Monthly Archives: March 2012
Terror Eyes 1981
aka Night School
Directed by: Kenneth Hughes
Starring: Rachel Ward, Drew Snyder, Leonard Mann
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This early eighties addition to the cycle was one of the last of the key period to acquire a re-release on DVD. It’s hard to understand exactly why the digital revolution has ignored it for so long, because it’s certainly no worse than the legions of Halloween clones that have been packaged and then re-packaged once again on special edition discs. Not only is Terror Eyes one of the seventy-four ‘collectable’ video nasties that were unfortunate enough to be banned in the United Kingdom and added to the notorious DPP list, but on top of that, its production boasts some interesting trivia.
Director Kenneth Hughes was not just an ambitious wet-behind-the-ears beginner like so many of his genre counterparts from the period. Instead he was a film-maker with a long and varied résumé, which included a few high-profile efforts. Perhaps even more bewildering is the fact that his most recognised cinematic achievement prior to this violent splatter flick had been kiddies favourite and Oscar-nominee, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Terror Eyes also handed a début role to Rachel Ward, who would go on to become a popular actress in later years.
The city of Boston is being terrorised by a head hunting psychopath. Dressed in motorcycle leathers and masked by a tinted crash helmet, the killer is decapitating his victims and then submerging their heads in water, which leads the Police to believe that he is a ritualistic maniac. Detectives are mystified as to the motives of the deranged assassin and as the bodies pile up they realise that they must move quickly to prevent the terror from striking again.
Whilst this is most definitely a slasher movie, it does steer close to being classified as something of a gratuitous cop-thriller. Usually in these flicks, our protagonist will be either a final girl or a hero of some kind and the Police are written to linger more in the background and turn up only when necessary. In Terror Eyes though, the story is told mostly from the eyes of the investigators and the other players aren’t central to the movement of the plot. It’s during the kill scenes though that the tone becomes far more grotesque, and the violence is at times astoundingly brutal. The killer slashes his victims with a curved machete, which sprays blood over the walls with each slice. Aided by a menacing score from Brad Fiedel, these scenes are intimidating and rampant enough to cast aside any confusion on the scary movie classification.
Horror is different from every other cinematic genre because it offers much more of a challenge to create the necessary tone. Of all the entries that are released every year, not many are really frightening and this Is especially true in such a recognised and overused template as the slasher. Hughes does manage to build some intimidating scenarios and an incredibly tense scene in a café kitchen that sets pulses rising. He also received one of the biggest compliments possible for his work, because Dario Argento was almost certainly inspired by Terror Eyes for his popular eighties Giallo, Tenebrae. Watching the two films one after the other shows the undeniable similarities.It’s worth noting that the majority of the shocks here are built through claustrophobic menace and the film doesn’t rely on exploitive gore. Sure, there’s blood by the bucket-load, but none of the decapitations are shown on-screen and there are no striking special make-up effects.
The script came from female auter Ruth Avergon, which is surprising considering the level of misogyny. In my opinion her screenplay is perhaps the biggest issue with the feature and Hughes’ direction deserved a lot better. Some of the dialogue is extremely erratic and regularly switches from intelligent historical references to nonsensical chatter, which hinders the actors in their attempts to play it straight. It must’ve been hard for them to remain composed whilst reciting lines that are often bemusing. We are given a premise, which tries to hold our hands and walk us through every twist and turn, and it seems as if Avergon underestimates her audience’s intelligence. Rachel Ward, who looks incredible, is extremely wooden and due to the structure of the story, we never really feel the need to bond with her. Drew Snyder is woefully mis-cast as a womaniser and it makes things even less believable. Chuck on top of that a few bizarre inventions (the shower painting scene) and the in-between parts are something of a muddle.
Terror Eyes is an at times stylish and in the same breath daft thriller, which suffers mainly from a huge dose of poor cinematic balancing. It is certainly no classic, but the violent and at times harrowing death scenes make it worthy of a high standing within the slasher elite. It’s one that I have plenty of time for and if you have an eye for the ladies, Rachel Ward will blow you away…
Final Girl √√√
Urban Legend 1998
Directed by: Jamie Blanks
Starring: Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Jared Leto
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So here it is, one of the first ever reviews that I wrote of a slasher movie. I posted this way back in 2001 and wanted to see if I still agree with what I said after eleven long years. I have updated some parts of it, but it’s still pretty much the same… Enjoy!
First things first, there are a couple of things that I have to get off my chest before I begin my review of Jamie Blanks’ much-maligned slasher/whodunit Urban Legend. What caught my attention initially was the fact that it boldly states on the front cover that it’s the: `Bloodiest teen slasherfest to come over from the states so far…’ That, I then thought to myself, was one hell of a bold statement to make. Could it be a film gorier than Nightmares in a damaged brain or Maniac? Could it even be a flick with more goo than Blood Rage, The Burning or the uncut Intruder? If so how did it gain a certificate from the BBFC? Or could it be that the unnamed reviewer from The Sun who wrote that article was trying out some freshly picked highly hallucinogenic magic mushrooms? I’m afraid that after watching this I found that the latter is probably the closest to the truth because although Urban Legend has its moments, gore is definitely not one of the movie’s strong points. As for it being one of the bloodiest of its kind to come over from the states so far? Well lets just say that this must’ve been the first slasher flick that the writer in question had seen, or he must have accidentally watched the wrong film. Who knows?
Secondly before watching UL I was biased into thinking it was going to be really rather terrible after the amount of bad publicity it got from its UK release. Almost every review that I read was warning the viewer to avoid it at all costs. But to anyone, who has got a video library filled with as many, how can I put it, ‘matter of taste’ flicks as me will know that is all the invitation I needed.
After an exciting opening, we are shown a campus named Pendleton University and introduced to a few likely suspects or victims that are discussing the recent murder of Michelle Mancini, a girl that was killed in the pre-credits. The conversation then turns to the legend of the ‘Stanley Hall Massacre’, where It’s rumoured that 25 years earlier at that same college a professor went berserk and off’d ‘a whole floor’ full of students before stabbing himself through the heart with a honey knife. In good old slasher tradition the kids decide to have a party to commemorate the aforementioned kill frenzy, which you know is definitely going to be a bad idea.
Before long a butcher in a parka coat puts in a few appearences and starts working his way through the cast in some pretty imaginative ways. Natalie, our obvious heroine, witnesses most of these murders but of course, no-one else sees them or believes her, especially the somewhat suspicious Deane. As more people disappear, the killer’s motive is revealed and it’s left up to Natalie to stop him.
To be honest, and I’m going to be an individual here, I can’t for the life of me see what is so bad about Jamie Blanks’ first attempt at a horror movie. Seeing how this was his directorial debut (previously he had worked as a camera operator on action flick The Huntsman) I think he’s done a pretty damn good job. I was so puzzled when I had finished watching after reading such bad reviews and thoroughly enjoying it that I rang up two of my friends and invited them to come around and view it with me and my girlfriend. When it was finished I asked what they thought and all three of them agreed it was a good film, one even went as far as to say it was better than Scream.
Each murder gets more imaginative than the next, with the killer going to various lengths to stage his slaughter. All are based on popular urban legends and most of them are burning with innovation. The opening gimmick is brilliant with the way it cheats the audience and who can honestly say that they didn’t jump when Damon bit the dust? I agree that when the butcher’s identity is revealed you are left thinking how did he manage to perform those killings unaided, but that is by no means grounds to say that the film is poor. If you’re watching a slasher movie for sensible continuity, then you’re on a losing team there buddy. What lifts Urban Legend way above average is its wonderful imagination, pulsating energy and ability to make the most of its bag full of good ideas. It also benefits from a haunting score and a strong cast, which were at the time of release mostly unknowns. Jared Leto has since gone on to earn roles in Fight Club and American Psycho, not to mention The Thin Red Line. He is an actor that I have seen many times, but has never grabbed the moment or left me with the impression that he’s an outstanding performer. He does very well here though and shows much promise in his delivery. Alicia Witt is solid as the final girl and there’s a fair turn from Rebecca Gayheart as her bubble head friend. This was made before Tara Reid had developed a reputation as a party girl and was hoping for a career as an actress. She had the look and a good agent, but that wasn’t enough to hide her limits as a dramatic success. I did kind of hope that her character would survive, although I believe that’s more because she’s hot. However, Blanks is quite ruthless with the cast and not many players avoid the assassin’s blade.
We are treated to a couple of effective jumps and false scares and some wonderful flowing cinematography, which keeps the energy level at maximum. Due to the impressive momentum, things also gets ‘edge of your seat’ tense toward the end as you play the game of work out the killer’s identity. The story keeps on twisting and pointing the finger at everyone who appears on screen and you can’t help but carry on guessing. I even enjoyed the OTT motive and even though the actor struggled to deliver a believable portrayal of insanity, the revelation just about works.
So all said and done I think it just goes to show Urban Legend is a matter of taste movie; you’ll either love it or hate it. I must admit that I actually thought it was fairly enjoyable and remains far more entertaining than the one-toned Valentine. Don’t be dissuaded by the poor publicity that circled this one, its well worth checking out.
Final Girl: √√√
Splatter University 1984
Directed by: Richard W Haines
Starring: Francine Forbes, Ric Randig, Dick Biel
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Colleges, High Schools, Fraternities and Sororities have been the most popular stalking grounds for maniacal madmen since the slasher cycle first became a popular cinema culture throughout the late seventies. Even backwoods cabins and campsites have rode shotgun to the amount of massacres that have taken place on campus. From early entries like To all a Good Night right up until the big budgeted schlock of titles like Urban Legend or Murder University, there’s usually always been a campus slasher lurking somewhere in the pipeline. Despite being picked up by Troma – the titans of B movie badness – Splatter University was heavily panned upon release and never really found an audience. Even notorious hack and slash websites have agreed that Richard Haines’ yarn is one of the worst of the early eighties boom. I always approach criticised movies optimistically because there’s often the chance than a few bad reviews can be unfairly contagious like a dose of the flu, which preempts the judgement of some authors.
It begins in traditional fashion at the place where any movie maniac worth his salts emerges. Yep you guessed it – an insane asylum. It seems that one of the inmates has decided that he’s unhappy with the level of service at the institution and therefore he’s looking to take his business elsewhere. The unseen nut-job makes his break after stabbing an unfortunate orderly where the sun certainly doesn’t shine. He obviously favours the dress sense of the murdered worker, so he takes the liberty of borrowing his uniform – blood stained trousers and all.
Three years later, we transfer to St Trinians College, an educational establishment that is controlled by catholic priests. A teacher is busy after hours marking her students’ test submissions, when all of a sudden there’s a knock at the door. Before she has a chance to find out what the unseen visitor wants, he stabs her in the chest with a kitchen knife and she falls to the floor in a bloody heap. This of course means that there’s a vacancy at the university and so we’re introduced to Julie Parker (Francine Forbes), the lovable replacement for the recently departed lecturer. It seems that her arrival has inadvertently given the resident maniac all the motivation that he needs to go on a no holds barred slaughter-thon. Before long, students and teachers alike are dropping like flies to the camera shy menace as he stalks the corridors and local areas armed with an exceptionally large blade. Suspicious suspects abound, but can professor Parker solve the mystery of the campus murderer before she becomes just another statistic?
I’m not sure how many versions of this movie are available. The UK’s censored video was released under the alias of Campus Killings, but the US copy that I own states that it’s the complete unedited edition, which could mean that there is an MPAA edited print floating about somewhere? I’d be fairly surprised if that was the case because Splatter University certainly isn’t as gore-delicious as the hyperbole packaging would lead you to believe. A couple of splashes of corn syrup certainly don’t stand up to gore hound’s scrutiny when compared to the likes of Blood Rage or Pieces, so the movie is somewhat over hyped in that department. One thing that many critics have failed to mention is the charming lead performance from Francine Forbes, who ends up carrying the entire picture on her shoulders throughout the 79-minute running time. Despite amateurish direction from Richard Haines, she still unveils some magnificent potential that should have led to the chance of another stab at serious acting under a more accomplished filmmaker. Unfortunately that possibility never came and bottom of the barrel bombs like Death Ring and Splitz certainly didn’t help to nurture a talent that could have improved under the right scholarship.
The rest of the cast members were par for the course of movie obscurity, especially the wooden plank teenagers who for some strange reason acted like they were auditioning for a remake of Grease or The Wanderers. The point and shoot direction couldn’t have helped to build much confidence in the project and the fact that the few signs of potential were undermined by the clumsy handling of the script left the feature effectively unredeemable. Perhaps the only claim of originality to be found in Haines’ slasher is the brave attempt at a downbeat conclusion. Let’s just say that it’s not a twist that I was expecting to witness in a movie that had been so typical of the template thus far. You have to give a high five for the effort, but I felt it was a mean-spirited and unnecessary risk to have taken.
At one point in the runtime, one of the teens says, “Man that Parker bores me to tears…” Well the same can be said for Splatter University, which never lifts the pace above slow motion. With that said though, Francine Forbes made for a delightful scream queen and undoubtedly one that I would have paid to watch again in a similar role. So that pretty much sums up this un-troma-tising ride. Slow paced, shoddy but still strangely alluring; you’d have to be especially forgiving to give it a chance…
Final Girl: √√√
Demon Warrior 1988
Directed by: Frank Patterson
Starring: Wiley M. Pickett, Leslie Mullin, John Langione
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It didn’t take too long after Halloween had kicked off the slasher boom for the category to be cursed by continuous mediocrity. As early as 1983 the genre was already struggling to release more than a handful of decent offerings per year and by ’90 the stalk and slash flick had become pretty much the whipping boy of horror cinema. By that time, major studios were all aware that repeating the tired formula was no longer a lucrative direction, which left it up to independent and mostly inexperienced filmmakers to continue the legacy that John Carpenter had create. 1988 saw sonmething of a resurgence for the slasher genre with quite a few titles released and amongst them were a few gems. Scott Spiegel’s Intruder in its uncut form was a superb gross out classic, whilst Evil Dead Trap proved that the cycle had not yet completely run out of style and panache. William Lustig’s Maniac Cop was successful enough to launch a franchise and we haven’t yet mentioned Hardcover.
It was the continual release of schlock like Blood Lake, Deadly Dreams and The Last Slumber Party that cursed the slasher movie to eight years of obscurity. It finally took the big budgeted flamboyance of Wes Craven’s Scream to provide the necessary resuscitation. Having not heard anything about Demon Warrior before I came across it unexpectedly, I instantly assumed that it was part of the low brow trash that led to the downfall of the slasher phase. But with that said the movie boasts an intriguing premise that sits comfortably beside Camping Del Terrore as another welcome addition to the Native-American influenced catalogue.
A truck pulls up on a woodland road and out step two laughably dramatised rednecks. The hillbilly lumberjacks are only on screen for around for ten seconds and then they are murdered by an unseen menace. Next we meet a troupe of five young adults that are heading to the same location for a spot of shotgun-target-practice on some of the local wildlife. The area is owned by Neil Willard and has been passed down through three generations of his family. His Grandfather stole the land from an Indian medicine man that was rumoured to have left a curse on the property. According to legend, every ten years a Demon Warrior with an extreme hatred for mankind stalks the forest reaping revenge on those he deems responsible for the pilfering of the tribe’s home. It wouldn’t be much fun if those myths were a falsehood, so regular as clockwork a maniacal assassin turns up with a taste for blood. Will the kids be able to stop this phantom killer…?
Demon Warrior is best described as a bigger budgeted (but still woefully cheap) re-imaging of Fred Olen Ray’s Scalps. The bogeymen from both films are virtually identical and the director even throws in a scalping sequence to confirm my suspicions. Things start promisingly with some crisp Friday the 13th-style first-person cinematography and a couple of shock-jolts that were composed with finesse by director Frank Patterson. Thomas Callaway did a good job with the photography and the tribal-drum score makes a refreshing change from the more traditional late-eighties synthesizer rubbish. Flourishes of suspense are juxtaposed with a couple of credible directorial embellishments and there are even a few attempts at humour. The killer looked successfully creepy in demon attire and the inclusion of a bow and arrow as the main murder weapon was a deft touch from the director.
Fred Olen Ray’s notorious slasher was notable for its stark and credibly unsettling atmosphere. Unfortunately despite being produced on twice the budget, Demon Warrior never comes close to the film that it so desperately emulates. Rumour has it that the majority of the actors were drafted from the Texas Baylor University and were not even paid for their inclusion in the feature. Of course it goes without saying that the dramatics are appropriately abysmal. I especially enjoyed the hilarious John Langione – an ‘Italian’ Native American (don’t ask) that portrays about as much emotion as the trees in the forest that surrounded him. Warrior started with some credible glimpses of panache from the director that actually led me to believe that this could be a welcome inclusion to the slasher index. Unfortunately, the poisonous cocktail of limp dialogue and an ending plucked directly from stupidsville seriously changed the initial plan I had in mind for a rating. It’s a shame that the dramatics were so scraped from the bottom of the thespian barrel, because at times Demon Warrior showed flashes of potential.
All in all, Patterson’s movie is a mixed bag of ideas – some of them were good, but mostly they were staggeringly mediocre. Because this was released at a time when the slasher genre had been watered down to avoid the scissor happy censors, there’s really no gore worth mentioning. Even the scalping sequence is relatively tame compared to Olen Ray’s graphic depiction. It may not be quite as bad as the aforementioned Deadly Dreams, Blood Lake et al, but not really THAT good either….
Final Girl: √√
Directed by: Gorman Bechard
Starring: Frances Raines, Mark Walker, Carl Koch
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Once again we’re in the realms of slasher movies that just about fit the guidelines of the group. As with The Shaman and Grotesque, Disconnected attempts to branch away from the hackneyed likes of The Prowler and Edge of the Axe without straying too far from the stalk and slash rulebook.
After the credits have rolled we meet Alicia (Francis Raines) the protagonist of the feature. On her way home from work one day she finds an elderly man hanging around mysteriously beside her apartment. Sympathetically she allows the stranger to come inside and use her phone, but whilst she’s making a cup of tea, he vanishes from her living room without trace. Later that night, Alicia tells her twin sister Barbara Ann (also Francis Raines) about the mysterious visitor, but she laughs it off telling her sibling that he probably just made a call and left suddenly. We soon learn that these twins don’t exactly see eye to eye, mainly because Barbara Ann keeps sleeping with Alicia’s boyfriends behind her back. Mike (Carl Koch) is the latest in the line of unfaithful partners to get the chop, not only for the aforementioned cheating, but presumably also because he has the worst case of ‘bad mullet syndrome’ that I have ever seen. Imagine a mid-eighties geek with a poodle on his head and you may be able to conjure up your own visual image.
Down in the dumps and on the rebound, Alicia meets up with a guy named Franklin (Mike Walker) and agrees to go out on a date with him. Franklin comes across as a polite fellow and he hides pretty well the fact that he loves nothing more than picking up promiscuous women, taking them back to his flat and then slaughtering them with the handy switch blade that he keeps in his bedside cabinet. Around the same time that Alicia meets this undercover maniac, she begins receiving bizarre and frankly quite credibly eerie persistent anonymous phone calls. As the bodies pile up around the city the Police get more and more baffled. Is Franklin the mysterious caller or is the petrified female just a little disconnected?
Disconnected is certainly an oddity of a feature. Almost as intriguing as it is bemusing, it will at times leave you staring at the screen in confusion. After the killer is revealed and dealt with half way through the runtime, the mystery is still un-resolved and to be honest the point of the story remains inconclusive to the viewer. Gorman Bechard’s direction will have you as baffled as the illogical plot line. 88 of the 90-minute runtime looks to have been shot and edited by a retarded gibbon, but then every once in a while he manages to pull off a standout shock sequence that feels out of place amongst the rest of the point and shoot mediocrity. The director’s obsession with wide, spacious and eminently dull backdrops is as tedious as staring at a blank screen and the chapters look to have been sewn together using a chainsaw and a tub of wallpaper paste.
The dramatics from the supporting actors are generally non-existent, but Francis Raines showed flashes of potential. OK, so she’s certainly no Merryl Streep. In fact come to think of it, she’s no Sharon Stone either; but for a breakout performance, I’ve certainly seen worse. She turned up again in the cycle providing the T&A in The Mutilator meaning that she had a short but fairly impressive spell in B movies and there’s no doubt that her sultry sexuality and intriguing presence helped her no end. One thing that is worth mentioning is the cheesy but still rather enjoyable soundtrack, which must have soaked up the majority of the minuscule budget. Look out for the hilarious nightclub scene, which in true slasher cheese on toast tradition shows us why the early eighties will always remain a bad disco memory to those that were alive and kicking at the time.
Bechard didn’t attempt to hide the fact that he was making a schlock-a-lock feature. One character says, “I feel like I’m stuck in a low budget horror film, because some man is going round killing young women!” Another character mentions something about nudity and violence and you can tell that the director knew exactly which audience he was aiming to satisfy. I guess in a way he succeeded, because for all its nonsensical and off the wall ramblings, Disconnected remains worth a watch. Yes it’s confusing, and yes it makes very little common sense; but as an authentic take on the slasher formula, there are poorer attempts floating about. The idea was obviously an ambiguous, surreal openness to the conclusion, but the ambition is ruined by a poor script and a clear lack of professionalism. What it did do though was manage something not many can achieve and that’s a few moments of truly eerie uneasiness. Track it down if you can find it.
Final Girl √√
Directed by: John D. Lamond
Starring: Jenny Neumann, Gary Sweet, Peter Tulloch
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Right, the last review that I posted was the wonderful Italian slasher Stagefright and so I thought in order to add some alphabetical structure to the blog, I would follow it up with its namesake from seven-years earlier.
I said before in my review of Small Town Massacre about producer Anthony Ginnane’s mission to put Australia on the horror map with his Ozploitation efforts of the early eighties. Well it came as a surprise to me that he wasn’t involved with this Sydney based production, although I’m sure he helped to lay the groundwork for its release. Instead, it was developed and co-written by Colin Eggleton who would go on to direct the interesting Cassandra in 1986. The idea here was most definitely to jump on the express train to profit that Halloween had set in to motion and the references are plain enough for all to see. Despite not offering much in terms of authenticity, it is perhaps worth noting that this picture was the first to utilise a theater as a story location, which is something that would be reused in other entries as the genre flourished.
Stagefright or Nightmares as it is also known, has become somewhat of a rare beast and I don’t believe that it has made the transition to DVD or BlueRay yet. I have owned it on VHS for what feels like a lifetime, but funnily enough I’ve only attempted to watch it once.
So it begins with a typical ‘twenty years earlier’ prologue that cancels out any suspicion that this is not a Halloween rip-off. A young girl accidentally kills her randy mother in a car accident and then the credits roll. Move on up to the eighties and a group of actors are preparing for a stage show. Meanwhile it seems that a black-gloved assassin is working his way through the cast with a shard of glass. Who is the killer and what are his motives?
In the González household, we usually cook something really good during the weekend and then use the leftovers on Monday evening for a quickie dinner. It seems that no matter what we have, if you chuck it in to a frying pan with a few eggs and potatoes, it usually comes out really well. Stagefright is a similar exercise in juxtaposition and mixes moods that range from macabre horror to outright peculiarity. It’s an incredibly violent movie with a unique murder weapon. The killer always smashes the nearest window, mirror or glass object and then attacks with a large broken slice. We don’t get much more in gore effects than a splash of ketchup, but the film is incredibly explicit in that a large amount of victims are butchered whilst naked. By this I mean COMPLETELY naked. There’s a sex scene in an alleyway early on that pushes the boundaries for acceptability and there’s another gratuitous moment when the nut job chases a girl in her skin suit out in to the street. I am sure that if released back then in the United Kingdom, this probably would have been added to the notorious DPP list in a heartbeat. You could even call it the video nasty that never was, but most definitely would have been.
The reason for the large amount of bare flesh is because the script takes the have sex and die rule and amplifies it by a billion watts. The cast are a particularly randy bunch and when not actually making out, they are usually sitting around and talking about doing it. One character even tries to bribe another in to the sack with the promise of a better review and all this activity unsettles our psycho killer and kicks him in to action. There are quite a few slaughters that are spaced frequently and at eighty-minutes, it’s too short to get bored. The fact that everything’s filmed in such an energetic fashion means that the mix of a frantic (and very good) score, unnerving screams and some wild photography blur in to something of a horror movie kaleidoscope. Director Lamond shows his inspirations by using countless Carpenter-esque heavy-breath killer-cam shots, which are great for stalking sequences. The thing is that most of the ones that he features don’t lead anywhere and therefore lack impact. Especially the pointless occasions that just show the psycho roaming around backstage. Yawn
The story is structured rather weirdly and pretty much tells us early on who the maniac is, but then utilises the Giallo style of just a black glove whenever he strikes. I was expecting some kind of mega twist or justification for the attempt at a mystery angle, but it looks like the writers may have had second thoughts about halfway through and altered the conclusion. This creates an obvious problem and it’s one that certainly leaves a crater in the delivery of the fear factor. You see, it’s very hard to build suspense when you have a menace that remains off-screen. Only maestros can deliver scares from an assailant that is nothing more than a hand holding a dagger. So why use that methodology if you’re not really hiding the identity of your bogeyman? It makes no sense. Add on top of this the fact that Eggleton seems to have edited the negatives with a pair of nail clippers and what we’re left with is a feature that doesn’t even attempt to hide its technical amateurism.
Even if he may be an awful editor, as a writer, Eggeton excels himself and his hilarious dialogue and intriguing personas are brilliant. I’ve done quite a bit of theatre and can confirm that the featured characterisations are spot on. I once read that celebrities are some of the most non-confident people on the planet and the fact that they’re swimming in a pool of insecurities up on the world’s stage makes them self-centred and narcissistic. The script most definitely touches on that and it means that we can have fun watching them get slashed. And get slashed they do. EVERY single one of them. The performances may not be earth moving and there’s no one really to bond with, but it’s still enjoyable enough to watch.
Ok picture this scenario. You just read my review of Michele Soavi’s Stagefright and so you see the praise that I gave it and go online to buy it on DVD. The retailer makes a mistake and sends you this one instead of the aforementioned Italian classic. None the wiser, you place it your system and hit play. Would you be astounded that I praised it so highly and email me to complain? I would say that probably no. You would maybe question my sanity, but hey; you wouldn’t be the first to do so. My point is that this Australian stalk and slasher is no rancid test of viewing endurance. It’s just that it doesn’t really do enough to make itself stand out. Not a patch on the other entry that it shares a title with, but it will provide you with some cheesy thrills.
Serious collectors should give it a whirl, but don’t go expecting anything outstanding. I mean, it could result in you getting angry, breaking a mirror and chasing some naked bunny out on to the street. I don’t want to be responsible for that dear readers ;)
Final Girl: √√
aka Sound Stage Massacre aka Bloody Bird aka Aquarius aka Deliria
Directed by: Michele Soavi
Starring: David Brandon, Barbara Cupisti, Mary Sellers
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Easily one of the best slasher movies of all time, Stagefright is as close as you will get to a perfect juxtaposition of the trappings that had created their own specific sub-genre throughout the seventies and eighties.
Born in 1957, seventeen-years after his idol Dario Argento, Michele Soavi experienced first-hand the golden period of the Italian Giallo in theatres. His love for these thrillers made-up his mind to move away from his mother and stepfather’s profession of art and he quickly developed a passion for cinema. After a chance meeting with the director who had inspired him, Soavi’s ambition impressed Argento so much that he took him under his wing and gave him the opportunity to be his second assistant on the 1982 hit, Tenebrae. Lamberto Bava, who had also worked on that picture and shared the belief in Michele’s ability, went on to hire him for a similar position on A Blade in the Dark. For the next few years, he continued to build his knowledge by accepting roles either within crews or as an actor until he finally had the confidence and the opportunity to shoot his own feature.
By 1987, the slasher genre, which was unarguably an Americanisation of the Giallo, was no longer only an enemy of critics but a failure with audiences too. This was the case almost everywhere except for Southern Europe, where there remained strong interest and popularity at box offices and on VHS. Soavi had been expected to shoot his début in the style that he had not only grown up with, but worked upon; however he surprisingly chose to create an effort that owed much more to Halloween than it did Blood and Black Lace. Stagefright delivers no mystery as to who is the movie’s antagonist and instead we are given a real bogeyman that much like Michael Myers has no motive outside of a lust for violent murder. The thing that perhaps separates this from almost all of its colleagues from that period is that it’s shot with the panache found more predominantly in European efforts and is by far the best crossbreed of those visions. The filmmaking heritage of the man in the hot seat means that the combination feels natural and takes the best of both methodologies to make an entry that succeeds on every possible level.
A group of amateur stage actors are rehearsing for a production of an ambitious musical. The director is frustrated that his cast are so far behind and one of the financiers is getting hot under the collar with the lacklustre effort from the people he has hired. That all changes however when one of them turns up dead in the car park outside; brutally murdered. The Police arrive and it is believed that the maniac has taken off into the night. After heavy persuasion, the actors decide to stay and continue with their preparation knowing that the events will bring people from far and wide with morbid curiosities. Before long there’s another murder and they realise that they are now locked in the theatre with the killer. How will they survive until morning?
Being that I have worked in sales for over ten years, I have been on many courses and learned from lots of different professionals. I have picked up a great deal of advice, but one of the most prominent messages that has stayed with me is ‘treat everyday like it’s your first.’ When you initially join a new company, you are brimming with motivation to prove that your boss has made the right decision in hiring you. You don’t take five minutes to check Twitter at lunch time and you can’t stop typing and hitting the phone. Soavi, as a first time director shows that he has that same bug for exuberance and every shot feels like it comes from a filmmaker who is absolutely brimming with flair and innovation.
Stagefright is a wonderful blend of stylish imagery and energetic ideas and it is this abundance of mastery that makes it an adept example of bringing the best out of an overused formula. Due to some well-thought out scripting, intriguing personas and witty dialogue, you can enjoy the moments when the killer is not on-screen almost as much as when he begins stalking. There are various notions explored that viewers can relate to, including each of the characters being broke and desperate for money, especially the young couple who discover that they are about to be parents for the first time. David Brandon is absolutely outstanding as the vainglorious and cowardly director and the players are split between those you immediately dislike and the few that you hope will survive. Mary Sellers’ Laurel is a great demonstration of a horrible personality and even with her final breath she illustrates a trait of selfishness that you will come across only too often in reality. I can’t think of any scene more symbolic than when the director mistakes the real psychopath for an actor that sports the same disguise and eggs him on during a rehearsal with lines like, ‘Go on, kill her!’ He then realises far too late that he has just rooted for the slaughter of one of his colleagues. This results in another great twist when the same guy comes across what he thinks to be the nut job sitting in the attic. I won’t ruin what happens, but the film is riddled with a large amount of false shocks and rule bending.
In fact it’s the knowledge of the genre’s typical values that allows Soavi to experiment so wildly. Even though this is by no means a parody, it does enjoy realigning your expectations and catching you out with its off-key hop-scotching through what you think that you know will happen. I like the way that the victims, upon realising that they are locked in with the psycho, decide to grab some weapons and fight back. The screenplay handles all the emotions you can imagine that there would be, including paranoia, fear, anxiety and panic. Even though some bonds are built between the characters, they are quickly broken if they find a chance to push the person next to them ahead in the queue to be slaughtered and the final girl only gets that opportunity because she is knocked unconscious by one of the people who is fleeing alongside her. This flaw in human nature seems to be something that Soavi has much interest in and there’s another sequence where the survivors begin violently shaking a girl who is bleeding to death because she knows where a hidden key is located. It’s an intriguing comment on how high some people value themselves over the lives of others. There are few heroes here, which to be fair seems much closer to the true nature of mankind than Hollywood would like us to believe.
The photography is marvellous and is only bettered by a great use of sound. It is more than a gimick that the killer is stalking a musical, because Soavi attempts successfully to use his fantastic accompaniment to assist in the delivery of the change of moods from scene to scene. Included are some smart opportunities for suspense and a handful of very good jump scares and the owl mask starts out almost comically, but seems to get creepier as it gets more splattered with blood. I can’t think of many better postcards of the slasher craze than the shot of the killer listening to classical music in an armchair on the stage with a black cat on his lap and the corpses of all of his prey lying around him like trophies. It’s so good that it’s almost artistic. The film’s filled with enough blood to satisfy gore fans and the killer works with almost all the most notorious tools including, an axe (Friday the 13th), chainsaw (Pieces), drill, (Pranks), pick-axe (My Bloody Valentine) and every psychopath’s favourite, the bread-knife (Almost every slasher movie ever). Upon consideration, Stagefright could well be just a collection of elements from the following features: Whodunit? (the sleazy producer), House of Death (gut ripping scene), Halloween (the escape), Tenebrae (the ‘look who’s behind you’ trick) and Demons (the location). Then again, maybe it’s just a coincidence.
As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of Michele Soavi’s stalk and slash effort. Although he would never be anywhere near as prolific as his contemporaries, he kept the quality levels high throughout his following filmography. This is by far my favourite of his work and I believe that you will rarely find a better genre movie. It has everything from moments of extreme creepiness (like when the killer and final girl come face to face for the first time) to hilarious dialogue (some of the one-liners are electric). Put it this way, style like this doesn’t come around very often. Not very often at all…
Final Girl: √√√
Blood Reaper 2004
Directed by: Lory-Michael Ringuette
Starring: Bobby Mackey, Cameron McHarg, Alison Moon
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
A massive part of my youth was spent hunting out slasher flicks in video rental stores across the UK and Spain. My mother/friends and I used to take bus and train rides across cities and I would seek out backstreet ‘mom and pop’ video shops looking through the horror sections and then negotiating a fee for the release to take any slasher trash with me. I clearly remember reading through countless covers on the way home wondering if I had found another Halloween. However the films were rarely as good as I hoped and the best fun to be had was in the hunt.
After the 1996 rebirth, the task became a lot easier, because store chains such as Blockbuster would supply a large number of features from low-key distributors as well as the biggest box office draws to hit the rental market. Companies like Film 2000 and Hollywood DVD would unleash slasher upon slasher, picked up for a minimal fee and packaged as the next Scream to unsuspecting audiences.
Thanks to conversations with slasher directors such as Steve Jarvis and Jason Collum, I have learned that most DTV movies are only stop gaps anyway. They are generally picked up or put together by companies who want to package a number of titles and flog them to European/Asian markets, where Western movies are easier to shift. I’ll give you a brief description of the most common methodology and how it works. A US exporter will take one mid-budget feature with a relatively known actor – let’s say for example Extramarital with Traci Lords and Jeff Fahey. They will then offer it outside the US (especially places like Japan) as a bulk deal with a few other flicks that have been developed on shoe-string financing. These titles are the likes of Camp Blood, Paranoid and unsurprisingly Blood Reaper. That’s why there are so many of these released and some even make an ok-ish profit if their distributors are honest with them. The days of self-financing and walking around cap in hand to try and get a print sold are becoming rarer because there’s a market for almost everything and making a film is easier than it once was. I often get asked about Cards of Death, which was released by Sony in Japan on VHS in the eighties, but never got a chance anywhere else. Even though it was shot in the US in 1986 and ticks the boxes of most other SOV pictures of that year, it has become mega obscure and your chances of hunting out are pretty much zero. Why? Well it’s simply because the best offer that the filmmakers got was an international package deal. This meant that it was wrapped up with a few bigger titles and shipped out to Asia.
Blood Reaper was directed by Lory-Michael Ringuette who was also behind the relatively enjoyable tongue in cheek romp Tele-Zombie from 2004. I can’t shake the belief that low-grade slashers are created by fans of the genre that have the means to achieve something that poor London kids like myself can only dream of – make their own movie. That’s not always the case though and as I mentioned earlier, some of this things are made simply as a moveable unit. Here though, Blood Reaper does seem like a tribute of kind to Friday the 13th and there’s no harm in that.
A group of youngsters head in to the forest for a nice relaxing break, however on arrival they are warned of the legend of a killer who strikes whenever there’s a full moon. Before you can say, ‘I knew it’, a gas-masked villain turns up with his trusty blade…
So we all know (or you should by now) that DTV slashers nowadays are usually as well-made as a cup of tea mixed with cranberry juice. But for every one hundred Psycho Wards, the law of average means there must be a Fright Flick somewhere, right? I tend to look at each new example with an open mind, because if I didn’t, this review would be just one line. Blood Reaper may not be much of a movie, but it does at least do a few things right.
Firstly, the score from T Reed is absolutely brilliant and the sound bites are in general extremely effective. There’s a mishmash of ideas, from the killer’s heartbeat to the buzzing of wildlife throughout the forest location. It all builds up a neat horror environment and there’s some cheap, tacky but fun gore effects including a brilliant decapitation and another that you can see in the clip above. Ringuette tries a few adventurous shots, which include some underwater photography and the odd sequence that had been well thought out.
Unfortunately, these few pluses don’t cover up the fact that Reaper commits the worst of all cinematic crimes and that’s boredom. The pace here flows like a Spanish village in the summer at 3pm and a lack of fluidity from the director means that the efficient musical accompaniment doesn’t build any suspense. It also has moments of complete stupidity that are obvious signs of amateurism. We don’t really get any such background on the killer’s motives and various characters/scenes never get an explanation. Whilst I am at it, what the hell was with the guy who turned up only to sing an awful country oddity only to disappear straight after? It’s very funny in an unintentional way, but I’d love to know the thought process behind his inclusion?
Continuity in a slasher movie is never worthy of a magnifying glass, but Blood Reaper feels like it was shot and edited by a retarded gibbon and then just given straight to the distributors without it even being checked. This may sound implausible, but believe me when you are watching a maniac struggling to get at two people that are hiding behind a wall that he could easily walk around, you begin to lose hope. Chuck in the usual amount of cringe-inducing dramatics, non-developed characters and grainy picture quality and you have nothing here but a chance to laugh at some stupidity.
Imagine yourself going to the theater. It starts with a colorful dance sequence with beautiful players and great music. But then as the show begins, everyone forgets their lines and the props fall apart. That’s what level you will get with Reaper, which is no less and no more than a rush-released, uninspired mess. I have been to funerals that are more sharply paced.
At last check, there are 4 copies of this available on the UK Amazon and 3 in the US. That means that there were quite a few produced and put on to the market, so in many ways this was by no means an unsuccessful or risky pick-up by the low-grade labels. Luckily, I’m old enough to know now that funky back-cover blurbs guarantee nothing and thanks to sites like a SLASH above, you can always check before you buy. If you pick up this one from the bottom shelf, do yourself a favour. Put it straight back…
Final Girl: √
Return to Horror High 1987
Directed by: Bill Froehlich
Starring: Richard Brestoff, George Clooney, Vince Edwards
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I bought Return to Horror High many years ago on a budget VHS and it was one of those that I watched, didn’t think much of, put back in its box and left in the bottom of my wardrobe. Recently I began thinking about it again after seeing a program about George Clooney and felt that I should dig it out for a second viewing. I can’t explain why, but I had the feeling that it may have been something of a hidden gem that didn’t get rightful praise first time around. Lately, I’ve found things in movies that I brushed off years ago that I didn’t notice when I saw them initially.
So this is another of the multitude of slasher movies that has a ‘soon-to-be’ star amongst its cast. In fact, there are many fairly good performers here and it’s quite well produced for its time of release. I remember reading a review of the Playstation Survival Horror classic, Resident Evil, where the writer said something along the lines of, “The voice-overs are so wooden, they make me think that George Clooney is convincing.” That seems like an incredible statement aimed at an Oscar-winning (and twice nominated) actor. Back in those days though, when he first appeared on the screen, the general consensus amongst everybody was that he was a pretty boy with zero talent. Nowadays, I can’t think of many better character actors.
A film crew are looking to shoot a slasher movie on the set of a notorious massacre. Crippen High School has been closed ever since the aforementioned killings and the maniac was never caught. As members of the production begin disappearing, it seems that the nut job may well have returned.
What is interesting is that this is most definitely produced with the mission statement of parodying the stalk and slash cycle. Alongside the likes of April Fool’s Day and Evil Laugh, it is clearly a tongue in cheek tribute to the style that had dominated horror throughout the early eighties and it emphatically underlines its self awareness. The film crew are working on a low budget feature and they highlight every possible stereotype from the guide book list. The producer doesn’t care about plot as long as there’s enough blood and boobs, whilst the director is trying to be recognised for the opportunity of a more respectable project and paycheque. Within the first ten minutes, their lead actor quits to take up a role on TV and scenes are rewritten on demand if a performer disappears or they want something a tad more explicit.
Wes Craven’s Screamwas rejected by the MPAA as an R rating nine times initially until Bob Weinstein stepped in and told the board to, ‘Think about it as a comedy’. This completely altered their viewpoint and it was given the go ahead for wider consumption. Return to Horror High is also aiming for laughs, but the problem is that whereas Kevin Williamson’s script was clever and subtle, Bill Froehlich’s goes for an unappealing Troma-esque style of slapstick that just doesn’t work. The goofy vibe fails to combine with the horror and the tone is completely ruined by wasted efforts at inane quips. For example, if you find the thought of someone peeing on their own shoe to be funny then this will rock your world. Me, I am looking for a little more from a screenplay than that.
It also suffers from milking the same idea until it has run bone dry and then doing it again all over. The plot works with a few different timelines and attempts to blur them in order to pull a trick on the audience. We skip between scenes of the aftermath of the current massacre, flashbacks to the way the victims were killed and also snippets from the original murders from five-years earlier. Usually, the parts that are from the first wave of slaughters end with the on-screen director shouting ‘cut!’ We then learn that this was actually just a film within a film, so this means that the people that are about to be killed are playing the people that were killed all those years ago…? Even if the first time we see this, it could be considered a smart gimmick, after it has been repeated to the point of confusion, all that credibility disappears. We build a level of rapport with personalities that turn out to be false and it leaves us without someone to really root for. It doesn’t help that the most interesting characters on display are those from the ‘film within a film’. The ones that carry the majority of the runtime for us are as shallow as a rain puddle in the desert and incredibly hard to care about.
Perhaps because of the lack of clarity and the minimal attempts at suspense, Horror High’s good points are not able to achieve their deserved recognition. Some of the cinematography is really neat, like the wide-framed shots of a dark corridor that are accompanied by the constant squeaks on the soundtrack that represent the fact that the maniac is nearby. There are also a few twists that I certainly wasn’t expecting in the final ten minutes that will catch you unawares, but make little sense when you think about them after. But because we have already witnessed too many false dawns and wrong-footed scenarios, we are never sure if what we are seeing is real or not. There’s a great surreal artist from Cataluña called Joan Miró whose pictures are so complex that you only figure out the true meaning upon a second look or reflection. Whilst the ability to successfully mangle the lines between fantasy and reality is a strength in itself, Bill Froehlich’s ideas are poorly structured and therefore write ambitious cheques that their delivery can’t cash.
Despite an incoherent spine, the film rarely bores and it’s fairly well acted in a campy way. There’s one really gruesome murder that involves a guy being nailed to a desk and dissected (Vince Edwards no less) and you have to appreciate the irony of a Biology teacher getting cut open that way. The loon has a great mask/cape disguise and there’s a decent score here too. Also if you ever wondered what an icon of fashion like George Clooney would look like in a hilarious mullet, then check out his five-minute walk-on. Now that really is the funniest thing about this supposed ‘comedy’.
The most annoying fact about Horror High is that it is purely and simply a waste of a good budget. As it stands, it’s little more than an interesting time-capsule for fans of one handsome Hollywood superstar. Really though, it should be regarded as an early example of the Scream methodology, but in all honesty, it’s simply not good enough for that.
Final Girl: √√
Berserker: The Nordic Curse 1987
Directed by: Jefferson Richard
Starring: Joseph Alan Johnson, Greg Dawson, Valerie Sheldon
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Aaaaah the killer in the woods flick. That popular style of slasher that we saw in abundance for years, but seems to have disappeared for a while now. What a collection of times we spent together, from the superb parties (Just Before Dawn, Trampa Infernal) to the vomit laden hangovers (Camp Blood, Blood Reaper)…
All slashers need a gimmick of some kind and here we have an awesome one. A Berserker is a Scandinavian warrior from Viking times that has been listed in Norse literature since the period of Icelandic conquests from as early as 1015. Berserkers were kept tied in chains and used as the first line of assault during raids, because they were reputedly immune to fire and iron and would stride in to battle in a trance like rage. It was these vicious titans in bear like capes -(hence ber (Old Norse for bear), sekr (coat) – who brought the word ‘berserk’ in to the Germanic language family.
History is sketchy on what gave them such a ruthless psychosis, although nowadays it is believed that they were either drugged on hallucinogenic mushrooms or pumped full of alcohol. They were also considered to be the royal guard of the Pagan god, Odin, which is a poo poo to the film’s synopsis, which states that they were cursed by him and forbidden a restful death. The screenwriters also state that they can be awoken from the dead by a member of their blood kin.
Now present day America and a group of fun loving college kids set out to explore a remote woodland. As they joyfully embark on their mission, they have no idea of the horrendous surprise that fate has in store for them…
There are no surprises here and the plot sticks close to the general slasher sense of things for the most part. We get the classic over clichéd ‘camp-fire tale’ scene for example, where low and behold one of the group jumps out to give everyone a good old scare. Then they all split up to have sex, drink beer and get killed, whilst making sure that the movie ticks all the boxes in its effort to ‘pay tribute’ to Friday the 13th. Jefferson Richard, who had worked in cinema for years as a producer and still does to this day, did a fair job with building a horror environment. Some of the stalking sequences in the forest were nicely lighted and the fog helped to add to the feeling of desolation. He pulls off one effective false scare too and in a strange move, inter-cuts the most graphic killing with a sex scene. In fact on recollection, the film is quite ‘weirdly’ edited. It cuts away from the action in parts with no real rhyme or reason and although it doesn’t drastically have an effect on the runtime, there were some unusual decisions being made when they chopped together the footage.
T&A fans get a couple of hot chicks and a bit of nudity, which in 1987 was the general slasher theme; and a few of the deaths were bloody enough to get the film cropped by the BBFC prior to UK release. Also, in it’s attempt to be somewhat mysterious, the story ends up coming across as jumbled, because the filmmakers overuse footage of a bear during the kill scenes as a red herring. The problem this creates is that by the end when we get round to the big revelation moment, it is far more ‘WTF’ than, ‘damn I never guessed that was the case‘. Either the guy that is revealed to have been under the mask had been talking to Arnold from Psychic Killer fame and had mastered out of body travel, or the bear was the killer all along. If that’s the case, why call the damn thing Berserker and not Bear Massacre?The second half of the runtime makes sense, but I still have only the vaguest of ideas who was killing everyone early on. Was it you? Was it me? Does anybody know???.
Most of the cast are only here to up the eye candy meter, but one of the better actors was remarkable Hal Holbrook lookalike, John Goff. You might have seen him along with George ‘Buck’ Flowers – who is also here – playing small parts in Carpenter classics such as The Fog, They Live and more recently Body Bags. Buck also earned a role in the next year’s Cheerleader Camp and together they wrote the screenplay for the 1976 proto-slasher Drive in Massacre. I was even more intrigued when I found out that another cast member, Joseph Alan Johnson, wrote 1988’s cheese on snow epic, Iced. The six degrees of Berserker, if you will.
Another thing worth mentioning is the soundtrack. It looks pretty obvious that the director had a couple of mates who were in a rock band at the time and he let them record the songs for his film. They’ve done the job exceedingly well. Sorry I’m joking, they’re terrible! Here are a couple of the lyrics from one of the songs that the track listing shows as being called ‘Cool Dude': “STOP telling me what to do about this, STOP telling me all about that. I don’t wanna hear it, cos that ain’t where it’s at!” It then breaks into the worst chorus in pop history which goes something like: “Cos I’m a coooool dude” – repeat ad nauseum. Lately, if I ever get depressed I’ve simply fast forwarded to that scene and turned my TV up to the max. You’d be surprised how soon it cheers me up.
Rounded up I can safely say that Berserker goes where you think it will, does what you think it might and never tries to add any class or originality to the template. It certainly leaves too many survivors and was in need of an injection of motivation from the maniac. Such a good idea for a story deserved a better slashertastic outing if you ask me. Slow paced, but saved from total disaster by a few nice directorial flourishes. Perhaps only fans who aren’t that picky need apply.
Final Girl √