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Sorority Row (2009)
A remake of one of my favourite slashers
Now I am somewhat of a fence sitter when it comes to remakes. Whilst I quite enjoyed My Bloody Valentine 3D, I still haven't seen the rehash of Halloween and I don't intend to. For me, the original was a masterpiece and with all due respect, giving Rob Zombie the reins for a new version is almost like giving Henry Hill the chance to do a remake of The Godfather. Somehow, modern-day teens seem far more arrogant than they used to and the MTV generation are a lot less alluring body count material for splatter flicks.
The House on Sorority Row was one of my favourite genre pieces of the peak period. A great story with a compelling mystery and razor sharp direction gave it an advantage on its brethren from the same era. That eerie final sequence is a postcard from the greatest period of the stalk and slasher and I hoped that if there's any justice in the kingdom of moviedom, Sorority Row would pay not just homage, but respect to its grandfather. Having Mark Rosman on board as executive producer, was a good move, because I felt sure that he would really want to guide the way in terms of representing the brand he created.
After a poorly-planned prank goes wrong, a group of sorority sisters are left with an incriminating secret that could cost them their lives. After some on the spot soul searching they decide to keep it between themselves and dispose of any remaining evidence. Eight months pass and the group have mostly put the events behind them and are looking forward to graduation. Things take a turn for the worse when someone begins targeting the girls with evidence linking them to their earlier endeavours. Before long a hooded killer turns up and begins working his way through the group one-by-one...
The film kicks off poorly and by the ten-minute mark, I was expecting the worst. After the prank backfires, there's a panic-stricken scene which was a golden opportunity for the junior thesps to show that they had the talent to build some rapport with the audience. Unfortunately, they don't take it and there's a clearly visible lack of chemistry and cohesiveness as they scream at each other unconvincingly and sink to further depths of banal dramatics.
I found it hard at first glance to like these characters and for an avid fan of eighties slashers, the words Facebook and YouTube seemed bizarre in this kind of flick. Well I have just turned thirty, so maybe I am getting too long in the tooth now. My view is admittedly dated as social networking plays such a large part of the youth culture of today that I guess I should credit the necessary attempt to pull the category forward in to more modern surroundings. In fairness, as a critic I should have given this a chance on its own to impress from the start, but it was impossible for me not to think of comparisons with the original. I hadn't seen it for a while, but I remembered the ominous opening and the haunting score that set the tone so early on. Here we are given a bouncing 'Hip-Hop' baseline, conceited characters and zero recognition that this is a horror film rather than yet another dumb teen comedy.
Then suddenly and most unexpectedly things began to improve. Now I'm not sure if it's because the aforementioned poorly-acted sequence was the first that they shot and they hadn't yet found their footing. But after an uncomfortable and disorientated opening, the plot began to tighten, the dramatics improved and the river of intrigue began to flow. The killer's guise was nothing special (how many cloaked maniacs have there been since Urban Legends?) but using a lug wrench as a weapon allowed for some inventive slayings and the film found the right balance of subtle parody and engaging plot.
Stewart Hendler's energetic and ambitious direction is exactly what the film needed and the fluid cinematography adds to the party-like vibe. Briana Evigan grew in to her role as the plot thickened and there's a good mix of characteristics on display so that you can chose those that you like or those you want to see gruesomely impaled on the tyre iron. The mystery is a tough one to crack, but in effect is a bit disappointing once revealed. I mean, where did that come from?
Nowadays MTV horror movies are targeted at a younger generation of viewers, so in order to get a wider target audience they don't invest in gratuitous gore, which would probably result in a stringent rating from the censors. Sorority Row, unlike the appalling Prom Night remake, does at least pack some blood and creativity in to its murders and although there's never any really solid fear factor on display, Hendler does produce moments of suspense.
So is Sorority Row worthy to share the brand of one of the best films of the golden period? I would say just about, yes. Don't get me wrong this is nowhere near as good as the film it redesigns, but compared to the amount of plop we get nowadays that describes itself as horror, Hendler's slasher does enough to separate itself from the masses.
The only negatives are the large amount of 'hard-to-like' characters, an insignificant bogeyman (they don't even try to make an iconic Jason/Michael Myers type) and no real scares.
It pains me to say it, but slasher films of modern times are the chick-flicks of the horror genre and that's why they need to do the little that is expected of them to the best of their ability. Row does exactly that and boasts a frantic pace, some cool kills, a good mystery and a divine final girl. Fairly good global box office meant there's life in the cycle yet...
Very disappointing and forgotten entry from Nico Mastorakis
B-movie legend, Nico Mastorakis produced this late entry to the category and surprisingly enough, it was his first effort at a true slasher film. After Island of Death built him a career in exploitation cinema, Nico remained in the kingdom of low-budget thrillers with a solid track-record from the pictures that he was involved with. Many focused on murder-mystery/serial killer plot points, but Darkroom is his first real attempt at a stalk and slash flick.
I really enjoyed Mastorakis' The Zero Boys from 1986 and people have often citied that it could sit alongside Friday the 13 et al as a traditional killer in the woods yarn. However it owes much more to 'The Hills Have Eyes' or 'Deliverance' whereas this is most definitely more of a traditional cycle entry.
Janet (Jill Pierce) returns home to her family farm in order to spend more time with her boyfriend Steve (Jeffrey Alan Arbaugh). Unbeknownst to the youngster, a maniac killer is stalking the vicinity, dressed in a bright yellow rain coat. This is an artistic psychopath because after he butchers his victims, he takes pictures of them and develops them in the darkroom of the title. As more and more people die, it looks like Janet is his main target.
Lack of originality is a criticism that's hard to level at the slasher genre as its familiarity is what has given it a style of its own and a cinematic personality. However this lazily delivered and lackadaisical offering really feels like it lacks even the slightest amount of effort from everyone involved and has absolutely no suspense, pace or excitement.
The plot mainly concentrates on the mystery element and the development of characters to help build a good puzzle for the audience. Unfortunately for director Terrence O'Hara, the marketing team working on the picture must have been missing from the pre-production meetings when the whodunit aspect was discussed, because the killer is shown not only on the box-art of most prints in circulation, but also in the trailer for the feature. He must've been furious when he found out!
There are a few themes running throughout the movie that show some ambition from the screenwriters, alas they are poorly handled and not properly developed. The killer is extremely brutal and some of the killings are quite menacing if not graphically appealing. Gore hounds will be disappointed with the lack of any gooey effects (almost everyone is murdered off-screen) and despite the endless scenes of stalking, the director struggles to build any trepidation or atmosphere.
The cast come across as amateur throughout and the porn-level of dramatics soon begin to grate at the strings of your patience. There were also some serious casting errors. Sarah Lee Wade played Cindy with flair and her bubbly character was well-received and conveyed with a flamboyance that was hard to dislike. I would have felt sympathy for her if she had played the role of the final girl. That job however went to Jill Pierce who came across as arrogant, cold and she completely lacked any presence or charm. This was her movie debut and did enough to give her a few more parts in films, but she was very unapproachable here and helped add to the tedious proceedings.
And there we have the real problem of Darkroom. It's basically forty- five minutes of story stretched in to an hour on a half of screen time and it really feels like the director was struggling to fill scenes with the empty script that he had. With better actors, the character development and the family feuds could have added a bit of depth to the plot. But as it stood, it became a tiresome expedition of monotonous waiting around for the psychopath to turn up. By that time I was expecting something, anything to lift me from a near-catatonic state, but the kill scenes were equally as effortless and disappointing.
The direction from first timer Terrence O'Hara was flat and uninspiring, but some of the cinematography was lush. The dialogue was quite random ("I don't trust air I can't see?") and there were no real attempts from any of the on-screen characters to try and build a bond with the audience.
It's a shame, because this was a debut movie for many of the people involved in it, so with that eagerness under their belts and a fairly good budget, it could have been SO much more. It's a real mystery as to why it has come across as a feature without heart and a lack of interest from the crew involved with it.
Perhaps it may be rather interesting to genre enthusiasts for the Nico Mastorakis links and the photography aspect of the murder's methodology, but aside from that it's best left in obscurity.
Mil gritos tiene la noche (1982)
A different perspective on this slasher classic
I must admit, it's been cool being Spanish lately. What with the immensely popular and equally as successful Rafael Nadal tearing up tennis and La furia roja wining the Euro then world cup whilst playing the best football imaginable, it has to be said that from a patriotic standpoint, all is going well for my country.
The thing is, when we look at slasher movies, our output leaves me pretty much lost for words when it comes to banter. It makes it harder when I notice that despite a few stabs, this is the most recognised effort of my country's involvement in the cycle. Just a quick browse through the reviews here on IMDb and as of yet, I haven't seen one that mentions any credibility.
So I took it upon myself to start preparing my defensive arguments. A legend of Spain from Simón's era was singer/poet Joan Manuel Serrat. His most renowned LP was Mediterraneo, which got him expelled from fascist Spain for its intelligent subtle lyrics and views on the struggle of Spaniards under El Generalissimo, Francisco Franco. A fine example is the track, Barquito de Papel (small boat of paper). At first appearance it seems quite harmless and even my brother still likes to look at it as a song about a young boy, at a time when money in villages was invisible, floating the aforementioned boat down a local stream (something he used to do.). But lines like, "without a boss, without a direction it travels wear it wants to" were a shrewd dig at the struggles of our people under fascism and the truth was in the subliminal messages.
What if Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche was made under a similar pretense? What if Simón's slasher was really a social comment on our obsession with image? Maybe he was hinting that you can't build the perfect person and that we should all accept that everyone has pluses and minuses and we could get lost in the search forever? Or maybe the chainsaw wielding maniac was our lust for credit and the message was that and we are starting to dismember our economy? OK so I'm reaching...
In the end I decided to try a different trick. I returned home and told my wife, a film (but not slasher) fan, who generally trusts my judgment - that Simón's effort had a 7.5 rating on IMDb and was an intelligent psycho thriller. I wanted to see if the film's reputation had led it down a path of poor reviews because people had read so much rubbish about it that they went in looking exactly for that. Media opinion can have a big sway on our considered expectations.
A masked maniac is stalking a college campus and murdering co-eds, leaving them with missing body parts. Armed with a chainsaw, the police are baffled as to his identity and bring in extra help to solve the case.
One thing that critics never acknowledge is that this is in fact a tribute (dare I say rip-off) of Narciso Serrador's La Residencia. It probably had a big effect on Simón when he was younger and the influences are undeniable. The film was shot in both Boston and Valencia (not Madrid) with producers from Italy, Spain, England and America. As far as I am aware cast members like Frank Bruña, Gérard Tichy and Silvia Gambino could not speak English, so you can imagine some of the on-set confusion.
Admittedly there are some great unintentionally humorous moments that I can't provide an excuse for. The best of these is when a Bruce Lee lookalike violently attacks an undercover Police officer and then the pair laughs it off as it's all down to '..Some bad chop suey'. This was actually intentional as the actor was from another movie that Dick Randall was working on at the time and Simón wrote the scene on the spot to include him in a cameo. You also have to laugh at the funky soundtrack, which sounds like it would be better suited in a seventies porno!
Credit has to be given for Basilio Cortijo's gore effects, which are very well done. The film is one of the goriest of the period and for that alone it is well worth a look. It also never gets boring and has become a classic Grindhouse/drive-in favourite with a strong and loyal following.
You definitely can't knock the director for his effort and if you watch it with an open mind some of the murder scenes are effective if not creepy. Also, the girl smashing through a mirror in the beginning DOES have something to do with the plot, as it is meant to signify the return of his psychosis (it was launched by a smashed mirror in the opening). It's not handled in the best way, but that was the aim.
OK so I have tried to give a different perspective and can openly admit that there is a lot to laugh at with the production of this feature, but then there was with most slashers of the early eighties, even those that did not have such a mixed production (Graduation Day, Fatal Games etc). My wife actually really enjoyed it (partly because she thought she was cool by working out the killer's identity by his shoes) and she gave it the thumbs up (admitting however that it's not scary).
Mil Gritos does deserve its place in the annuals of slasher history and kudos to Simón who said he never cared what the critics said; he just really enjoyed making these movies. It may not have come out how he intended, but I loved watching all the same. Ignore the lack of logic and hilarious dialogue (the water bed line still does it for me) and simply enjoy the ride. Just as the advert said, it's exactly what you think it is...
Al filo del hacha (1988)
Spain's best slasher movie
Whilst Spain's contribution to the slasher genre has not been by any means prolific, my country of birth has made a few noteworthy inclusions. Admittedly, the lacklustre 'El Cepo' was not the most memorable of titles, but Jesus Franco's 'Colegialas violadas' and Juan Piquer's 'Mil gritos tiene la noche' gained notoriety by joining the lengthy DPP list in the United Kingdom and spawning a legion of admirers.
Jose Ramon Larraz, the Catalonian born filmmaker, first sprang to public attention with the outstanding thriller 'Síntomas', which earned him a Golden Palm nomination in 1974. Many regard his greatest cinematic project to be 'El Mirón' from 1977. The movie was impressively visual and had very little dialogue, which meant that everything was suggested with body language and eye contact and it made Héctor Alterio's award winning lead-performance much more of an outstanding achievement. Throughout the majority of his career, Larraz has demonstrated an ability to convey a cohesive and fluid plot without depending on gratuitous shock tactics. He continued to work steadily in cinema, travelling from his home in the United Kingdom to shoot pictures across Europe. In 1987 he directed the ambitious 'Descanse en Piezas', which was the first of two American-Spanish produced direct-to-video splatter flicks. Piezas boasted a creative synopsis but was plagued by a collectively inept cast and struggled to find a sizeable audience.
Released in 1988, Al filo del hacha was Larraz's first slasher movie, although it wouldn't be his last. He returned to the category in 1990 with Deadly Manor, which signalled his exit from horror pictures. After the uninspiring comedy 'Sevilla Connection' in 1992, Larraz has remained anonymous in cinema, briefly resurfacing to direct a TV movie at the turn of the century.
Shot on location in Mexico, Al filo del hacha tells the tale of a masked maniac stalking a small Northern Californian suburb. In the opening, a woman is brutally murdered in a car wash, which is the first of many successfully conveyed set pieces. We are later introduced to a likable cast, including Page Mosley playing a technically gifted drifter called Gerald Martin. After relocating to Paddock County, he meets with Lillian Nebbs (Christina Marie Lane), and the couple begin a romantic liaison. Meanwhile, as the psychopathic killer continues his rampage across the county, Gerald uses his online resources to find a link between the victims. Could his girlfriend be the killer's intended target?
Whereas Descanse en Piezas boasted a logically creative plot, which mixed everything from suicide and reanimation to Dead and Buried-alike hostile small-townsfolk; Al filo del hacha is a typical slasher-whodunit that swims comfortably in the ocean of genre trappings. But unlike the huge majority of category inhabitants that relied so heavily on their heritage, Larraz's opus makes excellent use of the standard format to deliver an atmospheric and impressively dark environment.
Despite a lack of gratuitous gore, the murders are impressively realistic and at times it feels almost like we are watching a snuff movie. The opening killing has become something of a favourite amongst collectors, although personally I found much more creativity in some of the later slaughters. Larraz is an experienced director and it shows consistently throughout the runtime. In places he manages to build some credible suspense and the tense final is competently handled. Javier Elorrieta's simple but unsettling score creates a harrowing mood and Tote Trenas' cinematography is visibly crisp.
Whilst the cast of Descanse en piezas were incredibly poor to the extent that they ruined the feature in places, Al filo del hacha marks a significant improvement in terms of dramatics. Semi-prolific slasher star Page Mosley (Open House, Girl's Nite Out) delivers a career best performance as a likable lead, whilst the majority of cast members are approachable in supporting roles. Suspicion points at almost every character and Larraz wraps the plot neatly with an ambitious conclusion. Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that Hacha is a slasher movie devoid of stereotypes. You'll find no horny beer- swigging teenagers here. John Carpenter spoke elegantly of his decision to set Halloween in a normal everyday neighbourhood, in order to distance his movie from the haunted houses and dilapidated castles that have signified the genre. By doing so, he brought terror into our front rooms and reminded us that horror can strike in any place at any time. Giving us ordinary victims in ordinary environments, Larraz incorporated Carpenter's philosophy and avoided the platitudes so commonly linked with the slasher cycle.
The killer looks creepy in Michael Myers-like blank mask and rain slicker, and the movie transcends its budget. There are numerous flaws throughout the runtime, but they never detract from the overall enjoyment, and the flick excels far more than it disappoints.
Al Filo del Hacha may have been released too late to make an impact on the category, but reflection proves that its one of the best late entries to the cycle. Finally after a few attempts, we Spaniards have a slasher movie to be proud of.......
Blood Harvest (1987)
A creepy clown and generally bizarre goings on...
Blood Harvest is yet further evidence how the slasher genre was a good cash cow for ambitious B-Movie producers during the eighties. So much so that even celebrated low budget titans like Bill Rebane were keen to get in on the action and have a stab at creating their own Halloween.
Rebane himself is a bit if a movie enigma who preferred the comfort zone of budget sci-fi/Horror than a golden ticket to Hollywood. An educated film-maker whose creativity and flair for adventure saw him innovate cinema with his 360 degrees wrap-around motion picture process, he could have used his skill for technology and his cultural intelligence (He was Latvian born and fluent in five languages) to join a major studio. Instead he stuck to releasing his own self-financed productions that were each fairly successful in their own right.
In the mid-eighties he hosted a 50s nostalgia event at his Wisconsin based studio, The Shooting Ranch. There, a chance meeting with Tiny Tim, another oddball celebrity who had found fortune with his falsetto voice and quirky character - led to the production of this curious slasher.
There are three versions of the feature in circulation and each is slightly different. The American VHS release includes all the nudity and gore, whilst the UK tape is missing three-minutes of footage, which was considered too gruesome by the BBFC. There's also a director's cut on DVD, which is itself rather strange because it also removes most of the blood and bare skin. That must be the first time that a director's version subtracts from the existing print and offers a more lenient alternative. It's rumoured that this may have been either due to Rebane's political ambitions at the time or the fact that the gore was not in his initial vision for the flick and rather it was added at the insistence of his0 production partners (most of his previous work was PG13 rated) to make the film more marketable to the splatter audiences.
Jill returns home to her city from University to find that her parents are missing and the local bank (which they own) has forced most of the farmers to sell their properties. They are not the most popular people in the neighbourhood, so Jill is rightly concerned about their disappearance. Things go where you expect them to, when a killer with a stocking on his head turns up and begins stalking the youngster and murdering anyone who has contact with her.
So where do I start? I can only say that a slasher film starring Tiny Tim is as jaw droopingly bizarre as you would expect it to be. To be fair to him, his performance is one of the few highlights in an otherwise dull offering and he manages to deliver a troubled-childlike creepiness with depths to his character. Dressing him in a clown costume was a masterstroke from the scriptwriters and adds to the overall desperation of his deluded persona.
The rest of the cast are nowhere near as credible and he carries the torch in terms of capable dramatics. I have to mention Itonia Salchek, the final girl, who can't act for toffee but seems to enjoy nothing more than getting her kit off at every available opportunity, which makes her a hit with T&A fans and most likely the highlight of a single guy's night out in any bar that she frequents. Anyway, she is lost here carrying most of the plot development on her (usually naked) shoulders and comes across as arrogant and unapproachable.
It seems like Rebane was aware of the slasher genre but hadn't researched its trappings and unlike many entries of the same year, the movie steers clear of feeling like a total rip off. There are no POV shots, the final girl doesn't come across as shy and withdrawn and the killer seems more like what you would expect to find in a Giallo than a slasher flick. This is most evident in the heavy sexual undertones and his motive, which is at least well-handled and believable.
The film would suffer in later years, disappearing due to legal tangles, not just once, but for a second time after its outing on DVD. This gives it a somewhat alluring sheen, especially as it's impossible to find now in its uncut form. The only version worth watching is the unrated cut, because despite of some woefully uninspired and pedestrian direction from Rebane (I expected better) there are snippets of a really foreboding atmosphere. The killer is exceptionally merciless and brutal and the actor does well playing off-his-rocker insanity at the climax. There's the mystery of guessing his identity, but there are not many choices and you'll work it out pretty quick if you watch closely enough. Some more killings would have been nice (only two on screen) but the gooey throat-slashing is really well done (by soon to be big shot Dieter Sturm no less)
There's a nice synth score that I liked and the killer looks creepy with a stocking over his head, but there's too much missing in terms of continuity to make this a hidden-gem. Some of the plot points were bordering on stupidity and what the hell was with the incredibly inept sheriff? There are long periods of dull rubbish acting where your attention will turn away from the screen and it definitely hasn't aged well.
Worthy only because it's rare and a great performance from Tiny Tim, but otherwise not really recommended as a competitor.
On a side note, I just noticed that I watched and reviewed this, Blood Hook and Blood Lake all in the space of a week and all were released within a year of each other. Coincidence? Must be...
Rush Week (1989)
Not necessarily a bad film, but will only act more as a small snack if your hungry for a full slasher buffet.
I read it a lot, but have to argue that saying Halloween was the first American slasher film is just lazy journalism. Simply check out Black Christmas, Class Reunion Massacre, Drive-in Massacre, Savage Weekend or The Town that Dreaded Sundown for pieces that clearly pre-date 1978 and have many of the relevant trappings. There's no denying however that John Carpenter's seminal classic was the feature responsible for moulding and launching the genre and cementing its trademarks, which set the trend for others to follow. The zillions of imitations that dominated horror cinema throughout the following decade are as much a part of eighties nostalgia as spandex or bad hair styles. A retro eighties party without someone dressing up as Jason or Freddy is no party at all. Even Grand Theft Auto: Vice City - the great PS2 game, which heavily parodied that era - referenced the slasher genre in a satirical way, confirming it's importance as a referential milestone.
There are still about 10-15 slasher movies being released every year, most of them very low budget productions, but the eighties will always be recognised as the golden period. It all started with a bang. In 1980, Night of the Demon, Friday the 13th, Terror Train and To all a Good Night were all released before Summer and a new craze had been launched, which would continue without interruption year after year.
So what does that have to do with Rush Week, I hear you ask? Well this was the last slasher movie to be produced in the golden decade, even though it was released a while later. That makes this an interesting reference point as you can see how much the genre had adapted during that period. If Friday the 13th was the flagship for the launch of ten- years of teen splatter, Bob Bralver's slasher was the swan song.
During rush week, a young journalism student picks up on a story when she notices that young women seem to be disappearing after a seedy meeting with a photographer after hours in the science lab. A killer, dressed in a cape and old-man mask is stalking the dormitory and offing lonesome females. Who could be the masked menace and what are his motives?
OK so we're definitely not breaking new ground here. Set on a college campus, the movie follows the traditional route without ever attempting to add anything audacious to the cycle. I guess the first thing to notice about the difference between this and its nine-year elder brothers is the lack of gore. Whilst Friday the 13th set the template with its gruesome death scenes and investment in special effects, stringent censors and bad media had left many movies with their 'money shots' on cutting room floors before they had reached audiences, so film-maker's were much more prudent with their budgets in latter years. The killer has an authentic double-bladed axe, but the majority of the murders are off-screen and therefore lack any punch.
Bralver seems a director far more interested in Frat jokes and teen fart humour than he does horror and the majority of the runtime is filled with Porky's style character development and a blossoming romance between the leads. The slashings take a back seat quite early in the picture and it made me wonder if they had chucked in a hooded killer to make the flick look more attractive to prospective financiers? There's the chance to guess the cast member that's hiding beneath the mask and cape, but the mystery is also poorly handled and you'll see through the apparent red herrings with relevant ease. There's a smidgen of suspense during the final stalking sequence through the school corridors and some looming tracking shots help to build a nice atmosphere. To be fair, I have to mention that the movie does reference its brethren by casting Dominick Brascia (Friday the 13th 5/Evil Laugh) and Kathleen Kinmont (Halloween 4) in small cameos.
It seems like they had a good budget to play with and the cinematography is crisp and adventurous. The leads carried the film really well and built some nice chemistry during the romance and I really liked Pamela Ludwig as the final girl. It's amazing to think that her film journey quickly stagnated soon after, because she had enough talent to build a career in pictures. Her co-star Dean Hamilton would find his fortune as a producer, working both in Television and Cinema. His biggest investment so far, the awful chick flick Blonde and Blonder (which he also directed), was absolutely ripped to shreds by critics but proved popular enough for a sequel and at the time of writing, he is working on a project with 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' director Joel Zwick.
If the producers had decided to veto the lashings of blood for fear of extreme censorship, they certainly didn't scrimp on the nudity. There are more breasts on display here than feeding time in a maternity ward and I personally would have loved to have studied here at Tambers college as it seems every female student has the body of a Playboy model. In another slightly bizarre twist, hardly any of the developed characters that we meet become victims of the axe clenching madman. It seems women are simply introduced to take of their kit and then scream as the hatchet swings, which means that we feel absolutely zero sympathy for them. That adds ammunition to my suspicions that the slasher elements were a mere sub-plot to allow the story to focus on the romance/dorm ingredients that seemed to certainly be the priority.
So not much of a final farewell from Rush Week for the decade of decadence where the box office was stalked and slashed by masked killers like there would be no tomorrow.
Blood Hook (1986)
Probably one of the only Horror-Comedy combos, I have seen that works..
So we've had most possibilities by now, haven't we? We've had killer priests, clowns and soldiers. There have been maniac cops, medicine men and miners. Every single date on the holiday calendar has been well and truly terrorised and most possible massacre locations have been stalked. We've had a couple of baseball themed killers, a wrestlemaniac and even a psycho Greenskeeper. Are you really ready for a maniacal fisherman?
Released in 1986, Blood Hook manages to make the most of its low budget and pull itself away from the rabble to achieve something that was becoming almost impossible during the late eighties. It's a hard to come by genre entry that offers a slightly different pace and an alternative to the humdrum mediocrity that littered the category at this point in the cycle.
Wisconsin is preparing for its most important event in recent history. The annual fishing competition sees the town filled with tonnes of ambitious anglers from all over the country trying to get their hands on the $5000 prize for the biggest muskie. Unbeknownst to the revellers, they are about to participate in something far more interesting. Hunters will become hunted as an unseen maniac with an inconceivably strong spool of line is casting in to the lake for human trophies. In such a close knit community, who could be behind the fishy goings-on?
Blood hook is a movie that has sat on my shelf gathering dust since I picked it up in a bargain bucket in the mid-nineties. I was put off by the fact that it was a Troma release and that it had been billed as a horror comedy. Now we all know what a horrific combination that usually turns out to be. Luckily, Hook is nowhere near as bad as I'd expected and offers the right blend of the two opposing styles and doesn't only focus on cheap laughs. Director Mallon would find success later with his Mystery Science project and this is a healthy debut that proves that he has a dark sense of humour.
At first, Jim Mallon probably looked like the wrong choice for this splatter fest as he was always a much bigger fan of comedy than he was of horror. Even his first high-school feature - a parody of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, which aired on Public Access – was more in-line with the director's ambitions than Blood Hook would ever be. He turned out to be the right choice for this cheesball though as it's clear that he had researched the genre and enjoyed poking fun at its platitudes. His opus doesn't only mock the psycho slashers of the time but also has a pop at the eighties in general and some of the dialogue about rock music, crazy fashions and popular habits proves that by '86 the decade was already showing enough self-recognition for parody.
Thanks to some alluring characters and good feature pacing, the film never gets boring and there are enough red herrings to keep you guessing until the killer is revealed quite early in the runtime. Even though a set up involving a maniac catching unsuspecting victims with a treble hook sounds like it should be quite rightly awful, the director resists the temptation to fall in to the realms of stupidity and if you ignore the physical impossibilities, it's even quite creepy at times.
There are a few themes running through the movie, which if further developed could have added exciting depths. The most prominent of these involved the numerous war veterans scattered amongst the story who all seem to have been affected (some more seriously than others) by their tours of duty in different wartime periods. There's a point towards the revelation of the killer's identity where things head towards a Jacob's Ladder-like conspiracy, but they are never completely developed and they fall by the wayside in favour of cheesy thrills. It's almost like there was enough here to build a decent and intriguing slasher film (much like Delirium, which had a similar structure but failed with development), but the director's natural instinct led him more to towards the comedic slant. This is most evident in the final battle with the maniac (two anglers aiming rods at each other no less) and I love the classic line, "You wanna take him like he took the rest? You wanna take him with a treble hook at night, don't ya?" Paul Drake's campiness was brilliant throughout.
I wouldn't really say that Blood Hook was a gore film, but there are some interesting effects on display towards the conclusion. The corpses floating in the water were quite effective and a mix of efficient acting and good directing made the victims actually look like they were suffering during the murder sequences.
The performances are OK for this level, I quite liked the campiness of the actors and they all had moments to shine. Some of the cinematography from Marsha Kahm was lush and the movie's competently directed. There must've been a fairly decent budget for the filmmakers to work with and so I wonder why they accepted distribution by Troma? The film was initially titled Muskie Madness during production, which is perhaps a better suit than Blood Hook, but part of the agreement was the name change and I guess that they thought more of the Troma branding and global network.
Obviously a sense of humour is needed for this one. A killer with a rod and reel strong enough to catch screaming teens is nothing but tongue in cheek, but it's actually a quirky little slasher with something different to offer. You won't hate yourself after watching like I did with its cousin Blood Lake.
Just make sure that you have the right frame of mind!
Blood Lake (1987)
I struggled to write this, forgive my ramblings
OK so I admit I'm probably a bit different from the average guy on the street. A Spanish born, London-bred salesman with a few bizarre hobbies that you won't find everywhere. One of them is collecting and rating slasher movies, which as you can see by review list - is something that I'm very passionate about. I guess we all have our quirky individual characteristics (or flaws?)
Anyway, I digress. When reviewing a stalk and slash flick, no matter how bad it may be, I always try to put at least a thousand words down and give as thoughtful an insight as possible. I know very well that there are many people globally like me who love these old hack and slashers and some of them are really hard to find. However, no matter how much I enjoy staying up and writing in depth reports, sometimes it's a struggle to conjure such a large amount of words.
Blood Lake is an example when writer's block has struck. Maybe because it's an effort so empty that I feel I have already lost so much time watching it that I refuse to lose the same amount thinking of things to say? I am not sure, but my apologies if the review is short(er).
Now, I am all for a group of guys getting together with a camcorder and making a movie with their buddies. Let's face it, if I had the chance to do the same, then I would lap it up quicker than an alcoholic locked in an off licence. But I mean come on; the least you could do is make the most of it if fate allowed such an opportunity to arise?
A group of teenagers head off to a wood-side cabin for a weekend of partying and debauchery. The location is based alongside a large lake, so they make the most of their time by water-skiing and the like. They're not aware however that they are sharing the location with a plump hick in cowboy boots who has different ideas for his choice of entertainment.
You know what? In my garage I have a skateboard that I used to ride on when I was eleven-years old. Back in the day, I took it everywhere like a comfort rug and I reckon that if I dug it out, I could still bust a few ollies. However what I wouldn't do, if I got that chance to make a feature film, was expect people to enjoy watching me use it for fifteen minutes. Well director Tim Boggs obviously has a very different idea of what pleases an audience, because here we are treated to an almost never-ending scene of his cast-members water-skiing. Now there's nothing wrong with water-skiing. It's a sport that I am sure I would thoroughly enjoy if I knew anyone with the necessary appliances. However what I am not too interested in is sitting and watching a quarter of an hour of unappealing actors getting dragged around behind a boat during a horror film.
In fact, long, tedious and ultimately pointless scenes are the director's trademark and he seems to like nothing better than filling the screen with plot points that take the story absolutely nowhere. Character development I understand, but watching a Trans Am full of teens drive down the road for what feels like an eternity can start to grate VERY quickly. Oh and please don't get me started with the card game, which had me pulling out my chest hair before it had come to an end. By this point the film had begun to feel more like this was an over-long Youtube video on how cool the Blood Lake posse are at weekends than a slasher flick.
As I mentioned earlier, the chance to make a horror movie is an opportunity that not many of us get. I could never understand why if you are going to rip off Halloween and Friday the 13th then you don't go all out and dress your bogeyman appropriately? How much can it cost to get hold of a decent mask and a boiler suit? The killer here looks laughable in his cowboy boots, hat and a scruffy shirt that just about covers his beer belly. Scary? You'll get more chills from Sesame Street. There's no real gore on offer either and the obvious lack of cinematic experience from everyone involved is a big poo poo to the chance of any suspense. There was one decent shadow scene that I rather enjoyed and the soundtrack is not as bad as to be expected, but hardly enough to offer redemption.
After the self-mutilation inducing poorly-acted climax, there is a shot that had me flabbergasted. I won't spoil it for you, because it's the best thing that Blood Lake had to offer. To be fair it had me scratching my head. I mean, I was like, how the hell did they do that? All due respect to the honesty of the film crew, because as the credits rolled it's the first thing that they explained. It showed a sense of humour from the film- makers though and shows that they probably knew how bad their movie was.
I am not usually that harsh on a poor movie, because to be fair at least these guys had the cojones to put together the funds to make a feature, which is something that I would love to do. The only thing that annoys me is that it's such a splendid opportunity, why wouldn't anyone make the most of it? Little old me, a Spanish genre fan living in London has watched and taken the effort to review a back-garden project that was made nearly twenty-five years ago. Doesn't that make them wish that they'd tried harder?
Well I managed 1000 words, but I didn't enjoy this flick. I doubt that anyone else will either...
City of Blood (1987)
Politically motivated drama, disguised as a slasher - rubbish
This South African lensed feature is often mentioned when discussing rare genre entries with enthusiasts and has become highly sought after, due to the fact it has never seen light of day on DVD and is impossibly hard to find. Released in the early eighties, the movie has a title and plot structure that would lead you to believe that it could sit comfortably alongside the multitude of horror films from this period as an intriguing cycle addition.
It opens superbly in ancient Africa with two stylishly shot stalking sequences. A masked killer pursues and kills two tribesmen in the forest with a spiked-club. The scene utilises superb and energetic cinematography with an excellent guise for the bogeyman and an authentic choice of weapon.
Next up we fast forward to present day SA and we are introduced to our protagonist Joe Henderson (Joe Stewardson). Joe is a medical examiner who is suffering depression after losing his wife and child. Meanwhile, it seems that there is a masked killer on the loose, stalking the streets at night and butchering prostitutes. His choice of weapon is the ancient club from the opening, which leads authorities to believe that there is a ritualistic slant to the murders. As more bodies are discovered, Joe becomes obsessed with uncovering the killer's identity. But in a politically unstable environment can he keep his sanity long enough to catch the butcher?
If you read this or any of the other synopsises listed anywhere on the web, you can understand why this feature has become such a trophy for slasher fans to track down. The plot description boasts all the right ingredients that make it sound as if it stands amongst the many other rare entries that are fun to seek out on eBay, usually at extremely high prices.
Prepare to be disappointed though, because City of Blood is not a slasher movie. In fact, I am convinced that this was just a fraudulent ploy to broadcast a political view to unsuspecting audiences. As soon as the credits have rolled, we are led down a winding path of jumbled inconsistency that makes for an uncomfortable and ultimately coma-inducing runtime.
So OK, everything starts brilliantly after the aforementioned opening, but thereafter things go downhill quicker than a boulder on a skateboard. Instead of sticking to the (rather intriguing) story involving the ritual masked killer, things turn sour when a subplot is introduced involving a political prisoner and a bogus death certificate that has been requested by the prime minister in order to cover-up the murder of the aforementioned inmate. Henderson, a delusional depressive on a one-man morality crusade, declines the order to forge the proof of death, and so a political battle launches involving black power groups and government officials.
South Africa under Apartheid was a heavily publicized and key period of the last century with long lasting global effects. Even though I have a Masters Degree in History, I studied Romanov-era Russia and I am not going to pretend to be an expert on this subject matter. In fact, I don't want to be, as it's not something that I was ever particularly interested in. I am however a fan of slasher movies and when I am in the mood to watch one, I know what I want and I know what I should expect. Now I'm sure that there are many cinematic views from equally as many angles on the complex struggles that occurred during these times. It seems the modus operandi here, however, was to use the slasher undertones (the genre was extremely popular at the time) to forcibly and fraudulently convey a message to an audience that would be otherwise uninterested. You know at General Election time when you see pop idols standing with politicians and looking like they know everything about the party's manifesto? But deep inside, you know that they're just doing it for the paycheque and the publicity and couldn't care less about the plans for the economy? Well it's the same kind of methodology that's being used here.
Once the political aspect is introduced, the killings are thrown straight in to the backseat in terms of screen time and instead we are supplied with a multitude of flat unattractive characters. None of them have any kind of explained back story or development and they ramble incoherently about topics unfamiliar to almost everyone outside of the government houses of SA. By the 45 minute mark, if you haven't already fallen asleep, you will be absolutely furious. Furious that you have been tricked in to parting with your pennies for a falsely-advertised slasher flick that's just an overlong talk-a-thon that would feel more at home playing on the Discovery Channel's graveyard shift. Don't be fooled in to thinking the killer will re-appear either. He turns up only once or twice throughout the overlong runtime and when he is unmasked later in the feature, his motivations are political (surprise) and he's not even a character that we've been introduced to previously.
All in all City of Blood is a failure. A failure as a horror film and a bore-marathon as a drama. Riddled with unappealing and ugly characters, a tedious plot and a lack of clarity in its direction, it would be better off placed in a box and floated out to sea, never to be seen or heard of again. I was considering putting it on eBay where copies sell for almost £100 when they appear, but I am a nice guy and couldn't live with the guilt of putting another genre fan through this torturous excursion.
If you're looking to track down a rare slasher on eBay, let me warn you to avoid paying premium prices for this shocker. Despite the intriguing premise, this is nothing but a long, insulting reservoir of boredom with *no* redeeming features aside from the excellent opening.
Don't waste your time or money...
Satan's Blade (1984)
Slated by even the cast and crew - however I still think there's credit here
This will be the second time I have posted a review of Satan's Blade, as it's a film I watched seven-years ago and rated it under my old user name on IMDb. I recently passed the thirty-year milestone and have a wife and two young kids now, which make it harder for me to watch the trash I used to (bizarrely) enjoy. It's all Disney classics and In the Night Garden nowadays, but hey – Dad's know the score.
I have, however, recently had a little bit of time on my hands. Basically my parent in-laws are visiting from sunny Poland for two-weeks and as we only have two bedrooms (one with a single bed), I'm off to my mum's for a little break. When the cat's away, the mice will play and all that, so I watched Iced, Moonstalker and Satan's Blade one after another on my first night of freedom. Oh the debauchery!
Now as I said, I have already had a say on this dirt-cheap but alluring entry, but as the years have passed and my film-knowledge has grown, I have actually noticed that my opinions have changed quite a bit. Of the 700+ slashers that I own, Satan's Blade always stood out to me, because of the cheesy but intriguing cover, which boasts a skull-faced killer in a cape holding a blade and staring out in to reality as if to say, "buy me young man, I will absolutely terrify you". To a teenage boy, this was pretty intriguing stuff and back then, these young eyes were unaware of how much hyperbole eighties cheap video companies would add to their VHS covers. It's actually pretty fun nowadays to look back on the amount of boxes from that time that had absolutely *no* significance to the film contained inside. Nowadays if APEX, MOGUL and the like were still distributing movies, ambulance chasing lawyers would have a field-day with the false-advertisement claims.
A group of ski bunnies and a pair of married couples head off to a cabin in the mountains for a weekend break. They soon learn that the site has a murderous past; with the most recent of its victims dying only a few hours earlier. Despite this, they ignore the warnings and book in to their rooms. Before long an unseen maniac begins slicing his way through the visitors one by one. But is there more to the location than meets the eyes?
Watching Satan's Blade is a bit like hearing ABBA at an elderly relative's birthday party. You know that its rubbish and you shouldn't really like it, but as long as no one notices, you secretly do. To be fair there's an absolute heap of stuff that is easy to criticize here, but what Blade does do well, it does very much so. Atmosphere is one of the hardest things to build for a horror movie, and Castillo manages to give his film a macabre, foreboding and somewhat ruthless feeling throughout. Borrowing heavily from Carpenter's method of creating a daunting mood from the start, the continuous score - although monotonous - adds to the apprehension. There's one scene, a dream sequence, which is so skilfully edited and competently shot that it sits quite comfortably alongside Curtains' ice skating murder as one of the best of the genre. Seriously, it is THAT good.
There are mountains of minutes of character development where not a lot happens and I'll get back to that in a bit, but I actually felt sympathy for one or two of the personnel and was even disappointed when a couple of them died. When you consider the fact that ninety-percent of the cast were pretty rancid dramatically, to build audience sympathy is quite an achievement. As I mentioned earlier, the killings feel a lot more mean-spirited here and I think it's because of their cheap execution (no pun intended) and lack of gore. Compared to the majority of its brethren from the same period, Blade is extremely light in the blood department, but it makes up for that in the detail of the death sequences. The victims scream and struggle for their last breath and it's much more unsettling than a gooey decapitation. So much so that the BBFC (or the film Gestapo as they were known back then) saw fit to cut out three and a half minutes of footage!
Also check out the bank heist, which seems to have been included for no other reason (in terms of plot benefit) than the director wanting to include a bank heist in his movie. It's fast, direct and pretty ruthless, even though the cashier could have prevented everything by simply closing the door. It's a very interesting way to start a standard slasher movie.
The problems haven't gone away over time however and the film still struggles drastically for momentum. If you want to see a 'horror' film, then watching bad actors go fishing and talk about 'passing the bar' can become very tedious very quickly and structurally the plot suffers. I have read the few comments from the cast that mention constant script re-writes and a lack of vision from the production team, which is quite apparent throughout. I find it hard to believe that there was no finished script, but hey if the cast members say so that must be the case. - Unless they're a little bitter at not getting any money???
So Satan's Blade is still not really worth tracking down unless you're an obsessed enthusiast (hey, like me!). You have to question why the producer didn't just film this on cheaper 16mm instead of 32 and invest some more cash in the production. An average genre entry that had the right ideas but struggled with the execution (yes I am using the same joke twice).
Oh and by the way – I still have *NO* idea what this has to do with Satan...?
The House on Sorority Row (1982)
Another classic of the genre that is next in line for a re-birth
It's been a good week for the slasher genre. What with My Bloody Valentine 3-D doing impressive business at the box office and the special edition DVD of the original feature providing fans with all those eagerly anticipated gore scenes, this has been the best seven days for the category since the release of Scream in 1996.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the special edition of MBV and it motivated me to dig through my collection and re-visit a few other cycle entries that had been gathering dust on my shelves. It seems to be the latest trend to remake eighties slasher movies and The House on Sorority Row looks set to be the next celebrated feature to receive an updated re-birth.
If titles such as Madman and The Prowler were rivals to the gore-led Friday the 13th films of the early eighties and were inspired by Sean Cunningham's visually graphic depiction of the slasher formula, then Mark Rosman's bizarrely under-rated entry took its lead from Carpenter's 'less is more' approach. Sorority Row does not boast a bunch of outrageously gory kill scenes and its bogeyman does not sport an audacious mask. It does, however, offer a slick suspense-fuelled runtime of classy directorial embellishments and down-to-earth and believable characters.
In order to get revenge on their unforgiving house-mother, seven sorority sisters plan an audacious prank. Unfortunately, the joke backfires and the elderly owner of the house ends up dead. The youngsters do their best to cover-up the 'accident', but it seems that someone witnessed the killing and begins to stalk and gruesomely slaughter them. Who could be behind the murders?
Slumber Party Massacre is generally recognised as the key sorority slasher, which is a shame, because The House on Sorority Row is much stronger and infinitely more deserving of that status. From the off we see that this is a cool and classy thriller thanks to Rosman's razor sharp direction and some tightly edited scares. The film successfully juxtaposes the innocence of child-like imagery such as clowns and dolls with the dementia of a revenge-fuelled maniac and creates a deeply macabre atmosphere. There's some chilling flourishes spaced frequently throughout the feature, which include the victims finding toys before they are slaughtered and the classic 'decapitated head in the toilet' trick.
The director skilfully mimics John Carpenter's use of shadow-play to build suspense and the bogeyman remains mysteriously shrouded in the darkness of his non-identity. Perhaps one of the film's key strengths is the realism of its characters. Many of the latter Scream-inspired slashers would fail because of their persistence in attempting to make a cast of purely beautiful people seem factual. Let's face it, we don't all look like glamour models and we don't all have a rich mummy and daddy a phone call away, so how can we relate in any way to a story depicted using that methodology? Rosman recognised this and instead of a giving us a synopsis full of brainless-bimbos, the characters here are natural and in effect, not without their flaws.
Rosman had previously worked alongside Brian De Palma and was the Assistant Director on Home Movies from1980. He learned a lot along the way and some of the stylish photography was particularly impressive considering that this was the twenty-four year old's feature début. The hallucination scenes towards the climax are creative horror-imagery at its finest and the operatic score is at times pulse-raising. That final scene, which sees the killer raise from the shadows in creepy clown attire, is as iconic as anything from the life-span of the genre and the fact that the heroine is heavily sedated only adds to the plausibility of her chaotic state of mind.
Credit also must be given to the cast who carry the plot comfortably and Kate McNeil was superb as the easily-manipulated Katharine. Eileen Davidson puts in a good stint as Vicky and the dramatics remain competent right the way through. Like many eighties slashers, the final version that was released was not as the director had intended and an extension to the ending was filmed and re-edited just before release. Let's hope that one day we will get a special edition disk with all the deleted scenes restored.
Rosman has stated in the past that he was not a particularly big fan of horror cinema and that he made this feature just to get a foot on the Hollywood ladder. That's somewhat tough to believe as House is a movie that's well-aware of its genre trademarks. The links with Halloween are too numerous to be coincidental and its doubtful that such stylish horror-imagery could be conveyed by a half-hearted auteur. The fact that Rosman is executive producer on the upcoming remake of this feature must prove that he still has a place for the genre somewhere in his heart.
Whether the remake will be a success or not is debatable. So far the casting decisions have both bewildered and disappointed. One of the key attributes to the strength of the original Sorority Row was its realism and the sympathetic motive of its bogeyman, which if lost in the re-imaging, could prove detrimental. We can only keep our fingers crossed that Rosman will not allow his greatest feature to be ruined by a cash-hungry studio, because The House on Sorority Row is deserving of so much more.
Easily one of the best of the early eighties slasher flicks; if you haven't already seen this suspense-marathon, you need to be asking yourself why not???
My Bloody Valentine (1981)
My Bloody Valentine - uncut!!! Wow I can't believe I just wrote that...Finally!!
And so finally the slasher 'Holy Grail' has been re-discovered and after twenty-eight years of patience, we can finally see the almost-complete version of this hugely popular early-eighties slasher.
Notorious for being the film most tortured by censors upon its initial release, My Bloody Valentine has become something of a cult classic with a large number of fans. Even the most lukewarm horror enthusiast must admit to being slightly excited by the prospect of witnessing all the notorious gore that has, up until now, only been seen in a set of studio stills. The previously available print was missing over 9 minutes of footage, which thankfully producer John Dunning has now located. The on-line campaign to get the full uncut copy restored and released was one of the largest of its kind and thanks to the efforts of the movie's legions of adoring fans, we now have a special edition disc with nearly all of the glorious splatter intact.
A small mining town in Canada has become famous over the years after a maniacal ex-miner went on a killing spree in the early sixties. He was the only survivor from a fatal accident on Valentine's night that stole the lives of numerous workers and left him having to survive by feeding on the corpses of his colleagues. Harry Warden murdered the supervisors that he considered responsible for the tragedy and stuffed their hearts into candy boxes to remind the townsfolk that their incompetence should never be forgiven. Twenty years later and the town is preparing for its first Valentine's dance since the gruesome massacre, but it seems that it is not only the decorations and romantic spirit that has returned. As a mutilated heart is sent to the local Sheriff with a gruesome warning that there will be more murders, it seems apparent that Harry Warden has come back once again....
My Bloody Valentine is certainly a fine example of all that gave the most popular eighties slashers a significant standing in the annals of horror cinema. It boasts a likable cast that make up for their lack of A-list dramatic credibility with a warmness and depth of character that although laughably cheesy, evokes sympathy from the audience. The love triangle between the three leads is an intriguing sub-plot and the script is strong enough to allow the characters to work their way into the hearts of viewers.
It can also lay claim to arguably the best arsenal of marketable gimmicks ever to be included in a single splatter feature and if the authentic calendar date doesn't induce your interest, then it's impossible to resist the excellent guise for the maniacal killer and the creepy mine location. The gas mask adds an extra dimension to the killer's essential-clichéd heavy breath and the pickaxe makes for an exquisite tool for gory slaughter. You can almost visualise the director's smile upon witnessing for the first time the awesome sight of his bogeyman strolling through the dimly-lighted shaft and stalking his intended victims. In terms of slasher visualisations, it's pure poetry-in-motion and Mihalka understandably milks the possibilities.
Mihalka is no John Carpenter, but he does an impressive job in building suspense and he creates one or two decent jolts. The cast are surprisingly good for complete amateurs and their above-average performances are a rare and welcomed bonus. It was a conscious decision from John Dunning, the producer, to use actors that boasted far more potential than they did impressive CVs, because he wanted to invest heavily in the special effects. Mihalka has said that people don't go to see a slasher movie to witness a 'name' actor. He is right in acknowledging the fact that the amount of money a producer would spend on such a performer just to see him get splattered on the wall is an entirely pointless exercise.
You only need to take a brief look at my review list to see that I am an avid 'slasher-fanatic', but My Bloody Valentine has never been amongst my favourites. I often wondered how the movie could have even been considered to be better than the likes of Intruder, The Prowling or even Curtains, because to me it felt like I wasn't watching the vision that Mihalka had initially intended. Now, with most of the gore intact, the film feels 'complete' and in its entirety it is a completely different concept. Despite popular belief, there were many early slashers that were stylishly produced and genuinely strong entries to the horror catalogue. My Bloody Valentine is one such feature and its well-deserving of its legion of admirers.
The gore effects are as decent as their reputation would lead you to believe and the movie credibly mixes approachable characters and mean-spirited mass-slaughter to create an excellent mix of moods. Unfortunately we are still missing Michael and Harriet's death scene, which was either a decision by Mihalka (perhaps it looked too fake?) or that particular footage was never recovered by Dunning. It doesn't really matter however, because finally we have a copy of My Bloody Valentine that has almost everything that was intended and Sylvia's remarkably grisly slaughter and the notorious 'pick-axe through the face' are visions that are an iconic part of the whole slasher cycle.
If you are even a half-hearted fan of early eighties stalk and slash flicks then I urge you to part with your pennies for this excellent example of non-franchise slash with panache that sums up everything that was great about the early eighties domination. No collection is complete without this sitting on a shelf next to Joseph Zito's The Prowler and Mark Rosman's The House on Sorority Row. The Harry Warden legacy has finally come full circle.....
My Bloody Valentine (2009)
Excellent journey of gore and suspense, what are you waiting for? Go see it!!
Taking a good look at the two heavily populated cinema 'lives' of the slasher genre, the most striking similarity in both is that they were started by the box office successes of two stand-out features. First Halloween in 78 launched a tidal wave of wannabes that included the much maligned but equally heavily imitated Friday the 13th series. The category had a good run, but eventually lost popularity mid-way through the eighties due to a restriction on gore and a lack of funding and creativity from production teams. Wes Craven's popular semi-parody, Scream from 1996, kicked off yet another major influx that sent the imitations crawling out of the woodwork and on to video-store shelves. Eventually, a lack of originality meant audiences and studios alike gave up on the cycle and it befell a similar fate that had sent its forefathers into obscurity.
There were thirteen years between the death of the Halloween-inspired glory days and Scream's unexpected re-birth, so a believer in destiny may indeed be forgiven for predicting the time is upon us for another run of masked killers and gratuitous gore.
It has been a good few months for fans of the original My Bloody Valentine. Not only have we learned that we will finally be able to see the full uncut version of the original, repackaged on a shiny new DVD with extras, but also we have been treated to this highly financed remake at a time when the category had pretty much sunk to the lowest of depths.
Harry Warden's name lives long in the memories of the townsfolk of a small town in West Virginia after he went on a maniacal killing spree, butchering 22 people on a cold valentine's night. Despite rumours that he was buried alive in the mines that he stalked, the body of the maniac has never been discovered. Fast forward ten years and it seems that the evil has returned, because a gas-masked maniac begins stalking the village and killing everyone that was somehow connected to the original massacre. Has Harry returned?
As the title accurately informs us, a key gimmick for the release of this remake was the fact that it is filmed in explosive 3D. Now many have tried to bring horror into the third-dimension, but the likes of Friday the 13th III, Silent Madness and Freddy's Dead had failed drastically to make the most of an ingenious tool in the creation of supreme virtual terror. So with all that was riding against it, does My Bloody Valentine 3D actually deliver??
Like hell it does! Buckle your seat belts baby and prepare yourself for a speed-train through slasher clichés that has never been taken to such extreme heights. This is a non-stop juggernaut of fast-paced gore and shock tactics that will keep your heart beating at the speed of a Japanese freeway. You can mock the brainless script and the at times overly-gratuitous exploitation, but this is a slasher movie and slasher movies exist to give you two-hours of freedom from the stress of everyday life in a virtual-world where you can leave your brains at the door.
Firstly, the film is immensely gory. So much so that even a hardened old horror-addict like myself was cowering from the screen in places. Pick-axes through faces, dismemberment, eyes popping out of their sockets; and best of all, it's all filmed in fantastic 3D. This is a car-crash of over indulgence that has the balls to drive to the borders of cinematic acceptability and then smash through them with its pedal to the medal. The pace is unrelenting and the suspense at times absolutely immense. Patrick Lussier may not be the next Hitchcock, but MBV 3D is not to be categorised alongside Psycho or Halloween. This is a film that sets out to shock in any way possible and on that level it succeeds. There's one or two tense jump out of your seat jolts and a few credibly created scares that are all the better for the stylish production.
The cast do a good enough job of keeping the plot moving fluidly and the healthy financing means that no expense has been spared in the producer's effort to unleash total mayhem on audiences. Jamie King takes us back to the Laurie Strode/Ginny Field era of brave heroines, but somewhat authentically, she also has huge character flaws. The story shares much with its predecessor and Lussier also re-uses many of the scenes that made Mihalka's hit so memorable. This may well be the first slasher remake that actually pays credit to its heritage and unlike Rob Zombie's insulting Halloween re-hash, MBV 3D can sit comfortably alongside its grandfather.
It's not fashionable to give a slasher movie a good review and I can see without looking the piles of one-star write-ups that are cluttering up column-space in the self-righteous brigade's film magazines. I bet that Egbert is having a field day ripping this particular movie to shreds. Agreed, this is not an intellectual film. To be fair, in some places it doesn't even do the basics right and there's some shockingly poor plot holes towards the climax.For a fan of splatter flicks however, this is an hour and a half in paradise and I really enjoyed every moment of this long-overdue gore-soaked extravaganza.
This is not the next Shawshank Redemption and it has no intention of trying to be, so it should be judged on its merits as a gore film and on that level it is everything that you want it to be. Full frontal nudity, buckets of gore and all the things that your mama warned you about rapped up in a tense and riveting thriller with the added bonus of an intelligent twist (Was the killer really the only bad guy? I wouldn't call the 'hero' good...) Prepare for the next invasion folks
Twisted Nightmare (1987)
A jumbled up mess of clichés that lacks any real punch
So you like clichés eh? Well, I'll give you clichés alright. I'll give you so many clichés that you'll loose count before the ten-minute mark!
Completed in eighty-two, but shelved for five years due to a total lack of confidence from the entire production team, Twisted Nightmare is not a movie. It may have a cast and a crew and all the ingredients that you would associate with a feature film, but in fact it's just a check-list of slasher platitudes rapped up into ninety-minutes of cheap videotape and cunningly disguised as a motion picture. What you don't believe me? Then why don't you check out this fabulous synopsis:
A group of 'ahem' teenagers head off to a summer camp (Friday the 13th) where a few years earlier, the brother of one of their number was burned beyond recognition by an unseen menace. (The Burning). Before the accident, he had been the victim of malicious bullying by the rest of the group, who tormented his inability to attract the opposite sex (Terror Train). This particular camp site is not the best place for a summer vacation as it had been cursed by Native Americans many years ago and it's rumoured that the curse lives on (Ghost Dance). Before long a disfigured lunatic turns up and begins killing off the cast members one by one. (Just about every slasher movie ever produced).
Now do you believe me?
In all seriousness, Twisted Nightmare is an uncomfortably tough film to review. That's simply because it's hard to explain exactly what went wrong with the feature and why it never lived up to its obvious potential. It's not an awkward task to write a mocking review of a bad movie, but it's a lot harder to try and define the reasons why an offering so full of possibilities just didn't make the grade. It would be easy to blame the rancid dramatics or the inane scripting, but the cast of Friday the 13th were hardly method actors and that was still an infinitely better effort than this. Slasher flicks are different from almost every other genre, because they can still make a profit or at least grab an audience without most of the ingredients that other categories of cinema take for granted. For example, could you imagine a poorly acted drama being successful? Or perhaps an awfully scripted comedy? Stalk and slash features consistently commit gross cinema crimes and still the production line of titles shows no sign of slowing down.
If anything, Twisted Nightmare tries too hard and due to the director's insistence of ticking every single box on the slasher check list, the movie breaks that age-old 'less is more' ground rule. Alfred Hitchcock once said that the key ingredient to the production of suspense is isolation, but that's where Paul Hunt's opus comes unstuck. His feature boasts an unusually high body count and there's also some impressive gore sequences. Unfortunately, with so many characters getting butchered in such a small space of time, things get very boring very quickly and the deaths rapidly loose their impact.
Another negative is the film's one-tone pacing, which never seems to change throughout the runtime. Characters get killed, characters get naked. Characters make-out and characters argue, but it all happens at such a snail-like momentum that that any attempts at a 'money-shot' just pass by without recognition. The plodding direction adds no bite to the suspense scenarios and an infuriating lack of lighting takes the credit away from Cleve Hall's decent make-up effects. The script doesn't help matters and the plot is littered with more holes than a hash smoker's mattress. Cast members are slaughtered and none of their colleagues question their disappearances and some of the gaps in continuity are so obviously dumb that it's almost unbelievable that this was the effort of a man with as much cinematic experience as Paul Hunt.
The slasher genre is no stranger to poor movies. However, if you take an experienced director, a good budget, an excellent location, some great gore effects, a group of ambitious cast members and still end up with a feature as jumbled as this, then something is very, very wrong.
On the plus side as I mentioned earlier there's some decent gore and as many people have noted previously, Nightmare generates an eighties feel much better than many of its counterparts from the period. It's also worth noting that this was one of the first slashers to incorporate African-American victims into its body count, which is an interesting piece of trivia. But aside from that there's really nothing here to recommend and the movie only remains notable for being one of the biggest wastes of potential in the history of splatter cinema.
It's impossible to recommend Twisted Nightmare to anybody as it really is that irredeemably bad. At least its original production date of 1982 means that it was among the first of its ilk and I guess that makes it slightly collectible. As I said in my opening sentence, this is not much of a feature film. It's best remembered as a long-winded collection of poorly-delivered clichés.
Night School (1981)
Period video nasty that for some bizarre reason cannot justify an outing on DVD
I had to wipe the dust from my twenty year old VHS print to pencil the review for this early eighties addition to the slasher cycle, because as of yet there hasn't even been a murmur of an outing on DVD format.
It's hard to understand exactly why the digital revolution has ignored this intriguing category addition, because it's certainly no worse than the legions of Halloween clones that have been packaged and then re-packaged once again on special edition discs. Not only is Night School one of the seventy four 'collectable' video nasties that were unfortunate enough to be banned in the United Kingdom and added to the notorious DPP list, but on top of that, its production boasts some interesting trivia.
Director Kenneth Hughes was not just an ambitious non-experienced wet-behind-the-ears beginner like so many of his genre counterparts from the period, but instead he was a film-maker with a long and varied résumé, which included a few high-profile efforts. Perhaps even more bewildering is the fact that his most recognised cinematic achievement prior to this violent splatter flick had been kiddies favourite and Oscar-nominee, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The feature also handed a début role to Rachel Ward, who would go on to become a well-respected actress in later years.
The city of Boston is being terrorised by a head hunting psychopath. Dressed in motorcycle leathers and masked by a tinted crash helmet, the killer is decapitating his victims and then submerging their heads in water, which leads the Police to believe that he is a ritualistic maniac. Detectives are mystified as to the motives of the deranged assassin and as the bodies pile up they realise that they must move quickly to prevent the terror from striking again.
Even though Night School has enough of the necessary trademarks to allow it to be identified as a slasher movie, it plays more like an ultra-violent cop-thriller. It's a movie that switches consistently between two starkly opposing tones and each causes a lack of consistency in the other.The film is hilariously scripted and at times the dramatics feel excessively cheesy. During the kill scenes however, things get nail-bitingly dark and the violence is at times astoundingly brutal. The killer slashes his victims with a curved machete ruthlessly, spraying blood over the walls as he goes. Aided by a menacing score from Brad Fiedel, the scenes are intimidating and rampant enough to stick in your memory.
Kenneth Hughes deserves credit for at times building a harsh and gruesome atmosphere, without any real gore. Sure, there's blood by the bucket-load, but none of the decapitations are shown on screen and there's no striking special make-up effects. Female writer Ruth Avergon pencilled the script, which is surprising considering the level of misogyny. It's also extremely erratic and includes everything from intelligent historical references to nonsensical and bewildering dialogue, which hinders the actors in their attempts to play it straight.
Horror is different from every other cinematic genre and offers a much tougher challenge for directors. Hughes, however, does OK here and builds some impressive suspense scenarios. There's one stand out and incredibly tense scene in a café kitchen, which is particularly memorable because it doesn't involve the film's bogeyman and the key players of the scenario are unaware of any impending horror. He also received one of the biggest compliments possible for his work here, because Dario Argento was almost certainly inspired by Night School for his popular eighties Giallo, Tenebrae. Watching the two films one after the other shows the undeniable similarities and evidence.
The main problems come with the awful script, which mocks the intelligence of the audience and therefore gives too many clues and ruins the pay-off far too early. The cast are given very little in terms of concrete scripting to work with, but in fairness their performances are undeserving of any better. The fact that Rachel Ward built a career in dramatics after this embarrassingly wooden début just proves that you don't need talent to be a success in Hollywood; all that's required is an attractive face. Also, what's with the casting of Drew Snyder as a womaniser? He may be a lot of things, but handsome and charming are not two of them.
Night School is an at times stylish and in the same breath daft thriller, which suffers mainly from a huge dose of poor cinematic balancing. It is certainly no classic, but the violent and at times harrowing death scenes make it worthy of at least an outing on DVD.
Terror Night (1987)
Unreleased for twenty years, Terror Night delivers a fair slasher yarn
Produced in 1987, Terror Night became the slasher movie equivalent of the Holy Grail for horror enthusiasts after it never secured its expected release, which therefore kept fans searching for almost twenty years until it finally crept out almost unnoticed on to budget DVD. The movie was covered in various horror media and fanzines during its production, meaning that when a launch date never arrived, fans were left wondering what exactly had happened. Rumours of bootlegs kept people searching, but it wasn't until the late nineties when I came across a subtitled copy in an exchange store in Nuremburg that I actually believed that it even existed.
It is rumoured that copyright wrangles with additional footage - that was 'borrowed' from classic movies for inclusion into the story - prevented Terror Night from gaining public exposure. A few bootlegs saw the light of day, which were then copied privately and passed around on the VHS black-market, but up until very recently, the film had remained locked in a studio vault. Its unfortunate production problems admittedly gave the film a somewhat mysterious and alluring edge and on top of that it boasts an interesting premise, a good cast and directorial assistance from legendary horror filmmaker Andre De Toth.
A group of youngsters decide to spend the night in the dilapidated Hollywood mansion of one-time screen idol Lance Hayward. Hayward has been missing for over forty years and despite rumours that he emigrated to Europe, it is believed that he died many years ago. The teenagers soon learn that this is not true as Hayward begins stalking and slaughtering the group one by one, whilst donning costumes of the characters from his previous cinematic adventures.
Had Terror Night been released as had been intended by the production team, I predict that it may well have been a relatively popular addition to the category and a good seller on the VHS and drive-in markets. The film boasts almost all the essential ingredients that made its more successful genre counterparts household names, including a young and attractive cast, some decent bloody deaths, credible gore and intriguing cameos from screen veterans like Cameron Mitchell.
The use of black and white movie footage to accompany the murders was an interesting touch; even though it almost certainly proved to play a key part in the film's downfall and ruined any chance of the ongoing franchise that the producers during this period predictably craved. Despite sticking closely to the slasher rulebook, which was in regular use during the eighties, the key source of influence seems to stem from the nineteen-eighty thriller Fade to Black. The premise is inexplicably similar, although Terror Night fashionably decides to stay true to its slasher roots as where Fade to Black has never been noted as a genre entry.
The cast do a good enough job with what they are given, especially the old-timers who seem to be having a ball with their small cameos. Cameron Mitchell turns up for a brilliant piece of scene-chewing and like all the senior screen veterans, he seems to be motivated to do more than just phone-in a few lines for the paycheque. The various choices of costume for the killer provide a good bit of fun (I especially enjoyed the maniacal knight-in-armour) and the murders are almost always energetic and gory. Popular screen queen Michelle Bauer comes along for her usual excuse to get naked and then viciously slaughtered and porn queen Jamie Summers is also included for a rare non-adult film role.
First (and last) time director Nick Marino creates little in terms of tension or suspense and his methods are that of the 'point and shoot' variety. Andre De Toth's involvement in the direction of a share of scenes is a rumour that has never been confirmed or denied and there's nothing exceptional here to be noted. However without the press package that would have accompanied Terror Night had it been released as intended, there is little way of knowing the exact percentage of his input.
Despite some excellent moments, Terror Night is knee deep in a puddle of flaws. It's inadequately lighted to the point of frustration in places and lacks the visual gloss and stylish direction/production that made its more popular counterparts memorable. The plot is also poorly handled and never gives a resolution to the mystery that it spends so much energy creating. We never find out what Lance Hayward actually is, or what was his motivation behind the murderous rampage? We never learn if the maniacal assassin is actually a ghost or just an extremely lucky ninety-year-old with the appearance of someone half that age. It could be argued that these problems would have been ironed out if the movie had been given the post-production that was intended and we will never know for sure when it was decided that Terror Night would not secure worldwide release. Perhaps the filmmakers never got the chance to add the finishing touches that would have given the film a more attractive sheen. However there is really no excuse for the laughable ending, which to be fair was perhaps typical of cheesy eighties slasher trash.
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 production and its release some twenty years later. It's a shame that we'll probably never find out how it might have turned out if it was given a real chance and it looks as if it might have suffered 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 a good film that could have been so much more.
Really good exercise in suspense from an amateur cast and crew
It's a well-known fact amongst those that know their horror movies that Australia hasn't exactly excelled itself with the quality of its output within the slasher genre. It's intriguing then that within the space of a month I've found two credible efforts that successfully manage to disprove that fallacy. Firstly, 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 offering is perhaps one of the most commendable 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 far-fetched 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 an ordinary young woman who finds herself in a tricky situation, which helps to give the film an undeniably naturalistic edge.
Director Craig Lahiff 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.
A masked maniac is slaughtering musical students at an Australian university. A young innocent woman becomes involved in the plot when her flatmate is brutally murdered. With the body count mounting, it becomes clear that the psychopath has intriguing motives.
To say that Symphony of Evil was 'inspired' by Halloween is like saying that Israel and Palestine don't exactly see eye to eye. The film borrows heavily from the title that it so obviously tries to emulate, leaving very little to disguise the obvious influences (the killer stalking the hospital, the Michael Myers-alike disguise etc). Imitation however is not necessarily a bad thing if it's handled correctly and Lahiff's opus feels more like a tribute to Carpenter's classic than it does a rip-off. The director shows an impressive flair for building suspense and in places the feature becomes remarkably tense. A perfect example is the sword-murder about halfway through the runtime. The brooding photography creates a foreboding and claustrophobic environment and the stalking sequence makes good use of those ageless stalk and slash clichés.
The performances from a likable cast are fairly comfortable and there's even a classy score that's vaguely reminiscent of John Williams' theme from Oliver Stone's masterpiece JFK. The characters are competently scripted and approachable, which builds a decent amount of sympathy for the protagonist. Evil doesn't boast a huge body count, so a large majority of the runtime is filled with the development of the mystery and the persona of the leading characters, which if poorly dramatised cpuld loose momentum and leave little in terms of reward for viewers. Thankfully, the cast do enough to keep us interested and they are realistic and amicable enough to win over audiences and keep the plot moving neatly to its conclusion.
Because the synopsis takes place at a classical music school,the production team get the chance to experiment with an excellent operatic soundtrack, which works both cinematically and audibly. Frank Stragio's score does wonders to help sustain a good level of energy, which works because during the moments where not a lot happens, you're always aware that something is just about to.
Like many eighties slashers, Symphony of Evil focuses heavily on the mystery of discovering who it is behind the creepy mask, which is possibly the feature's only flaw. Guessing the killer's identity is a relatively simple task and more thought should have been put into giving us more suspects or at least a credible red-herring. It's interesting that despite earning the respect to be trusted with bigger budgets from this offering, Lahiff never improved upon 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 proves that bigger budgets don't always make better features and it seems that with Symphony of Evil he struck the perfect medium.
If you like slasher movies, then you'll like Symphony of Evil there's really nothing else to say. It is good enough to sit comfortable alongside the likes of Terror Night, Curtains and The House on Sorority Row as a worthwhile genre entry that has been bizarrely overlooked. 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. Recommended
Splendid direction and a few outstanding set-pieces
On paper, 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 Giallo, Blood Relatives from 1982. But in fact, the movie was shot in two parts, with the second half having to be be completed by producer Peter Simpson, after an artistic disagreement saw Ciupka leave the shoot. Simpson and his team were also behind the production, which marked their second joint venture into the then-popular territory of the slasher genre. Their participation explained the healthy budget and excellent back-drop and also the contribution of Paul Zaza, a highly regarded composer from the period.
It's no secret that Curtains suffered a nightmare production that was riddled with problems, which began when lead actress Celine Lamez was sacked halfway through the shoot. Reports have said that the producers were disappointed with her acting abilities and that she became awkward after two days on set. Linda Thornson was drafted in as her replacement, but footage had to be re-shot with the substitute actress, which stretched the budget and began a spiral of misfortune, which resulted in various script changes and eventually the mutual termination of Ciupka's contract. Peter Simpson would later note that he had set out to make an adult slasher movie, whilst Ciupka had set out to make an art film and with the two of them holding totally different cinematic visions, the collaboration was jinxed from the start.
Many scenes ended up on the cutting room floor, which explains the numerous stills that show screen-shots that never appeared in the final print. At one point, the film was rumoured to be 'un-releasable', but it eventually went public in 1983, three-years after shooting had begun. It sank without trace upon release and failed to become the follow up to Prom Night that many had predicted. Much like the fate that befell The Shawshank Redemption however, a second lease of life on VHS has made Curtains something of a cult-classic and it is now considered to be one of the better entries from the peak-period.
Six actresses head up to a secluded mansion in the Canadian Rockies to audition for the part of Audra, a highly regarded script from renowned director Jonathan Stryker. Only five arrive however as it becomes apparent that a masked psycho-killer has targeted the production with a bizarre vengeance against the stars.
Curtains certainly has more than its fair share of noteworthy moments and has the benefit of being a highly authentic entry that shares no close resemblance to any of its genre brethren. It truly stands alone as an individual stalk and slash experience that demands respect for its ability to keep tension running. The awe-inspiring second killing ranks highly as one of the most creatively handled slaughters from the genre's peak period. The photography and planning for the scene is at times breathtaking and Simpson's work is reminiscent of Argento's.
The final chase sequence is equally as suspenseful and utilises a superb use of lighting and claustrophobic trappings to create a fitting finale to a competent offering. The dimly lighted prop-room location gives the director a chance to shine as he makes the most of some ingenious decor and creates a memorable collage of striking images. Curtains manages to build a truly spooky atmosphere and it's perhaps one of the creepier entries of the early eighties. Throw in a magnificent Paul Zaza's score and you're left with an outstanding, if slightly jumbled thriller.
Another bonus is the good work from the cast, which is filled with actors that have far more undiscovered talent than any kind of reputation or A-list credibility. John Vernon makes a competent - if a little theatrical – lead, never once pleading for audience-sympathy, whilst Eggar does a good job as the essential red herring (or is she?). But it's Lynne Griffin who really steals the show. The dynamic little Canadian actress delivers a fantastic portrayal, which sees her effortlessly switch between emotions of anxiety, fear, insecurity and anger. She even takes the time to include a stand up comedy routine no really!
A film with such an turbulent production is bound to have its share of flaws and Curtains is a case in point. Even though we're unable to tell exactly how much the shoot was affected by the unfortunate occurrences, the film having to be released under a director pseudonym proves that it certainly wasn't a smooth process. Some of the characters are laughably under developed and a couple even remain nameless. It's impossible to pick your choice for the surviving girl, because not one of the actresses has enough screen time to display their individual persona, which 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, because 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. Then we could get a true look at how the feature was planned in the director's vision. The recent death of Peter Simpson, and the fact that Curtains is a combination of two vastly opposing cinematic visions has made this an even unlikelier task, but we can never give up hope.
Until then, what we're left with is a movie that could and should have been, but never was. It has its moments, a few of them outstanding, but just falls a few hurdles short of being recognised as a true classic. Definitely amongst the top-ten of the eighties' best slashers, but it's painful to think that it should have been in the top-three
Arguably the best slasher of the late eighties
In the words of Andy Warhol, every decade creates its own individual social characteristics. Even though perhaps there has been little cultural invention during the last twenty years, the tail end of the twentieth century was an era of creation within the entertainment industry. The fifties will always be remembered for the birth of rock and roll, whilst The Beatles, Bob Dylan and the introduction of the 'make love not war' anti-Vietnam mentality of youth signified the cultural identity of the sixties. The vivid images of white suited, medallion sporting men and disco divas became synonymous with the seventies, but it was the eighties that will be remembered for generating the most generational landmarks.
The slasher genre also played a part in defining the personality of that era and despite the invasion of titles during the post-Scream outbreak of the late nineties, there will never be a time that can compete with the genre's initial overkill period. The eighties began with a bang for slasher enthusiasts with the notorious, "kill her mommy" lines of Friday the 13th and despite a fall in popularity; studios were still producing cycle entries consistently throughout the final years. The decade also closed strongly with this excellent and bizarrely overlooked slasher movie from Scott Spiegel.
Released towards the end of 1989, Intruder tells the tale of a group of night staff in a super market that are asked to work through the night, pricing down items as they all have been made redundant due to the closure of the store. As they lock the shutters for the last time, it becomes apparent that an unwelcome guest has crept in amongst them. Before long, the staff are being killed one by one by an unseen maniac.
In film, as in life, timing is everything. Whether it be the comedic timing of a screen joker or the understanding of the span of suspense by a director, the clock can be a vital tool in the creation of cinematic perfection. The reason I write this is because as it stands, Intruder is an obscure slasher movie that is highly regarded by those that have seen it. If, however, it had been released eight years earlier, I would be writing the review of a horror classic. Spiegel's opus has enough wit, gore, audacity and creativity to be ranked amongst the best of its ilk.
If Sam Raimi's adventurous direction makes him the outlaw of Hollywood sensibility, then Scott Spiegel should be Billy the Kid. The Jesse James of eccentric cinematic vision. Here is a man whose modus operandi seems to be to imagine the most audacious and outrageous camera angle possible and then in the same breath attempt to shoot it. Although, much like mayonnaise on chips, you'll either love his flamboyant approach or hate it; kudos should be given for his brazen audacity and outlandish vision.
The movie is a pie-eating contest of slasher clichés, which add up to a mega-feast of tongue-in-cheek over-indulgence that leaves you begging for more after the final curtain. The gore is Intruder's biggest selling point. Heads get lopped off, crushed and sawed in half; and much like the work of Fulci, everything is filmed in loving close-up. A movie can sometimes become an extension of the film-maker's personality and having watched Scott Spiegel's interviews many times, this, his signature feature, is truly a case in point. It's a shame that such a modest, down-to-earth and clearly talented director has never reached the heights of his high-school buddies, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell.
Paramount Studios– the enemy of all gore hounds after their stringent censorship of countless genre classics – were responsible for changing the name of Intruder from the much better Night Crew: The Final Checkout; and their VHS release also, characteristically, cut out all the gore. The first print I watched was the BBFC's rated version, which in all fairness was still a well-produced and competent slasher, but the uncut print is the real gem. Obviously Spiegel's effort is no Halloween and it's something that the director is modestly aware of. But if you asked me to pick the best ten – hell, best five – genre classics, Intruder would certainly be amongst them somewhere alongside Carpenter's seminal favourite.
Very few know that Intruder is a remake of an old Spiegel 8mm feature that he shot during the early eighties, titled Night Crew. Credit has to be given to Lawrence Bender's slick production skills, which turned an equally gory, but ultimately mediocre Halloween-clone into a stand-out slasher classic. The film would be a learning curve for Bender who would go on – through Spiegel's introduction – to become one of the most important producers of the last twenty years. It's strange to think that this low-budget stalk and slash flick would be the first step on the career that would launch upon us Quentin Tarantino and a host of Hollywood hits including, Good Will Hunting.
OK, so the cast were never going to turn up at the academy awards, but they do a good enough job and a nod to Sam Raimi, who delivers a highly committed performance. The conclusion has been seen before in both Pranks and Edge of the Axe, although it's more thank likely coincidental and it's handled slightly differently here. There's also a decent whodunit plot running, which is stupidly ruined by packaging on many versions that gives away the killer's identity on the front cover! But thankfully the film is no mystery-thriller and it stays true to its slasher roots.
Intruder is by far one of the best slasher movies of the eighties and should be a member of every avid fan's collection. The movie mixes black humour and gruesome slaughter outstandingly well and is an excellent example of the genre at its best.
Mad Mutilator (1983)
France's addition to the early eighties slashers is a bizarre beast for sure
Well 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. Audience's morbid curiosities kept the shows ever popular, all the way up until when Germany 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.
Norbert Georges Moutier, as publisher of a popular horror fanzine in Paris and owner of a video store, was obviously well aware of France's links with gore-laden horror and being an avid enthusiast, he decided to bring Grand Guignol back to French screens with his own low budget shocker. Inspired heavily by the popular titles of the time such as The Burning and Halloween, Moutier's extremely rare slasher is an interesting feature.
It tells the tale of Ogroff, a wooden-hut dwelling maniac, whose soul ambition in life seems to be to murder anyone who trespasses across the small patch of woodland that he calls home. As the story unfolds, it takes a slightly different angle to most conventional slasher flicks as Ogroff learns that he is not the only bogeyman in that secluded piece of woodland.
Unlike the majority of archetypal genre entries, Ogroff is an extremely intriguing beast. I studied French at school and have visited the country many times, but French is not one of the languages that I speak fluently. It wouldn't matter if I were stone deaf however as the feature has only 5 lines of dialogue, which makes it the closest that we have to a 'silent slasher film' It's easy to see that Ogroff is a film made for horror fans by a horror fan. It plays like a myriad of clichés jumbled together and thrown into a juxtaposition that although not over-long, can often feel like a check-list of ingredients that have no apparent structure.
The film is not afraid of its magpie nature and openly imitates titles such as Friday the 13th Part II, The Burning, Burial Ground and even some of the cannibal flicks that were popular during that period. You can almost picture NG Moutier working in his video shop, much as a certain Quentin Tarantino did a few years later, and writing his ideas into a notepad whilst an omnibus of horror classics played on in the background.
Although Ogroff tries its damnedest to shock with its brazen approach and no holds barred gratuitous imagery, by far the scariest sight in the feature is that of a Citroen 2CV. Yes, one of those terrifying France-produced yoghurt-pot-on-wheels, which bizarrely became far more popular than they had any right to after World War II.. Fortunately, Ogroff does his nation proud by dismantling it completely with his trusty axe!
Is the movie gory? Yes; but the effects are so tacky that they don't quite sit in line with the level of the video nasties of that era. Short, cheap and hokey are more apt descriptions. There are limbs and heads flying by the bucket-load and a multitude of gore-laden scenarios, but the effects never impress as would a Maniac or The Prowler. Ogroff himself is as wacky as the plot structure, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the director's eagerness to make him as gratuitously evil as possible leaves him looking far more comedic than he is scary. His motives are twisted and he dons an excellent mask, but he lacks the fear factor that led his peers to cult classic status.
The feature sticks closely to the slasher rulebook and the masked axe-wielding killer as a central character makes no mistake as to where the movie's inspirations lie. With that said, things aren't strictly conventional and towards the conclusion we are treated to an invasion of the living dead and the climax of the feature enters authentic territory as our bogeyman wages battle against the hordes of zombies that have invaded his killing zone. From here on out the plot becomes more interesting...
NG Moutier would go on to direct a few more direct-to-video titles, which would unfortunately fail to provide him with the cult status that he so desperately aspired to achieve. Ogroff on the other hand remains interesting mainly because it's so amazingly obscure. Event though I could never comfortably recommend this feature to anybody, if you enjoyed the work of Nathan Schiff, you'll lap up Ogroff greedily. Everyone else however should keep a guarded distance.
Blood Rage (1987)
Forgotten gore flick that sits comfortably alongside Pieces et al
There's something uniquely satisfying about watching a gory film. Although it's impossible to put a finger on it, there's a reason why an uncut version of a splatter fest will always favour that of a censored print. Humans have a morbid curiosity and it's fun watching an actor getting his face cut in half with a bench saw when you know it's just a trick of the camera.
I have never been a believer that on-screen bloodshed can entice people to commit acts of violence in reality. Apart from a few teenage bust-ups, I have never been a violent individual and I have seen perhaps more horror films than the entire staff of the MPAA. I love a good gore flick as much as the next guy, but I'm certainly no psycho killer. I suspect however that if by some unfortunate twist of fate I became suspected of some heinous crime, my love of horror movies would certainly act as damning evidence against me. The media love to blame the entertainment industry for society's wrongs, which is why we had the pointless 'video nasty' phase of the early eighties.
Nightmare at Shadow Woods has never been marketed as an out and out gore flick, which is a shame, because in its uncut form it certainly delivers on the red stuff. Yet another of the multitude of slashers that failed to grab a slice of the 'big-dollar pie' upon release - simply due to genre production overload - John Grissmer's widely unknown splatter effort includes enough of the vital ingredients to demand closer inspection.
We kick off at a drive in. A mother is far too busy making out with her lover to notice that her twin boys Terry and Todd have crept out of the car and headed out onto the forecourt. After a brief confrontation with a teenage viewer and his girlfriend, one of the twins hacks the unfortunate jock to death with a handy axe that he picked up on route. Clearly a quick thinker, Terry gives the hatchet to his dumb-founded brother and leaves him to face a life behind bars in an asylum for a crime that he did not commit.
Fast forward ten years and Todd, who has been in a catatonic state since that fateful night, begins to recollect the fact that it is actually his twin-brother that should be held accountable for the grisly murder and so armed with the truth, he escapes the hospital to clear his name and bring his sibling to justice. Meanwhile the news of Todd's escape, coupled with the uncomfortable fact that his mother is about to get married sends Terry back on a maniacal rampage.
Nightmare at Shadow Woods tries admirably hard to be an extraordinarily adventurous genre addition. John Grissmer obviously set out with the ambition to fill his feature with all the necessary ingredients for it to rival the likes of Friday the 13th and the hard-hitters of the horror market during that period. As I mentioned earlier, the gore is spread thick and fast throughout the runtime and there's no space left for sentimentality as the killer stalks his victims with a mean-spirited air of arrogance. In most traditional slasher films, the assassin is either an unknown entity with no other link to his victims than a lust for murder or more commonly it's a psychopathic colleague that's seeking revenge, but conceals his identity from those that he stalks. Grissmer's psycho however kills indiscriminately and revels in the fact that he is murdering those that look upon him as a friend. He taunts like a playground bully and has no apparent realisation of the grotesque acts he is committing.
Ed French's gore effects are heavily underrated and hold up well against some of the cycle's more renowned bloody features. My favourite of the bunch would have to be when Maddy discovers the corpse of her boyfriend in the apartment complex and unaware that he has been murdered, she prods him to ascertain why he is failing to answer her questioning. As his body falls forward, his head splits completely in half through the middle and its a decent and credibly handled scare. There are a few neat directorial flourishes on display and the final stalking scenes build a decent amount of tension. The budget restrictions are obvious, but the film never feels under produced.
There are two words that sum up all that's wrong with Nightmare at Shadow Woods and perhaps the reason why it has never been able to achieve the status of some of its peers. Louise Lasser. Her whining performance ranks amongst the worst I have ever seen and although none of the cast could consider themselves Academy Award quality, it was Lasser who grated the most. Things started badly with a horrendous piece of overacting and from then on her portrayal seemed to deteriorate from scene to scene as she sunk to new depths of heinous acting. Her incompetence reached a crescendo in one marvellously pathetic shot, which saw her sitting in a dressing gown on the kitchen floor eating scraps from the refrigerator and whimpering like a wounded rabbit from Watership Down .
It's also disappointing that Grissmer didn't make the most of an ambitious plot by adding a mystery element. We know from the start that Terry is the psychopathic sibling, but with a bit more adventurous script writing, we could have been left deciding which of the twins is the true killer until an archetypal revelation climax.
With that said, Woods still remains a decent splatter flick and is a good sister companion for Pieces from the same period. Don't buy the DVD however as it excludes all the fun gore effects.
The Ghost Dance (1982)
Another entry to the list of Native American slashers
As I write this review, the world is on the verge of one of the biggest financial meltdowns in economic history. My country of birth, Spain, has just guaranteed the savings of up to 80,000 Euros for every Spaniard in order to restore customer confidence, whilst in the UK a rumoured 500 billion of tax payer's money is about to be pumped into the recently nationalised British banking system in a bid to put trust back in to the financial market. In Iceland, banks have already crashed completely, leaving customers without their hard-earned savings, whilst politicians in the USA are battling around the clock to to thrash out a saviour package. Things are not looking good.
Two weeks ago the Credit Crunch seemed a million miles away, but today I noticed that it's starting to hit the most financially adventurous of sports, with London's West Ham United football club looking set to be the first to feel the pinch. As investments tumble, chairmen will begin to haul in the reigns and become less enthusiastic to spend on those much-needed squad reinforcements in the transfer window. We may be seeing the beginning of a total re-shape in entertainment as we know it.
That suddenly got me thinking, what if the Credit Crunch was to hit cinema? What if suddenly producers became bankrupt and it was left up to production teams with experience of delivering a feature on the tightest of budgets to fill cinemas on a Friday evening? Although that would be awful news for the movie industry as we know it, it would be a momentous occasion for the slasher genre. You see for all their faults (and they have many), stalk and slash flicks are arguably the cheapest and easiest to produce. So if you don't see the names of Nolan, Spielberg and Mendes on billboards in the near future and instead see the likes of Devine, Stryker and Decoteu, don't be too surprised...
There was a time of course when a cheap slasher movie at the cinema was a common occurrence. Back in the inglorious days of the early eighties, titles like Ghost Dance were the'Dark Knights' of that long-gone and thankfully forgotten era. Although that sounds bizarre in our current climate of multi-million-dollar blockbusters, history has a funny way of repeating itself.
Ghost Dance kicks off in trappings that we would see again three years later in Olen Ray's Scalps. A group of youngsters on an excavation raise a grave from the Californian desert and head off into the night with the corpse on-board their flat-bed pick-up. Next up we meet a crazy medicine man who seems determined to raise the spirit of an ancient American Indian renegade from beyond the grave. After a hopelessly unconvincing 'magic' spell, the evil spirit possess the mystical magician and heads off into the desert on a maniacal rampage. Soon we learn that there is something more sinister to the killer's motives as he begins closing in on our leading lady
Alongside titles that include Scalps, Demon Killer and Camping Del Terrore, Peter Buffa's opus attempts to inject the curiosities and intrigue of Native American culture into the trappings of the slasher genre that were all the rage in the early eighties. Back then, the cycle was still in a transitional phase and unaware of its platitudes, but the feature plays by the rulebook adequately and underlines all the clichés that would become a trademark of identification in years to come. Despite making good use of gimmicks like the good-old 'have sex and die' routine, kudos must be given to the scriptwriter for adding a little puzzle and intrigue to the template.
A large chunk of the runtime is dedicated to the mystery element of tracing the origins of the maniacal assassin and although the ideas are bold and commendable, the story telling does limit the space for occasions of glorious splatter. The film does feel somewhat snooze-enticingly slow moving in places and the killer's appearances are disappointingly sparse. When the psycho does strike, Buffa handles the tension surprisingly well and the score creates a mildly foreboding and at times impressively claustrophobic atmosphere. I especially enjoyed the murders in the abandoned museum and Ben's face slashing was exceptionally gruesome. Although there's very little in terms of grotesque gore, the killings, when they occur, are satisfying enough and competently handled by a capable director.
It doesn't take log for us to realise that there's sure to be a twist in the plot towards the climax and even though it may seem fairly 'old-hat' by today's standards, the conclusion was fairly ingenious for its time of release. Native Americans are always intriguing and curious characters for the silver screen, but hiring a cast of competent actors that carry the appearance, heritage and dramatic credibility is never an easy task for a film crew on a meagre budget. With that said, the performances here are reasonably good and credit to Victor Mohica for a strong turning as the leading man.
Ghost Dance is not a hidden-gem, but it is decent enough for true genre fans to appreciate. It seems somewhat unfair that whilst utter dross like Don't go in the Woods can live on in the hearts of slasher aficionados, Ghost Dance has been largely forgotten. Slight problems with pacing do not detract from a decent entry to the cycle. I recommend viewers get used to watching this kind of entertainment...you never know when the Hollywood financial bubble could burst................
The Hook of Woodland Heights (1990)
Not as vomit inducing as should be expected
It's easy to make a slasher film. No really, it is. Compared to any other cinematic genre, the funds and tools needed to complete the production of a basic entry to the vast catalogue are invitingly meagre. That's why a category so low on room for authenticity and creativity is as overcrowded as a central-London bus during rush hour. Although it may be a relatively simple task to pitch a dime store maniac against a group of your closest buddies and then package it as the most shocking cinematic gross-out since The Exorcist, creating a decent slasher movie has become something of a mission impossible.
Many, MANY budding directors have attempted bravely to give the cycle a new landmark feature, but the results have almost always been resoundingly dismal. Of the six-hundred-plus entries currently in existence, only a marginal 3% have achieved worldwide recognition from celebrated cinema critics. 3%! Despite those shocking statistics, the genre continues to thrive on the bottom shelves of video stores across the globe and every now and then future stars are discovered hamming their way through a woefully uninspired killer in the woods yarn.
The huge personal satisfaction gained by a crew being involved in the production of a film that people have actually seen - that has actually gained some kind of back-hand distribution - also cannot be ignored. For most people it's a dream that's as far away as an undiscovered solar system; but for a select few even if the said feature just happens to be an awful low-budget splatter flick that dream has become reality.
With that said, it's easy to understand the motivations behind the production of The Hook of Woodland Heights. Released on a twin-pack with the equally appetising (in the cheesiest possible way) Attack of the Killer Refrigerator, Hook is one of those movies, made strictly tongue in cheek in order to be consumed in a similar fashion. Long live trash cinema
It all kicks off with an introduction to our central characters. First off we meet Tommy, a weasel-like jock whose modus operandi throughout the runtime seems only to be to succeed in getting his leg over his frumpy sweetheart Katie. Kate is also no one's definition of a genius and spends most of the movie attempting to do everything in her power to get herself killed. The pair head out to the serenity of the local woodland, blissfully unaware that Mason Kraine a maniacal one-armed maniac has taken it upon himself to escape the surprisingly cosy confinement of the local asylum and head out to bolster his already impressive list of victims. Will the angst-ridden youngsters be able to make-out in peace and avoid the now fork-handed psycho? Do ducks float on water?
Produced on the kind of budget that a wide-boy salesman spends on a night out in the city with his good friend Charlie and a couple of 'ladies of the night', Hook is a movie that seems content to swim amongst the platitudes of its brethren. There's no danger of breaking any new ground here as director Savino stumbles through the clichés like a wrong-footed alcoholic on a Marine assault course.
With that said, in many places the film transcends its $32,000 budget. There's some fun gore on display and the hilarious performance of the hyperactive killer is worth the budget rental price alone. It even plays host to by far the most bizarre murder ever committed to cheap videotape. Death by clipboard anybody? Exactly.
Hook of Woodland Heights runs no longer than forty minutes, which is something of a lesson amongst moving pictures with psycho killers in them. It manages to pack in all the necessary character development, whilst in the same breath laughing in the face of titles such as The Prey, which found it essential to pad their runtimes with pointless and irrelevant footage in order to bolster the length of the feature. The script packs in everything that's needed to keep the plot running and the audience are never left feeling short-changed.
Rumour has it that none of the cast and crew saw a shiny circular dime for their participation in the production of this ambitious title, so kudos to director Savino for keeping them motivated enough to deliver enthusiastic, if not decent, performances. There are the expected continuity shotgun holes and the acting is as rancid as a blooper reel from an English soap opera, but Hook is by no means the worst slasher flick on the market.
Savino even tries to go all controversial by killing a pre-teen halfway through his splatter fest, but the movie never feels mean spirited. This is mainly thanks to the killer's laugh-inducing performance and his awful make up, which leaves him looking like a cast-off from glam rockers Kiss' late seventies tour of the US.
OK so there's nothing here to recommend, but if you're like me and have an unhealthy addiction to slasher trash, give this cheapie a try. There are a lot worse efforts clogging up Amazon.
La residencia (1969)
Outstanding and artistic Spanish Giallo that deserves a much stronger seeding
I said in my review of 'Al Filo Del Hacha' that Spain has a bad track record with slasher movies and I still see no evidence to dispute that fact. However when it comes to the Spanish giallo, I have a completely different opinion. Whilst we don't boast a catalog to rival that of our Latin contemporaries over in Italy, La Residencia is a seminal picture, which Dario Argento himself called an inspirational piece of film-making.
There are numerous reasons as to why the film is rarely mentioned in the same breath as the classic 'Sei donne per l'assassino' or other such genre giants. The lack of any significant distribution outside its country of origin certainly didn't help and although it isn't particularly gory as apposed to some of the more notorious giallos, most prints of that time exclude the stylish greenhouse killing. This is the same in principle as removing the clocks from Salvador Dali's 'La persistencia de la memoria'. I couldn't imagine the film without it.
A young woman joins a French boarding school for problematic girls and almost immediately begins to feel uncomfortable with the sinister head-mistress and the aggressive dictation of the elder students. At first it seems that the girls are running away one by one during the night in order to escape the disciplinarian modus operandi of the sinister staff, but soon it becomes apparent that the girls are falling prey to a vicious killer.
Despite La Residencia being nearly forty-years old, the film is a masterpiece of skillful direction and extreme suspense. Here, Narciso Ibáñez Serrador is not so much the director as he is an artist and he succeeds in rolling the viewer up in his optical illusion throughout the entire runtime. If his movie is a surrealistic painting, then the 'greenhouse killing' that I mentioned earlier is its focal point. It plays on the screen like a vivid nightmare and Serrador's choice of musical accompaniment achieves a cinematic portrait that has rarely been accomplished to such an exemplary level. Like all good artists, we get the impression that the final print had been viewed countless times by Serrador as he planned it in his mind prior to production and he must have been satisfied to have translated his vision onto the screen so successfully.
Accusations of exploitation are entirely unfounded as the movie never relies on gratuitous shock tactics. Despite an almost entirely female-populated cast there is no real nudity on display and the film is not misogynistic at all. In fact it is quite the opposite as the female characters have the more dominant personalities of the script. The performances are superb from a mixed European cast of stars and Christina Galbó Sánchez's portrayal is both convincing and highly emotional.
Another plus point is how the film chews up the rule-book and throws it straight out of the window to achieve a totally non-stereotypical synopsis. The revelation of the killer's identity is hardly shocking, but the motive clearly is; and like the more modern films of Almodovar, La Residencia doesn't escape your mind after the credits have rolled. Some forty years later this conclusion feels somewhat old-hat, especially as it has been repeated many times throughout the giallo and slasher genres of later years. But if you keep in mind that this was released way back in 1969, it proves that the film was somewhat ahead of its time.
Gore hounds may find the long excursions into character development rather disappointing and it's true that the maniac killer is not the key point in the plot for the entire ninety-nine minutes. But with that said, when he does strike, the slaughters are excellently conveyed and the film's approachable characters and Samson-like-in-strength performances make this something of a cinematic treat. It's nice to see a movie where every shot has been painstakingly planned to perfection and the net-result is a visual masterpiece that excels from start to finish.
La Residencia was the first Spanish movie to be shot in English and it benefits from a strong and intelligent script. It has certainly improved with age and initial Spanish reviews were mixed at best. But it's undeniable now that this is an artistic and wholly recommended slice of cinema memorabilia and it deserves a higher seeding amongst the giallo elite. It left its mark on horror through the countless features it inspired, which include the excellent 'Suspiria' and Juan Piquor's 'Mil gritos tiene la noche'
The Clown at Midnight (1998)
Has its moments but it's hampered by poor performances
The emergence of Wes Craven's Scream in 1996 had a similar effect on cinema as John Carpenter's Halloween did back in 1978. Once again video-store top shelves were filled with endless low budget knock-offs, so many so in fact that Blockbuster Video reported that it was receiving four times the amount of Horror films from 1998 to 2004 that it had since the organisation's birth in 1985. Although this was also due to the huge popularity of high-grossing titles such as The Blair Witch Project, The Sixth Sense and The Ring; Craven's opus should be credited for its hand in the re-birth of the genre as a bankable medium.
The slasher cycle is still thriving on the Direct-to-Video market mainly due to the fact that it has become a much simpler task to shoot an independent feature and find reasonable distribution than it was some twenty years earlier. But the biggest notable difference between the two periods of slasher-indulgence is the levels of quality. Whilst there certainly were awfully poor entries released during the eighties ('Don't go in the Woods'/'The Forest'), their comical lack of credibility was perhaps saved by the likes of 'Halloween' and 'My Bloody Valentine', which were eminently superior. But this time around, we have not had as many audacious offerings to shield the brunt of the criticism from the numerous mediocre efforts.
The Clown at Midnight was released hot on the heels of Craven's Scream, taking the favoured approach of enthusiasts by incorporating a killer clown into its synopsis. It tells the tale of seven drama students that are forced as part of their course work to clean and prepare a dilapidated theatre for re-opening. It had been closed for many years since a leading actress was brutally butchered by a maniac who escaped the scene without trial. The victim's daughter, Kate Williams (Sarah Lassez), is among the eager group and upon her arrival she begins suffering flashbacks and visions of the fate of her mother. Before long, the group are locked in and the psychopathic clown makes an inevitable reappearance for his swan song performance.
If there is any credit to be given to this scarcely popular new-age slasher, it has to be for the ambitious effort from Jean Pellerin, the junior director. Some of the camera work was neatly planned and his energetic method managed to prevent the movie from slipping into the clutches of complete tedium. However with that said, it feels woefully uninspired and that must be an underlining factor to its lack of a DVD release. Considering the fact that this was first circulated in 1998 by a relatively large studio, its lack of an appearance on digital format is a huge snub in itself.
The main problem with The Clown at Midnight is that it feels half-hearted. The characters are horrendously portrayed by a cast that have proved that they can do better and despite the inclusion of various so-called 'stars of the future', the dramatics remain distinctly sub-par throughout. It's left up to Christopher Plummer to inject some class into a leisurely paced group of performers, but even he's slumming it here.
The mystery is excellently constructed and in fairness, you'll never guess who it is that's sporting the creepy clown attire. But the lack of any thorough cast credibility leaves the twists somewhat redundant. The characters are completely unlikeable and even the stereotypical final girl is unapproachable. Never have I watched a slasher film and disliked the entire cast, which proved to be short-sighted character development from the script-writers. The plot closes with a corny 'light-hearted' ending, which was an unnecessary sugar-sweet topping to a surprisingly un-palatable cake.
I read somewhere that The Clown at Midnight has become renowned as the best killer clown movie since the psychological 'Clownhouse'. That statement says more about the lack of quality in that sector of horror than it does about the credibility of this muddled effort. I watched this movie many years back as a young student at Carlos III University de Madrid. The young lady I was dating at the time was a huge fan of 'Scream' and was the kind of girl that would flinch at every jolt in the soundtrack of a scary movie. After watching her reaction, I remember feeling that The Clown at Midnight must have been good to have that kind of effect on her, even if she was something of a vulnerable viewer. Unfortunately after watching the film again seven years later, I was disappointed with not only its mediocre quality, but also with my ability at that time to judge a decent performance. It's surprising how our attitudes and levels of awareness can change isn't it?
There are reports of an uncut copy somewhere in existence, although these have neither been confirmed nor denied. But a huge amount of gore would not subtract from the poor level of performances on display in The Clown at Midnight and with the finances that Pellerin had at his disposal, this really should have been better. It does have its share of ambitious moments (The opening killing marks an excellent use of suspense and creativity), but overall it doesn't have enough of them to warrant a purchase. I agree, there are not enough killer clown movies in existence, but the excellent 'The House on Sorority Row' deserves to be seen over this.