Monthly Archives: February 2013
The Funhouse 1981
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Elizabeth Berridge, Shawn Carson, Jeanne Austin
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
We humans all reflect on poor previous experiences and wish that we had chosen a different option, a different set of words or a different solution. It’s a common thought process to imagine what might have been had we reacted to a bad situation in a different way. No matter how successful, happy or influential someone may be, we all carry regrets that weigh heavily upon our shoulders like anchors. Deep inside every one of us is a dreamer that yearns for a chance to relive past experiences armed with the knowledge that we gained the first time around. Although turning back the hands of time is an impossible act, the ability to do so would be beneficial to each and every one of us.
This mentality applies in all walks of life, and cinema is no different. Imagine for a moment that after John Carpenter’s Halloween set the standard, the genre loosened its restraints and pushed forward to greater heights. Instead of the intoxicating pollution of minimal brained and non budgeted features that plagued cinemas after 1978; what if studios had spent time and money investing in the cycle and pushing new boundaries for its ongoing development? Despite an astoundingly negative reputation, the slasher genre, when handled correctly, can provide exemplary results. Just ask Alfred Hitchcock.
In 1981, Tobe Hooper was a director with the world at his feet. Hot on the heels of his cult classic features The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eaten Alive, the director had been recognised by movie mogul Steven Spielberg and his name had become well respected in Hollywood circles. With the weight of a major studio behind him, Hooper decided to invest his talents in the fashionable slasher genre, which on paper promised to provide a feature that would finally rival Carpenter’s classic.
Hooper makes no effort to disguise Funhouse’s slasher heritage and he launches his entry with a scene that references two of the genre’s heavyweights. Whilst showering, our protagonist Amy is stalked via Carpenter-alike steady-cam in an opening that successfully sets the mood for the remaining runtime. The carnival has arrived in town and Amy and three of her teenage friends have decided to go along for the opening night. Despite warnings from her parents, the youngster bows to the pier pressure from her boyfriend and they arrive to be entertained by the lights and attractions on display. Ritchie has the ambitious idea to spend the night in the Funhouse, believing that the group can make-out and spend time alone without the intervention of their parents. It soon turns out to be a fateful plan, when the teens witness the brutal slaughter of one of the workers. Alone and locked in the carnival until morning, the troupe are stalked by a maniacal assassin with no chance of escape.
An endless amount has been written about Tobe Hopper’s full from grace and it reminds me very much of soccer striker Andrei Shevchenko’s awkward stint at London club Chelsea FC a few years back. It was hard to watch the former legend strolling around so clumsily and being criticised every week for his mediocre performances and the downhill slope for the quality of Hooper’s later work was equally as stark and unrelenting. The Spielberg collaboration that gave us 1982′s Poltergeist promised us so much and was supposed to launch Hooper as a Hollywood suspense maestro who could maybe share a status with past-greats like Hitchcock and Kubrick. Unfortunately the opposite happened and his career never hit the heights that had been predicted. Nowadays, horror connoisseurs look back on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as the only truly outstanding feature in his portfolio. That’s somewhat unfair on The Funhouse though as this is an equally shocking and grim vision of terror.
Chainsaw Massacre’s strengths were its excessive use of terrifying sound, a skill that Hooper successfully repeats in this follow up. The final scene is an excellent juxtaposition of visual and audible horror and the film maintains a harsh and unrelenting feeling of danger that surrounds the heroine. Mixing bright flashes of light and the ear piercing chimes of steel cogs and chains, the director creates an atmosphere of unease that provides the right mechanical backdrop for a tense showdown. The final girl here is obviously different from any that we had been treated to in the genre prior to this and at no time did she show the bravery of a Laurie Strode or a Ginny Fields. She cowers away at the smallest of noises and spends the majority of her confrontation dumbfounded, petrified and in a state of shock. Although Elizabeth Berridge is reputedly no fan of the genre and spent years criticising the film and others like it for their content, there’s no denying that she delivers a fantastic portrayal and it’s breathtaking watching the extent of her visual transformation into a terrified wreck
Modern day humans are obsessed with their image, and Hooper makes an intelligent social commentary as the youngsters glare in amusement at the freaks on display at the carnival. Their brash attitudes are ruthlessly avenged when they realise that they are alone with something that they had previously considered to be defenceless against their mockery. Revenge is served coldly as the protagonist emerges psychologically warped and drained like the creatures on display at the ‘freak show’. Funhouse’s subtle ethical theme shows an intelligence largely unseen in the genre.
The intelligence of author Larry Block’s script is given due respect by the vision of a director at the top of his game. His work is also complemented by some crisp photography and shadow play that’s planned with finesse. Set pieces are skilfully conveyed and the circus freak makes for an authentic and creepy bogeyman. Much like Halloween, Hooper takes the decision to steer away from gratuitous gore and builds a credible underlying momentum of growing dread over a longer period of time. The killer does not begin to stalk the teens until at least an hour in to the feature, but we never get bored or never feel like the terror is far off. This is mainly due to some well-developed characters and a tense and well-streamlined runtime. John Beal’s rangy score works perfectly to sustain the moods in places.
Why Tobe Hooper never became the horror maestro that so many predicted is a mystery. Funhouse proves however that there is more to his catalogue than a Chainsaw Massacre in Texas. By far one of the best of the early eighties slashers, this entry deserves to be remembered. On a footnote, Funhouse was bizarrely and inaccurately banned briefly in the United Kingdom as part of the video nasty phase.
Final Girl √√√√
Directed by: Bill Crain
Starring: Jennifer McAllister, Laura Albert, Kenny Johnson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Bill Crain’s rarer than a bus in the rain ‘slasher’ movie certainly doesn’t follow the standard guidelines that have become so essential of its counterparts. The bogeyman this time around uses grenades and small arms as well as an awesome array of melee weapons; – ingredients that are rarely seen in most post-Halloween genre pieces. But there’s still just enough familiarity to keep slasher buffs from checking the rule book and the plot never strays too far from the path that you’ve grown to expect. I was truly flabbergasted to learn that this has never been released in its country of origin, which was strange for me as it seems to be a picture that had been well financed and produced. I would love to understand the reason behind this, but with so minimal information available about the feature on the www It’s hard to say. Nowadays it has become something of a phantom on the VHS market and a highly sought after piece for true collectors.
It all takes place in the middle of the dessert, which as I’m sure you’ll agree is a unique location for a slasher. Four Youngsters head out for a night away from the commotion of the city. Chris (Jennifer McAllister) and her boyfriend Greg (Kenny Johnson) meet up with amusing new age hippies Trip (Kevin McParland) and Mary (Nicole Anton) at a make shift camp site in the midst of the dune-like wilderness. Greg’s older brother Kyle (Todd Schaefer) and his buxom girlfriend Bambi (Laura Albert) soon turn up to join the body count applicants in their quest for an early grave. Kyle used to date Chris before his younger brother took the liberty of stealing his squeeze – something that Kyle doesn’t seem too keen to forget. Sound like a motive for a massacre? Well what did you expect? Before long an unseen someone driving a truck with tinted windows joins the gathering with a unique set of tricks up his sleeve. Will any of the kids survive to turn up for a sequel?
Due to the fountain of (false) information that is the IMDB, I was confused for ages as to who directed this film. They have listed it under Bill Crain, but have given him a separate profile from William Crain – the man behind Midnight Fear and a few popular TV shows. I quickly found out that both are one and the same person and that explains why Mirage looks so well put together. It’s stylishly photographed with some superb work from DP Michael Crain, and there’s a real talent for building suspense on display from the man in the hot seat. R. Christopher Biggs’ gore FX are imaginatively created and bloody, and a big thank you to the half-hearted employee over at the BBFC who inexplicably let this pass through UNCUT on a usually stringent 18 rating. A couple of the murders are indeed extremely gruesome. One guy gets buried up to his neck in sand before coming face to face with a grenade, while another ends up literally legless after loosing a battle with a chain and a pick up truck! We spend the majority of the time seeing only the killer’s boots as he steps out of his vehicle and stalks the youngsters. Later, he is revealed to be someone that completely shattered the image of what I was expecting. I mean that in a good way, obviously. There’s an unique mix of moods here and the atmosphere manages to be creepy, brutal and mercilessly unforgiving in places. The stand off between the maniac and the final girl seems more mean-spirited than usual. He thoroughly enjoys taunting her and looks as if he wants the torture to drag on as long as possible.
The screenplay earns points for not overdoing the use of stereotype with its characters. There are two brothers who bicker very much like you’d imagine siblings would do and then there is another couple whose conversation and banter reminded very much of the kind of jokes that I share with my Mrs. It’s that level of realism here that somehow makes Mirage play like it is more focused and believable. The majority of slasher films that I watch are filled with personalities so shallow and situations so extreme that you never feel true sympathy or recognition of the terror that you are watching on screen. There’s an ambition here to make you believe what you are seeing and I think that it allows Crain’s effort to separate itself somewhat from the more common-or-garden entries.
This is achieved mainly be some restrained and controlled performances from a cast who overcome weaknesses in the level of their emotional dramatic competence by playing things straight. I remember a conversation that I had with Christian Veil after he had completed the slasher movie Evilbreed. I asked him if he felt that it had been a risk to fill his feature with actresses that had only worked in the porn industry. He told me that it was more the job of the director to work closely with his team and to understand the ways to elicit the best of their ability from them. It was his belief that if he coached them the right way, he could get the results that he was searching for. I would suggest that Crain is from the same school of thought, because he has driven some astuteness to make the story work. Jennifer McAllister does a fine job as the heroine and B.G. Steers portrays off his rocker dementia with finesse. I must mention the gorgeous Laura Albert as Bambi whose amazing body and bubbly personality stole every scene that she was in. Much like the equally as hot Cheryl Lawson from The Dead Pitt, Albert went on to become a prolific stunts woman appearing in various big budget pictures. The soundtrack works well to build the desolate atmosphere of isolation, which is carefully handled by a filmmaker that I would have liked to see more pictures from. Watch out for the superb nightmare sequence that is truly horror imagery at it’s freakiest.
Mirage is a good late entry to the cycle that was somewhat unfortunate to miss a boom year placing amongst the slasher elite. When you consider that this was made with just a cast of seven and a pick up truck, you have to say that they did a damn fine job. Any slight dramatic flaws don’t detract credibility from the net result. I especially liked the subtle homage to Halloween during the conclusion, which I really advise you to look out for and see if you can spot. Unfortunately you’ve probably got more chance of finding liquid gold in your coffee mug than you have of ever tracking down a genuine copy. If you find this one covered in dust on the top shelf of your local video store, then make sure you pick it up straight away. Recommended.
Final Girl √√√√
Ritual of Death 1990
Directed by: Fauzi Mansur
Starring: Vanessa Alves, Olair Cohen, Paulo Domingues
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When the clock struck midnight on December the 31st 1989, we weren’t just signalling the final curtain for recent history’s most outrageous decade, we were also bidding farewell to a lifestyle that would never return. As time rolled on from that date, music would change so that someone could have a hit record without even being able to play an instrument or read a note. The introduction of human rights in to law systems would offer a way that everyone could sue and lose respect for one another and we would all go on to become a generation of Facebook geeks.
Perhaps more important (well to people like you and I dear reader) than the steady decline of our social morals and networking skills is the fact that the superpowers of cinema had totally given up on the slasher genre. Aside from Mirage and Popcorn, I can’t really think of any other decent catalogue entries until Scream reinvigorated things some six years later.
When it came to hunting out production teams with their hearts still in it, the peeps leading the way were those from south of the American border. That’s right, after the close of the decade, Mexico was the new source for slash-tastic shenanigans from filmmakers with ambition and passion for the genre and they were still competently financed comparatively speaking. The movies from Rubén and Pedro Galindo and Carlos Ortigoza shamed their counterparts from the USA from this point.
But Mexico wasn’t the only Latin American country who wanted to pick up the pace now that America had abandoned it. Brazilian porn director Fauzi Mansur made two slasher movies in the same year and both were flamboyant and audacious stabs at bringing some life back to the cycle. Ritual of Death is a tad more obscure than Satanic Attraction, but very similar in both its tone and delivery.
An ancient book that has mystic powers falls in to the hands of an actor from a play that’s looking for financing. Before long he becomes possessed by an evil demon, puts on a mask and begins to stalk and slaughter his colleagues one by one.
Ritual of Death is a tough one to judge. I had an idea of a rating in my mind and then I began thinking about it later and felt like watching it again, which is always a good sign. It plays exactly how you would expect a notorious pornographer to roll out a slasher; all excessive nudity and blood and guts. Oh and let’s not forget the sex in a bathtub scene, which involves sex, a bathtub and a recently severed goat’s head. If you think that’s strange, then ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of Senhor Mansur. A world where plot takes the back seat and dependence on bloody effects reigns supreme.
There’s a whole host of talking parts that still never become vaguely coherent after three viewings, but from what I can gather the book is a Native American translation of an Egyptian scripture of rituals that offer a blood host to the god of death and there’s a medium/priest (well I thought that’s what he was) who looks like a cross between Ernest Borgnine and Donald Pleasance in a bowler hat. Does all of that make any sense? Well who cares when you have strawberry ice cream coloured blood by the bucket load, a seriously hot Brazilian female lead and don’t forget the gooey goat’s head that makes more than one appearance.
As I alluded to earlier, Mansur loves to cover the stage with limbs and corn syrup and the words ‘off screen’ are alien to him. There’s one outrageous death scene where a guy is squished by a fog machine on wheels and the maniac then goes on to use the propeller on said appliance to obliterate another wrongly placed unfortunate. You can see it above! All of the kills are strong enough to have got the movie banned in most countries and if exploitation is what you’re looking for then Mansur is your man of the match.
There’s no real attempts at suspense or mystery and the characters are little more than body count material, but let’s be honest, you’re not going to invest time, money and effort in to tracking this down if you are looking for a decent drama. The director is not a master of building tension and most of his shots are wide framed and simple, but its his effort to be the most audacious with his horror imagery that salvages his lack of a more obvious talent and he makes each moment of horror in to a carnival. When he is not dismembering his cast with creative methods, then he is allowing his bogeyman to pull off his own face or filling the picture with native rituals or shots of his possessed menace oozing vile green puss from his mouth. Sleaze and slasher aficionados will most definitely get what they’re looking for and it delivers enough for three movies.
As was the problem with Satanic Attraction, this has been very poorly dubbed for English speaking markets. It seems that they weren’t watching the film whilst they were reading their lines and they didn’t seem to be working with any kind of dramatic director. It’s a shame, because Ritual is better than that and deserved a more favourable global release. The poor acting ruins things quite a bit and I would have rather have read subtitles and seen the performances in their own native tongue than had to listen to a cast that were unmotivated, poorly organised and not in tune with the camp spirit. This was perhaps the biggest negative about the feature.
Still, I was going to give this a one star rating, but after a while, I began thinking that it deserves two. Hell, I’ll give it two and a half. It’s not the most clearly structured movie on the planet, but if you are going to watch an exploitation piece by a notorious porn merchant and expect it to be Citizen Kane, then it’s you who needs to re-evaluate your expectations, not our good friend Fauzi…
Final Girl √√
Directed by: Danny Graves
Starring: Alexandra Holden, Michael Weston, A.J. Buckley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
For a genre with such a simplistic structure, it’s a shame that the slasher hasn’t produced more crossbreed attempts. There are of course a few and you could say that the likes of Basic Instinct et al would never have existed without John Carpenter’s Halloween, but in terms of out and out combining of trappings, I have always felt that there should be a few more tasty bocadillos on the menu. Stalk and slash flicks sit most closely to their thriller counterparts in terms of cinematic proximity and there has been times when the difference in styles has been incredibly slim. I mean was Dressed to Kill a slasher or a thriller? What about James Mangold’s Identity? How would you classify The Last Stop? For me, these are all slasher flicks, but I guess mostly, it all comes down to individual opinion.
In terms of reputation and standing with critics however, you could say that the slasher category has most in common with the chick flick. Bizarre as it may at first sound, take a step back and allow me to explain. Chick flicks all have pretty much the same plot: Guy meets girl. Guy and girl dislike each other. Guy and girl (for some reason) end up being thrown together for an amount of time and then they fall in love. There’s a tragedy/accident/something that will split them for a while. Guy and girl overcome the odds and end up happily ever after. It’s the simplest of scenarios and one that was started most probably by the classics of Walt Disney. I always ask my friends when we are discussing movies to name me at least one chick flick that does not abide by the aforementioned structure. It’s fun watching them stumble and then bow to my cinematic expertise. Even if there most probably are a handful of titles that break away (Lost in Translation?), the synopsis that I have outlined above remains mostly untampered with. Why try and fix something that just isn’t broke? So we can say that stalk and slash films have become the chick flick of the horror genre, but has anyone ever mixed the two together? Could it ever work? Although I feel that it may not have been writer Larry Katz’s initial idea, Wishcraft from 2002 is the closest I can think of that takes parts of both styles and mixes them to create an entry that on the face of it, seems worth checking out…
Hi-school nerd Brett Bumper (Michael Weston) has got a crush on the school beauty, Samantha (Alexandra Holden). However, Sam merely sees him as a geek that gives her private tuition about the Second World War for the sake of her history classes. Brett despises her boyfriend, Cody and wishes that he could take her to the school prom. One day, he arrives home from school to find a strange package addressed to him from ‘an anonymous friend’. On closer inspection, he reveals a creepy box containing an ancient totem and a bizarre note stating that he can have three wishes for whatever he wants. Clearly confused, he puts the weird object in the bin and carries on unusual. When he tells his friend about the occurrence, his pal says that he shouldn’t throw it away without at least testing it. Still uncertain, he decides to make a wish that the girl of his dreams would ask him to the dance the following night. He’s shocked when the next day, out of the blue, Samantha wants to know his plans for the evening. Brett’s dream has come true and he’s over the moon. Unfortunately as soon as he uses the extraordinary object, someone begins methodically killing off his classmates. As his relationship with his sweetheart deepens, the murders begin getting closer to home until Brett realises that Sam could be next on the killer’s list….
Unlike most of the z-grade genre pieces that have slowly faded from store shelves, Wishcraft looks neatly produced and fairly well budgeted. The supporting cast, which includes Meat Loaf and Zelda Rubinstein (the lady who’s most famous for her high pitched ‘Caroool Aynnne’ routine from Poltergeist) seem uninspired and just here for the pay cheque, but the two leads are charming and bond superbly with the ambitious plot. Alexandra Holden was really good as the lovesick teen and she worked well with Michael Weston. I was surprised by the amount of chemistry that they managed to create in their unlikely pairing and I was enjoying waiting to see how their relationship would blossom. Director Danny Graves does ok on his debut and manages to build some tension in one or two of the murders. It’s always something of an alarm call when you see that a director has only the one credit to his IMDB listing, but I felt that it was most likely more because of a poor financial run from this feature (?) than a lack of talent.
There’s a good bit of creativity in the the way that the killer slaughters his victims and the majority of the kill scenes are sharp and unique. My favourite is when one guy is knocked unconscious in the school changing room and then wakes up sometime later buried up to his chin in the ground. The killer then proceeds to roll a bowling ball at his head and he is visibly relieved when the bumpy terrain sends it just skimming past. There’s no such fortune with the second one though and it hits him square in the face, which is conveyed to be as gruesome as it sounds. Even if most of the slayings are committed off-screen, they are delivered in a manor that allows your imagination to do the work and they are surprisingly brutal, which sits somewhat awkwardly amongst the cheesiness of the two lovebirds and their soppy romance. One outside review that I’ve read criticized the choice for the ending here and called it ‘stupid’ and ‘corny’, but I disagree. I thought it was a good decision – but then I guess that I’m an old romantic at heart – and maybe that helped. The story adds just enough character development to allow you to care about the outcome of the plot and you’ll find that you’ll breeze through the movie and never feel like you’ve wasted your time.
So there’s definitely a theme running here and Wishcraft mixes chick flick trappings with those of the stalk and slash category, but the creative blend doesn’t combine flawlessly and ends up looking like the horror bits have been sellotaped on to a cheesy love story. Maybe it could have worked if there were a few more minutes spent with the maniac as he stalks and murders the cast members or if they played the whole thing straighter from both angles. For some reason though the film never develops a dark enough tone to convince as a horror picture and struggles to deliver an adequate amount of trepidation. Also, the main comic relief character is obnoxious and annoying, which means that he should have been one of the first to die. Add everything together and what starts as a clever and original plot, just loses complete focus and rolls along to leave a whole load of unanswered questions. I mean, why didn’t Brett use his power to conjure up a 12 bore shotgun, or wish that the twosome could escape to safety? It’s hard to believe that no one on the crew highlighted this to the writer or director as they worked through the production.
Of the myriad of Scream imitators that were unleashed during the early noughties, Wishcraft is most definitely not one of the worst that you can place your hands upon. Weston and Holden make for an agreeable pairing and the film is worth seeing for maintaining an impressive pace and generating moments of unique humour. It is an ok time-waster rather than a good one and I can’t help but feel that it tries too hard to have one over on Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson.
I will have to wait a bit longer for someone to successfully mix Halloween with Breakfast at Tiffany’s then…
Final Girl √√√√
Study Hell 2004
Directed by: Mark McNabb
Starring: Brian Austin JR, Randy Cunnigham, Lindsey Day
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The screen lights up very suddenly with no credits or text introduction. A petrified girl runs in to a school gymnasium and sees a pile of corpses on the floor. She sprints off in to the locker room and begins looking for a place to hide. “This is interesting”, I thought to myself. “We’ve cut out absolutely everything else and just headed straight to the final chase sequence. Is this a slasher short?” My question was quickly answered when the fleeing bunny finally bumped into the unseen maniac and the title ‘Study Hell’ burst on to the screen.
Being a fan of slasher, or in fact any budget movies, is cool because alongside the satisfaction of enjoying the films, there’s also the challenge of hunting them down. I get message upon message asking me to rip Cards of Death, Savage Vows, Early Frost and the like for some of you folk; and even if I certainly would love to, these studios have much better lawyers than little old me. Piracy is a crime and all that.
Anyway I can understand that it’s hard to uncover some of these oldies, especially if they’re not on DVD. But when I got a message asking if I could direct someone towards a copy of Study Hell I was actually fairly surprised. You see this one’s not even that ancient, so why has it disappeared?
A teacher with personal issues is asked to look after a gang of kids who have detention. The teens begin to abuse him, without knowing the fact that he is a Vietnam veteran with a questionable record. Before long he locks the doors and begins to stalk and slaughter the kids one by one.
Back in 1987 there was an Australian film released called Dangerous Game. It put a teenage cast up against a deranged loon in a setting very similar to the same year’s Hide and Go Shriek. If you check my A-Z listings page, you’ll see that I haven’t included it, because for me, it’s not a slasher film. Instead I’d call it something of a cat and mouse thriller. Study Hell really reminded me of that picture in the way that it doesn’t really follow the normal concrete approach for slasher movies. The killer here is a normal guy and he never stalks through Michael Myers-alike POV with heavy breath. In fact, this entry excludes many of the genre’s trappings, but I posted it here because unlike the Ozploitation picture that I mentioned earlier, it just doesn’t fit anywhere else.
It’s from director Mark McNabb and he has been fairly prolific in the DTV market since he shot his first picture, Dark Fields in 2003. He began work on this project straight after but both titles took longer than he’d anticipated to secure distribution and sat on the shelf for three years. Study Hell doesn’t hang around to let you know the reasons why no one was in a rush to package and ship it to unsuspecting audiences, because it’s amateur night right from the off.
Now there are different kinds of bad actors that you can find in the movies. There are those that have studied the art of drama and are just not very good at it, even thought they do try. Then there are those that are just normal people. I mean, like you and I. People like doctors, students, bricklayers, salesmen or cleaners who may well be superb in their chosen profession, but when it comes to portraying emotion in front of a camera, they just don’t have a scooby doo. Here we have a feature that’s crammed with that level of dramatics and it is extremely difficult to watch.
Every conversation is marred by heinous acting and it looks as if McNabb wasn’t even trying to aim for realism. The characters tick every known stereotype but look to have been cast by José Feliciano. We’ve got a junkie thug played by a dweeby guy with glasses, a flirtatious hottie played by a plump non-actress and the ‘maniac’ stalks around with a receding side parting, spectacles, white shirt and an awful tie. The expression on the faces of the ‘actors’ never changes no matter whether they stumble across the corpse of their best friend or are fighting for their lives and the dialogue is just ridiculous.
There are a few unintentional lol moments like the Vietnam war scenes (filmed in the producer’s back garden?) and a hilarious part where a fleeing bunny choses to hide underwater in a swimming pool from the marauding maniac – and he doesn’t see her! Those looking for a hearty slasher though will come away disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong, Study Hell is bad, excruciatingly so, but somehow I wanted to see it to the end. It even has a WTF twist that comes out of nowhere and adds to the paroxysms of laughter. I tried to find out a bit of info about the film’s author James Mcarthur, but what I really wanted to learn was his age. His script comes across like a twelve-year old’s wet dream and it’s tough to believe that an adult would be behind this work. It’s just embarrassing. There’s a final confrontation between our hero (another dweeb in specs) and the nut job and the dialogue and set-up would shame an eighties Van-Damme movie. I wondered after the final credits had rolled, what on earth McNabb thought he was doing when he filmed this? What was going through his mind? If I ever get the chance to speak with him, i’ll also ask where a teacher managed to find a load of hunting knives, a bow with deadly arrows and a hair shaver in a locked school. Any ideas?
I was on something of a roll having watched Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine 3D and Cassandra back to back; and with so much ‘four-star’ action, I was missing the usual junk that I have to sit through to write a review for you peeps. Study Hell came along and changed all that and it’s the first rubbish feature that I’ve sat through in 2013. That my friends is why it has disappeared…
¡Viva El Cinematic Trash!
Final Girl √
Graduation Day 1981
Directed by: Herb Freed
Starring: Christopher George, Patch Mackenzie, E. Danny Murphy
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Graduation Day almost came close to being the first horror movie that I ever watched. In the area where I grew up, there were two local video-shops just meters away from each other. One of them was as strict as a Nazi head teacher and wouldn’t let the nine year old me rent out any 18 rated movies. Luckily, the other guy just wanted to see the colour of your money no matter how old you were and that’s where I spent most of my weekly allowance. Whilst looking at the ex-rental films for sale, I found this eye catching hand-drawn cover, which was graced with a warning sticker that threatened, ’85 minutes of sheer terror whodunit!’ Now when you’re that young and inexperienced, those words sound extremely intriguing and even rebellious, because I knew that I was doing something that I wasn’t yet lawfully supposed to. I took it up to the counter and five minutes later the big sweaty guy returned from the stock room and told me that the tape had been damaged and he no longer had it. My little world had been shattered, so I asked if I could keep the box for future reference and disappointedly headed home.
Around that time, the movie had been deleted and it seemed more likely that I’d find the body of Jimmy Hoffa in my lunchbox than eventually get to view the damned thing. The more I looked at the box-art that promised ‘… Grisly, gruesome murders’ and terror beyond my wildest dreams, the more I yearned to find out if it could truly be as ‘terrifying’ and ‘grisly’ as the beguiling blurb had made out. My curiosities never died and some nine years later, when I learned of Video-search agencies, this was one of the first movies that popped into my head to track down. Finally I managed to get hold of a gleaming copy, knowing that it would have to be an unsurpassed masterpiece to achieve the strong expectations that nine years had built up in my overactive imagination. The point that I’m trying to make is that I hold a lot of sentimentality for Graduation Day, so excuse me if you think that I’m mad after you’ve read this review…
It kicks off in funky enough fashion with the memorable theme tune, ‘everybody wants to be a winner’. We are shown a collage of shots as the students of Midville High track-team compete in events against other athletes. Suddenly the camera pans in on the 100 meter sprint and one eager youngster shoots off to an audacious lead, leaving the other competitors stuttering in her wake. The crowd cheer her on to victory, but as Laura Ramstead bursts across the finish line, she slumps to the floor – dead.
As Graduation Day looms, the seniors of Midville still have the memory of Laura’s death fresh in their minds. Her grieving boyfriend Danny is relieved when Laura’s sister arrives to pay her final respects to the tragic youngster. But as soon as she turns up, the members of the track team begin being brutally killed by a maniac dressed in a tracksuit and fencing mask. The assassin creatively murders the athletes and then crosses their faces off of a team photo with bright red lipstick. As the bodies pile up, we are left to wonder if there will be any one left alive to participate in Graduation day…….
Despite some hokey gore effects, Graduation Day presents itself efficiently, and we never get the feeling that this has been made on the merest of budgets (which it was). For readers who are unaware of director Herb Freed (Beyond Evil/Haunts), he was a prolific horror moviemaker from 1977-81 and his features were all extensively cheesy and perhaps slightly better than their fate would allow. He was a former Rabbi, which meant that horror films were not the most obvious next step in his career. Alongside his wife however, they watched numerous entries and tried to find the right formula for box office success. She even went as far as to go through the runtimes with a stopwatch and time the gaps in-between the killings, which is the real reason why the maniac utilises the timepiece here. Not only was it a neat gimmick, but it was also a tribute from the director to his wife who at the time of shooting was fighting cancer and regrettably she died following the film’s national release. That must have made Freed’s job even harder and I think it would’ve been understandable if he called the whole thing off. He persisted with production and the net result was well worth it because Graduation Day is a key addition to the category even if it’s not one of the better entries.
To be fair, he does a good enough job of creating a smidgen of suspense in places and there’s one or two skilfully planned set-pieces. Editor Martin Jay Saddof uses flash cuts to define the intensity of an engaging scene, which is an interesting technique that Saddof swears was his idea, but I was sure that Freed used a similar style in his previous film, Beyond Evil. I may well be wrong, because I haven’t seen that movie for over a decade, so if you can help me out, then please let me know.
I do agree that Graduation Day is probably the daftest of all the period slashers. However, I must confess, that I really don’t think that it’s all that bad. I know, I know, you must think I’m crazy, but watching it last night whilst taking notes for this review, I actually rather enjoyed myself. It managed to keep me interested and the cheesy thrills make a worthy alternative to competent horror. Christopher George turns out a decent performance and the jesting banter between B-movie vet Michael Pataki and Broadway star E.J. Beaker actually works. Admittedly it looked as if screenwriter David Baughn was stuck in the Rock Hudson/Doris Day era, but as light comic refreshment, they made a good job of it. Even the youngsters weren’t all that bad. You’ll spot a young Linnea Quigley and an infamous early appearance from Vanna White, who spends most of her screen time screaming unconvincingly. E. Danny Murphy was really good as the grieving boyfriend and his teeth-gnashing turn much later was exactly what this campy feast needed.
Herb Freed has tried to include everything that was in vogue in 1981. There’s a roller-disco, loads of ear-bashing heavy metal and the surviving girl even fends off the killer using some (somewhat lame) martial arts, which was pretty hot stuff at the time. (Rejoice the times when we used to run around our school at night dressed in black tracksuits with scarves around our faces – the days of the Ninja!). The direction was somewhat sluggish, but the scene where the hooded-killer sneaks along a window behind an unsuspecting victim was impressive and the score is decent enough without ever being exceptional.
There is of course, the now notorious Graduation party, which is known to be by far the most annoying ten minutes from the slasher category. A musical group by the name of ‘Felony’ take centre stage at the disco, where teens whiz round in circles on roller skates. With their faces painted like seventies glamsters Kiss, they sing a painful song called ‘Gangster Rock’, which is no shorter than seven minutes and just repeats the same verse and chorus over and over again. They’re terrible, with a singer that has extreme vocal limitations and not even a decent song for him to attempt to sing. They seriously ruined an otherwise comical sequence that includes Quigley being pursued by the psycho in a fencing mask. Joseph Zito said that all the slasher directors were competing to find the scariest mask after Michael Myers’ fearful Shatner impersonation in Halloween. Quite what made these guys dig out a Fencing visor was somewhat dubious, but it must’ve impressed John Ottman, because he ‘borrowed’ it for his Urban Legend follow up.
It looks as if Freed blew his entire budget on the actors and hiring the rock band, leaving him with nothing to spend on effects. The gore scenes are so hokey that they’re derisory, including perhaps the worst decapitation that I’ve ever seen. In one murder, the maniac throws an American football with a sword through the middle for about 300 yards before it slices through a victim and only one of the slaughters is shown on screen, in the rest we only get a look at the aftermath.
Ok so if you’ve done your research then you’ve probably already found out what most people think of Graduation Day. If you’re unsure, then trust them, because my opinion may be biased and it’s certainly a minority. For what it’s worth I found it to be an enjoyable little cheesy frolic, with the added bonus of Christopher George making the most of a ham-sandwich characterisation.
This was never going to rival the likes of Halloween in the slasher stakes. But it delivered what I was looking for; – fun by the bucket-load. It actually benefited from an impressive box office return ($2.4 million from a budget of just over $250,000), which must’ve opened the possibility for a sequel that somewhat unfortunately never materialised. Financially the movie fights its corner well against its contemporaries and it deserves a place in the slasher hall of fame….
Final Girl √√
The Prowler 1981
aka Rosemary’s Killer aka The Graduation
Directed by: Joseph Zito
Starring: Vicky Dawson, Farley Granger, Laurence Tierney
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So here we have it my favourite ever slasher movie. (I don’t include Halloween in that, because well – that’s everyone’s favourite). I found out about The Prowler when I was at school and by the strangest possible means. My buddies and I used to have a sly cigarette in an old wooden shed that was in some woodland near where I lived and usually there were pages of porno scattered across the floor (great excitement for a thirteen-year-old lad, I can tell you). Anyway, one night I went alone there alone and as if by fate, lying on the grass was a ripped horror fanzine (maybe it was Fangoria, I don’t recall). Anyway I was already a huge fan of the genre and so I scurried home to study all the pages in the comfort of my bedroom. There in loving colour my eyes first met with the iconic image that is the current background of a SLASH above and one of the finest killings from the category, the swimming pool murder. And so began a hunt that much like I had with Graduation Day, would continue for much longer than my excitement would have wanted.
Now without eBay and Amazon, my methods for tracking down slashers were restricted to Boot and Jumble sales around the London area. I found lots and lots of titles during my travels, including Night Screams, Nightmare (Dutch uncut copy!) Ghostkeeper, Stormbringer,One by One, The Demon, Fatal Games and Psycho Puppet. However the one that I REALLY wanted remained elusive. It started to become an obsession and after months of trying, I finally came to the disappointing conclusion that I would probably never see the darn thing. Then through a twist of fate, I found a video-search agency that came to my aid with an almost pristine copy. The price of £30 was daylight robbery, but for me it was mission accomplished and I probably would have paid £50
Avalon Bay is getting set for the first annual dance since a young couple were viciously murdered 35 years earlier. The youngsters of the community are eagerly anticipating the event and spend the day preparing and decorating the town hall. The junior Deputy is alone for the first time as the Sheriff has gone on his annual fishing trip and stress levels are raised when it’s revealed that a wanted criminal that slashed two young females could be heading to the area. As darkness descends, it becomes apparent that there’s a maniac dressed in World War 2 army fatigues stalking the Bay. Can the Deputy muster the courage to stop him?
The Prowler is not only one of the best examples of stalk and slash cinema from the golden era, but it’s also one of the most underrated. The movie ticks every box in terms of the relevant trappings and instead of just ticking them, in a few places it completely surpasses them. I liked the World War 2 gimmick and I think the killer’s disguise was an absolutely brilliant touch. His calling card of leaving a rose by his victims was creepily effective and there’s a great moment towards the climax where he offers it almost romantically to the final girl before attempting to ram a pitch folk through her!
Joseph Zito’s pacey direction sustains an awesome amount of suspense and the film excels in its technicality with some beautiful photography and a focused score. The director achieves the difficult feat of setting an unrelenting sharpness in the first half and even when not much happens, you are fully aware that at any moment something could. I liked the staircase stalking sequence and in true popcorn fashion, the intended victim makes all the wrong directional choices, which keeps the scene taught.
Vicky Dawson makes for a great final girl and she works well with Christopher Goutman. For relatively inexperienced performers, they carry the picture very well and they share only one or two weak moments. I thought Dawson was especially unfortunate not to have built a lasting career in cinema as much like Amy Steel in Friday the 13th 2, she offers a sweet and alluring naivety, but shows a brave independence when left to alone to face the prowler. Before the final credits rolled, my girlfriend who was watching with me said, “tough girl” – my sentiments exactly. Farley Granger was a neat addition to the cast list, even though it’s confirmed that he had a horrible time and suffered some uncomfortable sweating during the make-up effects, which annoyed him profusely. Laurence Tierney’s on-board too, although I have no idea why, his character is barely used to much effect and was probably a waste of budget.
Despite all this, Tom Savini’s effects once again steal the show and there’s no denying that this is the best of his work. The gore here is especially gruesome and the swimming pool throat slashing even boasts an aftermath shot that’s uncomfortably realistic. It happens as the victim’s lifeless body sinks to the tiles below and her legs begin to twitch as her nervous system comes to terms with the fact that the lights are going out for the last time. The best part of the sequence was actually a slight mistake from Savini, because at the same time as the gallons of blood seep from her wound, some bubbles also appear under the water (from the pipe pumping the goo). Instead of taking a reshoot, the effects master recommended that Zito utilise the footage as it was and it makes it much more convincing as if the bubbles were the last gasps of her breath.
This movie has a similar structure to the same year’s My Bloody Valentine and the two would work superbly on a double-bill. Strangely enough, what one title lacks the other boasts in abundance and if you were to mix the two together you would have the perfect slasher film. Whilst MBV also has some great kill scenes (equally as gratuitous) and a good-fun factor that adds momentum to the plot, it lacks any decent suspense. The Prowler on the other hand is nail-bitingly tense in places, but has some serious problems with its pace. And that’s where the real flaws with this feature lie.
Now I picked my favourite slasher film when I was about fourteen years old and much like my love for the Arsenal (the closest team to where I lived), I must admit that it was a ‘teenager’s decision’. Adults have the ability to analyse; step back and view the bigger picture before making a choice. Young minds just do this instantaneously and I am not sure if I noticed the faults back then in The Prowler that I see now. As I said, it starts superbly and comes across almost like an anxiety marathon. My Mrs and I were watching it together in silence, knowing full well that there would be a shock at any moment (And I have seen this flick a lot of times). But then after about thirty minutes the rapidity dries up and the film can’t maintain the same thrust.
It’s not necessarily the fault of Joseph Zito, but the script wastes too many minutes building the mystery and most of this is spent in an overly-dark and contained location, which soon begins to lose interest. There are many parts here that should have been much shorter. I especially thought the length of time used when the Deputy was contacting the Sherriff was ridiculous and ultimately pointless.
Despite an uneven runtime, this is still easily one of the best entries of the golden period. It does drag a bit in the development of the plot, but the excellent kill scenes and two fantastic leads more than make up for it. You won’t find too many better slashers around and it manages to be something that many of its brethren could only dream of – truly scary. Believe it or not, Joseph Zito was widely tipped to be a future horror maestro after his work on this and Friday the 13th The Final Chapter (one of the better sequels of the series), but he foolishly attempted the transition to action-orientated flicks, which never made the most of his abilities and his career rapidly faded.
I still rate this extremely highly and recommend it to anyone with even a passing hunger for some peak-period slasher shenanigans
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Final Girl √√√√√
My Bloody Valentine 3D 2009
Directed by: Patrick Lussier
Starring: Jaime King, Tom Atkins, Jensen Ackles
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This review brings back great memories for me as I wrote it just after getting out of this film’s premier in central London. That’s why I have chosen to leave it exactly as it was. I watched the film again recently and although I can say I was a tad generous here, I do still agree with most of what I said back then…
Taking a good look at the two heavily populated cinema ‘lives’ of the slasher genre, the most striking similarity in both is that they were started by the box office successes of two stand-out features. First Halloween in 78 launched a tidal wave of wannabes that included the much maligned but equally as heavily imitated Friday the 13th series. The category had a good run, but eventually lost popularity mid-way through the eighties due to a restriction on gore and minimal funding and creativity from production teams. Wes Craven’s popular semi-parody, Scream from 1996, kicked off yet another major influx that sent the imitations crawling out of the woodwork and on to video-store shelves. Eventually, a lack of originality meant audiences and studios alike gave up on the cycle and it befell a similar fate that had sent its forefathers into obscurity.
There were thirteen years between the death of the Halloween-inspired glory days and Scream’s unexpected re-birth, so a believer in destiny such as I may have indeed been forgiven for predicting that the time was upon us once again in 2009 for another run of masked killers and gratuitous gore.
Indeed, during that year there were a few great months where it looked like it could be a possibility, especially for fans of the original My Bloody Valentine. Not only did we learn that we would able to see the full uncut version of the original, repackaged on a shiny new DVD with extras; but also we were treated to this highly financed remake at a time when the category had pretty much sunk to the lowest of depths.
Harry Warden’s name lives long in the memories of the townsfolk of a small town in West Virginia after he went on a maniacal killing spree, butchering 22 people on a cold valentine’s night. Despite rumours that he was buried alive in the mines that he stalked, the body of the maniac has never been discovered. Fast forward ten years and it seems that the evil has returned, because a gas-masked maniac begins stalking the village and killing everyone that was somehow connected to the original massacre. Has Harry returned?
As the title accurately informs us, a key gimmick for the release of this remake was the fact that it is filmed in explosive 3D. Now many have tried to bring horror into the third-dimension, but the likes of Friday the 13th III, Silent Madness and Freddy’s Dead had failed drastically to make the most of an ingenious tool in the creation of supreme virtual terror. So with all that was riding against it, does My Bloody Valentine 3D actually deliver??
Like hell it does! Buckle your seat belts baby and prepare yourself for a speed-train through slasher clichés that has never been taken to such extreme heights. This is a non-stop juggernaut of fast-paced gore and shock tactics that will keep your heart beating at the speed of a Japanese freeway. You can mock the brainless script and the at times overly-gratuitous exploitation, but this is a slasher movie and slasher movies exist to give you two-hours of freedom from the stress of everyday life in a virtual-world where you can leave your brains at the door.
Firstly, the film is immensely gory. So much so that even a hardened old horror-addict like myself was cowering from the screen in places. Pick-axes through faces, dismemberment, eyes popping out of their sockets; and best of all, it’s all filmed in fantastic 3D. This is a car-crash of over indulgence that has the balls to drive to the borders of cinematic acceptability and then smash through them with its pedal to the medal. The pace is unrelenting and the suspense at times absolutely immense. Patrick Lussier may not be the next Hitchcock, but MBV 3D is not to be categorised alongside Psycho or Halloween. This is a film that sets out to shock in any way possible and on that level it succeeds. There’s one or two tense jump out of your seat jolts and a few credibly created scares that are all the better for the stylish production.
The cast do a good enough job of keeping the plot moving fluidly and the healthy financing means that no expense has been spared in the producer’s effort to unleash total mayhem on audiences. Jamie King takes us back to the Laurie Strode/Ginny Field era of brave heroines, but somewhat authentically, she also has huge character flaws. The story shares much with its predecessor and Lussier also re-uses many of the scenes that made Mihalka’s hit so memorable. This may well be the first slasher remake that actually pays credit to its heritage and unlike Rob Zombie’s insulting Halloween re-hash, MBV 3D can sit comfortably alongside its grandfather.
It’s not fashionable to give a slasher movie a good review and I can see without looking the piles of one-star write-ups that will be cluttering up column-space in the self-righteous brigade’s film magazines. I bet that many will be having a field day ripping this particular movie to shreds. Agreed, this is not an intellectual film. To be fair, in some places it doesn’t even do the basics right and there’s some shockingly poor plot holes towards the climax. For a fan of splatter flicks however, this is an hour and a half in paradise and I really enjoyed every moment of this long-overdue gore-soaked extravaganza.
This is not the next Shawshank Redemption and it has no intention of trying to be, so it should be judged on its merits as a gore film and on that level it is everything that you want it to be. Full frontal nudity, buckets of gore and all the things that your mama warned you about rapped up in a tense and riveting thriller with the added bonus of an intelligent twist (Was the killer really the only bad guy? I wouldn’t call the ‘hero’ good…) Prepare for the next invasion folks…
Just on that. The next invasion never came…. But I did hope for a while…
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Final Girl: √√√
Directed by: Jamie Blanks
Starring: Denise Richards, David Boreanaz, Marie Shelton
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Director Jamie Blanks split critics with Urban Legend, his debut movie. Some called it brainlessly entertaining, whilst others just called it brainless. Looking back, it was actually one of the better efforts that shamelessly jumped on the Scream bandwagon. Good enough to garner two sequels and it showed that the director knew how to build tension and had an eye for stylish photography. For his follow up, he put a popular cast together, including Denise Richards and David Boreanaz and went back to the roots of the slasher genre’s trappings to terrorize an annual day of celebration. His choice was Valentine’s Day, the same that was (pick) axed in 1981 by director George Milhalka and his gas masked bogeyman, Harry Walden.
Despite its large fan base, the original My Bloody Valentine was not as successful as the producers had hoped for upon initial release. It was only much later that it really began to achieve its status as an out and out slasher classic. The Special Edition disc that finally brought back the majority of the gore sequences was a fantastic moment for the genre and the film has acquired a new generation of followers. Blanks’ second attempt at slashtastic success was released eight-years before the remake of My Bloody Valentine hit screens, and I went to catch it at the cinema on its opening night. Despite not having any link to the aforementioned Canadian classic, I have often thought that the idea here was to at least pay homage to that film. Perhaps the original plan was to produce a remake, but in the end they just settled for a theme that was close instead. Aside from the obvious link that both stories take place on the same date, the psycho has an extremely similar calling card. It’s also worth noting that even though this claims to be an adaptation of Tom Savage’s novel, there’s little more than a few characters and a title that has been ported over from the book to the big screen. This aided my belief that they set out to modernise, albeit unofficially, one of the slasher category’s long standing fan favourites. Either way, I hoped that Blanks could at least manage to capture some of the vibe that was so prominent over at Valentine Bluffs back in 1981. And if that was too much to ask, then duplicating the fun that he had with his previous movie would be good enough for me…
It starts with a pre-teen valentine disco set in 1988. A bespectacled young boy heads on the dance floor looking for a young female to share a dance with. First he approaches Shelly (later played by Katherine Heigl) who embarrassingly rebuffs him. His charm doesn’t seem to work with Lilly (Jessica Cauffer), Paige (Denise Richards) or Kate (Marley Shelton) either; they all send him packing mercilessly. His luck changes when Dorothy (Jessica Capshaw) actually acknowledges him and the twosome leave hand in hand. They are later caught kissing under a bench by a gang of bullies. In order to save her own self from persecution, Dorothy accuses the youngster of attacking her and so the gang decides to take their own revenge. They cover him in red goo, strip him and chase him onto the dance floor where they proceed to beat him up. You already know that this kind of stuff usually turns someone in to a violent mass murderer.
Fast forward ten years and the girls have become women. No one is sure what happened to Jeremy (the unfortunate kid from the prologue) as he disappeared after that dance. It’s close to Valentine’s Day and they each receive a card signed with a poetic threat to their lives. They soon begin to take them seriously when Shelly is found with her throat sliced. Before long a mysterious masked madman stalks each of them leaving Kate and her boyfriend Adam (David Boreanaz) to work out that she’s next on the psycho’s list…
From the off, Valentine certainly looks the business. The healthy production values have been put to good use and the photography is sharp and confident in places. The director shows some real creativity in some of his twisting shots and I liked how he managed to keep the energy rampant for the first half an hour of the feature. At times, I really felt like I had been transported back to the eighties and I enjoyed the attempts to camp the tone up enough to align the film more closely with its stalk and slash forefathers. Parody is nothing new for these titles after Kevin Williamson, but Blanks demonstrates a fondness for the category and has fun with the trademarks
We’ve got a cast of actors that have more experience than usual, but there’s no denying the fact that their attractiveness played a huge part in the success of their auditions. Denise Richards spends the majority of her screen-time pouting and posturing at the camera and even though she’s a great piece of eye candy, it quickly becomes obvious that her performance motivation for the role was something along the lines of, “Denise, just treat the camera like a pole in a strip club”. Sadly, if ever the phrase ‘looks aren’t everything’ could be applied specifically to a movie, then Valentine is that film. It lacks the fundamentals to back up the quality of the make-up and wardrobe department’s work on the faces and bodies of its stars. Fundamentals such as: momentum, intrigue, suspense and realism. It reminds me of those houseplants that you see in Ikea that are made of plastic. They most certainly look the part, but in the end, they’re completely fake and therefore hollow.Think of Cheryl Cole for a second and you should be able to understand where I am going. Ok, take your mind off Ms Cole now so we can get back to the film… Are you ready? Good.
The murders are surprisingly weak and gore-free (perhaps an attempt to gain the most lenient rating possible), which may have worked for Halloween because John Carpenter used precision to make sure that each killing was extremely suspenseful. The problem here is that Jamie Blanks is no John Carpenter. There’s a chase sequence early on that was tight and brilliantly crafted, but the rest simply felt rushed and unplanned. The nut job does indeed look creepy in a cherub mask and the blood trickling from his nose after he dispatches each victim was a neat little touch. Nevertheless, there aren’t enough of those pleasing elements to add up to a satisfying whole and mostly Valentine is as shallow as a puddle in the Sahara.
Another problem is that the characters are incomprehensibly self indulgent and morally extracted and it’s simply impossible for them to win over the audience. I know that the story demanded that they behave that way, but I still needed someone to root for, you know? The film was lacking a central character that we could relate to and it really left a heart-candy sized hole in the runtime. It’s fine if the players that are soon going to get their comeuppance don’t have a shred of likeable-ness between them; but what about the heroine? Surely she has to be a class above? How can anyone want such pompously arrogant characters to survive? In a typical slasher movie, the ‘final girl’ is usually the shy reclusive type and she earns audience sympathy for being the one that we can bond with. The personalities here are all incredibly shallow and conceited, which makes you believe that the world would be a better place without them anyway. In fairness, much like the amusing Shallow Hal from a few years later, the film does try to convey a deep rooted message about our current obsession with image. It’s a poorly delivered social commentary however and the point is never made with any class or strength.
Jamie Blanks has proved that he has the potential to be a fair filmmaker; however I would consider this to be a failure. There are some very good things here (the killer was mega creepy), but as a whole it can’t escape its overall feeling of, well, nothingness. It’s a shame that he couldn’t have made more of the talented cast and competent budget; but in the end, Valentine just feels like a bottle of vodka at on a stag night – totally empty. This mystery aspect and the ‘twist’ just about worked when I saw this in the cinema. So what do Warner Bros go and do? Well they go ahead and ruin it for you by giving away the killer’s identity on the back cover. Yipeeeeeeeee!!
The film is unfortunately a lot like Kim Kardashian. Beautiful at first glance, but hideous and ghastly underneath. That was a bit harsh actually. Nothing is quite as bad as Kardashian.
Cupid certainly missed when he fired the arrow of fortune toward this bleeding heart…
Final Girl √
Deadly Blessing 1981
aka Bendición Mortal
Directed by: Wes Craven
Starring: Maren Jensen, Sharon Stone, Susan Buckner
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
At first glance, one could be forgiven for believing it was fairly paradoxical that it should be Wes Craven that ended up directing Kevin Williamson’s tribute to the slasher films of the early-eighties. The polished offerings that garnered his reputation up until that point had not actually been the traditional stalk and slash flicks that Scream so lovingly references. Despite what a lot of people presume, A Nightmare on Elm Street was more of a supernatural new style of horror flick than a typical slasher. That isn’t meant as any kind of criticism, because a little originality goes a very long way in this category. At the end of the day though, Freddy Krueger was not really a slasher movie bogeyman and neither was Horace Pinker from Shocker, which also is often wrongly confused as a formulaic Halloween spin-off. His abilities to merge with electricity and possess his victims completely spoilt his chances of joining the brand that Mr. Myers and his knife-wielding accomplices frequent with their own stringent guidelines.
It’s a debate that could go on forever and I guess no one is truly ‘right’. For me however, with so many titles that follow the Halloween/Friday the 13th mould so closely, Freddy and the like always just felt a tad too far removed from the initial template and that’s why I don’t consider them to be true stalk and slash flicks.
Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that Craven did create a rarely-mentioned offering that can neatly slot itself alongside its counterparts and was indeed good enough to rub shoulders with a few of the genre giants. His 1981 opus Deadly Blessing, makes good use of the clichés that hadn’t been so severely overused at the time of its release and he also includes a few authentic ingredients of his own, which mark an intriguing addition to the formula.
This was also an early movie role for the woman who would later become one of the eighties’ sexiest leading ladies. She was famous for the most memorable leg-crossing scene in movie history and also managed a few credible dramatic performances including a big-budget Scorsese classic. You guessed it -one of the scrumptious females terrorised by the mystery killer is an extremely young and barely recognisable Sharon Stone.
The Hitties are an Amish-like sect who have built their own community in the secluded hills of a rural area. When a former member of their number is mysteriously murdered in the opening, they lay the blame on his wife, Martha (Maren Jensen) by calling her ‘the incubus’. In order to help with her grief and animosity from the locals, two of her friends drive up from the city to stay with her. After a while, a black-gloved maniac begins cutting his way through the locals and taking a particular interest in the widow and her visitors. Who could be the assassin?
Wes Craven mixes some neat visual flourishes and some superb set pieces to great effect throughout Deadly Blessing. The barn-scene has already made a place for itself amongst horror aficionados and it’s an electric and pulsating sequence. Lana (Sharon Stone) heads to the farmhouse to find a replacement spark plug for a tractor that the girls have been using for the land work. Once she’s inside, the door and windows slam shut, as if by a supernatural force. Then a mysterious assailant stalks her in one of the tightest and most skilfully crafted sequences of the slasher era. After a successful jump-scare, she finally sees a way out of the claustrophobic nightmare and heads for the exit. Just as she’s about to leave, an earlier victim’s corpse – which was strung up by rope – drops down in front of her, marking the perfect finish to a superb scene. Sharon Stone gets a pretty torrid time in this feature and when she’s not being targeted by the unseen menace, she’s having nightmares about a large spider being dropped in her mouth! (Real spider by the way)
That isn’t the only moment that shines with the incandescent brim of stylish craftsmanship. The bathtub-sequence was equally as spellbinding and because it’s a Craven flick, he has enough confidence in his storytelling to avoid making the movie a total rip-off of it’s peers. Although at heart, this is a slasher film with all the necessary ingredients that keep it in the category, the constant use of snakes and spiders as a skin-crawling alternative to masks and kitchen knifes is very inviting. There is also a satanic sheen and the supernatural twist at the end, which you may not get to see, depending on what version that you own. The IMDB states that the UK release omits that final scene (which is not true) so as to avoid confusing viewers, but the Spanish copy that I own definitely doesn’t include it. Yes, the notorious incubus ending does add a bit of a desperate and unnecessary enigma to an otherwise fairly decent story. Don’t blame Craven for this though, apparently it was the decision of over anxious producers.
The experienced cast members do a good job here, especially Ernest Borgnine who is restrained when handling a potential ham-feast. Obviously someone saw enough in Sharon Stone’s somewhat amateur portrayal, which would begin her on the road to mega stardom. It’s worth noting that Lana is probably the most approachable and sympathetic character that she’s ever played. She’s certainly a lot different from the ice-cold personas that Stone would later become famous for.
The film has an interesting moral compass with an unusual and authentic logic on who to root for. The plot touches on subjects such as marriage and adultery, but doesn’t reward either as a rightful path and has no defined stance. Glenn Benest’s script also builds very strong female players and this is especially evident in the climax, which I won’t spoil here. Placing the synopsis around such a religious and respectful sect explores various intriguing notions. Whilst the elders are disgusted about the modern and what they consider to be reckless ways of Martha and her alien city folk friends, the younger males are captivated by their style and free and easy-natured beauty. Because of the difference in the levels of morality between the opposing lifestyles, there are obvious clashes and the slasher rules like ‘have sex and die’ seem all the more prohibited and warranted due to that. Although this is nowhere near as dream focused as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven’s obsession with our sleep subconscious is also utilised here in the aforementioned spider sequence and there’s almost always some nightmare imagery incorporated somewhere in his features. ( Remember the dentist part from Last House on the Left?). In fact even if the incubus finale does somewhat destroy any coherent structure, it does leave the feature with a dreamlike surreal tone, even if it was unintended.
The only real let down is the somewhat intermittent pacing. The killer doesn’t really get enough screen time and the murders are too infrequently placed for my liking. With a fantastic score and good cast to play with, I would have perhaps liked to have seen a few more killings. This is still an underrated and stylish feature and the evidence that Craven needed to prove that he could turn low budget exploitation efforts in to stylish studio-backed productions.
Boasting an intriguing synopsis, hot Sharon Stone, polished production and adept direction, it’s everything a slasher movie needs to be. The jump scares here are very well delivered and the suspense is teeth-clenching. If you can find Deadly Blessing, then it’s definitely worth checking out.
Final Girl √√√√