Directed by: Stefan Ruzowitzky
Starring: Franka Potente, Benno Fürmann, Anna Loos
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Like most slasher fans of the thirty+ age bracket, I much prefer the eighties genre boom to the one that followed hot on the heels of Scream. There’s a type of veteran feeling attached to knowing that you were collecting big-box VHS during the glory years and even if Craven’s classic is nearly twenty-years old, it’s not quite retro yet.
Taking the sentimentality out of the equation though, there’s a strong case to say that the second peak was more beneficial for the category. Firstly, we received three times as many entries from 1996 to the current date than we did back then, and secondly, a lot more countries contributed to the rebirth. Anatomy was an early addition to be produced by Germany and its huge box office return opened the door for more European states to jump on the bandwagon. In the years that followed, we would see Cold Fear, School Killer and Haute Tension bring flair to the template and continue the category’s progression.
Young anatomy student Paula (Franka Potente) is one of the best young medics in her country. When she is offered a place on a course in Heidelberg taught by a famous professor she is clearly over the moon. However, her suspicions are aroused when one by one her fellow students go missing and the body of a young man she met only days earlier turns up on the dissecting table – dead. So is she just paranoid or is there something far more sinister behind the strange disappearances?
I watched Anatomy with my Mrs and after it had finished, she said, “That’s not a slasher film, it’s a thriller”. Now usually, I counter such claims from her with a knowing nod, as if to say, ‘let me be the critic, you’re just along for the ride’. In this instance (and in this one only), I must begrudgingly admit that she may have a point. You see, Anatomy does spend more time developing its mystery than it does underlining the clichés. Victims are kidnapped by a gloved assailant, but there’s no masked killer and very few of the references that Kevin Williamson’s screenplay underlined so confidently
The fact that we do have a scalpel clenching psychopath, a typical final girl and ingredients such as the ‘have sex and die’ rule mean that I’m not unsure about the film’s status upon this site. So with that cleared up, I’m free to tell you that what we have here is a superb addition to the cycle. There are some fine acting skills on display, especially from Benno Furmann who has gone on to become a great talent in his home country. Franka Potente gives us a smart and charming heroine that reminded me of Laurie Strode far more than many that I have seen of late. Director Stefan Ruzowitzky manages to pile on the suspense in a number of scenes. One of the most outstanding is when the butcher attempts to hide a freshly murdered corpse that he viciously slashed only moments earlier. He hears the cleaners coming down the corridor, so he blocks the door to the Morgue with a surgical trolley. Of course, the staff can’t understand why it’s been suddenly locked, so they call their superiors to assist with getting it open. The psycho has to race against the clock to put the body into the refrigerator and hide before he gets caught red handed. It’s real nail biting stuff and the tension doesn’t end there. We get a brutal chase sequence towards the end, which is reminiscent of Halloween II. The scalpel-wielding killer and he’s loyal accomplice stalk our likeable final girl through the basement of the University and create a harrowing atmosphere that is rarely seen to such a great effect in today’s horror movies.
As I’ve highlighted, this is pure whodunit for the most part and there are suspicious suspects everywhere to put you off of the real assassin’s identity. Take the somewhat unfriendly looking dissector who hangs around the students clenching a saw and asking if they’re ready for him to `…open the skull’. Ruzowitzky adds the odd touch of comedy to brighten things up in-between the kill scenes. In one bit Paula is talking on the phone to her friend who is an overweight middle-aged male. Out of the corner of her eye she catches her fancy man Caspar waiting for her. In an attempt to make him jealous, she states to to the male `…on your firm buttocks’ to which he mops his brow and wonders what the hell she’s going on about. It’s comedy gold.
After the victims have been injected with an anaesthetic and kidnapped by the madman, they wake up on a dissecting table with an uplifting piece of music playing while they’re being gutted. The merciless surgeons completely ignore their cries for help, which makes them seem all the more sadistic. I’ll tell you something else too, after watching this I’m going to do my best to keep out of medical centres for the foreseeable future. It successfully made me contemplate what sort of mind is on the other end of that sharp looking surgical saw.
In Anna Loos, the film has an amazing slice of eye-candy, and she flaunts her voluptuous figure in a wonderful seduction scene. The script succeeds in giving her and all the other background characters a unique personality and you do find that you what them to survive. The assailant’s identity is revealed quite early in the runtime, but there’s still some revelations before the final credits roll and the film’s unique structure is one of the biggest pluses.
Anatomy is a slickly directed, stylish horror film with brilliant dialogue and personalities that we care about. Make sure that you get the subtitled copy though as I’ve heard that it was weakly dubbed for global distribution. Still, I’m extremely pleased that I watched it again and I’m sure that you’ll enjoy it too.
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl √√√√
Killer Campout 2005
Directed by: Victor Franko
Starring: Jillian Swanson, Anthony Goes, Patrick Hickey,
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This is another total obscurity that I received in the post a few years back, but I’ve never got around to actually watching. I’ve been trying to review Camp Blood for a SLASH above since the start of the year, but I can’t locate my copy anywhere. Desperate to post a newish killer in the woods flick for y’all, I thought that I’d finally take the plunge and give this a viewing. Killer Campout is budget filmmaking at the lowest possible level, so there’s little more in terms of production value than a camcorder and an industrial sized container of corn syrup. I know that doesn’t sound like the most attractive prospect, but if I’m going to cover the entire genre, then I’ll have to sit through some of these from time to time.
It came from Victor D’Agostino (under the pseudonym Victor Franko) who had been working as an extra and picking up experience around the film industry since 2002. Amongst other things, he had assisted B-Movie director Jay Woelfel on the production of both Ghost Lake and Demonicus before finally getting the funds together to make his own slasher extravaganza three-years later. He hired locals and buddies to fill up the cast list and filmed it at a site that he knew extremely well.
Seven kids head off on a camping trip into some secluded woodland to smoke pot and make-out for a weekend. The forest is host to an urban legend of a monster of some kind that kills invaders of his domain. Before long, they soon discover this to be true, as a burlap sack sporting maniac begins to slash his way through them.
It would be foolish to have high expectations for a movie that cost $500 to produce, but prepare to be shocked señoras y señores, because Killer Campout is a real gem for the money that was put into it. What we have here is a tribute to Friday the 13th that pays homage in the best possible way and offers much more of a knowing nod than the likes of Blood Reaper or Day of the Ax managed. The killer looks splendid in a black burlap sack and traditional Killer in the Woods lumberjack get-up and he stalks with the kind of physically imposing frame that made Jason so memorable. D’Agostino didn’t have the budget to cast someone to play the maniac, so instead he performed the role himself. He really gave life to the hulking slayer, which may well have been due to his previous acting experience. A fine example of this is during the pulsating chase sequence in the closing minutes, where the final girl is pursued after she has sprained her ankle. Our bogeyman has a traditional slow-footed Michael Myers stalk, which means that her injury makes them equally paced and it generates some solid suspense. In another scene, the killer towers over the same cowering female after murdering one of her colleagues. She sits dumbfounded and in a state of shock and its one of those moments that makes you scream at the screen, “Get up and run for Gawd’s sake!” It was great to see the director transcending his budget in an effort to give us as thrilling a ride as possible.
The feature clocks in at fifty-four minutes, which doesn’t leave a great deal of time for character development, but the lightweight script still managed to chuck in some memorable gimmicks. These include a hilarious shoplifting skit and some wacky weed-smoking references that are delivered by a pair of rouge-ish chicks that are there to add a dose of humour. I was incredibly impressed with seventeen-year-old Jillian Swanson’s portrayal of the heroine, because with minimal dialogue and screen-time, she gave us a charming and approachable final girl. Her career blossomed for a couple of years after this and she appeared in a few other horror pictures, but she’s been missing since 2007, so I’m guessing that she’s given up on acting, which is a shame. Along with the energetic performances, I also found the gore effects to be worthy of credit, because they’ve pulled off some really effective visuals on shoelace funding. Amongst these was a gruesome impalement and an outstanding head-lopping trick that proved that with the right camera angles and a sharp mind, a lack of funding doesn’t effect what you can achieve.
Despite some crisp photography that is as radiant as anything that I’ve seen in slasher cinema, nothing can overcome the obvious amateurism of the sound mixing and editing. It looks as if scenes were completed and given musical accompaniment before everything was chopped together, so we get a whole heap of moments when two separate scores that don’t really fit are amalgamated into one set-piece. There are also times when the dialogue couldn’t be synced at the same times as the soundtrack for some unknown reason, which gives the audio an awkwardness that shows the film’s cheapness. They did make this work to their advantage in one place though, by giving the killer his own atmospheric POV that had a distinguished piece of music every time that he appeared on screen. It was a good way to make the best use of the budget restraints and its even something that they poked fun at later when the heroine grabbed a weapon during the conclusion.
I ask myself, did Victor D’Agonisto get what he could out of $500? The answer is as blatant a yes as a yes can possibly be. This is a very good entry that delivers far more thrills, Friday the 13th references and slasher fun than most of the films released recently on ten-times the expense. Whilst I admit that you need to be lenient in places, I think slasher fans will lap it up if they can find a copy.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√√
Cross Bearer 2012
Directed by: Adam Ahlbrandt
Starring: Isaac Williams, Natalie Jean, Victoria DePaul
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Being that a SLASH above is so genre focused, I guess that most of you that check us out weekly are collectors just like me. I mention this because I’m sure that you will understand when I talk about the desperation to uncover an obscure entry that you really want to see. You’ll have been through the endless hours of searching on peculiar DVD sites, eBay and Amazon stores and every torrent portal that’s ever been listed on Google, and you’ll understand how much that raises expectations. Well even though it’s just over two years old, Cross Bearer has been the latest title that I’ve been hunting out for what seems like an eternity.
I first heard about it from Dead Girls co-director Steve Jarvis, who saw it at Shriekfest in November 2012. He gave it a, ‘bona fide, 14-carat, good housekeeping seal of approval’ and in general he knows a good slasher movie. It was soon listed on the IMDB with a 7.5 rating, an amazing score for such a picture, and I found an incredibly positive review on the Horror Society website, which called it an, ‘extremely dark slasher film, full of grit and grime’. I was expecting it to be released soon after and I waited in anticipation, but only now, twenty-months, later have I managed to source a copy from Cologne, Germany.
It opens with a truly brilliant collage of shots of religious imagery and Audio snippets of fanatical preaching. Then we head to a seedy Pittsburgh apartment block where we meet a long haired religious nut with a beard who is spying on and recording a pimp and his hooker friends. As the story unravels, more characters are introduced including a sleazy strip club owner, a pair of lesbian strippers who are madly in love and a single mother who is a part-time drug courier. They all come together in a large rundown warehouse for a gore-tastic showdown with a hooded killer.
There’s some discrepancies on exactly how much was spent on the budget of Cross Bearer. Director Adam Ahlbrandt has stated as little as $3,500, but I would guess that it’s a whole lot more. The film really looks the business with it’s saturated colour and grainy images that capture the morbid tone. It also has an impressive soundtrack of songs that are professionally composed and produced. Add on top of that some excellent gore effects from Doug Sakmann that do not scrimp on costs whatsoever and you get a production that doesn’t look far off the same year’s Smiley. Bearer tramples the line between slasher and torture porn incredibly well and most of the on-screen killings are exceptionally brutal and visceral. The bogeyman beats each victim do death mercilessly with a hammer and he only changes his MO on two occasions. In one of those, he uses the claw end of said hammer to rip out one victim’s tongue and in the other, he pours a bag of coke over an incapacitated girl until she froths at the mouth and chokes to death. I thought that was a pretty cool idea and even though we’ve seen something similar in Dead 7 from 2000, it was much slicker this time around
The film is a mix of inspirations that are taken from the straight-ahead masked killer stalks teens stories of Halloween or Prom Night, whilst also digging deeper into the sadism of 70s titles like Three on a Meathook or Deranged. We also get some Scream era referential dialogue, with one character mentioning Friday the 13th part II, which I feel is of relevance to the choice of guise for the killer. Whilst it is not quite a burlap sack, the white ‘bed sheet’ headpiece is visually similar to Jason circa the second franchise installment, so I would include this amongst titles like Malevolence and Boogieman that went for a similar costume. Psychos in that kind of get-up have always been my favourites and when we see him stalking whilst spattered in blood, it does look exquisitely creepy.
In-between the kill scenes is time that’s spent with a group of seedy low-lives and it’s here that the film falls to pieces. Firstly there is no central character for us to bond with, so there’s very little suspense in wanting to see anyone survive. We are given a bunch of drug addled strippers and pimps that don’t even marginally convince that they’re delinquents. Mind you, they shouldn’t need to, this is a horror film, not a ghetto flick. Because he has a cast that look about as gangster as Popeye, Ahlbrandt makes up for it by taking the level of exploitation so far in the first 10 minutes that it loses impact and becomes irritating. Every second minute we get another lurid sex or cocaine reference and it’s delivered so weakly that I was begging for some normal conversations. Such messages are conveyed more effectively with restraint and in the end it reminded me of one of those kids that wants to be a bad boy so he fabricates endless stories of debauchery.
I also felt that it needed more stalking scenes to help sustain the atmosphere. The most that we usually got was a single shot of the bogeyman walking up to burst in on his intended targets and therefore there wasn’t really any tension. When we did finally get a chase sequence during the last 20 minutes, I thought it was darkly effective due to the antagonist’s loony-tune chants, like, “Come out harlot, I can smell you”. As I said, he looks intimidating in the backwoods get-up, but I think that showing him unmasked in the opening scenes was a bit of a blunder. It took away the anticipation of revealing the motives behind such aggression and therefore the fear factor was reduced.
It’s surprising for me that Cross Bearer hasn’t yet received the release that it deserves, because it is better than many of the other films that have come out recently. Its IMDB score has dropped to 3.7 at the last check and all that initial positivity has been replaced with much poorer reviews. I have it on good authority that a script for a second chapter already exists and it gives the assailant a sledgehammer upgrade. Unless this feature gets picked up for a better distribution deal soon though, I don’t think that we’ll ever see it. There are not many companies that will sponsor a sequel when the first film never really took off. There’s no denying that a great opportunity has been missed here, but I still think that you should give it a go. It’s far too good to be just one of those obscurities that people hunt out on portals in twenty-year’s time.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √
Scream Park 2012
Director Cary Hill
Starring, Wendy Wygant, Steve Rudzinski, Nivek Ogre
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Whenever I go to an Amusement Park, I am always in awe of the possibilities for a pulsating slasher film. Ghost Houses are dark and claustrophobic and I can visualise a chase sequence through a hall of mirrors, there’s just so much that could be done. The Funhouse was one of the first to utilise such a location to stalk some teens and it turned out to be one of the better entries of the key period. Produced in 2012, Scream Park went about taking this potential into more modern surroundings and that’s why I was extremely excited to check it out.
It was the debut movie of director Cary Hill and was packaged to DVD by a company called ProtoMedia Productions. Unlike most budget slasher films that are unleashed of late, I didn’t know anything about this one until it had literally popped up in the products I might be interested in field on Amazon. There has been a major surge in genre entries produced over the past couple of years and I am still trying to track down a handful of them.
A horror themed amusement park called Fright Land has seen its number of visitors dwindle to the point that they have to close the doors for the last time. The manager has asked the remaining workers to stay behind and help to clear up and so they decide to bring in some booze and have a party. Little do they know that they are not alone and before long they are forced to battle with a pair of masked maniacs…
I recall in my review of Runaway Terror, that I mentioned the importance of marketing your product to give it the best possible chance of being competitive. Well here we have another example of great digital advertising, because the information that I found about Scream Park made it sound almost too good to be true. There was an 8/10 review on the IMDB and a few anonymous comments on boards that had flung praise all over it. Chuck on top of that a quality cover that shows a menace in a burlap sack clenching an axe and I was chomping at the bit to get involved. At a cool £9 including delivery, it didn’t even burn a hole in my wallet.
The credits pop up on a black screen with white lettering as an obvious nod to the early Friday the 13th films and then we get an interesting POV shot from a rollercoaster, which showed initial ingenuity. Immediately after though, as our characters are introduced, the pace drops to a near standstill and our old friend tedium begins to creep in. Now no matter what film school that you attend, you will always learn that an opening scene is necessary for setting the tone of your feature. You won’t see a pie in the face gag at the beginning of The Exorcist and a gruesome murder won’t launch Naked Gun for a specific reason. Scream Park gives us thirty-two minutes of humdrum conversations before the first kill scene and I wouldn’t be surprised if most of you had already switched it off long before then. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is as conventional as ketchup on chips and it’s delivered by actors that seem to be devoid of any recgognisable human emotion.
When it finally gets itself in gear though, Scream Park breaks the mould by having a twosome of assailants that stalk the youngsters across the theme park. Upon their joint introduction, things do get more exciting and the murders boast a spark of inventiveness. The first guy to go is the token black security guard and he is hoisted up on a rope and then stabbed in the heart with a switchblade. Moments earlier, he had been watching Night of the Living Dead on his TV and it made me wonder if he was related to the guy from Silent Night Bloody Night: The Homecoming; also a black security guard that was murdered whilst watching the same flick. Next up a girl with a World Cup winning cleavage is boiled alive in a chip fryer and the killings continue to occur at an impressive rate. They even find the time to scalp one unfortunate dweeb before playing fancy dress with his hairpiece. One of the psychopaths gets unmasked quite early in the runtime and he’s a typical backwoods loon that took us too deep into the territory that ruined 2009’s The Cycle. The reason why John Lithgow, Dennis Hopper and the like got so many villain roles is because playing a deranged nut is not as easy as you’d think. It takes something special to make the old backwoods hillbilly stereotype work and the actor here just doesn’t have it. His accomplice was more of a traditional silent assailant, which worked much better, but bizarrely, they chose to get rid of him first.
Whilst the screenplay does show amateurism, the photography is creative and sharp. Hill utilises a bright palette of colour, which makes the sets of the fairground jump out and grab our attention. He tries hard to utilise the ‘amusement’ theme as much as possible and it results in some fairly decent gimmicks. There are shades of suspense in some of the chase sequences and it all closes off with a fairly impressive twist. Most of what’s wrong with the movie is down to inexperience and lack of funding, which would be unfair to grumble about too much. Much like what I said in my write-up of Methodic, the talent is there and most likely Hill will learn from what he got wrong here and improve as his career develops.
Scream Park has some good ideas, some fun killings and a bucketful of ambition. What ruins it more than anything is the snooze-inducing first half and unconvincing acting throughout. Cute final girl aside, the film needed stronger characterisations to carry the development moments and without them, the pace struggles. Still, its heart is in the right place and that counts for a lot.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl √√√
Hanging Heart 1983?
Director Jimmy Lee
Starring, Barry Wyatt, Francine Lapensee, Debra Robinson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
How does that old Bruce Springsteen number go again, Everybody’s got a hungry heart? Well not everyone’s got a Hanging Heart that’s for sure. This peak period entry from 1983 is so obscure that it has no reviews on its lonely IMDB page… Until now. I picked it up in Poland on VHS many moons ago because its back-cover blurb sounded slightly slasher-esque. It’s been gathering cobwebs in my garage since that time, because I didn’t really think it was a genre entry until a SLASH above reader Alexander Gretil contacted me and said that it certainly was. (Thanks for that Alex))
Much like Cards of Death, the film was shot in California, but only secured distribution in a handful of countries outside of the US. I managed to source a Brazilian copy with much better visuals than my aging videotape and I also saw a Dutch cassette on eBay, which shows that it’s not ‘totally’ impossible to track down. There’s very little information that I can find scattered about on the web, so I really have no idea why it was never picked up in its country of origin. Although it’s MIA status did set off alarm bells that it may be utter tosh, I was still keen to give it a go.
A masked killer targets an up and coming theatre production, leaving the star, Denny, as the most likely suspect. When he is arrested and thrown in jail, his lawyer begins a campaign to free him. As soon as he is released the murders begin again, which makes him look extremely guilty. Is he the killer?
At the time that this went to production, the film’s director, Jimmy Lee was a South Korean citizen who had emigrated to study in the US and chase his filmmaking dream. Since 1998’s Whispering Corridors, South Korean horror has had a huge impact on the genre, which led me to believe that I may have been in for an undiscovered precursor of sorts with this. Well, whilst Hanging Heart is not one that plays it by the book, its tricks and twists are definitely those of the least impressive variety.
Heart is, in fact, one of the strangest films that I have ever seen. Characters pop up out of nowhere with no introduction in scenes that are totally disjointed and we never really know who is doing what and for why. At first I thought that it must have been an inexperienced editor that gave it the structure of Spaghetti Bolognese, but Steven Nielsen had three films under his belt before he worked on this, so that can’t be the case. It’s very hard to ascertain what went wrong and how no one picked up on the incoherent flow before it was packaged up for release, but it makes the film difficult to watch.
Lee incorporates an abundance of obvious homoerotic imagery that goes way beyond anything David DeCoteau has ever rolled out. Our lead character/suspect, Denny, is constantly pursued by his homosexual lawyer who has the hots for him and this leads to a graphic scene where Denny dreams that he is sexually assaulted in the shower. Later, we watch full on as he is strip searched in a Police station, before being thrown in a cell with two guys that make out in front of him, much to his discomfort. We also get a flashback from his childhood that shows him being forced to perform a sex act on his stepfather and it’s all done in real bad taste. Whilst titles such as Hellbent have been gleefully accepted for opening up the slasher genre to a sexual preference that had been largely ignored for too long, Hanging Heart, whether intentionally or not, conveys homosexuals as sleazy stalkers and that’s unforgivable.
What is unique about the picture though is that it follows the main suspect through a trial, into prison and then to a mental hospital, which begs the question is this more of a drama than a slasher movie? Well with only three blood-less killings (a stocking is used to strangle the first two victims) that’s actually a point that holds some weight. Whilst there is a hooded nutjob doing the rounds, the core of the story is most definitely the mystery, which is unfortunate, because the conclusion turns out to be the person that we expected it to be all along. Conveyed over 100+ minutes, Heart does rather hang on the borders of tedium. In fact that’s a rather generous description, because it smashes through said borders to send viewers in to a coma-like state. Whilst my tolerance levels for trash cinema have weakened over the years, I am lucky enough to have found a partner who is not as critical and generally enjoys everything from Mask of Murder to Houseboat Horror. The fact that she fell asleep three times (we had to watch the feature over a trifecta of days) should tell you all that you need to know. If a movie can’t keep someone as forgiving as my Mrs interested then it has got serious problems.
None of the cast featured here went on to do anything else, which is perhaps unfair because they were by no means the worst actors to grace slasherdom. It can’t have helped that their debut received such limited exposure, but it still seems strange that all of their careers started and ended with this. One thing that I found interesting was that the IMDB has it dated as 1983, but it looks at least three-years younger. Jimmy Lee made another film nearly two decades later and I wonder if this has been listed incorrectly? I’d be keen to find out
It’s not hard to see why Hanging Heart wasn’t picked up for US distribution. It’s overlong, boring and possibly offensive to boot. Whilst its obscurity does give it a cult-ish sheen, it is not one that offers much more.
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl √
Mask of Murder 1985
Directed by: Arne Mattsson
Starring: Rod Taylor, Valerie Perrine, Christopher Lee
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Following hot on the heels of my reviews of Out of the Dark and Dead End, Mask of Murder is another of those mystery thrillers that borrows plot points from the slasher movies and giallos that had been popular around the time. It was a joint Swedish/Canadian production that was shot in Uppsala län, and it was that unusual blend of cultural heritage that initially caught my attention.
Christopher Lee’s credits over the last twenty years have included three mega-blockbusters, which isn’t bad going for an actor that made his first movie appearance way back in the midst of World War 2. He was initially John Carpenter’s choice to play the Sam Loomis character in Halloween, but he didn’t accept; something he admits he’s always regretted. He even went as far as to call it the biggest blunder of his career.
Obviously annoyed that he’d missed out on some supreme slasher action, perhaps the reason he took a supporting role here was because he didn’t want to make the same mistake twice? Or maybe he was blackmailed into doing it? I really don’t know, but one thing is certain however, he was definitely slumming it.
It’s all set in a small snowy Canadian town. Almost immediately, a loony in a mask grabs an unsuspecting woman and slices her throat with a straight razor. Later that day in another location, a second victim suffers the same fate at the hands of the gruesome killer. He removes his disguise and heads back to a remote cabin where he proves his dementia by gnashing his teeth and staring into the screen. Ooooh scary…
We next get to meet the members of our cast over an evening’s gathering. First off there’s John (Christopher Lee) the chief of the local Police Force. His best detective, Bob (Rod Taylor) has been having problems with his wife Marianne (Valerie Perrine). These difficulties must have a lot to do with the fact that his partner Ray (Sam Cook) is busy banging her every time that he gets the chance. The dinner party is cut short when Bob receives a call informing him that they have the assassin surrounded. They rush to the scene and to cut an overlong story short; the city of Nelson should be a little quieter from now on. But the tranquillity doesn’t last. It begins to look like there’s a copycat murderer at work when more women turn up with their throats slit. Is someone mimicking the murders? Or is the killer back from beyond the grave?
Why Christopher Lee turned down Halloween but chose to play a part in this turkey is one of the world’s biggest mysteries. It’s up there with the Bermuda Triangle, Roswell and Big Foot. I mean seriously come on; surely the screenwriter must have known that the killer’s identity was patently obvious from the start. This is perhaps the dumbest and most basic premise for a murder mystery that I have ever seen. The Scooby Doo cartoon offers less obvious plot twists. Swedish filmmaker Arne Mattsson directs so sloppily that he manages to drag surprisingly wooden performances from an inviting ensemble of screen veterans. Lee’s the best of the bunch, but he’s not on screen long enough to warrant his fans to hunt this down. The pace moves like a traffic jam, and perhaps the most obnoxious thing about Mask of Murder is the horrible music that accompanies every ‘twist’ in the story. It sounds like one of those guitar-sporting beggars that you sometimes see on the street had been recorded whilst heavily inebriated.
Surprisingly though, there are some things that I liked about the film’s set up. For example, the killer has a pillow case over his head and if you squint your eyes it almost looks like the kind of burlap sack that Jason wore in Friday the 13th Part II. Also, the throat slashings are fairly bloody and in one scene a girl is murdered in a cinema – a trick that has become a slasher trademark after He Knows You’re Alone, Cut and Scream 2. The only problem is that the gore scenes are so leisurely executed that the gratuitous blood gushes just look like a poor attempt to flog a dead horse. There was never really a moment where I felt like things might improve or that I was perhaps being a tad over-critical. My suspicions were confirmed once and for all when I witnessed Rod Taylor sniffing his adulterous wife’s underwear. (Don’t ask!)
Mask of Murder was once amongst the rarest fossils of the genre, despite being released in quite a few countries. Nowadays though, its available on a Dutch DVD, although I must admit that I haven’t seen what the quality is like or what version it is on that disc.The first copy that I ever found was the BBFC rated print, which is missing 124 seconds of footage, but then I came across a VHS in Spain that’s totally uncut. It doesn’t really make much of a difference though because the film is as exciting as root canal surgery and almost as painful…
Killer Guise: √√√
Directed by: Paul Lynch
Starring: Janet Julian, David Wallace, Janit
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I must admit that Humongous was always a slasher movie that I had a certain fondness for. Not because I remembered much about its production quality (I’d only seen it the once, many years ago), but it always struck me as one that had been completely overlooked, perhaps unfairly. Personally, I love an underdog and that’s why I was keen to see if I could salvage some positives from giving it another blast on my Plasma.
Director Paul Lynch had come hot off making a major success out of a relatively average movie in Prom Night and therefore the odds were looking good for a similar return with this, his second effort. In the end though, his follow up turned out to be not very humongous at all and a bit of a cocktail sausage in the popularity stakes. Despite solid distribution from a major label, it failed to achieve the standing of titles like Madman or Hell Night, which are fairly similar in their concepts.
After a disturbing rape sequence in the pre-credits, we meet five youngsters who are planning to go sailing on a huge lake. When their boat explodes after an unfortunate accident, they find sanctuary on a remote island. Little do they know that the land is inhabited by a woman and her deformed son who are not the most welcoming hosts…
A lot of critics (myself included in an earlier review) have written about the film’s poor illumination, so to save you from reading the same thing, I have decided not to go over it again. It could be argued though that Lynch deliberately attempted to keep his antagonist off screen for the most part and reveal him gradually as the film rolled on. It’s a ploy that is used regularly in horror features and it reminds me of the anticipation of having a surprise present in a wrapped box and guessing what’s inside as you shake it. You only have to check titles like Halloween, The Predator, The House by the Cemetery or even Night of the Demon to see that it works. In the case of Humongous though, photos recently discovered by JA Kerswell over at Hysteria Lives show that not only was the director aiming to deliver suspense, but his bogeyman’s make-up was definitely the kind that you wouldn’t want to have the best lighting rig in town for.
Paul Lynch has spoken quite openly about the film’s low budget, but the locations and earlier effects (the uncut dog mauling scene especially) demonstrate funding that looked superior to other titles released around the same time. Perhaps the monetary reservoir drained far quicker than expected, so they had to cut costs for the remainder of the shoot? I often wondered why the first on screen murder was so gruesome and the rest looked brief and diluted. I presumed that much like Happy Birthday to Me, the studio had shortened the death scenes to escape punishment from scissor happy censors. If that was the case, does any of that footage still exist? It’d be nice to know. Further proof of this possibility can be found in the double murder that cuts so rapidly that it’s tough to make out what’s happening. The majority of the runtime is comfortably edited, which makes it look even more unusual and likely that some gore was removed prior to release.
I was never the biggest fan of Lynch’s Prom Night as I felt it took the Halloween pilfering to the gatepost and then crashed straight through it. There are signs of the same level of imitation here, especially in the shot for shot duplication of the stalking sequence from Carpenter’s classic, where Michael Myers emerges from the shadows to push Laurie Strode down some stairs. This came straight after a scene where Sandy, our final girl, momentarily confuses the bogeyman by dressing in his mother’s clothes. This had been quite blatantly lifted from Friday the 13th Part II, which was released a year earlier. Whilst the reuse of ideas is extremely common in the slasher genre, Humongous overcomes accusations of being a freeloader by bringing a few of it’s own drinks to the party.
Some of the characters featured are intriguingly developed and filled with insecurities. The hero’s brother, Nick, is obviously envious of his elder sibling. So much so in fact that he fires a loaded rifle past his head for no apparent reason. Then Donna, a cheeky redhead, adds some depth to her ‘slut’ persona by conveying subtly that she uses her breasts and body to sell herself due to a lack of confidence and to get people to like her. There’s also an ambiguous hint that perhaps the youngsters had stumbled upon the island out of destiny and that our heroine was there to follow in the footsteps of the deranged mother. The final freeze frame shows us how the events that Sandy has overcome have affected her psychologically. This begs the question, did she stay behind to live in the house and therefore takeover from the deceased landowner? I also liked how the killer, who it is suggested had grown up with only dogs as companions, growled and grunted like he was in fact a mongrel himself.
Whilst the previous issues with Humongous still remain and the acting is up and down-ish, I really enjoyed watching the movie this time around. It’s obvious that Lynch had grown as a director and parts like the eyeball jump scare and Donna filling her bra with blueberries rate high up there with the other great slasher postcards. I think that the best achievement of all was the successful delivery of an ominous tone that wraps around the runtime like a comfort blanket and kept me guessing what will come next. Moments like this have been too easily overlooked due to criticisms of the lighting, which is a huge shame.
I have a lot more respect for this picture now and would say that it’s the best example of Lynch’s slasher work. It may never achieve the status of a cult classic, but there’s enough here to have made me glad that I saw it again
Final Girl: √√
Camp 139 2013
Directed by: Matthew Joseph Adams, Benjamin James
Starring: Ricardo Andres, Greg Bronson, Michael Cooley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Last week, when I posted my write-up of Blood Shed, I was chatting about other entries that included a crazed soldier as an antagonist and how the ‘born to kill’ synopsis made a perfect motive for a film such as this. Well Camp 139 has a plot outline so similar to Shed that I had to check that they weren’t from the same crew. Released on DVD earlier this year, not many have given this the time of day, which makes your old uncle Luis proud to be the first to put pen to paper on a Slash above. Interestingly enough, there’s a short that I have seen called Camp 139 that was released back in 2010 by director Ryan Polukord. I haven’t uncovered a link between the two productions, which is strange, because they have similar woodland backdrops and the same unique title…
Four youngsters head off to a place in the forest where it’s rumoured that there lies an abandoned military hospital. Legend states that many years after the Second World War, the site became a hub of experiments to create soldiers that were brainwashed to become remorseless killing machines. After a while, we learn that a maniacal force is hiding amongst the woodland…
Like many hard working Joes across the world, I use public transport, the train in fact, to arrive at my place of work. (Rarely on time) Readers in countries like Germany and Canada can be comforted by the fact that they may never have to experience the catastrophe that is the National Rail Service in the United Kingdom. A couple of weeks ago, I arrived at the station to see that not just one, but two of my scheduled journeys had been cancelled due to an ‘undiagnosed fault’. When a carriage finally did pull up to my platform an hour and a half later, it was packed like a cattle truck so they would let no other desperate passengers clamber aboard. My boss was livid. Camp 139 is a similar experience to that event, because we wait 38 minutes for the killer to arrive, and when he finally does, he drags his victim off the screen in two-seconds flat. It felt like one of those crappy Secret Santa presents where a devious colleague has wrapped a health-food bar in an iPad box. I’m still not sure if I have fully recovered.
Up until that point, things had been grim, inescapably so. A mechanic couldn’t give you heart surgery, a bricklayer wouldn’t build you a cloud software platform and a person without a clue won’t deliver an exciting scary movie experience. I felt a bit sorry for the actors, because they weren’t doing such a bad job. I closed my eyes to listen to their conversations and they sounded almost how you would imagine a gang of friends to talk. It’s just that the dialogue is so bad and so tediously shot that it takes the will power of an ancient monk to keep focus. They didn’t even bother including a score of some kind to add energy to the sequences. It’s hard on occasion, when watching a bad movie, to put a finger on the true roots of the problem. With directors Matthew Joseph Adams and Benjamin James, there’s no mistake in uncovering the guilty party.
The final third takes place in an abandoned factory of sorts and rips off Blood Junkie so much that for a moment I forgot what film I was watching. I often wonder how psycho killers that reside in such a dilapidated place manage to survive when dumb teens don’t wander through on a camping trip. I mean, what do they eat? Do pizza guys accept payment from a fellow in camouflage and a Gas Mask? Do such people receive homeless benefits? Anyway, whereas Junkie was a fine example of craft and finesse on shoestring funding, Camp offers absolutely nothing. No chills, no thrills, no skills and no hundred-dollar bills baby. You can blame the minuscule budget all you want but that’s not an excuse for flat boring camera angles, cringeworthy conversations and a killer in a mask that doesn’t even fit him. I mean come on!!! Even the sight of Victoria Paege in a bikini couldn’t save it.
I knew that I was in for a bad time when the pre-credits scene burst on to the screen like a headless bull. Just who were those people and what the hell was going on? Before I even had a chance to analyse the visuals, my ears were pounded by some death metal and everything faded to black. It came to a close with a twist that you’ll have guessed and a hilarious explanatory scene, which had my partner and I grimacing. Following that, our room was like something from a Sergio Leone Western. All that was missing was a gust of wind and some tumbleweed. We looked at each other in silence and a state of shock. Perhaps it was only a bad dream? If only.
Quarantine this Camp on the double is my recommendation, I’m off to catch my train… (Crosses fingers)
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √
Blood Shed 2014
aka American Weapon
Directed by: Cliff Vasco
Starring: Amin Joseph, Maria-Elena Laas, Benjamin Mouton
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Recently in my review of Rose of Death, I mentioned that leaving a rose beside a fresh corpse had been done before and much better in one of my all-time favourites, Rosemary’s Killer. Well it’s nice to see that the film that I have so much respect for is still having an influence on the genre it assisted in defining, because Blood Shed has also decided to ‘borrow’ an idea from that synopsis.
Shed is the latest that came up with a loon that’s not been able to escape his military background, but its plot takes things to a much more intriguing level.
Six teenagers take a break in some secluded woodland for a few days to get away from it all. Little do they know however that hiding in the woodland is a deranged psychopathic killer…
Whilst I was logging on to Vimeo to watch this pre screener, I took a browse around online to see if I could find any news or information about the picture. On the IMDB, I saw that it already has a laughable 2.7 rating with a couple of not so generous comments posted below. There were also a few external reviews that were equally as critical of Cliff Vasco’s debut feature. Often slashers get a hard time from critics no matter their quality and I wondered if the genre’s reputation had contributed to the initial negativity?
Well yes and no is the answer, because whilst Shed is not going to redefine the way that we look at slashers, it deserves more respect than it’s currently being given. It all kicks off at what I guess is a marine training camp. We see two actors giving fairly credible impressions of Private Pyle and Gny. Sgt. Hartman from Full Metal Jacket. The scene includes cuts to real soldiers being drilled at a military base and it’s very easy to see that this is (ancient Vietnam) stock footage, which adds a chunk of inadvertent humour to the opening. I liked the idea of an antagonist that had been warped by the pressure of an over zealous drill sergeant and was excited about what would come next.
We then get to meet our group of cannon fodder and l did note that their dinnertime conversation was unlike the norm. Screenwriter Vasco is most certainly a fan of conspiracy theories and his characters discuss subjects such as the CIA’s power and that war is the organising principle for any society. It was enough to make Oliver Stone send a Facebook request and continued the tone for our lone assassin on the grassy knoll, sorry, in the woodland wilderness. We are made aware of his presence by constant POVs that show him preparing to strike and we don’t wait long until he does.
The kill scenes in Shed may not be gory, but they are incredibly gruesome and they are spaced well enough to so that we are never left waiting around for action. There are a couple of effective jump scares that keep your heart racing and Vasco does well to make the chase sequences fast flowing and tense. We work out pretty quickly who is set to be our final girl and she gets twenty-odd minutes alone to confront the killer. Unfortunately, it’s with him that lies the biggest of the feature’s problems. When our antognist is first introduced, he looks incredibly creepy in army fatigues and a Nixon (?) mask. The headpiece is lost almost immediately though and then we are left with little more than an average middle-aged guy in camouflage. I recently saw The Demon from 1979, and the bogeyman there was clearly visible on-screen on only the odd occasion. This wasn’t important though, because his size and demeanor made him incredibly intimidating. Blood Shed has a big hole in the middle of its story, which is about the size of a threatening assailant.
As I alluded to earlier, the murders are consistent, which left me wondering as to why the film failed to maintain my attention. It’s hard to put a finger on the exact reasoning, because on reflection a lot of things are done with more input than usual. For example, each player gets time to build a relationship with the viewer and they have strongly defined, albeit stereotypical, characteristics. It’s just that they aren’t likeable enough for us to care if they survive. Even the final girl lacked charm and charisma. It’s unfair perhaps to criticise the sound mixing of a pre-screener (these issues are usually ironed out before going to print), but I must admit that I nearly blew my speakers every time that the music came on because I had the volume at 95% to hear the dialogue.
Blood Shed is an interesting addition to the genre, because it is a generic slasher film in so many ways, but in others it snaps branches of the template. The final scene for example is overplayed and poorly delivered, but I have never seen anything like it. The whole film is a mish mash of ideas that work only sporadically, but those sporadic moments are worth checking out. Having a confused military angle and trying to deliver a political message of some kind was unusual and perhaps slightly misplaced.
Whilst Shed is ultimately flawed, I must admit that a 2.7 rating is incredibly harsh…
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √
The Demon 1979
Directed by: Percival Rubens
Starring: Jennifer Holmes, Cameron Mitchell, Zoli Marki
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I discovered The Demon on big-box VHS when I was about twelve-years-old at a jumble sale in my local village hall. It’s hard to believe that it was one of the first to jump on the Halloween-inspired slasher bandwagon, because nowadays, it barely gets a mention amongst the plethora of peak period entries. That does seem somewhat strange, because it received global distribution and plays closer to John Carpenter’s rule book that many of its contemporaries from back then.
It tells the tale of a mysterious hulking menace that kidnaps a teenager in the opening sequence and then proceeds to slash his way through anyone that he bumps into thereafter. He sets his sights on a teacher and her cousin whom share a house in a secluded neighbourhood. Meanwhile, the abducted girl’s father hires a psychic to help find the shadowy madman and the pair set out to track him down. Can they stop him before he strikes again?
If ever a movie were to be called a mixed bag, then The Demon would have to be top of that list. There’s some decent stuff here, but it pops up only on the rarest of occasions and the rest is a bit of a puzzle. We begin things with the family of the kidnapped child and their efforts to track down the perpetrator. They hire an ESP specialist (delivered hilariously by Cameron Mitchell) to assist them and the it builds some intriguing momentum. After twenty-minutes or so, we are introduced to two new characters and a separate storyline, which dominates the majority of the runtime from then onward. We cut between the two simultaneous branches sporadically, but they lack a connection aside from the antagonist and so the film becomes disjointed and begins to lose it’s way.
Our heroine Mary (Jennifer Holmes) is a school teacher that lives with her cute cousin Jo (Zoli Marki). They are given a lot of time to flex their acting chops, especially Marki, who gets a silly romance sub-plot, which is extremely long winded. Dialogue like, “Drive me to the moon” feels like it’s been lifted from Romeo and Juliet and the fact that wardrobe gave her dresses that look like shower curtains certainly didn’t help. Talking of shower curtains, did I mention that the final girl does indeed sport one in order to cover her dignity after being chased around the house in only her nickers for the climax? Seeing a bra-less heroine battle the killer was a new one on me.
During the bloated mid-section, the psycho pops up a couple of times to prevent us from nodding off. One of these events occurs outside a nightclub called, ‘Boobs Disco’, which sounds like my kind of joint. After boogieing to the pop strains of ‘Funkytown’, a South African lass is stalked and almost raped (?) by The Demon, whose techniques for attracting the opposite sex are those of the Borat variety. She is saved by two passing motorcyclists who receive a vicious clothesline for their efforts, which leaves them in heaps upon the concrete. One of them is especially unfortunate because his bike explodes into a ball of flames after bumping into a wall. I’m still scratching my head as to how that was possible. Spontaneous combustion perhaps? Well, he is The Demon, I guess…
There’s a great scene shortly after, which shows the maniac preparing for his showdown and it’s intercut with Jo getting ready for her date. Once he arrives on site, the slasher chills are extremely effective and deliver some shades of suspense. We don’t get to learn anything about the maniac’s motive and this adds depth to his aura of menace. The script conveys his anonymity superbly and the actor playing him is probably the best thing about the feature. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he is up there with Jason and Michael in the villain stakes and his hefty frame and creepy white mask create an imposing menace.
The only copies available of The Demon are poor in quality and many scenes are dark and unclear. There’s minimal gore due the fact that the nutjob’s method of murder is to put a bag over the head of each victim and asphyxiate them. We can’t escape the scriptwriting shipwreck of the character development parts, which are snooze-inducing, and they seem to have let Cameron Mitchell loose on the quaaludes before he turned up on set. Does this make The Demon a total waste of space? Well funnily enough, no. We may be somewhere off Halloween with what we have here, but there’s enough in the extremely cute actress, remorseless assailant and idea that a place in the world exists called Boobs Disco to have kept me engaged.
What we need is a proper DVD with a commentary to answer some of the questions that I’ve raised here. Until then, I’m not saying don’t pick up a copy of this, but a few cans of lager will help you to appreciate it
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√