Still, it's really not worth seeing just for that thirty seconds and Hanks doesn't get enough screen-time to make it a worthy buy for his fans. I can just imagine producer George Manasse saying to Mastroianni in some dingy office in 1979, `Hey, I got an idea, let's re-make that popular Halloween film, only as a bit of a gimmick, lets make it really sloppy' And Armand replying, `Wow what a great idea!' Sadly it looks like that's exactly what happened
Easily the best sequel, thanks to competent work from Miner
As I'm sure you're all well aware, the first Halloween was a horror masterpiece. Really, it should have remained a one-off, but executive hassles meant that Carpenter had to make a sequel and three years later Rick Rosenthall's effort somewhat lowered the tone. Ironically enough, in 1981 it was easily outshined by movies that were mainly just imitators of the original. Among them was Friday the 13th Part 2, which was stylishly directed by Steve Miner. The Carpenter influences were patent throughout, but he gained kudos for adding his own talents for building suspense and tension. After four further continuations that seemed only to stoop further down the lane of mediocrity and turn Michael Myers into more of an occult mascot than a scary bogeyman. Miner got the chance to put his inspirations to perfect use and direct what was supposed to be the final chapter in the franchise. He erased the existence of parts 3 6 (something that I'm sure most fans had already done) in the series and instead just followed the story on from that fateful Halloween night of 1978, when Michael first stalked his younger sister - Laurie Strode. Perhaps due to the fact that there were bigger names attached, Jamie Lee Curtis made a long-anticipated return to her scream queen roots and to the series where she earned her first big break.
It begins on a breezy October night, three days before Halloween. A woman returns home to find that her house has been broken in to. She was one-time secretary to the legendary Dr. Sam Loomis, the psychiatrist that spent his life pursuing the psychopathic serial killer Michael Myers. Scared to enter, she seeks help from two youngsters that live on her street. One of them searches the abode but finds nothing suspicious, so he helps himself to a few of her beers and heads back outside to tell her that the property's safe. She takes a second look around to discover that her office has been ransacked and Laurie Strode's details have been stolen. After her back door opens mysteriously, she runs to the house next door to call for help. Inside she finds the blooded corpses of the two boys from earlier and soon meets her demise at the hands of the man in the Captain Kirk mask that we know so well as a signature of evil. Next up we move over to California where Laurie Strode has relocated and changed her name to Keri Tate. She signed up to the Witness protection program and faked her own death, living in the persistent shadow that her murderous brother, who's body was never found after their last confrontation, will return to kill her. She doesn't only fear for her own safety, for now she has a seventeen-year-old son named John (Josh Hartnett), who himself finds it hard to cope with his mother's constant panic attacks, nightmares and over protectiveness. Laurie has changed a great deal from the shy and lonesome young woman that we saw last time around. She has been divorced and although she keeps a good job teaching at her son's very posh' private school, she's had a long battle with alcoholism and she's understandably become more or less a bag of nerves. This is the time of year when she is most anxious and it really doesn't help that John and his buddies are planning a secret party in the school after all the teachers have left. What they weren't expecting was a surprise visit from John's long lost uncle and his trusty kitchen knife
Although H20 is essentially a sequel to the Halloween franchise, it's also a tribute from Steve Miner to the genre that launched his career. He managed to get Janet Leigh (Jamie's real-life mum) to make a cameo as a tribute too perhaps the one that started it all, Psycho. (Janet Lee was the infamous shower victim.) In the scene that she says she feels maternal over Laurie - an obvious in-house joke between the cast and crew -, listen closely and you'll hear John Ottman's score effortlessly become the theme from Hitchcok's classic! Ottman is another link, as two years later he would go on to helm his own genre addition, Urban Legend Final Cut. There are references planted to the scream franchise, when Molly and her pal can be seen watching part two on the television at their house. There's also a passing nod to Miner's origins with the hockey mask false scare at the beginning. The film that gained the most acknowledgements from Robert Zappia, Matt Greenburg and believe it or not Kevin Williamson's script, was Carpenter's original, with dialogue brilliantly transferred so that it remains subtle enough to be obvious only to fans of the series. There were plenty of times when I noted famous lines from Halloween, but they were never overpowering and they only played a small part in the story so as to prevent it from falling into the parody category.
It's a shame that Donald Pleasance was no longer around (R.I.P) to resume his signature role; his reunion with Laurie was sorely missed. I believe that part 5 was his last battle with evil', but this would've been a much better note for him to end his run on. Jamie Lee proves that she's still the Queen screamer and she manages to bring some of the same magic that was such a key element to the unprecedented success of the first outing. Although her part doesn't exactly require a lot of deep dramatics, which in the past she's proved she can handle, I think that she can only be rivalled by Linda Hamilton when it comes to tough heroines! Like a lot of slasher movies from the past, here we have an appearance from an up and comer that would soon become a Hollywood star. Yes, this was the first screen outing for Josh Hartnett who has been busy ever since in all sorts of movies, ranging from the smaltzy Michael Bay Titanic impersonation, Pearl Harbour (boo!) to the much-underrated buddy-comedy from the always-reliable Ron Shelton, Hollywood Homicide (yippee!). He gives a pretty good performance for his first outing, showing talent that almost disappeared from the war torn drama mentioned above, but has thankfully returned most recently. LL Cool J plays a totally out of character turn as the comic relief security guard; but he handles it competently. He has been struggling to garner the recognition that he deserves as an actor, because he's usually brushed aside with the rest of his Hip-Hop counterparts that have become movie stars with no talent to back it up. But he alone deserves better, because his training with the schools that taught the Method (for want of the perfect word) that was originally offered by Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler is looking more and more evident every time that I see him.
The thing that really lifts this above the five disappointments that preceded it is Miner's excellent direction. His horror movies have nearly always been commendable and this is no different. He even makes good use of the conventional excuses for suspense. A car that won't start builds some tension and you'll find it impossible to deny the edge of your seat thrills brought about by the scene where Molly (Michelle Williams) drops the keys to the gate that she just locked Michael behind. He manages to include a fair slice of gore - Sarah's leg crushing was decidedly gruesome and perhaps due to his experience of the genre, he's done well to make Myers almost as creepy as he was first time around. I think it's a safe bet to say that if John Carpenter had decided to make a return to the franchise that he spawned twenty years ago, this is more or less how his output may have looked. Although it's nowhere near as memorable as Halloween, it is without a doubt the best continuation.
There are a few things that are questionable about H20, like where the hell had Michael been for 20 years? I think that people may have noticed a pale William Shattner in a boiler suit frequenting the local bars and clubs! Or ordering egg fried rice to go at the local Chinese takeaway. Quite why the coroners put him in a body bag whilst he's still in his mask also made little sense and it's surprising just how much Michael knows about stealing cars and cutting electricity, I'd love to know where he'd been on the lamb for the last twenty years. Perhaps he enrolled at the Haddonfield College for a course or two? He's also got an amazing flare for stealth that would put James Bond to shame. He can sneak almost anywhere without being seen. Maybe that's the reason that we haven't suffered any Michael Duddikoff films for ages. He's been too busy teaching brother Myers the way of the American Ninja!
Brush those mostly minor problems aside and basically you've got a decent horror film that put a little life back into the franchise before it was ruined (once again) by Rick Rosenthall. It's by no means a masterpiece like the originator, but there's no doubt that it's the best sequel so far. Lets hope for a trip back to Horror from Mr. Miner soon. Even better, lets hope he puts his talents back into the slasher genre, hopefully with a brand-new concept. If you want to see the best way to put an end to the series, then look no further, this is just perfect.
Terror Train (1980)
Spottiswoode's debut is competent and creepy...
The girls and boys from Sigma Phi. Some will live. Some will die
. Taglines don't get much better than that now, do they! Thankfully Roger Spottiwoode's debut has a lot more to offer than just intriguing promotion, it was actually one of the better flicks of the peak period. It was also perhaps the first post-Halloween slasher to make use of the revenge of the bullied nerd' premise that would become a genre signature in movies like Slaughter High and Iced throughout the decade. The three and a half million-dollar budget that was thrown into the feature acts as proof that way back in 1980; studios were serious about backing the cycle. Nowadays it seems that stalk and slash flicks more often than not suffer from a patent lack of funding that works to their disadvantage.
To keep with the holiday theme, it kicks off at a massive outdoors New Years party where youngsters boogie around a bonfire. A group of Medical students secluded from the rest of the revellers set a prank in which a dweeby looking guy enters a (smartly lighted) room to find love' for the first time. Elaine (Jamie Lee Curtis) has been pressured into taking part, although she doesn't think it's right', and is unaware of the full implications. As if you didn't already know, something goes wrong and they end up giving birth to a maniac that's bitter, twisted and eager for revenge. I shouldn't have to tell you that after the credits have rolled it's New Years Eve once again, a couple of years down the line. Doc (Hart Bochner) has arranged a party on a locomotive train and all the culprits from earlier have shown up, bringing along a whole host of teens all sporting cheesy fancy dress! The mood is set when an old lady that works at the station comments, `With a party like that, I'm always afraid some kid's gonna hurt himself'. The Conductor (Ben Johnson) replies `I wish to hell they'd put a radio on that train ' So basically once the wheels are set in motion, everybody's stranded until they reach the next station, which is a fair few miles away! It doesn't take much of an imagination to predict that an unwanted someone climbs aboard, leaving a jesting merry-maker at the station with a sword through his stomach, stealing his mask and costume before he leaves!
Lets face it, any slasher movie with Jamie Lee Curtis at the height of her scream queen period has got an instant advantage above its peers. Here she's got some decent support from Hart Bochner and Sandee Currie, who herself returned to the slasher genre three years later in Curtains. Screen mogul Ben Johnson brings some much-appreciated class to proceedings; his is it worth it' speech was especially memorable. Roger Spottiswoode had worked previously as an editor on various movies, including Straw Dogs. Here he proves, beyond a doubt, that he can handle horror and build suspense, which is especially tight in places. The scenes in which guards search carriages with very little light were superb, keeping pulses running, as you're always aware that the killer could strike at any minute. Doc's deserved fate was also pretty gruesome; again creating some genuine tension. The way that the once-brash bully turned into a grovelling coward was somewhat fitting and he gave a fairly convincing performance too.
The silent-killer stuff still felt fresh this early on and although we're pretty certain who's under the various masks (more on that in a second), there's still an intriguing mystery, as no one knows whom he's actually disguised as. Could it be the creepy magician? Or perhaps the driver that disappears? The conclusion is not one you'll easily clock. As he happens to be stalking a fancy dress party, why not take the liberty of stealing a few different costumes to conceal his true identity? I mean, Michael and Jason think so rigidly don't they - even a homicidal maniac should have a choice of wardrobe! This loony pinches the attire of his latest victims as he goes, managing three before the closing credits. (Perhaps in a nod to Class Reunion Massacre?) By far the best was the creepy robe (well it looked like a robe) and mask that he wore in his confrontation with Jamie Lee. Splashed in blood he proceeds to smash out the lights in the carriage with a spear, as he constantly pursues her, not letting something so meagre as a letter-spike through the eyeball stop him! Terror Train isn't exactly a gore hound's delight, but it's still graphic enough to satisfy most and I'm fairy convinced that it was edited for video-release. When it played in Cinemas across the UK, the version was four minutes longer than the one MGM put out for rental, although the BBFC made no alterations to the runtime that they've admitted, so I guess we'll never know.
Sadly there are a few flaws that prevent total praise, perhaps mostly down to the intermittent pacing. There's a lot of time where not a lot happens and the killer seems to take forever to get into gear and because he was indeed one of the creepier bogeymen, the movie somewhat lacked his presence. The between kill scenes' mainly consist of obnoxious magician David Copperfield looking for excuses to give depressive magic shows or using them to try and score with Elaine. That's all very well if you like that sorts of thing, however I found it to be an especially tedious form of padding that the film really didn't need. They could have cut him out completely and just trimmed it from ninety-three minutes to eighty and it probably would've worked much better. John Mills Cockell's award-nominated music wasn't used as much as it could have been; such a great score should've had a lot more screen-time. It proved to be effective in working up the suspense and heating up the climax towards the end, when the flashes of brilliance made-up for some of the slower patches that were evident earlier on.
One thing I did find interesting were the various talks about trains dieing out and how they would become just a memory in a few years time. Well, that was 1980 and here twenty-four years later, they're still as over-populated as they've ever been!
Terror Train mixes relentless gloom, compelling mystery and good performances to achieve fairly decent results. Everything's neatly photographed and it's a refreshing change to see a healthy budget put to good use in a slasher flick. Trains are a claustrophobic location anyway and Spottiswoode knew it and he worked it to the flick's advantage. All these benefits make it better than the other genre piece that Jamie Lee accepted, Prom Night. But it still can't touch Carpenter's Laurie Strode. Still, if you're looking for an often-overlooked thriller, you could do a lot worse than Terror Train. It manages scares, gore and some decent suspense, that add up to an inviting whole. Anchor Bay is about to release this on DVD, so keep your eyes out for that. Recommended.
Friday the 13th: Part 2 (1981)
one of those rare occasions when a sequel is an exact equal...
Contains Spoilers Many people forget - and Kasey brutally learned in the beginning of Scream - that Jason was just a Mongoloid pup that made a brief cameo in the first Friday the 13th. Mama Voorhees was the axe-monger in the original Camp Blood massacre and impressive box office receipts made a sequel inevitable. Old Pamela literally loosing her head as a previous conclusion meant that the team needed a new maniac to reap havoc on some sexually charged campers (although it didn't stop Rick Rosenthal's dire Halloween Resurrection!). Who could be better to fill the position than a now fully-grown and horribly disfigured backwoodsman with an obvious axe to grind (precisely) as revenge for the murder of his dear, sweet mummy? Sean Cunningham passed up the chance to direct, so Steve Miner - who had been associate producer first time around - took the reins, which proved to be a great decision that unearthed a previously undiscovered talent for generating suspense and shocks that could easily rival that of his buddy. Miner's impressive career was launched by this follow up and he has become one of television's finest directors, even if his movie career has never really rocketed (Texas Rangers springs to mind!) His commendable work proved to be a rare occasion when a sequel could exactly rival its antecedent without being better or thankfully any worse. Although perhaps a little more archetypal for following the Carpenter influences much closer to the bone, his exquisite skill that was almost bursting from the screen throughout places Part 2 in Horror's hall of fame right next to its forebear!
It begins with perhaps the longest pre-credit sequence in cinema history. A child skips along a soggy street singing 'Itsy Bitsy Spider' to himself in the rain. His mother calls him inside, and as he leaves, giant heavy boots replace his small and dainty feet. With a knowing nod to Halloween, a hulking heavy breathing presence steady-cams it up to a house extremely similar to Michael Myers' derelict abode over in Haddonfield. Inside we see that Alice (Adrienne King) is the occupier and she seems to be having a (orgasmic?) nightmare about her previous misfortune over at Camp Crystal Lake, helpfully informing newcomers of the story so far. She awakes to a call from her mother checking up on her, and then heads to the shower. When she's finished the phone rings a second time, only now there's nobody there. Still struggling to forget the horrors of her past, this puts the lonesome female somewhat on edge and finding a window mysteriously opened really doesn't help to regain serenity. After an exceptionally good false cat scare, she opens the fridge to find the decapitated head of the mad woman that so viciously terrorised her earlier, inexplicably placed amongst the groceries! The screams of Panic are cut short by a large hand pushing a screwdriver into the side of her head, proving that she may have survived one generation of revenge-hungry Voorhees, but she didn't stand a chance with the new blood! Revenge is indeed sweet. We next meet a couple that is heading for a camp that's dangerously close to Crystal Lake. Jeff (Bill Randolph) and Sandra (Marta Kober) become the victims of a particularly annoying prank by Ted (Stu Chmo), the banal joker who also informs them of the gruesome legend of Camp Blood (as it's more familiarly known). Their journey to the location is stopped by a tree that has been rather suspiciously placed in the road, whilst our still unseen psycho pulls the branches back (to note a trademark) to get a glimpse of the soon to be victims that are invading his territory. Once they arrive, we meet the rest of the counsellors that look fit only to be dismembered or worse. Most notable are Paul (John Furey), the gung-ho head of the group and Ginny (Amy Steel) his sweet girlfriend that looks like a prize picking for surviving girl duty. They all settle in and get acquainted (in the usual ways) all watched with apparent distaste by an unwelcome outsider. (Apparent because this was crazy Ralph's last chance of warning teens that they are doomed!) Later that night, half the troupe take a trip to town, whilst the rest stay home for sex, skinny dipping and murder at the hands of Jason in his movie debut.
Steve Miner proved that he was paying close attention to the helmers he produced with (Wes Craven included) before finally grabbing the megaphone himself for this brilliant slasher. Helped no end by a superb score from Harry Manfredini and some decent editing and lighting, the quality of this continuation was unknowingly the groundwork for the seemingly never ending sequels that now have become regularly mocked for their over-population. The director that managed to add an unbeatable amount of jump-scares that reaches into double figures - nabs the real credit. Some great photography includes brilliant leering shots through the pursuits and some fantastic use of Jason's silhouettes as he creeps around the campsite. The suspense towards the end is riveting, especially when Paul and Ginny first return to the cabin to find everyone missing and they're left alone with the maniacal madman. Amy Steel's performance was as good as any of the scream queens that preceded her, including Jamie Lee Curtis whom she obviously attempted to mimic.
Part 2 can also claim that it's a lot different from any of the other sequels. Jason is far more human this early on, he hadn't yet forgotten how to run and he even flees from Ginny when she tries to fend him off with a chainsaw. He wasn't quite the unstoppable 'million bullet man' that he would unbelievably turn into. Perhaps the most obvious omission is the trademark hockey mask that would become the series' signature piece. Instead he sports a sack with an eyehole that was borrowed from 'The town that dreaded sundown' a thriller from 1974. It's unknown why they decided to ape the killer from that movie's disguise; perhaps it was some kind of compliment? Still Jason looks much scarier here and it's a mask they should've kept.
There are flaws to be found throughout the movie. Some of the acting was fairly unconvincing from the support and the MPAA's heavy handed-ness with the gore was a little too obvious. There were also a few questions running round my head when it ended, like, why didn't Ginny just kill Jason with the chainsaw when she had the chance? And why the hell did Vicky go looking upstairs for the WHEELCHAIR-BOUND Mark when she returned to find him missing? But still this manages to include everything that a good-time slasher movie needs, scares, gore, sexy women, a likeable heroine and even some inadvertent humour (the folks dancing at the nightclub was a prime example!) People who write this off are either biased to the slasher genre in general or just judging it in the same standard as the later less competent additions to the franchise. The fact of the matter is, that this is one of the best of its kind, a truly exciting and suspense-filled treat that's literally packed with innovation. Followed closely by 'The final chapter' as the best of the Friday bunch.
Evil Judgment (1984)
A good mystery lets it stand out of the crowd
Looking at the cheesy cover, one could be forgiven for immediately passing off Evil Judgement as just a typical bottom of the barrel slasher from the years when studios were knocking them out faster than the time it takes to boil an egg. Seriously, this manages to pull itself clear from the mediocrity that engulfed its counterparts from 1984, by providing an intriguing mystery that works superbly with some bloody throat-slicings and some (always) enjoyable inadvertent humour. I thought I'd describe what I found that so aroused my curiosities by giving you a complete spoiler-free run down of the plot
It begins in an asylum. A doctor enters a (somewhat cushy) cell' to find his patient sprawled across the floor unconscious. The medic helps him back into bed and whilst his attentions are elsewhere, the madman's eyes open and he grabs the practitioner around the throat and strangles him. All this is intercut with a leggy young blonde doing some gratuitous aerobics in a skin-tight leotard at the window of her flat. Anyway, Back to the nut-nut, that's managed to pinch the deceased guy's clothes and a handy scalpel from his bag. He legs it out of the institute slicing the throat of an unfortunately suspicious orderly as he goes.
Next we meet the attractive starlet from earlier for the first time. Her name is Janet (Pamela Collyer) and she works in a grubby café that you really wouldn't want to visit if you were in the area. This fact is proved by an old humbug that believes the swarthy Greek owner's soup tastes exactly like piddle! He makes a point by standing up and urinating in the bowl, justifying himself with the classic line, `If you're gonna sell p**s, then sell p**s!' The grumpy manager, that was leading me to believe that he was the real maniac at this point, chases out the scruffy vagabond with a meat cleaver for his troubles! All this is watched by our sure to be surviving girl' and her abruptly tempered boyfriend Deano (Jack Langedyk). Deano is an Italian wise guy' that looks as if he arrived at the wrong film set and was sorely missed from the Mafioso flick that was shooting in the studio down the road. He really explodes when Jan's prostitute buddy, April arrives (Nanette Workman) and confidently joins the couple's conversation. He lets his feelings be known by hissing, `Where I come from, they strap hookers to a mule and then run them out of town.' April hits back with the amusing comeback, `Is that how your mother got to America?' Deano looks like he's going to dish out the third slaying of the movie, but Janet defuses the situation and he leaves with his tale between his legs. Now the women are alone, the gap-toothed strumpet tries twisting our youngsters arm and getting her to join her in prostitution for a double act, with the invitation, `You could earn more in one night that you do here in a month!' When Janet still rebuffs her, April decides an example of how she can make a killing just from her dance skills alone, is the only way to win her over. Hitting play on a randomly placed beat-box the two women jump up on a table in the middle of the restaurant and get down and boogie! (Now I really was confused. Who was supposed to be the psycho again?) They're watched grooving by pedestrians that pass by the window, that look as baffled as I felt!
After a particularly poorly staged sex-scene (I'm not an advocate of gratuitous sex in a movie, but hey, this sucked!), our two lovebirds from earlier lay in bed, where their pillow talk gets back to the trouble-making hooker from earlier on. Just mentioning her triggers Deano into a blind rage again and he throws the somewhat puzzled youngster out of his flat with nothing but a blanket to cover her modesty. (!) `It's the middle of the night!' Cries Janet in a bid to reason with her ferocious lover. `And it's also the end of the show' he replies solemnly! With nowhere to go, she heads round to her buddy's place, who finally convinces her to come along to her next job telling her it's a `real old coot that looks more than he touches'. The next day, they arrive at a massive mansion, but Janet looks incredibly nervous. April tries comforting her, `If you don't like it, I know a great surgeon that'll give you back your virginity!' They knock on the door and SHOCK', the psycho with a scalpel from earlier answers! There's no sign of a razor blade and he really doesn't look demented! What's going on? Hmmm Indeed! Before they get down to any actual prostitution, they share a dinner and some wine, in which the mood is set by conversation on the topic of Jack the Ripper. The old guy that looks suspiciously like the madman we saw at the beginning - won't reveal his true identity, because, well we never find out! After the meal, Jane is still trembling and doesn't want to go through with it, so her buddy gives her a (ecstasy?) pill, saying, `It'll make you feel like the sun is shinning.' It doesn't really help, she still has cold feet, but that doesn't prevent her from flashing her breasts at the old codger, who pervily remarks, `nice very nice!' Just as the wrinkly begins to believe all his birthdays have come at once, all the lights are mysteriously cut and April comments, `looks like you blew a fuse already!' He heads downstairs to fix the problem, but bumps into an unseen maniac with heavy breath and black gloves, making those two the last prostitutes that he'll ever enjoy! When he doesn't come back, things sail back into the traditional slasher cliches, when April's next to go downstairs alone, now looking like a prize contender for the chop. Time goes by and when neither of the characters returns, Janet heads off to investigate and finds them both staggering around with their throats gruesomely slashed! They choke to death on the floor in front of her (rather messily may I add) and there's a short battle between the unseen killer and our survivor that ends in him grabbing her identification before chasing her outside
She awakes in hospital the morning after with her wrists in bandages. It looks as if the psycho sliced them before leaving her to die in a ditch, but luckily the cops found her. Detective Armstrong is standing over her, but he doesn't believe the tales of murder and throat slashings, thinking that she just got drugged up and tried taking her own life. `You're nothing but a two-bit whore, I dunno what I'm doing here, and I'm wasting my time.' He says compassionately (!) before storming out of the hospital.
Next up we catch up with Deano, whose busy planning jobs with another hustler that looks like he's seen one too many Anthony Quinn movies! Meanwhile, showing some amazing recovery kills, Janet returns to the café that she works in to resume her job. Her extremely unsympathetic boss tells her she's sacked, because, `she might try killing herself and the cops would come around'. (!) Poor, Poor Janet! She heads off to find the Italian Stallion, but just before she leaves, the maniac, who has obviously seen Halloween and copies the routine anonymous phone calls', before climbing through an open window and trying to murder her, stalks her. She escapes and makes it round to Deano's flat, but mysteriously he isn't home, so she breaks in and decides a gratuitous shower should calm her down! Our wise-guy returns and he must've taken a brief anger management course, because all of a sudden he's really interested in the petrified youngster's story and decides to help her uncover the truth.
Things head more for the mystery direction now, with clues and shocks that I won't spoil for you, except to say that an unsuspecting cop ends up bloodily dispatched and so does an unlucky maid that also looses a hand! After a few fairly decent plot twists, the killer finally captures Janet at the café that she got fired from, where after a false cat scare, he murders her workmate. The killer reveals himself for the final showdown and the unfortunate female is left all alone with the psycho-assassin
I actually really liked Evil Judgement. Yes, it's a shoddy B-movie with a synthesizer score that sounds like Lucifer wrote it whilst he was burning in the eternal flames of hell, but the addition of an intriguing mystery makes it stand out from the typical slasher crowd. The performances are mainly weak; perhaps the only exception was Jack Langedyk, who was actually fairly convincing. But the plot manages to rise above the layman cast members and there's also some bloody slayings. It may not be for everyone, it is perhaps a little under-produced, but I was rather impressed and if you're a fan of the genre, I believe that you will be too!
Slaughter High (1986)
Tongue in cheek slasher with a tragically macabre history...
Producers Steve Minasian and Dick Randall certainly had an extreme flirtation with the slasher genre when it was finding its fortune in the peak years. Their credits include perhaps two of the most bizarre and blood-soaked movies of the early eighties, Pieces and Don't open til Christmas. This was their last joint venture into the kingdom of stalk and slash and it was probably their finest hour. Carolin Munro (that name always makes me giggle, I'm not trying to be Marilyn Monroe sir, Honest!) returns to what she does best
well, gets most work from! Yes, she was the buxom beauty queen stalked by Joe Spinnell in both Maniac and Fanatic and she also made a somewhat brief appearance in the aforementioned Christmas-set hacker. Having discovered a themed-calendar date that had not yet been knifed/slashed/pickaxed, the movie was initially going to be called April Fools Day. But Frank Manucuso Jnr, the producer most famous for his work with the later Friday the 13ths, must've just beat them to the copyright for his flick of the same title. On the cover this claims that it too was from the makers of the Voorhees series, only I'm not quite sure how much truth can be found in that statement. If Minasian did have any involvement at all, it wasn't credited ANYWHERE, which hardly makes him worthy to call himself the maker'.
The premise is even more archetypal than the category it so lovingly frequents. Marty Rantzen is the school nerd that suffers a constant barrage of bullying from a troupe of (middle-aged!) students, which includes the beautiful Carol (Munro) and the joker of the pack Skip (Carmine Lannacconne). He emphasis the fact by wearing a Jester's mask that we know from the off will reappear later for more sinister reasons! As if you hadn't already guessed, one April fools day they go too far and Marty ends up horrendously disfigured and transferred to a loony bin for lifelong imprisonment. You wanted by the book plotting? Well check this out: Five years later, the culprits are all invited to a reunion on their now abandoned campus, but no one knows who planned it (take a guess!). Almost as soon as they enter, the caretaker is nailed to the door by a nut-nut in the Jester's mask and soon they each find curious reasons to wander off and suffer gory deaths at the hands of the masked maniac
Most of these actors' are as English as the Tower of London, but try to convince us that they're American, which would explain their humorous accents switching between UK and US more times in 85 minutes than British airways do in a year. Cars are given foreign number plates, but there's no disguising the location's obvious English heritage. Ex-Bond babe Munro hasn't improved her characterization since the last time she was stalked by a maniac killer and by 1985, she was looking a little too mature' to be a Hi-school teen. I'd love to know how she managed to wake up early in the morning with perfect hair and make-up too, but hey, I guess we're not supposed to ask questions like that and she did bring some much-needed beauty to the movie. Most of her support were outright first-timers, flat as a punctured tyre with no thread of speech pattern. But Simon Scuddamore and Carmine Lannaccone kept up the camp spirit - if little else. The really obscure thing about Slaughter High was undoubtedly Dick Randall's brief cameo appearance. Surrounded by posters from his previous hits' (hey, there's Pieces!), he proves that his flair for dramatics was even worse than his taste for production.
There's fun to be had in the inventive murders that involve disembowelment by a tractor engine, exploding intestines and death by drowning in a bog of mud! (?) Perhaps the dumbest of the bunch was when one girl decides to take a bath after the blood from her friend's bursting guts sprays all over her face (Well, isn't that exactly what you'd do?) She climbs in the tub and turns on the taps and suddenly the water rushes in to boiling acid. Does she simply step out of the basin to save herself from scalding or does she stay seated until she completely melts into a bloodied skeleton? Yep, you guessed it Perhaps on this occasion the killer actually did her a favour! Director George Dugdale shows very little potential in his directorial debut. His biggest mistake was relinquishing the usually redeeming stalking set pieces for rushed murders that lack any suspense or tension. His efforts at jump-scares were too slowly framed and he lacks the skill shown in the early additions to the series that he so desperately emulates. The ghost-like apparitions that pop-up as the runtime draws to a close were indeed silly and pointless, but if you keep watching they at least give us an explanation for their needless appearance. Harry Manfredini hasn't so much mimicked his score from Friday the 13th as simply cut and pasted it, which is no real mean feat, but at times it felt as if we were watching a (less competent) sequel instead of a completely different movie.
The most macabre thing about Slaughter High, is the fact that actor Simon Scuddamore tragically took his own life soon after it was released. It's a real shame, because he was probably the most talented guy in the picture. The reason(s) for his suicide are unknown, but watching him play the role with his tongue stuck firmly in cheek and clearly disguising the problems that he may/may not have been suffering at the time, makes his performance look far more credible. It also gives the film a somewhat morbid air of mystery as to why he chose to end his life at a time when he should've been celebrating. What is questionable, is why no tribute was added to the closing credits in memory of the deceased star? Perhaps the reason being that it had already been transferred to video when news of his suicide was announced.
Although it lacks the polish of the flicks it obviously wants to be classed alongside, this is still a great deal of fun. The unrated versions give some visually amusing splatter, even if it's nowhere near as gory as the producer's previous bloodstained offerings. The overall campiness spoils any chance of fear and it's a little too under-written even for a slasher flick, but it does manage to keep interests raised without ever becoming boring and it doesn't take itself too seriously. The net result is a movie that succeeds in doing exactly what it set out to. Have some fun and kill a few deserving victims along the way! It's as routine as brushing your teeth, but it gains credibility for accepting with warm embrace the knowledge that it's nothing more than that.
Wicked Games (1994)
You wanted sleaze?
I was actually quite impressed by the original Truth or Dare. It may have suffered from stinking performances and continuity that made The Blazing Ninja' look like Mensa staged it. Nevertheless, it's outright exploitation and Tim Ritter's balls to go where most directors are fearful to so much as look, made it stand apart as a particularly nasty slasher that really packed a punch. If you aren't aware of his previous work, Ritter is the closest thing that America has to Jesus Franco. His movies are usually always unrated and contain explicit sexual situations and violence that would never in a million years make it through The British Board of Film classification for any kind of release! After Writer's Block, the unofficial throwaway that was often confused as the direct sequel, it was decided that he should dust off the old copper mask and bring his unique sleaze-ridden perspectives back to the slasher genre for something that had been anticipated for quite some time in cult circles.
In the beginning a woman in kinky bondage gear (she's got to be a porn star?) is seen straddling a bearded man and asking him to beg for it'. A bespectacled middle-aged guy that looks like Queen guitarist Brian May's deranged brother is watching them unnoticed from the doorway. We soon learn that his name is Gary Block and he's just caught his wife sleeping with someone she works with (sorry I didn't remember exactly who he was), a fact that's emphasised by his threatening to blow their brains out with a handgun. Clearly distraught he heads around to his buddy Dan's place where yet another female (but the same actress?) in little but some pervy underwear greets him! Dan is a police officer that has been friends with Gary for some time, but has his reservations about him because his cousin is Mike Strauber, the maniac responsible for killing eleven people eight years ago. After hearing his tale of woe, the kind-hearted cop says that Gary can stay until he gets himself sorted, but later that night he finds him with a gun in his mouth playing truth or dare and threatening to take his own life. Somewhat concerned about his pal's mental-health, the detective takes a trip to Sunnyville mental hospital to discuss it with Dr. Siedow, the head psychiatrist. The shrink tries to calm the situation by telling him, `I think your friend is having some difficult times but I don't think he's going to put on a Copper mask and go on a killing spree' (!) As a form of proof, if ever it were needed, that you shouldn't trust a Doctor that uses his stomach as an ashtray in his spare time (don't ask); someone in an identical false face starts slaughtering sexually promiscuous individuals all around town. But is Gary Block the killer? He's certainly proved he's unstable by heavily drinking, smashing a bottle over the head of his love rival and urinating in a plant-pot outside a restaurant (please don't ask!) As more bodies pile up, Detective Dan realises that it's looking more and more like his mate's gone too far off the rails
Wicked Games' exploration of rejection and how people that look respectable on the outside can have a deranged sexual persona as an alter ego; made for a deep and interesting approach. Where as most mystery/slashers fall flat because their conclusions are far too evident right from the start, Ritter's managed to produce a good puzzle that's obvious when it's resolved, butt will keep you guessing all the way through. It's a neatly handled story with an element of welcoming sleaziness that's rarely seen to such extremity in the horror that we're more accustomed to. Due to the lack of a rating, he's been able to chuck in a fair bit of gore that's always a bonus. Almost every murder spews buckets of blood, but the best would have to be the woman that's impaled on a sprinkler, which starts spraying crimson all over the garden! There was also a decidedly nasty ripped can to the throat and gory barbed wire strangulation to name but two.
This almost manages to give a new meaning to the word gratuitous. Basically, it's the closest that you're going to get to porn without actually buying porn! Most of the women wear very little or nothing at all and the endless un-needed references to bondage and kinky sex actually become quite irritating. The only problem is that the cast is filled with mainly ugly characters and the only really good looking one is murdered almost as soon as she arrives! (A scene that is classically described by the first cop on the scene, `It looks like they came out for a little picnic, a little sex got killed!) Every single character in the story is either a bizarre nymphomaniac with a fetish for pain or fag-burns, a rapist or generally just a pervert; and it can get a little overpowering at times. But the thing that really prevents this from scoring is the home movie like quality that's no less than atrocious. The first Truth or dare was filmed on a budget of a million Dollars with fairly decent camera(s) and sound. Wicked Games was made for about thirty grand and shot with a camcorder and no boom mike. The budget for this sequel was so miniscule that Patricia Paul played the two lead parts, which explains the agonising wig! Acting that would make day-time Soap stars look like Academy voters is never particularly inviting and the fact that these guys are probably just hookers/folk from the street should be enough of a warning what's in store for you if you hunt this out. Perhaps the only thing that's improved since the first in the series was the Copper mask that's one of the best that I've personally ever seen.
Tim Ritter should've taken the time to raise a bigger budget and made good use of the interesting premise. I guess some will argue that this is how underground' movies are supposed to look, but I'd rather watch something that's visually clear and I can hear what's going on without turning the volume up to the max and when it ends nearly deafining my girlfriend, any day of the week. Wicked Games is not without its charms, but you need to be especially forgiving in the first place to find them. Kudos for not softening on the shock-factor in a bid to go mainstream, but A Critical Madness still does it for me a lot better than this disappointing sequel.