Monthly Archives: October 2011
It’s Halloween – you know, the night that he came home so I want to say a big Happy Halloween to everyone that’s taken the time to check my website (all 2 of you!). As it’s the time of the year that matters most I have got two reviews of Halloween slashers for you. First I have the brilliantly cheesy Hack-O-Lantern and a small unknown rarity that no one ever mentions by the name of Halloween. Maybe you can watch one of them when it gets dark :)
Anyway it’s a bit rubbish that Halloween this year is a Monday, but I shall be making the most as always! This is the night us horror fans can dress as we like and get away with it haha :). So far my weekend has been superb, Ar53nal beat Chel53a 5-3 in the London Derby and we’re going trick or treating tonight :)
In Spain, we say La Noche de Halloween – enjoy and watch loads of scary movies…
Directed by: John Carpenter
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, PJ Soles
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Over ten years have passed since I pencilled my first slasher movie review under an alias on the web. I was studying at that time and writing up flicks when i should have been doing coursework, so i wrote under the name of Chrisie Tuohy – a tribute to my Nan, Cristina, who had died that year. That’s a long time ago and surprisingly enough, I have never got round to reviewing my favourite ever and the one that started it all (for me anyway) – Halloween.
It’s a big task, because it has been covered so many times and I’m not the best writer, so could I really do it any justice? I always had this on my mind. How do you put it to words something that changed your life? Could I really say what needed to be said?
I came up with an idea. I’m not going to cover the same old ground here and instead I will write about the effect that Halloween had on me and why I love it so much and what I think makes it such a classic.
I recorded this on video when I was very young and I remember that apart from being genuinely terrified (walking from the living room to the kitchen in pitch black was a challenge) I was sincerely intrigued. Just what the hell was Michael Myers? Why wouldn’t he die?
It took me a while before we had access to the Internet to learn that there was a sequel (you can imagine my disappointment when the first that I found was part 3 – I mean, where was Mr. Myers?) and so I had a burning passion to understand some more about this pure evil. I used to badger my mum constantly, always talking about it – well she WAS an adult and she had seen it many moons ago, but she didn’t share my passion and couldn’t answer my question, so it became an obsession.
More than anything, I really wanted to relive that experience. I mean was there another film that could terrify me that much? So became my love of slashers before I even knew that they were called that and it’s an addiction I have carried all my life.
Back in those days there was a label called VipCo in the UK and it claimed to be a leading provider of horror movies and video-nasties. In my eagerness, (I had a lot of time) I managed to get the owner’s phone number and used to call him quite a bit. He never really enjoyed speaking to me, but persistence paid off and he pointed me in the way of some more slashers (only the ones he was releasing, of course) and from then my collection began.
I never really got to feel how I did that night, but I have had some great fun courtesy of my favourite past time and I don’t regret a thing.
In the opening, an unseen maniac escapes from an institution and heads back to the town where he murdered his sister when he was six years old. It’s the anniversary of his previous crime and he is back to celebrate it in some style.
Now the first thing you notice having watched so many slashers and not this one for a long time is the cinematography. It’s essential to have creativity in kill scenes and totally expected, but to see such energy during the parts that are there only for the actors to carry the script or just focussing on open locations is a brilliant ingredient. Halloween could have walked the fine line of losing its focus during the development of its players, a fate that befell many other genre entries, but there’s a constant feeling of dread that surrounds the characters and from the first introduction, you can sense the fate that’s waiting for them.
Donald Pleasence was not John Carpenter’s first choice and he was looking to recognised genre heavyweights such as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing for the iconic Sam Loomis. Both turned him down (Christopher Lee called it the biggest mistake of his career – although for me that’s accepting a role in Mask of Murder) and even though I think that either could have done a good enough job, Pleasence makes the role his own and it’s probably one of his best performances. Jamie Lee Curtis shines on her debut and I don’t think anyone has captured the geeky and naive innocence and warmth that she delivers so effortlessly. It’s easy to root for Laurie Strode, she’s the perfect heroine. She will fight to defend those close to her, she’s loyal, she’s shy, she’s intelligent and she boasts an under-developed beauty. It’s also very easy to relate to her, I think that everyone who is slightly sensitive has a piece of Laurie Strode inside them and Carpenter’s script captures the essence of an ideal protagonist.
I believe that the reason that Michael Myers was so much scarier than other bogeymen and I think it helped Jason from Friday the 13th Part 2 (before he became a comical character), was that he only lived to kill. In slasher movies that have a ‘guess who is the maniac’ sub-plot, the impact is different because you have usually seen this character behaving normally (probably the most normal in an attempt to divert suspicion) and then all of a sudden we learn that he’s a psychopath with a lust for murder. It doesn’t quite cut it in the same way. Myers on the other hand was terrifying because he hadn’t spoken for fifteen years and his modus operandi was simply to stalk and slaughter random targets. Unlike the murderers that I mentioned earlier, you could never imagine this masked assailant sharing a joke with the person he wants to kill or taking a stroll to the shop to buy a newspaper. This was a pure force of evil, without a motive – and he can’t be compared to someone that’s seeking vengeance for an earlier wrongdoing. This wasn’t about revenge, it was about cold-blooded murder.
Now one of the oldest rules of the Horror category, from way back in the days of Grand-Guignol is that if you really want to make your monster scary, don’t show him until the climax. There are many samples of this that you can find within the slasher cycle, but again none of them do it as well as its done here. The framing here is artful and the tension is ramped by the enigma of the silhouetted spectre. We don’t really see the iconic mask until the final quarter and what is most memorable is that we never get a chance to clearly witness the face that’s underneath it. What could this guy look like? I would love to take a peek at ‘…the blackest eyes, the devils eyes’ as Sam Loomis puts it. Imagination is a wonderful thing and Carpenter allowed ours to run away in to the shadows left by one of the most terrifying fiends ever to stalk the silver screen.
The suspense here is marvellous and holds up quite well even today after I have seen the film a million times. I love the way Myers sits up in the background and looks at the petrified Laurie Strode, it is cinematic perfection and I can’t think of a time where it’s been conveyed any better. Carpenter was right in giving us no motive and nothing to relate to Myers’ persona and we still don’t really know why he became an unstoppable killer. It’s a shame that the sequels never managed to build on the film’s strengths and perhaps this is a motion picture that should never have had a continuation.
Whether or not Halloween started the slasher genre is irrelevant, this is the best example by a country mile and it’s crazy to think that it’s never been improved upon. It’s impossible to come up with another movie that has been imitated as many times and as I said to the girl that I watched it with, you may have seen this all before, but this is where it came from – this is the source. The rest are just wannabes.
You’ve read all the praise before, but for me this is without a doubt the best horror movie anywhere ever. I would also suggest that Carpenter at the height of his creativity was the greatest director.
Watch it tonight, go on, I dare you…
Final Girl √√√√√
aka The Damning aka Halloween Night
Directed by: Jag Mundhra
Starring: Hy Pyke, Gregory Scott Cummins, Carla Baron
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Despite boasting the largest film industry in the world in terms of ticket sales, India was one of the last nations to deliver an inclusion to the slasher cycle. When you consider the fact that Ssshhh and Kucch To Hai provided such an enjoyable slant on the traditional format, it has to be said that it’s something of a disappointment that they didn’t start earlier. But whilst the country itself may have been somewhat belated in its offering of an entry to the ever-growing legion of titles, Indian born director Jag Mundhra certainly was not. After relocating to America during the early eighties, Mundhra became the first of his countrymen to grace the genre with not just one, but two consecutive titles. His first, Open House, was a somewhat laboured tale, which put a radio talk-show host up against a maniacal psychopath that held an unhealthy hobby of murdering promiscuous Estate Agents. Its poor reception meant that the film sank without trace, but studios noticed enough credibility in the filmmaker’s work to allow him a second shot at slasher success and so we were offered the wonderfully titled Hack-O-Lantern…
In the opening, we are introduced to a red-neck family in Southern America, whose chirpy exterior conceals some shocking secrets. It seems old grandpa is a part-time Satanist and this Halloween will be a special day for him and his cult, as his nephew Tommy (who is arguably his illegitimate son) will be initiated in to the psychopathic group. Tommy’s kindly mother is aware of her father’s evil plans and pleads with Tommy to avoid confrontation with the malevolent worshippers. Meanwhile a devil masked maniac is butchering the townsfolk with a trident and leaving corpses scattered around the area. Are the two events related? The family will uncover the truth on this dark Halloween Night.
It’s plain to see what Mundhra had in mind during the meetings prior to the film’s commencement. Hack-O-Lantern boasts a plot that mixes the in vogue slasher clichés with the satanic sheen of titles such as Rosemary’s Baby, Allison’s Birthday and Invitation to Hell. Admittedly on paper this looked to be an intriguing combination, because category crossbreeds are remarkably uncommon. The synopsis is indeed far-fetched, but workable; and Mundhra’s previous experience meant that he was already aware of the downfalls that could befall a low budget project. With an experienced actor on board, plus a group of ambitious hopefuls and a big enough budget to invest in some decent effects, surely the ingredients were all in place for a decent slasher hit?
Unfortunately however, Mundhra’s second attempt at slasher recognition proved to be as outrageously daft as his first. The main problems lie in the director’s inability to define a mood from scene to scene. Hack-O-Lantern is a feature that reminds me of one of those lazy Friday afternoons at work. You know the ones: – you’ve already hit your monthly targets and your boss has gone for a meeting in the city, so you and your colleagues converse about weekend plans and relax in the knowledge that the beauty of a morning in bed is nearly in sight. Instead of updating those annoying spreadsheets, you check how many pokes you’ve had on Facebook and cunningly call your friend who’s on holiday in the Bahamas on the company phone bill. Mundhra’s effort seems content to remain in first gear and in terms of generating enthusiasm, it falls astronomically short. Not only does this lackluster approach conceal any signs of credibility that could have been evident, but it also leaves a runtime that more often than not slips into snooze-inducing tedium.
Hy Pyke is star-billed as if he were Al Pacino, with his name gloriously placed above the title as if its inclusion would bring audiences flocking from the furthest of fields. His biggest acting achievement prior to Hack-O-Lantern had been a brief and unmemorable turn in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Here he delivers a cringe-worthy portrayal, which lacks even the slightest acknowledgement of dramatic awareness. He is not aided by a supporting group of actors that lack experience, talent, emotional attentiveness and most importantly, good agents. It’s perhaps unfair to blame only the cast for their failures though, because Mundhra is a director bereft of any kind of theatrical delivery management. Scenes that are included to provide pathos or tension are staged so poorly that they give the film an almost comedic edge. Even if the plot incorporates enough authenticity to allow for expressive creativity, the whodunit aspect suffers from an illogical conclusion and the possibilities remain hopelessly unexplored. It’s true that the masked killer’s identity is smartly concealed, but post-theatre reflection leaves unanswered questions as to the psycho’s choice of victims.
On the plus side, the movie is probably one of the campiest entries of the cycle and has literally mounds of unintentional comedy. It feels like the script of a thirteen year-old and makes no effort to even approach realism, which does raise the humour levels. There’s also the space for a few slasher trademarks that were essential upon the genre’s launch, but had disappeared by this point. For example there’s a fancy dress scene and an awful rock group-video that’s been included for absolutely *no* reason. You can also have some real fun with the performances, like Hy Pyke’s ghastly ‘HA-HA-HA’ cackle, which he probably practiced in front of a mirror and thought was terrifying, but it actually made him look like a complete tool. Oh and watch out for the girl who strips for the maniac thinking he was someone else and then lies on the sofa and says something like, ‘Surprise me Tommy!’. She must have had the surprise of her soon to be terminated life when he rammed a pitchfork straight through her!
There is a director hiding somewhere deep inside Jag Mundhra, but throughout Hack-O-Lantern, he failed to reveal himself again. In fact after I originally wrote this review, he went on to cause controversy by releasing the film, Shot on Sight on the anniversary of the London 7/7 bombings. His fictional synopsis centered on an innocent Muslim that was murdered by Police in the aftermath of the aforementioned tragedy. I thought it was in especially bad taste to exploit that date and the movie wasn’t very good anyway (felt like a TV drama), but I hate it when filmmakers use such controversial topics to make some money. Truly a disgusting thing to do, even it the script was admirably even-handed and unbiased.
This slasher however started as an engaging synopsis and ended up becoming a nonsensical mishap, and the lack of any originality or flair for the macabre quite rightly sent the movie to the ever growing video graveyard. With only one decent gore scene worth mentioning, Hack-O-Lantern fails to succeed on any level as a slasher movie and deserves to be seen only by those with a hunger for cheese.
Final Girl √
Fatal Images 1989
Directed by: Denis Devine
Starring: Lane Coyle, Angela Eads, Jeff Herbeck
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Steve Jarvis is a perfect example of genre dedication. A fan of horror films since a young age, the ambitious author managed to do what many of us can only dream of – make his own movie. Along with his friend and director Dennis Devine, the pair launched Cinematrix films, a company that has steadily developed a decent catalogue of budget flicks. In 1990 they released Dead Girls; a credible slasher movie that underlined their talent and went on to become a favourite for collectors. I have spoken with Jarvis on various occasions and he’s an open and intelligent guy with a thorough understanding of the market. Despite his industry connections and hands-on experience behind the scenes, he remains first and foremost a fan of the category and he enjoys watching splatter flicks almost as much as he enjoys making them.
Early in 1989 Jarvis, Devine, Mike Bowler and Alan Goldstein put together the funds for a début feature. Shot on video in various locations, (including Jarvis’ home) the film sold significantly well and remains Cinematrix’s highest grossing effort.
It tells the tale of a psychopathic photographer that owns a studio in Los Angeles. In the opening, we see him slaughter an unfortunate undercover police officer, before bizarrely committing suicide in front of his camera. He had been wanted for sometime by Police, in connection with a spate of vicious mutilations across the city. After he takes his own life, detectives find piles of evidence littering his grimy apartment that relates to his path of murder.
Next up we meet Amy Stuart, a bubbly fashion photographer that uncovers the bargain of her life whilst in a small back alley pawn store. She finds a V-Deluxe camera lying on the dust-covered shelves and after some extensive haggling with the cocky store proprietor, she manages to pick it up for a budget price. Things are not all as they seem however, as her bargain-buy used to belong to the maniac from the prologue and somewhat mystically his spirit has possessed the appliance. Before long, the malevolent killer has returned from beyond the grave and he begins methodically slaughtering the models that Amy captures on film in numerous gruesome ways. The Police are baffled and at first believe that it’s a copycat killer, but with an almost identical modus operandi, they soon realise that they are up against something far more sinister. With the body count rising, how can Amy stop someone that’s already dead?
Cinematrix films always bring to the fore an inviting level of creativity. Whilst Dead Girls boasted a compelling mystery with more twists than a chubby checker convention, Bloodstream took a standard slasher synopsis and injected some complex social issues to create an authentic juxtaposition. Fatal Images in no different in that respect and for the most part, the plot adds invention to the standard slasher template. The idea of a mystic psycho has been attempted many times post-Halloween, but rarely has the plot been handled successfully. Ulli Lommel’s The Bogeyman was a decent entry, but efforts like Girl’s School Screamers and The Outing have failed to build on the obvious possibilities. Fatal Images captures the imagination with an inventive synopsis and a supernatural sheen.
Movies filmed on such a low budget rarely manage to escape the clutches of mediocrity, but Fatal Images does at least provide a few quirky thrills. There’s some decent gore on offer courtesy of Gabe Bartalos and Devine shows visionary flair with a few ambitious set pieces. Jarvis’ script successfully mixes everything from slasher platitudes to satanic ritualistic influences and the haunted camera idea was something of a novelty and a pre-cursor to the Project Zero survival horror franchise on the PS2. Perhaps more importantly, the film keeps you interested and it’s worth staying tuned for the final pay-off.
I am not going to mention the quality of the performances, simply because you will never find a hidden gem or a Robert De Niro on such minuscule funding. I feel compelled however to mention the actor playing the chief detective, because his bizarre characterisation produced some inadvertent humour. At one point, he tells his junior accomplice not to arrest the only possible link to the spate of murders and he says, “Never approach a suspect. Wait until the suspect approaches you!” (Since when has a serial killer made contact with the person that’s trying to lock him up for the rest of his life? And how many people are supposed to be killed whilst the Cops wait for such an approach?). He then blows his head off with a hand gun for *no* significant reason that I can recollect, signalling the unfortunate loss of a brilliant unintentional comic relief character. With that said though, there’s very little here to criticise and for the most part Devine’s slasher hits the right switches and sustains the exuberant momentum.
Fatal Images deserves recognition for its adventurous approach and fans of budget slashers will lap up the faithful use of genre clichés and the heavy eighties feel. The movie never takes itself too seriously and it delivers a new slant on the traditional formula. It reminded me in many ways of David Prior’s Sledgehammer, which is no mean feat. Although cinematically the films are completely different, I noticed a subtle similarity, especially with the supernatural ingredients. All in all it’s an enjoyable début and a decent introduction to the work of the cinematrix group.
Final Girl √√
Runaway Terror 2002
Directed by: Mark Baranowski
Starring: Mark Baranowski, Ryli Morgan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
For my day job, I sell IT solutions. You know, servers, hardware and some Linux based software. (Don’t worry; it’s more fun than it sounds). Despite studying history and being able to speak four-languages, Sales is the only work that ever really suited me, because I get bored of doing the same thing very quickly and the constant pressure and space for creativity means my day is rarely tedious.
I worked on a different team last year and we were supplying smart phones to shops such as Carphone Warehouse, Fonehouse et al. When a new product came out on the market, I was always given ample training in its selling points and some of them were really good. Now I use an iPhone – and so does most of the world; but the market is big enough for the likes of RIM, Samsung, Nokia and HTC to make a tidy profit on their handsets. Anyway, probably one of the best new launches that I was trained on during my stint was the Palm Pre 2 from HP. I won’t go in to the full specs in a review of a slasher movie, but a lot of the phone’s gimmicks were actually very good and the fact that all information was stored on a ‘cloud based’ web OS was a pure masterstroke. Only problem was, when it came to selling the damn thing, no one was interested. I think we bought 2,500 units and six months later (the lifespan of a mobile telephone nowadays) we still had 2,482. I know and I had advised HP as to why I thought no one was interested, because it all comes down to one of the most fundamental things about product development – marketing.
This handset could have woken you up, made you a cup of tea and then dry cleaned your suits, but if no one knows about it, no one will buy it. The reason that I mention this is that it’s a point that Mark Baranowski was more than aware of when he released this slasher in 2002. Type Runaway Terror in to Google and you will find review upon review about how sexy and how great an actress Ryli Morgan (his wife) is and how this is the greatest slasher movie of the new age. Seriously. There is one write up on the IMDB for this feature and the title is: ‘What (sic) don’t they make slashers like this anymore?’ The author then goes on to call it atmospheric and that we should ’watch the originality unfold in front of our eyes’! – It aroused my interest even though I should’ve known better, but I guess that’s the strength of smart advertisement.
A masked killer is stalking girls that audition for a sleazy porno director in the centre of town. It seems that as soon as they have met with him, their cards are marked as they are killed the following night. Detective Luke Brennan attempts to stop the killer in his tracks, but what is the link between the seedy XXX filmmaker and the ruthless murderer
I am full of admiration for folks like Mr Baranowski and his wife. They have self-financed more than five independent movies and then put in hours of work for the promotion that I mentioned earlier. I marvel at such dedication to a hobby and it’s good to see that it’s something they that they believe in and work together to improve. With that said though, Runaway Terror is very far from being ‘atmospheric’ and it’s everything but the ‘greatest slasher movie of the new age’.
For a start, many times during the movie it was very hard for me to make out what was going on due to incredibly grainy photography. I could accept this if I was watching a bootleg or a Torrent download, but this was a DVD, which I purchased directly from their website, so there’s no excuse for such awful quality. I appreciate that these guys are not professionals, but I did expect much more from this feature after the countless great comments that I had read online. If Mark Baranowski doesn’t have the budget to make a decent stalk and slash film, then at least he certainly has a lot of loyal friends that will write how great his features are all over the worldwide web.
But it’s not just the look of the movie that’s bad, the plot is poorly delivered and there are countless scenes that are long and boring and totally unnecessary. I mean tell me what was the point of filming the lead sitting on her bed for five minutes? The direction is bland and uninspired and lacks any kind of urgency, which is unacceptable because horror above any other genre is where flair and energy is highly rewarded. I also wasn’t a fan of the soundtrack, which is basically poorly produced techno or something that sounds like a sample from a cheap keyboard. There’s also a gratuitous and horrible sex sequence, which makes little sense in relation to the plot and although it may be a shallow thing to say (I am not a massive fan of sex scenes anyway), but these were two characters that I can’t see people queuing up to see naked in the first place.
In fairness, many of the problems come down to a lack of funding and given a slightly bigger budget, there’s no reason why this couldn’t have been really good. Baranowski is not the worst actor and everyone seemed to be trying their hardest. Ok I am trying to think of something else good to say about it? Well… the killer’s guise is pretty cool (I always like white masks) and they cover up the mystery quite well (I was sure I had cracked this one in the first five minutes, but I had underestimated Baranowski) and erm… oh damn… I can’t believe that I nearly forgot; - the guy who holds the auditions for the porn movies sleeps with most of the hopefuls whilst his long-term girlfriend is working outside on reception. What a player!
So, unfortunately, I didn’t ‘watch the originality unfold in front of my eyes’ and I really didn’t think that Runaway Terror ‘takes the slasher formula and works with it in the right way’. No blood, no suspense, in fact there’s hardly anything of note…. (Except for a producer who sleeps with girls whilst his Mrs waits outside.).
Final Girl √
aka The Eleventh Commandment aka Camping Del Terrore aka Paraiso Sangriento
Directed by: Ruggero Deodato
Starring: Charles Nappier, David Hess, Mimsy Farmer
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I once met Ruggero Deodato you know. I was at a Cinema festival in Camden and there were quite a few filmmakers of different statures, but me being me, I was only interested in those who had made horror films. I also spoke to José Ramon Larraz who was a gentleman and gave me his autograph and liked the fact I had loved Al Filo Del Hacha.Maybe it was a countryman thing though, because Deodato was nowhere near as interested in speaking to me. I remember clearly that he was wearing more jewellery than a gypsy fortune teller and a white Armani jumper. It was easy to make out because it had the words ARMANI blazed across it in bold capitals, probably in an attempt to make sure no one mistook it for PRIMARK. At the time, I thought that was pretty cool, I mean I was fourteen-years old; but now I look back and wonder why an adult would want to broadcast the fact that this was a DESIGNER top? Anyway, I digress…
Camping Del Terrore or Bodycount as it’s known in these parts is a cheese extravaganza. It’s a shameless dupe of the Friday the 13th series, but has enough in its suitcase to offer an enjoyable contribution to the cycle. Deodato’s prior works include exploitation classic Cannibal Holocaust and the tense revenge flick, The House on the Edge of the Park. Despite some criticisms of his style, he has proved to be a director that understands timing and can handle suspense and plot development. Here was his belated attempt to dip his leg in the slasher genre’s profit pool, but interestingly enough, this entry never secured distribution in the US, which is something very tough to understand. That should have been the market that this kind of flick tried hardest to target. I mean us Europeans love our horror, but there’s nowhere near as much chance of seeing massive revenue from Euro markets as there is in the US.
A group of youngsters who are touring Colorado in a RV pick up a hitchhiker called Ben who lets them stay at his parent’s campsite. They are unaware of local superstition, which states that ancient Indians sent a Shaman to guard the area because it was built upon their burial ground. The teenager’s antics bring the Shaman back to stalk the location and the blood begins to flow…
Deodato hired an interesting ensemble of B-movie stars here, including his old buddy David Hess who had worked with him previously, Mimsy Farmer, Bruce Penhall and tough as nails Southerner, Charles Napier. Alongside those, there’s a typical cliché-laden group of young-adults, which consists of boys who are all jocks (except the usual lard-ass joker, played here by comedy writer Andrew Lederer) and some attractive girls who must be really dirty (not like that), because they seem to spend most of their screen time gratuitously scrubbing in the shower. If not, then you can be sure that they’re finding another reason to get naked somewhere else. When they’re not bathing in their skin suits or throwing buckets of water over each other whilst smiling profusely, they’re being nastily murdered one by one by the old Indian shaman. This psycho-killer has hit jackpot with his intended prey here, because they don’t seem to notice when their numbers start to dwindle and even when they do come across mysterious occurrences, like skulls and that kind of thing, they usually wander off to check them out on their lonesome.
There’s one part where a girl finds her boyfriend in a bloody mess on the floor and instead of fleeing the scene, she proceeds to go and lie down on the nearest bed and wait for the maniac to pop-up and ram a steak knife through her chest. One guy gets his comeuppance after climbing up a mountain only to bump into the Shaman, who at the time seemed to be doing little more than admiring the view. Nevertheless, he falls backward off the cliff, but must have visited a barber in-between losing his grip and hitting the floor, because the body we see plunging has completely different colour hair from the one that we saw climbing up. (Was it that hard to find a blonde wig for his stunt ‘double’?) His girlfriend, whom was waiting below, witnesses the incident but not what caused it. Does she go and check if he survived or run off to get her beau some help? Of course not, instead she heads to the nearest bathhouse and begins taking off her clothes! Just what was it about that bathhouse and stripping?
To be fair, the teens never stood a chance against the most prepared killer in the history of slasher movies. When he slaughters one curly-haired blonde at the beginning, he manages to materialise a wig from out of nowhere that exactly matches his now defunct victim’s bubble-perm style. He then climbs inside a handy tree-trunk in record breaking time in order to convince her partner to walk over so that he can give him a violent tracheotomy. Shame he couldn’t have conjured a hairpiece as quickly for the stuntman which I told you about above.
In fairness, I liked the part when one character had his fingers chopped off with an axe and most of the murders are pretty cool and never without a splash of goo. I have a feeling that I have made Bodycount seem somewhat dumb, but to be honest it’s actually fairly engaging. Some of the flowing photography was brilliant as victims ran through the woods from the killer’s pursuit and there’s a fairly outlandish nightmare sequence that’s impressive and eerie. At times, the director builds a fair slice of suspense and the twist at the end was actually unexpected. Let’s just say that it works well to lead you to believe one thing throughout the movie and then it takes a U-turn in the final scene that I didn’t see coming first time around. In the beginning, each victim found a teddy bear somewhere before they were murdered, a neat and macabre touch (I love killer calling cards) that mysteriously evaded the rest of the movie. The attractive females and obnoxious males managed to whisk up a few giggles with their joint cheesiness and eighties talk is always fun to hear – (they were raving about Iron Maiden here!) To top it all off there’s a fantastic score from Claudio Simonetti that creates the excitement by itself in some parts.
This is a lot better than most of the Friday rip-offs that were made circa 1986. It’s nicely paced, never becomes boring and it offers cheese and slasher trash by the bucket load. I recommend Bodycount as an entertaining alternative to fans that have seen Friday the 13th too many times. It doesn’t break new ground or even make anything outstanding from the old, but it’s a whole heap of fun. If you fancy a weekend of Italian slashers, get this, Nightmare Beach and Stagefright and you’re guaranteed a good time… Enjoy!
Final Girl √√
The Baby Doll Murders 1993
Directed by: Paul Leder
Starring: Jeff Kober, John Saxon, Melanie Smith
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I’ve read reports that suggest Baby Doll Murders was actually a re-imaging of Burt Topper’s The Strangler from 1964, which itself was loosely based on the real life case of the ‘Boston stranglings’. Mimi Leder’s father Paul updated the murder mystery aspect to keep his movie in check with the craze that had swept the world throughout the eighties – the slasher genre. Although this is not a teenie-kill movie in the more typical Friday the 13th mould, Leder utilizes many of the genre’s underlining clichés that allow it to fit quite comfortably amongst the other cycle entries. For example the killer wears a mask and stalks through point of view camera shots just like his slasher granddaddy Michael Myers. He also has that trademark knack for catching female victims when they’re just about to expose the parts that your mama warned would make you go blind. Well rules will be rules…and I guess clichés will be clichés too…
The film boasts an intriguing and fairly macabre premise, which involves a maniac slaughtering women and leaving a Baby Doll beside their mutilated corpses. From the off we are thrown in at the deep end as we learn that there has already been four of these gruesome murders. We then get to meet the detectives and central characters that all play a part in the case. Louis Benz (Jeff Kober) is a stereotypical movie-cop that is always at boiling point and spends the majority of the movie chasing ex-con Les Parker (Tom Hodges) even though he nearly loses his job because of it. His partner Larry Brown (Bobby DiCicco) is thankfully a little more laid back, but still seems desperate to stop these prolific slaughters. The Police secretary Peggy Davies (Melanie Smith) – who is also Benz’s squeeze – also feels the effect of the murders when they begin to cause a strain on her relationship with Louis. After many more women have been methodically slaughtered, the Detectives finally uncover a clue that puts the lives of people close to them at risk. Will Benz be able to solve the case before the killer strikes closer to home…?
If it weren’t for the needless amount of gratuitous nudity that can be found consistently throughout Baby Doll Murders I would have sworn that this was a TV movie. But the extreme amount of forbidden flesh on display certainly put a damper on that suggestion. Each of the many victims makes sure to flash her heaving bosoms before she is slaughtered, which makes me wonder why no ladies in the area ever bothered wearing a bra? Female underwear sales must have been virtually non-existent in Los Angeles circa 1992? It’s also worth noting that this bogeyman is the first one that I’ve seen that wears trendy Nike trainers whilst on massacre duties. Well who says that homicidal maniacs can’t have dress sense?
The film scurries along at an acceptable pace and there’s a big enough body count to keep things moving. It’s a shame that Leder felt the need to chuck in needless padding like the unnecessary false confession, which only added tedium to an otherwise engaging premise. In any slasher-thriller the most important aspect is the mystery, but the screenplay doesn’t really give us enough suspects to keep the guessing game flowing. I have always wondered why a director feels that it’s necessary to give away obvious clues, which only makes the conclusion less intriguing. Audiences aren’t stupid you know. We do like to have an attempt at solving the mystery ourselves without obvious and annoying prompts. With that said though the final plot twist is worth the wait and turns out to be convincing and fairly controversial too.
The performances are mixed from the interesting ensemble of B-movie titans. It’s always good to see John Saxon as a supporting character, but Jeff Kober delivers a colourless portrayal in the lead. Melanie Smith attempts to add weight to the case that’s she’s not just eye candy, whilst the beautiful Julie McCullough – former playboy playmate – earns points by mysteriously avoiding the contagious urge to rip off her bra. By far the best performance came from the unknown Mark Dana, who did a really good job of playing the deaf husband of a deceased victim. Despite the odd credibly shot set-piece, Leder fails to add suspense to the kill scenes and it’s a real shame when you consider the fact that he’s an experienced director. He was behind proto-slasher, I Dismember Mama, so was no stranger to crazed killers and I expected more.
Baby Doll Murders does just enough to warrant a viewing from fans of the slasher genre. I really liked the creepy Baby Doll gimmick and some of the cheesy killings. If you don’t go expecting too much then you’ll probably just about be satisfied. It’s hardly a masterpiece, but if you’ve seen everything else in the video shop then give it a go.
Final Girl √√√
Blood Symbol 1992
Directed by: Maurice Devereaux
Starring: Maurice Devereaux, Micheline Richard, Sophie Dion
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Maurice Devereux’s Blood Symbol took no less than seven years to finally acquire a release. Production began in mid 1984 and due to financial restraints plus a few cast-related problems, the movie stayed on the shelves until 1991. When you consider the changes that you as a person have been through in the past eighty-four months, you must admit that its amazing really that this wasn’t just left half-finished to gather cobwebs in a small dark cupboard. The hack and slash cycle was still fairly hot property in the mid-eighties. Unfortunately by the time that this had finally snuck onto shelves, the genre had pretty much sung its swan song, which couldn’t have made it easy for Devereux to find a sizeable audience. That’s a real shame, because Blood Symbol boasts an intriguing premise that combines elements from the abysmal Blood Cult and the cheese feast that is Hack-O-Lanternwith a few directorial flourishes that could allow it to secure a place amongst the independent slasher elite.
The opening scene sees two young females being pursued through the woods by a group of hooded torch-wielding cult members. Devereux uses some pacey hand-held camera shots to make the chase scenes feel as pulse-rising as possible. The youngsters cannot out run the sadistic worshippers and when they’re finally caught, their harrowing screams shatter the murky night sky. After a great credit sequence, we skip a century or so to what we presume is the midst of the eighties and we’re introduced to our hapless heroine. Tracy Walker (Micheline Richard) has been having strange nightmares, which involve a creepy scar faced figure and a bizarre satanic symbol. When she is stalked at school by a similar black-gloved spectre, Tracy decides to look up the origins of the symbol at her college library. She uncovers a book that details the history of the motif, which involves a Satan worshipping cult that possessed a history of sacrificial slaughter throughout the late nineteenth century. Before long the nightmares become a reality as one of Tracy’s student friends disappears and the psychopathic stalker begins closing in on the petrified female.
As I said earlier, people change drastically over seven years. I myself must admit that I am thirty now – and scared to step on the scales! It’s interesting then to see how leading lady Micheline Richard seems to swap waist measurements prolifically from one scene to another. She kicks off the movie playing baseball and looking the part as a fresh-faced teenager, but every now and then she ages dramatically as one shot swaps with the next. It probably didn’t help matters that she had a bust up with the director three quarters of the way through production and a few later parts had to be filmed using a body double.
Despite these obvious discrepancies between the actors, Blood Symbol manages to create a few decent shocks and scares throughout the runtime. Many of the nightmare sequences are shot in black and white and Devereux shows imagination behind the camera with some energetic photography and intriguing set pieces. There’s a terrific stalking sequence, which sees the director imitate John Carpenter’s flair for building suspense in the background behind the screen’s focal point. The first murder is equally creditable, as some squirm-inducing blood gushing is again mixed with panache photography. The killer himself looks like a cross between Cropsy and the psychopath from City of Panic in a fedora, dark rain coat and ‘psycho’s only’ gloves. To be honest it would have been nice to see him perhaps slaughter a few more teenagers. Unfortunately Blood Symbol contains a little too much stalking and not enough slashing, which seems a shame considering the potential that we witnessed on the occasions when he was called to stain his trident with blood.
As with all B-grade slasher obscurities, the performances in Blood Symbol are as vomit inducing as you might expect. It’s perhaps unjust to the original actors however as the movie was dubbed to cover their French-Canadian accents. It was shot on both 8mm and 16mm film and the differences in quality are obvious throughout. But I guess that’s to be expected from a feature that was produced over such a lengthy time period. A few reviews that I’ve read elsewhere have criticised the choice for the ending, which to be fair does pop up from out of the blue and leave a few unanswered questions. In all honesty I didn’t really feel that the final scene was too far out of place, and it made a refreshing change from the typical clichéd sequences that have been re-used continuously throughout the slasher genre since 1978.
Blood Symbol is certainly worth a look and has just enough potential to make it rank highly amongst the dross level of B movie plop that usually litters the slasher cycle. A few unpleasant gore scenes and some energetic Carpenter-inspired cinematography make this an above average thriller with a few redeeming features. It has become extremely rare on VHS, but the recent success of Maurice Devereux’s latest title (Slashers) means that this could soon acquire a DVD release…
Final Girl √√√
Into The Darkness 1986
Directed by: David Kent-Watson
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Polly Jo Pleasence, John Saint Ryan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When discussing icons of cinematic genres, none can be more recognised than Donald Pleasence’s involvement with the slasher cycle. His portrayal of Sam Loomis in Halloween became an iconic ingredient to slasher cinema and perhaps one of the actor’s most recognised performances. His contribution to the category continued and Pleasence donated his unique screen persona to various entries prior to his demise in 1995. Alongside starring roles in four sequels to Halloween, he also featured in Ten Little Indians, Alone in the Dark and the rancid Buried Alive. Another obscurity on his long and illustrious CV was this mid-eighties mishap, which has been pretty much extinct since it’s release in 1986.
UK produced slashers have never been able to rival their American peers when it comes to popularity or creativity. Whilst blockbusters such as Friday the 13th and Halloween dominated the box offices, British offerings such as Goodnight Godbless struggled to exert themselves to any recognition in the annals of horror history. That’s why I had set my expectations extremely low for Into the Darkness.
The movie was shot in Malta and credit to the producers for picking a Mediterranean location to create this addition to the stalk and slash group. It all opens with that old slasher chestnut of a young child witnessing the wrongdoing of his less than respectable parents. A sure-fire excuse to turn a youngster into a homicidal maniac. In this case, it ‘s a young boy who looks on as his flirtatious mother sells her body on the streets of Malta to all that can afford her hefty price. We see through Michael Myers-style POV shots as the parent tells her son, “You’re loving mother’s a whore!” That is of course the psychological landslide that will click into action a forthcoming massacre.
Skip forward a few years and now we’re in sunny London. An unseen assailant follows a prostitute into a rural abode and whilst watching her undress, he draws a huge blade from within his coat. The hooker screams at the recognition of her demise and the screen fades to black. Next up we meet a seedy agent that is looking to cast models for a ‘big-bucks’ photo shoot on location in Malta. After convincing Jeff Conty – an unemployed actor played by prolific UK TV star John Saint Ryan – that his dire financial status requires him to accept the opportunity, Jeff reluctantly agrees. Early the next morning the gang of beaming big haired models and the photographic crew meet at the airport for their pre-briefing. One of the hopefuls won’t be making the trip overseas, due to the fact that she has been brutally strangled Michael Myers style by the murderer. Almost as soon as the crew touchdown on the Mediterranean island, the killer gets to work, slaughtering the models one by one with his trusty blade. But who is behind the vicious murders?
Despite being somewhat sluggish in places, Into the Darkness is undeserving of it’s AWOL status. Brit-director Kent-Watson builds some impressive suspense scenarios and despite the heavy Halloween homage, the film offers a few credible set pieces. Suspects are developed conceivably and the numerous red herrings add spice to the final pay off. Slasher movies are not overly renowned for their huge dramatic performances and Watson’s effort is no exception to the rule. Pleasence is incredibly hammy in his brief cameo, whilst his daughter Polly failed to inherit any of his unmistakable screen presence. To be fair, Ryan carries the movie fairly well and the killer has a ball playing ‘off his rocker’ insanity towards the conclusion.
The climax also warrants a mention, as it’s by far the film’s grisly highlight. Once the diversionary tactics have been crossed off and the assassin’s identity has been revealed, the final battle heralds a few decent twists. The abandoned location sets the mood adequately and the likable final girl (an early performance from Jeanette Driver) does quite a good job against the killer. She lacks the courage and grit of Jamie Lee Curtis and Amy Steel; in fact she cowers away at every opportunity, but as an approachable heroine, she ticks the right boxes. It’s also worth noting that Chris Rea provided the majority of the songs for the soundtrack, which must have cost the producers a small fortune.
Although we are still waiting for a valuable contribution to the slasher cycle from British cinema, Into the Darkness is not as bad as its ‘missing list’ status would have you believe. The IMDb lists that the feature has a title for a DVD release, so maybe in the near future it will achieve a second outing and a stab at recognition.
Final Girl √√√
Night Ripper 1986
Directed by: Jeff Hathcock
Starring: James Hansen, April Anne, Larry Thomas
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Just when I thought it was safe to go back to my video recorder… After surviving the nonsensical 90 minutes of Nail Gun Massacre intact, I realised that still lurking on my shelf was the wonderfully daft and longing to be viewed Night Ripper…
I noticed at the time of writing that there’s no information concerning this flick’s existence anywhere on the web, which either means one or two things: 1) No one has ever bothered to waste any time on it, or 2) I’m probably one of the select few in the world that’s actually seen it. Try searching out a copy to buy, it’s virtually impossible – this one’s become as rare as a Britney Spears hit single.
Movies that are so bad that they’re amusing are one of cinema’s greatest achievements, because they provide an unintentional form of comedy that has been created from the pure stupidity of a crew that probably set out to make a masterpiece and got a little lost in the enthusiasm. Attempts like Camp Blood and Don’t Go in the Woods are prime examples of such asininity, but do they actually make you laugh? It’s certainly comical to see how brainless a gang of filmmakers can make themselves appear, but they don’t actually provoke fits of laughter, do they? That’s where Jeff Hathcock’s slasher comes in to its own. This one made me bust into paroxysms of chuckles on a fair few occasions. Everything from the script (“This isn’t love, this is two sweaty bodies f***ing under a flood lamp!”) to the camcorder-like cinematography (The footage from my niece’s first birthday party is clearer) pushes Night Ripper in to the endearing category of comedy gold.
A psycho that looks like he wears a home-made ninja mask is killing off models and surgically disembowelling them. Dave, a local photographer, becomes involved when a girl that he has pictured is killed and next his adulterous fiancée meets a sticky end via the mysterious maniac. As the murders get closer to David, could his new sweetheart be next on the maniac’s list?
Believe it or not, this could actually be credited with attempting to redefine cinema history. I bet that you can’t name another film where none of the cast members even bothered to act? Gill, the supposed leading lady is particularly awful. She manages to keep the same dumb look on her face throughout the whole of her screen time and adds about as much emotion to the role as would a wilting Great Oak. Her co-star is equally as unimpressive and they both reach the peaks of their short careers in one brilliant scene, which is so damn good I had to re-wind and watch it again. After Dave splits up with his fiancée, he goes to Gill’s apartment seeking comfort. After some of the silliest dialogue ever set to video (“I love you”. “That’s the nicest thing anybody’s ever said to me” etc), he confesses his affections for the straight-laced vixen. There’s nothing wrong with that you may think, but the funny thing was that they only met a day earlier and hardly even knew each other! Now who said that there’s no such thing as love at first sight?
You can tell from the off that this is a stinker. The horrendous sound led me to believe that there wasn’t even a boom mike (although I spoke to the actress that plays Jane and she assured me that there was) and the picture quality is – seriously – that of a camcorder. When a scene ends, EVERY single shot fades to black, which makes it look as if the editor finished his lunch and then chopped together the footage with a pair of garden shears.
To be fair, it looks as if Hathcock (who also directed slashers Streets of Death and Victims!) was slightly improving as the runtime grew and I must admit that the final chase sequence in the mannequin factory was showing a marked improvement on the rest of his wayward attempts. But there’s so much to laugh at that giving him credit seems totally outrageous. One ‘actress’ bumps into the camera whilst walking past and even when the director does try an adventurous shot from underneath a bed, he fails to notice the fact that the viewer couldn’t actually see anything. The music that accompanies the footage is priceless, boasting pure synthesizer monstrosities that would make Jan Hammer blush. It’s best described as a crazy mix of eighties disco (played badly) and the shoddiest of seventies porn soundtracks, which just about sums up the quality of a feature like Night Ripper.
Victims are rolled out like they’re fresh off of a production line to be slaughtered. Once we’ve accumulated who is going to survive, you can bet your bottom buck that the rest of the characters make an appearance only for execution. The killer supposedly disembowels the models and they’re found in quite a mess, but luckily for the producers we never get to see any of it. Nevertheless, some of the slashings were gory in a tacky kind of way, especially the opening murder and the one where a woman gets stabbed through the face with a kitchen knife.
The most surprising thing about this movie is that little old me in a flat in North London managed to get hold of a copy in the first place. I don’t even remember where I found it. It certainly wasn’t released in Europe and I can’t track any other traces of it down, anywhere. If there is another fortunate soul alive that has seen it – then please drop me a line. I’d really love to hear that I’m not alone in witnessing this classic slice of cheesy entertainment.
I have all the time in the world for movies like Night Ripper. Bring ‘em on…one by one…
Final Girl √