Author Archives: luisitojoaquin
Camp Blood 1999
Directed by: Brad Sykes
Starring: Jennifer Ritchkoff, Michael Taylor, Tim Young
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I have mentioned Camp Blood a number of times on a SLASH above, but never actually got round to reviewing it. I picked it up back in the early noughties on big-box VHS and it was possibly the first no budget slasher of the new age that I got to see. Since then, I always thought of it as the quintessential example of a bad dime-store take on the slasher template. Over a decade has passed since I last watched it and the genre has seen its fair share of features that were financed on even smaller pocket books. This left me wondering if Blood would still maintain the status that I bestowed upon it on first viewing.
Two couples head off to explore a secluded woodland called Camp Blackfoot. Locals have named it Camp Blood due to the fact that a betrayed husband killed his cheating partner and her lover with a machete before disappearing into the wilderness. Legend states that he still roams the hills and murders anyone that is unfortunate or stupid enough to roam his region…
It was a strange feeling sitting in front of Camp Blood again after so long. Part of me was reminiscing the stack of VHS that I used to trawl through in my room when I’d just turned twenty and the other part was proud of the patience that I possessed to ‘appreciate’ so many turkies. Make no mistake about it, Blood isn’t like a bottle of fine wine. What I mean by that is my ten-year hiatus from exposure to it hasn’t turned it into Halloween. With that said, I did find things here that made me smile, which was most definitely more that I’d expected.
Brad Sykes, for all his obvious signs of amateurism, does understand what people enjoy about slasher movies. It takes less than five-minutes for the inevitable boob shot (what a pairing) and the next sight that we are treated to is a lumbering maniac in a clown mask. The kill scenes are deftly edited considering the budget and for the un-trained eye (i.e. my Mrs), the various splashings of blood and an imposing menace could be considered as generally effective. To give you an example, there’s a sequence that starts dumbly, because our sympathetic hero type guy chases the assailant into the forest when there was absolutely no logic in him doing so (the killer was actually fleeing the scene). Anyway, it results in a fight sequence on a cliff that’s well staged and then we get a smartly crafted gore shot that was surprisingly audacious. There are countless ‘tributes’ to Friday the 13th of course, with the most obvious being the film’s title, which was what Camp Crystal Lake became known by after Jason and his mum’s rampages.
I guess the above paragraph may look like I am about to take back all the mocking things that I’ve said previously about Brad Sykes’ addition to the stalk and slash family. Well in honesty, my experience was less painful than I’d anticipated, but I won’t be adding this to any top slasher lists in the near future. You see, the few bits and pieces that are classic slasher fun are punctured by some of the worst and most bizarre filmmaking decisions I’ve ever seen. We spend what feels like a lifetime in the clutches of a group of poorly acted and whiny campers and when the killer finally turns up and starts chopping through them, we’ve completely lost interest in their plight. Our final girl sinks to levels of rancid dramatics that had me reaching for the vomit bag and the patently cardboard machete can only appear so many times without beginning to look comical. There’s a really good and creepy score that often borders on building a menacing tone, but just when I was about to write a positive comment, something dumb kept happening and I felt like the guy in the picture to my right >>. It’s strange, because Camp Blood includes all the ingredients to become a trash-slasher hit. It’s just that it somehow puts them together awkwardly, like trying to build a flat-pack wardrobe without the instructions. I guess the fact that I had prepared myself for something awful meant that I could better handle the unbelievable levels of amateurism when I put it on this time. I went in knowing that there was going to be a mountain of goofiness, which made it easier than when I initially saw this and had less of an idea of what to expect.
There’s no doubt that Blood was filmed on the smallest of budgets, which was obvious because the same actors were re-used to play different characters with minimal effort to disguise their identities. It was bizarre seeing faces returning to the screen as Police Officers or Nurses when we’d witnessed them get slashed just moments earlier(!) I’m sure that back in the day, I noticed this stuff and found it easy to criticise, whereas now I kind of appreciated the cheesiness, if that makes sense. In my opening paragraph, I called this the quintessential example of a bad dime-store take-on the slasher template. Whilst I stand by that statement, I feel now that I can add the word ‘fun’ before bad in that statement. Either I’ve developed a sense of humour over the past decade or I’ve just got used to sitting through so much worse. At least this one has its heart in the right place. So yeah, as discussed, Camp Blood is a (fun) bad dime-store take-on the slasher template
Killer Guise: √√√√
The Boogey Man 1980
Directed by: Ulli Lommel
Starring: Suzanna Love, John Carradine, Ron James
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Money… When Lennon and McCartney wrote that it couldn’t buy you love, they were wrong. It can purchase pretty much everything and it’s the backbone to most of the experiences that we come across throughout our lives. The slasher boom of the eighties was not because Halloween received a four-star review from Roger Ebert. It was, quite simply, a response to the bundles of cash that Carpenter and Co transferred to their bank accounts after its surprising success. That’s not to say that there weren’t filmmakers that were inspired by that movie, but somewhere lurking in the background was the hunger that most humans are born with… The ravishing lust for cash.
I say this, because of all the Halloween imitators that hit screens during the peak years, none looked more single-minded in their effort to become a cash cow than this one. A friend of mine owns a small bar and I remember when I was about eighteen (and foolish), I filled a glass with a bit of everything in order to invent a brand new cocktail that he could call his own. It tasted like cat’s urine, but drinking more than one and a half of them would result in you being absolutely span-dangled. The Boogey Man is a lot like my brazen attempt at a phenomenal new beverage, because it takes parts of many popular horror films and chucks them into a blender in the hope that it’ll appeal to every ticket buying horror fan in the stratosphere. Does it result in a smooth blend of slasher-holic heaven or are we in for more feline-urine…?
A mother returns to the house where she was raised to overcome psychological demons that have haunted her since one fateful night twenty or so years earlier. Her mother’s boyfriend was abusive to her brother, which resulted in him stabbing the elder man to death. Somehow, her arrival awakens the spirit of the deceased villain that was trapped, supernaturally, in a mirror. Unbeknownst to them, they take the mirror with them to help with her rehabilitation and the evil awakens…
If that plot description seems somewhat peculiar to you when compared to other eighties Halloween clones, then you can be proud of your stalk and slash knowledge. The Bogey Man’s unique slant was in danger of not really knowing what it wanted to be, but in fairness, the net result just about works. Haunted house stories always seem to generate chills, which is likely because ghostly urban legends were what we heard the most whilst growing up. Thanks to a smart use of sound and an unnerving Halloween-alike score, we get the right kind of spooky atmosphere to maximise that fear-factor. The slasher homage is most visible when the killer strikes and these regular murders add gore and brutality to the concept. After the traditional cut and pasted Carpenter-esque POV house stalking shot, Lommel manages to implement a few of his own ideas into the direction and the odd one pays off. I thought the scenes that saw characters exploring a dark barn and discovering corpses were exceptionally filmed and there’s always a subtle undercurrent of dread.
It’s tough to make out what got The Boogey Man added to the DPP list and banned in the United Kingdom, although there’s quite a bit of tacky goo and shots of a child – and later his sister – being tied up in a suggestive manner. Like many former video nasties though, this picture doesn’t seem particularly gruesome in comparison with others that it shares its genre with and it was likely a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’ve read reviews that criticise the level of the dramatics, but personally, I really didn’t think the cast were that bad. Uli Lommel’s beautiful wife, Suzanne Love, had some strong moments as the heroine and her real-life brother was cast to play, well, her brother in a role with minimal dialogue. The fact that he’s mute (and also a bit creepy) made us believe that he was set to be the villain, but it doesn’t take us long to realise that isn’t the case. In fact the film never really clarifies who or what the antagonist is and it’s these parts that show a weakness in the screenplay. It’s hinted that the mother’s evil boyfriend has reached out from the beyond to seek revenge, but without giving anything away, the conclusion throws so much at us that we’re left scratching our heads. There’s a reason why I think this to be a strategic picture that’s targeted mainly to make a profit; and the Amityville-alike house where the action takes place, Exorcist-lite conclusion and aforementioned Halloween-style murders are enough evidence to justify my accusation.
Still, The Boogey Man does provide some neat shocks and when it sticks to what it does best, it’s actually a compelling and scary film. Lommel pulls enough tricks to sustain a morbid tone and despite bordering on being ‘too supernatural’ in places, I think it is a good addition to the slasher catalogue. Those questioning whether it’s truly a stalk and slash movie can take comfort in the fact that it most certainly is; even if it is one that pushes the boundaries. On a side note, Blood Sisters, Girls School Screamers and more recently, The Inherited, could all be considered as inspired by this. With Screamers, it was of course unintentional, but interesting all the same…
Killer Guise: √
Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives 1986
Directed by: Tom McCloughlin
Starring: Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen
Review by Eric LeMaster
Well… hello again!
When I was a kid, I never went to summer camp. I had a few opportunities to go to a local Christian camp called “Camp Nathaniel”, but never tried to complete the Bible-themed workbooks required to guarantee free attendance. When I was confirmed into the Episcopal Church in April of 2009, the ceremony was held at a camps and conference center in (very) rural East-and-South-of-Central KY. Having already been a fan of slasher movies, I was VERY happy to be there.
I have been there many times since, but this first experience of an overnight stay during this first time gave me the “feel” I needed to truly appreciate the “forest” slasher. While I (previously) never cared for Slashaway Camp, I soon realized why it became a classic. Friday the 13th movies moved much closer in rank to my beloved Halloween movies.
Anywho– Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives:
After Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) “killed” Jason in Part IV, and after Tommy (then John Shepherd) confronted a “different” Jason in Part V, Tommy (now Thom Matthews) takes a fellow escapee to a grave yard in Crystal Lake (Now “Forest Green”) to ensure that, once and for all, Jason is truly dead. When lightning strikes a metal fencing sphere that was stabbed into Jason’s body, Jason is revived and returns to bring havoc upon his home turf!
Part 6 introduces Tony Goldwyn in his first role. He dies very soon in the movie, but it’s nice to see such a respected and recognizable face in the film. Other notable actors and actresses who appear are Renee Jones (from Days of Our Lives), Tom Fridley (nephew of John Travolta); and Jennifer Cooke (from V, and Guiding Light), as Megan, our “final girl.”
Writer/Director Tom McLoughlin does a fine job at creating atmosphere and great humor– something that has developed a love/hate relationship amongst fans of the franchise. The movie was well-shot, and the actors and actresses involved were very talented; in fact, their on-screen cohesion is among the best I’ve ever seen amongst the cast in a slasher.
The MPAA required a number of scenes to be cut from the film (What’s new?); but, regardless, it plays well as a result of good editing. Sissy’s death scene was removed completely, the backbreaking scene in the cemetery was originally longer, and the Tommy/Jason fight was trimmed.
Also, the soundtrack was quite good, and with a lot of tracks from Alice Cooper. He’s Back (Man Behind the Mask) was made into a music video featuring Jason stalking a theatre, and was popular back in the day. Teenage Frankenstein was also featured on his popular Constrictor album.
I really have nothing but good things to say about this entry. If I had anything bad to acknowledge, it would be that there are times when the dialogue can seem a little over the top: Tom Fridley’s (Cort) excessive uttering of “This is great!” comes to mind…
Regardless, I give the film a 4 1/2 out of 5 starts. Part 6 is, for me, the best entry into the Friday the 13th franchise, and one of my favorite slashers of all time– second only to Halloween 4, the movie I previously reviewed.
As a side note– as an autograph collector, I had the great opportunity of having friendly contact with Tom Fridley, who I find to be an all-in-all awesome guy. It’s always great when I can collect from the actors whose work I have so enjoyed!
Luis’ view: Also one of my favourites of the series, Part VI stands apart because it successfully blends some gooey ‘action horror’ with a satirical ability to poke fun at itself and its franchise predecessors. I still believe it to be one of the slickest and easiest to watch of the series, but it perhaps lacks the haunting tone that was so successful in part II. This was one of the first slasher movies I ever tracked down and I remember having a youthful crush on Jennifer Cooke. On top of having a feisty heroine, I also liked the soundtrack, which included Felony from Graduation Day. It’s a shame Tom McCloughin didn’t return to the franchise/genre. Whilst it is a treat to watch, it was perhaps the first Friday to have a cartoonish ‘popcorn’ feel. This is something that the series never really recovered from and I would say Part IV was the last truly scary entry. Four stars from me..
Killer Guise: √√√√
The Inherited 2009
Directed by: Patrick C. Clinton
Starring: Khory Pilley, Tyler Cross, Natalie Sieber
Review by Luis Joaquín González
There are a number of stalk and slash sites on the web and the way I try to make a SLASH above stand out is by tracking down those complete obscurities that for whatever reason you may not have yet seen. With a track record that includes Cards of Death, Hard Rock Nightmare, Heavy Metal Massacre, Sawblade and Early Frost, you might well say that I’ve aced the target I set out to achieve. Well here we have one that tops all of them.
Type ‘The Inherited slasher’ in Google and you’ll find absolutely nada. Much like 1987’s Legend of Moated Manor, this one has totally and completely disappeared. It does have a listing on the IMDB, but it’s got zero user reviews and only one critic rating from when it screened at a festival. I have no information as to its production notes and it was sent to me anonymously. The plot thickens….
A young man inherits a fortune from a relative that he never knew he had. Clearly surprised by his luck, he heads off to stay at the house he was given with a group of his closest friends. As soon as he arrives, he begins to feel uneasy on the premises and a hooded killer turns up and begins slicing his way through the guests one by one…
We are back in the Bloodstream realms of having no idea why this entry remains shelved. That’s not to say that it’s an amazing piece of filmmaking, but when you think that something as ‘awkward’ as Carnage Road got a global release, you only have to wonder what went on behind the scenes to stop this one from being picked up. At just under two hours, The Inherited comes dangerously close to being a marathon instead of the usual brisk sprint that works fine for slasher movies. What impressed me most though was that there were very few times when the runtime became tedious or unwelcome with its storytelling. This is mainly due to some well-developed characters that all face personal issues that manage to keep interest levels raised when nothing else is happening. Although a few more killings wouldn’t have gone a miss, the mystery does manage to keep the momentum moving in the right direction and there’s a neat tone of impending doom that remains consistent.
It also helps that director Patrick Clinton pulls out all the stops to inject pizazz into the visuals. He shoots with an abundance of rapid cuts and inventive camera angles that are energetic to watch. Most of the action takes place in tight locations, but Clinton manages to film them with a perception of expansiveness. During the first thirty minutes or so, I was unsure what type of film I was watching, because it opens with a traditional slasher sequence but then throws some haunted house clichés in the mix. These are all superbly staged and include some striking Evil Dead-alike POV shots and a superb use of a creepy phantom clown. We later learn that these additions are only added as unsettling flair and the story soon finds its footing as a typical slasher/whodunit. More importantly, it’s one with a twist that’s unpredictable and actually quite shocking.
A clearly talented filmmaker, Clinton seems to be especially unfortunate with his output. Both this and his debut, Last Getaway (2007), remain unreleased, despite being surrounded by good word of mouth throughout post-production. I guess his style could be described as being similar to that of Tyler Tharpe from Freak fame, which is another title that I thoroughly enjoyed. He certainly invests in the depth of his players, but I felt that the kill scenes were too diluted to really make an impact. This was crying out for some gore to really become a missing gem, but instead it relies on plot delivery and a terrific score to generate the tension. This was a deliberate ploy from Clinton because he wanted to attempt the less is more approach that John Carpenter delivered so purely. I totally agree with the idea of that philosophy, but perhaps because of the film’s budget look, I felt that it really needed an injection of goo to complete the exploitation package.
The Inherited is a sharp blend of horror trademarks that plays like a mix of The Boogeyman and The Ghastly Ones. It’s a good movie that probably would have been well received by fans if given the chance. The fact it has disappeared is totally bemusing and it’s a shame that it remains elusive. After six-years of no news though, it’s unlikely to surface anytime soon. Whilst it may not boast extremely strong performances from the entire cast and the lack of gore is clearly quite disappointing, it does keep you interested and remains rather unique.
I only hope that one day you can check it out for yourself…
Killer Guise: √√√√
The PickAxe Murders Part III: The Final Chapter 2015
Directed by: Jeremy Sumrall
Starring: Nick W. Nicholson, Tiffany Shepis, A. Michael Baldwin
Review by Luis Joaquín González
In the slasher cycle, it’s fair to say that a genre parody has become such a cliche that the next step would be for someone to make a parody of slasher parodies. For a style of film that’s not bustling with unique character traits, we certainly ran out of the need for satire long before filmmakers realised that was the case. All due credit to director Jeremy Sumrall though, because he has found a novel way of poking his tongue at the genre that he’s obviously a big fan of.
Franchises were as large a part of the early slasher phase as were masked killers and after the consistent success of the Friday the 13th continuations, every new movie was produced with the intention of starting a series. In most cases, the quality of films deteriorated on a chapter by chapter basis and that’s the key gimmick behind the genius of The Pickaxe Murders III: The Final Chapter. Sumrall has introduced us to his boogeyman immediately from the third instalment and as we all know so well in horror legacies, part tres is generally amongst the cheesiest. It’s one of those ideas that’s so good that I wished I’d thought of it myself and so I was indeed hopeful that the film would live up to its creative concept.
It opens with a text introduction that describes two previous massacres that were the work of a maniac that may well be the son of Satan and goes by the name of Alex Black. He was presumed dead, but two hikers discover an amulet that possesses a mystic power to bring him back from beyond. Before long, he’s up to his old tricks again and the residents of a small rural town have to fight to survive his Satanic wraith.
Jeremy Sumrall’s début film, Posum Walk remains unreleased and I’m the first to hope that his feature-length follow up doesn’t suffer the same unfortunate fate. The Pickaxe Murders is a bloody ride of no nonsense thrills that packs one hell of an exploitation punch. We don’t wait around long for our first slaughter and the victims carry on dropping at an impressive rate throughout. Alex Black looks tremendous in a guise that’s pretty much a burlap sack and he stalks and slashes with a similar imposing threat to Jason Voorhees’ finest moments. Whilst we can see that the production team were operating on a meagre budget, they hide the lack of funding well enough, and there are some impressive effects amongst the murders. A pickaxe is a superb tool for gooey mayhem, but Black also utilises his strength to crush throats, squeeze heads and rip off limbs.
The story takes place in 1988 and there’s a lot of effort put into bringing that era to life. Our main characters of the story are heading to a hair-metal concert and the director actually takes us inside the venue to witness the goings on. We don’t only get two bands that dress and act in a style that’s perfectly retro, but there’s also an audacious massacre sequence that is both hilarious and gruesome in equal measure. We’ve been transported to the eighties many times before of course, but Pickaxe actually ‘feels’ authentic. Sumrall is a director that pays the closest attention to detail and because of that, he has a huge career ahead of him. There are many occasions when we head into a deep dark forest setting and everything is so finely lighted and so purely shot that I had to remind myself that this was only his second full film… and the first to be released (hope hope)
There’s an old saying where I come from in Andaluz that translates to something like, ‘an excellent artist can never overcome the canvass he paints upon’. Pickaxe Murders reminded me of that proverb, because I often felt that director Sumrall was by far the most talented person in this crew and the rest of them somewhat let him down. Watching the dialogue scenes and the actions of his characters made me visualise his standing there and showing them how they should perform. What he couldn’t do though is improve the levels of their dramatic ability and the net result is like Fernando Alonso giving his all in a Robin Reliant instead of the Mcclaren F1 he deserves. I could mention the lack of an alluring central character or that the plot sometimes seems as if it loses track of where it’s supposed to go next, but all those minor moments where I was feeling critical are made up for by that amazing rock sequence and an overall tone of fun. Sorry to utilise a platitude, but this is most definitely a film made by a fan for fans. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but overall it works and that’s what matters most. Also, whilst I can’t be sure if it was intentional, I am thirty-four-year’s old and the fact that I look younger than these, ahem, ‘Hi-School kids’ was a real ego-booster. Well, one of them was clearly getting silver fox sideburns, so was that part of the humour? During the eighties, the ‘teens’ in these movies were notorious for being closer to the big four-zero than their supposed age…?
The pre-screener I watched to write this review was only 80% finished and Sumrall told me that there’s still a bit that needs to be done before release. Still, I think The Pickaxe Murders III is a slick genre entry with lashings of potential and it will satisfy slasher hounds immensely. From a personal perspective, I thought there was a tad too much nudity (regular readers will know I’m surprisingly prude… unless it comes to undeniably HOT Chicas, which these aren’t)) but that’s part of the exploitation package and I accept that. We can only hope that Pickaxe gets the release and success it deserves, because I’m eagerly awaiting the prequels :)
Killer Guise: √√√√
Splatter Farm 1987
Directed by: P.Alan
Starring: Todd Michael Smith, John Polonia, Mark Polonia
Review by Luis Joaquín González
One of the strangest rules of film collecting is that extremely rare and impossible to locate movies immediately become cult classics. People seem to forget that the reason that most of these flicks have vanished is because they were so rubbish that they didn’t shift first time around. It would take a pretty stupid distributor to recall and stop producing any feature that was flying off the shelves, wouldn’t it? Titles like Savage Water, Night Ripper and Don’t go in the woods (especially Don’t go in the Woods) are without a doubt ‘challenging’ pictures to sit through. Original copies still sell on ebay for prices that range from $50 – to as much as a staggering $120 a pop. Judging by the posts and wanted lists that I’ve noticed scattered around on websites, Splatter Farm in its original format is among that number of missing obscurities that has inexplicably gained a similar undeserved following. I already own a copy of this on VHS and even if it can be picked up fairly cheaply nowadays on budget DVD, I wanted to post an honest opinion in case it ever disappears again.
The story concerns two nameless and identically goofy-looking brothers who head out to the sticks for a vacation at their Auntie’s secluded farm. Mrs. Lacy is an old coot who keeps telling herself that’s she’s incredibly lonely since her old man was the victim of an unfortunate ‘accident’ (an axe to the head!). Her only company on the green grass of home is Jeremy, the handyman who lives in a barn. Unbeknownst to pinkie and perky (the two numbskull siblings), Jeremy is a raving cannibalistic maniac with a taste for necrophilia too. In the first scene alone he’s shown dismembering a patently unrealistic corpse, which looks to be made from paper mache. Before long the two nerds are stranded on the farm and have to fight off their auntie’s sexual advances and Jeremy’s murderous habits…
Wow. The fact that this one can even be considered a ‘cult classic’ is a mystery that rivals the identity of the assassin on the Grassy Knoll. Ollie Kendall’s Houseboat Horror achieved a similar feat when that too took a one-way vacation into obscurity, but on the subject of the Grassy Knoll, Kendall’s flick looks comparable to Oliver Stone’s JFK in comparison with this. I know it’s nothing to boast about, but as you can see from my A-Z review list I know more than most about cruddy slasher movies. I’ve seen them all, from the obscure (Cards of Death/Early Frost) to the ridiculous (New York Centre Fold Massacre/Fever Lake). Well P.Alan’s addition ticks both of those boxes, – but in honesty, it’s ugly to boot.
The first thing that potential viewers should understand is that it was not even shot on a reasonable format. It’s an average camcorder recording, which makes the poorest SOV flick look like an IMAX print. There’s no boom mike available, so the tinny microphone picks up everything other than what you want it to properly and Ray Charles must have edited the whole thing whilst counting sheep. Yes there is a fair bit of el cheapo gore and ‘sexual’ scenes that could get the movie banned even in Amsterdam, but it’s so damn fake and poorly handled that it makes Violent Shit look like Tom Savini’s finest hour in comparison. I won’t mention the performances, because there are none; and I’m running out of witty ways to describe rancid dramatics on a SLASH above.
I want to say that I’m not trying to slander P. Alan for the effort he took to make his first movie. I think it’s great that anyone with a camcorder can grab a few mates and try to do something creative with their spare time. In fact, the film is quite funny in an ‘oh deary me’ type way. Perhaps Splatter Farm caught me in an unfortunate mood, but all I’m trying to do is stop the numerous fans paying rip-off prices for a film that just won’t deliver what you expect it to. It’s certainly a twisted beast with hilarious necrophilia sex scenes that you won’t see anywhere else. But like I said, chances are you could pick up an iPhone and make a movie of similar quality with just a couple of your mates and a gallon of corn syrup. I decided to post this review after seeing the video for sale on eBay for $200 and the seller stating it was a, ‘gross-out classic that every true horror fan must see’. You can feed a family for a whole week on that budget…
As I said, there are some laughs to be had here and it despite being amongst the most poorly put-together films that I have ever seen, it does have moments of a disturbing atmosphere. Still though, I reckon that the most fun to be had is hunting down a copy. In a way, Splatter Farm could have been one of a number of similar entries that you will get milked for on auction websites. The moral of the story is, times are tough; – be wise with what you spend your money on :)
Directed by: Andrea Bianchi
Starring: Gino Concari, Patrizia Falcone, Silvia Conti
Review by Luis Joaquín González
It’s somewhat ironic that Lucio Fulci supervised this belated entry to the giallo catalogue. Despite being two years his elder, Andrea Bianchi’s work has always made him look like something of a protégé of the notorious craftsman. There are many Fulci trademarks to be found in the works of Bianchi. Most notably the extreme use of gratuitous gore and a taste for barely logical plot points. Over the years many have labeled Fulci as an inept filmmaker that hid his directorial shortcomings behind the talent of his special effects team. But titles like Don’t Torture a Duckling and Zombi 2 have pretty much taken the gust out of that argument. If these critics truly believe that Fulci was an incompetent director, then gawd only knows what they’d make of Bianchi. His most famous movie – the notorious Burial Ground – is great fun if you love blood and guts. But if you judge it on it’s merits as a motion picture, then it fails in just about every department. The acting was diabolical, the direction non-existent and I don’t even think that it was filmed from a script. I hoped that Massacre would keep the gratuitous exploitation edge, but I was also looking for a little more credibility from Bianchi this time around.
Massacre kicks off with a gruesome murder that was re-used by Fulci along with other gore scenes in the bemusing Nightmare Concert. A guy wearing red gloves, shades and a beanie hat is seen cruising along a lengthy stretch of road. He pulls up beside a young woman in a skimpy dress who greets him with the classic line, “Hey cutie wanna make love mmmm!” Unfortunately, ‘making love’ isn’t exactly what this guy had in mind, and he proceeds to chop off the woman’s hand and then decapitate her with an axe. Next up we meet a film crew that are shooting a zombie flick in the area called Dirty Blood. There’s a whole heap of tension on the set because it doesn’t look like any of the employees seem to get along with one another. The lead actress Jennifer (Patrizia Falcone) is dating a Local Police Captain called Walter (Gino Concarni). We soon learn from him that this maniacal killer has already murdered four other victims, and the authorities don’t have a clue to his identity. Things really get nasty after the producer calls in a medium to hold a séance and teach his cast and crew the ways of the supernatural. The circle is broken when an evil spirit invades the sitting and forces the Medium to end the seance. Only hours later an unseen maniac begins slaughtering his way through the cast list one by one. Will any of them survive…?
Surprisingly, Massacre is not as bad as I had initially expected. Silvano Tessicini did a credible job with the photography and the director even managed to build suspense in places. No really. As this is a Bianchi joint, the exploitation is spread thick and fast, and there’s more female nudity than an Electric Blue omnibus. Look out for the scene where a victim flees the marauding killer with only a short skirt covering her modesty! The gory murders reveal a great flair for the macabre from the filmmaker and there’s a body count to rival an Arnold Schwarzenegger machine gun frenzy. You probably won’t solve the twist and turn mystery with ease, plus the boathouse massacre is a tremendous piece of mayhem, which deserves a second look. Massacre also boasts some wacky pre-politically correct dialogue, which will make even the most sinister viewer smile. It’s also worth noting the amount of American stalk and slash clichés that have been incorporated with the more typical native giallo platitudes. At one point a fornicating couple are slaughtered whilst parked in the woods – an indisputable trademark of the USA teen slasher.
But still this is far too bizarrely structured to be anything other than good in a bad way. As was the case with Burial Ground, there’s just too much inadvertent humor to allow this to join the giallo elite. The murders certainly could have benefited with a little more directorial flourish and the musical accompaniment was continuously monotomous to the point of frustration. Bianchi certainly has an eye for a beautiful actress, and he always tries to include everything from lesbian proposals to soft-core pornography. Only problem is that he seems to prioritize acting ability way below bra size. It’s a flaw that’s only too evident from the start.
The net result is a film that will satisfy forgiving fans that aren’t expecting anything along the lines of Tenebrae or even Eyeball. To put it another way, if you could sit through Burial Ground without cringing at the screen then you’ll probably enjoy this.
Final Girl: √
Directed by: Don Gronquist
Starring: Laurel Munson, Janet Penner, Sara Ansley
Review by Luis Joaquín González
In these recent times of rapid action cuts and CGI overloads, slow boiling thrillers have lost some their allure amongst audiences. I always try to value craft over excess, but recently I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds again and noticed I was losing focus during the lengthy character development parts. It’s strange, because I loved that movie so much when I was growing up.
This fairly intriguing genre entry grabbed a slice of notoriety because it was banned in the United Kingdom and quickly added to the video nasty list upon its release in 1982. With only four on-screen killings during the seventy-two minute runtime, nowadays it’s hard to see what the BBFC found so offensive. It’s been billed most places as more of a psychological chiller than an out and out stalk and slasher, so I promised myself to be extra patient when watching it unfold.
Three young girls that are on their way to a Jazz concert, crash their car in a rainstorm and wake up stranded in a large mansion. Even though everything seems comfortable at first, it soon becomes apparent that there’s a local killer on the loose and the girls have to fight to survive.
Director Don Gronquist has said that his sole ambition throughout his life had been to make a feature film. His first attempt, a serial killer/crime drama based on Charles Starkweather’s exploits, wasn’t picked up until eight-years after its 1973 production date. He didn’t let this deter him and Unhinged proved to be a lot more attractive to relevant suitors due to the boom of the slasher genre. Costing only $100,000 to produce, the film is a mix of Halloween and Psycho that coincidentally results in a blend that’s a lot like The Unseen. The early shots of a car heading along a winding road brought to mind The Shinning, which I also believe played a part in the ambition behind the project.
In terms of the influences taken from Carpenter’s classic, Gronquist pulls off some generally effective heavy-breath POV shots and a strong utilisation of sound to unsettle viewers. Jon Newton’s brooding score works wonders in maintaining an atmosphere and lesser scenes come alive solely because of the striking audio accompaniment. Dressed in a rain-mac, the killer strikes with unpredictability and each murder is brutal and ruthless. If you’re expecting bundles of gore because of the video nasty status, you’ll be disappointed, but there’s something unsettling about the way the killings are staged. Tension is brought from a complex mystery and a claustrophobic feeling that the girls are truly stranded in the wilderness. Building a creepy environment is not something all can achieve, but the unusual characters and (again) that frantic score really do wonders in maintaining the menace.
Whilst there can be no greater sources of inspiration than Hitchcock, Carpenter and Kubrick; as a director, Gronquist doesn’t come close to achieving that level of artistry. Unhinged is shot rather flatly, and rarely tries anything audacious. Outside of the impressive steadi-cam moments, the camera always seems to abide by the safest option and this has a noticeable effect on the film’s energy. Some of the most amateur editing that I can remember certainly doesn’t help matters and it’s surprising that this wasn’t picked up upon before release. We’ll see a shot of an open doorway for three-seconds before someone walks through or a sequence will just stop and fade to black awkwardly. This also plays havoc with the story’s timeline, because I couldn’t keep track of whether minutes or hours had passed between one part and the next. Whilst it would be fair to call Gronquist’s work ‘uninspired’, it deserved a lot better than how his editors made it look.
I called The Unhinged intriguing, and I really believe that it is. The plot concludes with a twist that I didn’t mention so as not to ruin, and it provides moments that are generally chilling. The performances are poor and the technical ability shoddy, at best. Despite that, it remains worth a look because it is so – what’s that word again? – Oh yes, intriguing. I prefer horror films develop an atmosphere and even if the pace does drop here and there, I actually quite liked it.
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √
Just Before Dawn 1981
Directed by: Jeff Lieberman
Starring: Mike Kellin, Chris Lemmon, Gregg Henry
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Being a collector of slasher movies during the eighties was a unique and lonely hobby. Long before there were sites like Hysteria Lives or even the IMDB, contacting other people that understood or shared this passion was an extremely difficult task. I grew up desperately hoping to meet someone who carried the same obsession, but the closest I ever came was a guy that owned a second hand book shop in Bromley-By-Bow. The film I had been searching for at that time was Graduation Day and he was the only person I’d spoken to that knew it existed. He was adamant in his advice that I could certainly live without it, but the more he tried to convince me, the more I wanted to track it down.
In hindsight, I guess you could say that he was right about Herb Freed’s cheesy throwaway, so I had high expectations for the one slasher that he guaranteed I’d enjoy, Just Before Dawn. It’s not hard to find positive reviews for Dawn, it’s amongst the most celebrated of the peak period titles. I remember reading a complimentary piece on The Terror Trap, which led me to put more effort into uncovering a copy, but strangely enough, this is the first time that I’ve sat down to watch it.
A van full of youngsters head up into a mountainous forest for a camping trip and the chance to spend some time together. Almost as soon as they arrive, they meet a strangely deranged local who warns them of a demon that lurks in the mountains. Not letting his rants ruin their adventure, the troupe continue off on their trail. Little do they know that a psychopathic killer awaits them and they have no place to hide.
The cult success of Jeff Lieberman’s Squirm was what had attracted producer David Sheldon to hire him when he set about grabbing his slice of the slasher movie cash cake. Lieberman put together a brief script and an idea for a location, which changed numerous times before shooting began. It’s easy to see how well budgeted Dawn looks in comparison to some of its contemporaries and there’s no doubt that this helped to give the movie it’s thoroughbred reputation. Thanks to a stylish mix of brightly coloured and creatively planned cinematography, we get to experience the work of a director that’s brimming with confidence in his ability. Some of the shots of Silver Falls State Park as a backdrop are so gorgeous that the film feels almost like an advertisement to prospective campers.
Jeff Lieberman has stated recently that he was more inspired by Deliverance than any of the slasher movies that had been storming the box office around this time and it’s visible in what we see on the screen. Dawn doesn’t include lingering POV shots from a heavy breathing antagonist and it ignores the cliched approach for its final girl. Instead we get a group of interchangeable personalities that are given plenty of screentime, but offer nothing that we feel we can bond with. The best horror films climb inside your psyche and convey character actions that you recognise because they’re how you’d react if placed in a similar situation. Our heroine here never convinces that she’s deserving of our sympathy and seeing her climb a tree instead of fleeing her lumbering pursuer and putting on make-up once she’s escaped him makes her look peculiar and withdrawn. It’s almost as if the amount of effort they put into avoiding genre stereotypes left us with a script that forgot about the necessities of compelling drama. With no one from the cast list to root for, the amount of time it takes for the villain to put in an appearance does seem longer than it should have.
Backwoods hillbilly nuts are an ingredient that’s always fun to play with and Lieberman’s bogeyman is a fine example of a merciless assailant. In the opening, we get a gruesome machete impalement that leads us to believe that we could be in for a gory ride, but that early slaughter is by far the most graphic. It’s disappointing that we aren’t given more than a couple of brief bloody after-shots and Jonathan’s murder is ruined because we never really know how he was dispatched. Lieberman instead invests in some artful stalking scenarios where we are made aware that the killer could strike at any moment, but never sure when he will. These include a superb set-piece in a waterfall and a taut sequence that sees the maniac secretly hanging on to the back of the youngsters’ van as they drive into the wilderness. There’s a twist that I wish I wasn’t aware of before I watched the movie and it ends with an impressive tone that could almost be considered surreal.
Whilst Just Before Dawn is certainly amongst the classiest (and dare I say best) of the peak entries, there’s a fair bit that it could have done better. It’s stylishly directed and successful in its attempts to deliver a constant underscore of intimidation, but it’s a bit long-winded and doesn’t pack the punch that it took so long preparing. Stick Ginny Fields in place of the less than appealing final girl and it would have worked a whole lot better. Still, I must give praise for the slick production values and a wonderful soundtrack that gives us Blondie’s Heart of Glass and a terrific score from Brad Fiedel. I just felt that all the gloss couldn’t disguise the gaping hole in the story that a group of well-defined personalities would have fulfilled perfectly.
I have always believed that slasher flicks and especially those of the killer in the woods variety are the most terrifying scary movie, because they convey a concept that we know could really happen. Just Before Dawn understands these fears and brings them to life with some compelling suspense. It’s a slick and well-staged slasher that maintains an engrossing atmosphere. When it comes to killers on campsites though, its cousin from Camp Crystal Lake is still the one I enjoy the most…
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √√
Ripper: A Letter From Hell 2001
Directed by: John Eyres
Starring: A.J. Cook, Bruce Payne, Kelly Brook
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Being that I host a SLASH above, it’s fair to say that I’ve watched my share of films that definitely weren’t the best. A few of those though included enough for me to see that certain crew members had the talent for another shot at stardom. Whether it be a smart line of dialogue or a smoothly edited set-piece, a bad film doesn’t always mean that everyone involved is part of the bad-ness. There are a million things that can go wrong during a movie shoot and sometimes a person’s true ability can be concealed through no fault of their own.
John Eyres was responsible for 1987’s woeful killer priest slasher, Goodnight Godbless, and I have to say that seeing his name here didn’t fill me with confidence. I certainly don’t recall anything from that picture that made me think that Eyres’ skill was restrained by the mediocre budget. Still, I’m one of those that believes everyone deserves a second chance and so I’ve finally got round to checking out his follow-up, Ripper: A Letter From Hell.
A girl with a slight attitude problem decides to study criminology under an eccentric professor. She doesn’t get along too well with her classmates, but they become close after a vicious maniac begins to target the group and brutally murder them one by one. They soon discover that they share their initials with the victims of Jack the Ripper and it looks like he could be back from beyond the grave…
At just under two-hours, if Ripper had been of similar quality to its elder brother Godbless, we would have been in for a tiresome exercise in visual punishment. Thankfully, during the fourteen-year gap between those two entries, Eyres has learned a lot about the art of slick direction. In fact, the film launched with such an impressive amount of panache that I was left wondering if this was really the same guy. It shows us the conclusion of a set of killings that occurred sometime earlier in a dense forest. We get flashy cuts and intense camera tricks that build neat tension, even though we don’t know yet who or what we are witnessing. After a couple more fast-paced shocks, we learn that this was a unique way of introducing Molly, our central character. It seems that she was the lone survivor of the aforementioned massacre and she’s now relocated to restart her life and enrolled in a new university.
The next few parts that develop the players (and likely suspects) who will carry us through the runtime are amongst my favourite of the picture. They contain intelligent discussions on the characteristics of serial killers and are shot with intriguing movement that delivers a subtle underscoring of energy to the talk scenes. It’s nice to see that the writers have researched their subject-matter and also they’ve included an authentic slant on one of Scream’s major gimmicks. Whilst Kevin Williamson’s screenplay name-checked the likes of Tom Cruise and Richard Gere, here we get Ted Bundy, Albert DeSalvo and of course Jack the Ripper. The fact that Eyres has privately investigated the Jack the Ripper case for most of his adult life made him the perfect choice for this project. It’s easy to see that he felt he had a score to settle with the slasher genre.
Whilst Godbless owed a lot to John Carpenter’s Halloween, here it seems that Eyres has followed the path taken by Jamie Blanks’ Urban Legend. There are a lot of similarities in the way both films are staged, which I mean as a genuine compliment. The kill scenes are delivered with style and they create some memorable images, like when a freshly murdered corpse pours blood on to a girl’s white dress as she dances below. Another youngster gets rammed off a cliff by a truck that brought to mind the one used in Mirage, and whilst these murders may not be overtly gory, they are powerful due to their brutality. By the time the conclusion comes around, we end up in a tree-chopping factory (?) that really needed a visit from a health & safety expert in a hi-viz jacket. If it doesnt bother the authorities that there are deadly blades that spin around 24/7, perhaps the fact that it’s left totally unguarded will. This leads to a couple of taut chase sequences and a revelation that is highly ambiguous. This was apparently down to Eyres not havin enough budget left to deliver what he had initially intended. I am guessing that might also explain why such a smart story suddenly becomes disjointed in the final ten-minutes.
The cast do a good enough job of keeping things moving without really delivering any sympathetic characters. Ripper is a film that believes in its dialogue and compelling mystery, so the focus is taken off individuals and centred more around the overall plot. We are treated to some truly beautiful actresses and kudos to Eyres for killing off the worst performers quickly. Brit glamour girl Kelly Brook is the first to go and despite her highly unconvincing pleas for mercy, she takes part in one of the greatest stalk and slash murders of the entire cycle. You should watch the film if only for that one sequence.
John Eyres’ website completely ignores Goodnight Goodbless and doesn’t even list it as one of his features. In fact, it goes as far as to say that his filmmaking career began in 1990, which is three-years after that film was released. Whilst it’s unlikely that another British ‘John Eyres’ was responsible for Godbless, the fact that he wants to erase it from his filmography speaks a thousand words. I’m not sure whether that was really necessary, but either way, he had certainly upped his game by the time Ripper went in to production. It’s a tense and engrossing entry that really does impress. In fact I’m fairly surprised that it isn’t more fondly thought of amongst genre connoisseurs.
I guess the only question we are left with is what Eyres was doing that was so important he turned down the sequel…?
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √√