Monthly Archives: January 2012
Shadows Run Black 1981
Directed by: Howard Heard
Starring: Elisabeth Trosper, William Kuzler, Shea Porter
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
My buddies are interested why I spend so much time writing for this website instead of going out getting smashed every weekend. They are surprised when I tell them that there’s no money in it and they ask why I don’t get a job doing what I enjoy so much. Aside from the obvious, do you know why I could never get work as a film critic? I’m just too damn generous. I find things that I can appreciate in even the worst of rubbish cinema, so I don’t think my opinion would work on those that have high standards. Hell I was even rather entertained by Gigli. I mean, come on!
So here we have Shadows Run Black, a film with (at last check) a 2.8 rating on the IMDB. A film that was so bad that it was completed and shelved for five years until one of its uncredited cast members became a Hollywood superstar. So with something reputedly that stinky, could I find anything that I liked?
A killer is on the loose! Press have dubbed a spate of recent homicides to be the work of ‘the black angel’, a killer dressed in dark clothing and his face covered by a mask. Hard nosed detective Rydell King gets on the case and begins to put pressure on a local gang of youngsters. The bodies however keep piling up and it’s looking like the maniac may have a twisted motive.
Recently, the mother board died on my laptop. I called PC World, the place where I bought it, and they quoted me £300 for a full repair. I thought, ‘f**k that’ and decided to attempt to fix it myself. The next morning, when I woke up, I had two screws that were left over (I could swear I put everything back ) and a Sony VAIO that still wouldn’t start-up. I soon realised that I should never have tried something that I have no knowledge of and returned to where I purchased it with some crumpled notes in my hands and my tail between my legs. Shadows Run Black seems to have suffered the same kind of fate as my trusty old lap top, because it is a feature film that’s been put together without a shred of experience.
This is clearly visible with the actors, who speak like they have recently recovered from a lobotomy and never take the dialogue above monotonous mumbles. Look at this example of speech structure from a key moment in the plot. “I’d just feel a bit (pause) safer. Rydell King thought it would be (pause) a good idea (pause) at least until James Scott (pause) is behind bars.” The dialogue carries on this way, no matter what’s going on in the story, and it sounds like a person does when they’re struggling to read the smallest line at the bottom of the card during an eye test at the opticians. ‘Is that an A…erm… Maybe a C? Erm…erm…X?’ You get the idea. Now this was definitely shot in ’81, but it could pass for at least ten years older. This is evident in the music, which at one moment will roll like a jazz session on horse tranquillisers and then will suddenly rupture in to a mighty crescendo of ‘dung dung DUNG!’.
Things stumble along at the same ‘snail neck’ pace as we get introduced to more and more characters without having any idea who the hell they are. It takes a while for us to work out the intended final girl, but thereafter we are given a multitude of vaguely similar in appearance faces that are really only on-screen to be leisurely killed. Oh and get naked. Sorry, how could I forget to mention that? Yes, this is a T&A fan’s wet dream, with tonnes and more tonnes of lady lumps for mass perusal. It’s bordering on soft porn, with at least two lengthy full frontal sequences and almost *every* female in the movie takes off her top for an extended period. There’s not one, but TWO chase sequences where the fleeing girlies have absolutely nothing to protect their modesty. This must hold some kind of record for chicks in their skin suits in a slasher feature. (Only Fantom Killer or The Tower have more).
At the 1992 Academy Awards there was one of the most blatant and terrible crimes in Motion Picture History. How Kevin Costner was not given so much as a nod for his portrayal of Jim Garrison in JFK was astonishing and to be honest it was one of the best performances of that year. Funnily enough, after that tragic lack of deserved recognition, he never reached the same level of credibility and his star began to wane almost as quickly as it had launched in 1985 with the film, Silverado. It was that success which led to the belated release of Shadows Run Black and despite his performance being little better than the rest, he does look the most motivated to add a touch of dramatics. I wonder if he ever looks back on this film or considers it as a stepping stone? I think that more likely, it’s something he has tried his hardest to forget. Kind of like those times when your beer goggles have been especially cloudy and you wake up thinking, “Jeez…. Did I?”
Ok so you’ve probably figured out by now that this is pretty rubbish, but surprisingly, there’s some stuff here that is worth mentioning. The director shows the odd flash of creativity on occasion, like when the killer hides under a bed cover as did Jason in Friday the 13th part 2 of the same year. Also, there’s a (dare I say it) fairly creepy scene, when the boogeyman entices a victim to her doom by leaving a teddy bear at the top of the stairs and calling, ‘mummy’ in an eerie tone. It also tries to explore a few social topics, such as racism and benefits scrounging. Our final girl is dating a black guy, which sends her deranged brother in to a flying rage (The film conveys that his skin tone’s the problem, although I’m inclined to believe it was more the fact that he had the worst Ron Jeremy-like moustache and afro combo that I’ve ever seen.). Anyway, it’s clumsily handled to the point of being offensive and doesn’t go anywhere, but I had to enjoy the part after the racist sibling had almost beaten our leading lady’s boyfriend to a pulp for no reason. In the aftermath, she tried to comfort him, by saying, ‘He didn’t mean any harm.’ Yeah Right!
There’s a humongous number of killings and a shade of suspense during at least one of them, but gore hounds would be advised to steer well clear as there’s barely a shot-glass worth of blood splashed throughout the entire runtime. The killer looks almost funny in a mask that reminded me of a ninja and the actor gives the cheesiest of cheesy blabbering scenes when he is finally unmasked. Actually, come to think of it, the motive was quite a good one, but it’s ruined by a silly final battle with a patently obvious dummy being thrown from a rooftop.
So what is there left to be said? Well it ends kind of the way that you’d expect and the killer is the person you’d thought it was all along, but you know what? I enjoyed it. Please DO NOT misinterpret me here, because this is an awful movie and I don’t want any complaints from people who have bought it thinking that it’ll deliver some chills. But I for one didn’t get bored though and there was loads to laugh at that was completely unintentional.
Let’s put it this way. If Mr. Costner hadn’t have found fame, this would definitely never have been picked up for distribution – Never EVER. But as a ‘sometimes fan’ of heinous cinema, I’m rather glad that he did. I preferred it to New Years Evil, so if you like ’em bad, this may just be for you.
Final Girl: √
La Residencia 1969
aka The Boarding School aka The Finishing School
Directed by: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Starring: Lilli Palmer, Christina Galbó, Maribel Martín
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I said in my review of Al Filo Del Hacha that Spain has an average track record with slasher movies and I still see no evidence to dispute that fact. However when it comes to the Spanish Giallo, I have a completely different opinion. Whilst we don’t boast a catalogue to rival that of our Latin contemporaries over in Italy, La Residencia is a seminal picture, which Dario Argento himself called an inspirational piece of film-making.
There are numerous reasons as to why the film is rarely mentioned in the same breath as the classic ‘Sei Donne Per L’Assassino’ or other such genre giants. The lack of any significant promotion outside its country of origin certainly didn’t help and although it isn’t particularly gory as opposed to some of the more notorious Giallos, most prints of that time excluded the stylish greenhouse killing. This is the same in principle as removing the clocks from Salvador Dali’s ‘La Persistencia de la Memoria’ and expecting it to still have the same artistic quality. I just couldn’t imagine the film without it. They also heavily edited out the subtle lesbian tone that is ripe in the full cut, which means that there are various incomplete copies floating around in different regions.
A young woman joins a French boarding school for problematic girls and almost immediately begins to feel uncomfortable with the sinister head-mistress and the aggressive dictation of the elder students. At first it seems that the girls are running away one by one during the night in order to escape the disciplinarian modus operandi of the sinister staff, but soon it becomes apparent that the girls are falling prey to a vicious killer.
Despite La Residencia being over forty-years old, the film is a masterpiece of skilful direction and extreme suspense. Here, Narciso Ibáñez Serrador is not so much the director as he is an artist and he succeeds in rolling the viewer up in his optical illusion throughout the entire runtime. If his movie is an abstract painting, then the ‘greenhouse killing’ that I mentioned earlier is its focal point. It plays on the screen like a vivid nightmare and Waldo de los Río’s wonderful musical accompaniment achieves a cinematic portrait that has rarely been accomplished to such an exemplary level. Like all good artists, we get the impression that the final print had been viewed countless times by Serrador as he planned it in his mind prior to production and he must have been satisfied to have translated his vision onto the screen so successfully.
Accusations of exploitation are entirely unfounded as the movie never relies on gratuitous shock tactics. Despite an almost entirely female-populated cast there is no real nudity on display and the film is not misogynistic at all. In fact it is quite the opposite as the female characters have the more dominant personalities of the script. The performances are superb from a mixed European cast of stars and Christina Galbó Sánchez’s portrayal is both convincing and highly emotional.
Another plus point is how the film chews up the rule-book and throws it straight out of the window to achieve a totally non-stereotypical synopsis. The revelation of the killer’s identity is hardly shocking, but the motive clearly is and like the more modern films of Almodovar, La Residencia doesn’t escape your mind after the credits have rolled. Almost half a decade after, this conclusion feels somewhat old-hat, especially as it has been repeated many times throughout the Giallo and slasher genres of later years. But if you keep in mind that this was released way back in 1969, it proves that the film was somewhat ahead of its time.
Gore hounds may find the long excursions into character development rather disappointing and it’s true that the maniac killer is not the key point in the plot for the entire ninety-nine minutes. But with that said, when he does strike, the slaughters are excellently conveyed and the film’s approachable characters and Samson-like-in-strength performances make this something of a cinematic treat. It’s nice to see a movie where every shot has been painstakingly planned to perfection and the net-result is a visual masterpiece that excels from start to finish.
La Residencia was the first Spanish movie to be shot in English and it benefits from a strong and intelligent script. It has certainly improved with age and initial Spanish reviews upon its launch were mixed at best. But it’s undeniable now that this is an artistic and wholly recommended slice of cinema memorabilia and it deserves a higher seeding amongst the Giallo elite. It left its mark on horror through the countless features it inspired, which include the excellent ‘Suspiria’ and Juan Piquor’s ‘Mil Gritos Tiene la Noche‘
Final Girl √√√√√
aka I Corpi Presentano Tracce di Violenza Carnale, Torso: Violencia Carnal
Directed by: Sergio Martino
Starring: Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Angela Covello
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When I launched a SLASH above, my motivation was to focus solely on the slasher genre and not branch too far outside of the category. But with the differences being so slim between those and the Italian and Spanish Gialli flicks, I decided to post reviews of the titles that were most definitely inspiration to the style of cinema that we love today.
Being that I was first captivated by Halloween, I never paid attention so much to the European exploitation features that laid the groundwork for Carpenter’s classic. As I have aged and become accustomed to a higher level of filmmaking, I have grown keener on their classy style and twisted mysteries. Sergio Martino’s Torso or I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale is one of a number of my all time favourite Giallos and holds up superbly with the features released almost forty-years after.
A maniac in a white mask has been killing girls and mutilating their bodies around a college campus. After one murder, he leaves a scarf at the scene of the crime and Dani swears that she has seen it before. Soon after, she begins receiving anonymous and threatening phone calls, so she flees with four young beautiful girlfriends to the safety of an isolated country villa. Little do they know the crazed loon has followed them to the retreat and they’re next on his list.
Watching Torso is like seeing a ‘making of’ feature for the entire slasher category. There is so much that was definitely borrowed from this for the template and it is done here with such panache that you have rarely seen it bettered. The masked assailant stalking a love-making couple in a parked car has been conveyed a billion times since, but there’s something crisp about its authenticity here. The killer turning off the lights so that he could trap his victim, launched a great set piece and the murder is bloody and ferocious. There’s also a morally ‘purer’ final girl who is left alone to fend off the killer and the have sex and die rule is in full effect here too.
Martino directs with a wonderful flamboyance and his lens soaks up the gorgeous backgrounds and architecture with a wide overflowing frame. Giancarlo Ferrando’s cinematography is adept and skilful, utilising lush tracking shots that glide across the screen like a ballet dancer. We get a fantastic forest stalking sequence that is tightly crafted and full of suspense. It is aided by some off- beat scoring that helps to build the victim’s desolation. The smart finale shows the mastery of a tension maestro as Jane goes downstairs to find the corpses of her friends. Of course, the killer is unaware that she is in the house, so she has to watch on in complete silence whilst he dismembers the corpses of her buddies with a hacksaw! Martino takes time to develop a pulsating atmosphere and it builds up to a pitch perfect closing scene. I liked the fact that the mystery is strong enough to keep you guessing and there is a good number of red herrings so that you won’t have picked your choice for the culprit until later in the runtime. There’s also a nice dose of the macabre as the killings are intercut with a creepy doll very similar to the one used a decade later in Curtains.
As you can imagine by the translation from the original Italian title, “Bodies bear traces of Carnal Violence” (in Spain it is called Torso: Carnal Violence), it has a nice load of gore in its uncut version. There are throat slashings, an eye gouging, mutilation and one guy gets his head squished by a car! The effects look quite poor compared to more recent splatter, but during the times of extreme censorship that would follow, they are gruesome enough to get it cut in most countries.
I mentioned the eye-catching locations, but even they do not come close to the looks of the cast. I must mention the voluptuous Patrizia Adiutori whose mystique green eyes give her an outstanding beauty. It’s nicely acted from a strong European cast and there’s also mounds of nudity for T&A fans
I am very fortunate to have some great readers and I love speaking with you all by email. One thing I have noticed is that a lot of you prefer the more modern slashers, which is because at 30, I’m a tad older than you now. I urge you all however to check out Torso as it is one of the best thrillers available and was definitely inspiration for Carpenter’s Halloween.
Sergio Martino may not have the reputation of Argento, but this is a stand out classic and should be seen and seen again. It is sleazy, but has the class to get away with it
Final Girl: √√√
Ogroff: Blood Zone 1983
aka Mad Mutilator
Directed by: N.G. Moutier
Starring: Robert Alaux, Francoise Deniel, Howard Vernon
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Way back in the days before the slasher genre was even a genre and before the Internet had given us a much easier way of tracking down information, a horror fan was simply a horror fan. The likes of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Exorcist had given cinema goers the chance to be scared and it was an escapism that provided great thrills, away from our mundane 9-5 routines. Supernatural terror storytelling has been embedded in folklore for many centuries, but when it comes to gore and special effects depicted on stage for audience consumption, links can most definitely be traced to the theatre of Grand Guignol from France. As I have described in my review for William Lustig’s Maniac, these large scale productions gave viewers the chance to be terrified in the comfort that it was all only an illusion and they could turn away/walk-out at any moment that they wanted to. We humans are a morbid bunch, but thankfully we no longer satisfy our blood lust from public executions and the like. Now we just watch it on the stage or screen.
Norbert Georges Moutier, as publisher of a popular horror fanzine in Paris and owner of a video store, was obviously well aware of France’s links with gore-laden horror and being an avid enthusiast, he decided to bring Grand Guignol back to French screens with his own low budget shocker. Inspired heavily by the popular titles of the time, Moutier’s extremely rare slasher is an extravaganza of ingredients.
It tells the tale of Ogroff, a wooden-hut dwelling maniac, whose soul ambition in life seems to be to murder anyone who trespasses across the small patch of woodland that he calls home. As the story unfolds, it takes a slightly different angle to most conventional slasher flicks as the antagonist learns that he is not the only bogeyman in that secluded piece of woodland.
Unlike the majority of archetypal genre entries, this is an extremely intriguing beast. I studied French at school and have visited the country many times, but French is not one of the languages that I speak fluently. It wouldn’t matter if I were stone deaf however as the feature has only eight lines of dialogue, which makes it the closest that we have to a ‘silent slasher film’. As mentioned above, it’s easy to see that Ogroff is a film made for horror fans by a horror fan. It plays like a myriad of clichés jumbled together and thrown into a juxtaposition that although not over-long, can often feel like a check-list of trademarks that have been sewn together with no apparent structure.
It’s like a shoplifter in a stripy black and white top with a bag that has the wording ‘swag’ on it, because it’s not afraid of its obvious pilfering and openly imitates titles such as Friday the 13th Part II, The Burning, Burial Ground and even some of the cannibal flicks that were popular during that period. You can almost picture NG Moutier working in his video shop, much as a certain Quentin Tarantino would a few years later, and writing his ideas into a notepad whilst an omnibus of horror classics played on in the background.
Although this tries its damnedest to shock with its brazen approach and no holds barred gratuitous imagery, by far the scariest sight in the feature is that of a Citroen 2CV. Yes, one of those terrifying French yoghurt-pot-on-wheels, which bizarrely became far more popular than they had any right to after World War II. Fortunately, Ogroff does his nation proud by dismantling it completely with his trusty axe! This killer is not in the slightest bit picky and dismembers pretty much everything that he comes across from unfortunate locals to poorly parked vehicles and even chess boards. You name it, he can smash it with his big shiny hatchet.
Is it gory? Yes; but the effects are so tacky that they don’t quite sit in line with the level of the video nasties of that era. Short, cheap and hokey are more apt descriptions. There are limbs and heads flying by the bucket-load and a multitude of gore-laden scenarios, but the effects never impress as would a Maniac or The Prowler. Ogroff himself is as wacky as the plot structure, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the director’s eagerness to make him as gratuitously evil as possible leaves him looking far more comedic than he is scary. His motives are twisted and he dons an excellent mask, but he lacks the fear factor that led his peers to cult classic status.
The feature sticks closely to the slasher rulebook and the masked axe-wielding killer as a central character makes no mistake as to where the inspirations lie. With that said, things aren’t strictly conventional because there is someone for everyone and I am sure that on dating direct, there is even a category for masked raving lunatics. Well, Monsieur Ogroff finds himself a Mademoiselle and impressed by his large chopper, she moves in and the two fall in love. All is going swimmingly for our murderous hero, especially as he can now come home from a hard days killing and have his dinner on the table waiting for him. It could have been a happily ever after lifetime of blood, guts and romance, only if it weren’t for some pesky zombies turn up toward the climax of the feature. From here on out, the story enters authentic territory as our bogeyman wages battle against the hordes of the living dead that have invaded his killing zone.
NG Moutier would go on to direct a few more direct-to-video titles, which would unfortunately fail to provide him with the cult status that he so desperately aspired to achieve. Blood Zone on the other hand remains interesting mainly because it’s so amazingly obscure. Even though I could never comfortably recommend this feature to anybody, if you enjoyed the work of Nathan Schiff, you’ll lap it up greedily. There’s nothing else in the world that it can be compared to.
Final Girl √√
Blood Frenzy 1987
Directed by:Hal Freeman
Starring: Wendy MacDonald, Tony Montero, Lisa Loring
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It still amazes me to this day the effect that Halloween had on cinema. Over thirty years after its initial release, the impersonations may have slowed up a tad, but they still keep coming and no other movie in the history of film-making has achieved the feat of being imitated over 500 times. During the eighties directors that were looking to make a mark in the movies found an easy path through the slasher genre, due to the fact that production costs are relatively small and the films almost always make a considerable return on their budget. Although it’s understandable that a young director would want to follow in the footsteps of the much celebrated John Carpenter, Hal Freeman’s choice to create a category entry is slightly more interesting.
Freeman had been a relatively successful porn director that had shot to fame in America for single-handedly beating the regulation that quashed the production of erotic films. ‘The people vs. Freeman’ was an interesting case in the history of US law and its conclusion changed the adult entertainment market forever. Up until that point, it had been a crime to film persons performing sex acts, even if the filmmakers could produce hand-written documents of consent from the participating models and conviction carried a three-year prison sentence without the possibility of parole.
Most movies before then had been shot in secret locations to avoid prosecution under the ‘pandering’ laws of the state. However when caught and charged, Freeman’s team of attorneys argued that the First Amendment prohibited the application of pandering laws to the creation of adult materials and ultimately he won the case. The victory opened a whole new avenue of possibilities for the industry and it has since become a high-grossing entertainment medium.
The fact that Freeman now had the freedom to indulge in his chosen market and make a considerable profit without the added worries of Police intervention made his decision to swap genres and direct a slasher movie profoundly intriguing.
An eccentric psychiatrist decides to take six of her patients away to the Mohave Desert for confrontational therapy. The pick of the gang of emotionally delicate travellers includes Rick (Tony Montero), a Vietnam vet who is suffering from that age-old Hollywood chestnut of stereotypical post-war flashback syndrome. Also worth mentioning is Dory (Lisa Loring), a highly-charged lesbian with a deep-rooted hatred for masculinity and a desire to seek an argument in almost every situation.
Almost soon as the group arrive, their RV is ransacked by an unseen someone and they find themselves stranded with dwindling supplies of food and water. Their rations of luck diminish even further when a gloved and unseen maniac begins slaughtering the group one by one. Every character has a motive for murder, but who is the real assassin?
Despite containing all the correct ingredients that made most eighties slashers popular with enthusiasts, Blood Frenzy has become notoriously rare and at the time of writing there is no plan for a DVD release. Freeman’s slasher is somewhat undeserving of its obscure status and boasts some extreme gore and a fairly ambitious plot. The film starts in traditional territory with a pre-teen murder sequence that is extremely similar to the opening of Juan Piquer’s ‘Mil Gritos Tiene la Noche’.The throat slicing effect here is satisfyingly gruesome and the mood is set early on for the gore-filled plot line to follow.
For a first time horror director, Freeman does a good enough job and he attempts adequately to give the film a creepy aura of the macabre. In the opening, the homicidal adolescent is seen playing with a blood-soaked musical box after committing a violent act of slaughter, which acts along the common horror thread of mixing the serenity of childhood innocence with the depravity of cold-blooded murder. Attempts at suspense are continual, albeit rarely successful, but the director does well to create at least one credible jump-scare. Despite Freeman’s well-documented links to pornography, Blood Frenzy isn’t the fornication marathon that you’d expect and there’s no extreme nudity on display. Although sexual references are strong, the film concentrates mainly on horror and the plot rarely seeks gratuitous shock tactics in any other avenue. The script is brilliantly hilarious in places, with some comical profanity and technically the film looks a treat.
Each character has enough of a motive to be the maniacal assassin and the plot offers significant development to allow the viewer to pick his choice for the nut job. To be fair, the revelation of the killer’s identity is quite a surprise and the mystery is handled quite well, but it lacks enough competent tension to be a truly intriguing revelation.
The biggest problems with Blood Frenzy are the horrendous performances from the haggardly cobbled-together ensemble. Despite being by far the most experienced cast-member, Lisa Loring is laughable as the obnoxious Dory and a creative synopsis was ruined by poor dramatisation. It looks as if the cast and crew had an excellent time on set and the actors seem to have bonded extremely well. Unfortunately, this is evident in the finished print and you can’t help but feel that many scenes were shot purely for laughs, which is unforgivable for a film of this genre.
Blood Frenzy is an extremely gory (the opening murder is a prime example), competently handled slasher that suffers from a lack of professionalism. But with that said, it’s a damn site better than many of the more recognised entries from this period. Hal Freeman never returned to the horror genre and instead continued his career in porn. Fans of slasher movies however will be pleased that he had the ambition to try, because Blood Frenzy is well worth a look.
Final Girl √√
Mark of the Devil 666: The Moralist 1995
Directed by: Jason Paul Collum
Starring: Karen Dilloo, Mick Wynhoff, Tami Klamm
*This is only available on VHS and the quality is quite awful. My apologies for the screen shots. I struggled to get a picture of the masked killer
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Jason Paul Collum has gone from being a school boy fan of movies like Jaws and Halloween to becoming one of modern horror’s most respected auteurs. He has well over ten credits as a director, producer and writer and has made a name for himself as one of the genre’s undeniable prospects. As is the case with many directorial success stories, it all began with a low-grade slasher movie. Actually with Mr. Collum, it’s more of a no-grade slasher movie, but we’ll get to that later on.
Mark of the Devil 666: The Moralist is – believe it or not – the sixth chapter in a series that started back in 1970. But I would call this more of a second cousin twice removed than a close relative to the original, because the first Mark of the Devil was a West German production. I’m not exactly sure what ‘special favours’ Moore home video had to do to blag the rights to call this a sequel to the aforementioned exploitation classic, but suffice to say that The Moralist shares * no * similarities whatsoever with the rest of the series and instead borrows platitudes from the more popular hack and slash genre.
A ritualistic maniac sporting a Graduation Day-like fencing mask is murdering people that he believes are responsible for society’s downfalls. The Moralist – as he becomes known – uses methods from horror movies like The Omen, Alice Sweet Alice, Black Christmas and Driller Killer to dispatch his victims gruesomely. Detective Mark Hastings (Mick Wynhoff) joins up with ambitious journalist Meredith O’ Brian (Karen Dilloo) to solve the case of the bizarre maniac. As corpses continue to pile up around the city, the pair soon begins to realize that the killer could be closer to them than they expected. With every clue that they uncover, the couple put their own safety at risk and the maniac starts getting uncomfortably near to O’ Brian. Will they be able to put an end to the Moralist’s wicked games? Or will they be the next bodies found strung up for public display?
If you were to rate the budgets of horror movies on a scale of one to ten, then something like Unhinged would be a six whilst The Moralist could barely achieve a score of minus ten. J P Collum admits that the film only cost $450 to make – an amount of money that some of us spend during an adventurous weekend. So keeping that in mind, I honestly expected the net result to be a horrendous waste of shelf space with no redeeming qualities as per usual of no-budget slashers. (Night Divides the Day anybody?) But in all honesty, a sprinkling of talent goes a very long way and Collum’s flair just manages to save this from utter mediocrity. The murders are surprisingly grisly for the level of funding and the plot is extremely twisted and intriguing. For a total unknown, Karen Dilloo did an extremely good job in the lead. Amusingly enough, she hated the box art, which she thinks made her look too slutty! The screenplay just about manages to keep you guessing and the final showdown is remarkably tense considering the long-winded build up. I actually spoke to the director via email and would recommend that he should maybe consider a bigger-budgeted remake if he’s reading?
Unfortunately, Collum had no control over the final edit, which may explain the sloppy garden sheer and super glue-like work from the distributors. Moore video are also to blame for the absolutely horrendous soundtrack that swaps irritatingly between tedious death metal and bemusing country music continuously throughout. The movie sold extremely well for its weak circulation, and the director was offered Mark of the Devil VII as a reward for his work. He instead decided to produce 5 Dark Souls – another fairly intriguing splatter flick, which I haven’t seen as of yet. Perhaps the funniest thing about Mark of the Devil 666 is Mark Wynhoff’s hilarious ‘haircut’. The mullet was a style that should never NEVER have lasted as long as it did. But when you’ve got big enough cojones to grow a pony tail too, then perhaps you should be rewarded with some kind of prize. An Academy hairstyle award perhaps?
It took me literally years to hunt this ‘gold dust’ cycle entry down. But I’ve got some good news for all slasher addicts; the movie can now be purchased directly from the director’s personal site. I must warn you that if you aren’t forgiving enough to allow for minimal budgets, then you’ll probably hate The Moralist. However the chance to see the roots of one of modern horror’s upcoming talents was certainly something that I just couldn’t miss. Jason Collum himself hates this movie and is the first to criticize its numerous flaws. But if you give it a chance with expectations lowered, you may just find enough creativity there to redeem the purchase price. One and a half stars is indeed a credible rating for a movie that cost so little to make. Now Mr. Collum…how about that remake…?
Final Girl: √√
Appointment with Fear 1985
aka El Resplandor De La Muerte
Directed by: Alan Smithee
Starring: Michele Little, Debi Sue Voorhees, Michael Wyle
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Appointment with Fear’s director Alan Smithee is one of the most prolific filmmakers in cinema. He has worked on over 80 motion pictures, with his first being released in 1968. With such a huge amount of work under his belt it is indeed a surprise that he is so much of an enigma. I have never read an interview with him, seen a picture, a biography or any awards attributed to his work. I tried locating him to no avail and his output is so diverse that it shows no unique style or philosophy. I couldn’t even track down his date of birth!
Ok, so as my daughter would say, I’m being silly. In 1967 during the production of period western, Death of a Gunfighter, original director Robert Totten fell out with his lead actor Richard Widmark after a year’s work and was sacked from the shoot. He was replaced by Don Siegel, but Siegel felt that it was unfair that he alone be credited and offered the title to his predecessor. Totten rejected and they went to the Director’s Guild who released the film under the directorial alias of Alan Smithee (Al Smith was considered, but it was already in use). The ploy worked and critics praised the newcomer’s work, with The New York Times stating, ‘(it’s) sharply directed by Alan Smithee who has an adroit facility for scanning faces and extracting sharp background detail’!
From then on, the DGA allowed for their members to use that pseudonym if their work had been drastically re-shot and re-cut by others without their approval before submission, hence, why it is usually seen on entries that are rubbish or incoherent. There’s not a lot of information available on the development of this mid-eighties slasher, but the fact that Ramsey Thomas distanced himself from its release tells you more than enough. It’s rumoured that he wasn’t even the only director who worked on this, but with no sources available, it’s hard to know the truth. I have learned that on completion, producer Moustapha Akkad was so disappointed with what he was handed by Thomas that he called back most of the actors and spliced in new footage before it was unleashed theatrically.
Akkad himself had made so much profit from Halloween that he must’ve spent the rest of his days hoping that he could get one more shot at the same level of success. There are shades of the aforementioned classic clearly visible here in everything from the mental hospital escapee to the white van stalking the neighbourhood. You can see the allure in the concept on paper and why he believed in the project, but I’d be intrigued to know what he made of the net result.
For a genre with such a low profile in cinema and a reputation for amateurism, it is surprising that we have not had more genuinely weird offerings. Disconnected is for sure a tad strange and there’s nothing more hallucinogenic than the goings on over at Horror House on Highway 5. It’s alongside those slices of bewilderment that Appointment with Fear sits comfortably.
In the opening, a psycho in a white van is seen to be chasing a young woman with a baby. He finally catches up and stabs the mother, but the niño is nowhere to be found. A young girl witnesses the assault and runs over to the female who is profusely bleeding and asks leisurely, “Excuse Me, is there anything I can do for you?” Instead of begging for an ambulance, or in fact, the Police; the victim gives the spaced out youngster her child and tells her to protect him. The rest of the runtime is filled with the maniac hunting down his newborn and killing off the teens that get in his way, but hold on! How can he be doing it when he is clearly unconscious and locked up in an asylum for an earlier crime? That’s where things get a tad more interesting…
Fear has a lot of unique characteristics that make it intriguing even if you push its riddled production to one side. It is extremely new wave in its approach, from its avant-garde locations to its pop-punk soundtrack and ‘tree-spirit’ plot gimmick. One groovy teen wears bright blue eye make-up and is performing a mime routine on her screen introduction, whilst a key male player drives around on a motorbike with a mannequin that he talks to in his sidecar. And no, before you ask, he isn’t even the loon of the title. We also have a homeless guy called Norman who lives in the back of a pick-up truck and spends his screen time either asleep or talking to god and then we haven’t mentioned the disheveled anti-hero who demonstrates limitless bravery with his actions, but really doesn’t end up doing too much. Look out for one of those modernistic dance routines, which lasts about five minutes and seems to have been thrown in for no logical reason and takes the weirdness to a whole different level that even leaves the actors looking bemused.
Between all that we have our clean-cut psycho killer, who looks a bit like he could be Mikel Arteta’s slightly less handsome elder brother. He works his way through a few victims, but doesn’t raise pulses, because there are no chase sequences and most attempts at scares are misplaced. There’s no gore either, which is a bit of a let down and the bogeyman doesn’t look creepy and more like a normal kind of guy. There is of course the twist that owes a nod to Psychic Killer and it’s explained away quite sluggishly, but adds to the unusual tone. The main complaint I had was that after so much effort to build the maniac up as indestructible, he is defeated relatively easily and the ending feels rushed and out-of-place with all that went before it.
It is surprising considering the obvious problems suffered on set just how well the cast carry the feature. Michele Little was cute and charming as the final girl and Michael Wyle also did well as her eccentric love interest. Douglas Rowe captured an under-written character perfectly and the only weaknesses were more the fault of a lack of cohesion in the scripting. The exceptionally well-endowed Debi Sue Voorhees adds to a collection of attractive female cast members that Little heads up superbly and you definitely feel that you want the leads to survive.
The plot is riddled with numerous holes and wasted shots that end in no significance (for example what was it with those dolls?) and it has a massive effect on the pacing. It took me two viewing to see it all the way through and I feel that it may be a hard task for less forgiving fans. To be totally honest, Appointment with Fear is not a very good movie and it will not even generate thrills of the so bad it’s good variety.
With that said, I enjoyed its off the wall stance, attractive cast and ambitious gimmick. It’s bad for sure, but has an allure because it is generally off-beat and extremely peculiar.
Final Girl: √√√
Fright Flick 2011
Directed by: Israel Luna
Starring: Chad Allen, Richard D. Curtin, Todd Jenkins
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So what did you slasher fans think of 2011? Thirty-three years after the release of Halloween and the genre is again going through something of a lull. The biggest flick of the year was the fourth chapter in the Scream trilogy, which to be fair was a bit of a flop, but most surprising was the amount (or therefore lack) of DTV entries that were financed by up and coming filmmakers. Now since the success of the original Scream, Brain Damage and the like have been rolling out slashers by the bucket load, but this year it all came to a thundering halt with very few hitting the ex-rental DVD sale section of Blockbusters. It’s become so bad that I’m longing for the likes of To Become One, Camp Blood and Paranoid again. Ok, so that’s an exaggeration, but you catch my drift
Fright Flick was one of those that snuck out last year, but even that’s not entirely proof that there’s still a desire to make these films, as it was completed in 2008. Shot in Dallas on a minimal budget by Texan filmmaker Israel Luna, who had received high praise for his camp cult/revenge flick Ticked-off Trannies with Knives, it was one I had been keen to see.
A group of filmmakers are preparing to shoot the third and final sequel to the ‘Fright Flick’ series, but almost as soon as production begins, there’s obvious animosity and jealousy on the set between the cast and crew. The franchise has something of a morbid history as during the development of the first chapter, the lead actress was murdered by an unseen assailant. As soon as shooting begins, it becomes apparent that the maniac has returned and the people involved begin to die at the gloved hand of the killer…
Many slasher movies have chosen film productions as a backdrop for slaughter and it is as good a reason as any to place a group of victims against a maniacal nut job. Although Fright Flick makes good use of its synopsis, it doesn’t try to blur its film within a film fantasy so much with the slashertastic reality of what’s going on. Cinematically, I guess you could say that this was closest in its structure to that forgotten entry, Return to Horror High, but it’s hard to tell if that’s intentional or not. There have been so many parodies by now of the flicks of old that at times it feels like there are no ideas left to mock. Luna’s self-penned script however gets the mix of humour and horror spot on, by keeping the references flowing but restricted to only a couple of major genre pictures. The hints are so subtle that at times I was unaware if they were deliberate or not, but then in the final third, the director reveals that he’s done his homework as we see a neat homage to Halloween II, Friday the 13th (heavy) and believe it or not, Pieces. It was delivered with finesse and without giving too much away, I loved the closing sequence and remember thinking, ‘Are they really going to go there?’ Go there they did and it was a perfect OTT and fitting finale.
Israel Luna is a proud member of his local gay community and if I hadn’t just told you that, you’d easily have guessed it by watching this film (and Ticked-Off Trannies most definitely). Almost every male character here is either homosexual or bi and he camps them up to the max, which leads to a few intentional laughs. There are jokes that are targeted specifically at gay film fans, but as a straight guy, I also enjoyed them. There’s pretty much something here for all genre enthusiasts and if you keep in mind that the first thing(s) on-screen are an enormous pair of silicone lady lumps in the most gratuitous ‘shower scene’ anywhere ever, you will know pretty much what to expect.
There’s quite a bit of gore too and the opening few murders are creative and fast paced. We get a tripod through the skull, a smart decapitation (one of two) and the most ingenious ‘garden shear murder’ that I have seen for a while. I wasn’t amazed by Luna’s direction; I mean, there were no stand-out ‘wow’ sequences, but the odd trick he pulled off just about worked. The ‘turn on the light’ sequence in the bathroom was well handled and there were a couple of decent jumps. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the sound wasn’t completed on the rough print I watched, so it’ll probably look a lot better in the final release that you folks will see. What was weird was that whilst the first four of five murders were rock and roll, they started to become a bit samey as the film wore on. It’s almost as if the director ran out of budget later and had to take us back to basics.
The performances are below average, but passable, it all looks polished enough and it’s a fun popcorn flick that delivers most things you’re looking for from a slasher movie. So is there anything that I hated? Well, to be honest, no not really. The characters are all unlikeable but it seemed like part of the gimmick, so I can’t really complain about that. There were only very few scares, but most modern-day slashers have lost the art of building a foreboding atmosphere, so it’s become par for the course. It’s called Fright Flick, but there’s nothing here very frightening. In fact, there’s nothing at all. It’s not one for people who can’t forgive the odd goof, because it gets very stupid in places, especially in the way that some of the victims are still screaming/moving LONG after they should have been dead.
This is a straight up new age slasher flick that makes the most of a low-budget and aims to give viewers a good time. I would say that it’s better than Gutterballs that was produced around the same time and if you set your expectations low enough, you’ll probably enjoy some of the cool murders and easy-to-recognise references from one of the category faves. Although I would love to see a modern-day entry that captures the chilling environment that we saw in the likes of The Mutilator, House by the Cemetery and The Prowler, until then this is as good as we’ve got – and by now, I am used to it.
Final Girl: √
Directed by: Tibor Takács
Starring: Jenny Wright, Clayton Rohner, Randall William Cook
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
People often ask how and why I don’t class A Nightmare on Elm Street to be a proper slasher flick and so I thought I’d clear it up once and for all. Firstly, the biggest giveaway is the word ‘slasher’, but to explain in more detail, we have to go back. In fact, we have to go way way back, back to the roots of the genre. What do Blood and Black Lace, Psycho, Black Christmas and Torso all have in common? Well they all had a maniac armed with some kind of ‘melee’ weapon (knife, axe, pitchfork etc) who stalked and murdered his/her intended prey. Halloween made its bogeyman supernatural in a way, but his modus operandi was to kill with non-supernatural appliances. Now Freddy is most definitely a stalk and slash villain, but as soon I saw Johnny Depp get dragged in to a bed with a fountain of crimson spraying over the ceiling, it dawned on me that this has to be clarified somewhere else.
Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion on this subject, but for me, instead of saying that these are not slasher flicks, I would give them a separate category within the genre. That way, the likes of Pledge Night could also get a shout. Here on a SLASH above however it’s all about the ways people are killed that gives a movie the benefit of a review posted by the man himself (well, me!).
All this talk brings us to Hardcover, a film with big enough cojones to walk the fine line between A Nightmare on Elm Street grouping and your more regular catalogue addition. I said in my review of Maniac Cop that not only 1981 was a dandy time for psycho killers, but 1988 was also packed to the brim and here is even more evidence. Hardcover was finished and ready to hit the screens that year, but so as not to put it up against Freddy, Jason and Señor Myers who all had sequels in the cinema, they pushed it back to the following April. The intention here was most definitely to rival Freddy Krueger and the plot adds some fantasy and supernatural touches. The disfigured killer armed with a cut-throat razor however, makes this picture more aligned to its counterparts that are featured on this page than those of the ‘Elm Street’ variety
Virginia discovers a really good novel at the bookstore where she works. It’s called “I, Madman” and it’s about an insane doctor who goes on a kill frenzy in the name of love. Virginia soon discovers that as she turns the pages of the story, the killer is committing the same horrid murders in reality. She tells her detective boyfriend, Richard, but he rubbishes it off, thinking that she is getting carried away. As more bodies turn up around town, it’s left up to Virginia to stop the maniac before he kills again…
Compared to the majority of later entries, Hardcover has high-ish production values and is a wonderful flick to look at as it bathes in its gothic set designs. The action takes place in an apartment building that brings to mind the hotel from Barton Fink and it has an edgy score from Michael Hoenig. For director Tibor Takács, horror is all about big crescendos and false scares and he makes some of them work. What he does very well is take a few slasher clichés and expand them by mixing reality with imaginative fantasy. We have the charming final girl who no one believes, the disfigured killer who only seems to reveal himself to her outside of his victims and the cops who think she’s a loon. But instead of making it a mystery on a surrealist edge so the viewer is unaware if it is all in her mind or not, we share her frustration and know that she’s telling the truth, which allows us to bond with her.
Jenny Wright is good in the role of the bespectacled loveable bookworm with a subtle sexiness and finds the right balance between fearful female and brave heroine. The scenes of her alone, at home and reading her beloved horror stories make her come across just like us slasher fans, who love to indulge in the frightful side of media. Clayton Rohner from Destroyer and April Fool’s Day plays it straight as her boyfriend and they make for an attractive pairing. The maniac is performed by special effects guru Randall Cook, who rumour has it was so impressed with his guise for the bogeyman that he asked to wear it himself. The killer looks creepy as hell and the way he just appears unexpectedly creates a couple of great jump scares. I mentioned earlier that the story juxtaposes the standard trappings with a dose of fantasy, but I won’t reveal the OTT ending for you, except to say, some psycho killers have a strange choice in-house pets!!
There’s some cartoonish goo when the killer strikes, which is fun, but there’s nowhere near enough of it to make this a gore flick. The reason for his spree is because he steals a feature from each victim (nose, ears, mouth) and adds them to his own face to replace what he mutilated in order to look ‘handsome’ for the woman he loves, whom he mistakes for our book-reading heroine. This is a cooler than cool motive and it adds a subtle suspense to the runtime as we wait to see what he looks like after each killing. The effects get better and better too and even though they give the maniac a voice and some lines, he (thankfully) refrains from the comedic quips that we saw continuously in the cycle after the birth of Freddy Krueger.
Some have said that the movie loses some power in its final third, but I didn’t really notice that it dwindles at all. I do often get frustrated when these features overplay the fact that no one believes the final girl’s stories and the Police are always inept, but this one gets it just about right and before long, Richard sees that his girlfriend is not the nutcase that his boss makes her out to be. I wonder how they explained away the aftermath to the authorities though!
Hardcover is a good, enjoyable lushly filmed thriller with some fun set pieces and a nice momentum. It could be argued that with access to such a good budget and strong cast that it could have made more of what it had, but I enjoyed it. It’s never going to be listed amongst the classics, but it delivers more than enough popcorn horror for slasher fans.
Final Girl: √√√
Scream Uncut 1996
Directed By: Wes Craven
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Rose McGowan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When I was growing up on the mean streets of London, I never really shared my love for slashers with the kids that I associated with. I guess it’s because it can be considered a strange hobby. Why do I spend so much money and effort tracking down these rarities? I mean they hardly ever offer any artistic reward. It’s also a topic that can be somewhat misinterpreted. Does the politically correct brigade think it is right for someone to watch horror movie after horror movie? Nowadays I couldn’t care less, but back in those times, it wasn’t something that I particularly wanted to broadcast.
When my girlfriend of the time came around and told me that she’d just seen Scream and I needed to watch it, she unwittingly opened a crammed can of worms that she probably regrets to this day. I revealed to her my darkest secret and took great pleasure in setting up a planned viewing schedule for the next twenty years.
I had an excuse from then on to roll out the stalk and slash collection with lines like, ‘It’s just like Scream’ or ‘Remember, you said you loved that one’. Do you wonder why we are no longer in contact?
We all know by now that Wes Craven’s tribute to the slasher genre reinvigorated the cycle and gave it another gallon of petrol in the tank that would keep DTV merchants in business long after its day of release. Looking back though after all these years, is it really that good? Does it deserve to share the stage with Halloween?
A small Californian town that is still reeling from a ruthless murder a year earlier becomes the target of a masked killer. A group of youngsters realise that the psycho is playing games that follow the rules set out in the movies. Do they have enough knowledge of the guidelines to know what they need to do to survive?
All great horror movies need the right opening sequence. It’s pretty much an unwritten rule. How many truly scary films have you seen that don’t start with an edge of your seat intro? That’s right, there are none that I can think of either. Scream raises the bar from that terrific and startling launch scene and the first victim to get slashed is a seasoned Hollywood star. I remember being intoxicated on my initial viewing, especially with the line, ‘I want you to drive down the street to the Mackenzie’s house‘. It was like all my secret passions were being rolled out for examination for a new generation and it captivated me.
Whilst we are on the subject of rules, Scream is notorious for underlining the majority of them and twisting them inside out to make good use of their repetition. Almost every victim here puts up a good fight with the antagonist and none of them fall foul of making the usual bad route of escape decisions. What sets Scream apart from the likes of Return to Horror High and April Fool’s Day, which also attempted to mock the trappings, is that it pays homage with more intelligence and a higher form of cinematic energy that only an adept horror craftsman could provide. Craven uses every trick in his repertoire and let’s none of them go to waste. Some of the photography here, like the shot of Sidney’s house in the sunset, is breathtaking and I loved the bouncing movement in the looming tracking shots. Despite Craven’s standing in horror as one of the greats, he is not the most consistent filmmaker and is as capable of releasing a big miss (Shocker) as he is of helming a skilled submission (Deadly Blessing). Here he finds the perfect balance of his trademarks and it’s among the best titles of his illustrious resume.
The film’s true quality is in its witty self reference and ability to take each mood to its maximum potential. The gags are fresh and don’t feel overdone, but when Scream wants to be scary, it does so with ease. There’s something foreboding about the way that the killer is always one step ahead of his intended prey and his ruthless ‘games’ take the development of his victims to a new level. These guys don’t want to die and through good acting and smart scripting, you share their suffering. During the first sequence, Casey is dragged to her doom whilst still clenching her phone. When her parents return to the smashed up abode, the first thing they do is attempt to get on the line to the police. What they hear is the dying breath of their daughter who is still connected as she is pulled along the ground. It’s a grimly disturbing set-piece and sets a tone that plays in stark contrast with the lighter moments. The fact that a recognised movie face was the one getting slaughtered gives Scream an ‘anything can happen’ vibe and it continues with its panache for breaking limitations. Newcomer Kevin Williamson’s script is sharp, but is guilty of perhaps expecting a tad too much from some of its gimmicks. With that said, it is never feels underwritten or lacking in continuity.
The performances are excellent throughout, with a career best (in movies) for Courtney Cox and a solid turn from all of the youngsters. I especially appreciated Matthew Lillard’s ‘break all boundaries’ portrayal and Skeet Ulrich handled the different depths that we were meant to see in his character with finesse. What I didn’t like about the movie and it is perhaps due to personal taste was the conceited MTV style of its charecterisations. I much prefer a set up like Freak or Coda that casts its characters as normal everyday folk, because it makes the terror seem much closer to home. Take a walk through your local town on a Saturday afternoon, how many rich, beautiful people do you see? Are they the type that fill you with sympathy? Can you truly relate to someone with a sugar daddy and a smug air of arrogance? Maybe it’s because I am a working class kid that grew up in worst parts of London, but personally I prefer to go for realism. I can’t remember the last time that I felt true bonding with a modern day slasher heroine. Perhaps I am just getting old.
Scream’s comedic style hasn’t aged well and it’s interesting that whilst being the launch pad for the modern day slasher, it suffered the same fate as it’s forefather, Halloween and was blatantly copied to death. After not watching this for ten or more years, the movie had lost some of its impact, but that’s only because I have seen all these tricks more recently in poorer clones. Scream still made my heart beat rapidly, which is a feeling that I’m always looking for, but struggle to find in the newer flicks that I watch. Perhaps my biggest regret is that I never saw this at the cinema when it was first released, because I can imagine it being an absolutely amazing experience, especially for true fans of the genre like us.
This is still a SLASH above when it comes to horror films and shows what can be done with the slasher genre if it is well funded and competently produced. Buy some popcorn and a few beers and give it another blast. I’m glad that I did.
Final Girl √√