Cheerleader Camp: To The Death 2014
Directed by: Dustin Ferguson
Starring: Jarad Allen, Jennifer Banko, Karrie Bauman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So, a killer stalking cheerleaders that are training in some remote woodland in a film called Cheerleader Camp. Have we seen that before? I don’t know anymore… I’m going back to sleep.
Yes so here we have another extremely rare one from director Dustin Ferguson, the guy who also gave us Doll Killer, which I’ll review for you soon. In many ways, Ferguson reminds me of Gary Whitson, because his films are generally lowest of the low in terms of budget, but tick the boxes in terms of genre recognition and fun. Whitson has done a fair bit in his career, but nothing outshines the accomplishment of discovering the beautiful Tina Krause. Could Ferguson go on to achieve something similar?
A year ago, five cheerleaders were horribly mutilated and burned to death by an unknown someone replacing the water source to a sprinkler hose with sulphuric acid. Now, a group of girls return to the same site to prepare for the regional dance off for the first time since that fateful accident. Amongst them is Tanya, a youngster who was replaced on the last event due to her being ill. Living with the guilt that she escaped certain demise, she becomes a mother figure to the more sensitive members of the troupe and stands up to the lead bully. Almost as soon as they arrive though, their coach wanders off into the night and is seemingly slaughtered by a masked killer. Stranded with no contact with the outside world, the girls have to overcome their differences and do battle with the psychopathic assailant.
Cheerleader Camp kicks off with the aforementioned acid/sprinkler sequence, which despite not being delivered as well as it could have, still provides a gruesome shock. There’s perhaps nothing more frightening than the thought of having a molten liquid thrown in to your face and Ferguson tops it off with some tacky gore to boot. After an impressive credit sequence (the film has an awesome soundtrack), we meet the teenagers that will narrate us through the synopsis. It’s here that Camp somewhat loses some credibility, which is mainly because of two things. Firstly, the acting is extremely erratic and seems to descend into the depths of absurdity every time something happens that requires emotion. Secondly – and perhaps most importantly – the audio and clarity of the picture jumps from bad to abysmal at the drop of a hat.
There was a scene early on that saw Tanya explain her nervous behaviour on the trip. The dialogue was so difficult to hear and comprehend that I turned the volume on my TV up to 45. This was absolutely fine until the music kicked in and deafened everyone within a 200-yard radius. It’s strange because at times, Camp looks to have been comfortably produced, but then every now and then we are given lengthy set-ups that look to have been filmed on an old-skool Nokia. I guess in a way that my opinion of the film’s visual and audible quality could be re-used to describe the entire movie. We get a couple of genuinely out-there nightmare sequences and some creative camera placements that show panache from the director. These few moments of credibility though are often diluted by something unnecessarily inept that appears just moments after.
Overall, it’s fair to say that Camp achieves the feat of paying tribute to some of the genre’s lesser-known titles superbly. I’m sure that I’m not the only one that’s tired of the amount of new-age entries that are so desperate to prove that they’ve seen more than one eighties-slasher that they broadcast each tribute in neon lights. It reminds me of those short fifty-year olds that buy a Ferrari to compensate for their insecurities (party sausage??). Well in Cheerleader Camp, the homages are more under-played and the Jeep (similar to the one from the first Friday the 13th), a plunger murder (Bikini Island) and the killer’s guise (Girl’s Nite Out) are much more refined. In fact the only obvious acknowledgement was a verbal nod to Cropsy from The Burning. Oh and talking of the killer’s guise, here we have one of the best. A maniac in a Panda suit… Brilliant! I was somewhat surprised that there was no featured nudity, but Karrie Bauman, who played Sophia, certainly provided some eye-candy.
Recently, I was in my town centre in desperate need of some Wagamama action. My heart sunk when I noticed that my local chain was closed for refurbishment. Highly disgruntled, I headed off to buy a pack of Japanese noodles from Tesco, which was only a cheap compensation. Cheerleader Camp is very similar, because it’s an extreme budget example of the parts of these films that we adore. Sure, it’s certainly not going to win any awards, but it does offer some pretty fun scenarios. El cheapo fun for sure, but fun all the same…
The Initiation 1984
Directed by: Larry Stewart
Starring: Daphne Zuniga, Clu Gulager, Vera Miles
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Although it’s fantastic for avid collectors like me that the slasher genre was so heavily populated during its two lengthy runs in both the early eighties and late nineties, it perhaps made it harder for some titles to achieve the recognition that they deserved. Whilst it’s generally acknowledged that Friday the 13th and the Halloween series were the most memorable genre outings from the overkill period of the eighties, many of their cousins from that time were deserving of further recognition.
The likes of My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday to Me, Prom Night, Maniac, The Prowler and Intruder are often mentioned as the ‘second-tier’ of the category and have achieved cult status and a legacy in their own right. Unfortunately that means movies such as Hell Night, Just Before Dawn and Madman have been somewhat unfairly overlooked.
If judged solely on its merits as a motion picture, then The Initiation doesn’t even sit amongst the latter titles that I mentioned above. It does however boast an undeniably alluring sheen, which is impossible to ignore. Sure, it’s cheesy as hell; but it nicely paced, slickly produced, atmospheric and has its share of decent moments. It’s not a view that is shared by everybody, but personally I like the movie and think it’s somewhat under-valued.
Kelly Fairchild is a pledge at her local college and as the new term draws near, she learns that she has to participate in the annual prank-filled Initiation in order to earn the respect of her senior sorority sisters. This year the youngster and three of her friends have been tasked with stealing the uniform of the security guard that patrols the local mall after hours. Fortunately for the youngsters, the shopping centre is owned by Kelly’s father, Dwight, who is somewhat of a local entrepreneur. Unbeknownst to the group, they have picked a time when a recently escaped lunatic is also hiding in the dimly lighted complex and before long the youngsters are being stalked and systematically slaughtered by an unseen assassin.
There are two key reasons why Halloween is widely regarded as the best and the most respectable of all the early eighties genre entries. Firstly, John Carpenter is an extremely talented director and developed a motion picture with a pure undertanding of horror as a genre and tone. Secondly and perhaps most importantly, his movie was made purely with the inspiration to do something different, whereas the motivation behind titles like The Initiation was simply to cash in on the stalk and slash craze that had swept the early part of the decade. Things move quickly in cinema and the fact that a quick profit was all that most producers were looking for from the genre meant that film-makers were never given enough time to indulge in their cinematic visions.
There’s no hiding the fact that money was the key factor behind the production of TV director Larry Stewart’s one and only motion picture. In fairness though, he looks to have been given the space and freedom to create the movie as he had initially intended, which means that we the audience benefit from an entry that never feels pressured.
Cinematically, The Initiation is a film of two halves and starts rather flatly with nothing to note from Stewart’s direction. It’s only when the victims are locked in the mall with the maniac killer that he gets the chance to flex his creative muscle and delivers some taut suspense and engaging set pieces. Stewart has a ball with the spacious locations and cat and mouse suspense during the second half of the runtime and the movie becomes an explosive cocktail of slasher clichés and pacey scenarios.
The cast remain cheesy throughout, but do enough to allow the audience to warm to them. All eyes are on Daphne Zuniga in her first real film role (if you ignore her brief cameo as ‘the girl that gets gruesomely squished by a car’ in The Dorm that Dripped Blood), but she does precious little to separate herself from the rest of the junior hopefuls. It’s the impressive script that really steals the limelight here and very few can honestly admit that they expected the Scooby-Doo twist conclusion.
Yes, it could be argued that the movie is a remake of another successful early eighties slasher, which I can’t mention without ruining the crux of the plot. That’s hardly a bad thing however and The Initiation has just about enough in its locker to succeed on its own merits. Blood hounds may be disappointed with the lack of any extreme gore, but those looking for a fun slice of slasher hokum will get their fill here.
All in all, I liked the Initiation. It is a reminder of all that was good about early-eighties splatter flicks and unlike many of its genre cousins, it also packs a double fisted punch to your ocular senses. The acting is hilariously campy, but the good points, such as the impressively strong pacing, just about outweigh the bad.
Final Girl √√√
aka La Casa Del Terror
Directed by: John Wintergate
Starring: John Wintergate, Kalassu Kay, Lindsay Freeman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Move over Nail Gun Massacre, make way Last Slumber Party and step aside Night Ripper… There’s a new kid in town… Boarding House is the new contender for king of the trash-video crown. This is a movie so criminally rubbish that you’ll believe that you’ve died and been deported to bad movie hell. I Learnt of its existence from The Terror Trap and then looked it up on the IMDB, where I read various write-ups that described the inadvertent humour and jaw dropping cheesy horror. I immediately set about buying a copy and two weeks later, here’s what I found…
It begins with a prologue showing us murders that have plagued ‘The Hoffman House’. A guy is pushed into a swimming pool, which bizarrely kills him. Another stranger is seen pulling out his intestines and an unseen someone with a black glove forces a woman (that really doesn’t seem too concerned) to hang herself. These are all intercut with a computer screen that shows us in text that every person that has ever so much as entered this abode has ended up either hung, drawn, quartered or has suffered some other gruesome fate. So can you guess who will be the next occupants to move in to the mansion and meet their doom? Why of course you can – it’s a randy telekinetic guy and a troupe of beaming ‘hotties’ with a tonne of mascara but not a trace of common sense between them.
This was the first horror movie to be shot on video, which is a big up yours to Christopher Lewis who made the belated claim that Blood Cult, his semi-slasher effort from three years after, was the first entry of that kind. Funnily enough, this one actually had a theatre run, but I have no idea about its box office successes. I can only guess that it was hardly a massive hit.
Surprisingly, to all intents and purposes, Boarding House is not your typical hack and slasher. Director John Wintergate has chucked in a neat dose of outer-body mayhem, which means that the killer can eliminate the useless thespians without being anywhere near them at the time. This gives us the chance to see the drama school dropouts attempting to look as if they’ve suddenly been possessed by a mysterious hellish agony, without knowing where the hell it’s come from. Cue plenty of unconvincing facial expressions and stilted cries as the cast choke and pull off their faces whilst trying to act like they’re completely unaware why they’re doing it. In one particular scene, our heroine screams consistently for about two minutes while she suffers (yet) another of her ‘terrifying’ nightmares, which I think reached double figures before the final credits rolled. I am not sure what was more effected, my eardrums or her throat after that yelling marathon.
The ‘star’ of the movie, Hank Adly (a guy who looks like Rod Stewart might after 12 grams of coke), provided bucket loads of inadvertent humour. I loved the bit where he made a bar of soap fly around his bathtub to show off his telekinetic abilities and impress the on looking bunnies. There’s certainly plenty of nonsensical activity to bring a smile to the lips to those who cherish those classic bad movie moments. The final scene is particularly hilarious, as the killer and two survivors stand off for a telekinetic battle. Staged like a showdown from a Sergio Leone movie, the three gather in a circle and simultaneously gurn as they each try to inflict psychic pain on one another. It’s hard to give you a description that would do justice to the extent of the silliness, but trust me – it’s worth its weight in comedy gold. All of the female cast members manage to whip off their underwear at one point or another and there’s just enough exploitation to satisfy eighties trash fans.
Interestingly enough, Boarding House was something of a first, because it included a warning for viewers of a weaker disposition that would let us know when something horrific was about to happen. Suddenly, the screen comes alive in a maze of colours and that’s when we the audience know that someone is going to get dismembered. I must admit that this was a novel idea if we were about to sit down and watch a Lucio Fulci marathon. I’m not exaggerating my claim however when I state that my four-year-old daughter can create more realistic body parts with her Play Doh kit. This is especially evident in the ‘intestine ripping’ scene, which is clearly an actor pulling corn-syrup coated sausages from the gap in his shirt. Maybe they could have featured a warning before every bad movie moment? In fact they could have just placed an ‘amateur morons at work’ notice before the first credit sequence? Imagine the savings on budget!
Boarding House IS as mind numbingly atrocious as you had probably expected it to be. Even the back cover blurb has NO relevance whatsoever to the movie and I can’t forget to mention the wonderful tagline that promises intrigue, suspicion and a sinister environment (yeah right!). Oh and before I go, I’ll leave you with a quote from the female lead singer of ’33 and a third’ – The heavy metal band that ‘entertain’ the party at the film’s climax. “You say you want a rock romance, you’ve been begging just to get in my pants!” And with that I shall leave you to explore for yourselves…
Final Girl √
Directed by: Tom McGatlin
Starring: Tim Beamish, Johnny Derango, Casey Ellison
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Making an authentic take-on the slasher template is an extremely tough task, because the genre is densely populated and the guidelines don’t flex too much without stepping outside of the accepted trappings. The little-seen Headhunter pulls off the spectacular feat of giving us a synopsis that rises above expectations. Sure, it’s a slasher movie alright, but it’s one with something of a smart twist.
Released in 2002, Hunter has been largely ignored by most genre books and websites, which may well be because of its limited release. It was shot on a handheld camera in and around a fairly standard location, but it is concrete proof that a dose of creativity can outshine a meagre budget. I picked it up in a bargain bucket quite a while back and thought that I’d go back to re-evaluate it for you lovely people that follow a SLASH above.
A night-watchman in a warehouse settles in for his usual shift when suddenly he gets a call from a deranged stranger that claims to be ‘The Headhunter’ – a psychopathic killer that has recently escaped from a high security asylum. Soon after, he discovers the corpse of his chum and realises he has to fight to survive…
This film launches with a flowing tracking shot that lasts for at least five-minutes. It incorporates quite a lot of well-rehearsed movement and displays immediate ambition from director Tom McGatlin. There were many opportunities for a brief cut, but he braves out the timespan to deliver an intro that confirms that he’s out to impress. The biggest criticism of the Star Wars prequels, aside from the fact that they were awful, was that George Lucas filmed every dialogue scene like something from a wide-panned news desk. If he ever decides to return to the hot seat, there’s a conversation part here which is shot in a basic office space that he really should watch and learn from. McGatlin bolsters every set-up with an abundance of energy; and the riveting camera movement and visible enthusiasm is a pleasure to witness. He continued the dynamic approach throughout the runtime and kept things interesting even when nothing important was going on with the story.
The majority of the feature is made-up of only two characters sharing sequences at the one time and there was always a danger – in such an enclosed space – that the pace could dry-up and stagnate. Whilst there are a couple of sequences that should have been shorter, the film manages to valiantly sustain intrigue and keep us guessing. Victims are smartly introduced and quickly dealt with, which allows the focus to remain on developing tension. Hunter is by no means a gore film and all of the killings are off-screen, but what McGatlin manages to adequately provide are some sharp shades of suspense. Above all else, this is a cat-and-mouse chase feature and what is achieved on such minimalistic funding and basic ingredients is eminently impressive.
Another thing of note is the realism of the dialogue, which is written not to imitate how movie stars speak, but instead how normal people do. In an early discussion, two guys converse about their dead-end jobs and wanting to study in order to find something better. Of course this is not quite Tarantino pop-trivia scripting, but at least it’s recognisable as genuine. I also liked it when T.J. was hiding from the masked-killer and said something along the lines of, “God if get you get me out of this situation, I promise that I’ll… “ – Again something many of us might see ourselves doing.
Headhunter is cheap and it definitely shows. The lighting is bad, the acting is sketchy and it takes place in a bog standard backdrop. It overcomes its budgetary deficiencies with a whole heap of raw talent, which I feel deserves praise. Knowing a bit about the production of independent features opened my eyes to the qualities that this one boasts, but I advise caution, because it’s not for everyone. Fans of body count flicks and splatter should steer well clear. If however, you like them unique and are willing to overlook some basic moments, by all means give this a spin…
Killer Guise: √√
School Killer 2001
aka El Vigalante
Directed by: David DeCoteau
Starring: Paul Naschy, Carlos Fuentes, Zoe Berriatúa
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Spanish people, in general, are notorious for doing things slightly differently from everybody else. It’s an unwritten rule for us that we take a standard task and add our own slant on it, whether it be for the better or for the worse. That’s why I wasn’t surprised that this post Scream inclusion to the stalk and slash cycle wasn’t by any means a run-of-the-mill genre entry.
El Vigilante or School Killer – as it’s known on these shores – was released with something of a buzz during the early noughties. This was due to the fact that it included a starring role for Paul Naschy who was Spain’s very own Christopher Lee. He was a former bodybuilder that stepped into Lon Chaney Jr’s shoes to play ‘Wolfman’ Waldemar Daninsky in a script that he had penned for Hell’s Creatures (1968). He reprised the popular role for the series of sequels and became a horror icon by playing Dracula, The Mummy and even Jack the Ripper throughout the following decades. Perhaps the purest example of a fan dedicating his life to the genre that he adored, Naschy passed away in 2009 at the age of 75, leaving behind over a hundred movies.
It’s a shame that such a charismatic actor didn’t make more slasher films. With his hulking frame and imposing presence, he was perfect bogeyman material. His participation in the obscure El Lado Oscuro (2002), the Giallo, El asesino está entre los trece (1976), and this new-age stalk and slasher are the only examples that we have. The plot for School Killer seems fairly routine at first glance and involves a group of six kids heading off to a dilapidated school to spend a weekend exploring the creepy corridors. Upon arrival they notice that some lights are turning on and off by themselves and it seems that they’re far from alone. Soon after, they begin being stalked and slaughtered by the deranged groundskeeper. The strange thing is, he was supposed to have died many years ago…
I was having a chat recently with Haydn Watkins, co-author of the upcoming book Alone in the Dark: 80 years of stalk and slash. He agrees with my controversial theory that A Nightmare on Elm Street is a tad too supernatural to be a standard inclusion to the genre. If that’s the case though, how do I justify putting a film like this on a SLASH above? Well, whilst there are ghostly apparitions here and even jumps in the time/space continuum, the hulking maniac murders victims with methods more common to the standard template than Freddy’s subconscious fantasies. We get stabbings, slashing and a gruesome decapitation that allow us to be sure that this is on the right website.
Director Carlos Gil had been a successful assistant to Steven Spielberg on the original Indiana Jones trilogy. His experience is clearly evident here and he wraps the movie in a foggy blue tint of cinematography that works wonders in setting the tone of desolation. A large campus is used as the backdrop for the stalking scenarios and the darkened corridors isolate the players exceptionally. Naschy gives us a killer with a relentless brutality and although generally I prefer a strong silent antagonist, his delivery of the dialogue does add ruthlessness to his impact. Only a couple of the main cast members are clearly developed and the rest were pretty much interchangeable, but their jesting succeeded in convincing us that they were indeed a group of close friends. There are the supernatural flourishes that we don’t usually see in these movies, but they are more of an after-effect than a key ingredient and the inclusion of trademarks like the heavy breath POV, mean this is definitely a stalk and slasher. It is an authentic one for sure, but not so much as to push it outside of the category.
Whilst I certainly enjoyed School Killer and was impressed by the way it was conveyed, it shot itself in the foot somewhat with that age-old issue that plagues countless horror films. Our group of youngsters had various opportunities to escape the site and save themselves or get help, but the more that they bizarrely chose not to, the sillier the whole thing began to look. Whilst the script did try to explain away their peculiar indecision, each explanation became more and more farcical and it had a huge effect on the believability of the story. For example, the troupe learn early on that the tyres on their car have been slashed, which would make the average everyday Joe start sprinting until their legs buckled from exhaustion. These nitwits however decide to return back inside the complex and wait around until it’s their turn to get butchered. I am hesitant to call this lazy scripting, but it certainly should have been handled more creatively. I also felt that the film would have played better with a more suitable score, but it’s impossible to say whether this was down to a small-ish budget.
There’s a lot about School Killer that I really liked. It’s suspenseful, creepy and original with a few Kevin Williamson-alike referential quips from the cast (Including a mention of Scream 3 funnily enough). We get a couple of hot chicas, an extremely convincing head-lopping and a downright creepy atmosphere. There’s just something that holds it back from touching on greatness, even if, it’s hard to ascertain exactly what that is. I guess that the film is best summed up by its conclusion, which is bold and ambitious but somewhat inadequately executed.
Final Scream 2001
aka Final Stab
Directed by: David DeCoteau
Starring: Jamie Gannon, Erinn Hayes, Melissa Martin
Review by Luis Joaquín González
The fact that I grew up collecting low budget slasher flicks meant that I was fully aware of what to expect when I walked into Blockbuster video in the early noughties and saw the cover of Final Scream amongst the horror titles for rent. It looked too cheap to be a sequel to Wes Craven’s groundbreaking series, but I’m sure that because it had been targeted to trick unsuspecting viewers into believing it was a fourth chapter in the franchise caused confusion amongst less-experienced viewers. I wonder how many people picked up a copy expecting to find Ghostface, Courtney Cox and Neve Campbell amongst the runtime? Talk about taking the biscuit with creative marketing.
Anyway, the film was a return to the stalk and slash sub-genre for horror regular David DeCoteau after his work on Dreamaniac during the eighties. Whilst D’maniac was something of a loose inclusion that pushed the boundaries of standard stalk and slash, Final Scream has no such identity issues and knows exactly what it wants to be.
A group of youngsters head off to a secluded mansion in order to pull a prank on two of their colleagues. At the same time, one of them wants to trial a set-up for a murder-mystery weekend so that she can open her own business. Before long, they’re all in on the idea that it’s only a prank until a real masked killer turns up and begins slicing his way through the stranded troupe
In 2001, the slasher genre was still very much in Kevin Williamson ‘know the rules’ territory. Whilst this picture smartly decides to avoid the parody angle that so many of its brethren chose to follow, the fact that it still mentions Friday the 13th means that it shows a similar type of genre self-recognition. It opens with a scene that incorporates some stylish lighting and sharp flourishes to set a sleek tone. Decoteau’s trademark of replacing the typical amount of bra-less chicas with topless males is showcased almost immediately in an early shower scene. In fact, there’s only one female victim that I remember throughout the entire movie and the rest are muscle bound jocks.
After the obligatory fumble through the development of a group of cardboard characters, the killings start fairly rapidly. Although there isn’t really any gore or hint that there will be, the focus on the mystery and a few taut stalking scenarios deliver a smidgen of suspense. The killer looks creepy in a mask not too dissimilar to that of Blood Slaughter Massacre or Small Town Massacre and the fact that there is quite a huge body count means that we never feel bored by what’s going on. Melissa Martin does a good job as the self-centred hostess and if we have to compare the performances with those of DeCoteau’s prior work, he had definitely sharpened his pencil when it came to subtracting a believable level of dramatics from his cast. He also directs with polish and some neat camera angles, but the fact that almost every victim uses the age-old ‘hey I know it’s you out there, stop fooling around’ chestnut, shows obvious repetition and a lack of creativity from the screenwriter. It’s a shame that the peeps that dreamed up the scandalous title weren’t allowed to get involved with the dialogue in the script. I’m sure they’d have added a lot more controversy ;)
I must admit that the idea of a murder-mystery weekend did remind me of 1986’s April Fools Day, but DeCoteau doesn’t explore that plot angle too much and it ends up more of a typical slasher by the numbers synopsis. There is a revenge backstory that unearths itself as the picture flows, but for something so simple to execute it is bewildering how DeCoteau allows it to become so convoluted. It results in a couple of plot twists that make zero sense upon revelation and are easy enough to guess anyway. Still, there is some excitement as the victims are slaughtered by the loon and the revelation scene smothers itself in an equal share of ineptitude and cheesy fun.
Final Scream is a standard stalk and slasher that does deliver the odd thrill, but it’s more bland than it is bouncy. It steps close to being a one-star movie, but the fact that it is easy on the eye and fairly watchable for the most part, means that it just about scrapes the two stars I’ve given it below. It reminds me of the recent records of Enrique Iglesias; as in, gone are the new-wave chimes of originality, but you kind of get exactly what you were expecting. So I doubt you’ll shout, ‘Baby I like it’ and it won’t ‘Be your Hero’ but at least you won’t feel that you need to ‘Escape’ – (Boom Boom, I’m here all week)) ;)
Killer Guise: √√√√
Girl House 2014
Directed by: Trevor Matthews
Starring: Ali Cobrin, Adam DiMarco, Slaine
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I read some marketing gumpf during the production of Girl House that said it was going to be the Halloween of the digital age. Immediately after, my interest in the project waned because whenever a feature tries to capture an audience by claiming that it’s ‘the best thing since Halloween’, it turns out to be nothing of the sort. Later I learned that its synopsis was a reality porn show with girls locked in a house and stalked by a masked menace. This brought visions of Voyeur.Com, Porn Shoot Massacre and Strip Club Slasher streaming to my mind. From then, Girl House had been languishing on my ‘to do list’ for quite some time and only yesterday did I decide, with the enthusiasm of a hungover Monday Morning, to finally give it a go. I’m really glad that I did.
A beautiful student that’s struggling for the funds to get through college, accepts an offer to join the internet sensation, Girl House. It’s a website that offers viewers the chance to watch women 24/7 in a secluded mansion as they reveal all for the numerous cameras. Whilst there’s no shortage of sites that give you one on one access to chicas, this one allows you to get to know them as their lives are rolled out in front of your eyes. When regular visitor ‘Loverboy’ is unintentionally offended by one of the housemates, he decides to extract revenge in the most merciless way possible.
Over the past week, I’ve watched Babysitter Massacre, Blood Slaughter Massacre, Camp Blood and Blood and Sex Nightmare, so I immediately noticed how well funded Girl House looked in comparison. Make no mistake about it, Trevor Matthew’s slick debut is much lusher than the aforementioned entries and it looks ravishing as it bathes in its crystal clear colours. It’s blessed with an outstanding performance from Ali Cobrin as heroine Kylie Atkins. She achieves what Neve Campbell failed to in Scream, by giving us a gorgeous new-age lead that also conveys a sensitive and approachable side. She’s aided by a note-perfect turn from Adam DiMarco as her would be boyfriend and some genuinely likeable personalities amongst the background players.
The real casting achievement though in terms of bringing the screen alive is Slaine as the homicidal maniac. In a portrayal with barely any dialogue, he delivers a villain with initial shades of pathos. This gives him the opportunity to rip said shades to shreds as he grows more and more ruthless throughout the runtime. To do that with so little speech is in itself a mesmerising accomplishment and dressed in a skin mask and wig, he creates a villain that’s terrifyingly memorable. Calling this ‘Halloween for the digital age’ was in fact a half-truth, because Girl House’s boogeyman is not a Michael Myers clone. Unlike Carpenter’s film and its trillion imitators, this screenplay spends more time during its opening unravelling the situations that lead to the maniac’s murderous psyche. So many stalk and slash movies fail to maintain momentum during the character development parts, which makes Girls House stand out because it stays sharp through the elaboration of both its protagonist and also its antagonist.
All this is simply preparation though for a marvellous climax that sees the masked killer torture and murder the housemates in a suspense-filled bloodbath. It’s been a while since I’ve sat through a final sequence that’s so skilfully tense and the director throws literally everything in to the pot to create the right blend of gory and sleek bloodletting. There’s enough time left for a pulsating battle between the masked killer and our final girl, which is unpredictable, brave and extremely fast-paced. My partner and I were watching with our fists clenched in anticipation and thanks to some solid direction, the pace remains breakneck all the way through.
Girls House is a motion picture with something to say about the effect of porn on our lives, our obsession with image and overcoming our insecurities. Examining the concerns of our leading lady as she contemplates entering the world of seedy internet peep-shows displayed an intelligent social commentary with views from both sides. They even include a memorable quote from serial killer Ted Bundy that highlights the film’s ethical standpoint. This is all done subtly enough so as not to overindulge and it adds up to an intelligent and glossy scary movie.
I recently said that Blood Slaughter Massacre was the best recent slasher I’ve seen, but a week later, it has lost that title to this thoroughly enjoyable extravaganza. Even if they are cut from a different budgetary cloth, it’s a compliment that both can be proud of. If you haven’t already tracked this down, do so at the next opportunity. It is, quite frankly, a brilliant stalk and slasher
Killer Guise: √√√√
Babysitter Massacre 2013
Directed by: Henrique Couto
Starring: Erin R. Ryan, Marylee Osborne, Joni Durian
Review by Luis Joaquín González
As fans of the slasher genre, if you got the opportunity to make your own movie, how would it look? Would you tick all the boxes in regards to the general trademarks that you know and love? Would you pack it with nudity and gore? I ask this because Henrique Couto’s Babysitter Massacre is exactly how I’d imagine a true genre lover might roll out a slasher flick. That’s not a critical evaluation by any means, but a brief outline of what you should expect from this overlooked entry.
A group of girls that grew up together have decided to spend Halloween at a slumber party to rekindle their friendships. They haven’t been as close since one of their number was kidnapped years earlier and has never been found. They used to run a group called ‘The Babysitter Club’ and charge a fee to look after younger children in the area. This all stopped after the disappearance of young April and they hold a girl called Bianca wholly responsible for the awful event. Little do they know that a masked killer has began stalking and murdering them one by one and he seems to have a specific focus on Angela, their bubbly host. Can they stop the psychopath before he kills them all?
What I thought really worked about Babysitter was that it went out of its way to highlight some of the category’s favourite moments without needing to revert to parody. I noticed nods to Slumber Party Massacre, Sorority House Massacre II, Halloween and others, but they were rolled out slightly under the radar, which made it more satisfying when I recognised them. The killer boasted a unique and surprisingly effective blank mask, which I felt really gave him an aura of macabre non-identity. He kidnaps the majority of his victims and kills them with more of a torture-porn approach, but most of these scenes are exceptionally brutal and fairly authentic. My favourite would have to be the opening shot, which sees a girl getting her fingernails pulled off by a pair of pliers… Ouch!
Scenes between cast-members are neatly staged and comfortably shot and Couto has written some expressive dialogue in places. Erin Ryan is solid as Angela, the final girl, and even if she is surrounded by a lot of lesser actresses, she keeps the dramatics believable. It’s strange because the sequences of characters in conversation seem to work much better than the moments when the killer strikes. There are quite a few murders, but we have absolutely no idea who most of the early victims are and none of them have any kind of build up or anticipation. What I did find interesting was the use of text messages as a tool to threaten rather than the usual deranged phone calls. Babysitter Massacre is definitely a modern advancement on the old When a Stranger Calls chestnut. There was one chase sequence in an office complex that was sharp and tense, but aside from that, the killer just turned up immediately in most of the other killings. It’s hard to tell how much of this was performed that way due to a lack of budget, but the film was crying out for more suspense. Especially because Couto had proved that he could deliver it when the opportunity arose.
The final third is again very torture-porn-esque and offers a set-up where two of a trio of kidnapped girls have to murder their friend with a claw hammer in order to have a chance to escape the concrete basement that they’ve been locked in. Whilst the idea is twisted and sadistic, it doesn’t make sense, because logic dictates that they should have at least waited and seen if they could use said hammer to retaliate against their abductor. This brought my rating of the feature down considerably as I felt that it was unrealistic and thrown together with minimal thought. Thankfully, the downbeat ending salvages the tone as the credits roll and I actually thought it was really quite a shock.
Babysitter Massacre is a fine example of exploitation that is packed to the rafters with nudity (seriously there’s loads), gore and a pretty good mystery. I just think that it had something of a stagnated flow, which in fairness may well have been because of the stringent funding. Director Henrique Couto is a cool guy and because of that, it’s hard to give his movies a bad rating. His personality shines through his work and he seemed to love splashing the screen with goo and getting most of his actresses naked as much as we enjoyed watching it. I am sure that no one knows more than he that there is room for improvement here, but in the meantime it’s a film that I definitely enjoyed.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Blood and Sex Nightmare 2008
Directed by: Joseph R Kolbek
Starring: Julia Morizawa, Andy McGuinness, Tina Krause
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Ok… Blood and Sex Nightmare (!)… Me, I’m a practical joker and I like nothing more than making my day more entertaining by pulling office pranks. There are a lot of cinema fans in my workplace and what I’ve been doing lately is dropping this title amongst a plethora of others when in the midst of a film conversation. For example if I’m asked about my favourite directors, I’ll say, ‘Lynch for Mulholland Drive, Buñeal for El Ángel Exterminador and Kolbek for Blood and Sex Nightmare.’ Or when discussing favourites, my recent answers have been, ‘Scarface, Goodfellas, The Godfather oh and Blood and Sex Nightmare, have you seen that?’ The funny thing is, people look at you like it’s some artsy European classic that they really should know about. I’ve even had workmates pretend they’ve already watched it. Try it next time you get the chance, you’ll thank me after….
Anyway, so in reality this tin-pot slasher is pretty hard to find much information on, but it was one of a number that crept out towards the end of the noughties and attempted to mix slasher action with softcore porn. It’s similar in a way to Porn Shoot Massacre, Massacre at Rocky Ridge and the like, but at $3000 for a production budget it’s a damn site cheaper even than those pocket-money entries.
It tells the tale of a boyfriend who wants to make-out with his girl, but the chances of that happening seem even less assured, because she’s just returned from her father’s funeral. In a bizarre move, he offers to take her to an adult (sex) retreat for a weekend and even though she’s not really comfortable with the idea, she tags along out of fear of him leaving her. Little do the pair know that the site is the home of a deranged zombie/ghost that likes to slaughter visitors and torture them sexually.
I respect the fact that my readers, you beauties, are smart enough to know that Blood and Sex Nightmare (costing $3000) is not going to redefine the genre. So keeping in mind that we’re well aware already that it’s trash, we can begin to look at it a bit more objectively. What I mean is, we can define the level of its trashiness and measure it up against other such titans of the trash basket.
To be fair, the cheap grainy SOV footage, a creepy sound effect for the killer’s heavy breath and a simple yet ominous score, do give Nightmare a rather gritty back garden tone. Due to the budget (or therefore lack of), it’s filmed with a husky fog around the visuals, so it kind of looks how you’d imagine a snuff film might. When we see the level of the dramatics though, we know that it’s definitely not snuff that we’re witnessing. I doubt that real people moan like their tea is cold whilst they’re being gruesomely mutilated. (Not that I’d know of course). First (and last) time director Joe Kolbek lays his cards on the table right from the start by showing us an unknown man getting his penis chopped off in the first ten-minutes. What follows from there is just under an hour of sex, blood and well, a nightmare in terms of stylish direction and character definition. I feel stupid criticising the lack of any background on the victims, because Kolbek seems to paddle comfortably in the fact that he’s doing exactly what he set out to do without any care in the world for credible filmmaking. I guess, in a way, we have to take our hat off to him for that.
The only real story elements are based around our lead couple and the struggles that they are facing in their relationship. These parts are surprisingly well written and give our heroine a likeable persona. There are quite a few murders and tonnes of nudity (full frontal too) so at just under an hour, you’ll never get bored. Our killer is a zombie-type guy that wants to be reborn, but in order to achieve this, he needs a virgin, which funnily enough our heroine is. This leads to a tasteless scene in which he masturbates blood over her whilst she lays their screaming. I’m not a fan of stuff like that and I’m not sure who is, but in this movie, it didn’t feel out of place at all. After watching Tina Krause get her vagina mutilated, I think I was prepared for anything.
So what’s left to say? Well, not much of note, but the make-up for the killer was actually quite good and the penis chopping scene was uncomfortably realistic. Oh, and, I share my reviews on Facebook, Twitter and up until a while ago on my LinkedIn profile. My boss pulled me to one side recently and said, ‘Look Luis, you’ve got CEOs in your contact list and maybe posting stuff like Sandy Hook Lingerie Massacre is not right for our company profile.’ I’m just glad I stopped it before publishing Blood and Sex Nightmare. It does what it says on the tin…
Blood Slaughter Massacre 2013
Directed by: Manny Serrano
Starring: Matt W. Cody, Michael Roche, Carmela Hayslett
Review by Luis Joaquín González
A film called Blood Slaughter Massacre could only be, in any language, a slasher movie. I’ve written before about the amount of entries that have titles that start with Blood or end with the word Massacre and here we have a combination of the two with Slaughter (another common term amongst this genre’s features) chucked in the middle for the hell of it. I like the fact that there’s no messing around with this one, you get what it says on the box.
Anyway, the movie had an aura surrounding it throughout its production with some exciting photos of a killer donning a mask that brought to mind the Tor Johnson one used in Small Town Massacre. That has always been one of my favourites, because it gave the killer a haunting ‘deranged’ look, which had a similar effect as Michael Myers’ cherub-like Shatner. It was also refreshing to see a film that whilst paying tribute to the classics of the eighties, avoided the ‘done to death’ parody angle. No matter how much I love the genre, I’ve grown tired of watching filmmakers demonstrate the amount of references they can include in a runtime. We’ve moved to a time now where the best way of representing the cycle is by introducing a unique approach and avoiding the need for satire.
Two detectives that were involved in a tough case a decade ago are thrown back into the heart of it when a ruthless killer returns to their town and begins murdering the children of earlier massacre victims. The police are left stumped as the maniac stalks the city, but it soon becomes clear that there’s a method to his madness…
Last week, I posted a review of Camp Blood here on a SLASH above. Even if it is a low budget slasher movie just like this one, there’s a major difference that separates the way the two are presented and received. If you threw, for example, three-million dollars at the production of Brad Sykes’ entry, there would surely be improvements, but not really enough to completely alter the net result. Serrano on the other hand delivers a picture that totally outshines its budget and you can only wonder what he could achieve with that much more funding. I admit that it’s perhaps unfair to compare a campy David Sterling flick with a film that exudes such ambition, but as they share the same sub-genre, it exemplifies my point.
BSM is a true horror movie; and what I mean by that is it sacrifices the modern stereotype of regular attempts at humour to maintain a grisly tone. Like the best slashers, this one rolls out its antagonist in the midst of a dark and compelling mystery. It comes close to crossing into serial killer flick territory with the focus on its investigation, but it works by finding the right balance of the two styles. Our lead persona is something of an anti-hero, (an alcoholic cop), but we can overlook his character flaws because we hope that his heart is in the right place. There is a final girl here, but she’s kept somewhat in the background and doesn’t play the typical central role. The screenwriters have certainly taken a risk by avoiding the structure that’s commonly utilised almost identically in these more recent films, but what we get instead plays in the most satisfying of ways.
With such a bright spotlight of focus shone upon the story, Serrano needed to develop a constant feeling of dread to keep up the film’s momentum. I’ve already highlighted that the killer looks extremely intimidating in that ghoulish mask, but the director makes the most of his hulking frame and menacing size to add extra trepidation to the kill scenes. Whilst there are a couple of gore shots (a shower murder very similar to the one from The Prowler and a chainsaw slaughter spring to mind), it’s the placing of the bogeyman in each stalking sequence that really delivers the necessary fear factor. He’s up there with the guy from The Orphan Killer as one of the scariest maniacs I can recall and the director doesn’t waste a chance to make the most of his presence. He butchers a huge amount of victims and his sadistic brutality is extremely threatening. This is one of those films that develops its shocks because it makes you question how you’d react if you were to be placed in the situation that you see unfolding on the screen.
At two-hours and five-minutes, Serrano has a lot of ground to cover and he does so with a plot that may seem slightly convoluted to the lesser viewer. I’m not sure if a further prologue scene was removed late in the production, but I recommend watching the film through twice to really understand the synopsis. The lesser actors amongst the cast survive due to solid direction and Serrano pushes his cast to the limit in order to draw the performances that he required. We even get something of a ‘The Departed’ moment during the film’s conclusion and it does succeed in leaving you unsure what’s going to happen next.
We live in a world now where every new production comes with pages of untrustworthy IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes reviews and exciting social media commentaries that more often than not build a level of anticipation that rarely proves accurate when a film is finally released. I’m pleased to say that Blood Slaughter Massacre is better than I thought it would be and that in itself is a real achievement. What Serrano has built on a modest budget should set the standard for the slasher films of 2015. It is not a remake and It really is that good…
Killer Guise: √√√√