Monthly Archives: June 2012
The Cycle 2009
aka The Devil’s Ground
Directed by: Mark Bafaro
Starring: Daryl Hannah, Leah Gibson, Luke Camilleri
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
“Never forget where you came from as one day you may have to return”
True words. Especially in the case of Daryl Hannah. Back in the summer of 1981, she was a young starlet when she signed on for the early killer in the woods flick, Campsite Massacre. Her career rocketed thereafter as she soon became the poster girl for the light-hearted Ron Howard romp, Splash. She then developed her actress chops in the underrated street flick, Pope of Greenwich Village and became a box office babe in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. After a few less successful roles, she was reinvented in 2003 by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill parts 1 & 2, but struggled to find a role that was as successful thereafter. Eventually, she accepted this new age genre piece from director Michael Bafaro, which would be her second addition to the stalk and slash group.
Bafaro’s casting decision was most definitely inspired by the fact that he is a massive Tarantino fan, who has himself directed 5 prior movies. The best of them was The Barber from 2002; a serial killer flick with a nicely written plot and a sharp momentum. He always works on small budgets, but has brought good performances from his casts and shows a flair for ambitious storytelling.
Five students head off on an exercise to stop a coal mining project in some secluded forest. They are targeted with finding the bones that prove that it is a sacred Native American burial ground, so then it cannot be built upon. What they discover however is something far more threatening…
The slasher genre is like no other. Take the most recent title that you’ve seen. For me, it’s Demons Never Die. Now take one from thirty-years earlier during the peak period. I don’t know, let’s say Final Exam for example. Now aside from the obvious fashion sense and modern technology, what’s really changed between these two stories? Hardly anything at all. The bare basics, or the source code so to speak, has and always will be a psycho killer against a group of stranded victims. Anything else just doesn’t seem to work. Now The Cycle is most definitely a slasher movie, but in fairness, it’s something of a fresh restructure, which throws in a few extras.
It kicks off with a fast-paced chase sequence through a forest that puts us straight in to a Friday the 13th mindset. This is a SLASH above the usual cheap shot on an iPhone footage of a killer in a dime store mask running through a few trees in a park that we find in DTV efforts. Instead, it’s a stylish, credibly planned sequence with the wide desolate locations being conveyed to provide an unusual claustrophobia. Next up we meet Daryl Hannah for the first time and the plot begins to reveal itself; mostly through flashback. There’s a fair amount of intrigue thrown in to the build up, with mentions of the aforementioned burial ground and constant shots of crows and haunting visuals. I also was incredibly impressed with the intelligence of the dialogue, which touched on some thoughtful subjects. You just can’t take your eyes away from the screen for the first thirty-minutes, but The Cycle struggles to maintain the audacious momentum that it kicked off with.
Perhaps the reason for this is that Bafaro doesn’t live up to the expectations he set for himself. There’s a night attack scene on the camper’s Winnebago, which is electric and rapidly photographed. Funnily enough it reminded me of a very similar sequence from Hannah’s previous venture in to stalk and slash territory. But when the butcher actually turns up, the killings are extremely diluted and moderate. Most of them are screened by quick cuts that are begging for some gore. Then to make matters worse, the maniac commits the worst slasher crime of all and uses a shotgun for the third victim – no fair! Guns in a slasher? Go figure. We also step in to the unappealing ‘psycho family’ Texas Chainsaw Massacre-alike story branch, which I for one do not enjoy as much as a lone maniac. The majority of the players are pretty much dealt with by the fifty minute mark and then the feature heads off in to a more supernatural direction with a very ambitious revelation
Skip this paragraph if you want to miss a potential spoiler –
I have to offer all due respect for the twist, which meant something to me, because I came across a similar phenomenon when I lived in Kent for a year back in the late nineties. I really don’t want to give away too much, but if you have time and ONLY do it after watching the movie (why ruin a good twist) check out: Here Now I remember this quite vividly. It’s not as if I ever experienced it, but it was my first taste of an urban legend, because everyone knew someone whose cousin’s brother’s best friend had seen it. (If you get what I mean) It was an awesome idea to include it in the story, even if it perhaps wasn’t handled the best way. By this, I mean that when they were writing the screenplay, it must have sounded like a brilliant way to set-up the conclusion and you can understand the obvious excitement behind the shoot. But because of the loss of pace in the twenty minutes or so prior to the pay off, it doesn’t quite have the effect that it should have.
What I also thought was strange was that there were a few things that weren’t made the most of. The aforementioned burial ground talk didn’t really result in anything (I was hoping for a maniacal Native American like Scalps etc) and the constant shots of crows squawking, almost as if they were predicting the danger, were not really explained or developed. I also felt that the villain, when revealed, was nowhere near as intimidating as he could have been.
I really don’t want to be too Harsh on The Cycle and I have to give 10/10 for effort. It’s a decent enough picture, but should have been a better one. It just needed a little something that unfortunately, was missing. It’s credibly shot, sharply edited, well scripted with a good use of sound and it hides its budgetary limitations very well. I was just disappointed, because it could have been so much more
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√√
Ice Scream 1997
Directed by: Derek Zemrak
Starring: Conrad Brooks, Christa Currie, Angie Warrington
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The slasher genre has long been acknowledged as a base source for some of the hottest talents in cinema. As I have said before, the likes of Tom Hanks, Ellen Barkin, Mickey Rourke and Holly Hunter all launched their respective careers with bit parts in period splatter movies. But a fact that is often overlooked by followers is that the cycle is equally as significant as a retirement home for luminaries that may have already had their finest hour. The Sam Loomis character alluringly portrayed by Donald Pleasance in Halloween became a landmark ingredient for the category, which would leave the door open for screen veterans to attempt to re-ignite their status. Performers like George Kennedy, Farley Granger, Lawrence Tierney, Martin Landau and even Jack Palance have all added experience to youthful casts in various genre entries.
Ice Scream on the other hand has not opted for the traditional approach of snapping up an old hand with a glittering career history in the top tier. Instead we get B-movie legend Konrad Biedrzycki aka Conrad Brooks, whose credits include the film voted “the worst movie of all time” at The Golden Turkey awards! Yep you guessed it, Brooks was a student of notorious schlock director Ed Wood and he was a regular addition to his cast lists. His inclusion almost immediately gave Derek Zemrak’s slasher an alluring cult appeal and I could almost taste the cheese dripping from the VHS as I popped it into my VCR.
Randy Smith (Brooks) owns an ice cream parlour in a small city. Not content that the business is as lucrative as it could be, he decides on a huge revamp, which incorporates two of America’s most favourable pleasures. Out go the long white overalls of the female employees and in come skimpy mini-skirts and cleavage exposing boob tubes and a new moniker for the flirtatious workforce. Now business is looking good for the ‘scoopettes’ as they entice male customers with their revealing outfits and cheeky one-liners, which include, ‘Enjoy every lick!’ All is going swimmingly for Brooks’ industry master plan until a psychopathic killer with a cardboard box on his head begins killing off the scoopettes with a carving knife. Will any of them live to whip up a tasty bank balance from their ice cream careers? Or will they melt into B-movie obscurity?
Having watched throughout my life nearly 800-slasher movies, I must admit that I have grown accustomed with various directors’ interesting approaches to padding out a 90-minute runtime. Edwin Brown’s The Prey became notorious for its inclusion of wildlife footage, whilst many titles opt for nonsensical and un-plot related character building. Zemrak on the other hand seems content to continually repeat identical shots of his exceptionally endowed ‘scoopettes’ preparing ice cream. To be honest I am making Ice Scream sound a lot better than it actually is, because watching semi-attractive porn rejects prepare a king cone becomes very boring… very quickly. They strut around trying their best to ‘act’ whilst customers enjoy a screw ball or a vanilla swirl – usually plucked from the waitresses’ cleavage. Sounds like good fun, and it is… for a while, but the good parts don’t last. It’s also worth noting that for a synopsis so focussed on the female anatomy, it’s a massive surprise that there’s no nudity at all.
The dramatics from the cast are what you’d expect from college drop-outs picked up because they agreed to prance around in tight shorts and boob tubes and Conrad Brooks hams his way through the runtime like his preparing to become the hottest purchase at the local delicatessen. There’s supposed to be a bit of a mystery element, but it’s virtually non-existent and I am positive that everyone will guess the identity of the madman by the close of his first screen appearance. The murders are sparse and bloodless and it sometimes feels like it is trying too hard to poke fun at itself, when a more sinister approach may have made it more enjoyable. Ice Scream seems to take place in a dimension far from planet Earth, because even after the deceased workers and their limbs are discovered littering the parlour, Scoopettes still remains open all hours for business!
This is most definitely a tongue in cheek tribute to the legend of Edward Wood and his zany efforts from forty-years earlier. Unfortunately its comedic attempts fail to cover up the stench of rank amateurism and the audience never seem to be on the same wavelength as the director, which means that it’s pretty much a failure. There’s no doubt that this will have a fan base because it is so obscure and tough to locate, but the only fun to be had will be in the search for an original copy. When you finally receive it you will kick yourself for trying so hard. Unfortunately this is not even good in a so bad kind of way. To add insult to injury an equally dire remix was released in 2008, which I will review when I manage to get over this…
Final Girl: √
Honeymoon Horror: Director’s Cut Bootleg 1982
Directed by: Harry Preston
Starring: Bob Wagner,Paul Iwanski, Cheryl Black
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This peak period slasher movie is one of those that rarely gets a mention, which is quite strange as it has a lot going for it. Even if a honeymoon can hardly be considered a calendar holiday, it does boast a recognised setting that slots in nicely with the likes of Halloween, Friday the 13th, Graduation Day, Happy Birthday to Me et al. The killer has the whole burned to a crisp/Cropsy style thing going on and if you squint your eyes a bit, then the location could even be considered a summer camp! What more do you need I ask you? I hadn’t watched this one for literally donkey’s years, but when I got my hands on the ‘director’s cut’ I just had to give it a whirl. It was shot in 1981 and financed by a group of Texan business men. Most of it was directed by a Garland based screen and theatre writer named Harry Preston, but when the producers ran out of money, Preston was shut out of the post production.
The remaining decision makers became anxious at the film’s grim tone and ordered editor Malcolm Wittman to re-cut it with additional footage. Scared that they would be left with a feature that they wouldn’t find distribution for, they sold it to Sony for $50,000. This was pretty much the same amount that they had spent on its development. It was a fantastic bit of business for the media giant however as it went on to make over 20 million dollars in VHS sales. It still to this day has not been picked up for DVD release and this is because (a) the rights for the picture are owned by Sony and they do not sub-licence any of their back-catalogue and (b) the print is in extremely bad shape and will probably never see light of day again. If you have a copy on VHS, then keep hold of it as it may be worth something in years to come. The rare director’s cut version that I watched this time around was a rough quality bootleg and is quite different from the other one that I have on the Sony label. I know that I am quite a generous critic, but I actually think that it plays much better and has a completely different tone due to it being what was initially intended.
We open on a secluded Island, a man catches his Mrs in bed with another guy and in the ensuing scuffle the house catches fire. The adulterous woman manages to hot foot it out of the front door with her lover, but they leave her unconscious hubby in the midst of the flames stating, “Let him burn”… One year later and and the widow is now remarried to her partner in crime, Vic. They have reluctantly decided to return to the fully repaired site in order to get it up and running and then sell it on. They are joined by three newly-wed couples who are renting cabins from them to celebrate their honeymoons. But guess who’s back in the mother flipping house? Yep, you guessed it, before long a flame-grilled hand is seen pulling back the branches to get a better look as only backwoods psychos do. They soon discover that they are trapped until morning and fighting to survive against the charred assailant with a machete.
First things first, this director’s cut excludes the tagged-on comedic scenes of the cholesterol-ly challenged Sheriff and instead opts for an altogether darker feel. Whereas the other print often cuts away from the horror to show the goofy antics of lard ass and his deputy (stuff like him eating a burger with a cigar in his mouth and acting like a general doofus), this one plays it straight and has a far more effective feeling of dread because of that. I didn’t note any suspense on the review that I wrote of this in 2001, but there was most definitely the odd smidgen here. Although most of the stalking shots were directly lifted from Friday the 13th parts 1 and 2, Preston does chuck in the odd good idea. I especially liked the killer’s revelation scene where he bursts through the door and closes in on his prey. The way the director sets up the dynamics of the shot and the distance, which makes the cowering victim seem so small in comparison is no less than brilliant.
When the remaining characters realise that they are being stalked by a maniac, they do the right thing and attempt to stick together. The script does well to create a false sense of security, because they mistake the identity of the madman and believe that they have stopped him early on. I was sure that I’d picked our final girl when one of the bunnies started talking of her uneasy feelings and wanting to get off the island. But instead, she got quite gorily slaughtered, which was unusual and authentic. None of the cast ever really did anything else worth noting after this and for first timers, they did ok with what they were given. Bad acting is par for the course in a slasher, so it came as no surprise that it was all very amateur here. What I appreciated was the fact that they were genuinely likeable and showed concern for their buddies when the trouble started. They don’t really do enough for you to want any of them not to get splattered, but at least they’re not conceited ignoramuses of the type we see so regularly in new age slasher flicks. The feature is still weakened by a bloated mid-section and incredibly bizarre dialogue, which switches from comedic to bewildering many times throughout.
There are far too many pointless scenes that could have been either cut down or completely removed to have given the film a slicker runtime. It’s also very poorly lighted and whenever the action heads outside, it’s tough to see what’s going on. It is somewhat frustrating that the killer seems to take forever to get his butt in gear and when he does, the murders are edited so choppily that they’re tough to make out. There is some goo, but it’s not really shown for enough time to be appreciated and therefore seems pretty pointless. It’s also hilariously non-politically correct with lines such as, “Joe’s a little bit retarded and can’t speak, but if you need anything, just ask him and he’ll get it for you.” Retarded? Nice.
Honeymoon Horror is a poorly put together movie, but looks much better here than in the most common print available. Preston has said that the production was so awkward that most of his ideas were devoured by the lack of budget and the film does look shoddy and cheap. For a slice of regional filmmaking with a cool maniac though, it at least deserves to be seen. One thing that I forgot to mention. What a crap place to have a honeymoon ;)
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √
Demons Never Die 2011
aka Suicide Kids
Directed by: Arjun Rose
Starring: Robert Sheehan, Ashley Waters, Jason Maza
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Oh Tulisa Tulisa. A couple of months ago I posted a review of Nine Lives here on the site. Admittedly it’s a hunk of junk, but the fact that it had a cameo from alcoholic nympho Paris Hilton, meant that at least it had some minor sense of allure. Well here we have Demons Never Die, one of the few slasher flicks produced in 2011. Ok so there’s no Gucci bag clenching heiresses in sight, but it does include a walk on appearance from Tulisa Contostavlos aka the new Cheryl Cole. (Just before finishing this review, I noticed she also has a sex tape floating about)
Hands up who watches X Factor? Come on boys, you’re only lying to yourself if you say no. Not many people know this, but I’ve had an action packed life so far and I once got through a couple of auditions for the big X. I sang Enrique Iglesias’ Hero to a producer and she said, “Yes!” What a great day that was. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those people that watch every show with my One Direction t-shirt on and my phone in my palm. I do however have it on in the background while the Mrs remains transfixed and if I could recreate that magic feeling when I got the golden ticket and sell it on to everyone that I know… Well let’s just say coke dealers in London would be out of business. Was it really that good? Heeeell yeah!
Anyway back to the film, or kind of. So Tulisa’s success as the Cheryl replacement on the aforementioned program has pushed her celebrity status up a few thousand notches and Arjun Rose (cool name) has capitalised on that timing to get her in a bit part here. Did she improve sales amongst teeny-boppers? I would say probably yes. Does she improve the movie in any way outside of eye candy? I would definitely say no. Funnily enough she grew up in the same part of London as me and we obviously both come from ‘other’ European heritage, which is noticeable by our (not so) ‘strong British names’. The difference is that she is now a millionaire celebrity and me… well I’m definitely not. But hey, it’s not all doom and gloom, I get to review slasher films for you peeps every day.
When a girl is mistakenly thought to have taken her own life, a gang of youngsters launch a suicide pact. They plan to go out with a bang and decide to set-up a memorable occasion. In the meantime, they seem to be getting help in the form of a masked maniac. Who could it be that’s killing them off?
Back in the days when Internet was still growing, a small company called Google was desperately looking for an injection of cash. They had two meetings with Yahoo CEO Terry Selem over dinner with the possibility of a take-over. Larry Page was not over keen on selling, but admitted that an offer of $3billion would be tough to turn down. Selem was furious at the proposal and felt he had a much better plan B. “Five billion dollars, seven billion, ten billion. I don’t know what they’re really worth and you don’t either,” he told his staff. “There’s no fucking way we’re going to do this!” So talks closed down, both chased their own projects and went their separate ways. Some ten years later, Google reported gross profits of $7.8 billion in Q4 of 2011, whilst Yahoo managed $1.08. Selem is now in a different employment and Yahoo missed the chance to be the undisputed kings of the internet. That my friends is what you would call a bad decision.
Do you want to hear about another?
Ok check this out. You put together the funds to make a slasher movie. In a haze of trying to be original, some bright spark comes up with a maniac killing off people that want to die. No, seriously. So this brings up a major problem. How do you build any kind of sympathy or connection with people that the killer is in effect helping to achieve their aims? Now don’t get me wrong, the story does attempt to divert from this by revealing the ‘shock’ decision that they change their minds and actually decide against it. But the thing is that by that point we are left with a bunch of cardboard cut out personalities and no one really to bond to.
Demons is obviously heavily inspired by Wes Craven’s Scream and includes a multitude of references. Many of them reach beyond the realms of just ‘inspiration’ in to flagrant cut, copy and paste territory. For a genre that has survived on its ability to self reference, this is all acceptable if it’s handled correctly. Rose’s script lacks charm however and the wit to accompany its lack of authenticity and energy. A solid collection of capable actors are left without a challenging depth to their characters and therefore have no possibility to shine.
As slasher movies are not renowned for their strengths in dramatics, complexity in plotting or philosophical messages, they can only really aim for two emotions. The first and most obvious is fear – everybody loves a good scare. The only other option is to make the film as camp as possible and give the audience something to enjoy in a more humorous way. Demons however gets lost in its attempt to convey a message that a) we don’t understand and b) we don’t give a damn about and takes itself far too seriously to be fun. There’s a large-ish body count, a few attempts to mimic horror classics such as The Blair Witch Project and an unclear but interesting motive, but it’s technically weak and therefore just not good enough to deliver any thrills.
I saw some positive reviews floating around before I picked this up myself, but I am guessing that they were posted by crew members as a form of marketing, because what I saw was pretty irredeemable. I mean, what’s the moral of the story? What’s the point? Don’t commit suicide because a maniac will come and kill you? I wouldn’t care about the lack of logic if it at least had something, anything to cover up the obvious amateurism. I grew up in the kind of areas that this film attempts to convey. The thing is that some of the people I knew back then lacked an education or anything really to offer the tough society that we lived in. None of them however were dumb enough to run in to a dimly lighted forest instead of to the nearest crowd of people after witnessing a murder, which these fools seem to do consistently.
I remember one great song on the soundtrack that lifted the mood about halfway through. Congratulations to Jessie J; a fine example of the talent of London youth. As for Arjun Rose, a former stockbroker, he needs to try harder…
Final Girl: √√