Burlesque Massacre 2011
Directed by: Tim Whitfield
Starring: Crystal Swarovski, Olivia Bellafontaine, Polly Peabody
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Tim Whitfield is another of those self-financing underground directors that has built up a catalogue of horror films on low budgets and released and distributed them through his own company, Timberwolf West Entertainment. Back in 2002, he produced a slasher movie called Summer’s End: The Legend of Samhain, which added a supernatural sheen to the standard masked killer vs teen template. It was extremely low budget, but it played true to its eighties heritage and delivered a high quota of boobs and blood. I have it in Spain amongst my other VHS cassettes and will no doubt review it in the future.
Over ten years later, Whitfield returned to the genre with Burlesque Massacre, a title that he has said pays homage to the sleaze-ridden entries from the seventies. It’s available to buy from his website and you can also get a copy on Amazon at an agreeable price.
After a creepy black and white intro that shows a naked chick getting drowned in a bath, we meet a group of low level strippers at a dance club. They’re planning to take a break for a weekend at the abode of one of their friend’s with a couple of days to practice before their next gig. Unfortunately for them, it seems that they’re sharing the house with a pair of vicious killers that plan to slaughter them all.
First things first, Burlesque Massacre is a huge improvement on Samhain in terms of production quality. The photography is crystal clear and beautifully plush, which gives the movie an extremely polished look. Whitfield incorporates various shades to his colour palette that include sepia for the recollection footage and grainy borders to reference the 70s Grindhouse inspirations. He’s also invested in a stylish soundtrack that is competently mixed and works wonders in the opening twenty-minutes to vitalise the tone. We hear a melodic piano composition at one point that is so unique and operatic that it really gives the runtime a gloss of professionalism that hides the moderate budget.
Burlesque doesn’t dwindle in the delivery of its subject matter and we see three murders and two full frontal nudity shots in the first fifteen minutes. I don’t recall any lengthy periods where someone isn’t about to get slaughtered and Whitfield shows an awareness that slashers often get tedious when the maniac is not on the screen. There is little chance of that happening though because there is a tag team of psychopaths at work, and they notch up an impressive number of corpses between them as the story unravels. The main bogeyman has a skull-mask and hulking frame and despite the film not being overtly gory with what it displays, the killings are gruesome due to their remorselessness.
I’m not giving away anything by revealing the crux of the plot, because Burlesque is not a whodunit. Our villains are a brother and sister who have grown into a incestuous relationship due to the abuse of their father. We are shown numerous scenes where they get it on (sometimes around corpses) and this ups the sleaze factor to the maximum. They plan to murder all of the strippers and then take off somewhere so that they can be together and open a dance school, but we never really learn how they plan to cover their tracks. It does seem that their murderous mission is the crux of the synopsis, because none of the other girls step up to take on the protagonist mantle. Usually this is the kind of thing that is likely to ruin similar features, but Burlesque moves so quickly and is so packed to the rafters with action that I barely got time to notice what was lacking.
This is at heart another title like Porn Shoot Massacre or Strip Club Slasher that aims to be as perverted as possible to attract the T&A type of audience. I have mentioned previously that slasher movies that go with the softcore approach are not my bag and if I must be honest, my stance hasn’t changed. The incest scenes were OTT and disturbing and went a bit too far for my tastes. I like my slashers to be cheesy and scary, but I don’t need to see so much nudity and exploitation. Still, I can openly admit that this is down to my personal preference and if screaming hookers in their skin suits rocks your boat then that’s fine by me.
Whilst not really being the kind of entry that I usually enjoy, I must admit that there’s loads for others to like about Burlesque Massacre. It’s a gritty take on the slasher template that has moments of creepiness, bundles of murders and an overall flair for unpredictability. Stalk and slash flicks are meant to be fun and Whitfield deserves credit for avoiding the flaws that destroy so many of his brethren. By avoiding the typical mystery aspect, giving us a twosome of maniacs and keeping with its aura of sadism, its actually fairly authentic.
I say check it out…
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl √
The Pool 2000
Directed by: Boris Von Sychowski
Starring: Kristen Miller, Isla Fischer, Paul Grasshoff
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
After watching and thoroughly enjoying Anatomy a couple of weeks back, I thought that I’d check out another of Germany’s post-Scream additions to the slasher genre. The Pool didn’t make as big a splash as Stefan Ruzowitzky’s entry when it hit shelves, but it did tick a box that I’d dreamed of since I was a youngster.
You see, I remember visiting a Swimming complex in London when I was growing up called Fantaseas. It was a huge water park that had American-style flumes, countless wave-based gimmicks and a mixed-sex changing room, which was enough motivation for a youngster like me to hope to pick up some chicas. It was only open for a short while until a few serious accidents caused its sudden closure. One of those was a gruesome fatality that launched a tirade of bad press and the rumour that the site was haunted. With this in mind, a group of friends and I climbed through an air vent one night to see if we could discover any paranormal activity. Whilst we didn’t come across any ghosts or sentient beings, the sight of the dilapidated complex in spooky solitude is an image that’s stayed with me to this day.
I always felt that if I were to make a horror film, I would chose a similar backdrop to that which had effected me so much back then, but Boris von Sychowski beat me to it. I just hoped that he would make the most of what there was to offer.
A group of youngsters decide to celebrate their graduation by throwing a party inside a swimming complex. Little do they know that one of their number is looking to slash rather than splash…
Even though Pool was a German production, the cast is made up of various nationalities and a lot of the exteriors were filmed in one of my favourite cities, Prague. The mix of actors does create an interesting blend of accents, but unlike the aforementioned Anatomy, the crew decided to utilise English as the main language to make the movie easier to market globally. There are some faces that you may have seen in other pictures since this hit shelves, but the most recognisable is a young Isla Fischer who has carved out a steady career in cinema since.
Back in the early noughties, slasher films were still making a tidy profit and it’s visible that The Pool is extremely well financed to capitalise on that. Von Sychowski directs with a vibrant panache and plans every shot extremely well. He chooses a blue-ish tinge to shoot the action and it complements the film’s aquatic nature. I was hoping to see the water park backdrop utilised as much as possible and some memorable set pieces are created because they do just that. We get a kill scene that has become notorious and it sees a young bunny get sliced in half after sliding down a flume on to a strategically placed blade. It brought back memories of all those urban legends about razors in watershoots and its one that’ll make female viewers flinch. An impressive number of partying teenagers are dispatched via the killer’s signature machete, but perhaps because the producers were hoping not to suffer censorship issues, there’s very little gore on display.
There was another sequence that I thought was credible, which saw a group of teenagers stalked inside an air vent. It worked well due to the obvious claustrophobia and the fact that the victims had no real method of defence. What it lacked though, and it’s something that I felt really let the movie down, was the right amount of suspense. Make no mistake about it; The Pool is a fine advertisement for the slasher genre. It’s got some hilarious dialogue, a decent soundtrack, beautiful cast members and it knows how to have some fun. The only thing that was really missing was the slice of tension that can turn a good film into a great one and it had an effect on my idea of a rating. I don’t recall many moments when I felt that I didn’t know what was coming next and because there were no shocks or genuine scares, it made things feel somewhat diluted. Chuck on top of that a poorly handled mystery and a pointless subplot with a detective that looks like Roy Cropper and the film loses a chunk of its polish.
The Pool tries its darndest to follow the Scream methodology, (the opening sequence is almost identical) and I guess that it succeeds, because if you really like Craven’s picture, you’ll most definitely enjoy this. It’s a slick slasher movie that ticks the right boxes, but the only disappointment is that it doesn’t go for the jugular.Funnily enough one character even says, I know what you did last summer just to prove the Williamson inspiration
Looking at the fate that befell Cherry Falls when it was cut to smithereens, it’s easy to see why The Pool played it safe and didn’t go all out for the gore-filled approach. Unfortunately it left a movie that has all the gloss, but not enough grit. Me, well I prefer them gritty…
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√
Memorial Day Killer 1999
Directed by: Christopher Alender
Starring: Marcos Gabriel, Therese Fretwell, Andrew Williams
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Slasher films have always been notorious for their low production budgets, but the aftermath of the success of Wes Craven’s Scream saw huge growth in the output of such titles. The introduction of digital equipment made it easier for up and coming filmmakers to develop features and they were picked up relatively cheaply for global consumption. Films like Camp Blood, Granny, Head Cheerleader Dead Cheerleader and Dead 7 were a common sight in rental stores around the turn of the millennium and the lack of expenditure that was put into them meant that they usually always turned a tidy profit for distributors.
Memorial Day Killer is one that I came across back then, but never got round to watching. I think this was mainly due to there being so many new additions coming out that this one ended up at the bottom of a pile in my bedroom where it was forgotten. It was only recently when I was discussing 1988’s Memorial Valley Massacre with one of my readers here that I remembered that it even existed.
A group of youngsters head off into the woodland for the Memorial Day weekend. It’s been three-years since Rachel’s younger brother drowned in the local lake and this is the first time that she’s been able to return. Before long a masked killer begins to slice his way through the crew…
You could best describe MDK as the slasher movie equivalent of a two-star hotel. You get a bed to sleep in and a sink to wash your hands, but you have to share the bathroom and the breakfast is little more than value cornflakes and UHT milk. Oh and let’s not talk about the towels… Yuk! I say this because the visuals here are extremely foggy and Christopher Alender shoots everything flatly and with little invention. The characters are badly constructed and poorly portrayed, which makes them one dimensional and forgettable. There was a funny example of this where one soon-to-be-victim pleads for her life with the enthusiasm of a slice of dry bread. She was crawling along on a death trap that was laden with deadly razor blades, but looked about as bothered as if someone had just disturbed her from a snooze… Well maybe they had. There’s nothing in the screenplay to differentiate one face from another and the dialogue just feels recycled and irrelevant. I was impressed that the filmmakers included the old ‘campfire scary story’ chestnut, but it was leisurely replicated and mundane. We get little time to build any kind of relationship with the cast members and the first half of the runtime is spent waiting for the maniac to hurry up and get to work.
In the opening scene, we see an unattractive couple get murdered and there’s a part of this sequence that I thought was hilarious. After the boyfriend gets offed when he goes out to his car to grab a condom, the killer enters the house to take care of the female. She doesn’t realise that the masked nut-job is not her lover and so he blindfolds her from behind and goes on to re-enact Mickey Rourke from Nine 1/2 Weeks. Quite what the director had in mind when he got his bogeyman to erotically feed diced strawberries to the girl that he was about to kill is beyond me, but it was an amusing slice of WTF madness.
The threadbare locations emphasise the obvious lack of budget and the score may well have been one of those that you can buy online for $50. To be honest, by the twenty-five-minute mark I was ready to cast off Memorial Day Killer as absolute tosh, but there were a few things that I feel partially redeemed it before the final credits rolled. You see, it’s tough to make a great movie on peanuts, but trying your hardest is something that pays dividends. Whilst there’s a load here that is easy to mock, Alender does at least attempt to go the extra mile in places to give his movie a sharper suit.
The murders for example are extremely creative and there’s a lot of thought that has been put into how they’re conveyed. It would have been easy to give the killer a machete and gone with the usual sliced throat effect, but instead each slaughter is one that we don’t see very often and they’re extremely imaginative, albeit gore free. We are also given a twist that may not be exactly logical, but at least I didn’t see it coming. Some may consider it as bolted on, but it did at least spice up the story.
All in all, Memorial never really escapes its penny sweet budget (was the killer’s mask cardboard?), but it tries hard to pay tribute to Friday the 13th as much as possible and with a decent dose of creativity to boot. Whilst I concur that it’s still not one that you should go out of your way for, it’ll do the job if you’re hard up. Hey, like a Two-Star hotel…
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√
Don’t Go In The Woods 1981
Directed by: James Bryan
Starring: Jack McClelland, Mary Gail Artz, James P. Hayden
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Picking out the crème de la crème of the stalk and slash genre is a task that’s only too easy. Ask nine out of ten fans for their opinions on who’s the king bogeyman, and I’m betting that they’ll all reply, without pause for a breath: Michael Myers, Halloween. You may get the odd individuals that’ll pipe up with their love for Scream or Friday the 13th, but more often than not, it’ll be John Carpenter that rightly snatches the glory for his long-standing seminal masterpiece. A much tougher task on the other hand is attempting to root out the category’s biggest toads, simply because, there’s just so many of them. For every one half-decent attempt at rehashing the formula, there are twenty or more total turkeys, which makes the mission to save Private Ryan look simple compared to hunting out the undisputed crapola champion. If there were ever a poll to seek out the lowest of the low in psycho-killer entertainment, then I can guarantee, without a shadow of a doubt in my mind, that Don’t go in the woods would be there gleaming amongst the top five.
Woods is a true, true travesty of a movie that sinks the tonal depths in just about every way shape and form that a motion picture possibly can. Everything from the torch with low-batteries worthy lighting to the woefully irritating score – which sounds like it was composed by a drunken moggy running across the keys of his owner’s Bontempi – puts this rancid beast on a new level of shameful amateurism.
Certainly the most bizarre slice of trivia that has allowed this to gain the smallest level of cinematic notoriety is the fact that it was banned in the United Kingdom. Along with the bland, but not quite as atrocious Delirium, this is yet another video-nasty that leaves you questioning the astoundingly stringent decisions of UK censorship during the early eighties. Perhaps it was all just an ingenious marketing ploy to allow copies of this junk to sell for nonsensical prices on e-bay in years to come? (The other day I saw one up for £30!) I don’t know for sure, but either way, it doesn’t deserve the cult-classic accolade it has achieved since it was considered a tad too extreme by some numbskull left-wing Guardian reader.
It kicks off with shaky shots of some beautiful woodland. A young woman comes sprinting from out of the trees, closely pursued by jerky steadi-cam. She trips over, screams, and just when you think she’s about to get splattered – the screen jumps like a kangaroo on a hot plate. At first I thought that I may have been watching a heavily censored print, I mean this was 1982 and the video-nasty prohibition was just about to kick-off all over the world. I took the liberty of asking JA Kerswell from the kingdom of slasher knowledge – Hysteria Lives – if there was an uncut copy floating around. He told me that this was the only version that he knew of, and simply to put the erratic skipping down to cack-handed editing. In fact, he told me to put the whole movie down to bad editing, but I guess that we’re jumping the gun a little by saying that this early in the review. (Though I must admit, he does have a point.) Cut to a bird watcher loitering in the same area (presumably). He’s only on screen for ten seconds tops, and then the still unseen maniac turns up and offers him a life-long disability permit by gorily yanking off his hokey arm, which looks like it was moulded with paper-mâché.
Finally we get to meet four characters that aren’t only there to be butchered (just yet). There’s Craig, who infuriatingly keeps lecturing everyone on the dangers of strolling through the woodland. It’s a characteristic that grates throughout the runtime, until he bumps into Mr. nut-job a lot later than we’d really have liked him too. Suffice to say that his woodland experiences didn’t prepare him for that particular endeavour. The second male along for the ride is Peter, the brash rebellious guy, who’s full of piss and vinegar right through to the film’s ridiculous climax. They’ve also brought along their two girlfriends, but they’re both so flat that I really can’t be bothered to think up a description. The only thing that I will say is that one of them looks alarmingly like Richard Cunningham from Happy Days, even sporting a ginger ‘flat top’ side-parting. Anyway things plod along at the pace of an autistic tortoise, as we cut between the four nincompoops enjoying all that nature has to offer, and various no-hopers getting splattered by the psycho, who looks like a cross between a caveman and a hippy. Don’t go in the Woods’ only claim to any originality comes when Peter decides enough is enough, and heads out into the trees to track down and get revenge on the killer. Ho-hum indeed…
Funnily enough, the film was released this side of the ocean as Don’t go in the woods Alone, which would’ve been a catchy little title if it wasn’t so profoundly riddled with irony. You see, when the ‘hero’ does eventually jog off into the forest on his lonesome, not only does he manage to emerge with his limbs intact, but he also ends up defeating the maniac. Perhaps a more suitable title would have been Don’t go in the Woods in a Wheelchair, because one unfortunate friend of the director spends a tiresome ten minutes struggling to get to the top of a rocky hill in his. When he finally does reach the peak, the loony proves that he’s a nasty piece of work by showing us that he has no compassion for those with disabilities – Tsk! We never find out why this particular victim decided to take his wheelchair into the uneven grounding of a forest of all places, but to be honest, character development wasn’t brimming from the screenwriter’s mind when it came to padding out these 82 minutes with body count material. Characters are manufactured only for the slaughter, and if they do get a small snippet of dialogue, then it’s usually so inane that they themselves look puzzled as they struggle desperately to convince. Take for example the two newly-weds (so it says on the cover), who provide the only real quality cheesy giggle. It seems that the guy’s unfortunate enough to be called Dick, and his fledgling missus makes the best comical use of his name, by goofing things like, ‘Oh Dick, oh Dick…It’s just that my head isn’t in the right place Dick.’ (Make what you want of the last bit) Anyway Dick and Cherry (no, really) won’t be celebrating any anniversaries in the near future, they too were cast only as soon-to-be deadites.
Every review that I’ve ever read on this dollop of dung, refers to the theme song that plays over the end credits, which means it’d be pretty un-original of me to do exactly the same thing. But after hearing it, I can appreciate an author’s keenness to quote the lyrics word for word. God bless composer H. Kingsley Thurber is all that I can say, his ‘remarkable’ nursery rhyme re-imaging is one of the funniest things that I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. This being a ‘video-nasty’, you’d expect to find gore to rival the bloodiest Fulci or sexual nudity straight from Debbie does Dallas. But no luck in that department either, every character keeps their blouses buttoned, and the first Friday the 13th was bloodier, which cancels any gore hounds delight, because that got released on a stringent eighteen certificate.
Don’t go in the Woods is truly a work of utter incompetence that can only be rivalled by crap like Movie House Massacre in the shoddy film-making department. One character summed up her movie-making experience perfectly as she trundled through the woodland on the long winding path to film obscurity. Discussing the enviroment at that particular moment, she blurted out something along the lines of, ‘what a stink, yuk – it’s rancid!’ What she could never have predicted is that not even a truly polished cinema critique could have given a more accurate description of what she was partaking in. If you’re still one of the insane few that bids tirelessly on eBay to own an original copy of this stinker, then please do yourself a favour and save yourself the pain. This is one of the many cases when the bidding is the most fun that you’ll ever get if you win. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √
Directed by: Stefan Ruzowitzky
Starring: Franka Potente, Benno Fürmann, Anna Loos
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Like most slasher fans of the thirty+ age bracket, I much prefer the eighties genre boom to the one that followed hot on the heels of Scream. There’s a type of veteran feeling attached to knowing that you were collecting big-box VHS during the glory years and even if Craven’s classic is nearly twenty-years old, it’s not quite retro yet.
Taking the sentimentality out of the equation though, there’s a strong case to say that the second peak was more beneficial for the category. Firstly, we received three times as many entries from 1996 to the current date than we did back then, and secondly, a lot more countries contributed to the rebirth. Anatomy was an early addition to be produced by Germany and its huge box office return opened the door for more European states to jump on the bandwagon. In the years that followed, we would see Cold Fear, School Killer and Haute Tension bring flair to the template and continue the category’s progression.
Young anatomy student Paula (Franka Potente) is one of the best young medics in her country. When she is offered a place on a course in Heidelberg taught by a famous professor she is clearly over the moon. However, her suspicions are aroused when one by one her fellow students go missing and the body of a young man she met only days earlier turns up on the dissecting table – dead. So is she just paranoid or is there something far more sinister behind the strange disappearances?
I watched Anatomy with my Mrs and after it had finished, she said, “That’s not a slasher film, it’s a thriller”. Now usually, I counter such claims from her with a knowing nod, as if to say, ‘let me be the critic, you’re just along for the ride’. In this instance (and in this one only), I must begrudgingly admit that she may have a point. You see, Anatomy does spend more time developing its mystery than it does underlining the clichés. Victims are kidnapped by a gloved assailant, but there’s no masked killer and very few of the references that Kevin Williamson’s screenplay underlined so confidently
The fact that we do have a scalpel clenching psychopath, a typical final girl and ingredients such as the ‘have sex and die’ rule mean that I’m not unsure about the film’s status upon this site. So with that cleared up, I’m free to tell you that what we have here is a superb addition to the cycle. There are some fine acting skills on display, especially from Benno Furmann who has gone on to become a great talent in his home country. Franka Potente gives us a smart and charming heroine that reminded me of Laurie Strode far more than many that I have seen of late. Director Stefan Ruzowitzky manages to pile on the suspense in a number of scenes. One of the most outstanding is when the butcher attempts to hide a freshly murdered corpse that he viciously slashed only moments earlier. He hears the cleaners coming down the corridor, so he blocks the door to the Morgue with a surgical trolley. Of course, the staff can’t understand why it’s been suddenly locked, so they call their superiors to assist with getting it open. The psycho has to race against the clock to put the body into the refrigerator and hide before he gets caught red handed. It’s real nail biting stuff and the tension doesn’t end there. We get a brutal chase sequence towards the end, which is reminiscent of Halloween II. The scalpel-wielding killer and he’s loyal accomplice stalk our likeable final girl through the basement of the University and create a harrowing atmosphere that is rarely seen to such a great effect in today’s horror movies.
As I’ve highlighted, this is pure whodunit for the most part and there are suspicious suspects everywhere to put you off of the real assassin’s identity. Take the somewhat unfriendly looking dissector who hangs around the students clenching a saw and asking if they’re ready for him to `…open the skull’. Ruzowitzky adds the odd touch of comedy to brighten things up in-between the kill scenes. In one bit Paula is talking on the phone to her friend who is an overweight middle-aged male. Out of the corner of her eye she catches her fancy man Caspar waiting for her. In an attempt to make him jealous, she states to to the male `…on your firm buttocks’ to which he mops his brow and wonders what the hell she’s going on about. It’s comedy gold.
After the victims have been injected with an anaesthetic and kidnapped by the madman, they wake up on a dissecting table with an uplifting piece of music playing while they’re being gutted. The merciless surgeons completely ignore their cries for help, which makes them seem all the more sadistic. I’ll tell you something else too, after watching this I’m going to do my best to keep out of medical centres for the foreseeable future. It successfully made me contemplate what sort of mind is on the other end of that sharp looking surgical saw.
In Anna Loos, the film has an amazing slice of eye-candy, and she flaunts her voluptuous figure in a wonderful seduction scene. The script succeeds in giving her and all the other background characters a unique personality and you do find that you what them to survive. The assailant’s identity is revealed quite early in the runtime, but there’s still some revelations before the final credits roll and the film’s unique structure is one of the biggest pluses.
Anatomy is a slickly directed, stylish horror film with brilliant dialogue and personalities that we care about. Make sure that you get the subtitled copy though as I’ve heard that it was weakly dubbed for global distribution. Still, I’m extremely pleased that I watched it again and I’m sure that you’ll enjoy it too.
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl √√√√
Killer Campout 2005
Directed by: Victor Franko
Starring: Jillian Swanson, Anthony Goes, Patrick Hickey,
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This is another total obscurity that I received in the post a few years back, but I’ve never got around to actually watching. I’ve been trying to review Camp Blood for a SLASH above since the start of the year, but I can’t locate my copy anywhere. Desperate to post a newish killer in the woods flick for y’all, I thought that I’d finally take the plunge and give this a viewing. Killer Campout is budget filmmaking at the lowest possible level, so there’s little more in terms of production value than a camcorder and an industrial sized container of corn syrup. I know that doesn’t sound like the most attractive prospect, but if I’m going to cover the entire genre, then I’ll have to sit through some of these from time to time.
It came from Victor D’Agostino (under the pseudonym Victor Franko) who had been working as an extra and picking up experience around the film industry since 2002. Amongst other things, he had assisted B-Movie director Jay Woelfel on the production of both Ghost Lake and Demonicus before finally getting the funds together to make his own slasher extravaganza three-years later. He hired locals and buddies to fill up the cast list and filmed it at a site that he knew extremely well.
Seven kids head off on a camping trip into some secluded woodland to smoke pot and make-out for a weekend. The forest is host to an urban legend of a monster of some kind that kills invaders of his domain. Before long, they soon discover this to be true, as a burlap sack sporting maniac begins to slash his way through them.
It would be foolish to have high expectations for a movie that cost $500 to produce, but prepare to be shocked señoras y señores, because Killer Campout is a real gem for the money that was put into it. What we have here is a tribute to Friday the 13th that pays homage in the best possible way and offers much more of a knowing nod than the likes of Blood Reaper or Day of the Ax managed. The killer looks splendid in a black burlap sack and traditional Killer in the Woods lumberjack get-up and he stalks with the kind of physically imposing frame that made Jason so memorable. D’Agostino didn’t have the budget to cast someone to play the maniac, so instead he performed the role himself. He really gave life to the hulking slayer, which may well have been due to his previous acting experience. A fine example of this is during the pulsating chase sequence in the closing minutes, where the final girl is pursued after she has sprained her ankle. Our bogeyman has a traditional slow-footed Michael Myers stalk, which means that her injury makes them equally paced and it generates some solid suspense. In another scene, the killer towers over the same cowering female after murdering one of her colleagues. She sits dumbfounded and in a state of shock and its one of those moments that makes you scream at the screen, “Get up and run for Gawd’s sake!” It was great to see the director transcending his budget in an effort to give us as thrilling a ride as possible.
The feature clocks in at fifty-four minutes, which doesn’t leave a great deal of time for character development, but the lightweight script still managed to chuck in some memorable gimmicks. These include a hilarious shoplifting skit and some wacky weed-smoking references that are delivered by a pair of rouge-ish chicks that are there to add a dose of humour. I was incredibly impressed with seventeen-year-old Jillian Swanson’s portrayal of the heroine, because with minimal dialogue and screen-time, she gave us a charming and approachable final girl. Her career blossomed for a couple of years after this and she appeared in a few other horror pictures, but she’s been missing since 2007, so I’m guessing that she’s given up on acting, which is a shame. Along with the energetic performances, I also found the gore effects to be worthy of credit, because they’ve pulled off some really effective visuals on shoelace funding. Amongst these was a gruesome impalement and an outstanding head-lopping trick that proved that with the right camera angles and a sharp mind, a lack of funding doesn’t effect what you can achieve.
Despite some crisp photography that is as radiant as anything that I’ve seen in slasher cinema, nothing can overcome the obvious amateurism of the sound mixing and editing. It looks as if scenes were completed and given musical accompaniment before everything was chopped together, so we get a whole heap of moments when two separate scores that don’t really fit are amalgamated into one set-piece. There are also times when the dialogue couldn’t be synced at the same times as the soundtrack for some unknown reason, which gives the audio an awkwardness that shows the film’s cheapness. They did make this work to their advantage in one place though, by giving the killer his own atmospheric POV that had a distinguished piece of music every time that he appeared on screen. It was a good way to make the best use of the budget restraints and its even something that they poked fun at later when the heroine grabbed a weapon during the conclusion.
I ask myself, did Victor D’Agonisto get what he could out of $500? The answer is as blatant a yes as a yes can possibly be. This is a very good entry that delivers far more thrills, Friday the 13th references and slasher fun than most of the films released recently on ten-times the expense. Whilst I admit that you need to be lenient in places, I think slasher fans will lap it up if they can find a copy.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√√
Cross Bearer 2012
Directed by: Adam Ahlbrandt
Starring: Isaac Williams, Natalie Jean, Victoria DePaul
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Being that a SLASH above is so genre focused, I guess that most of you that check us out weekly are collectors just like me. I mention this because I’m sure that you will understand when I talk about the desperation to uncover an obscure entry that you really want to see. You’ll have been through the endless hours of searching on peculiar DVD sites, eBay and Amazon stores and every torrent portal that’s ever been listed on Google, and you’ll understand how much that raises expectations. Well even though it’s just over two years old, Cross Bearer has been the latest title that I’ve been hunting out for what seems like an eternity.
I first heard about it from Dead Girls co-director Steve Jarvis, who saw it at Shriekfest in November 2012. He gave it a, ‘bona fide, 14-carat, good housekeeping seal of approval’ and in general he knows a good slasher movie. It was soon listed on the IMDB with a 7.5 rating, an amazing score for such a picture, and I found an incredibly positive review on the Horror Society website, which called it an, ‘extremely dark slasher film, full of grit and grime’. I was expecting it to be released soon after and I waited in anticipation, but only now, twenty-months later, have I managed to source a copy from Cologne, Germany.
It opens with a truly brilliant collage of shots of religious imagery and Audio snippets of fanatical preaching. Then we head to a seedy Pittsburgh apartment block where we meet a long haired religious nut with a beard who is spying on and recording a pimp and his hooker friends. As the story unravels, more characters are introduced including a sleazy strip club owner, a pair of lesbian strippers who are madly in love and a single mother who is a part-time drug courier. They all come together in a large rundown warehouse for a gore-tastic showdown with a hooded killer.
There’s some discrepancies on exactly how much was spent on the budget of Cross Bearer. Director Adam Ahlbrandt has stated as little as $3,500, but I would guess that it’s a whole lot more. The film really looks the business with it’s saturated colour and grainy images that capture the morbid tone. It also has an impressive soundtrack of songs that are professionally composed and produced. Add on top of that some excellent gore effects from Doug Sakmann that do not scrimp on costs whatsoever and you get a production that doesn’t look far off the same year’s Smiley. Bearer tramples the line between slasher and torture porn incredibly well and most of the on-screen killings are exceptionally brutal and visceral. The bogeyman beats each victim do death mercilessly with a hammer and he only changes his MO on two occasions. In one of those, he uses the claw end of said hammer to rip out one victim’s tongue and in the other, he pours a bag of coke over an incapacitated girl until she froths at the mouth and chokes to death. I thought that was a pretty cool idea and even though we’ve seen something similar in Dead 7 from 2000, it was much slicker this time around
The film is a mix of inspirations that are taken from the straight-ahead masked killer stalks teens stories of Halloween or Prom Night, whilst also digging deeper into the sadism of 70s titles like Three on a Meathook or Deranged. We also get some Scream era referential dialogue, with one character mentioning Friday the 13th part II, which I feel is of relevance to the choice of guise for the killer. Whilst it is not quite a burlap sack, the white ‘bed sheet’ headpiece is visually similar to Jason circa the second franchise installment, so I would include this amongst titles like Malevolence and Boogieman that went for a similar costume. Psychos in that kind of get-up have always been my favourites and when we see him stalking whilst spattered in blood, it does look exquisitely creepy.
In-between the kill scenes is time that’s spent with a group of seedy low-lives and it’s here that the film falls to pieces. Firstly there is no central character for us to bond with, so there’s very little suspense in wanting to see anyone survive. We are given a bunch of drug addled strippers and pimps that don’t even marginally convince that they’re delinquents. Mind you, they shouldn’t need to, this is a horror film, not a ghetto flick. Because he has a cast that look about as gangster as Popeye, Ahlbrandt makes up for it by taking the level of exploitation so far in the first 10 minutes that it loses impact and becomes irritating. Every second minute we get another lurid sex or cocaine reference and it’s delivered so weakly that I was begging for some normal conversations. Such messages are conveyed more effectively with restraint and in the end it reminded me of one of those kids that wants to be a bad boy so he fabricates endless stories of debauchery.
I also felt that it needed more stalking scenes to help sustain the atmosphere. The most that we usually got was a single shot of the bogeyman walking up to burst in on his intended targets and therefore there wasn’t really any tension. When we did finally get a chase sequence during the last 20 minutes, I thought it was darkly effective due to the antagonist’s loony-tune chants, like, “Come out harlot, I can smell you”. As I said, he looks intimidating in the backwoods get-up, but I think that showing him unmasked in the opening scenes was a bit of a blunder. It took away the anticipation of revealing the motives behind such aggression and therefore the fear factor was reduced.
It’s surprising for me that Cross Bearer hasn’t yet received the release that it deserves, because it is better than many of the other films that have come out recently. Its IMDB score has dropped to 3.7 at the last check and all that initial positivity has been replaced with much poorer reviews. I have it on good authority that a script for a second chapter already exists and it gives the assailant a sledgehammer upgrade. Unless this feature gets picked up for a better distribution deal soon though, I don’t think that we’ll ever see it. There are not many companies that will sponsor a sequel when the first film never really took off. There’s no denying that a great opportunity has been missed here, but I still think that you should give it a go. It’s far too good to be just one of those obscurities that people hunt out on portals in twenty-year’s time.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √
Scream Park 2012
Director Cary Hill
Starring, Wendy Wygant, Steve Rudzinski, Nivek Ogre
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Whenever I go to an Amusement Park, I am always in awe of the possibilities for a pulsating slasher film. Ghost Houses are dark and claustrophobic and I can visualise a chase sequence through a hall of mirrors, there’s just so much that could be done. The Funhouse was one of the first to utilise such a location to stalk some teens and it turned out to be one of the better entries of the key period. Produced in 2012, Scream Park went about taking this potential into more modern surroundings and that’s why I was extremely excited to check it out.
It was the debut movie of director Cary Hill and was packaged to DVD by a company called ProtoMedia Productions. Unlike most budget slasher films that are unleashed of late, I didn’t know anything about this one until it had literally popped up in the products I might be interested in field on Amazon. There has been a major surge in genre entries produced over the past couple of years and I am still trying to track down a handful of them.
A horror themed amusement park called Fright Land has seen its number of visitors dwindle to the point that they have to close the doors for the last time. The manager has asked the remaining workers to stay behind and help to clear up and so they decide to bring in some booze and have a party. Little do they know that they are not alone and before long they are forced to battle with a pair of masked maniacs…
I recall in my review of Runaway Terror, that I mentioned the importance of marketing your product to give it the best possible chance of being competitive. Well here we have another example of great digital advertising, because the information that I found about Scream Park made it sound almost too good to be true. There was an 8/10 review on the IMDB and a few anonymous comments on boards that had flung praise all over it. Chuck on top of that a quality cover that shows a menace in a burlap sack clenching an axe and I was chomping at the bit to get involved. At a cool £9 including delivery, it didn’t even burn a hole in my wallet.
The credits pop up on a black screen with white lettering as an obvious nod to the early Friday the 13th films and then we get an interesting POV shot from a rollercoaster, which showed initial ingenuity. Immediately after though, as our characters are introduced, the pace drops to a near standstill and our old friend tedium begins to creep in. Now no matter what film school that you attend, you will always learn that an opening scene is necessary for setting the tone of your feature. You won’t see a pie in the face gag at the beginning of The Exorcist and a gruesome murder won’t launch Naked Gun for a specific reason. Scream Park gives us thirty-two minutes of humdrum conversations before the first kill scene and I wouldn’t be surprised if most of you had already switched it off long before then. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is as conventional as ketchup on chips and it’s delivered by actors that seem to be devoid of any recgognisable human emotion.
When it finally gets itself in gear though, Scream Park breaks the mould by having a twosome of assailants that stalk the youngsters across the theme park. Upon their joint introduction, things do get more exciting and the murders boast a spark of inventiveness. The first guy to go is the token black security guard and he is hoisted up on a rope and then stabbed in the heart with a switchblade. Moments earlier, he had been watching Night of the Living Dead on his TV and it made me wonder if he was related to the guy from Silent Night Bloody Night: The Homecoming; also a black security guard that was murdered whilst watching the same flick. Next up a girl with a World Cup winning cleavage is boiled alive in a chip fryer and the killings continue to occur at an impressive rate. They even find the time to scalp one unfortunate dweeb before playing fancy dress with his hairpiece. One of the psychopaths gets unmasked quite early in the runtime and he’s a typical backwoods loon that took us too deep into the territory that ruined 2009’s The Cycle. The reason why John Lithgow, Dennis Hopper and the like got so many villain roles is because playing a deranged nut is not as easy as you’d think. It takes something special to make the old backwoods hillbilly stereotype work and the actor here just doesn’t have it. His accomplice was more of a traditional silent assailant, which worked much better, but bizarrely, they chose to get rid of him first.
Whilst the screenplay does show amateurism, the photography is creative and sharp. Hill utilises a bright palette of colour, which makes the sets of the fairground jump out and grab our attention. He tries hard to utilise the ‘amusement’ theme as much as possible and it results in some fairly decent gimmicks. There are shades of suspense in some of the chase sequences and it all closes off with a fairly impressive twist. Most of what’s wrong with the movie is down to inexperience and lack of funding, which would be unfair to grumble about too much. Much like what I said in my write-up of Methodic, the talent is there and most likely Hill will learn from what he got wrong here and improve as his career develops.
Scream Park has some good ideas, some fun killings and a bucketful of ambition. What ruins it more than anything is the snooze-inducing first half and unconvincing acting throughout. Cute final girl aside, the film needed stronger characterisations to carry the development moments and without them, the pace struggles. Still, its heart is in the right place and that counts for a lot.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl √√√
Hanging Heart 1983?
Director Jimmy Lee
Starring, Barry Wyatt, Francine Lapensee, Debra Robinson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
How does that old Bruce Springsteen number go again, Everybody’s got a hungry heart? Well not everyone’s got a Hanging Heart that’s for sure. This peak period entry from 1983 is so obscure that it has no reviews on its lonely IMDB page… Until now. I picked it up in Poland on VHS many moons ago because its back-cover blurb sounded slightly slasher-esque. It’s been gathering cobwebs in my garage since that time, because I didn’t really think it was a genre entry until a SLASH above reader Alexander Gretil contacted me and said that it certainly was. (Thanks for that Alex))
Much like Cards of Death, the film was shot in California, but only secured distribution in a handful of countries outside of the US. I managed to source a Brazilian copy with much better visuals than my aging videotape and I also saw a Dutch cassette on eBay, which shows that it’s not ‘totally’ impossible to track down. There’s very little information that I can find scattered about on the web, so I really have no idea why it was never picked up in its country of origin. Although it’s MIA status did set off alarm bells that it may be utter tosh, I was still keen to give it a go.
A masked killer targets an up and coming theatre production, leaving the star, Denny, as the most likely suspect. When he is arrested and thrown in jail, his lawyer begins a campaign to free him. As soon as he is released the murders begin again, which makes him look extremely guilty. Is he the killer?
At the time that this went to production, the film’s director, Jimmy Lee was a South Korean citizen who had emigrated to study in the US and chase his filmmaking dream. Since 1998’s Whispering Corridors, South Korean horror has had a huge impact on the genre, which led me to believe that I may have been in for an undiscovered precursor of sorts with this. Well, whilst Hanging Heart is not one that plays it by the book, its tricks and twists are definitely those of the least impressive variety.
Heart is, in fact, one of the strangest films that I have ever seen. Characters pop up out of nowhere with no introduction in scenes that are totally disjointed and we never really know who is doing what and for why. At first I thought that it must have been an inexperienced editor that gave it the structure of Spaghetti Bolognese, but Steven Nielsen had three films under his belt before he worked on this, so that can’t be the case. It’s very hard to ascertain what went wrong and how no one picked up on the incoherent flow before it was packaged up for release, but it makes the film difficult to watch.
Lee incorporates an abundance of obvious homoerotic imagery that goes way beyond anything David DeCoteau has ever rolled out. Our lead character/suspect, Denny, is constantly pursued by his homosexual lawyer who has the hots for him and this leads to a graphic scene where Denny dreams that he is sexually assaulted in the shower. Later, we watch full on as he is strip searched in a Police station, before being thrown in a cell with two guys that make out in front of him, much to his discomfort. We also get a flashback from his childhood that shows him being forced to perform a sex act on his stepfather and it’s all done in real bad taste. Whilst titles such as Hellbent have been gleefully accepted for opening up the slasher genre to a sexual preference that had been largely ignored for too long, Hanging Heart, whether intentionally or not, conveys homosexuals as sleazy stalkers and that’s unforgivable.
What is unique about the picture though is that it follows the main suspect through a trial, into prison and then to a mental hospital, which begs the question is this more of a drama than a slasher movie? Well with only three blood-less killings (a stocking is used to strangle the first two victims) that’s actually a point that holds some weight. Whilst there is a hooded nutjob doing the rounds, the core of the story is most definitely the mystery, which is unfortunate, because the conclusion turns out to be the person that we expected it to be all along. Conveyed over 100+ minutes, Heart does rather hang on the borders of tedium. In fact that’s a rather generous description, because it smashes through said borders to send viewers in to a coma-like state. Whilst my tolerance levels for trash cinema have weakened over the years, I am lucky enough to have found a partner who is not as critical and generally enjoys everything from Mask of Murder to Houseboat Horror. The fact that she fell asleep three times (we had to watch the feature over a trifecta of days) should tell you all that you need to know. If a movie can’t keep someone as forgiving as my Mrs interested then it has got serious problems.
None of the cast featured here went on to do anything else, which is perhaps unfair because they were by no means the worst actors to grace slasherdom. It can’t have helped that their debut received such limited exposure, but it still seems strange that all of their careers started and ended with this. One thing that I found interesting was that the IMDB has it dated as 1983, but it looks at least three-years younger. Jimmy Lee made another film nearly two decades later and I wonder if this has been listed incorrectly? I’d be keen to find out
It’s not hard to see why Hanging Heart wasn’t picked up for US distribution. It’s overlong, boring and possibly offensive to boot. Whilst its obscurity does give it a cult-ish sheen, it is not one that offers much more.
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl √
Mask of Murder 1985
Directed by: Arne Mattsson
Starring: Rod Taylor, Valerie Perrine, Christopher Lee
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Following hot on the heels of my reviews of Out of the Dark and Dead End, Mask of Murder is another of those mystery thrillers that borrows plot points from the slasher movies and giallos that had been popular around the time. It was a joint Swedish/Canadian production that was shot in Uppsala län, and it was that unusual blend of cultural heritage that initially caught my attention.
Christopher Lee’s credits over the last twenty years have included three mega-blockbusters, which isn’t bad going for an actor that made his first movie appearance way back in the midst of World War 2. He was initially John Carpenter’s choice to play the Sam Loomis character in Halloween, but he didn’t accept; something he admits he’s always regretted. He even went as far as to call it the biggest blunder of his career.
Obviously annoyed that he’d missed out on some supreme slasher action, perhaps the reason he took a supporting role here was because he didn’t want to make the same mistake twice? Or maybe he was blackmailed into doing it? I really don’t know, but one thing is certain however, he was definitely slumming it.
It’s all set in a small snowy Canadian town. Almost immediately, a loony in a mask grabs an unsuspecting woman and slices her throat with a straight razor. Later that day in another location, a second victim suffers the same fate at the hands of the gruesome killer. He removes his disguise and heads back to a remote cabin where he proves his dementia by gnashing his teeth and staring into the screen. Ooooh scary…
We next get to meet the members of our cast over an evening’s gathering. First off there’s John (Christopher Lee) the chief of the local Police Force. His best detective, Bob (Rod Taylor) has been having problems with his wife Marianne (Valerie Perrine). These difficulties must have a lot to do with the fact that his partner Ray (Sam Cook) is busy banging her every time that he gets the chance. The dinner party is cut short when Bob receives a call informing him that they have the assassin surrounded. They rush to the scene and to cut an overlong story short; the city of Nelson should be a little quieter from now on. But the tranquillity doesn’t last. It begins to look like there’s a copycat murderer at work when more women turn up with their throats slit. Is someone mimicking the murders? Or is the killer back from beyond the grave?
Why Christopher Lee turned down Halloween but chose to play a part in this turkey is one of the world’s biggest mysteries. It’s up there with the Bermuda Triangle, Roswell and Big Foot. I mean seriously come on; surely the screenwriter must have known that the killer’s identity was patently obvious from the start. This is perhaps the dumbest and most basic premise for a murder mystery that I have ever seen. The Scooby Doo cartoon offers less obvious plot twists. Swedish filmmaker Arne Mattsson directs so sloppily that he manages to drag surprisingly wooden performances from an inviting ensemble of screen veterans. Lee’s the best of the bunch, but he’s not on screen long enough to warrant his fans to hunt this down. The pace moves like a traffic jam, and perhaps the most obnoxious thing about Mask of Murder is the horrible music that accompanies every ‘twist’ in the story. It sounds like one of those guitar-sporting beggars that you sometimes see on the street had been recorded whilst heavily inebriated.
Surprisingly though, there are some things that I liked about the film’s set up. For example, the killer has a pillow case over his head and if you squint your eyes it almost looks like the kind of burlap sack that Jason wore in Friday the 13th Part II. Also, the throat slashings are fairly bloody and in one scene a girl is murdered in a cinema – a trick that has become a slasher trademark after He Knows You’re Alone, Cut and Scream 2. The only problem is that the gore scenes are so leisurely executed that the gratuitous blood gushes just look like a poor attempt to flog a dead horse. There was never really a moment where I felt like things might improve or that I was perhaps being a tad over-critical. My suspicions were confirmed once and for all when I witnessed Rod Taylor sniffing his adulterous wife’s underwear. (Don’t ask!)
Mask of Murder was once amongst the rarest fossils of the genre, despite being released in quite a few countries. Nowadays though, its available on a Dutch DVD, although I must admit that I haven’t seen what the quality is like or what version it is on that disc.The first copy that I ever found was the BBFC rated print, which is missing 124 seconds of footage, but then I came across a VHS in Spain that’s totally uncut. It doesn’t really make much of a difference though because the film is as exciting as root canal surgery and almost as painful…
Killer Guise: √√√