Monthly Archives: August 2012
Head Cheerleader Dead Cheerleader 2000
Directed by: Jeff Miller
Starring: Tasha Biering, Dan Roach, Debbie Rochon
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Every slasher reviewer on the planet has had their say about the amount of movies that ripped off Halloween. It’s really not that hard to believe, because Carpenter’s classic is exactly that – a classic. What is a tad more confusing is how a title as unexceptional as Slumber Party Massacre managed to rack up an almost equal amount of copycats? I mean, I did quite like Amy Jones’ trashy cheeseball. It was fun and fairly gory in its uncut entirety. With that said though, for me, it wasn’t any more deserving of a legion of imitators than Final Exam, He Knows you’re Alone or even Graduation Day.
Head Cheerleader Dead is another that goes for the Slumber Party style of slasher tribute and it does so on a penny sweet budget. It was released by Film 2000 in the UK and before they went bust (unsurprisingly), they graced our shelves with quintessential features such as, Camp Blood, Carnage Road, Paranoid and Granny. Cheerleader was amongst good company…
Heather (Tasha Biering) is the head cheerleader for her college team. It’s Halloween and the night before a really important game, so she decides to go home early and get some rest. She just wants a quiet night in front of the television. Her peace is broken when Coach Reiley (Debbie Rochon) tells her that they’ve found her friend’s decapitated body. Suddenly she begins receiving anonymous phone calls from someone that claims to be killing off all the cheerleaders. Unable to leave her house, Heather begins to question all of the people around her because she knows that the killer must be one of them…
At a guess, a shocking seventy percent of this flick takes place inside the protagonist’s living room as she engages in moronic conversation on the telephone with the cranky killer. Yes, it’s as brain numbing as it sounds, as we stare unwillingly at four cramped walls and a couch for 80 minutes. The only time that we are allowed to witness a change of scenery is when the maniac strikes and commits his lame murders, which if you were reading that last sentence a tad too quickly, please go back and make sure that you note the word ‘lame’ as the descriptive term. We get decapitated heads, feet and boobs(!) that are so obviously plastic that it’s painful. It’s like director Jeff Miller walked in to a store, stole a mannequin and took it home to chop off the limbs. He then painted the ends red and ta-da! Special effects completed for his movie…
Not only is watching Head Cheerleader a painstakingly arduous task, it’s also an incredibly boring one. You won’t get any thrills from trying to guess who’s killing everyone, because suspects are mentioned that we never get to meet and characters turn up only to disappear just as quickly. Admittedly, I didn’t work the ‘twist’ out, but that’s probably because it could’ve been absolutely anyone. Do you have an alibi? Also, I was tidying up my room whilst this was on, because it was far too tedious to just sit up and watch without constantly feeling the need to fiddle elsewhere. The psycho phones Heather an astronomical amount of times, meaning that towards the end of the run time I was so pig-sick of that ‘Ring Ring’ sound effect that I noticed that I had drunk almost an entire bottle of vodka in an attempt to numb the weariness. Then to add insult to injury, just when I thought that I’d finally escaped the irritation, it played again over the end credits. Aaaargh!
Basically this is just an inane mix of parts from much better movies. Jeff Miller rips off everything from Baby Doll Murders (the killer leaves a doll as a calling card) to Black Christmas (the stalker constantly phoning his victims). He even goes as far as to steal Halloween’s theme song for his trailer! Akkad should have sued him and maybe saved an hour and a half of my time.
Something this bad is always going to be amusing in an inadvertent kind of way and luckily there are a few giggles to be had at the expense of the horrid actors and dumb scripting. One of the most comical is when the fat Sheriff is informed that the coach may have been murdered, but says he can’t send anyone out because he’s busy. The killer calls up to taunt his intended targets and mutters poetry that sounds like it was written by Oliverio, my nineteen-month-old son. `Violets are blue, roses are red, tonight you two are gonna be dead!’ But nothing can top what Heather says as she finally comes face to face with the killer. `Don’t mess with me, I’m a cheerleader’(!) Oooooooh, scary. Indeed.
In the opening credits, we hear a message that was allegedly left on the director’s answer phone from a concerned mother of a majorette. It says something about her being ‘disgusted’ and if anything happens to her daughter due to a maniac being influened by what he saw here, then ‘she’ll sue’. Here’s what she really should have said. `Jeff, I’m disgusted that you can insult the wonder that is DVD and in effect my intelligence with this horrid, repulsive dollop of bin-bag lining. I will only be happy if you rectify your mistake and withdraw as many copies from shelves as humanly possible’
At one point in the runtime, one of the characters says, whilst speaking about horror flicks – ‘there’s nothing wrong with a bit of gratuitous violence’. He speaks the truth. If handled properly, it can be a whole lot of fun. But this is for sure not an example of well crafted horror and should be given to Nasa and shot into space. Vulgar dialogue, pitiful performances and hellish direction add up to a poor excuse for entertainment. In other words it sucks like an industrial strength vacuum cleaner.
You would be extremely hard pressed to locate a bigger hive of scum and villainy and even the bizarre sight of Debbie Rochon getting one of her perfectly pert sillicone lady lumps chopped off couldn’t save it. As a wise old garbage-man once said, ‘It’s elementary dear Watson. This is rubbish…’
Final Girl: √
Prime Suspect 1989
Directed by: Bruce Kimmell
Starring: Tom Bresnahan, Don Blakely, Ann Dane
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Tonight my friends, I’m going to see Expendables 2 at the cinema. Sly Stallone, Arnie, Van Damme, Lundgren and they even got Chuck Norris. Ooh wee!!
Whereas nowadays these films come out every now and then, back in the eighties, action flicks were rock and roll. Rambo, Commando, Die Hard and The Predator still look amazing, if you watch them on a Plasma and once in a while, I like to dig one out and enjoy with a few tins of San Miguel and a large greasy Meat Feast Pizza. That is what you call living peeps…
Due to the genre’s popularity, many of the filmmakers that had jumped on the slasher bandwagon in the early eighties had switched over to action. Joseph Zito, the director of The Prowler had made Invasion USA and Red Scorpion. David Prior released Operation Warzone and Jungle Assault among others. Hell, even Bruno Mattei got in on the act with Strike Commando and Double Target. There were also a couple of films that attempted to mix the trappings of the two cinematic trends too. The Majorettes started in slasher land, but then switched to a shoot ‘em up halfway through and The Zero Boys did the same, but the other way around. Prime Suspect is another that works along the line of the same crossbreed methodology…
After a traditional slashertastic opening of a young kid seeing her mother get murdered, we meet a teenage couple. Todd and his girlfriend Diane are very much in love and are going camping so that they can spend some quality time together. The trip ends quickly however when a masked killer turns up and stabs the young girl to death whilst Todd is swimming in the lake. The shock of the incident effects the grieving boyfriend psychologically and he loses the ability to speak. That’s not his only problem though, because the Police actually think that Todd is the murderer. Thankfully, one of his psychiatrists believes his story and the two of them begin working together to stop the maniac before it’s too late…
The problem with genre cocktails is simply that someone who may be expecting a feature film of just the one kind may end up disappointed by the combination. That someone this time around was me. Suspect started superbly as a slasher. The pair head off in to the forest and there are plenty of glimpses of the nut job’s black boots stalking and POV shots. He even pulls back the branches to get a closer look at the action. So far so Friday the 13th. Then after a very brutal murder, we leave the woodland and get in to thriller mode. Don’t get me wrong, the slasher stuff is a recurring theme and continues throughout, but I was thinking we were going to have a killer in the woods flick and it didn’t quite happen.
From there on it falls into a whodunit kinda vibe and the introduction to a bunch of likely suspects. There’s another murder, a stalking sequence and then an absolutely bizarre moment. Why bizarre? Well because for no reason at all, a nutty mercenary beats up a cop and then heads out into the jungle to do battle with the Sheriff and four deputies! So in the space of forty-five minutes, we’ve gone from Friday the 13th to The Fugitive to First Blood. Only in the eighties could that happen.
To be fair though, Prime Suspect doesn’t market itself as a slasher and let’s be honest, before seeing it here, how many of you even knew that it existed? It’s not available on DVD and my VHS has seen better days. It’s an ok-ish time waster for evening consumption, but despite its ambition to do everything, it does have somewhat lackluster pacing. There is the usual twist, a final girl (in this case an older woman) and an unmasking scene that sums everything up. Then we get the silliest ever confrontation and the worst – AND I MEAN WORST – final credits song in the history of cheesy slashers. My gawd, I cringe just recalling it. One thing that I’ve always wondered is why killers in these flicks always feel the need to explain their motives before the final murder. Of course I realise the point cinematically, but it makes you wonder why they only chose the one person (guaranteed survivor) to explain their wrath too? Lesson is: if you want to be a masked nut job, never tell anyone why. If you do, you’re bound to get killed. That’s it.
I feel like I haven’t told you enough about Prime Suspect, but there’s really not a lot else to say. It does pack in some slasher shenanigans, a tad of nudity, a few mullets and the chance to guess who’s under the mask. The performances are not so bad, actually. I am not saying that they were good mind, but certainly not noticeably poor enough to cause a disturbance. In fact, this was probably Stallone’s career best. He plays the crazy mercenary that I told you goes on a kill frenzy halfway through the picture. He handles the role quite well and I loved the John Wayne impersonation. I wonder if that was scripted or a touch of improvisation? Whilst we are on the subject of Stallone, anyone else agree that he is deserving of an award of some kind? He made three slasher movies in a year. I mean, wow! During the same twelve-months that this hit the shelves, we also got Masque of the Red Death and Ten Little Indians. It beggars belief!
Anyway, now I am just rambling. I think, to be honest Prime Suspect will only appeal to those desperate to uncover a rarer than rare slasher. It’s not breaking any new ground and there’s nothing notable or novel about it. A few moments of ok-ish-ness are not enough to warrant the hunt, especially as there’s only two slasher-style murders in the whole thing. With that said though, there’s something irresistible about watching eighties trash like this and the opening was so good that I really felt like I had discovered a forgotten Just Before Dawn. If a shiny DVD is released on the cheap, then pick it up, but do not let the eBay bandits get their way with you by selling a rough VHS at an extortionate price.
As for me, I shall return to my Meat Feast and cans of lager… Adiós
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√√
The House on Sorority Row 1983
aka House of Evil aka Siete Mujeres Atrapadas
Directed by: Mark Rosman
Starring: Kate McNeil, Eileen Davidson, Harley Jane Kozak
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
In 2009, there was a great, but brief, period of revival for the slasher movie. What with My Bloody Valentine 3-D doing impressive business at the box office and the special edition DVD of the original feature providing fans with all those eagerly anticipated gore scenes during the same week, it was most definitely the freshest breath of life for the category since the release of Scream in 1996.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the special edition of MBV and it motivated me to dig through my collection and re-visit a few other cycle entries that had been gathering dust on my shelves. It seemed then to be the latest trend to remake eighties slasher movies and The House on Sorority Row was another that was picked to receive an updated re-birth.
If titles such as Madman and The Prowler were rivals to the gore-led Friday the 13th films of the early eighties and were inspired by Sean Cunningham’s visually graphic depiction of the slasher formula, then Mark Rosman’s bizarrely under-rated entry took its lead from Carpenter’s ‘less is more’ approach. Sorority Row does not boast a bunch of outrageously gory kill scenes and its bogeyman does not sport an audacious mask. It does, however, offer a slick suspense-fuelled runtime of classy directorial embellishments and down-to-earth and believable characters.
In order to get revenge on their unforgiving house-mother, seven sorority sisters plan an audacious prank. Unfortunately, the joke backfires and the elderly owner of the house ends up dead. The youngsters do their best to cover-up the ‘accident’, but it seems that someone witnessed the killing and begins to stalk and gruesomely slaughter them. Who could be behind the murders?
Slumber Party Massacre is generally recognised as the key sorority slasher, which is a shame, because The House on Sorority Row is much stronger and infinitely more deserving of that status. From the off we see that this is a cool and classy thriller thanks to Rosman’s razor sharp direction and some tightly edited scares. The film successfully juxtaposes the innocence of child-like imagery such as clowns and dolls with the dementia of a revenge-fuelled maniac and creates a deeply macabre atmosphere. There’s some chilling flourishes spaced frequently throughout the feature, which include the victims finding toys before they are slaughtered and the classic ‘decapitated head in the toilet’ trick.
The director skilfully utilises John Carpenter’s use of shadow-play to build suspense and the bogeyman remains mysteriously shrouded in the darkness of his non-identity. Perhaps one of the film’s key strengths is the realism of its characters. Many of the latter Scream-inspired slashers would fail because of their persistence in attempting to make a cast of purely beautiful people seem factual. Let’s face it, we don’t all look like glamour models and we don’t all have a rich mummy and daddy a phone call away, so how can we relate in any way to a story depicted using that methodology? Rosman recognised this and instead of a giving us a synopsis full of brainless-bimbos, the characters here are natural and in effect, not without their flaws.
Rosman had previously worked alongside Brian De Palma and was the Assistant Director on Home Movies from 1980. He learned a lot along the way and some of the stylish photography was particularly impressive considering that this was the twenty-four year old’s feature début. The hallucination scenes towards the climax are creative horror-imagery at its finest and the operatic score is at times pulse-raising. That final scene, which sees the killer raise from the shadows in creepy clown attire, is as iconic as anything from the life-span of the genre and the fact that the heroine is heavily sedated only adds to the plausibility of her chaotic state of mind.
Credit also must be given to the cast who carry the plot comfortably and Kate McNeil was superb as the easily-manipulated Katharine. Eileen Davidson puts in a good stint as Vicky and the dramatics remain competent right the way through. Like many eighties slashers, the final version that was released was not as the director had intended and an extension to the ending was filmed and re-edited just before release. Let’s hope that one day we will get a special edition disk with all the deleted scenes restored.
The director has stated in the past that he was not a particularly big fan of horror cinema and that he made this feature just to get a foot on the Hollywood ladder. That’s somewhat tough to believe as House is a movie that’s well-aware of its genre trademarks. The links with Halloween are too numerous to be coincidental and its doubtful that such stylish horror-imagery could be conveyed by a half-hearted auteur. The fact that Rosman was executive producer on the remake must prove that he still has a place for terror somewhere in his heart. Luckily, said rehash turned out to be good enough not to be an embarrassment to the legacy, but it still never got close to the classy style that was delivered here. One of the key attributes to the original’s strength is its realism and the sympathetic motive of the bogeyman, which was somewhat lost in the recent bigger budgeted update.
This is by a long way one of the best of the early eighties slasher flicks; if you haven’t already seen this suspense-marathon, you need to be asking yourself why not???
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Final Girl: √√√√√
The Phantom Killer 1981
Directed by: Shui-Fan Fung
Starring: Pai Wei, Nora Tsang, Wah Cheung
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Not to be confused with the English pretending to be Polish soft-porn slasher from Trevor Barley, The Phantom Killer is more proof, if ever it were needed, that Halloween’s success had a global reach rarely seen to such an extent in cinema.
Bruce Lee’s rapid rise to stardom in the sixties and seventies helped to make Chinese cinema globally accessible. Martial Arts flicks and the sport in general became very fashionable for Western kids and growing up first in Spain, then in London, I shared my love of slashers with a lesser-passion for Ninjitsu. Back in those days, me and the rest of my buddies used to wrap black scarves around our heads, get dressed in dark colours, climb the fence of our school and split in to groups of two. Then we would try and locate the each other in order to pull off our finest Jackie Chan impressions and attempt to make the other kid submit. Just to think, if we were to have done that in these times, we would most likely have caused the local Boys in Blue to get involved. Back then however, it was all just harmless, if slightly rough, fun.
Cinematically in some ways, those two forgotten genres have a fair bit in common. Both are fairly exploitive and filmed on low budgets and they also share bad acting and shoddy effects. Hunting out titles like Ninja Wars, Zombie vs Ninja and the authentically titled Ronald Marchini flick, Ninja Warriors, was almost as much fun as searching for cruddy slashers on big box VHS. As I grew older and spare time became a rarity, I had to give up on Ninjas and remained focused on the titles that you see here on a SLASH above.
Fen Ku Lou in effect is much different from the same year’s Si Yiu, because instead of going all out to impersonate the mega-popular Giallo and slasher genre, director Shui-Fan Fung has attempted to merge a few of the trappings with old-school Kung-Fu. Fung himself was more celebrated as an actor, having appeared in over one hundred films. Under the Westernised name of Stanley Fung, he was a member of the ‘Lucky Stars’; a Chinese comedy troupe that were active throughout the eighties and nineties. There’s nothing intentionally comedic about this flick though and it keeps its tone impressively grim.
After helping a small town to defeat a gang of bandits, Master Siu becomes extremely popular, but more so with the local ladies. Everywhere that he goes, he is propositioned by single girls, however he already has found his one and only. Things take a turn for the worse, when a masked killer turns up and begins to slaughter the women that he rejects. Siu joins the Inspector to help uncover the psycho in order to save the true apple of his eye.
You know what I hate with a passion? When someone posts a review of a film somewhere and calls it a ‘slasher flick’ and then I go out of my way trying to track it down, only to eventually find out that it’s not at all. If I had ten-pounds for every time that’s happened to me dear reader, well I’d be writing this from a warm Cuban beach with a bottle of Dom and a Playboy Playmate on my knee. But fear not my good friends, because old uncle Luisito would never do that to you guys and gals. So brace your sweet selves and allow me to tell you how it is: Fen Ku Lou is not a stalk and slash flick, it’s a Kung-Fu film. Well, I mean, if you’re looking for a bread-knife clenching maniac stalking a summer camp, then you’re gonna be in for an upset. But with that said, it packs in a fair few genre clichés that allow it to grab a page on the celebrated hall of fame that is a SLASH above.
For example, the killer is dressed in a skull mask of all things and his choice of victims are flirtatious young teenage girls. He also leaves a calling card of a skull and a note informing the cops who will be next. The plot is a giallo-like mystery and is handled fairly well for three quarters of the runtime. It’s one of those, where you are continually picking different people whom you suspect to be the killer. Everyone shows a reason that they could be behind the mask, but in truth, the first thing that I’d guessed turned out to be correct.
The story flows well, with an addictive pace and it keeps your eyes glued to the screen. Like most Kung-Fu flicks, almost every situation turns in to a reason for a fight and the action scenes are numerous if a tad too darkly filmed. The use of an eerie sound effect whenever the nut job turns up is really quite creepy, but the score seems to have been ‘borrowed’ from a popular eighties horror film. (I can’t recall which one). There’s no gore worth mentioning, but the maniac hides the corpse of one girl inside a statue and it’s quite nasty thinking about the way they have to chisel her out.
When the conclusion finally comes around, it has an intriguing message to convey, but it’s not as unpredictable as I’d hoped for. I guess that it was most likely because I’d already guessed the best part of it and if I did, then most likely, you will too. There’s another ‘twist’ that is a bit unfair, due to the physical impossibilities of it actually happening, but that sums up the ‘virtual’ world that the plot lives in.
You see, Fen Ku Lou is hilariously OTT in places, especially in the desperation of the town’s female inhabitants to spend a night with Master Siu. One girl even goes as far as to beat up four guys because they won’t tell her where he is! The dialogue is also funny, however I am always of the belief that this is due to the weak translation of the script rather than a screenwriter with an awkward sense of humour.
I made a vow when I launched a SLASH above that I would never allow the site to focus on anything other than slasher movies. There are so many places on the web that claim to be dedicated to this style of film, but include many titles that fall outside of the template. Although this could well be my first step in to the ‘dark side’, I still think it has enough of the stuff needed to be considered as an entry to the category. I just want to warn you that if you hate Martial Arts movies, then you should definitely not pick this one up. If, however, you are a little like me and can appreciate a bit of craziness from Hong Kong, then it’s really quite an alluring treat.
Personally, I had a great time with it. I liked the silliness of the ‘hunky’ Master Siu, the mystery was fairly well handled and the killer was effectively creepy. When the conclusion is revealed, it is in one part hilarious and in another fairly thoughtful. The movie most definitely lacks the technical flair that made Si Yiu such a noteworthy entry, but it stands out solely because it is the only periodic Kung-Fu/Giallo cross-breed that the world has ever seen and more than likely ever will see.
It may well be impossible to find nowadays, but if you look hard enough and you are willing to accept a dose of fisticuffs in your horror, then I think you might quite enjoy its oddball pizazz.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√
Twisted Nightmare 1987
Directed by: Paul Hunt
Starring: Rhonda Gray, Cleve Hall, Robert Padilla
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So you like clichés eh? Well, I’ll give you clichés alright. I’ll give you so many clichés that you’ll loose count before the ten-minute mark!
Twisted Nightmare is not a movie. It may have a cast and a crew and all the ingredients that you would associate with a feature film, but in fact it’s just a check-list of slasher platitudes rapped up into ninety-minutes of cheap videotape and cunningly disguised as a motion picture. What you don’t believe me? Then why don’t you check out this fabulous synopsis:
A group of ‘ahem’ teenagers head off to a summer camp (Friday the 13th) where a few years earlier, the brother of one of their number was burned beyond recognition by an unseen menace. (The Burning). Before the accident, he had been the victim of malicious bullying by the rest of the group, who tormented his inability to attract the opposite sex (Terror Train). This particular camp site is not the best place for a summer vacation as it had been cursed by Native Americans many years ago and it’s rumoured that the curse lives on (Ghost Dance). Before long a disfigured lunatic turns up and begins killing off the cast members one by one. (Just about every slasher movie ever produced).
Now do you catch my drift?
In all seriousness, Twisted Nightmare is an uncomfortably tough film to review. That’s simply because it’s hard to explain exactly what went wrong with the feature and why it never lived up to its obvious potential. It’s not an awkward task to write a mocking review of a bad movie, but it’s a lot harder to try and define the reasons why an offering so full of possibilities just didn’t make the grade. It would be easy to blame the rancid dramatics or the inane scripting, but the cast of Friday the 13thwere hardly method actors and that was still an infinitely better effort than this. Slasher flicks are different from almost every other genre, because they can still make a profit or at least grab an audience without most of the ingredients that other categories of cinema take for granted. For example, could you imagine a poorly acted drama being successful? Or perhaps an awfully scripted comedy? Stalk and slash features consistently commit gross cinema crimes and still the production line of titles has only recently showed signs of slowing down. Keeping that in mind, I have tried to find out why a project from such an interesting team of low-budget titans ended up being such a flop.
Rumours abound that this was completed in eighty-two, but shelved for five years due to a total lack of confidence from the entire production team. Now aside from the IMDB, which is hardly the most reliable pillar of info, I haven’t uncovered proof of this anywhere else. For a start, the budget here was obviously fairly low, so keeping that in mind, it would be insane to suggest that it could boast a better quality of cinematography than Friday the 13th Part III. Especially when this is a film that if speculation is to be believed was shot on the same location at the same time. Another thing is that most of the cast had more than one acting credit in 1987, but none in 1982, which I think pretty much ends the argument. In my opinion, Twisted Nightmare was not shelved for five-years at all. And if it truly was, only very very little had been shot back then. If I had to guess, I would say that ’85 or ’86 is a more realistic possibility, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the IMDB have got muddled up with that info
If anything, Twisted Nightmare tries too hard, and due to the director’s insistence of ticking every single box on the slasher check list, the movie breaks that age-old ‘less is more’ ground rule. Alfred Hitchcock once said that the key ingredient to the production of suspense is isolation, but that’s where Paul Hunt’s opus comes unstuck. His feature boasts an unusually high body count and there’s also some impressive gore sequences. Unfortunately, with so many characters getting butchered in such a small space of time, things get very boring very quickly and the deaths rapidly loose their impact.
Another negative is the film’s one-tone pacing, which never seems to change throughout the runtime. Characters get killed, characters get naked. Characters make-out and characters argue. But it all happens at such a snail-like momentum that that any attempts at a ‘money-shot’ just pass by without recognition. The plodding direction adds no bite to the suspense scenarios and an infuriating lack of lighting takes the credit away from the decent make-up effects. The script doesn’t help matters and the plot is littered with more holes than a hash smoker’s mattress. Cast members are slaughtered and none of their colleagues question their disappearances and some of the gaps in continuity are so obviously dumb that it’s almost unbelievable that this was the effort of a man with as much cinematic experience as Paul Hunt. One girl’s haircut changes literally from scene to scene.
Now part of these problems may well have something to do with the fact that the story’s writer Charles Philip Moore hated director Paul Hunt with a passion. They did work together again on Demon Wind in 1990, but the animosity was high enough for them to deliver unflattering comments to the press. After the release of the movie and the negative reception and lack of success took their effect, Moore struck the cruelest of blows in defence of his involvement many years later, by stating, “Twisted Nightmare is the sorriest piece of drek ever put on film. When Hunt wasn’t bombed on coke he was coming down with hash. He hired inexperienced wannabes just so he could screw them out of their pay”. Even if Hunt did not get the chance to respond, he did once write that, “I personally hate horror films and did Twisted Nightmare as a favor for Ed DePriest.” So there you go.
If you take an experienced director, a good budget, an excellent location, some great gore effects, a group of ambitious cast members and still end up with a feature as jumbled as this, then something is very, very wrong. The above proves that there most definitely was.
On the plus side as I mentioned earlier there’s some decent gore, including a deer antler impalement and one guy gets his head pushed off, which is hokey, but fun all the same. Nightmare also seems to generate an eighties feel much better than many of its counterparts from the period. There are mullets, bubble perms, bad metal tracks, boobies, elastic belts, bright tops and muscles by the bucket load. Let’s not beat about the bush, this feature is absolute tosh. But I know you dear reader. I know you better than you think. You like cheese. You like bad acting and blood. You like disfigured killers that growl like bears and stare through windows whilst breathing like they’re having asthma attacks. As you know that I know this, then I am going to recommend that you give Twisted Nightmare a shot. Now…
Killer Guise: √√
The Last Horror Film 1982
Directed by: David Winters
Starring: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Judd Hamilton
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
You know, a SLASH above is coming up to being a year old. That’s amazing and I want to thank you, dear reader for taking the time to check us out twice a week. We have grown considerably, month on month and it’s all down to you. The first review that I posted here was of my favourite trash movie, Pieces, and I defended it heavily. I stated that it was an overlooked grind house classic. Judging by the emails that I received, many of you agreed. I had been disappointed with the amount of negativity that I’d seen about it and wanted to offer a different opinion. Well here we have another wonderful example of an entry in the same vein and it’s one that I’ve noticed has suffered a similar lack of recognition as the flick that was the first addition to www.aslashabove.com
Joe Spinell is a somewhat unsung slasher movie legend. Whilst many of us enjoyed his stand-out signature role from Maniac, no one loved it more than Spinell himself. He spent many years working on getting a sequel made, but just as he had finally found financing, he passed away a month in to pre-production. The causes of his death have remained a mystery, but it’s widely believed that he lost the battle with poor health. He left a trio of slasher movies behind, including Lustig’s cult favourite from 1980, The Undertaker from 1989 and this campy treat.
Here he plays Vinny Durand, a mentally unstable taxi driver with an obsession with actress Jana Bates (Munro). Living half in reality and half in the world of his imagination, Vinny believes that he has the ideal script for the woman of his dreams. Convinced that he’s on to a good thing, he heads off to the Cannes film festival to show his ideas to Mrs. Bates. As soon as he turns up, the majority of people that he runs in to end up getting murdered by a masked assailant. Is Vinny the killer?There’s no one else it could be…
What initially struck me about The Last Horror Film was the obvious signs of its high-ish budget. To shoot at Cannes couldn’t have been cheap and the amount of extras and locations used mount up to a huge pile of dollar bills. The film is superbly edited and I mean astoundingly so; and it really stands out that the footage has been chopped together with a professional gloss. Even before the first credit has appeared on the screen, our eyes are treated with a buxom blonde in a bathtub. Within the next minute, she’s being stalked and gruesomely electrocuted by an unseen menace. As far as starts go, we couldn’t have wished for a better one and there in that brief sequence, the tone is competently set. We have to wait a short while to see another murder, but the in between parts could never be boring if you have Spinell on your cast list.
How do we rate Spinell? I mean, he’s no Robert DeNiro; but for playing a total loony tune, there’s really no one better. He must have studied under the method philosophy as he really becomes his character. The script asks a lot of him (he prances around at one point in knickers and a bra!), but he remains convincing throughout. It’s a performance built up of many layers, because his body language is spot on. Insecure, rejected, misunderstood; he doesn’t need dialogue for this, his actions display it and that desreves credit. Caroline Munro is also good here. I mean, as good she needs to be. I’m sure that as an attractive woman, she loved the role of a Cannes best actress nominee (no, really). Most of her screen time is spent wearing gorgeous dresses and posing for photo-shoots. What female wouldn’t enjoy that? She looks great too. The funny thing is that the part that she is nominated for is a slasher within which she gets her face burned off with a blow torch and we even see the voters praising and clapping her ‘chilling portrayal’! Maybe I’m a tad biased, because I once dated a girl that looked extremely like her. Look at the similarities in the picture opposite. I also met her once at a horror convention in Camden and she was lovely. Me being me, I tried hitting on her a bit, but instead of calling security she had a joke and showed a down to earth side that I really appreciated. (Either that or she found it impossible to resist my charms… HIGHLY unlikely)
Damn, all this talk about attractive women and flirting and I’ve got a bit lost. Right where were we? Ok, so halfway through watching, I began thinking, how do they write this stuff? I mean seriously, at times the script feels like it was penned on the back of a LSD marathon and to be fair it may well have been. Luckily that only adds somewhat to the film’s kooky charm. In fairness though, they try awfully hard to keep us in the right periodic mindset by regularly featuring news reports on the radio in the back ground, which describe the big events of the time. There’s the Reagan assassination attempt, the bombing in Madrid and the effort to murder Pope John Paul II. 1981 was quite a crazy year.
For exploitation fans, we are treated to a tonne of naked chicks straddling about and the large majority of them fall comfortably in to the ‘Hot Chica’ bracket, which is all good. What is interesting and makes me question why the movie is so often overlooked is the wonderful amount of gore. This is one hell of a blood-filled ride and the effects by Peter McKenzie are pretty darn good. My favourite would have to be the gooey throat-slashing, which is grimly effective and helped no end by the reaction of the terrified Munro. As this is set during Cannes, we get plenty of shots of film posters, advertisements and promotions. For a while it transported me back to that period and it was fun looking out for titles that I recognised. The soundtrack of cheesy pop is equally as memorable and was made specifically for this feature. If you can remember the disco monstrosities that plagued your ears during Killer Workout, then you’ll know full well what to expect.
The only thing that ruins The Last Horror Film is the awful, AWFUL final scene. One thing I haven’t mentioned is that for some inexplicable reason, Spinell got his mother a part in the cast; playing, well, he’s character’s mother! Not only is she as wooden as Noah’s ark, but she is given heinous dialogue to ‘work’ with. For the life of me, I cannot see the sense, point or reason why they included that closing sequence. I don’t want to spoil it for you and maybe it’s an in-joke, but think to yourself, ‘elderly woman smoking grass’… and not in an amusing Cheech and Chong way. It’s just pointless and ruins all that went before it.
Still there’s plenty of fun to be had in many many places with this flick and I’m hoping that a positive review may re-introduce it to you in a different light. It’s cheesy as hell, gory, trashy and on top of all that has Spinell doing his visual loon show. If you dear reader, like me, appreciate your bad cinema, then by all means try and give it another chance…
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√√
Urban Legends: Final Cut 2000
Directed by: John Ottman
Starring: Jennifer Morrison, Eva Mendes, Hart Bochner
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
In a film packed to the brim with clichés, one character uses an equally common proverb at one point, ‘Those that can’t do teach’. Perhaps the more fitting one would have been, ‘An optician is no good when you have a toothache’ but we are getting ahead of ourselves.
The first Urban Legend was two things that the slasher genre needs, pretty darn good and very successful, so a sequel had to be on the cards. It’s never the best sign though when a second chapter doesn’t include the survivors from número uno, so instead they just brought back who they could and set it as an unrelated story in the same fictional universe. They even mention the earlier massacre, but by then it had also become an urban legend due to a cover up. Good gimmick.
At Alpine University or ‘the greatest film school in the world’ the students are each working on their own project to be entered in to ‘the Hitchcock awards’, which will give the winner a shot at Hollywood recognition. Junior director Amy Mayfield soon notices that her crew members are disappearing. Could it be that there’s a murderer on campus or is it all a prank?
The Final Cut looks the business with its high production values and expensive sets. Whilst some of the best slasher pictures of the category were either shot on unlicensed property or anywhere that they could find that was cheap and close-ish to the screenplay’s description, Ottman had a whole Bell Tower built at the same cost that was spent on the entire production of Honeymoon Horror, The Prey, Halloween and Friday the 13th. The film opens with a campy, fleetingly photographed sequence that unleashes some stylish strobe flashing lights and break-neck editing. Set aboard an aeroplane, Ottman creates an atmosphere of claustrophobia, panic and desolation to great effect. It turns out that it’s a film within a film and even though that was supposed to be the first building block or an example of the director’s talents, unfortunately it had already peaked at that point.
It’s interesting nowadays to look back at these late nineties slashers and spot the fresh-faced newcomers who would go on to a big career (hey it’s Eva Mendes) and there’s an extremely solid cast at work here. Whilst a slasher of old was really all about the director, these big financed tributes are credited with good dramatics from real performers. There was some nice bonding between the players and they were quite well-developed. I didn’t feel that I could relate to the good guys here so much, but that was more the fault of a lightweight script than bad acting.
I mentioned earlier about an optician doing nothing for a toothache and Ottman may well be a great editor and composer, but in the hot seat he doesn’t even get anywhere near his franchise predecessor, Jamie Blanks. There are numerous occasions that came so close to building suspense, but his framing is wasteful and his attempts are poorly delivered. Let’s take the first killing for example. A girl wakes up in a bathtub full of ice and notices she’s a kidney light. The killer is in the next room unaware that she’s conscious. She slams the door shut, alerting his attention and attempts to make a hasty exit through the window whilst Mr Bogeyman starts smashing his way through the panelling. Sounds like a recipe made only for tension, but I don’t recall the mood lifting at all.
In another part, there’s a grim tone built as the nut job is searching for our heroine, whilst she is hiding on a soundstage. Clearly frustrated, he begins playing low chords with one finger on a piano in order to unsettle his intended victim, which gives the sequence a morbid and pulsating atmosphere. It could have been really good from then on, but Ottman doesn’t really take it anywhere and it turns in to a predictable false scare. Loretta Devine returns to the series as the characteristic campus security guard, but even after being stabbed and shot last time around for not believing the stories that there is a killer on the loose, she makes the same mistake again and the implausibility of her actions is no less than infuriating. Ottman references Hitchcock with both the dialogue of his characters and with his final scene, but for me, the best homage that he could have paid was by attempting to deliver a similar flair for suspense, which he never manages.
I couldn’t write a review of this feature without mentioning the fencing mask, which we’ve seen before in Graduation Day. Obviously, it looks better here, but I wonder if Ottman had intentionally borrowed it from that cheese feast from 1981 or it was just the recommendation of someone in wardrobe? I guess that the mystery is good enough and it all ends with a Tarantino-esque multi-gun stand-off, which was fun; but it closes with an unshakeable feeling of hollowness. There’s too much missing here that made the first one a blast; the most obvious being the alluring sense of fun.
There’s a big enough body count, some nice photography and the odd great idea that is commendable. Unfortunately, the punctured plot, lack of excitement and silly motive leave it being no more or no less than average. Not surprising that Ottman never directed again, but instead stuck to what he knows best.
Final Girl: √√
aka Corpse Mania
Directed by: Kuei Chich-Lung
Starring: Piao Chin, Yung Chung, Ni Tien
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I can tell by the messages I receive that you peeps who read my site are extremely knowledgeable on all things stalk and slash. You are well aware that 1981 was the rock and roll year of the category, but over the next few weeks, I’m going to feature a couple of films here on a SLASH above that you may not yet be aware of. No, really.
First up with have Si Yiu, a Giallo/Slasher hybrid that chucks in only a few of the stereotypical trademarks of eighties Chinese horror. It’s from the legendary Shaw Brothers studio, which was basically the Warner Bros. or Paramount of Hong Kong movies. (They even copied the Warner logo!). From their distribution plant in Singapore, they supplied countless classic Martial Arts and Action features and continue to be involved in the broadcast industry to this day.
Director Kuei Chih-Hung worked exclusively for Shaw and left a legacy of exploitation films before his retirement in 1984, including a few horror titles throughout the early eighties. He co-directed the brilliant Fen Nu Qing Nian with Chang Cheh, a movie, which quite obviously influenced the later work and successes of John Woo. His horror output was fairly diverse, but there’s little doubt that Si Yiu is by far the most superior of his terror filmography; both technically and in terms of logical and Westernised plotting.
After a corpse is discovered in a house on a quiet street, the Police become concerned when the autopsy reports signs of necrophilia. As more bodies turn up, it seems a serial killer is on the loose. The Inspector is sure that he has his prime suspect in a husband who had been previously imprisoned for abuse of a corpse. His ability to avoid detection however is proving too much for the force and it’s left up to one man to track him down.
It is not unusual to see sequences and soundtracks from American Cinema cut, copied and reproduced in Chinese flicks from this period. 1982′s Devil Returns has become notorious for literally duplicating numerous scenes from John Carpenter’s Halloween and if it had been released globally, I’m sure Moustspha Akkad would have sued. Kuei seems confident enough in his own ability not to tread that path and Si Yiu has some stand out moments of credibility. Hsin Yeh Li’s cinematography is absolutely breathtaking throughout and the use of pulsing crane shots mixed with superb lighting creates some decent tension and stylish visuals. The extravagant blend of rich colours and signature environments help to make the screen come alive and the action flows at times like an elegant carrack upon the ocean.
Whilst there’s no doubting that the Giallos of Argento and Bava seem to be the key sources of inspiration, Kuei also chucks in a wealth of slasher movie references. There’s a rehash of the age-old ‘killer in the backseat’ chestnut and the psycho mimics Michael Myers movement to superb effect. There’s a neat slo-mo stalking sequence, where the darkness of a secluded alley is brightened only by the odd street lamp reflecting from the maniac’s huge kitchen knife and one exceptional jump scare is built from a highly tense set piece that sees him hide underneath a victim’s bed. Whilst Kuei films have always incorporated lush photography, Si Yiu feels like the fruition of all that hard work. Some parts, like the one where a character powders down the corpse of his wife before committing the ‘evil deed’, are bordering on cinematic abstract art.
As this is a Kuei joint, you would be right to expect a lava of goo; and in this aspect, the film doesn’t disappoint. Paint red crimson is sprayed everywhere on numerous occasions and there’s a cool decapitation, a brutal stabbing, a slashed throat and a graphic image of a hugely disfigured face. If you think that sounds fairly outrageous, then watch out for the corpse shots that show two naked women covered in bundles of worms and wiggling maggots. I am guessing that they used dummies for these effects, but if they were actually performed by stunt women, then all due respect. It made my skin crawl just looking at it. They even find the space for a brief kung-fu fight, just to add a flash of self-culture awareness.
Because we are knee-deep in Giallo territory, we would be hoping for a good puzzle with numerous red-herrings. Well, the conclusion is very well staged and totally unexpected and refreshingly not in an audience cheating way. You must keep in mind that this is a Chinese version of an Italian sub-genre and not only that, but it’s from one of the most daring (dare I say maddest) director’s of the entire Shaw catalogue. This means that it doesn’t strictly play by the rules and I guess whether you enjoy it as much as I did will mostly come down to your experience and in effect acceptance of Hong Kong cinema.
I totally loved watching Si Yiu and it turned out to be even better than I had expected. Even fans of cheese will get a kick as the dialogue in some places is absolutely hilarious. My Mandarin is only very basic, but I knew that at times, what I was seeing in the subtitles was not what they were saying on the screen. I also liked the fact that the Inspector’s ‘official car’ was a London Black Taxi! It all adds up to a rarely mentioned slasher from the peak year that should be sitting on your shelf. My VCD was hard to come by, however I understand that it was released on DVD quite recently, so shouldn’t be too tough to track down.
Killer Guise: √√√
The Sleeper 2012
Directed by: Justin Russell
Starring: Brittany Belland, Tiffany Arnold, Riana Ballo
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
One of the best films of last year was Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. A stylish mix of Hollywood-noir and action flick, it was propelled by a unique blend of vulnerable, emotional background players and a restrained and mysterious protagonist in Ryan Gosling. It’s deliberate ‘false retro’ ambience gave it an almost hypnotic dream-like vibe. It felt like an eighties throwback that was comfortably seated amongst modern day conventions.
Whilst The Sleeper is nowhere near Drive in terms of its class and quality, it does full heartedly attempt to create a similar environment for its plot to unravel within. Justin Russell has tried admirably on modest funding to capture and transport us back to the glory days of the slasher genre and in a few places, he succeeds.
Of the five-hundred or so slasher films that I have listed in my A-Z, you could say that 85% or more are based on the formula and methodology put in place by John Carpenter’s Halloween. I have often wondered why so few entries borrow from Bob Clark’s Black Christmas, which was another genre template setter that has bundles of neat pluses. Well, The Sleeper is one of those that pays tribute solely to that title and aims for the same style of giving its antagonist the chance to convey his presence through prank calls and eerie vocalisation.
It’s 1981 in a snow coated small American town. The girls of Alpha Gamma Theta sorority throw a party and invite two new friends that they met earlier. Unbeknownst to them, they are also joined by an ominous uninvited presence. Hiding in the shadows, he begins watching the youngsters and later continuously calling them and speaking in a spooky deranged tone. After one of the co-eds disappears during the night, the Police are called in. The snow has made travel around the location awkward however, and before long they realise that they are trapped against a vicious and maniacal killer
Shadows Run Black, Home Sweet Home and Don’t go in the Woods. Look at those titles for a second and remember the feeling you had whilst watching them. Now these are awful movies, but they have something that I never find in more modern entries: an abundance of charm. Whilst The Sleeper doesn’t quite capture the same charisma, it stands apart solely because it at least has the ambition to try. I admire that they have made the effort to cast our minds back to that forgotten period and even if the continuity doesn’t always live up to the intent, it does give the film an authentic allure.
I have never been the biggest fan of killers without masks, but the mysterious and barely characterised (he is billed in the credits simply as ‘The Sleeper’) nut job here does a good enough job of being a creepy bogeyman. His weapon of choice is a claw hammer, which is one that we don’t see used often enough in slasher cinema, and he stalks through the snow with an impressive air of malevolent menace. The first gore scene that we get is said tool smashing the head of a sleeping bunny and to be fair it is extremely fake and paper-mâché-like. I was thinking that the rest would be equally as rubbish, but surprisingly, some of the later murders are actually quite grisly, including a couple of very good throat slashings. I am not sure if it was a good idea that they used the cruddiest one first, but maybe it was better to get it out of the way as early as possible. At one point, one of the girls is seen alone in a swimming pool and as we were on the whole retro/pay tribute tip, I was hoping for a rehash of the memorable hackings from either The Prowler or Fatal Games. That didn’t quite happen, but what we got was decent enough. I especially liked the hokier than hokey rolling eyes post-decap shot!
Russell’s use of sound is by far the film’s most credible strength. He has put together a decent retro-ish accompaniment on his pocket-money budget and the score during the horror scenes is classy and neat. He manages to pull off the odd shock too and some of his low-angled cinematography is brilliantly structured and very impressive. The long, wide-panned views of the frost coated streets really helped to build the claustrophobia of the small town in peril and the aforementioned haunting theme sets it all off perfectly. There’s a tense chase sequence towards the end, some very good POV stalking shots and a classic slashertastic conclusion that no feature that’s following the typical guidelines should be without. The acting is fairly wooden throughout, but not as bad as others that I have seen and even if the script does have a few glaring inconsistencies, it gets the job done.
By far my favourite part of the movie – and if you love your slashers served with a slice of cheese on top, then you’ll enjoy it too – was the dance scene. Oh my gawd. Think the Lightening Strikes sequence from Small Town Massacre, but worse…much worse. This is where Justin Russell is really showing his knowledge of the category. 80s slashers WERE cheesy and it’s one of the best things for us to notice now when we look back. I read a review somewhere online that was really critical for including this, but obviously that writer didn’t get the joke. I did; and it was great and surely only played for laughs. I mean, they even do the ‘staying’ alive’ jig…!
I mentioned earlier about the continuity not doing as much as the determination to keep us believing that it’s 1981 and it is perhaps one of the main disappointments about The Sleeper. Whilst $30,000 is very small in terms of a production budget, I think that the wardrobe department could have done a better job to make the girls look more ‘eighties-like’. Their hairstyles and clothes are all very modern and if you caught the feature halfway through, you would never in a million years guess that it was aiming to transport us back thirty years ago in to the past. You’ve all been to eighties parties, right? You all know how to dress. It’s just a shame that they didn’t work a tiny bit harder with the look of the characters to add the finishing touch. Also, the rotary-dial phone was a neat addition, but it’s just a bit weird that they forgot to use it also in the Police chief’s office. It’s either that they didn’t notice, or he had been time traveling and grabbed himself a digital touch-tone and brought it back from the future to show off to his colleagues on the force
The IMDB has numerous user reviews listed for this feature, but they are bewildering and a terrible guide for prospective audiences. There are one or two that have rated the movie as a 10/10, which leads me to believe that they were written by people with an affiliation to the production team as a form of prior marketing. Then there are many that are at a stingy 1/10, which is the complete opposite end of the scale and it seems like they were posted by someone with something against those behind the flick or the director. A more realistic score would be 5.5 as The Sleeper has some really nice and interesting touches. Slasher films are meant to be fun and I can only appreciate the fact that someone would have enough love for the genre to go the full hog and helm a real tribute. A tribute that even references the time when horror and in particular slasher cinema was really hot stuff.
I hope that we get to see a few more titles this year and I would also like to see another effort from señor Russell in the near future