Monthly Archives: February 2012
Day of the Ax 2007
Directed by: Ryan Cavalline
Starring: Dustine Ardine, Eddie Benevich, Tina Krause
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Me, I’m one of the few that preferred Jason’s burlap sack to his hockey mask and I am guessing that even if I may be in the minority, I’m definitely not alone. The guise has been re-used a few times throughout the slasher genre, in titles including Malevolence, Baghead, Bagman and The Night Brings Charlie. In fact, Friday the 13th part 2 wasn’t the first to incorporate that get-up and the source of inspiration seems to stem from the proto-slasher, The Town that Dreaded Sundown released in 1976.
Day of the Ax is another that goes for a similar guise and bizarre as it may seem that was enough to make me want to see it. Again we are in the dimension of no-budget regional filmmaking, but as Freak proved in 1999, if such films play to their strengths they can actually make limitations work to their favour.
There are a few good related sites on the web, so when I launched a SLASH above, my aim was to cater for the rarer entries – the little guys, so to speak. Now this was produced in the year 2007, so you’d think that it was fairly easy to track down a copy on one of the many online retail sites. Wrong! At the time of writing, there’s not even one review on the IMDB and I can’t find any for sale anywhere. The likes of Cards of Death or Savage Vows are understandably obscure, due to their age and poor distribution. In this era of digital sharing and duplication though, I have no idea why this one has disappeared.
Three youngsters head off to a campsite to meet with a friend who has invited them up for the weekend. Unbeknownst to them, a masked murderer who killed twelve people with an axe and was never caught still stalks the grounds. They soon bump in to the menace and realise that they need to fight for their lives to escape.
The joys of technology in recent years, means that I can simply transfer a DVD to my iPad and enjoy it on my way to work, which is much better than having to wait until I get home. With Day of the Ax, I had to take two viewings, because my battery ran out before the 20 minute mark. I have noticed a trend in slasher movies that many of them start quite well, but fade around halfway through. I guess that this is because the formula is thin and just one or two good ideas are not enough to extend over a feature-length period. Ax is another of that number, because I was impressed in a big way by what I saw during the beginning, but then it all went round something of a u-bend.
It launches with a prologue that looks like a morbid HBO documentary or a Police evidence video that informs us of the previous murders of local psycho, JR Sorg. It’s a neat idea and even if it’s definitely been used before, I haven’t seen it utilised for a good while. Then a couple of unfortunate woodland walkers get slashed and there’s even one or two minor scares. I honestly could feel the chemistry of an early chapter in the Jason franchise and the bogeyman looked great in that mask as he roared and grunted like a backwoods mongrel.
It’s when the true inspirations of the feature become apparent that we really begin to slide along the slippery slopes of rubbishness. You see, I initially believed that this was another tribute to Steve Miner’s classic killer in the woods sequel, but it turns into more of an homage to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Homage? Actually, make that an unofficial remake with a few lines from Halloween chucked in. When the victims become stranded in the forest, they bump in to the killer’s brother and sister and they’re equally as twisted as the guy in the potato sack. I’m a big believer in Constantin Stanislavski’s philosophy of method acting; however I’m definitely against people watching a character and totally imitating it, which Peter Blessel (who plays JR’s sibling) clearly does. This cast is obviously locals or friends of the director, but they don’t rise to the occasion and their annoying portrayals quickly ruin any tension. The dialogue is also inane and the constant use of explicit profanity is a crime that I’m never willing to forgive. The English language is unique for its amount of word choices, so if you are seriously having to constantly use cusses; it only goes to prove your lack of intelligence, sophistication and most of all awareness of a thesaurus.
Technically we are at a crossroads here. I’m willing to overlook the continuity in the special effects, because the budget is clearly at a bare minimum. Most of them are really bad, but I was impressed by the disembowelment scene. It looks like it was edited at the nuthouse (hold on, judging by the pre-credits it was!) and despite the score being extremely impressive, the overuse of the same sound effect in places took some credit from the composer’s work. The biggest positive (and it’s a big one) is that Ryan Cavalline manages to do what very few can achieve and that is make you jump out of your seat. There are a few very credible shocks and it takes a fine sense of timing to pull those off. As a reviewer, it’s my job to criticise the quality, but I can’t take anything away from the ambition that’s on show here.
Day of the Ax is a poor movie that has moments of credibility, but not enough to deserve a viewing. There should have been more focus on the script, which is rushed and underwritten. Chances for a chase sequence are only created because the psycho family seem to share the gene of tying the poorest knots ever committed to celluloid and this method is re-used so many times that you can only worry about what they did with their shoelaces. This is most definitely aimed at exploitation fans and there’s a lengthy full frontal nudity shot within the first five minutes and some of the latter scenes owe more to the torture porn styling than they do the typical stalk and slasher. In spite of this, I don’t enjoy watching bad actors shout at each other and I don’t enjoy hearing pointless vulgarity. If those things hit your ignition switch, then by all means give this a shot.
Final Girl: √
Cutting Class 1988
Directed by: Rospo Pallenberg
Starring: Donovan Leitch, Jill Schoelen, Brad Pitt
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So you’ve all been told until you are blue in the face by me and others how Scream redefined the genre blah blah. Whilst Kevin Williamson’s script was sharp and clever, attempts at a comedic self-referential whodunit had been on the scene since the late eighties. The majority of them have been forgotten or simply weren’t good enough to grab the success of Wes Craven’s hit.
One of that number was Cutting Class, a film that is often overlooked by genre enthusiasts, because it’s always been easy to find on VHS and then DVD. It will have been seen perhaps more times than many due to the appearance of a young Brad Pitt, who at this point was still some way off his super star status.
An unseen nut job is killing students and teachers at a High School. The murders seem to have a connection with beautiful student Paula Carson, but as more bodies turn up, she realises that it could be someone closer to her than she expected…
Lushly financed and shot with a gorgeous cast of up and coming talent and a couple of veterans, Cutting Class was released at a time when the slasher genre was not much of a draw at all for audiences. Viewers had already seen everything that could be done with the simplistic plot structure and had ambled along to pastures new. This one offers nothing particuarly adventurous, but packs just about enough to please fans looking for a period piece of slashertastic action.
You can see what they were attempting with the story, which focuses heavily on the mystery of who it is that’s committing the killings. Could it be Brian Woods who has just been released from an asylum and looks the most likely? Maybe it’s the possessive and aggressive Dwight Ingalls, who in typical slasher fashion shows no redeeming moral features? Or perhaps it’s the creepy caretaker who hangs around muttering about being the ‘custodian of lives’? The screenwriter tries hard to throw as many red herrings in as possible, but the revelation still lacks punch. Between all this we have a teen romance between the three leads, which engulfs much of the runtime. We do get numerous killings, but they are rushed and gore free, so at times it’s easy to forget that you’re watching a horror film. I still liked the way they were conveyed, especially the gruesome demise of the art teacher and the twin murder during a basketball game. There are attempts at humour to stop the pace from dissolving, but the film rarely hits a crescendo as either a horror or comedy feature.
The picture quality is superb with a lot of bright colours and the performances are good enough all round. Brad Pitt had his moments, but was outshone by Donovan Leitch, who built audience sympathy with his portrayal of a misunderstood loner. Jill Schoelen was cute and naïve as the gorgeous goodie goodie heroine and although underused, the campy turn from Roddy McDowall was a nice addition. Like many of its eighties colleagues, Cutting Class is unbelievably cheesy and sometimes a tad too silly. Despite missing people, bodies turning up on a daily basis and a killer on the loose, the Police presence is non existent and the fate of William Carson III is beyond logical explanation.
Rospo Pallenburg had been a screenwriter prior to the shoot and somehow worked his way in to the director’s chair for this. His style is lacking invention and bland however, which is no doubt the reason behind his short career thereafter. In the case of Cutting Class, I can’t help but wonder what it would have looked like in the hands of a more creative filmmaker. People like Scott Spiegel or Skip Schoolnik would have jumped at the chance to utilise a budget and cast like this, and both were active around this time. Thankfully the momentum is kept afloat by the energetic performances and an overdose of OTT eighties fashions.
When I sit down to watch a slasher movie, I think of a checklist with the most important box being, ‘Am I having a good time’. Cutting Class is a fun time waster that you’ll easily forget, but enjoy while it lasts, which means that there’s a good time to be had. It even has a moral to its story that says, ‘stay at school’, which is ironic as it is flicks like these that I used to skip class to watch.
So, we have the cinematic equivalent of a McDonald’s Double Sausage and Egg McMuffin. You know that it is a calorie extravaganza, but when you are heavily hungover, nothing hits the spot quite the same. Cutting Class is not dark enough to be memorable, but thanks to a fantastic leading lady and an all round interesting cast, it’s worth dusting off to take a look at. We would see Ms Schoelen again in Popcorn, before she disappeared, which is a shame because she should have done much more
Final Girl: √√√√√
Frat Fright 1991
aka Happy Hell Night aka Hell Night
Directed by: Brian Owens
Starring: Charles Cragin, Frank John Hughes, Laura Carney
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Before we get started, I feel I have to tell you that Frat Fright is Happy Hell Night (released in the UK simply as Hell Night) from 1991. Unfortunately, a lot of web sites have them listed as separate features and to add to the confusion one print says that it was directed by Brian Owens and the other by editor David Mitchell, but they are exactly the same movie. I already owned the UK VHS of Hell Night and bought this after seeing it on eBay, because I thought it was a rare gem. It even had two listings on the IMDB back then, but they deleted the one for Frat Fright, which means my review that I posted under that flick also disappeared.
It was a joint development between Canada and Serbia (then part of Yugoslavia), with thirteen producers working on the concept. THIRTEEN – I mean that must be some kind of record. The shoot wasn’t the easiest and saw Brian Owens heading over to film some exteriors in Eastern Europe, whilst Mitchell did other parts in Canada. This must be the explanation as to why each has a director’s credit dependent on the version, but I still haven’t managed to discover why it had two releases on different labels.
The synopsis of a killer priest stalking teens is pretty much a duplicate of Deliver us from evil (Prom Night 4), but it’s impossible to say whether it was coincidental or not because they were released around the same time. As both were Canadian productions, it’s hard to believe that it was just a twist of fate, but I have browsed everywhere and with very little information available, I can find no obvious link. Continuing in a vein started by its counterparts from the eighties, there’s an early appearance from a ‘soon to be’ superstar. In this case it’s a young Sam Rockwell, whose emotional four-word performance must have made an impression on some of the right people, because his career took off at the speed of a Concorde soon after. Also here is a young Jorja Fox AND Frank John Hughes!
Phi Delta Fraternity has a dark secret. 25 years ago a deranged priest murdered and mutilated 7 college students and a local girl on campus. The killer was caught and remains imprisoned in a local asylum. The massacre has been kept under wraps and has become the stuff of urban legend. Now in the present day, Eric Collins (Nick Gregory) and a group of fun-loving frats are preparing for the annual hell night celebrations. It’s tradition for the local colleges to hold a competition where an award is given for the best prank performed by a pledge from each faculty. Phi Delta has held the title for the past three years and doesn’t plan on loosing it tonight. When the kids find out about the gruesome slayings from a quarter of a century earlier, they decide to send in Sonny (Frank Hughes) – Eric’s younger brother – and Ralph to take a photograph of the psychopath in his cell. You don’t need to be a genius to guess that things don’t go exactly to plan and the wrong person leaves the institution. So with a psycho-priest heading for the campus where so many kids are partying, what will become of the celebratory frat boys and their friends?
Frat Fright starts with some familiar `he just sits there… waiting‘ dialogue that will immediately lead you to believe that this is just another Halloween wannabe. But in fact, Owens bolts on a few spicy supernatural shenanigans that add an innovative twist to the standard plot outline. Although the talk of spells and re-animation is a little far-fetched to feel anywhere near believable, he earns credibility for – at least – trying something a little different. In the prologue scenes, Father Cane (Irfan Mensur) finds Malius splashed in blood and holding dismembered body parts in a dimly lighted basement. It’s shot so well that it looks incredibly creepy and I was impressed at how quickly the film had built a subtle tone of menace. When the killer priest tries picking off the last four teens in the dark mansion one by one, the pace gets taut and we are treated to some subtle shades of tension. There may be a lack of experience in some of the more technical elements, but a few impressively planned shots and good use of the shadows from the director manage to keep you on your toes and away from the eject switch.
Aside from a lack of professional lighting, the (thirteen) producers manage to overcome the small funding extremely well. There’s some cheaply entertaining gore, which includes hands and arms getting ripped off and one murder ends rather sharply in this version, never showing us the results, which possibly means that it suffered at the hands of censorship intervention. I never expect great performances from a cheap slasher movie and Frat Fright is no exception, because most of the characters come across as amateur and poorly coached. You’d think they could have made the most of their Serbian connections to cast more gorgeous Slavic women to up the eye candy factor, but we only get a few minutes of Tatjana Pujin and Gala Videnovic doing very little. Fans of T&A will get their fulfillment though, because there’s the usual amount of bouncing lady lumps.
What I found most disappointing about Frat Fright, and it’s something that I rarely enjoy in latter entries, was the killer’s unnecessary one-liners. They work in a movie like Nail Gun Massacre, because the film itself is so unintentionally comical that they never feel out-of-place. This had a chance to be something that’s nearly impossible to find in a horror movie lately – scary, but the poor attempts at humour ruined any chance for the director to make the most of his admittedly threatening bogeyman. A psycho priest as an antagonist has been used a few times, most recently in Deliver us From Evil and Goodnight Godbless. I would say that Frat Fright’s Zachary Malius is the scariest of those bogeymen, because his bulging black eyes and aura of invincibility give him a powerful presence. It’s a shame that the chirpy quips ruin his impact and I truly believe that they made a mistake with that approach
We learn later that a host of murders were committed off-screen (budget related?), so we are left with the final girl stumbling across some of the corpses when she arrives on the campus. The ones that we did see were quite sharp and gory, so I would’ve liked a few more. Some of you may find all the wizardry that begins to surface towards the end a little tiresome and yes, the way that they finally get rid of the formerly unstoppable maniac is laughable to say the least. It’s also paced like a documentary, so prepare for a lot of nonsense from (bad) actors talking about macho stuff.
Frat Fright isn’t by any means an awful effort, but I wouldn’t rush to watch it again. It’s another example of potential not being realised, which is a shame. There are many better entries floating around
Final Girl: √√
Nine Lives 2002
aka Nueves Tumbas aka The Terror
Directed by: Andrew Green
Starring: Paris Hilton, Amelia Warner, Rosie Fellner
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
* This is an update of a review that I posted in 2006
Whilst staying at my buddy’s house recently, he showed me a film starring Paris Hilton that left me overwhelmed by her talent. What a performance! From start to finish she was totally convincing and she certainly had feelings for the, err, part. No, in case you’re wondering, it wasn’t Nine Lives. Actually it was her starring ‘roll’ in that other movie, which probably grossed a damn site more worldwide than this British slasher flick ever would. Now I’m no expert on porn actresses. I never really went through that whole top-shelf magazine/video phase. Perhaps it was because ever since I can remember I’ve been in one relationship or another? Or maybe it was because I got married at the tender age of 21? Now I’m 31 and still haven’t got much knowledge on all things X-rated. I do however, have a fairly good eye for talent, which has served me well throughout the years of enjoying cinema. I soon realized that if this feisty young heiress could show that much conviction, dedication and (ahem) experience when the camera is concentrating on her face…well…who knows?
I first learned about Nine Lives from an extremely generous preview in Empire magazine late 2002. After that the movie mysteriously seemed to vanish and I heard nothing more until I came across the DVD in Sevilla under the alias title Nueves Tumbas in summer 2004. To the best of my knowledge this wasn’t released in Britain until June 2005, which seemed like a long delay for a home-grown movie. In fact it graced American shores at least a year before it hit UK shelves. I couldn’t track down any information anywhere concerning the belatedness of Andrew Green’s début feature. I can only assume that not many distributors were rushing to pick it up for release?
Nine high school pals head to their friend’s remote mansion in Scotland to join him for his birthday celebrations. Emma (Rosie Fellner), Lucy (Vivienne Harvey), Jo (Paris Hilton), Laura (Amelia Warner), Linda (Maureen Turner), Tim (Patrick Kennedy), Andy (Ben Peyton) and Damien (James Schlesinger) are soon joined by Pete (David Nicolle), who was late arriving due to a hazardous snow storm that is crashing against the secluded house. (British weather, eh?). The group is pleased to be together again and they spend hours drinking and reminiscing over old times. As the evening gives way to a severely rain beaten night, the drunken youngsters decide to retire and sleep off all the alcohol.
Before they have even had the chance to turn out the lights, the tranquillity is shattered by an ominous scream. On exploration, they find Jo’s mutilated corpse sprawled across the bathroom floor. It seems that there’s a maniacal killer amongst the group and he’s intent on making this the last reunion they’ll ever share. But these ‘friends’ have known each other for years, surely there’s no motive for mass slaughter amongst them…?
Nine Lives starts really well. The location is fairly alluring, the characters interesting and Green manages to pull off a decent early shock. It’s somewhat of a surprise then that as soon as Madame Hilton checks her Gucci bags out twenty minutes into the feature things go downhill…DRASTICALLY. It seems that Ms Moneybags’ on-screen demise starts a chain reaction of bad-movie-syndrome that doesn’t take long to completely engulf the entire feature. You’d think that nine victims would be more than enough to pad out an eighty-minute runtime, right? Unfortunately, the murders are so poorly constructed that it doesn’t take too long for things to start feeling horrendously humdrum. The uninspired lead performance from Amelia Warner didn’t help and the rest of the cast seem to spend too much time standing around and staring blankly at the camera as if they’re thinking, “What do I do next? What’s going on? Why am I here? HELP!”
I’m going to give away the crux of the plot, which isn’t really a spoiler, but if you don’t want to know then stop reading now. Ok, so it seems that the spirit of an ancient Scotsman that was tortured by the English during the invasion of his homeland many years ago has taken possession of one of the kids in order to get revenge on the three lions. So we have a deranged Scottish killer that wants to bump off anyone that has the heritage of his southern neighbours. Fine. But if that’s the case, please tell me why does he kill Paris Hilton –you couldn’t get more American – first? Perhaps he had seen what Mel Gibson and Randall Wallace did with Braveheart? When it comes to plot holes, Nine Lives is the cinema equivalent of a kitchen sieve. You’ll be screaming at the screen when Warner manages to work out the killer’s methods and motives from nothing more than a couple of scrappy pictures. The dumbfounding actions of the majority of the characters shows an embarrassing lack of thought from the rushed screenplay. It closes with the kind of dialogue that I presume was supposed to stick in our memory long after the credits have rolled. The thing is, it’s written so shabbily that it’s more hilarious than it is thoughtful. Kind of like an ambitious seven-year-old wrote it for a homework project. There’s no gore, suspense or attempts at building tension and by the 45-minute mark, the whole movie feels like a line of dominoes on the eve of a hurricane. By the 46th, the wind has most definitely blown.
It’s a shame, because trchnically, Andrew Green is a fairly talented director. You also have to give him credit for managing to get Paris Hilton to come all the way to Hertfordshire for a cameo, just a few months before 1 night in Paris was about to make her a superstar. He certainly picked the right time to offer her a contract. With that said though, his screen writing abilities are non-existent and next time that he’s hired to direct a feature, he should make sure that the script is someone else’s. Unfortunately Nine Lives is yet another British slasher-failure to add to the list.
I guess I’ll just have to wait a bit longer to see if Hilton can match the skill of that (ahem) breathtaking breakout performance…
Final Girl √
My Super Psycho Sweet 16 2009
Directed by: Jacob Gentry
Starring: Julianna Guill, Lauren McKnight, Chris Zylka
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The old school horror enthusiasts that lived through the golden age of the slasher flick are not the biggest fans of the newer wave of entries. With their rock video fast cuts, silicone implanted heroines and perfectly groomed cast members, these modern additions are now categorised as, ‘MTV horror’. The term applies even if they have no production link to the popular TV channel, so imagine what would be made of a slasher that had been developed by MTV themselves.
As the company has expanded with popularity over the years, MTV has moved away from focusing solely on music and has entered the competitive worlds of drama, movies and reality television. My Super Sweet 16 is one of their more popular reality shows, which takes a look at money no object kids and their lack of grasp on the struggle of the everyday person that goes about their life on a modest budget. It conveys how mega rich parents move the earth and galaxy beyond to fund elaborate parties for their children’s sixteenth birthday bashes. Even if the show is fairly rubbish (boasting a 1.9 rating on the IMDB), it is an interesting social study of how the other half live.
What better way would there be for MTV to poke its tongue out at the critics of the style that it’s accused of inadvertently creating, by taking the level of conceitedness to the maximum and making a motion picture version of that reality hit. In an attempt to rekindle the vibe brought to the screen a decade earlier with Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend and the like, My Super Psycho Sweet 16 chucks a masked killer in with a bunch of heavily pampered youngsters and goes for the jugular. It was a brave effort from the channel and one that I guess that they knew would meet with disapproval from those already against their input to the styling of current horror
It’s rolling up to Madison’s sixteenth birthday. Her dad has pushed the boat and re-opened the local Roller Dome, which was closed many years ago after a young girl’s father murdered a group of teenagers at a birthday party. The killer’s daughter, Skye, is now at school with Madison, but the pair don’t get along due to Skye’s chemistry with Madison’s ex-boyfriend Brigg.
On the night of the party, Skye and her friend decide to gate crash the celebration. Unbeknownst to them, a maniac in a mask has the same idea and the blood begins to flow…
As you had probably expected from an MTV picture, My Super Psycho Sweet 16 has a well-produced soundtrack, some slick production values and a generally polished look. The director makes good use of the Roller Dome location, but unfortunately he didn’t include any ‘roller skate’ related appliances into his murders like that other recent gore-fest Gutterballs had done so well with the bowling theme. I was hoping maybe for a rehash of the notorious ‘skate and slash’ sequence from Curtains, but you can never be sure nowadays if directors like Jacob Gentry have even seen such classics or if the first slasher that they experienced was Wes Craven’s Scream. There’s no real attempt to add anything to the traditional trappings and the script remains content to stick to the rulebook, which is absolutely fine by me. Despite this being a TV movie, the unrated cut has a few gruesome killings with decent effects and there’s a neat decapitation, which sees a body with a spurting stump stumble straight in to Madison’s exhibitionistic birthday cake. Much earlier in the runtime, there’s another decent gore scene, which sees a pool cue rammed through the head of a youngster. On top of that, we get a couple of solid suspense scenarios and the killer has a brilliant cape and mask combo.
Super Psycho is not the travesty that many would have expected, because it shows its intelligence by poking fun at the modern stereotypes that it knows that it will be accused of creating. The writers succeed in making the characters so awfully arrogant that you actually want them to get splattered and you can smile when indeed they do; viciously. Lauren McKnight was good enough in the role of the final girl and I liked Matt Angel as the geeky Derek too. Julianna Guill makes the most of turning Madison into a horrendously spoiled brat, which was the whole idea, so kudos to her for making the right moves. In fact, the entire cast did a good job with what they were given and there’s never a weakness that can be blamed on bad dramatics.
Whereas Halloween was not a whodunit, the modern day slashers are almost always given a mysterious angle to add depth to their storylines. I thought that I had worked this one out, but it was not as simple as I’d initially envisioned and I guess it could be considered rule bending against the more recent theme. Again, that’s ok with me, because it was done well. The momentum wilts a bit during the mid-section, where we get an overload of teen-romance and character development. It’s not as boring as it could have been though and things flow quite fluidly throughout. I really wanted to know who was under the mask by the time that the conclusion was upon us and I haven’t had that feeling to such an extent for a while.
I can’t really compare Super Psycho to the old skool slashers, because it is in every sense of the word a modern day take on the formula. It seeks to be classified alongside Scream and the like and it sits amongst them quite comfortably. If you hated I know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend, then don’t bother with this, but I think it offers what teeny boppers need without totally disrespecting slasher fans that have been their from the start. There was surprisingly very little that I could find to dislike and you have to admire the fact that the producers took on a minefield of expected criticism and dealt with it successfully.
Final Girl √√
Mark of Cain 1985
Directed by: Bruce Pittman
Starring: Robin Ward, Wendy Crewson, Anthony Parr
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Brothers and sisters have played a big part in the slasher category ever since its launch. Starting with The Communion in 1976, the number of titles that have incorporated sibling rivalry and mistaken identity into their plots is almost vast enough to warrant a specific sub genre. Attempts such as Just Before Dawn, Nightmare at Shadow Woods, Happy Birthday to Me, The Initiation and Blood Link have all interwoven family bonds to boost their plot lines. Mark of Cain was one of the last cycle entries to use that structure and somewhat bizarrely, it’s also one of the least recognised. Released in 1985 this Canadian thriller never gained much exposure and despite an inviting premise, it rapidly disappeared.
For a thespian, one of the greatest challenges is playing two separate personalities in the same feature. Jeremy Irons and Nicholas Cage were excellent in Dead Ringers and Adaptation respectively, whilst John Lithgow boosted his status after his outstanding quadruple-faced portrayal in Raising Cain. Here Canadian character actor Robin Ward plays two identical twins; one good and the other is dangerously insane.
The plot takes place predominantly around an old and eerie mansion in the Canadian wilderness. It opens with a female searching the snow-laden surroundings for either of the twins that occupy the creepy abode. As she turns a corner, she is suddenly grabbed by an unseen menace and dragged inside the house. She screams and struggles, but the violent aggressor repeatedly stabs her, spraying her blood over the room’s décor. Sean, who we later find out to be the sane member of the siblings, arrives in a car with his neighbour and hears the commotion from inside the mansion. He frantically breaks open the door and follows the blood stains out into the backyard, where he discovers the woman’s mutilated corpse nailed to a tree.
Fifteen years later and Michael is still locked in an asylum for the murder in the opening scenes. His brother Sean comes to see him regularly, but since marrying his girlfriend, the visits have decreased, much to Michael’s anger. Sean finally arrives and informs his brother that he needs to sell the mansion, simply because he doesn’t have the funds to keep it. Michael reacts angrily and brutally escapes the institution, with the intent of reaping revenge on his more fortuitous twin.
It took a long time for me to track down a copy of Mark of Cain, simply because it has never been re-released since its initial VHS outing in 1986. Usually when a movie disappears, it’s never without a good reason, but fortunately that isn’t the case with this taut psycho thriller. Cain opens with some impressive vigour and in places the film builds a credibly suspenseful atmosphere. Bruce Pittman’s energetic direction consistently shines; and mixed with some impressive cinematography from John Herzog, the scenes flow fluidly throughout. Although Robin Ward can never be credited in the same bracket as Nicholas Cage, Jeremy Irons or even John Lithgow, here he delivers a decent performance and Wendy Crewson is impressive by his side.
Michael is viciously malevolent as the psychopath and there’s a hint of ritualistic evil to his murders, which is never thoroughly explained. Satanic imagery is strewn subtly throughout the feature without verification, but the movie never digresses into anti-religious melodrama. In one scene he murders an unfortunate extra and then places his body under the wheels of a vehicle before driving over the corpse and then reversing continuously. Despite the fact that Mark of Cain doesn’t boast the hugest of body counts, the grim and macabre flair of the murders is satisfying enough for all blood fiends.
The film’s only problems lie in its failure to take advantage of the benefits of an ambitious plot. An excellent opening eventually gives way to a mixed and bland conclusion and it seems that when the inevitable plot twist arrives, it’s handled somewhat clumsily. The flamboyant direction is hindered by an inane musical accompaniment and at times there’s an obvious lack of lighting.
It’s somewhat refreshing to finally view a rare slasher movie that doesn’t thoroughly disappoint. Mark of Cain may not be an excellent film, but as far as obscurities go, it’s definitely better than the usual plop that lands on my doorstep. Energetic, well-acted and engaging, I recommend that true genre fans track this one down.
Final Girl √√√
Nightmare on the 13th Floor 1989
Directed by: Walter Grauman
Starring: Michele Greene, James Brolin, Louise Fletcher
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s easy to understand why making a TV horror movie is immediately a tougher task. You can’t rely on gore when you have to stick within suitable viewing material regulations and you need a deft touch for building suspense through imagery and music. Of the many slasher movies that you’ll read about on this site, only very few are actually scary. The rest are either complete rubbish or have utilised extreme gore or other such methods that are unavailable when you’ve shooting for a TV audience.
That’s not to say that you cannot make a decent horror flick with restraint. Littered throughout the slasher grouping, there are a few fine examples for your perusal. Firstly, Dark Night of the Scarecrow from 1981 is a very good thriller with a sympathetic synopsis and some brilliant shocks. The same can be said for Chimera, which isn’t even a feature-length title and was actually a miniseries that fitted nicely within the category. It was later released in a condensed film version under the title, Monkey Boy. Also, would you believe that Home for the Holidayswas planned initially only for broadcast? But for every Mila Kunis there’s a Kim Kardashian and the likes of Deadly Lessons and Too Scared to Scream were begging for an injection of x-ratedness. Nightmare on the 13th floor was a very late entry to the slasher wagon and being released on the heels of censorship’s most stringent decade in the Western world meant that the odds were stacked heavily against it.
A bubbly and ambitious columnist travels to the West coast to do a review on the Wessex Hotel. When she arrives, she witnesses a murder after bumping her head in the lift, but later cannot be sure if she imagined it or not. Soon after, people begin disappearing and the young woman believes that it could have something to do with the concealed 13th floor. The Police do not believe her stories, so it’s left up to the journalist to convince them to solve the mystery.
Now I have mentioned a few times on this site that aside from being a slasher fanatic, I’m also a mad Gooner and for those who live outside the UK that means I support the soccer team, Arsenal FC. At the time of writing, Barcelona are the most consistently successful team in Europe and they’ve broken records for their scintillating football and ability to retain possession. Arsenal used to win stuff too, but nowadays due to a dictator-like ownership and a coach that has gone insane, we are going through a dry patch and are more renowned for our slick passing. Because of this, we have become known in some sectors as Barcelona-lite. Nightmare on the 13th floor could share that labeling, as what we have here is summed up perfectly as ‘slasher-lite’. It’s one of those that I wasn’t sure about adding to this site, but it does have an unseen axe-murderer and a whodunit plot outline, so I guess it just about makes the grade. It boasts a really interesting cast, which includes James Brolin, Louise Fletcher and John Karlen. I watched this with a female companion many moons back when I was at school and I remember us really enjoying it. Obviously, it is much easier to impress youthful eyes and this time around I was interested in finding out if my opinions had changed after so much time or if I was just a good judge of motion pictures during my teenage years.
The film mixes various classic horror styles, which range from obsessive satanic cults to an obvious stalk and slash homage, but it is most definitely closer aligned to a murder mystery than anything else. What it does do very well is keep up a decent pace throughout the first three-quarters, by offering various twists to the puzzle that help keep interest at a good levell. The viewer is aware that people are getting killed and is alert to the fact that there is something sinister happening behind the scenes with the staff, but the real motive is unraveled neatly. Despite the fact that there’s a whole heap of dialogue and investigative stuff, quite a few victims get trapped on the 13th floor with the madman and so it never gets tedious. There’s one stand out scene that was extremely creative, when a short-sighted girl loses her glasses and we see various POV shots of her blurred vision as she stumbles around and into the hatchet-wielding nut job.
Floor XIII has great gothic set decorations and the director utilises a specific period tune every time that an unfortunate someone stumbles on to the deserted corridor. I liked the idea that there was no escape for the prey when the elevator doors closed and it was a great use of claustrophobia. It’s also mean-spirited as some genuinely nice and undeserving characters get murdered gruesomely. In many ways, Walter Grauman was the perfect director for this. He had previously worked on many notorious TV murder mysteries such as Columbo, Murder she Wrote and Scene of the Crime, which meant that he knew what he could get away with. It is quite clear that he had sat through a few slashers before getting to work on this (check out the Halloween homage. I’ll give you a hint: one of the character’s names.). Add on top of that the fact that it’s sharply edited, has some workable dialogue and even transcends its limitations to even become creepy on occasion.
I mentioned earlier the decent cast, but they’re not really given enough to work with and there isn’t a great deal of chemistry or energy in their performances. The attractive Michele Greene was charming and alluring in the lead without being particularly convincing, and Louise Fletcher was wasted in a nonsense role. The real credit goes to Brolin and Karlen who brought weak characters alive with sharp delivery of their lines, which made a real difference. I have noticed that other critics have said that the film was slow-moving and boring, but I completely disagree. I found myself to be rapped up in the mystery for the most part. But then towards the finale it all seems to fall to pieces due to the fact that it gets extremely cheesy and in effect unforgivably stupid.
Now I could clearly remember who the killer was, which makes it a tad unfair for me to comment on the success of hiding his identity. However I will say that the person that I watched it with didn’t work it out before the big ‘revelation scene’. The motive is fairly good, when you keep in mind that there are many bizarre sects in the world like the Skoptsy (скопцы) from Russia who used to castrate themselves to prevent from sinning. If you consider that, then anything is possible. But when your conclusion can only exist dependent on a sheer lack of logic from everyone involved, it somewhat destroys all the good stuff that had gone before it. Too many of the players are far too dumb in their actions to be believable and the suspense is ruined because the villains are equally as woeful. A whole heap of time is wasted watching them give chase down never ending corridors without putting one foot in front of the other in rapid succession. Otherwise known as ‘running’…
The net result is a feature that should never have been made for TV audiences. There’s enough here for a really engrossing and intriguing slasher spectacular and with a bit of a bigger budget it could have been a hit. Personally, I would take the story, the idea of the lead character, the satanic sheen and the creepy music and remove all the silliness. Then I’d add a bit of gore, some better performances and a director who could deliver suspense when needed and I believe it’d be a classic. Still as it stands, you won’t hate me for telling you to watch it, but you won’t particularly thank me either.
Final Girl: √√√
The Prey 1984
Directed by: Edwin Brown
Starring: Debbie Thureson, Jackie Coogan, Jackson Bostwick
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
If imitation is truly a form of admiration, then Friday the 13th was entitled to carry an ego the size of a Brazilian rain forest during the early eighties. The success of Sean Cunningham’s opus led to an invasion of almost identically themed titles, which ranged from the good (Just Before Dawn) to the rancid (Don’t go in the Woods). Interestingly enough, The Prey was generally thought of as yet another bandwagon jumper, but recent cast-member reports have suggested that actually it was shot in 1978, two years earlier than Friday, but was shelved for a few years whilst finding a distributor. I find this hard to believe as it is CLEARLY borrowing from Halloween, which was released in October of that year. If I had to guess I would say early 1979, which still pre-dates Sean Cunnigham’s opus by enough time to give it the benefit of not being a rip-off. Just imagine, with a little better marketing and a quicker post-production this could have been the one with ten sequels and a remake under its belt. No, seriously!
After a muted release it rapidly disappeared under the landslide of negative media coverage that engulfed the genre during its heyday. Despite some impressive gore, Edwin Brown’s effort didn’t even manage to garner the cult status of an appearance on the UK’s notorious video nasty list, which added vitality to many of its undeserving cousins. Still awaiting a second shot at recognition on DVD, it looks as if Brown’s slasher has long since been forgotten and scrapped to the video graveyard.
The only available version of the feature is missing huge chunks of footage that had been filmed from the original script but failed to make it to the final cut. This includes a background story for the bogeyman’s motives and some gratuitous extensions to the gore scenes. The reason for their exclusion remains unclear and I would be interested to see a director’s cut, although that’s highly unlikely.
After a murderous and appealing opening, we meet a van full of kids that are heading into the forest for a relaxing vacation. They are welcomed by the Park Sheriff who becomes a key player in the plot and a memorable figure in the film’s poor reputation (more on that later). As they head deeper into the woodland, we are aware that they are not alone due to the constant point of view shots from the stalking maniac. After what seems like a lifetime, the killer finally gets to work on the youngsters and it’s up to the lethargic sheriff to come to their rescue.
The Prey is among the most widely panned of the early eighties slashers, which is probably the key reason why it hasn’t yet been offered a stab at secondary acknowledgement on DVD. The first factor that the film’s many critics set-upon is the use of a lot of wildlife stock footage, which digresses somewhat from the ‘horror’ structure of the plot. Although over emphasized, I actually felt that the shots worked well to build the backwoods surroundings of the storyline and I never found it as irritating as many viewers describe.
I said in my description that I would return to the Park Sheriff and rightly so, because he has become something of a cult figure in slasher cinema – unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. His self-confessed ‘phoned-in’ performance sets a tone that’s impossible to take seriously from the start, but he is most fondly remembered for three exceptional slices of unintentionally hilarious cinema. One bizarre piece of script writing sees him telling a rubbish joke to a faun in the midst of the forest, whilst another equally peculiar sequence has him playing a four-minute solo on an ukulele, which offers absolutely *nothing* to the storyline! The third of the trio allows him to share the spotlight with Jackie Coogan as they discuss the benefits of his miniature sandwiches. I was left wondering whether the screenwriter was hoping to get noticed for a later career in comedy.
The inadvertent humour doesn’t end there and the slow-mo chase scene during the climax is pure slapstick that is all the more amusing as it was actually supposed to look rather creepy. And while we’re talking of the climax, I cannot forget to mention final girl Nancy (Debbie Thureson)’s contribution. The Prey, just like many of its brethren, boasts performances around the level of a high-school musical, but Thureson’s portrayal of a woman awaiting her fate from the maniacal assassin sinks to new depths of amateurism. Even this early in the cycle, it’s obvious that directors were picking pretty faces over dramatic credibility.
Edwin Brown attempts to emulate Joe D’Amato’s method of feature pacing, which to be fair is about as beneficial as a playboy using Eddie Murphy’s methods of contraception. The film drags along at the speed of an eighty-year old winger and if it weren’t for the odd inter-cut shot of the heavy-breathing psycho you could be forgiven for forgetting that this is a horror film. The score is a jumbled mix of ear piercing keyboard jaunts that sound like it was rustled up on one of those Casio keyboards that you can buy for children aged 2+ and the photography is limp and lacks energy.
To be fair when the maniac does get focused on the slashing, the murders are lively enough to bring you out of your siesta and John Carl Buechler’s gore effects outshine the minuscule budget. It’s interesting for me that the things that most people criticise, I actually found to be rather credible. It’s almost as if the philosophy here was to build an environment through visual examples of wilderness desolation and a slow boiling climax. The problem we have is that we are not seeing the movie as it was intended to be seen, which means it is impossible to blame the director when a full cut may have delivered a clearer example of his vision. More than likely, this footage has long since been destroyed and deleted and will never resurface.
The Prey is not gonna be anyone’s idea of a classic and it’s not my idea of one either. To call it one of the worst of the cycle though is incredibly harsh and I think it’s worth a viewing.
You know, I used to go to school with a guy whose video cassette of The Usual Suspects ended before the last few minutes of the feature. When I asked him if he liked it, he said, “It’s ok, but who actually was Keyser Söze?” I realise that it might be an extreme example, but that’s why I’m never sure about films that are missing some footage. It’s somewhat unfair to judge them…
Final Girl √√
Directed by: Kimble Randall
Starring: Molly Ringwald, Jennifer Napier, Erika Walters
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Funny how opinions change over the years, isn’t it? I wonder if critics like Ebert and the like watch movies for a second time and find something more that they missed initially? I saw Cut when it was released in 2000 and I was nineteen years old. I had followed its production and had hoped it would be as good as the snippets that I’d read had made it sound, because thanks to some brilliant marketing, it had been covered everywhere that I looked. When I received my copy however, the only feeling was one of disappointment. Was it my expectations being too high? I cant be sure, but this time around, some twelve years later, I had a totally different experience.
On the set of the eighties slasher movie, ‘Hot Blooded!’ director Hilary Jacobs gets tired of the constant mistakes from actor Brad and she fires him on the spot and embarrasses him in front of his colleagues. Later he heads over to ask for another chance, but she insults him even more, which makes him go berserk and he kills her. He is prevented from going on a further spree by the quick thinking instincts of Vanessa Turnbill, the lead actress, who gives him a rapid tracheotomy, which ends in Brad being seemingly electrocuted. It seems however that his death leaves a curse on Hot Blooded and all who try to watch or remake it.
Present day Australia, a group of drama pupils attempt to finish the film for their graduation. They bring back Vanessa Turnbill to co-star and put together a cast, ignoring the rumours of the hex. Almost as soon as they arrive on the secluded location, a masked killer begins to murder the members of the crew. But how can they kill something that’s already dead?
Interestingly enough, I watched this the day after Fright Flick and coincidentally the two features are quite similar. Both place their story on the production of a fictional slasher movie and they have the same smooth blend of graphic horror and witty scripting. Cut is generally considered as Australia’s attempt at creating an entry in to the catalogue of Scream inspired new age slasher flicks, but it actually takes a slightly different route in the delivery of its plot. Whereas Urban Legend, Cherry Falls – actually almost every slasher released since 1996 – aimed to imitate Kevin Williamson’s heavy use of mystery in working out the killer’s identity, David Warner’s screenplay owes more to its cousins of old by giving us a REAL bogeyman and one that we know about from the start. The killer is blessed with a strong presence, excellent guise and neat weapon of choice (a modified garden shear). He stalks and heavy breathes using the methods of old; the ones that Wes Craven didn’t reference when he relaunched the genre. There’s a great sequence when he attacks two characters that have locked themselves in a car and instead of the usual brick through the window technique or pitchfork through the roof, he just takes some gasoline and sets it on fire!
The film that they are shooting incorporates a maniac that wears the same guise and mask as the actual killer, so there are a few times when the characters mistake the psychopathic stalker for their buddy right up to the moment that he draws his weapon and swipes. This leads to an amusing scene when the two ‘bogeymen’ come face to face (or mask to mask) – Guess who comes off worse? In fact, the screenwriter showed a good flair for black humour, especially by doing something that many people with a dislike of corny pop music have wanted to do for years – cut out Kylie Minogue’s tongue. No, seriously! The few players that do live long enough to realise that they’re facing doom put up a really good fight and it makes the deaths more exciting. I thought Erika Waters’ pre-demise performance was great and I was disappointed that she was written out so quickly. She seemed to be a good actress and by far the most beautiful of the females, so it’s a surprise that she hasn’t done anything else since. The dramatics are slasher-standard, meaning they’re ok for this kind of film, but credit to the producer for getting a couple of big names involved, including of course the ten-minute cameo from Kylie. Jessica Napier was good as the brave final girl and Molly Ringwald shows her ability as the spunky anti-heroine, creating a persona that we wanted to survive despite her non-endearing arrogance.
The movie is slickly produced with a good score and neat soundtrack including classic Split Enz hit, ‘I Got You’. The attempt at maintaining a momentum is continuous and the director pulls off some good stuff. The deaths are numerous and creative, but I was disappointed that they didn’t do more with the make-up effects. Cut plays like a R rated feature and lacks the ambition to put on screen the initiative that had been dreamed up during the writing. There’s a decapitation and a neat death where a girl gets her head squished by a large power tool, but you don’t really see any of it and the effects amount too a gallon or so of fake blood. It also gets very silly toward the climax as a character that was presumed dead reappears despite having a pipe through his throat, but the way that they finally stop the maniac is intriguing and well conveyed.
I don’t expect to get scared by slasher films of modern times and I have said previously, they are a similar cinematic experience to chick flicks. Nowadays, We know what to expect and we realise that the acting won’t be great, but we still want to have some fun and see people get squished. Cut delivers as a good time popcorn flick and it does nothing wrong if that’s what you’re looking for. By no means a classic, but I have most definitely changed my first opinion.
Final Girl: √√√
Bloody Pom Poms 1987
aka Cheerleader Camp
Directed by: John Quinn
Starring: Betsy Russell, George ‘Buck’ Flower, Leif Garrett
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
If you’ve sat through as many of these flicks as I have, you can start to guess their year of production by the things that you see on-screen. The slasher genre would see something of a re-emergence in 1988, with some fairly intriguing titles hitting shelves. During ’86 and ’87 though, most were bog standard in their approach, but would pack their shelves to the rafters with attractive women and fun gore. Terror Night, Hide and Go Shriek and Berserker were fine examples of this and Bloody Pom Poms is yet another. From afar it looks like just another standard whodunit/sorority slasher, but closer inspection reveals that it took its bloody fingers out of the pom poms and placed them in a few trivia pies with its production.
Unleashed only once on VHS, it sold fairly well, but became harder to find up until it was given a makeover and DVD release on the Anchor Bay label twenty-years later as Cheerleader Camp. It was popular enough to garner a sequel, which began production, but then inexplicably got a little befuddled and ended up being a completely unrelated (non slasher) picture. I own the follow up on VHS and remember reading on message boards that people were unsure if it actually existed because there was a lack of information anywhere on the web. It’s available now under the title Camp Fear on DVD, but it’s not very good anyway and looks like a cheap patchwork with obvious re-cuts and re-writes. This first instalment however is pure unadulterated stalk and slash with a neat polished look.
A pretty youngster named Alison attends Camp Hurrah with a group of her buddies and her flirtatious boyfriend in order to train hard and become the best cheerleader to win the All State finals. Alison keeps having nightmares of murders that soon manifest themselves into reality. As more people get slashed by an unseen killer, Alison is unsure if it could be her who is cutting down the competition.
There’s a very interesting cast here with the gorgeous Betsy Russell who would go on to become the face of the later Saw series. Amongst the background bunnies, we have two playboy poster girls, with one of them (Teri Weigel) being the only playmate ever to go on to a career in hardcore porn after appearing in the famous magazine. Other actresses that took the highway from stalk and slash to porn include, Ashlyn Gere (Dreamaniac/Evil Laugh) and Denise Stafford (Terror Night).Performing as Russell’s boyfriend is former teen idol Leif Garrett who after a couple of successful singles would disappear from the music scene and never really find the same level of recognition in movies. George ‘Buck’ Flower is also on board playing the creepy camp caretaker and possible suspect/red herring.
The film takes off with some creative photography and a trippy nightmare scene that references A Nightmare on Elm Street heavily. This is a theme that is continued throughout, because the plot attempts to blur the lines between dream and reality in our heroine’s mind. It doesn’t take too long for the bodies to start turning up and there’s some very cool gore from Thomas Surprenent. This includes a gruesome ‘shears through the head’ effect, which may have been included as a nod to Tony Maylem’s The Burning(?) A fairly large number of cheerleaders get sliced and there’s the chance to guess who the unseen killer could be, but you should work it out easily enough and it seems like a lazy attempt to hide his identity.
I wouldn’t call Pom Poms a horror comedy in the traditional sense because it does try to maintain a threatening tone. The script does however put a lot of effort in to fart humour and teen hi-junks during the character development stuff. It tries for the type of comedic slant made famous by Porkies and Meatballs by having a fat practical joker (seen loads in slasher flicks) and a host of sexual quips and tongue in cheek characters. They do somewhat overdo it though, especially with the cheerleader antics and you may get bored by the amount of talk about make-up and bras. A cast packed with playmates and women hired for nothing more than their ability to look good in a bra means that there’s a high eye candy factor and literally mounds of boobies. The dramatics somewhat suffer because of it though and there’s no one here that we really care about. Betsy Russell’s topless horse riding scene in Private School was recently voted as one of the sexiest sequences in film history, but fully wrapped in Bloody Pom Poms, she’s cold and lacks any charm or appeal.
The VHS copy that I own looks lush with really bright colours and crisp shits of the outdoor landscapes. Director John Quinn adds flair to some of the set pieces, but doesn’t really build any suspense, which would have turned the momentum up a notch. In fact the film reminded me very much of 1986’s Hell High, which also transcended its budget to look neat and well made, but just never got to grips with building the horror. The stagnated performances don’t help to develop a genuine sense of involvement and this leaves the film with an unshakeable feeling of hollowness.
Bloody Pom Poms has the odd moment of credibility and there’s some fun to be had with the gore and attractive women. Much like a non-alcoholic beer though, it only warms the taste buds in to knowing that it is a lame substitution for the real thing. A necessary addition for genre buffs, but it won’t turn non-believers.
Final Girl: √√