Christina’s House 1999
Directed by: Gavin Wilding
Starring: Brad Rowe, Allison Lange, Chelsea Hobbs
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I bet that the excellent work form the marketing bod that promoted the UK release of Christina’s House fooled many unsuspecting ‘victims’ in to parting with their pennies to rent it. The front boldly boasts that it’s ‘from the hit-making writers of Poltergeist’, backed with a quote from ‘Videoworld’ that reads – ‘Fantastic! It will scare the hell out of you’. Flip to the reverse and we’re informed that star, Brad Rowe is the new Brad Pitt or Leonardo Di Caprio and underneath we learn that this is a ‘must see Box Office smash‘. But the real hyperbole came from the ingenious warning box, which states that we should be prepared for the most terrifying 92 minutes of our lives. I was starting to wonder why I hadn’t seen or heard of this before?I mean it sounds just amazing…
Credit has to be given to the peeps over at Xscapade video. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much brouhaha. The quality of their work made me think about hiring them to do an advert for my blog. You know something like, “Pulitzer prize winning author, fresh from curing a deadly disease writes a blog about the cinema defining genre, ‘The Slasher.” Anyway, the box-art made me believe that this was some kind of creepy Amityville spin-off, involving a spooky haunted house and plenty of ghosts and demonic horror. But the truth is, this is just a lamer than lame Scream wannabe that’s about as ‘terrifying’ as Thomas the Tank Engine.
Unsurprisingly it’s about a girl called Christina that lives in a house. Only joking, there’s a tiny bit more to it than that. Thing’s look like they could get tricky for our Chrissie, when we witness a jolly cookie sales girl getting shaken to death by an unseen assailant outside the abode’s front door. How he actually broke her neck by wiggling her hips was something that I still haven’t quite grasped; but hey let’s not be picky. So we soon learn that there’s a psycho up to no good in the hood and a standard murder-mystery plot ensues. Local residents begin getting offed in diluted ways and it looks like Christina’s stumbled across a spot of bother…
The only thing that’s worse than an overlong movie is an overlong boring movie, which Christina’s House pulls off to perfection. It’s more like a sleep-inducing teen drama than a horror flick, with the scares amounting to a sandwich mysteriously appearing in the kitchen or the whereabouts of the heroine’s diary. Brad Pitt, sorry, Brad Rowe, was about the best performer on offer, but I really don’t think that Mr. Jolie himself has got to watch his back just yet, despite the confident praise that Rowe has been awarded on the back of the box. (You should’ve seen what they said about Lange!) I really couldn’t for the life of me work out what the BBFC saw here to give this an 18 rating? You’re likely to find more gore in an episode of Scooby Doo, because all the murders are committed somewhat leisurely off screen. We do get treated to a ‘crack’ in the soundtrack on the odd occasion, but I’m afraid that’s your lot folks. To make matters worse for exploitation buffs, there’s only one extremely brief flash of boobies too.
The main players that guide us through the story are all written to look slightly deranged, in an attempt to make the most of the mystery. The thing is though, it’s constructed so poorly that you’ll guess who it is half way through anyway. Gavin Wilding – who was also behind The Wisher – has no idea how to build pace and most of the runtime moves painfully s.l.o.w.l.y. So much so, that I had a job to watch it to the end without falling into a catatonic state. To be fair, the conclusion had an interesting twist, but again, it was just sloppily handled. Stuart Allison, an experienced screenwriter, has really let himself down with this piece.
In fact, the whole plot barely made sense. I mean, how the hell did the killer manage to turn Christina’s house into a prison with unbreakable windows and centrally lockable doors, without any of the family noticing? Where did he get the money to do such a thing? And how could the Sheriff be so deplorably inept that he would ignore plenty of blatant signs that something’s not quite right inside the property that he’s meant to be watching. He even questions a hammer that’s thrown through a window, which lands directly in front of him! You’d find more character development in a Los Zetas execution vid and we don’t even find out any reasoning for the majority of the story’s twists. The killer’s motivation is also left up to our imagination. At the end we learn that she was insane (obviously), but we’re left to work out our own ideas for the motive with literally no attempt at an explanation. Perhaps the wrath of the actors at the desperation of their agents to cast them in this turkey was the true reason for the massacre? Could be possible.
The end result is truly a bit of an enigma, because it must be the one time that I’ve watched a film and not written down even one redeeming feature in my note pad. It’s predictable, lame and boring rubbish. It’s not even really much of a horror flick. Slasher fans won’t like it because there is no actual slashing and If you are looking for a murder mystery then you’ll also be disappointed. For all its boasts about its great screenplay, it turns out to be more of a ‘pick one of the cast as the killer’ than ‘solve the puzzle’ and has no true logic. Even the few bizarre hints of supernatural immediately disappear when the nut job is revealed to be just a normal guy. I guess that all that I have to let you know is that this is tedious and doesn’t deserve any of your time. I’m all for slow boiling suspense thrillers, but this just sucks. Sorry.
Christina’s house should be boarded up and abandoned…
Final Girl: √
Blood Harvest 1987
aka The Marvelous Mervo aka Nightmare
Directed by: Bill Rebane
Starring: Tiny Tim, Itonia Salchek, Dean West
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
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 ownHalloween.
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 his 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 neighborhood, 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.
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 unapproachable.
I mentioned about Bill Rebane being an enigma earlier, but he is nowhere near as mysterious as his lead actress. I couldn’t uncover any information about her anywhere. Now her surname looks Eastern European (I speak Russian and Polish and it’s not from those countries) but her first name Itonia is an epithet from Greek mythology for the Goddess Athena. Interesting stuff. Anyway, she vanished in to obscurity after this, but if you know something, then please give me a shout. Here’s a rare screenshot of her in clothing, which is something that we don’t see very often.
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 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.
Final Girl √√√
City In Panic 1986
Directed by: Robert Bouveir
Starring: David Adamson, Lee Ann Nestegard, Derrick Emery
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Dependent on the product there can be sometimes no better marketing tool than controversy. For their time, The Sex Pistols were controversial and made a great career out of it. The Rolling Stones, Elvis, hell even Sir Cliff Richard caused uproar in his day. As Max Clifford once famously said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” This little-known Canadian slasher must’ve been aiming for some of the same media coverage when it attempted to make an admittedly ham-fisted social comment on one of the eighties’ biggest discussion points – the HIV virus. Any severe medical condition should be handled with care and consideration by a filmmaker that is attempting to broach such delicate topics, but Bouvier’s feature is the cinematic equivalent of telling a friend that they looked better last year when they could still fit in those jeans.
In the first few minutes, the director attempts a role reversal on Hitchcock’s notorious shower scene. A hulking killer sporting a fedora, dark glasses and typical giallo-like psycho-garb bursts into a bathroom and hacks an unfortunate guy to death with a kitchen knife. Before leaving, the maniac carves the letter ‘M’ into his back with the aforementioned blade. This becomes the macabre calling card of the maniacal assassin and also the name that he becomes known by in media. Next up we meet Dave Miller (David Adamson) a radio talk show host that immediately takes an interest in the madman’s motives. As the bodies continue to pile up around the city, Dave decides to set a trap using his popular broadcast as the bait. Eventually, the killer himself phones the show and begins to slaughter people that are close to the presenter. Is Miller next on the death list?
City in Panic starts with a protagonist narrative that is vaguely reminiscent of the maverick cop thrillers of the seventies. The depiction of a sleazy town in peril led me to believe that Bouvier was as much a fan of Dirty Harry and the like as he was of Halloween. To be fair there are times when the atmosphere gets credibly morbid and some of the gruesome murders are brutal if not graphically audacious enough to rival gore marathons. We are treated to occasional flashes of innovative photography that are exciting and spontaneous and provide the odd glimpse of suspense that helps to strengthen the few moments of macabre mayhem. Perhaps the most memorable of those is the repugnant castration of a toilet loitering sex pest. After having his ‘Johnson’ chopped off by the masked killer, the guy is left to die in agony and spray blood on the walls like the final spurts of a wayward sprinkler system. It’s a grim sight indeed; but unfortunately, aside from the couple of select examples of flair from Bouvier, the majority of the film struggles to pull itself from the realms of amateur night.
I remember a Glam metal band that were unsigned in the late eighties and recorded two demos that were popular amongst collectors. Indian Angel’s set list included catchy tracks like Playing Hard To Get, Loneliness Motel and Just Pretending, but after a few years on the club circuit they disbanded. When they finally did call it quits it was clear that they had not improved on their musicianship and were still playing those same songs that I mentioned above. They failed to build upon their initial strengths and in the end were doomed to remain rock and roll apprentices. This film is a similar case in point as it perhaps needed Bouvier to step back, analyse his work and then try a bit harder. The spluttering dramatics fail to convince on even the lowest level, which immediately destroys any sense of realism being created. An idea with such a strong topical standpoint needed to be solid with its scripting in order to deliver what it intended, but Andreas Blackwell’s confused screenplay is sketchy and it leaves characters contradicting themselves. The glossy veneer of intellectual dialogue soon becomes transparent as nonsensical chit chat and the fact that City in Panic seems to have been written with minimal effort means that it only appeals to those that can’t be bothered to make the effort. At one point the investigator says, “Now I began to accept that the city had on its hands a killer”. That line came after we had already seen a couple of mutilated corpses with the same MO. Go figure.
The soundtrack is an example of what a chimp can get out of a Bontempi keyboard and it does absolutely * nothing * to add to the mood of the feature. I have also read that some viewers felt that the plot was deliberately homophobic. Making the majority of the victims homosexual guys and then torturing them sadistically was a dumb move and although a female (and a heterosexual male) also got splattered, the film, ends up with a tone that I can understand that some could find offensive. Over the years, the slasher genre has developed a large gay following and movies such as HellBent have been accepted warmly. Due to City in Panic’s lack of focus, it has failed to register as an entry that pays the same amount of respect. Personally, I found it to be far too mindlessly written to be offensive and too weakly structured to be controversial. We can’t ignore the fact though that director Robert Bouvier has clumsily, although surely unintentionally, exploited one of the most tragic diseases that mankind has ever known.
Despite the awful attempt at a social commentary, taken as a slasher movie, this never gets boring and the viscous murders are spaced quite frequently all the way through. For a cheap piece of junk hokum it could’ve been a passable entry to the cycle. It’s just a shame that the filmmakers took the wrong approach…
Blood Splash 1981
aka Nightmare aka Nightmare’s in a Damaged Brain
Directed by: Romano Scavolini
Starring: Baird Stafford, Sharon Smith, Danny Ronan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
During the eighties slasher boom, there were two different styles that launched successfully from the initial template. Whilst the multitude of genre entries would focus on an undeveloped identity for their bogeymen and build their plot structures on the characterisation of the victims, there were a few that took the opposite cinematic approach. The potential flaws were obvious. It’s incredibly difficult to establish a favourable personality for a homicidal maniac; especially when he must carry the entire feature as the protagonist. The key strength that made the synopsis for Halloween so successful was the lack of clarity for Michael Myers’ identity and motives. Just why did he want to kill Laurie Strode? Why did he get up after being shot six times by Sam Loomis? We never got to find out, and that was an ingenious touch from Carpenter. The guessing game is an addictive one and it attracts much interest and lengthy post-movie debate amongst audiences.
Despite the potential banana skins, the few features that experimented with the concept of giving the antagonist the lead role delivered mixed results. Whilst William Lustig’s Maniac can be credited as a genre classic, Bits and Pieces was shoddy and forgettable. That’s why I was thoroughly inspired to watch Blood Splash, which after years of repression as a video nasty has garnered itself a gruesome reputation. I own two copies of the movie and each has a separate title. The first one I came across was under the title Blood Splash and is heavily edited, but the second is an uncut VHS that I picked up in Amsterdam with all the gooey bits intact
In the opening few scenes, we learn that George Tatum was recently released from his asylum due to the fact that his doctors have discovered a breakthrough cure for his violent spells of delirium and psychosis. The combination of drugs had completely cured the patient of his psychopathic hallucinations and his adviser believed that with time and measured access to society, Tatum would be fit to fully resume a normal standard of life. However it doesn’t take long for us to realise that his doctor’s hypothesis was drastically erroneous. This is evidently demonstrated when Tatum drops to the floor foaming from the mouth whilst watching a patently lackadaisical pornographic peep show.
Soon after, the clearly psychotic loner heads across the country on a personal vendetta to confront the inner demons of his consistent nightmares. His doctors panic when they realise that they have made a deadly mistake, and it’s a race against time to see if they can catch Tatum before he murders again…
Splash succeeds in being an unsettling, brutal and straight laced horror experience. It’s the kind of movie that does what it says on the tin. The Daily Mail-inspired campaign that launched the video nasty phase of the early eighties was unnecessary; simply because as human beings we have a choice. If you don’t want to be offended by a film that was created directly to shock, then don’t watch Blood Splash. In 1984 David Grant, a former UK porn producer that had moved into feature film distribution, was jailed for 18 months (later reduced to 12) for releasing a version that waived the 62 seconds of cuts slapped upon it by the BBFC. This was a harsh statement of intent to further enforce the video nasty ban and it was a ridiculously un-democratic way of informing us that Big Brother was watching and the establishment reigned supreme.
The movie itself however is an uniquely conveyed mix of unthinkable brutality, gooey money shots and dreary depiction of a descent into vicious madness. Director Romano Scavolini makes no effort to hide his inspirations and the film references various genre maestros without ever directly stealing from them. In places, he impressively manages to mimic Carpenters skill of emanating terror from the background. By now you should know how it works: the camera is fixed on a focal point for a sustained time, but as it begins to pan you become aware that something menacing is looming into focus just out of shot. It’s moments like this that can make or break a decent horror film and Nightmare does boast its fair share of successful tricks and flourishes.
It’s not unusual for a slasher movie to have a cast that disappears down the long road to film obscurity almost immediately after release. The genre has never been credited for its emphasis on dramatics. However it seems somewhat harsh on the actors from Blood Splash as the majority of them do a good enough job. Baird Stafford was impressive in an extremely complicated part and it’s hard to pick any bones from his psychotic depiction. He delivers a gnashing, foaming portrayal of dementia, which rarely touches on the OTT. Without a doubt the film’s reputation derives from its copious amounts of gore; and in its uncut print the feature doesn’t disappoint. Tom Savini was credited as the make-up artist, although he latter sued the producers, claiming that he had only worked as a consultant. In reality the effects were supplied by soon-to-be Oscar nominee Ed French and his work was worthy of Savini’s name. The gory final sequence, which involves a messy decapitation and an axe through the head has become the stuff of slasher legend.
Splash is not without its negatives however and they stem from the confusing plot. The idea to break the runtime into segmented days ala The Shinning was a good one, but characters are randomly introduced without clarification, which creates a story that’s awkward to follow. There’s also a lack of cohesion in some of the promising ideas that are hinted but never followed through. Our deranged killer shares an interesting relationship with the child of the family that he stalks, but it never develops as we are left feeling like it should have. The script hints at an altogether more ambiguous depth to the synopsis, but it’s not given enough clarification to go anywhere.
Some may say that Blood Splash can be rather tedious in its long excursions into the depth of the protagonist’s insanity, but I managed to enjoy Scavolini’s opus and I recommend it to be seen. It’s not one that’s going to terrify you, but it’s slow and brooding atmosphere can become quite gripping.
Final Girl: √√
Rush Week 1989
Directed by: Bob Bralver
Starring: Pamela Ludwig, Dean Hamilton, Roy Thinnes
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I read it a lot, but have to argue that sayingHalloween was the first American slasher film is just lazy journalism. Simply check outBlack 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 cementing the trademarks and turning them into an actual sub-genre that others could populate. The zillions of imitations that dominated horror cinema throughout the following ten-years 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 3-5 slasher movies being released every year, most of them very low budget productions, but the eighties will always be recognised as the golden period. The whole cycle 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 for over twelve-months and continue on a lesser scale right through until the nineties.
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 something even slightly adventurous to the norm. I guess the first thing to notice about the difference between this and its brothers from nine-years earlier is the lack of gore. Whilst Friday the 13th set a new tone 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 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. This is not necessarily a bad film, but will only act more as a small snack if your hungry for a full slasher buffet.
Final Girl √√√√
Symphony of Evil 1987
aka Coda aka Deadly Possession aka Sinfonía Del Diablo
Directed by: Craig Lahiff
Starring: Penny Cook, Arna-Maria Winchester, Liddy Clark
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
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 since Small Town Massacre in 1981. 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 Joan Rivers has had a touch of plastic surgery. . 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 tight 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 players, which if poorly dramatised could lose momentum and leave little in terms of reward for viewers. Thankfully, the actors do a fine job of keeping us intrigued and they are realistic and amicable enough to win over audiences and to allow the plot to move 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 satisfies both cinematically and audibly. Frank Stragio’s work does wonders to help sustain a good level of energy, which is great 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. Also 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 The Dorm that Dripped Blood, Curtains and The House on Sorority Row as a worthwhile genre entry that has been bizarrely overlooked. It seems surprising that the cruddy Houseboat Horror has numerous fans across the globe, but a real treat like this disappears from the face of the planet. Recommended
Final Girl √√√
Dead Above Ground 2002
Directed by: Chuck Bowman
Starring: Corbin Bernsen, Stephen J. Cannell, Robert Conrad
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Well, it all kicked off authentically enough, with stock footage of people turning up in limousines to the (fictional) ‘All-American Motion Picture Awards’ in Los Angeles. Director Chuck Bowman intercuts the baying crowds with a decent credit sequence, in which a robed killer slices through the screen with a steel axe. In my review for Killer Instinct, I said that Corbin Bernsen was really slumming it. Two years down the line and still nothings changed. Here he plays Mark Mallory, a director that has just won a prestigious award (yeah, that’ll be the day) for his Western. He returns home with his girlfriend, telling her that he’s going to use his statuette for… well, I’ll let her reply paint the picture, “If you think I’m gonna let you use that as a dildo, you’ve been hovering up some bad sh*t again…” Charming. Their night of questionable methods for passion is ruined when they reach the front door of his house to notice that it’s been vandalised. Someone has painted a bizarre satanic emblem around the knocker and written the words ‘Dead above ground’ in blood-red paint underneath. Instead of calling the police, Mallory decides to search the place himself and after a fumble in the dark and a smart trick by the caped killer, he discovers that offering to make his assailant a ‘movie star’ really isn’t going to save him from a fitting demise.
Afterwards, we head over to a school field where we’re introduced to our obvious victims and two forsaken Gothics. Dressed all in black (naturally), they prove their joint-weirdness by talking about, `Escaping into the Kelt world to be with the dark gods’ because the `Malevolent entities don’t ask for photo-ID!’ Then we discover that the guy’s name is Jeff Lucas and apart from being a credible Gareth Gates look-alike, he’s a budding film director too. The other Goth is his faithful girlfriend, who also worships all things Pagan. For their media studies course, all the kids have made summer video documentary projects, but Lucas has just ignored all that and cranked out a gory slasher film, much to the distaste of his grumpy lecturer. He screens the short anyway, and it invokes laughter and insults from the jesting teen-audience. This makes Jeff loose his rag and he warns everyone that they `…will die on the seventh equinox of Maven’ (?) He really dislikes his frumpy old teacher and tastefully informs him, ‘his end is nigh’. By now, I was beginning to wonder if the screenwriter had swallowed a few volumes of Shakespeare before he got to work on this. Jeff is carted off for a visit with the attractive Doctor Brenda Boone for a psychic examination. She’s the kind of medic that would make most Hi-school boys pretend that they were hearing voices, just so they could share a room with her for ten minutes. She thinks that Jeff is not crazy and it’s just a cry for help, but after he talks a lot more gibberish about ‘cutting eternity into time and space’, everyone agrees that he’s ‘certifiable’ and ‘a real nut job!!’ (And a really bad actor.)
Surprisingly enough, later that evening the mad student is invited to a pool party with his classmates, where Dr. Boone and the principal discuss his crazy fits and we also find out that he is actually the nephew of George Lucas. (I wonder if old Georgie knows about this?) Jeff dreams of being a big-time director just like his uncle, which would lead me to suggest that he gives up the trench coats and eyeliner and invests in some of those ‘stylish’ flannel shirts that Lord Skywalker loves so much. It doesn’t take long before he blows a fuse again and he slaps a girl with considerable force, knocking her into the swimming pool. Her boyfriend, Dylan, flaws the spiky haired anarchist and he curses everyone again before legging it to his car. Unsatisfied that he’s taught him a tough-enough lesson, Dylan takes off in pursuit and after the most leisurely paced car-chase ever filmed, Jeff’s brakes conveniently cease to exist and he drives off of the edge of a cliff. The car drops about 100 feet and then explodes into a ball of flames, making survival a total impossibility. Don’t forget that this is a slasher film, so it’s unlikely that people are going to be allowed to get away with that kind of thing without some loony or another coming back to seek revenge…
Twelve months down the line, a new student has moved into Jeff’s old house at Moss Point and is knocking about with his former ‘friends’. Chip reckons that he keeps having nightmares about someone warning him that they’ll come back to kill off everyone that was involved in the accident. The Gothic chick suggests that they attempt to contact Jeff’s spirit through a séance and she’ll be the medium. Later that night, they all sit in a circle and she tries to conjure a spirit guide with the rip-roaring speech, `Spirits of the South that are warm and bright like Atlantis’. Chip starts moaning the words ‘dead above ground’ and generally begins looking deranged, so everyone breaks the circle and the séance ends. Before long a hooded killer with a steel axe begins chopping up the teens and their teachers in the exact same ways that were depicted in Jeff’s movie one year earlier. It looks as if he’s come back from the grave to settle the score…
Television director Chuck Bowman has made such a sloppy mess of Dead Above Ground, that I’m surprised he can still get work on the small screen, let alone in the movies. Instead of using operatic themes to create suspense and tension, he’s chucked in cheap and junky heavy metal that’s genuinely painful to the ears. The cast sound as if they’d struggle to get bit parts dubbing a video game and they must’ve generally believed that expressing an emotion would put them higher up the killer’s to-do list, because they remain as flat as ten year old can of coke all the way through. Josh Hammond is perhaps the worst actor on the planet and the lack of any interesting characters means that you couldn’t care less if they all died of gonorrhea or if they invented a cure for diabetes. We are treated to a laughably small body count and there is probably more gore in a three-hour teletubbies extravaganza than there is in this utter dross. Slashers that are this crud usually manage to redeem themselves with a little unintentional comedy, but the fact that this is so painstakingly boring pretty much puts a poo-poo on the chance of that. The pagan-chatter was occasionally amusing, but everything else was put together at such a slow pace that I managed to read all of the eight-hundred and eighty-eight documents of the Warren Commission and still only be halfway through. Couldn’t they at least have thought of a premise that hadn’t been done more times than Danielle Lloyd? It’s like The Burning never happened, and what’s with all the ‘I swallowed a dictionary’ dialogue?
Horror movies need to be big on atmosphere. The only feeling that this creates is contempt for shelling out the money to pay for it. When I was living in Moscow, I picked up a copy of this for 100 Rubles, which is about £2. I remember wondering how on earth it got a release there? What did the fine people of Russia do to deserve such fodder exported and thrust upon them? The Cold War is long over, you know. Dead Above Ground, should be ‘dead under ground’ – Never to resurface again!
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √
Terror Night 1988
aka Bloody Movie
Directed by: Nick Marino (Andre De Toth rumoured)
Starring: John Ireland, Cameron Mitchell, Alan Hale Jr.
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This is an update of the review that I posted on the IMDB many years ago. I think that I wrote something like 2,500 words, so I have condensed it down to the bare minimum for you here
Produced in 1987, Terror Night became the slasher movie equivalent of the Holy Grail for horror enthusiasts after it never secured its expected release. We waited for twenty years until it finally crept out almost unnoticed on a budget DVD with a cruddy transfer. It had been covered in various horror fanzines during its production, meaning that when a launch date never arrived, fans were left wondering what exactly had happened. It became almost an urban legend with people knowing someone who knew somebody else that had seen it, but it wasn’t until the late nineties when I came across a German subtitled bootleg copy that I was sure that it even existed.
It is believed that copyright wrangles with additional footage, which was ‘borrowed’ from classic movies for inclusion into the story, prevented Terror Night from gaining public exposure. There are also purely unconfirmed reports that it was funded by mob money, which adds a real Hollywood-style twist to its reputation. I must admit that I find that hard to believe, because the Mafia in Los Angeles surely had better things to throw their money at than an entry to a dying craze, which the slasher was by 1988. With that said, I have also read a report that stated that Nick Marino’s Mafioso cousin got him involved in the production as a favour and convinced Andre De Toth to sign on to help the inexperienced débutant. Perhaps they made De Toth an offer that he couldn’t refuse? Horses’ heads and all that. Anyway, a few pre-screeners saw the light of day, which were then copied privately and passed around on the VHS black-market, but up until very recently, it had remained locked in a studio vault. The unfortunate production problems admittedly gave the film a somewhat alluring edge and I was happy when I finally got my hands on it.
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. It boasts many of 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 a unique antagonist.
The use of retro 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 producers during this period would have hoped for. Despite sticking closely to the familiar rulebook, the key source of influence seems to stem from the 1980 thriller, Fade to Black. The synopsis is incredibly similar, although Terror Night gives its all to be an out and out slasher flick, whereas Fade to Black promised so much but turned out to be nothing of the sort.
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 an awesome slice 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 dose of cheesy fun (I especially enjoyed the maniacal knight-in-armour) and the murders are almost always energetic and gory. Screen queen Michelle Bauer comes along for her usual shift of getting naked and then viciously slaughtered and porn hottie Jamie Summers is also included for a rare non-adult film role to up the eye-candy factor.
First (and last) time director Nick Marino creates little in terms of tension or suspense and his modus operandi seemed to be little more than point the camera, shoot what was in front of him and then shout ‘Cut’! Andre De Toth’s involvement in the direction of a share of the scenes is a rumour that has never been confirmed or denied, but either way, there’s nothing exceptional here to be noted. He gets a thank you in the closing credits, which adds some weight to the case, but unfortunately, without the press package that would have accompanied Terror Night if it had secured a better release, there is little way of knowing for sure who worked on what.
Perhaps the flaws that we come across whilst watching are also to be blamed on the problematic production? The sets are inadequately lighted to the point of frustration in places and they lack the visual gloss that their creative layouts deserved. The story is also somewhat rushed and unclear and fails to deliver a satisfying resolution to the puzzle that it works so hard on creating throughout the length of the runtime. We never find out if our bogeyman is actually a ghost or just a semi-supernatural ninety-year-old with the appearance of someone half that age. Would these issues have been ironed out if the movie had not had come up against so many issues during and after the shoot? It is really hard to say and we will never know for sure when it was decided that Terror Night would not secure worldwide circulation. Perhaps the filmmakers never got the chance to add the finishing touches that would have given their project a more ‘completed’ feel. The campy ending however can’t be blamed on disjointed development woes. It’s pure eighties cheese on toast slasher screenwriting at its funniest – you just have to check it out!
It’s as clear as a polished crystal that Terror Night didn’t have the most straight forward journey on to budget DVD. Even if there are a handful of weak moments, none of them look to have been big or bad enough to have kept the movie in a vault for so long. It has enough in its gore coated handbag to satisfy fans that are looking for an obscure and fun genre-piece that does deliver the goods. It’s packed to the brim with hokey gore and excessive nudity, which makes it an almost perfect exploitation piece.
I briefly thought about adding Terror Night to my top 30 slasher pictures category here on a SLASH above, but I finally decided against it. Still, it is quite a quirky slasher picture and I really enjoyed sitting down to watch it.
Final Girl √√
Atração Satânica 1990
aka Satanic Attraction
Directed by: Fauzi Mansur
Starring: Emilia Mazur, Gabriela Toscano, Ênio Gonçalves
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Completely off topic, but Brazil can boast a peerless reputation for producing some of the greatest soccer idols that mankind has ever known. Pele, Ronaldo, Bebeto, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and the magnificent Romario are just some of the football legends that have worn the fluorescent yellow shirt of their five-time world cup winning country. Being a massive football fan and former player means that I have the greatest respect for my Latin cousins from across the pond and whenever I go out in central London, the hottest parties are those at my favourite Brazilian club on the Charing Cross road.
With their notorious flamboyant lust for life and excellent titles such as City of God already very popular amongst critics, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this late addition to the slasher cycle. Shock Diversao Diabolica was an interesting entry from 1982, but nowhere near good enough to rival the key players from the US during the boom years. But Spain, France and Italy – three other great football nations – can boast slasher output that is nearly as good as their World Cup winning squads, which made the initial signs look promising for Satanic Attraction.
It kicks off in traditional satanic fashion in the midst of a crowded ritual. A masked figure makes his way through a pack of dancers and heads down some underground stairs to host a bizarre black mass in front of a crowd of hooded revellers. The strange cult leader picks up a huge dagger and heads over to a pair of blonde beaming twin children. The mysterious stranger then slices the wrists of the youngsters and pushes their arms together, presumably to link the pair with a bond of blood. The crowd look on in anticipation as the twins grin sadistically.
Sometime later we meet Fernanda, a radio announcer who hosts a controversial show on which she tells creepy stories to a captivated nationwide audience. Some listeners believe that her ramblings are dangerous and could result in violent consequences, while others are just happy to see so many people turning to radio for their source of entertainment. Her latest tale concerns a dark figure roaming the town and murdering young women with various gruesome weapons. The killer then uses the victim’s blood to reanimate his deceased sister in her beachside grave. After dismembered bodies begin turning up around the local town, Fernanda realises that her stories are somehow connected to identical murderous events that are taking place at exactly the same time as she speaks on air. What connection does she share with the ritualistic psycho and what links the killings to the hapless DJ?
Satanic Attraction looks to have been produced on a fairly decent budget and it’s immediately apparent that director Fauzi Mansur didn’t scrape the barrel for the effects that he decided would make his movie a hit. A few of the murders are extremely gory: meat cleaver through the head, dismemberment, gooey throat lashing’s and a spear pushed through a love making couple a la Friday the 13th II. The killer is seen mainly from behind and dresses in traditional Giallo-like black psycho-garb. Although part of the plot concerns searching for the maniac’s identity, the whodunit aspect is mostly left simmering on the backburner. Even though things stick closely to the typical Giallo/slasher rulebook, Mansur manages to mix in a share of supernatural elements that are both interesting and utterly confusing in equal measures.
As this is a Brazilian production, the original vocal soundtrack is in Portuguese and the producers didn’t opt for subtitles to export the feature to English speaking nations. Instead the movie has been dubbed by a gang of wooden planks, sorry, students from America and the United Kingdom. Obviously it’s impossible to tell what these guys were studying, but one thing’s for certain; they definitely weren’t considering a career in drama. This has to rank along with Samurai Reincarnation as the worst dubbing in cinema history. But that’s not Satanic Attraction’s only problem. The movie is nearly two hours long and a huge majority of this time is spent listening to the aforementioned ‘actors’ warble their way through a poorly translated script, with characters popping up all over the place without any rhyme or reason. The net result is an overlong dreary feature that takes an hour and a half to finally shift into gear as the killer goes on an excellent maniacal spree. When we reach the film’s conclusion, it just gets silly as one twist that was easy to predict gives way to yet another.
Unfortunately, Satanic Attraction is a major let down in every respect. It’s hardly worth tracking down for the excessive gore and all that’s left is a long corridor of confusion and horrendous acting. Put it this way, I think even Jag Mundhra’s Open House, which also incorporates a DJ could be better – seriously!
I’ll stick to watching Brazilian football for now…
Final Girl √√
Movie House Massacre 1982
aka Blood Theatre
Directed by: Rick Sloane
Starring: Mary Woronov, Jenny Cunningham, Johnathan Blakeley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The successful cinema chain, Spotlite Theatres have decided to renovate an old abandoned auditorium and add it to their list of multiplexes. It has been closed since a manager went mad decades earlier and killed off a whole heap of people. Almost as soon as they get started though, the bodies begin dropping once again. Who could be behind the series of killings?
Fortunately, I’m a child of the Internet age and since I was eighteen, I have always had the ability to read an online review of the films that I’m looking to watch prior to purchasing them. There’s no doubt that the warning signs were there with Movie House Massacre. It’s been torn apart globally on the www; and even if sometimes I can disagree with other authors, the outright level of criticism on this particular title made the chance of that seem rather slim.
The reason I mention this is because the marketing team behind the packaging of Rick Sloane’s debut were most definitely the feature’s worst enemy. Looking at the box, it’s easy to believe that you are going to be in for a gory slasher in the vein of The Burning et al. That is totally inaccurate however, because Movie House Massacre is actually nothing but a goofy horror spoof. I got to the eleven minute mark in the runtime and had to rewind it to the beginning and start again with my comedy hat on. To continue watching whilst expecting attempts at terror would have been unfair on this film. So did the change of my initial perception make MHM any better?
Quite frankly, no. It lives up very well to its reputation of incompetence. What we have here is a shambolic example of filmmaking in every possible way. Technically, the level of professionalism is pitiful and this is most evident in the editing, which strings scenes together with no apparent logical structure. There’s a semblance of a story there, somewhere; but it’s muddled, unbalanced and ultimately very boring.
Good comedy done well is priceless and almost as tough to produce on the silver screen as effective suspense. I’m a big fan of slapstick and films such as Naked Gun or Airplane work because they fire everything at their audience and if the first five jokes don’t stick, it’s guaranteed that there’s a couple that will. The problem with Movie House Massacre is that it could fling a million attempts at us, but it’d make no difference because it is just not funny. Rick Sloane was 21 when he put this together, but he must have been twelve when he wrote the script. It’s simply awful.
As the majority of the crew don’t seem to have a clue about filmmaking, you don’t need me to tell you how low the level of the dramatics sink. I must, however, praise Mary Woronov who gives us some of the finest acting that I have ever seen. It’s not in the way that she portrays her character however. It’s her ability to hide the obvious disappointment and bewilderment that an actress of her experience must have had on this set. Seriously, she deserved an Oscar nod for that. I reckon that she must have sacked her agent straight after for putting her near this tosh.
If you type Movie House Massacre in to Google, you can find review after review that will tell you how bad the film is. There is absolutely zero point in me writing any more of the same things in a different way, but I did pick up a few interesting points. It seems as if the idea here was to spoof horror in general rather than just the slasher genre and there’s a couple of haunted-house type shenanigans that go on throughout the runtime, such as light bulbs smashing and objects flying across the room. Still this just qualifies as a slasher movie because it does include a knife clenching killer (an elderly man with zilch scare factor) and a ‘heroic’ final girl. What I did find to be authentic was that in the parallel universe where this story takes place, every door or locker makes a sound like a torpedo when it opens and people can disappear and get killed with no one at all noticing. One girl just turns up to get murdered (somewhat creatively) in a popcorn machine. Either I fell asleep briefly or she just appeared from nowhere, to be frank I just don’t know anymore. Excuse me, I need to go and have a lie down.
I have never deemed any film that I’ve seen atrocious enough to give a no star review. I was close here, but in the end I decided on half a star. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this is a terrible picture. Painful, horrible, grotesque and monstrous. It doesn’t attempt however to cover up its weaknesses with vulgarity, which is something that others seem to do constantly. I also laughed when I heard the Casio keyboard Halloween knock-off score, which is suspiciously similar to the cheesy club track ‘Little bit of luck’ by DJ Luck and MC Neat. It was amusing watching an old man with a knife stalk a theater isle, whilst a cheap rendition of “Ta na ne, ta na ne, ta na ne, ta na ne tee boi” was playing in the background. I think that alone salvaged the film somewhat. Maybe Sloane should have sued them for the use of his tune? He could have retrieved some of the budget that I am sure he never got back on this. Also, did anyone else notice how much the actor who played the young killer was similar to Ray Liotta? Gawd I must have been bored if I was thinking things like that.
If you needed to read it yet another time just to be sure, then I can confirm to you that Movie House Massacre should be avoided at all costs. I felt like throwing my sock at my iPad countless times throughout and I know people always say it halfheartedly, but I promise you that I was cringing in places. Horrible acting, no story, a dumb geriatric killer, zero suspense and well zero anything, really.
A good friend of mine recently was trying to split with his girlfriend. He had tried everything, but she just wouldn’t go. I told him to show her Movie House Massacre and pretend it was his favourite film. They are no longer together…