The Inherited 2009
Directed by: Patrick C. Clinton
Starring: Khory Pilley, Tyler Cross, Natalie Sieber
Review by Luis Joaquín González
There is a number of stalk and slash sites on the web and the way I try to make a SLASH above stand out is by tracking down those complete obscurities that for whatever reason you may not have yet seen. With a track record that includes Cards of Death, Hard Rock Nightmare, Heavy Metal Massacre, Sawblade and Early Frost, you might well say that I’ve aced the target I set out to achieve. Well here we have one that tops all of them.
Type ‘The Inherited slasher’ in Google and you’ll find absolutely nada. Much like 1987’s Legend of Moated Manor, this one has totally and completely disappeared. It does have a listing on the IMDB, but it’s got zero user reviews and only one critic rating from when it screened at a festival. I have no information as to its production notes and it was sent to me anonymously. The plot thickens….
A young man inherits a fortune from a relative that he never knew he had. Clearly surprised by his luck, he heads off to stay at the house he was given with a group of his closest friends. As soon as he arrives, he begins to feel uneasy on the premises and a hooded killer turns up and begins slicing his way through the guests one by one…
We are back in the Bloodstream realms of having no idea why this entry remains shelved. That’s not to say that it’s an amazing piece of filmmaking, but when you think that something as ‘awkward’ as Carnage Road got a global release, you only have to wonder what went on behind the scenes to stop this one from being picked up. At just under two hours, The Inherited comes dangerously close to being a marathon instead of the usual brisk sprint that works fine for slasher movies. What impressed me most though was that there were very few times when the runtime became tedious or unwelcome with its storytelling. This is mainly due to some well-developed characters that all face personal issues that manage to keep interest levels raised when nothing else is happening. Although a few more killings wouldn’t have gone a miss, the mystery does manage to keep the momentum moving in the right direction and there’s a neat tone of impending doom that remains consistent.
It also helps that director Patrick Clinton pulls out all the stops to inject pizazz into the visuals. He shoots with an abundance of rapid cuts and inventive camera angles that are energetic to watch. Most of the action takes place in tight locations, but Clinton manages to film them with a perception of expansiveness. During the first thirty minutes or so, I was unsure what type of film I was watching, because it opens with a traditional slasher sequence but then throws some haunted house clichés in the mix. These are all superbly staged and include some striking Evil Dead-alike POV shots and a superb use of a creepy phantom clown. We later learn that these additions are only added as unsettling flair and the story soon finds its footing as a typical slasher/whodunit. More importantly, it’s one with a twist that’s unpredictable and actually quite shocking.
A clearly talented filmmaker, Clinton seems to be especially unfortunate with his output. Both this and his debut, Last Getaway (2007), remain unreleased, despite being surrounded by good word of mouth throughout post-production. I guess his style could be described as being similar to that of Tyler Tharpe from Freak fame, which is another title that I thoroughly enjoyed. He certainly invests in the depth of his players, but I felt that the kill scenes were too diluted to really make an impact. This was crying out for some gore to really become a missing gem, but instead it relies on plot delivery and a terrific score to generate the tension. This was a deliberate ploy from Clinton because he wanted to attempt the less is more approach that John Carpenter delivered so purely. I totally agree with the idea of that philosophy, but perhaps because of the film’s budget look, I felt that it really needed an injection of goo to complete the exploitation package.
The Inherited is a sharp blend of horror trademarks that plays like a mix of The Bogeyman and The Ghastly Ones. It’s a good movie that probably would have been well received by fans if given the chance. The fact it has disappeared is totally bemusing and it’s a shame that it remains elusive. After six-years of no news though, it’s unlikely to surface anytime soon. Whilst it may not boast extremely strong performances from the entire cast and the lack of gore is clearly quite disappointing, it does keep you interested and remains rather unique.
I only hope that one day you can check it out for yourself…
Killer Guise: √√√√
The PickAxe Murders Part III: The Final Chapter 2015
Directed by: Jeremy Sumrall
Starring: Nick W. Nicholson, Tiffany Shepis, A. Michael Baldwin
Review by Luis Joaquín González
In the slasher cycle, it’s fair to say that a genre parody has become such a cliche that the next step would be for someone to make a parody of slasher parodies. For a style of film that’s not bustling with unique character traits, we certainly ran out of the need for satire long before filmmakers realised that was the case. All due credit to director Jeremy Sumrall though, because he has found a novel way of poking his tongue at the genre that he’s obviously a big fan of.
Franchises were as large a part of the early slasher phase as were masked killers and after the consistent success of the Friday the 13th continuations, every new movie was produced with the intention of starting a series. In most cases, the quality of films deteriorated on a chapter by chapter basis and that’s the key gimmick behind the genius of The Pickaxe Murders III: The Final Chapter. Sumrall has introduced us to his bogeyman immediately from the third instalment and as we all know so well in horror legacies, part tres is generally amongst the cheesiest. It’s one of those ideas that’s so good that I wished I’d thought of it myself and so I was indeed hopeful that the film would live up to its creative concept.
It opens with a text introduction that describes two previous massacres that were the work of a maniac that may well be the son of Satan and goes by the name of Alex Black. He was presumed dead, but two hikers discover an amulet that possesses a mystic power to bring him back from beyond. Before long, he’s up to his old tricks again and the residents of a small rural town have to fight to survive his Satanic wraith.
Jeremy Sumrall’s début film, Posum Walk remains unreleased and I’m the first to hope that his feature-length follow up doesn’t suffer the same unfortunate fate. The Pickaxe Murders is a bloody ride of no nonsense thrills that packs one hell of an exploitation punch. We don’t wait around long for our first slaughter and the victims carry on dropping at an impressive rate throughout. Alex Black looks tremendous in a guise that’s pretty much a burlap sack and he stalks and slashes with a similar imposing threat to Jason Voorhees’ finest moments. Whilst we can see that the production team were operating on a meagre budget, they hide the lack of funding well enough, and there are some impressive effects amongst the murders. A pickaxe is a superb tool for gooey mayhem, but Black also utilises his strength to crush throats, squeeze heads and rip off limbs.
The story takes place in 1988 and there’s a lot of effort put into bringing that era to life. Our main characters of the story are heading to a hair-metal concert and the director actually takes us inside the venue to witness the goings on. We don’t only get two bands that dress and act in a style that’s perfectly retro, but there’s also an audacious massacre sequence that is both hilarious and gruesome in equal measure. We’ve been transported to the eighties many times before of course, but Pickaxe actually ‘feels’ authentic. Sumrall is a director that pays the closest attention to detail and because of that, he has a huge career ahead of him. There are many occasions when we head into a deep dark forest setting and everything is so finely lighted and so purely shot that I had to remind myself that this was only his second full film… and the first to be released (hope hope)
There’s an old saying where I come from in Andaluz that translates to something like, ‘an excellent artist can never overcome the canvass he paints upon’. Pickaxe Murders reminded me of that proverb, because I often felt that director Sumrall was by far the most talented person in this crew and the rest of them somewhat let him down. Watching the dialogue scenes and the actions of his characters made me visualise his standing there and showing them how they should perform. What he couldn’t do though is improve the levels of their dramatic ability and the net result is like Fernando Alonso giving his all in a Robin Reliant instead of the Mcclaren F1 he deserves. I could mention the lack of an alluring central character or that the plot sometimes seems as if it loses track of where it’s supposed to go next, but all those minor moments where I was feeling critical are made up for by that amazing rock sequence and an overall tone of fun. Sorry to utilise a platitude, but this is most definitely a film made by a fan for fans. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but overall it works and that’s what matters most. Also, whilst I can’t be sure if it was intentional, I am thirty-four-year’s old and the fact that I look younger than these, ahem, ‘Hi-School kids’ was a real ego-booster. Well, one of them was clearly getting silver fox sideburns, so was that part of the humour? During the eighties, the ‘teens’ in these movies were notorious for being closer to the big four-zero than their supposed age…?
The pre-screener I watched to write this review was only 80% finished and Sumrall told me that there’s still a bit that needs to be done before release. Still, I think The Pickaxe Murders III is a slick genre entry with lashings of potential and it will satisfy slasher hounds immensely. From a personal perspective, I thought there was a tad too much nudity (regular readers will know I’m surprisingly prude… unless it comes to undeniably HOT Chicas, which these aren’t)) but that’s part of the exploitation package and I accept that. We can only hope that Pickaxe gets the release and success it deserves, because I’m eagerly awaiting the prequels :)
Killer Guise: √√√√
Splatter Farm 1987
Directed by: P.Alan
Starring: Todd Michael Smith, John Polonia, Mark Polonia
Review by Luis Joaquín González
One of the strangest rules of film collecting is that extremely rare and impossible to locate movies immediately become cult classics. People seem to forget that the reason that most of these flicks have vanished is because they were so rubbish that they didn’t shift first time around. It would take a pretty stupid distributor to recall and stop producing any feature that was flying off the shelves, wouldn’t it? Titles like Savage Water, Night Ripper and Don’t go in the woods (especially Don’t go in the Woods) are without a doubt ‘challenging’ pictures to sit through. Original copies still sell on ebay for prices that range from $50 – to as much as a staggering $120 a pop. Judging by the posts and wanted lists that I’ve noticed scattered around on websites, Splatter Farm in its original format is among that number of missing obscurities that has inexplicably gained a similar undeserved following. I already own a copy of this on VHS and even if it can be picked up fairly cheaply nowadays on budget DVD, I wanted to post an honest opinion in case it ever disappears again.
The story concerns two nameless and identically goofy-looking brothers who head out to the sticks for a vacation at their Auntie’s secluded farm. Mrs. Lacy is an old coot who keeps telling herself that’s she’s incredibly lonely since her old man was the victim of an unfortunate ‘accident’ (an axe to the head!). Her only company on the green grass of home is Jeremy, the handyman who lives in a barn. Unbeknownst to pinkie and perky (the two numbskull siblings), Jeremy is a raving cannibalistic maniac with a taste for necrophilia too. In the first scene alone he’s shown dismembering a patently unrealistic corpse, which looks to be made from paper mache. Before long the two nerds are stranded on the farm and have to fight off their auntie’s sexual advances and Jeremy’s murderous habits…
Wow. The fact that this one can even be considered a ‘cult classic’ is a mystery that rivals the identity of the assassin on the Grassy Knoll. Ollie Kendall’s Houseboat Horror achieved a similar feat when that too took a one-way vacation into obscurity, but on the subject of the Grassy Knoll, Kendall’s flick looks comparable to Oliver Stone’s JFK in comparison with this. I know it’s nothing to boast about, but as you can see from my A-Z review list I know more than most about cruddy slasher movies. I’ve seen them all, from the obscure (Cards of Death/Early Frost) to the ridiculous (New York Centre Fold Massacre/Fever Lake). Well P.Alan’s addition ticks both of those boxes, – but in honesty, it’s ugly to boot.
The first thing that potential viewers should understand is that it was not even shot on a reasonable format. It’s an average camcorder recording, which makes the poorest SOV flick look like an IMAX print. There’s no boom mike available, so the tinny microphone picks up everything other than what you want it to properly and Ray Charles must have edited the whole thing whilst counting sheep. Yes there is a fair bit of el cheapo gore and ‘sexual’ scenes that could get the movie banned even in Amsterdam, but it’s so damn fake and poorly handled that it makes Violent Shit look like Tom Savini’s finest hour in comparison. I won’t mention the performances, because there are none; and I’m running out of witty ways to describe rancid dramatics on a SLASH above.
I want to say that I’m not trying to slander P. Alan for the effort he took to make his first movie. I think it’s great that anyone with a camcorder can grab a few mates and try to do something creative with their spare time. In fact, the film is quite funny in an ‘oh deary me’ type way. Perhaps Splatter Farm caught me in an unfortunate mood, but all I’m trying to do is stop the numerous fans paying rip-off prices for a film that just won’t deliver what you expect it to. It’s certainly a twisted beast with hilarious necrophilia sex scenes that you won’t see anywhere else. But like I said, chances are you could pick up an iPhone and make a movie of similar quality with just a couple of your mates and a gallon of corn syrup. I decided to post this review after seeing the video for sale on eBay for $200 and the seller stating it was a, ‘gross-out classic that every true horror fan must see’. You can feed a family for a whole week on that budget…
As I said, there are some laughs to be had here and it despite being amongst the most poorly put-together films that I have ever seen, it does have moments of a disturbing atmosphere. Still though, I reckon that the most fun to be had is hunting down a copy. In a way, Splatter Farm could have been one of a number of similar entries that you will get milked for on auction websites. The moral of the story is, times are tough; – be wise with what you spend your money on :)
Directed by: Andrea Bianchi
Starring: Gino Concari, Patrizia Falcone, Silvia Conti
Review by Luis Joaquín González
It’s somewhat ironic that Lucio Fulci supervised this belated entry to the giallo catalogue. Despite being two years his elder, Andrea Bianchi’s work has always made him look like something of a protégé of the notorious craftsman. There are many Fulci trademarks to be found in the works of Bianchi. Most notably the extreme use of gratuitous gore and a taste for barely logical plot points. Over the years many have labeled Fulci as an inept filmmaker that hid his directorial shortcomings behind the talent of his special effects team. But titles like Don’t Torture a Duckling and Zombi 2 have pretty much taken the gust out of that argument. If these critics truly believe that Fulci was an incompetent director, then gawd only knows what they’d make of Bianchi. His most famous movie – the notorious Burial Ground – is great fun if you love blood and guts. But if you judge it on it’s merits as a motion picture, then it fails in just about every department. The acting was diabolical, the direction non-existent and I don’t even think that it was filmed from a script. I hoped that Massacre would keep the gratuitous exploitation edge, but I was also looking for a little more credibility from Bianchi this time around.
Massacre kicks off with a gruesome murder that was re-used by Fulci along with other gore scenes in the bemusing Nightmare Concert. A guy wearing red gloves, shades and a beanie hat is seen cruising along a lengthy stretch of road. He pulls up beside a young woman in a skimpy dress who greets him with the classic line, “Hey cutie wanna make love mmmm!” Unfortunately, ‘making love’ isn’t exactly what this guy had in mind, and he proceeds to chop off the woman’s hand and then decapitate her with an axe. Next up we meet a film crew that are shooting a zombie flick in the area called Dirty Blood. There’s a whole heap of tension on the set because it doesn’t look like any of the employees seem to get along with one another. The lead actress Jennifer (Patrizia Falcone) is dating a Local Police Captain called Walter (Gino Concarni). We soon learn from him that this maniacal killer has already murdered four other victims, and the authorities don’t have a clue to his identity. Things really get nasty after the producer calls in a medium to hold a séance and teach his cast and crew the ways of the supernatural. The circle is broken when an evil spirit invades the sitting and forces the Medium to end the seance. Only hours later an unseen maniac begins slaughtering his way through the cast list one by one. Will any of them survive…?
Surprisingly, Massacre is not as bad as I had initially expected. Silvano Tessicini did a credible job with the photography and the director even managed to build suspense in places. No really. As this is a Bianchi joint, the exploitation is spread thick and fast, and there’s more female nudity than an Electric Blue omnibus. Look out for the scene where a victim flees the marauding killer with only a short skirt covering her modesty! The gory murders reveal a great flair for the macabre from the filmmaker and there’s a body count to rival an Arnold Schwarzenegger machine gun frenzy. You probably won’t solve the twist and turn mystery with ease, plus the boathouse massacre is a tremendous piece of mayhem, which deserves a second look. Massacre also boasts some wacky pre-politically correct dialogue, which will make even the most sinister viewer smile. It’s also worth noting the amount of American stalk and slash clichés that have been incorporated with the more typical native giallo platitudes. At one point a fornicating couple are slaughtered whilst parked in the woods – an indisputable trademark of the USA teen slasher.
But still this is far too bizarrely structured to be anything other than good in a bad way. As was the case with Burial Ground, there’s just too much inadvertent humor to allow this to join the giallo elite. The murders certainly could have benefited with a little more directorial flourish and the musical accompaniment was continuously monotomous to the point of frustration. Bianchi certainly has an eye for a beautiful actress, and he always tries to include everything from lesbian proposals to soft-core pornography. Only problem is that he seems to prioritize acting ability way below bra size. It’s a flaw that’s only too evident from the start.
The net result is a film that will satisfy forgiving fans that aren’t expecting anything along the lines of Tenebrae or even Eyeball. To put it another way, if you could sit through Burial Ground without cringing at the screen then you’ll probably enjoy this.
Final Girl: √
Directed by: Don Gronquist
Starring: Laurel Munson, Janet Penner, Sara Ansley
Review by Luis Joaquín González
In these recent times of rapid action cuts and CGI overloads, slow boiling thrillers have lost some their allure amongst audiences. I always try to value craft over excess, but recently I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds again and noticed I was losing focus during the lengthy character development parts. It’s strange, because I loved that movie so much when I was growing up.
This fairly intriguing genre entry grabbed a slice of notoriety because it was banned in the United Kingdom and quickly added to the video nasty list upon its release in 1982. With only four on-screen killings during the seventy-two minute runtime, nowadays it’s hard to see what the BBFC found so offensive. It’s been billed most places as more of a psychological chiller than an out and out stalk and slasher, so I promised myself to be extra patient when watching it unfold.
Three young girls that are on their way to a Jazz concert, crash their car in a rainstorm and wake up stranded in a large mansion. Even though everything seems comfortable at first, it soon becomes apparent that there’s a local killer on the loose and the girls have to fight to survive.
Director Don Gronquist has said that his sole ambition throughout his life had been to make a feature film. His first attempt, a serial killer/crime drama based on Charles Starkweather’s exploits, wasn’t picked up until eight-years after its 1973 production date. He didn’t let this deter him and Unhinged proved to be a lot more attractive to relevant suitors due to the boom of the slasher genre. Costing only $100,000 to produce, the film is a mix of Halloween and Psycho that coincidentally results in a blend that’s a lot like The Unseen. The early shots of a car heading along a winding road brought to mind The Shinning, which I also believe played a part in the ambition behind the project.
In terms of the influences taken from Carpenter’s classic, Gronquist pulls off some generally effective heavy-breath POV shots and a strong utilisation of sound to unsettle viewers. Jon Newton’s brooding score works wonders in maintaining an atmosphere and lesser scenes come alive solely because of the striking audio accompaniment. Dressed in a rain-mac, the killer strikes with unpredictability and each murder is brutal and ruthless. If you’re expecting bundles of gore because of the video nasty status, you’ll be disappointed, but there’s something unsettling about the way the killings are staged. Tension is brought from a complex mystery and a claustrophobic feeling that the girls are truly stranded in the wilderness. Building a creepy environment is not something all can achieve, but the unusual characters and (again) that frantic score really do wonders in maintaining the menace.
Whilst there can be no greater sources of inspiration than Hitchcock, Carpenter and Kubrick; as a director, Gronquist doesn’t come close to achieving that level of artistry. Unhinged is shot rather flatly, and rarely tries anything audacious. Outside of the impressive steadi-cam moments, the camera always seems to abide by the safest option and this has a noticeable effect on the film’s energy. Some of the most amateur editing that I can remember certainly doesn’t help matters and it’s surprising that this wasn’t picked up upon before release. We’ll see a shot of an open doorway for three-seconds before someone walks through or a sequence will just stop and fade to black awkwardly. This also plays havoc with the story’s timeline, because I couldn’t keep track of whether minutes or hours had passed between one part and the next. Whilst it would be fair to call Gronquist’s work ‘uninspired’, it deserved a lot better than how his editors made it look.
I called The Unhinged intriguing, and I really believe that it is. The plot concludes with a twist that I didn’t mention so as not to ruin, and it provides moments that are generally chilling. The performances are poor and the technical ability shoddy, at best. Despite that, it remains worth a look because it is so – what’s that word again? – Oh yes, intriguing. I prefer horror films develop an atmosphere and even if the pace does drop here and there, I actually quite liked it.
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √
Just Before Dawn 1981
Directed by: Jeff Lieberman
Starring: Mike Kellin, Chris Lemmon, Gregg Henry
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Being a collector of slasher movies during the eighties was a unique and lonely hobby. Long before there were sites like Hysteria Lives or even the IMDB, contacting other people that understood or shared this passion was an extremely difficult task. I grew up desperately hoping to meet someone who carried the same obsession, but the closest I ever came was a guy that owned a second hand book shop in Bromley-By-Bow. The film I had been searching for at that time was Graduation Day and he was the only person I’d spoken to that knew it existed. He was adamant in his advice that I could certainly live without it, but the more he tried to convince me, the more I wanted to track it down.
In hindsight, I guess you could say that he was right about Herb Freed’s cheesy throwaway, so I had high expectations for the one slasher that he guaranteed I’d enjoy, Just Before Dawn. It’s not hard to find positive reviews for Dawn, it’s amongst the most celebrated of the peak period titles. I remember reading a complimentary piece on The Terror Trap, which led me to put more effort into uncovering a copy, but strangely enough, this is the first time that I’ve sat down to watch it.
A van full of youngsters head up into a mountainous forest for a camping trip and the chance to spend some time together. Almost as soon as they arrive, they meet a strangely deranged local who warns them of a demon that lurks in the mountains. Not letting his rants ruin their adventure, the troupe continue off on their trail. Little do they know that a psychopathic killer awaits them and they have no place to hide.
The cult success of Jeff Lieberman’s Squirm was what had attracted producer David Sheldon to hire him when he set about grabbing his slice of the slasher movie cash cake. Lieberman put together a brief script and an idea for a location, which changed numerous times before shooting began. It’s easy to see how well budgeted Dawn looks in comparison to some of its contemporaries and there’s no doubt that this helped to give the movie it’s thoroughbred reputation. Thanks to a stylish mix of brightly coloured and creatively planned cinematography, we get to experience the work of a director that’s brimming with confidence in his ability. Some of the shots of Silver Falls State Park as a backdrop are so gorgeous that the film feels almost like an advertisement to prospective campers.
Jeff Lieberman has stated recently that he was more inspired by Deliverance than any of the slasher movies that had been storming the box office around this time and it’s visible in what we see on the screen. Dawn doesn’t include lingering POV shots from a heavy breathing antagonist and it ignores the cliched approach for its final girl. Instead we get a group of interchangeable personalities that are given plenty of screentime, but offer nothing that we feel we can bond with. The best horror films climb inside your psyche and convey character actions that you recognise because they’re how you’d react if placed in a similar situation. Our heroine here never convinces that she’s deserving of our sympathy and seeing her climb a tree instead of fleeing her lumbering pursuer and putting on make-up once she’s escaped him makes her look peculiar and withdrawn. It’s almost as if the amount of effort they put into avoiding genre stereotypes left us with a script that forgot about the necessities of compelling drama. With no one from the cast list to root for, the amount of time it takes for the villain to put in an appearance does seem longer than it should have.
Backwoods hillbilly nuts are an ingredient that’s always fun to play with and Lieberman’s bogeyman is a fine example of a merciless assailant. In the opening, we get a gruesome machete impalement that leads us to believe that we could be in for a gory ride, but that early slaughter is by far the most graphic. It’s disappointing that we aren’t given more than a couple of brief bloody after-shots and Jonathan’s murder is ruined because we never really know how he was dispatched. Lieberman instead invests in some artful stalking scenarios where we are made aware that the killer could strike at any moment, but never sure when he will. These include a superb set-piece in a waterfall and a taut sequence that sees the maniac secretly hanging on to the back of the youngsters’ van as they drive into the wilderness. There’s a twist that I wish I wasn’t aware of before I watched the movie and it ends with an impressive tone that could almost be considered surreal.
Whilst Just Before Dawn is certainly amongst the classiest (and dare I say best) of the peak entries, there’s a fair bit that it could have done better. It’s stylishly directed and successful in its attempts to deliver a constant underscore of intimidation, but it’s a bit long-winded and doesn’t pack the punch that it took so long preparing. Stick Ginny Fields in place of the less than appealing final girl and it would have worked a whole lot better. Still, I must give praise for the slick production values and a wonderful soundtrack that gives us Blondie’s Heart of Glass and a terrific score from Brad Fiedel. I just felt that all the gloss couldn’t disguise the gaping hole in the story that a group of well-defined personalities would have fulfilled perfectly.
I have always believed that slasher flicks and especially those of the killer in the woods variety are the most terrifying scary movie, because they convey a concept that we know could really happen. Just Before Dawn understands these fears and brings them to life with some compelling suspense. It’s a slick and well-staged slasher that maintains an engrossing atmosphere. When it comes to killers on campsites though, its cousin from Camp Crystal Lake is still the one I enjoy the most…
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √√
Ripper: A Letter From Hell 2001
Directed by: John Eyres
Starring: A.J. Cook, Bruce Payne, Kelly Brook
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Being that I host a SLASH above, it’s fair to say that I’ve watched my share of films that definitely weren’t the best. A few of those though included enough for me to see that certain crew members had the talent for another shot at stardom. Whether it be a smart line of dialogue or a smoothly edited set-piece, a bad film doesn’t always mean that everyone involved is part of the bad-ness. There are a million things that can go wrong during a movie shoot and sometimes a person’s true ability can be concealed through no fault of their own.
John Eyres was responsible for 1987’s woeful killer priest slasher, Goodnight Godbless, and I have to say that seeing his name here didn’t fill me with confidence. I certainly don’t recall anything from that picture that made me think that Eyres’ skill was restrained by the mediocre budget. Still, I’m one of those that believes everyone deserves a second chance and so I’ve finally got round to checking out his follow-up, Ripper: A Letter From Hell.
A girl with a slight attitude problem decides to study criminology under an eccentric professor. She doesn’t get along too well with her classmates, but they become close after a vicious maniac begins to target the group and brutally murder them one by one. They soon discover that they share their initials with the victims of Jack the Ripper and it looks like he could be back from beyond the grave…
At just under two-hours, if Ripper had been of similar quality to its elder brother Godbless, we would have been in for a tiresome exercise in visual punishment. Thankfully, during the fourteen-year gap between those two entries, Eyres has learned a lot about the art of slick direction. In fact, the film launched with such an impressive amount of panache that I was left wondering if this was really the same guy. It shows us the conclusion of a set of killings that occurred sometime earlier in a dense forest. We get flashy cuts and intense camera tricks that build neat tension, even though we don’t know yet who or what we are witnessing. After a couple more fast-paced shocks, we learn that this was a unique way of introducing Molly, our central character. It seems that she was the lone survivor of the aforementioned massacre and she’s now relocated to restart her life and enrolled in a new university.
The next few parts that develop the players (and likely suspects) who will carry us through the runtime are amongst my favourite of the picture. They contain intelligent discussions on the characteristics of serial killers and are shot with intriguing movement that delivers a subtle underscoring of energy to the talk scenes. It’s nice to see that the writers have researched their subject-matter and also they’ve included an authentic slant on one of Scream’s major gimmicks. Whilst Kevin Williamson’s screenplay name-checked the likes of Tom Cruise and Richard Gere, here we get Ted Bundy, Albert DeSalvo and of course Jack the Ripper. The fact that Eyres has privately investigated the Jack the Ripper case for most of his adult life made him the perfect choice for this project. It’s easy to see that he felt he had a score to settle with the slasher genre.
Whilst Godbless owed a lot to John Carpenter’s Halloween, here it seems that Eyres has followed the path taken by Jamie Blanks’ Urban Legend. There are a lot of similarities in the way both films are staged, which I mean as a genuine compliment. The kill scenes are delivered with style and they create some memorable images, like when a freshly murdered corpse pours blood on to a girl’s white dress as she dances below. Another youngster gets rammed off a cliff by a truck that brought to mind the one used in Mirage, and whilst these murders may not be overtly gory, they are powerful due to their brutality. By the time the conclusion comes around, we end up in a tree-chopping factory (?) that really needed a visit from a health & safety expert in a hi-viz jacket. If it doesnt bother the authorities that there are deadly blades that spin around 24/7, perhaps the fact that it’s left totally unguarded will. This leads to a couple of taut chase sequences and a revelation that is highly ambiguous. This was apparently down to Eyres not havin enough budget left to deliver what he had initially intended. I am guessing that might also explain why such a smart story suddenly becomes disjointed in the final ten-minutes.
The cast do a good enough job of keeping things moving without really delivering any sympathetic characters. Ripper is a film that believes in its dialogue and compelling mystery, so the focus is taken off individuals and centred more around the overall plot. We are treated to some truly beautiful actresses and kudos to Eyres for killing off the worst performers quickly. Brit glamour girl Kelly Brook is the first to go and despite her highly unconvincing pleas for mercy, she takes part in one of the greatest stalk and slash murders of the entire cycle. You should watch the film if only for that one sequence.
John Eyres’ website completely ignores Goodnight Goodbless and doesn’t even list it as one of his features. In fact, it goes as far as to say that his filmmaking career began in 1990, which is three-years after that film was released. Whilst it’s unlikely that another British ‘John Eyres’ was responsible for Godbless, the fact that he wants to erase it from his filmography speaks a thousand words. I’m not sure whether that was really necessary, but either way, he had certainly upped his game by the time Ripper went in to production. It’s a tense and engrossing entry that really does impress. In fact I’m fairly surprised that it isn’t more fondly thought of amongst genre connoisseurs.
I guess the only question we are left with is what Eyres was doing that was so important he turned down the sequel…?
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √√
The Orphan Killer 2011
Directed by: Matt Farnsworth
Starring: Diane Foster, David Backus, Edward Winrow
Review by Luis Joaquín González
The IMDB is such a fantastic tool for checking out big budget movies. Before going to the cinema or buying a DVD, it’s always worth looking at the ranking that a studio flick has acquired. If it’s above an 8, you’re generally in for an out and out classic, whilst anything from 6.5 will certainly be worth investing two-hours of your life with. Where the site really has issues is when it comes to stalk and slash pictures. Whilst Halloween sits accurately at 7.9, Friday the 13th Part II has a measly 6. It’s even worse when you start to look at low budget entries, and that’s where I found a problem with The Orphan Killer.
After watching the film, I checked to see what others had been saying about it and I found five reviews in a row that had given it 1/10, the lowest ranking that the IMDB offers. There were also a few comments, including the classic, ‘Just when you think you’ve seen the worst movie in the world, you stumble upon this piece of trash.‘ Really? We live in an age where there are features available that have been shot and edited on an iPad, but if you listen to the users on the IMDB, this is poorer than any of them. Without blowing my own trumpet too much, I have to underline the necessity of a site like a SLASH above, where authors like my good self make the effort to analyse these films in detail to give you the best possible heads-up.
Two young children that survived the brutal murder of their parents in a botched robbery attempt are transferred to a catholic orphanage and put up for adoption. Upon arrival, Audrey manages to settle in quickly and make friends with the other kids, but her brother Marcus has a much tougher time and displays bouts of vicious violence that lead to aggressive punishment from his superiors. It doesn’t take long for Audrey to find a home with a loving family, but Marcus is left behind to suffer abuse from the over-zealous priest. Years later, Marcus escapes his confines and returns to the church to hunt out the sibling that he feels abandoned him.
As someone who was collecting slasher VHS during the late eighties, I remember the buzz of hunting out the full version of a gore film. Back then, due to censorship issues, it was a challenge to uncover an uncut copy from foreign (usually Dutch) shores and a real treat when you finally did. The likes of Absurd or Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche were never known for their intriguing plots or great acting, but they certainly delivered on the red stuff, which gave them a unique standing. In more recent times, we have much more leniency in what gets through on DVD or Blue Ray and it means that viewers don’t only demand gruesome effects; they want everything else to boot. If The Orphan Killer had been released in 1981, it would have become one of those cult classics that horror fans spent an eternity searching for. Nowadays though it’s a fossil from a bygone era and gratuitous bloodletting alone doesn’t have the same underground appeal.
Whilst it’s hard for me to say whether my recollections of those times have swayed my opinion, I found quite a lot to appreciate about The Orphan Killer. I am writing this review the morning after the 2015 Oscars and Alejandro González Inarritu’s wonderfully kooky Birdman picked up Best Picture. It was filmed using lengthy tracking sequences that were so cleverly cut that the film looked like one continuous shot from start to finish. Director Matt Farnsworth (on a much smaller scale of course) utilises the completely opposite approach here, but also creates some intriguing visuals that brought to mind early Aronofsky. I counted 8 cuts in a thirty-second scene at one point; and each came from a camera placed in a creative location that was rarely static. It’s almost as if Farnsworth entered a room and spent hours defining all the possible areas that he could shoot from before deciding how he could apply movement to keep the momentum running. During the mid-section, there’s a marathon of stalk and slash action that includes so many camera switches and angles that I literally lost count of them. A great example of this can be found in the murder of the unfortunate nun that I have posted above.
Orphan is a splatter flick at heart and the gore is exceptional considering the stringent funding. Heads are crushed, squashed, smashed and in one really gruesome scene, split in two by a machete. I recall numerous moments that made me flinch away due to the level of grotesque imagery, and this is a picture that revels in the suffering of its players. Marcus Miller is a terrifyingly ruthless antagonist and he stalks with an obvious menace that brings to mind the iconic bogeymen of yesteryear. Unlike many of his kin, Marcus taunts his victims with verbal threats that add to his intimidation and the backstory works to help build his psychopathic aura. David Backus does a superb job of bringing the killer to life and he fills the role with power, strength and maniacal intent.
Even if I have highlighted that gore films are never huge on character development, it is clearly visible how the lack of any at all has left Orphan looking extremely hollow. It’s rare that you’ll see a cast list with so many anonymous credits such as ‘Skateboarder’ or ‘Urban Legend Teen #2’ and the people featured within are given less importance than the props the killer uses to dispatch them. It makes such a difference to have players that we’ve invested in emotionally, but even the heroine failed to win us over in this script. This leaves the film without a solid structure and it plays almost like a collection of kill scenes that have been loosely stapled together. I’m not a fan of death metal and I look at horror as a genre that succeeds when audio and visual are juxtaposed together to bring an environment to life. More often than not I found myself reaching for the ear plugs and the film could have done with a suitably creepy score.
Once Marcus has finally caught and imprisoned Audrey, we get some slower paced torture porn-like scenes that are a lot less engrossing. A directorial style as rapid as Farnsworth’s didn’t flow as well in an enclosed environment and the best pieces of his work came during the numerous chase sequences. In terms of dramatics, the performances were weak but serviceable and kudos to Diane Foster, who gives her all in a portrayal that asked an incredible amount of physicality. The insane killer stalking his sister synopsis has been done to death, but Orphan manages to keep you interested, despite the numerous flaws.
Matt Farnsworth has worked really hard here to give us a film that pushes the boundaries of what we have experienced previously. It infuriates me that all this effort can be brushed off by a 1/10 rating without recognition of all that he has achieved. It’s ok to dislike a film, but it’s a waste of time to read any write-up that contains something along the lines of ‘this is the worst movie ever made’. You’ll have to trust me when I tell you that it simply is not…
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √√
Directed by: Tim Cowles
Starring: Eleanor James, Emily Eaves, Jason Impey
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I’ve recently turned 34, which I tell you because I’m from a generation that grew up just before the invasion of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Hi5. I was in my twenties during the noughties, so I still got to experience the impact that these sites had on social interaction and relationships. It’s interesting, because I remember the times of having to call landlines or walk to knock on someone’s front door if I wanted to chat with them. Nowadays I can simply drop them a note on What’sapp or some other messaging service and ascertain where they are, who they’re with and whether they’re choosing to ignore me ;) I’m often told that I should be more proactive on Twitter and Facebook, especially with regards to a SLASH above, but perhaps it’s because of my age that I haven’t quite grasped the necessity of a social media presence.
Whether these methods of contact are a benefit or a hindrance to our evolution as humans is impossible to answer, but it’s an interesting theory to think about. It’s one that was certainly on the mind of director Tim Cowles when he put pen to paper for this British slasher that hit shelves last year. Not to be confused with 2005’s Backslash, Backslasher was poorly received upon release and currently holds a 2.2 rating on the IMDB. This Is incredibly low, but there’s always the excuse that slasher movies are easy targets for mockery from stern critics because of their simplistic style. Seeing that the excellent Billy Club has dropped from 7.4 to 5.6 on the same website adds weight to this theory.
A young woman who’s obsessed with her social media accounts launches an online business that sells lingerie and sex toys. She Is running a blog to assist with marketing but soon discovers that someone maybe taking an unhealthy interest in her status updates. It soon becomes apparent that a masked killer is stalking her friend list and it looks as if she’s next in his sights…
Shooting films on a penny sweet budget must be tough, because creative concepts can get lost amongst the lack of funding. Backslasher tries hard to deliver something unique and intriguing but has suffered, slightly unfairly, due to its minimal production values. It choses an unusual starting path, which introduces our characters rather awkwardly. The best horror movies begin with a scare or shock sequence of some kind to set a tone, but it takes fifteen-minutes or so for the killer to even put in an appearance here. This makes the opening scenes a bit pointless because we are left trying to get our heads around what we are watching. A group of girls prance around in lingerie to introduce the theme of the products that they’re selling, but these parts are a nothingness in terms of the film’s horror backbone. I haven’t seen the old chestnut of a maniac stalking two lovers parked in a secluded spot for quite some time, so it was refreshing to be back at a set up that is so rudimentary yet satisfying. Cowles shows his knowledge of the period slashers in a couple of the murders, including an assault of a female jogger, which was last seen in Graduation Day. Dressing the killer in a common mask and hooded jumper underlines the film’s cheapness, but he is at least brutal and intimidating when he strikes.
What I really liked about Backslasher was its smartly ambiguous conclusion. The plot works along the line of you thinking you’ve guessed who is under the mask, but just when you believe you’ve really nailed it, your choice of culprit becomes the next victim. I felt initially cheated by the revelation scene, but later I understood that it was the perfect end to a story that focuses on the privacy and anonymity of Social Media. It’s extremely unusual for a stalk and slash film to include an ending that you’ll need to watch through again to really understand and in honesty it impressed me. Whodunits have been done to death and outside of tricking the audience unfairly, there’s very little that we haven’t seen before. Cowles takes a risk that might disappoint some viewers, but I appreciated his ambition to try an off-kilter resolution.
It’s unfair to criticise a low budget movie for being low budget, but Backslasher’s main issues are visible exactly because of that. The performances are predictably mediocre and the footage is grainy and poor in quality. We do get a guitar-based score that is fresh and uplifting, but when the horror starts, there are some misplaced sci-fi-like buzzing sounds that are notably out of place. Whilst the screenplay does have moments that are strongly commendable, it could have been structured to have a much smoother flow. I imagine the film would play much better with a murder in the pre-credits and most of the background characters are interchangeable because they’re given very little to do. There were a couple of times when people got killed and I couldn’t remember who they were, which showed they had been poorly introduced.
Backslasher is a project that writes cheques its budget can’t cash. It’s a creative concept that could have done with some fine tuning. Many people won’t have the patience to really appreciate it, which is a shame, but a lesson that can be learned. Tim Cowles shouldn’t give up on his filmmaking dream, but he’s still some way off delivering a really credible entry.
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√
Chill: The Killing Games 2013
aka Chill (Working Title)
Directed by: Noelle Bye, Meredith Holland
Starring: Roger Conners, Bradley Michael Arner, Kelly Rogers
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I must tell you that Chill was one of those movies that I was really excited about getting my hands on. Haydn Watkins, the co-author of magnificent upcoming slasher book Alone in the Dark, told me about it and so I got in touch with director Noelle Bye who sent me over an online copy to review. At the time of writing, it boasts a 7.5 ranking on the IMDB and it has been keenly anticipated amongst cult horror circles due to a couple of successful pre-screenings.
Despite accusations that slasher movies are all exactly the same, genre completists will note the small traits that distinguish titles by their production date. Since about 2011, we have seen a theme of strategic multi-layered twists and revelation scenes that have appeared in the likes of Billy Club, Camp 139, Smiley, Blood Junkie and Backslasher. From what I’d heard on the grapevine about Chill, it was another that had been written with a focus on maintaining a compelling mystery.
A college in the US has become notorious due to the grim legend of a game that goes by the name of Chill. It involves a number of people randomly picking a piece of paper from a box and keeping what they get a secret from the other participants. Dependent on what they receive, they will either become the ‘killer’ or a ‘victim’ and it’s the killer’s job to hunt out and ‘murder’ the other players, whilst keeping his/her identity anonymous until the end. Chill was popular until about 1988, when one gamer took the whole assassin thing a bit too seriously and butchered twelve students before succumbing to a gruesome fate. Since then, the game has been outlawed on campus and it has become a part of the town’s history that they’d rather leave behind. One business-minded local thinks otherwise though and decides to revisit the scene of the original massacre and televise a new version of the game for profit. Despite resistance from some of the townsfolk, especially an over-zealous professor, the launch date goes ahead as planned. It seems that someone still has an axe to grind and before long, the youngsters are forced to pit their wits against a maniacal villain.
Before we get going, I think it’s important that you understand one thing about Chill that’s really essential as to how you perceive it. I’d been wrapped up in the decent IMDB rating and the positivity that I’d heard and so I was expecting a slick slasher along the lines of Billy Club. It wasn’t until thirty-five minutes in that I realised this was in fact a micro-budget production ($3,000) and only then did I really begin to appreciate the film’s accomplishments.
You see, Chill is quite long for a slasher movie, (one hour and forty-five minutes in fact) and the first half of those are pretty unconvincing. Awkwardly acted characters in under-lit scenarios are the order of the day and I was thinking that I was going to be the first critic to put a dent in the film’s glorious reputation. There’s a lot of focus on a group of marginally-appealing personalities and they’re given dialogue that barely registers because it’s so basic and unimaginative. To offer an example, we meet a washed-up kid star who has been invited to take part in the game, but upon his arrival he is disappointed that there’s no fanfare and only one person recognises him. He’s obviously deluded as to the level of his notoriety, but it’s a joke that doesn’t need or warrant the amount of attention that it’s given by the script.
I was thinking the worst by that point, but when the games finally launch, the directors unleash a couple of really sharp and effective shock sequences. There’s nothing quite as creepy as dark dilapidated corridors and the film is nicely scored with gloomy low-chords that help maintain the morbid tone. In the earlier killings, we don’t get to see the antagonist’s bird mask clearly, but there’s a really well structured scene that introduces him with credible menace. He then goes on to slash the throat of a hapless youngster and there’s a juicy blood effect to maximise the impact. For the next half an hour, we get a tense showdown as the remaining players discover that they are locked inside the auditorium with a vicious maniac. Blood flows fluidly as people are sliced, diced and strangled, but the real suspense is delivered by the enigma of who it is that’s slaughtering the group. I didn’t work out the psychopath’s true identity, but I still am unsure as to whether it was a surprise or a bit of a a cheat on the audience. Either way, it successfully keeps you guessing and there’s nothing more that I could have asked for.
What I thought was really authentic was that the story was led for the most part by an openly homosexual central character. Kyle Carpenter (cool surname) does a good job of giving us a likeable protagonist and ticks many of the boxes that are stereotypically filled by a heroine. We also get a role reversal that I don’t want to reveal without giving anything away, but let’s just say that the film’s choice of survivor(s) is an uncommon piece of template realignment. It all leads to an intriguing open ending and I have heard through the same grapevine that Chill 2 is already on the cards.
Chill is one of a number of recent entries that underline the necessity of the slasher genre as a filmaking talent pool. There truly is no better style of movie to unleash some flair and the more of these examples we get, the closer we come to a complete category rebirth. Whilst the feature itself is not without its problems (poor illumination, half-hearted dialogue, noticeably average acting, a couple of WTF revelations and it could have done with some eye candy), it gives me great pleasure to see that we have moved well away from the era of Camp Blood and Carnage Road. Nowadays low budget features are stronger than they’ve ever been and that in itself is a real achievement. Congratulations to Noelle, Meredith and Roger for a decent effort considering the budget. The gloss and invention in some of their photography was extremely impressive and I am looking forward to seeing more of their work.
Killer Guise: √√√√