Monthly Archives: September 2012
Goodnight Godbless 1987
Directed by: John Eyres
Starring: Emma Sutton, Frank Rozelaar-Green, Jared Morgan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
*An update from the review I posted on the IMDB in 2004. It was the first one there and I think that it is still online now…
This extremely rare and mostly unheard of slasher was actually the debut movie of British-born director John Eyres. Although his name may not immediately ring bells in the heads of most movie buffs, he did at least manage to carve himself a career out of directing mostly straight to video films. These include Monolith with Bill Paxton and the new age slasher flick, Ripper, which was released during the boom years of the post-Scream invasion.
This time, we are back in killer priest territory, with a murderous Padre that shows people his rosary beads and then butchers them remorselessly. The plot kicks off when Detectives Joe Yamovitch (Frank Rozelaar Green) and John Brett (Jared Morgan) head up an investigation to track down the psycho responsible for a recent school-yard massacre. The maniac left one witness, a young girl named Mandy (Jane Price), who is immediately placed under Joe’s protection. Meanwhile the ruthless assassin has located the child and begins stalking her as she is the only person who could possibly identify him. Can Joe keep his promise and protect the young girl from the deranged madman……?
Goodnight Godbless starts with one of the most shocking sequences that you’ll likely ever see in a slasher film. It is in fact so startling that I’m surprised the movie managed to remain in circulation. It was edited by the BBFC, but I think nowadays it wouldn’t even pass through censorship. A churchman strolls leisurely past a school playground stroking his rosary beads. He is spotted by one of the many young kids that are playing behind a large spiked fence. As he reaches the gate, a teacher – who indeed seems bewildered to see a priest – approaches him. Suddenly he draws a large knife from within his jacket and stabs her, before reaching for a handgun and firing randomly at the fleeing children. Soon after, we learn that he killed five juniors, which on reflection has horrible echoes of the Dunblane massacre that would take place five-years later. It’s a grim and downbeat intro that is made somewhat more nightmarish by the foggy photography and haunting childlike score.
Now this sort of approach is usually well avoided by most slasher movies. Dumb fornicating teens getting slaughtered the average viewer can handle, but young innocent children getting shot doesn’t sit comfortably with Joe public and especially with the then cautious censors. Eyres certainly went all out on the exploitation for his opening and to be honest he manages to create a tone of dread that is eminently unsettling. I knew that he would have one hell of a job on his hands to maintain or build upon such a dark ambience.
Sadly, from then on, Eyres struggles to deliver anything that reaches the same levels of extremity. The storyline walks into more traditional clichés, but even they feel laboured after such a drastic kick-off. The leads are likeable and accessible, even though a little more character building certainly wouldn’t have gone a miss. In one part, young Mandy asks Joe to accompany herself and her mother out on a date only five minutes after their first meeting. The guy only says a few words and he’s found himself a microwave relationship (with the mother, of course ;)). Who needs realism anyway? We then get a cheesy ‘couple in love’ montage, which juxtaposes shots of the threesome exploring the ‘wonderful’ sights of Bird World, Surrey. (?) It’s accompanied by the most gawd awful soft rawk tune ever recorded, – (sung by the director, no less) – and it sucks the last remaining drops of the macabre quality from the glass. Add on top of this the fact that the photography is as grotty as an abandoned subway and we really begin to feel uncontrollably sleepy.
The plot has difficulty making up it’s mind how it wants to play ball. None of the victims can give a positive description of the killer and the viewer never gets to see his face. Now in a slasher flick, this usually means that it’s one of the cast that’s slicing everyone up and it’s our job to guess who it is. But just when you think you’ve picked out your choice of culprit, the inexplicable ending leaves you totally bewildered. I’m sure that the intention was once again to shock, but it comes across as lazy.
There’s the odd interesting shot from DP Alan Chow, but nothing to write home about and as I previously mentioned it is impossible to give credit when you feel like you are watching everything through a dense mist. This is most evident in the night scenes which must’ve been illuminated by a matchstick and a throwaway lighter. Most of the murders are poorly filmed and bloodless, and after the opening massacre, there’s not much of a body count either. The overall momentum brought to mind the days of listening to a Walkman when the batteries were running out and far too much screen time is wasted covering the silly liaison that continued between the leads. The killer padre was one hell of a creepy bogeyman, but we just didn’t see enough of him, which I think was a big mistake. Few antagonists share the aura of menace that he carried so effortlessly and I would’ve liked to have focussed more on his motives and the Police’s efforts to track him down.
In any walk of life, you should always play to your strengths and much like Ghostkeeper, Godbless had the potential to thrive on such a unique feeling of uneasiness. It never manages to sustain a mood though and ends up laying, like a drunken hobo, in a mangled heap on your TV screen.
Overwhelmingly amateur with very little to warrant a purchase, aside from that shock-a-lock opening (and an awesome title, although it was released in the UK simply as Lucifer), I really don’t think that you’ll find enough here to keep you interested. I most definitely liked the creepy bogeyman, but aside from that we are really drinking the last saliva laden dregs from the filmmaking vodka bottle. Director John Eyres has his own website and guess what picture is missing from his online résumé…? Perhaps it suffered some problems during production? It’d be interesting to know.
Funnily enough I once showed this to a group of my friends when I was about seventeen and one of them absolutely loved it. In all my history of watching slasher films, he remains my only convert. Is that bad? I am not sure. Seeing London as a back drop was a laugh, especially when they compliment British tradition with stereotypical cups of tea and bags of chips. Due to intermittent problems with pacing, Goodnight Godbless just doesn’t cut it I’m afraid.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √
Blizzard of Blood 1988
Directed by: Jeff Kwitny
Starring: Joseph Alan Johnson, Lisa Loring, Deborah Deliso
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I used to work with a guy who thought himself a bit of a lad. He wore designer clothes to work (and probably to bed), slick hairstyle, drove a BMW, had the latest gadgets, bit of a bully, girlfriend with fake boobs – you know the kind. Anyway, i thought he was shallow and the complete opposite to me (I don’t even bother to comb my hair some days) but despite the fact we were complete opposites, we got on quite well.
We did have one thing in common though; both of us were massive fans of cinema. We often compared lists of flicks and spent time discussing Tarantino et al. Just like me, he had tonnes of DVDs and I introduced him to Amazon’s budget discs at good prices. I never really talked slashers with him as he didn’t come across as someone that’d know what one was, however he did mention that he had a soft spot for the rubbish eighties flick, No Retreat No Surrender. So much so that he bought a cinema print of it for a whole heap of cash.
In case you haven’t seen it, this is a very corny eighties film with a laughable synopsis and it boasts probably Van Damme’s worst performance, which is definitely saying something. Anyway, my point is, even people who act like they’re hard usually have a cheesy secret at home on VHS in the cupboard that they break out when alone – almost like a comfort blanket. It’s not only geeks like me. How many of us have the cojones to openly admit to them though?
Now you could say that I have got more than one, because I actually gave Graduation Day a good review and that’s definitely not something that’ll give me much street cred. But the real embarrassment in my collection, the one I watch when no one can see and I’m feeling pretty down is this little cheeseball.
Iced is a film so bad that it could be broadcast to life forms in galaxies far away so that they think humans are too dumb to bother with and don’t invade. Now don’t get me wrong, you can find worse lying around (Night Divides the Day oh and Carnage Road – the movie equivalent of being in a concrete cell for a week), but Iced just has a special charm for me. Maybe it’s that it was meant to be actually quite scary and mysterious? Or maybe it’s the killer’s awesome disguise? I am not sure, but I have seen Iced probably much more than many in my collection and for all the wrong reasons.
This is not the only snow bound slasher available on the market, but it’s the one that makes the most of its icy surroundings (death by icicle – ooh yeah!). Six acquaintances are mysteriously invited to a mountainous snow bound resort for a weekend break. It’s the first time that they’ve been skiing since the death of a former friend five years earlier. Jeff died after he had sworn vengeance on Cory for stealing the woman he had eyes for, Trina. Even before they all arrive, a psycho sporting the snowsuit and ski mask that the deceased was wearing when he was killed has made an extra room available by splashing one of the invitees across the motorway with a snow plough. So it looks like Jeff is back from the grave to get revenge…
If you are thinking that the plot is as hackneyed as they come, then you are completely right and it’s perhaps one of the reasons that I like this so much. Iced never even tries to be anything other than complete slasher trash. Whereas many of the latter genre entries were attempting to spice up things in an attempt to win new audiences, Kwitny’s opus studies the slasher text book and ticks off all ingredients one by one. Masked Killer: Check. POV shots: Check. Dumb victims: Check. Yes, it’s all here and even if there’s a small tad of self-recognition, mostly this plays things straight and remains content to swim in the shallow depths of the stalk and slash formula.
Funnily enough, the story was written by Joseph Alan Johnson, a name that you may recognise as he was a member of the cast for two other cheesy entries, namely: Berserker: The Nordic Curse from 1986 and also Slumber Party Massacre from 1982. He played a small part here and was not the only one who had a bit of a history in cinema. He was sharing the stage (or slopes) with Debra Deliso (also from Slumber Party Massacre) and Lisa Loring who was lucky enough to get her break at a very early age. She played Wednesday in the original Addam’s family series and despite a few TV roles after, her career certainly stalled in the years that followed. 1987 saw her comeback with parts in Savage Harbour and the gooey slasher, Blood Frenzy and then she hit the peak of her return with this. She married adult star Jerry Butler the same year and her next screen offering was in porn film Layin’ Down the Law in a non-sex role (well that’s what it says here). It probably wasn’t the career resurgence that she initially intended, to be fair.
You’ve more chance of discovering the corpse of Thomas Desimone than you have of finding any polished dramatics here and the characters are all clichés. I did however really like Carl, the sleazy coke-head, who spent most of the runtime walking around naked or sniffing lines in the bathroom. During his haze of cocaine, cheese and snow, he cracks on to Lisa Loring’s character with the awesome line, ‘I would love to make the blood pump in your veins again!” – That has to be amongst the best and most direct chat up hooks that I have ever heard. Oh and did I mention that he has one of those tiny pig-style ponytails? How could you not love the guy? Whilst everyone walked around in a mullet, he went for the bad in any decade rat’s tail look. What a tool.
There are enough plot holes throughout the runtime to soak up the rivers from the recent Thailand floods. We get a small touch of the supernatural when a character that was just murdered calls up to say that he’s ‘…with Jeff now’ but it never really goes anywhere. It’s also amusing that during the five years that’s supposed to have passed since the opening, they don’t seem to have aged at all. The first victim’s car conveniently breaks down where the killer has a snowplough parked so that he can rearrange his body parts and these guys must all be stone deaf, because they never hear the dying screams of their buddies as they’re mutilated only a few yards away.
Aside from suffering from hearing difficulties, Trina is also particularly dumb. She wakes up to find her husband lying in the kitchen with a knife sticking out of his chest and after the obligatory fumble for the keys to a car that won’t start, she eventually decides to use the telephone. Instead of ringing the local law enforcement or a paramedic for her partner who is by now probably bleeding to death, she calls Alex the resort manager whom they shared dinner with the night before. Sometime later when the killer is finally unmasked after a pretty pacey showdown, his motives are thinner than Lisa Loring’s ‘comeback’ career. And just as baffling!
It’s not all campiness though and Kwitny does manage at least one jolt. There’s an ok-ish chase sequence towards the climax too, which adds some suspense. Dan Milner’s excellent score, which was obviously ripped off from a certain Harry Manfredini, helps to build the tension and probably was better than this picture deserved. It’s a shame that the production crew didn’t make use of the local set locations that were brimming with potential. You’d think that they could have staged a few remarkable set pieces and made good use of the snow coated mountains, but instead they decided to kill off everyone in and around the cabin. With that said, the murder scenes are fairly unique and I’m sure that the reason that they filmed everything indoors was because of budget and not a lack of creativity.
If you are one of those that’s riding the eighties revival and your favourite song is still ‘It’s the final countdown‘, then Iced will rock your world. It was released in the years when slasher directors no longer had gore to rely on to hide their lack of talent, so instead they used lame nudity and – mostly unintentional – humour.
I am sure that this will not be the last time I reach for this decrepit VHS when I need a slasher fix. I’ll have to put up with bad tracking though, because there’s still no sign of a release date on DVD. Perhaps people nowadays prefer the infinitely better Shredder from 2001? Either way, I like this cheesy slasher and recommend it wholeheartedly to those who love their campy eighties movies.
Final Girl √√
Savage Water 1979
Directed by: Paul W. Kener
Starring: Ron Berger, Bridget Agnew, Pat Comer
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I never used to write the abbreviation, lol. Then I started texting with a female friend who would use it constantly. Lol this and lol that and eventually, it grew on me. I work in sales, and I have found that it is really an ingenious tool at times for breaking the ice in a business sense. You can write a statement and make it seem as a joke, but get your point across. For example: “For a moment there Mr Client, I thought you were serious about looking at one of our competitor’s lesser products lol”. It’s called planting the seed my friends.
Anyway, I have found another use for this wonderfully versatile three letter acronym. Ask me what I think of the film, Savage Water and my answer, both verbally and written will be, LOL. You see, of all of cinema’s B-movie genres, there’s certainly no doubt that the slasher cycle has the largest percentage of virtually impossible to locate titles. Movies like Houseboat Horror, Cards of Death, HauntedWeen, Streets of Death, New York Centrefold Massacre and Savage Vows have become so impossibly obscure that tracking them down has become a serious hobby to fans of the category like myself.
It’s amongst those rarities that you’ll find Paul Kener’s low budget, low grade, low quality, low brain-cell’d, low life cure for insomnia. A movie so far down the pecking order that it failed to even get released in its country of origin. I came across it in a small video exchange shop whilst on a day trip to Devon. When I asked the storekeeper if it was worth watching, he told me that I was one of the only people that had ever paid any attention to it. The signs were good.
They say that when a film completely disappears, it’s never without a damn good reason. But to be fair, titles like Terror Night, Satan’s Altar, Too Beautiful to Die and Bruno Mattei’s terrific Eyes without a Face have certainly raised a strong enough case for the defense to that age old fallacy.
A group of holidaymakers have booked themselves a dream trip with the Wild West White Water River Boat Company. Their journey will take them along the great Colorado so they can experience first hand the beauty of the Grand Canyon and the ferocity of the water crashing over the rapids. Once they are well away from civilisation, things take a turn for the worse as it’s realised that someone on board has their own reason for wanting to be stranded in the Canyon without interference from the authorities. Before long, the group begin getting bumped off one by one by an unseen maniac with a hunting knife and a murderous agenda. It seems that the killer wants to turn the mighty Colorado into a river of blood…
If Terror Night acts as a good example of an innocent slasher obscurity that don’t deserve to disappear, then Savage Water is as guilty as a suicidal convict begging to be frazzled in the electric chair. A truly wretched time waster, it’s as soggy as the Life jackets worn by the boaters of the feature. I should’ve known that I was in for a stinker as soon as I heard the heinous Country twanged theme tune over the opening credits, which was so awful that it almost took my mind off the shaky work of the cameraman as he panned the cliffs of the canyon. And yes I mean awful. A-W-F-U-L. Lyrics from the mind of a four-year old, two chord guitar and the vocal talents of Satan’s pit-bull. I was in shock.
When I was finally introduced to the cast of nincompoop boaters, I realised that I was heading for a shocking 105 minutes of unforgivable bile. The pick of the gang of brain-dead river rats include an elderly pair of (ahem) ‘Germans’, whose accents are as convincing as a politician’s promise. Then you have a dodgy psychiatrist who fancies ‘pushing his mind into the boundaries of insanity’ and looks like he still digs the era of The Monkees. I can’t forget to mention the bubbly blonde who reminded so much of Deborah Harry circa ‘Heart of Glass’ that I kept expecting her to drop the oar and kick off a musical rendition. Hot Chica by the way.
Although it was unfortunate that such a moment never came, she was at least responsible for by far the best of the films laugh out loud bad movie blunders. Whilst sharing a drink with an Arabic businessman that was along for the ride, the saucy starlet gave him an unexpected kiss. All of a sudden he jumped up like a bare footed basketball player on a vat of hot ashes and gaffed, “You kissed me, you kissed me, they told me it would happen but not so soon!” “My cousin told me that American woman would do it. Will you marry me?” To add to the hilarity of his bemusing reaction was the fact that this guy was about thirty-eight years old!
There’s really no reason for anyone to want to see Savage Water. It’s over-long, boring and filled with heinous acting and pathetic dialogue. The Screenwriter seemed to believe that film fans would be interested in watching a ten-minute example of how to put on a life jacket, or a dozen or so lectures on the dangers of eating wild plant life. You’d probably get about as much enjoyment out of watching a plank of wood float down your local river as you would viewing this mind numbingly tedious excuse for a murder mystery. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the lump of timber would probably deliver a more convincing performance than the obscurities featured within.
In honesty, I am not sure that the ambition here was to cash in on the success of Halloween. I think this way, only because this was released in 1979 and it may have been a tad to soon, seeing as THE slasher classic hit screens on the last day of October the previous year. It is probably more of a stab at making a thriller, but with a knife-clenching killer as the antagonist. What did interest me though, was that it did seem to have a similar ‘make out and die’ theme going on. Despite the fact that there are no sexual embraces in the film, the flirtiest of the girls does get slashed. This is something that would become a trademark of the stalk and slash genre over the next decade and onward and was very prominent after John Carpenter’s choice of virginal final girl.
To cut an over-long review short, there’s no gore, nudity or anything remotely interesting to be found here. It just makes you wonder how director Paul W. Kener actually felt about his creation when he watched it back after the shoot? Let’s just hope he had a sense of humour and it was along the lines of: LMFAO, ROTFL, ROFL…. Peace
Cards of Death 1986
Directed by: W.G MacMillan
Starring: Shamus Sherwood, Robert Rothman, Will MacMillan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So here it is. The most obscure eighties horror film on the planet…
I have seen Cards of Death described as the ‘Holy Grail’ for slasher fans by one writer on an online forum. A movie so rare that it is barely mentioned in a google search and has never been reviewed by any site on the Internet. It was shot in 1985 on video in California and was the directorial début of William MacMillan. MacMillan starred in the classic Romero zombie flick, The Crazies and has appeared in a few other films and TV shows over the years, including a decent performance in Oliver Stone’s Salvador. He is also a puppeteer and regular on the theatre circuit, which means that he has spent the majority of his life in the world of entertainment.
Macmillan’s status and previous experiences are sure to have given him an insight in to the trials and tribulations of developing a low-budget feature. This makes the disappearance of his only stab at filmmaking all the more bewildering. I have tried to make contact with him for a chat and will continue to do so, but as it stands, I’ll just have to share with you my assumptions based on what I have seen here.
For reasons that remain unknown, Death never secured a distribution deal or even played at a Drive-In in the US and was instead shipped out to Japan, where it was picked up by Sony and packaged on VHS. Even there it received a limited release, so at a guess I would say that there are maybe only a handful of copies left in circulation. I doubt that a master print still exists, because if it did, you could pretty much guarantee that Code Red or someone similar would have already taken advantage of its highly collectible standing amongst horror buffs.
Another thing worth noting is that despite what you may read on horror fan sites, Cards of Death is not a standard slasher flick at all. Instead, it has more in common with Blood Cult or Video Violence and includes multiple killers and an authentic plot.
An unnamed city is rocked by a vicious spate of murders. Every Thursday, a mutilated corpse is discovered somewhere in the streets. When the dismembered fingers and nose of a Police captain are mailed to the department, the victim’s son joins the investigation and helps the attempts to track down the killer. Clues lead to a card game that is being played in a secluded location in town…
So as I said above, this is not a slasher movie in the traditional sense. The murders are quite typical of the genre’s then popular methodology, but they are not committed by a central antagonist, which goes against the grain of the formula that we know so well. The Police are heavily involved in the story and we get to share their journey as they attempt to track down the maniac. The script makes no attempt to hide the identity of the killers however, so there’s no whodunit theme. The plot sprouts its branches from the macabre card games of the title. After each event, the winner gets a nice wad of cash, but the rules dictate that he or she must also murder the loser within twenty-four hours or both of them get slaughtered. In the first example of this, the victorious player sticks an axe in the chest of his target and then wraps a length of barbed wire around his face and throat in unflinching close-up. The participants use tarots instead of the usual deck of 52 and the rules of play are best described as a murderous twist on Poker. If the ‘death card’ turns up then it means exactly that – a bloody death for the unfortunate holder.
The men partaking around the table disguise their identity with rubber masks, whilst the women dress in provocative dominatrix gear, which may explain the links to the stalk and slash cycle. From a distance, if you consider that it includes masked killers, hatchets and blades then I guess you can understand why it has been classified as a missing entry. It’s worth keeping in mind though that there are no POV shots, there’s no final girl, no stalking and no shocking twist; so in my opinion, Macmillan wasn’t targeting the slasher crowd specifically. Where this does sit closely with most of its brethren on this site though is in the high levels of exploitation on display. Even in the US, censorship was at its harshest during the eighties, so did this contribute to its lack of distribution? That could well be the case.
The gore effects from Bryan Moore (He has worked on various pictures including, Dolls and Underworld Evolution) are the best thing technically about the picture. In the opening, a guy gets his nose sliced off and it is a very memorable scene, worth ranking with any other great eighties splatter moment. Later on we are treated to a few more equally gruesome set pieces, including a girl being crushed in a large human slaughter device. Most of the female characters get naked regularly and the tone can feel somewhat perverted at times. This is most obvious when we see a bizarre sequence where two of our murderous culprits make out next to the corpse of their victim. Moments earlier they had been drinking her blood from a wine glass and they continue to bathe in her crimson whilst they get it on! Chuck on top of that some cocaine snorting from the gang of maniacs and the levels of sleaziness are high enough to have given Jesus Franco a boner.
I appreciate that all this makes Cards of Death sound like it is well worth tracking down, but it is riddled with flaws that make it uncomfortable to watch. The dramatics are constantly poor and the photography is shaky and blatantly unprofessional. The fact that it has been shot on video doesn’t help and as you can see from my screensnaps, the sets are poorly lighted. By far the biggest disappointment though is the pacing, which fails to generate constant interest. I was looking away from the screen more often than not and it is only in the last twenty minutes that the story begins to gather momentum.
When the final credits roll, we get an awful theme song (Beware the cards of death etc) that sounds like a tone-deaf alcoholic warbling over a Casio keyboard. Kind of like a Ronettes 45 that’s been played on 33. I am guilty of mentioning rubbish theme songs a lot on a SLASH above and it seems that they are quite common in the slasher genre. So keeping in mind that I have experienced so many, I’m happy to state that this is one of the worst. ANYWHERE EVER.
Cards of Death is an interesting film mainly because it is such an enigma. I doubt that many of you have seen it, simply because it is as rare as an honest politician. It has some strengths, which include a superb story, some brutal deaths and a decent last twenty minutes. If it had been seen a bit more, I would have no hesitation in calling it a pre-cursor to the Torture Porn films that would dominate horror over a decade later. Perhaps the most inexplicable thing is why it never got released in its country of origin. It’s by no means a good movie, but I have seen many that are worse. I feel extra pressure to describe Cards of Death to you, because I know how much it has become THE lost slasher that everyone wants to see. Well you can most definitely live without it, but it’s one that I am quite happy that I have in my collection, if that makes sense.
Sleazy, gory and cheap to boot; I guess if it was widely available you could consider it to be a similar type of flick to 555 or maybe The Ripper. The fact that MacMillan has never really pushed to get it released probably says more than my words ever will. Well at least now you know something about it and that it actually does exist. If you have any more questions, feel free to contact me in the usual ways…
Killer Guise: √√√
Psycho Ward 2007
Directed by: Patrick McBrearty
Starring:Jacqueline Betts, Bobby Horvath, Liam Card
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s interesting that not many slasher completists mention that there were far more slasher movies released during 1998-2008 than at any other period of the genre’s timeline. Even the eighties heyday didn’t churn out as many psycho killers, which is an interesting piece of information. It’s likely because it is so much easier now to get a film made and a distribution deal sorted and anyone with a camera and a few keen friends can put together their own effort. In the old days, it was all about walking around cap in hand and begging for funding.
On top of that, we have also seen entries emerging from more and more countries over the past fifteen years. These include Russia, India, Pakistan, South Korea and Thailand. There were so many newer titles finding their way direct to DVD at one point that even the IMDB is still catching up with listing half of them. I keep looking out for Final Curtain and Demon Day Killer and to this day they don’t seem to be on there.
There’s a massive difference between the low budgeted modern entries and the ones that came out thirty-years earlier.Take for example movies like Blood Reaper, Sawblade and Heart Stopper. They can at times be fun to watch, but they lack the charm and wit that was such an allure for the entries from the golden years like Sledgehammer or Home Sweet Home. Psycho Ward to look at offers nothing notably different from any of the three post-Scream titles I mentioned above, but it does have one thing that allows it to somewhat stand apart. This was not (yet) another direct-to-disc shelf-liner from Brain Damage or Film 2000, but was actually distributed by a major, major studio.
What on earth Lionsgate, the most commercially successful independent film and television company in North America and the third most profitable movie production suite, were thinking when they picked this up is anyone’s guess? Maybe they paid peanuts for it? Maybe they did it for charity? Maybe a video was sent to the board of directors showing one of them in a ‘compromising position’ with a hooker and a bag of coke? Anyway I was keen to see if it was worthy of such a ‘blue chip’ release…
A group of students head off to a dilapidated prison with a psychiatrist to uncover the truth behind rumours of government mind experiments that had been taking place before it was shut down. It seems that there were some military tests on the inmates that had to be kept classified. What they uncover is a vicious masked killer who seems hell bent on slashing them to pieces.
Are prisons creepy? I guess they could be. You see, there probably are only a few places more claustrophobic than a concrete cell and you have to give the director 10/10 for effort on his choice of location. In the opening scene, McBrearty hits the right switches by giving us a nice pair of boobies, some fun gore and a glimpse of a masked menace. It’s a good start, but as you all know so well dear readers, from then on its more likely that things will traverse in a downward trajectory
The characters that carry us through the story are comfortably delivered and unlike the majority of slashers, Ward doesn’t make the necessary development parts something that would send an amphetamine addict into a coma.There’s some genuinely impressive structure in some of the camera-work and I really liked one lingering POV shot, which sees the unseen assailant watch his prey wander through the door to their impending doom from an upstairs window. It was truly a postcard horror shot that proved our director knew the genre’s background. When the trouble starts, the group decide to stick together and work in tandem to escape and there are hints of paranoia directed at the girl that they met mysteriously outside of the prison. Could she be involved? Is she the killer’s daughter? It’s not as predictable as you might think.
About halfway through, two unknowns pull up in a car outside the building and the maniac makes very quick work of them with minimal endeavor. They are never mentioned or referenced again and it’s pretty obvious that the scene was added during post-production because someone noticed that there hadn’t been any killings for a while. We do come across moments when the pace does stagnate a bit, but all in all I think that things cruise along at an acceptable gallop and sustaining momentum is not the flaw that ruins Psycho Ward.
The movie’s weakness is that it doesn’t make the most of the few good elements that were there to be expanded upon. I mentioned in my plot write-up about evil doctors and military mind experiments, right? Well that led me to expect some kind of super-human survivor like Robocop who had a sympathetic reasoning behind his murderous intent. He doesn’t want to kill but was programmed to do so by twisted CIA agents or Military generals. Keep in mind that this was produced long BEFORE Shutter Island and could have been really unique with an approach that hinted at a shady conspiracy or a manchurian candidate type of backstory. What we got in the end though was absolutely nothing. Nada, zero, nic, nix, naught. Just a normal (overweight) nut in a mask with no imaginative motive outside of the fact that he ‘likes to kill’. So why build us up like that only not to follow through? Your guess is as good as mine and it was really disappointing.
The script seems to have been written in five-minutes on the back of a fag packet and it includes moments that seem incredibly dumb. INCREDIBLY so. There’s a part where two of the characters get locked in a prison cell together; and I repeat, LOCKED.IN.A.PRISON.CELL.TOGETHER. I laughed out loud when one of them looked at the other and said, “Ok right, so we should just wait here!” An early victim has a chance to flee the hulking maniac and so she runs, no, not out of the open doorway to freedom, but into a concrete cell with no lockable door (?). I also liked it when the ‘heroic’ male lead discovers a cell block that is littered with the bodies of his chums. He finds corpse A and like a real gentleman takes of his jacket to place it over the victim’s face. Then he comes across corpse B and removes his shirt to do the same. Secretly inside, I wondered if he really would strip right down to his polka dot Y-fronts if he came across the rest of the deceased?
Psycho Ward at last check has a 2.1 rating on the IMDB. 2.1! To put that in perspective, even Camp Blood has 3.4. In fairness, I didn’t think it was 2.1 worth of bad and I’m glad that I watched it. There’s a touch of suspense in the final five minutes and I did like the downbeat ending. I just think that because it was released by a major brand, I had the expectation that it would fair better. I wonder what the producer from Lionsgate that picked this up thought would become of it? I mean the killings have the whole ‘torture porn’ thing going on, so perhaps he imagined that it was the next SAW? Oh gosh, my head is spinning. People have lost jobs for a lot less. In fact it plays a lot like another of the same studio’s trashy throwaways, See No Evil. I was going to say that maybe Psycho Ward ripped that movie off, but I have heard on the grapevine that this was left in a vault for a while before it was finally launched onto the public, so it’s a few years older. Thinking about all this is actually making my head hurt. I see Psycho Ward when I close my eyes… THERE’S NO ESCAPE FROM THE CONCRETE CELL WITH NO DOOR!!!! HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELLLLLLPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!!!
Anyway dear readers, this one is not particularly memorable, but if you’re in dire need of some junk, then you can give it a whirl. In the meantime, I just filmed myself with a pillow case over my head heavy breathing on my iPhone 4S. I’m on hold to Lionsgate now. If they give me a contract, I’ll buy you all a beer. Peace…
Killer Guise: √√
aka Monkey Boy
Directed by: Lawrence Gordon Clark
Starring: John Lynch, Kenneth Cranham, Emer Gillespie
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Now here’s a review that I never thought I’d be adding to a SLASH above. Could a feature length edition of a four-part series that was aired way back in 1991 on the comfort of a Sunday evening’s television really be classed a slasher flick? Surprisingly the answer is yes. I remember watching Chimera as a ten year old child and being absolutely petrified by the sights I was witnessing. Many years later as my love for horror grew, I often reminisced about Lawrence Gordon Clark’s opus and was enthusiastic when I discovered an ageing copy at a video store under the alias of Monkey Boy. Chimera had launched to much critical acclaim in the United Kingdom and I wondered whether it could survive the stark condensation from a four hour runtime to a measly length of a hundred and four minutes.
It launches with a suspenseful set-piece, which was drastically shortened from the sequence broadcasted on television in 1991. In its original format we were given a huge amount of development into the lives of the opening victims, whereas in this shorter version, the characters are slaughtered almost as soon as they are introduced. It all kicks off in The Jener Clinic – a remote fertility surgery in the Yorkshire countryside. A van pulls into the car park and out jump four panic stricken workers. They drag something screaming from the back of the vehicle before silencing it with tranquillisers and carrying it into the complex. Although we don’t get to see the struggling aggressor, we can tell from its screams that it’s certainly not human. As night sets in on the clinic, the alarm is raised when an unseen someone begins stalking through the surgery and slaughtering the staff Michael Myers-style with a carving knife. The unseen maniac escapes the location, leaving behind him a mess of butchered corpses and flames.
The following morning we are introduced to Peter Carson (John Lynch). Peter is apprehended by Police whilst on his way to the clinic in order to meet his ex-girlfriend, Tracy. He is forced to identify the nurse’s mutilated corpse, but when he asks for answers he is given the run-around by the senior detectives. Visibly frustrated at the lack of information he is given, Peter begins to suspect that the Police are covering up the true motives behind the massacre. He soon launches his own private investigation, which uncovers something worse than he could ever have imagined.
The days when British Hammer Horror features were at the forefront of the genre have long since passed and UK cinema has yet to produce a slasher movie to rival its American brethren. It comes as some surprise that the closest they have come is with this made for TV thriller from the early nineties. Chimera combines a gripping story with the standard clichés to create an entry that sticks in your mind long after the closing credits have rolled. Mixing shady government conspiracies and genetic engineering with approachable characters and a bogeyman that splits the viewer between moods of sympathy and hatred, Stephen Gallagher’s script generates enough complexity and terror to allow it to stand as a memorable viewing experience.
The opening massacre borrows heavily from Halloween and its sequel, and in a further nod to the cycle, the killer sports a red striped top ala Freddy Krueger. As Chimera was made for television, the gore is kept to a bare minimum, but Clark’s sharp and rapid direction and a plot that successfully delays the explanation to the psycho’s identity keeps the tension running fluidly. John Carpenter has stated that one of the reasons that the original Halloween towered so prominently over the quality of its sequels was the excellent dramatisation of ‘the shape’ by Nick Castle. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of a chillingly portrayed bogeyman, but it’s something that Clark was aware of and Douglas Mann does an excellent job of giving the killer a distinguishing characterisation. In the lead, John Lynch fails to take advantage of a multi-layered plot and delivers a half-hearted colourless performance, whilst the majority of the cast members never leave the comfort zone of b-grade television dramatics. Only Kenneth Cranham emerges with credibility, portraying the ruthless Hennessey with a vicious guile that offers the viewer a genuine hate figure.
The fact that Chimera is based on Gallagher’s novel from 1982 – a time when the genre was at its most productive – explains why the plot is so knee deep in slasher references. But to classify Chimera as just another cycle entry would perhaps be an injustice, because it falls into a huge number of categories. Part Sci-fi, part detective mystery and a huge part stalk and slash, Clark’s opus is an altogether interesting feature that never outstays its welcome.
Ok so this is an updated write-up from a a few years back. It’s the first of two British TV slashers that I am going to post for you all. My first review of this flick got a mixed response, with people disagreeing and some in fact said it was insulting that I called it a slasher film. Well, if you don’t think that an unseen killer stalking through POV shots with a butcher’s knife is Carpenter-esque, then I don’t know what to do with you… Check it out…
Killer Guise: √
Early Frost 1981
Directed by: Unkown
Starring: Joanne Samuel, David Franklin, Guy Doleman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
There are a few slasher sites on the web, so what I try to do here for you guys and gals is give you some of the rarer titles that are floating about alongside the most commonly known. Recently in my review of Si Yiu, I promised you some flicks from 1981 that you may not yet have come across. After i posted the uber-obscure The Phantom Killer, here my friends is yet another. Early Frost is an Ozploitation number from the boom year and thus far, it has not been reviewed on any other blog/website. It is, in fact, so unknown that I have searched everywhere and tracked down only minimal information on its development. No wonder that it has been so blatantly overlooked. (Another a SLASH above exclusive. I do accept cheques lol)
If regional filmmaking was a term that applied globally, then Early Frost is as regional as a phone code. It was shot in Blacktown, Australia, and the only snippets of knowledge that I could gather were that many people from that area have heard about it or in effect, know someone who was involved with its production. The reasons as to why it hasn’t been reviewed or given the time of day are indeed a mystery, because it was picked up by Medusa Communications ltd and they were a fairly large VHS distributor back in the day. It just seems to be the one that got away.
It boasts a 7.3 rating on the IMDB. 7.3! That’s only .6 decimals away from Halloween. I should also inform you that it is listed there and on other sites that reuse the IMDB’s data as a ‘thriller’. Well that’s only half-true. I picked it up moons ago at a car boot sale not expecting a slasher, but trust me, it is 100% a hopeful stab at making Australia’s Dressed to Kill. Personally I quite like Aussie horror and especially their experiments within the slasher sub-genre. In only a few attempts, they have covered everything possible from a classy Carpenter-lite suspense treat (Coda) to a campy bucket of stale fondue (Houseboat Horror). Let’s see where Early Frost sits amongst those gateposts…
A private detective discovers a link in some recent fatal accidents that hint at the possibility that they were in fact murders. Along with a local boy who keeps news clippings on such events, the pair begins to investigate the possibility that there is an intelligent serial killer on the lose…
Cinema is a truly amazing form of media because it has the ability to seriously meddle with your emotions. Some films can make you laugh, some can make you cry. Some can be so suspenseful that they lead you to chew your nails until they’re almost down to the skin. I was hoping to post a review of Early Frost much earlier (pun intended), but what I kept getting when watching the flick was the uncontrollable urge to go to sleep. I mean, like seriously. After a record 14 cups of coffee in twelve hours, I have finally got to see it all the way through – yay! It’s a slasher that’s far more ‘er’ than it is ‘slash’, because we are not treated to any rubber masked psychopaths that stalk bra-less bimbos in boob-tubes. We do however get bundles of killer-cam shots from our unseen nut job with audible breathing difficulty, so the Halloween influences are present and correct. It’s a character driven story, with a huge emphasis on the mystery, but without a traditional final boy or girl to drive the story. Instead it flows more like a study on a family – a mother and her two sons – and their dark secrets.
The single parent is a clichéd ‘bad movie mum’ without one redeeming feature. She’s a horrible bitch to watch on the screen and she thinks more about getting drunk and laid than she does looking after her two boys. She was also inadvertently responsible for the death of their father, which has left an uneasy chemistry in the house. These scenes of story development are competently written, well staged, comfortable to watch and the cast do a fairly good job with what they were given. Most of them were signed from TV shows that were popular at the time, including Aussie screen legend, Guy Doleman. Along for the ride also was Joanne Samuel, who played Mel Gibson’s wife in Mad Max and the tortured protagonist in Alison’s Birthday.
The idea of the story is really good, because the unseen killer is intelligent in the way that he makes each murder look like an accident. This leads to a few interesting slaughter scenes, which I won’t list here so as not to ruin them. It was written by Terry O’Connor who had his name placed above the title as would a director, but funnily enough, it wasn’t him in the hot seat. This is the most interesting thing about Early Frost, because no one is sure who actually did manage the shoot. It remains the only Australian film without a director’s credit; and from the little that I have learned, the guy who worked it for the most part walked off the set halfway through. In the end, producers David Hanney and Geoff Brown took control, but whether they decided to finish it between them or hire someone else is something that has never been stated. This must have had an effect on the rest of the crew and maybe it somewhat explains the movie’s low level status. On a sombre note, two of the leading players were themselves involved in fatal accidents within five years of the film’s release. Local papers called it ‘The Jinx of Early Frost’, although I prefer not to look at things that way. Rest in Piece to Jon Blake and Daniel Cumerford.
For a movie that wants you to be engrossed in its puzzle, it delivers a really poor conclusion. I mean, it was easy to figure out, but very hard to believe. (I mean how did he know that stuff?) Then the final image throws a complete curveball on us that was surely meant to be quite smart, but it’s just confusing and annoying.
Despite a couple of neat attempts at building suspense, Early Frost is too much of an oddball for its own good. It has no nudity, minimal gore, a bewildering spine to its synopsis and most importantly, a lack of momentum. A superb idea has been hindered no doubt by what was going on behind the scenes. Not really worthy of your effort in searching out, because it’s a bit of a misfire. Oh and by the way, what the hell was the reason behind the title?
Horror House On Highway Five 1985
Directed by: Richard Casey
Starring: Phil Terrien, Max Manthey, Susan Leslie
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
To be labelled as the most bizarrely bewildering title of all slasher movies may not seem like much of a memorable claim. But when you consider the fact that the forerunner is up against such twisted beasts asBlood Harvest, Don’t Open ’til Christmas, Blood Beat and the almost extra terrestrial A Day of Judgement, then you begin to realise how tough a challenge it really is.
When it comes to leaving you dumbfounded and gasping at the screen – jaw dropped quicker than if you just received a shattering right hook from Mike Tyson – then Horror House on Highway Five has crossed the finish line while the others are still tying up their shoe-laces. A true, true masterpiece of brain-numbing confusion, Highway Five is about as otherworldly as any movie could ever possibly achieve to be inside this solar system.
Some of the strange images that will appear on your screen over the 90 minute runtime include: A homicidal maniac in a Richard Nixon mask that may well be a dead scientist and is played by an actor named Ronald Reagan (seriously!). Then there are two demented kidnappers – one of them believing that his brain is being destroyed by parasites, while the other acts equally like the mushrooms that he ate with his fried breakfast were certainly those of the ‘magic’ variety. And how could I forget the gang of college half wits who have the intelligence of a bullfrog on crack. Then there’s the wacky soundtrack that includes everything from St Pepper’s-era Beatles style psychedelic-rock to Dion and the Belmonts-type doo-wop?
A college class investigating the creation of the V2 rocket head out to a small town (brilliantly titled ‘Little Town’) where it was believed that the German scientist behind the invention spent his final days in America. Legend dictates that before his disappearance, Frederick Bartholomew became a murderous psychopath and began killing off the people that he worked with. One young student – Sally Smith – is given the task of interviewing two of the scientist’s former associates, the crazed Dr. Mabuser and his stuttering sidekick Gary. Meanwhile a maniac dressed as Tricky Dicky is heading along Highway 5 bumping off anyone unfortunate enough to cross paths with him. Will the classmates escape the secluded town alive? Is that really Richard Nixon trying to murder his way back into the White House? All the answers lie behind the front door of the Horror house on Highway 5…
If anything, Richard Casey’s début certainly proves that there are some strange people inhabiting this planet and a fair majority of them were working on the set of this feature circa 1985. You’d think that at some point during the months of pre-production at least one member of the cast or crew would have said, “Hold on a second, isn’t this all just a little far-fetched?” But no, it seems that the copious amounts of LSD that were handed out as inspirational materials throughout the writing of the screenplay were still in abundance during the shoot. There’s really no other way to explain occurrences such as: The second victim throwing herself through a glass coffee table for *no* reason whatsoever, whilst the killer was hot on his heels behind her. It was only moments earlier that she had been pulling strange faces at herself in the mirror; – the kind of thing that you do if you are tripping out of your head. It may also be the real truth behind Mike and Louise’s cool attitude when they find a disembowelled cat mysteriously dumped in the back of their van. If you are hallucinating consistently, then you expect to see that kind of thing, surely? Oh and before I forget, Dr. Mabuser seems to believe that his brain is being munched by maggots – need I say more?!? Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and all that…
The dramatics are exactly what you’ve come to expect from zero budget slasher movies. You know, the kind of performances that make your children’s high school play look like One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest part deux. There’s one starlet that really gave new meaning to the word ‘wooden’ – she was soooo ‘timber-esque’ that I reckon that she could make an oak bookcase look like a large wall of Lego. The highlight of her brief appearance came as she was being murdered by the former president. With the enthusiasm of a dry roasted peanut she yelped, “Relax just try to put your mind at ease…” Yeah right! Don’t expect to see her popping up in any other motion pictures any time soon.
This does at least try in many ways to add a little spice to the hack and slash cycle. Alongside the traditional masked maniac, there’s at least three other nut jobs to keep you interested and there’s even a hint at the supernatural that’s never completely followed through. Oh yeah and a word of advice to all T&A fans, there’s nothing but dungarees and fluffy jumpers going on here. You’ve more chance of seeing forbidden flesh on an episode of sesame street than you have anywhere in this fully wrapped slasher flick.
My conclusion is that Highway Five was either invaded by otherworldly beings on set, was intended as a spoof, or is simply a misunderstood masterpiece. One thing is for certain however; for all its nonsensical frolics and wayward attempts at terror, it sure makes a fine advertisement for rolling over and going to sleep…
Actually, to make things clearer, the advert ends with the classic line, “Watch this film or die!” Believe me that’s not the easiest of choices to make…
Final Girl: √√
Death Valley 1982
Directed by: Dick Richards
Starring: Paul Le Mat, Catherine Hicks, Peter Billingsley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
There’s a line in this forgotten mid-budgeted slasher that really struck a chord with me. It reminded me that there are some couples I know that meet in their early teens and stay together for most of their lives. Other friends that I have jump from one relationship to the next and never really find a platonic bond with a partner. In a surprisingly philosophical piece of dialogue early on in the runtime, a father is asked by his child as to why he has separated from his mother. “We fell in love with a picture”. He replies rather awkwardly. “I’m not the man that your mother wants and she’s not the woman with whom I fell in love with”. ‘Fell in love with a picture’…
This is a fault in the wiring of mankind that occurs with unfortunate regularity. We are so brainwashed by the desperation to find Mr or Mrs Right that sometimes we don’t see the ‘wider plan’ and so we buy in to an image of a person that our imagination has construed. Then we get disappointed that things don’t work out the way that we envisioned. What a fine piece of insight from a member of a genre that’s not known for its intelligence or cultural acknowledgement.
There are other touching moments in Death Valley, which are brought about from a gamble taken by screenwriter Richard Rothstein. Almost all of the slasher movies released during the peak years had a central character that was either in their late teens or adulthood. Here we have a ‘Final Boy’ who is just that: a young boy. It’s a shot in the dark that hits the target and creates an authentic and enjoyable alternative.
A divorcee and her young son head off to Arizona to visit her boyfriend. Whilst exploring the desert, the young child becomes an unwitting witness in a murder case. When the killer is made aware of his identity, he begins to stalk the threesome, killing everyone in his way…
Rothstein has never been considered as a particularly accomplished screenwriter and a list of credits that include Universal Soldier and Hard to Hold add weight to that consensus. On this basis, I would consider Death Valley to be the best of his work. It’s a film that offers various cinematic moods in one fast paced and compact time frame. It was released in 1982 on a generous budget (for the category it frequents), but got lost in the multitude of masked killers and disappeared quite rapidly. Despite being picked up by a large label, it received very little fanfare or marketing, which didn’t help and it has only recently been given a shot on DVD.
The ‘father and son’ opening conversation scene that I mentioned above builds an interesting sub-plot, which involves the mother’s new boyfriend who is played by Paul Le Mat. Le Mat is somewhat of an enigma for me, because he made his name in the pre Star Wars George Lucas hit, American Graffiti. He shared billing there with Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard and Charles Martin Smith and outshone the three of them with a performance full of charisma. Handsome and rugged with an intriguing screen presence, he seemed to be perfect leading man material, suited to the kind of roles that his co-star from Graffiti, Harrison Ford, would later excel in. His ship never rolled in however and eight years down the line, he was turning up in mid-range films such as this.
The guy that he portrays here is in love with the mother of our final boy and wants to be accepted with minimal fuss. The child however is ‘loyal’ to his father and isn’t open to the ‘uninspired’ attempts to win his trust. It’s staged superbly, because the viewer is unsure who is more deserving of sympathy. Whilst we can notice that the kid may be unnecessarily awkward in not accepting the efforts to build a friendship; said ‘efforts’ are delivered half-heatedly and with minimal patience from the adult. At times it feels like he is an unwanted addition on the holiday, which in a way makes neither character morally superior. I was totally engrossed in this relationship for the first twenty minutes or so and forgot that I was watching a horror film.
When the slasher stuff starts though, things hot up nicely. Three teens in a RV, including an amazingly hot chica in a boob tube, are slaughtered systematically with some neat camera work and splashings of blood. The killer puts in a couple more creepy appearances and chucks in a well timed jump scare to boot. He drives a creepy as hell 1958 Cadillac Series 62 Sedan with the legendary ‘Dagmar’ Bumpers and the moments where we see the car ‘stalking’ bring to mind John Carpenter’s Christine, a year before that movie was even released. There’s a few tense moments, like when the boy stumbles across a murder site early on and we get a cooler than cool chase sequence in an old Western town, where the intended victim thinks it’s just a game. There’s also a terrific score from Dana Kaproff that sounds like a cross between Manfredini and Zaza. Yes, it is that good.
The acting from the entire cast is top quality and real mention should go to the outstanding work from the eleven year old Peter Billingsley as the youngster and Stephen McHattie as the twisted killer. Even if director Dick Richards didn’t do anything exciting technically, he got the best out of his cast with the dramatics. The plot roles very neatly through to it’s conclusion and they even manage to chuck in a twist and a tad of humour of the darkest kind. This involves a girl with obvious, ahem, ‘weight problems’ getting slashed because she went for just that one treat too many. It’s worth noting that Valley is the closest we have to a slasher Western and the nut job even sports a ‘mask’ that is a Cowboy hat and a neckerchief! How can you not like that?
Some have written that the film suffers from a muddled story, but I really didn’t notice that at all. Instead, it chucks in all the clichés and still manages to be somewhat off-beat. Perhaps not scary or gory enough to be a lost classic, but it has enough suspense, intrigue and fluidity to guarantee a fun hour and a half’s entertainment.
Killer Guise: √√√
The Stitcher 2007
Directed by: Darla Enlow
Starring: Scott Gaffen, Carmen Garrison, Justin Boyd
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
To any of my straight male readers who are still looking for Mrs Right, how’s this sound for an ideal woman. Darla Enlow is a busty blonde bombshell from Oklahoma and if that’s not enough to get you interested, she also directs slasher films!
Imagine the possibilities. “Hi Honey, I’m home. What’s the plan for tonight?” “Well I thought we’d watch the entire Friday the 13th series whilst getting blazingly drunk and then make love like rabbits until the sun comes up!” Sound good? Come on, you know it does…
The Stitcher is the third title in her low-budget DTV trilogy and it’s reputedly the best. I do also have Toe-Tags and Branded in front of me, but I thought I’d watch this one first.
It tells the tale of a group of youngsters that head down south to visit their friend who has inherited a large house from the death of her Auntie. They soon run in to The Stitcher, a psychopathic killer with a bizarre and morbid history. With only minimal contact with the outside world, they are left to battle the maniac on their lonesome…
Unlike the majority of no-budget DTVs that I watch, I started The Stitcher with high hopes that I’d really like it. Maybe in a peculiar way, I thought if I wrote a positive review here, Darla Enlow would read it, come and knock on my door, whisk me away to Oklahoma where we would elope and have an army of kids with names like Michael Freddie Voorhees and Jason ‘Leatherface’ Cropsy. But no, unfortunately, I respect telling the truth to you dear reader much more than I do the chance of landing a fine Southern lassie with an awesome hobby. Anyway, the problem with this one is not a lack of directorial talent from Enlow. It’s just that her filmmaking philosophy bus is not one that I enjoy riding aboard.
You see, to say I’m not the biggest fan of Troma style horror flicks is like saying that if you catch him in the right mood, David Hasslehoff will have the odd beer. Aside from their numerous pick ups (Graduation Day, The Fanatic, Blood Hook et al), I think Troma are an embarrassment to independent movies. The reason I tell you this is because I consider them to be the only other place on the planet where you’ll find toilet humour in a horror picture. Perhaps it was just that I didn’t get the jokes, but I was laughing at people farting and smoking grass when I was eight years old. I look for a bit more than that nowadays.
The players here are all unlikeable and arrogant. I don’t remember the last time that I saw a modern slasher with a character that I wanted to survive. This is one of the key things that I think that needs to be addressed moving forward so that we can have the chance of another Scream-style rebirth. When did the category give up on the archetypal heroine? Why nowadays are they packing their films with insensitive idiots? It makes no sense. There’s a scene about halfway through that involves a homeless person and a telephone. It’s about five-minutes long, stupid and takes the plot absolutely nowhere. This can’t just be blamed on padding either, because at 97 minutes, the film is the slasher equivalent of a soccer match, extra-time, penalties and another soccer match straight after.
It also suffers from infuriating lighting issues. The killer looks absolutely awesome, but most of the time, it’s very difficult to see him. So much so that I was really struggling to get a screen snap for this review. Most of the murders are off-screen, which I think has more to do with funding than anything else and the film hints at a twist that never really materialises. Recently, we had a few friends over for a birthday party. I handled cooking duties and I whipped up some mean Albondigas with bacon and a special ‘Luisito ingredient’ that I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you after. (How can a man give away his cooking success tips, eh?) Anyway, three of the nine people that turned up were vegetarians and so I had to rush to the shop to pick up something for them to eat. That was poor planning on my part and I guess that it was kind of like packing a film full of lousy alternative rock tracks for the entire runtime and thinking that everyone in the world is going to love it. I certainly didn’t.
So with those nags out of the way, why have I given The Stitcher a two-star rating instead of the one that I have made it look like it deserves? Well when Darla takes her concentration away from the humour, things begin to fall into place. The last twenty minutes or so are absolutely terrific and the momentum switches from let’s go to sleep to let’s rock and roll. There’s some real tension on display and even if generally the acting sucks, the last two do a pretty good job at keeping things rolling. What is worth noting is the fact that if you were under the illusion that Darla may well be a raving feminist with a fear of exploiting her sex, then you will be in for a shock. There’s a huge amount of bikinis to up the eye candy factor, a mega MEGA hottie and various lingering cleavage shots. It’s also interesting that all the female personas are quite weak and conveyed as being scared of their own shadows. The strongest of the intended victims is a tough homosexual dude, who turns out to be a pretty cool hero. I guess what I mean is that Darla knows how to satisfy a stalk and slash audience and has no qualms with the traditional exploitive trappings.
Despite the omnibus in length runtime, I never got too bored watching The Stitcher. There’s some fun to be had on occasion and it all ends on a high note. I notice that Enlow hasn’t made a feature for a while, which is a shame because in a sub-genre that’s mainly populated with blokes, a feminine touch is one that I welcome. There’s a blooper real included on the disc and its clear that the cast and crew had an absolute ball during production and you can feel the good time vibe whilst watching. I like the fact that there’s filmmakers like this out there that scrape together some funds and continue to populate our beloved grouping. Slasher enthusiasts may enjoy the decent bogeyman, a competent finale and a really authentic ‘psycho back story’, but real cinema connoisseurs though will have a field day ripping the lesser moments to shreds.
Whether you take it up or not is dependent on your bad movie tolerance levels.
*Big thanks to Steve mi amigo for helping me to track these movies down.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √