Author Archives: luisitojoaquin
Directed by: Tim Cowles
Starring: Eleanor James, Emily Eaves, Jason Impey
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I’ve recently turned 34, which I tell you because I’m from a generation that grew up just before the invasion of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Hi5. I was in my twenties during the noughties, so I still got to experience the impact that these sites had on social interaction and relationships. It’s interesting, because I remember the times of having to call landlines or walk to knock on someone’s front door if I wanted to chat with them. Nowadays I can simply drop them a note on What’sapp or some other messaging service and ascertain where they are, who they’re with and whether they’re choosing to ignore me ;) I’m often told that I should be more proactive on Twitter and Facebook, especially with regards to a SLASH above, but perhaps it’s because of my age that I haven’t quite grasped the necessity of a social media presence.
Whether these methods of contact are a benefit or a hindrance to our evolution as humans is impossible to answer, but it’s an interesting theory to think about. It’s one that was certainly on the mind of director Tim Cowles when he put pen to paper for this British slasher that hit shelves last year. Not to be confused with 2005’s Backslash, Backslasher was poorly received upon release and currently holds a 2.2 rating on the IMDB. This Is incredibly low, but there’s always the excuse that slasher movies are easy targets for mockery from stern critics because of their simplistic style. Seeing that the excellent Billy Club has dropped from 7.4 to 5.6 on the same website adds weight to this theory.
A young woman who’s obsessed with her social media accounts launches an online business that sells lingerie and sex toys. She Is running a blog to assist with marketing but soon discovers that someone maybe taking an unhealthy interest in her status updates. It soon becomes apparent that a masked killer is stalking her friend list and it looks as if she’s next in his sights…
Shooting films on a penny sweet budget must be tough, because creative concepts can get lost amongst the lack of funding. Backslasher tries hard to deliver something unique and intriguing but has suffered, slightly unfairly, due to its minimal production values. It choses an unusual starting path, which introduces our characters rather awkwardly. The best horror movies begin with a scare or shock sequence of some kind to set a tone, but it takes fifteen-minutes or so for the killer to even put in an appearance here. This makes the opening scenes a bit pointless because we are left trying to get our heads around what we are watching. A group of girls prance around in lingerie to introduce the theme of the products that they’re selling, but these parts are a nothingness in terms of the film’s horror backbone. I haven’t seen the old chestnut of a maniac stalking two lovers parked in a secluded spot for quite some time, so it was refreshing to be back at a set up that is so rudimentary yet satisfying. Cowles shows his knowledge of the period slashers in a couple of the murders, including an assault of a female jogger, which was last seen in Graduation Day. Dressing the killer in a common mask and hooded jumper underlines the film’s cheapness, but he is at least brutal and intimidating when he strikes.
What I really liked about Backslasher was its smartly ambiguous conclusion. The plot works along the line of you thinking you’ve guessed who is under the mask, but just when you believe you’ve really nailed it, your choice of culprit becomes the next victim. I felt initially cheated by the revelation scene, but later I understood that it was the perfect end to a story that focuses on the privacy and anonymity of Social Media. It’s extremely unusual for a stalk and slash film to include an ending that you’ll need to watch through again to really understand and in honesty it impressed me. Whodunits have been done to death and outside of tricking the audience unfairly, there’s very little that we haven’t seen before. Cowles takes a risk that might disappoint some viewers, but I appreciated his ambition to try an off-kilter resolution.
It’s unfair to criticise a low budget movie for being low budget, but Backslasher’s main issues are visible exactly because of that. The performances are predictably mediocre and the footage is grainy and poor in quality. We do get a guitar-based score that is fresh and uplifting, but when the horror starts, there are some misplaced sci-fi-like buzzing sounds that are notably out of place. Whilst the screenplay does have moments that are strongly commendable, it could have been structured to have a much smoother flow. I imagine the film would play much better with a murder in the pre-credits and most of the background characters are interchangeable because they’re given very little to do. There were a couple of times when people got killed and I couldn’t remember who they were, which showed they had been poorly introduced.
Backslasher is a project that writes cheques its budget can’t cash. It’s a creative concept that could have done with some fine tuning. Many people won’t have the patience to really appreciate it, which is a shame, but a lesson that can be learned. Tim Cowles shouldn’t give up on his filmmaking dream, but he’s still some way off delivering a really credible entry.
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√
Chill: The Killing Games 2013
aka Chill (Working Title)
Directed by: Noelle Bye, Meredith Holland
Starring: Roger Conners, Bradley Michael Arner, Kelly Rogers
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I must tell you that Chill was one of those movies that I was really excited about getting my hands on. Haydn Watkins, the co-author of magnificent upcoming slasher book Alone in the Dark, told me about it and so I got in touch with director Noelle Bye who sent me over an online copy to review. At the time of writing, it boasts a 7.5 ranking on the IMDB and it has been keenly anticipated amongst cult horror circles due to a couple of successful pre-screenings.
Despite accusations that slasher movies are all exactly the same, genre completists will note the small traits that distinguish titles by their production date. Since about 2011, we have seen a theme of strategic multi-layered twists and revelation scenes that have appeared in the likes of Billy Club, Camp 139, Smiley, Blood Junkie and Backslasher. From what I’d heard on the grapevine about Chill, it was another that had been written with a focus on maintaining a compelling mystery.
A college in the US has become notorious due to the grim legend of a game that goes by the name of Chill. It involves a number of people randomly picking a piece of paper from a box and keeping what they get a secret from the other participants. Dependent on what they receive, they will either become the ‘killer’ or a ‘victim’ and it’s the killer’s job to hunt out and ‘murder’ the other players, whilst keeping his/her identity anonymous until the end. Chill was popular until about 1988, when one gamer took the whole assassin thing a bit too seriously and butchered twelve students before succumbing to a gruesome fate. Since then, the game has been outlawed on campus and it has become a part of the town’s history that they’d rather leave behind. One business-minded local thinks otherwise though and decides to revisit the scene of the original massacre and televise a new version of the game for profit. Despite resistance from some of the townsfolk, especially an over-zealous professor, the launch date goes ahead as planned. It seems that someone still has an axe to grind and before long, the youngsters are forced to pit their wits against a maniacal villain.
Before we get going, I think it’s important that you understand one thing about Chill that’s really essential as to how you perceive it. I’d been wrapped up in the decent IMDB rating and the positivity that I’d heard and so I was expecting a slick slasher along the lines of Billy Club. It wasn’t until thirty-five minutes in that I realised this was in fact a micro-budget production ($3,000) and only then did I really begin to appreciate the film’s accomplishments.
You see, Chill is quite long for a slasher movie, (one hour and forty-five minutes in fact) and the first half of those are pretty unconvincing. Awkwardly acted characters in under-lit scenarios are the order of the day and I was thinking that I was going to be the first critic to put a dent in the film’s glorious reputation. There’s a lot of focus on a group of marginally-appealing personalities and they’re given dialogue that barely registers because it’s so basic and unimaginative. To offer an example, we meet a washed-up kid star who has been invited to take part in the game, but upon his arrival he is disappointed that there’s no fanfare and only one person recognises him. He’s obviously deluded as to the level of his notoriety, but it’s a joke that doesn’t need or warrant the amount of attention that it’s given by the script.
I was thinking the worst by that point, but when the games finally launch, the directors unleash a couple of really sharp and effective shock sequences. There’s nothing quite as creepy as dark dilapidated corridors and the film is nicely scored with gloomy low-chords that help maintain the morbid tone. In the earlier killings, we don’t get to see the antagonist’s bird mask clearly, but there’s a really well structured scene that introduces him with credible menace. He then goes on to slash the throat of a hapless youngster and there’s a juicy blood effect to maximise the impact. For the next half an hour, we get a tense showdown as the remaining players discover that they are locked inside the auditorium with a vicious maniac. Blood flows fluidly as people are sliced, diced and strangled, but the real suspense is delivered by the enigma of who it is that’s slaughtering the group. I didn’t work out the psychopath’s true identity, but I still am unsure as to whether it was a surprise or a bit of a a cheat on the audience. Either way, it successfully keeps you guessing and there’s nothing more that I could have asked for.
What I thought was really authentic was that the story was led for the most part by an openly homosexual central character. Kyle Carpenter (cool surname) does a good job of giving us a likeable protagonist and ticks many of the boxes that are stereotypically filled by a heroine. We also get a role reversal that I don’t want to reveal without giving anything away, but let’s just say that the film’s choice of survivor(s) is an uncommon piece of template realignment. It all leads to an intriguing open ending and I have heard through the same grapevine that Chill 2 is already on the cards.
Chill is one of a number of recent entries that underline the necessity of the slasher genre as a filmaking talent pool. There truly is no better style of movie to unleash some flair and the more of these examples we get, the closer we come to a complete category rebirth. Whilst the feature itself is not without its problems (poor illumination, half-hearted dialogue, noticeably average acting, a couple of WTF revelations and it could have done with some eye candy), it gives me great pleasure to see that we have moved well away from the era of Camp Blood and Carnage Road. Nowadays low budget features are stronger than they’ve ever been and that in itself is a real achievement. Congratulations to Noelle, Meredith and Roger for a decent effort considering the budget. The gloss and invention in some of their photography was extremely impressive and I am looking forward to seeing more of their work.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Halloween 4 1988
Directed by: Dwight H. Little
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris
Review by Eric LeMaster
Buenos Dias and Happy Valentine’s Day a SLASH abovers, I’m extremely proud to include a guest post from regular reader Eric LeMaster. For his debut, he has chosen the film that got him hooked on the genre and I am sure you’ll agree that he’s done a sterling job of describing for us what he loves about it…
Halloween 4 is my favorite horror movie of all time, so I was quite thrilled when Luisito asked me to write my first guest review about this– what I believe to be– a gem of a film. Some don’t appreciate this instalment because they believe that Michael should be dead– and by all rights, he should have been after the hospital explosion in Halloween II. If you take the movie at face value, it’s a wonderful entry into the sub-genre that is the SLASHER FILM!
Many years ago, I watched this for the first time on AMC. It succeeded in getting me hooked on slasher movies. The setting and the realistic premise of a madman who wants nothing more than to kill you makes slasher flicks pretty much the only style that can give me chills. The wonderful cinematography and utter darkness of the film bring something special that “budget” movies just don’t ever seem to give.
To prepare for this review, I popped in my Blu-ray of Halloween 4– that’s right, I own the Blu-Ray. Does that make me cool? No? Ok. Continuing… The montage of Midwestern Autumn scenery immediately brings me back to my childhood, though not too far, because I can still see the rickety farm buildings and “country” scenery around where I live. Eastern Kentucky hasn’t grown up much; we’re stuck in 1988. The only thing that could make the film seem more “true to the area” is if John Cougar Mellencamp sang the score– and I guess that just wasn’t on the cards.
After Halloween 3 flopped due to the removal of Michael Myers, Moustapha Akkad wanted to continue the franchise and bring back its iconic villain. John Carpenter and Debra Hill weren’t on board for another Halloween and sold their rights to the series, so Moustapha found the very talented director, Dwight Little.
Alan McElroy would write the script and finished it in an amazing eleven days. Ellie Cornell, whose only previous acting experience included an episode of Thirtysomething and a minor role on Married to the Mob, would play the seventeen year-old Rachel Carruthers, the foster sister to the main protagonist, Jamie Lloyd (the lovely, young Danielle Harris) the daughter of the late Laurie Strode (who apparently died in a car accident).
Donald Pleasance signed on to continue his role as Dr. Loomis, the once psychiatrist of Michael Myers, who would continue to chase him and try to end Michael’s killing spree once and for all. Also signing on were Sasha Jenson who would play Rachel’s boyfriend (Brady), Beau Starr who would play Sheriff Ben Meeker, and Kathleen Kinmont would play his daughter, Kelly Meeker.
We begin the fun with an ambulance traveling in a rain storm. We find that Michael is being transferred from Smith’s Grove unbeknownst to Dr. Loomis. Once approved for transfer, Michael is wheeled into the ambulance. Per the conversation between the EMTs, Michael discovers that he has a living niece and decides to murder his only living blood-relative. He kills the ambulance workers and makes his way back to Haddonfield.
True to form, Dr. Loomis becomes concerned with the transfer and begins to question the head of the Sanitarium. While he’s there, the manager receives a phone call informing him of the accident. Overhearing, Loomis takes off and lets his sixth sense of Michael’s whereabouts take over.
What happens after then? Much trick-or-treating, high school drama, and some high class stalking! There’s even some humor, too. The scene with the “traveling Reverend” is hilarious, and adds some comic relief to a more serious film. You’ll have to see it all for yourself.
To say that I recommend this film would be an understatement. It’s got plot, it’s got good acting, it’s got a great score by Alan Howarth, and it has some good gore. I beg you to see it. Don’t watch it as a perfect continuance of the series and you will find that it’s a gem. If you don’t like it for all of these things, at least you’ll enjoy it for it’s 80’s vibes– and boy does it have it. If you’re like me, you’ll fall in love with Ellie Cornell, and if Danielle Harris isn’t one of your favorite child movie stars, you’ll more than likely change your opinion.
This movie is widely available on DVD and Blu-Ray with or without its less amazing partner, Halloween 5; and, if you’re lucky, you can catch it on AMC like I did.
Luis’ view: Whilst I agree with a lot of what Eric has said here, I must confess it’s a three and a half star rating from me, simply because I slightly preferred Rick Rosenthal’s sequel.There’s no denying though that this is somewhat underrated due to its dark tone and engrossing story. Whilst it may be slightly disjointed and Michael’s mask looks almost comical, it shares more with its elder siblings than any of the latter installments.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl √√√
Girls School Screamers 1986
Directed by: John P Finnegan
Starring: Molly O’ Mara,Sharon Christopher, Mari Butler
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Imagine taking a film, any film in fact, and bolting on top scenes that would turn it into a slasher movie. You could have, say, a psychopathic mobster trimming the cast list of The Godfather. It’d be something like Cleaver from The Sopranos. Just remove the current deaths of Moe Green, Luca Brasi and Sonny Corleone and splice in footage of a masked menace doing the deeds with a pitchfork. It makes me wonder how Casablanca might look with an extended chase sequence that sees Inga Berman pursued by a maniac in a burlap sack? Do you think it could work? CGI is pretty good nowadays.
Whilst that does of course sound somewhat far fetched, Troma, the studio responsible for a number of cinematic curiosities, did exactly that when they picked up budget haunted house flick, The Portrait in late 1985. John P Finnegan had set out with absolutely no experience to make himself a motion picture. He pencilled a script and sourced funding independently in order to realise his dream. With $100,000 to play with, he called the University of New York and asked if they had any students that may be interested in his project. Within a couple of months, he had secured a cast of 18, a full crew and a superb location. His original intention had been to create a Hitchcockian tale of the ghosts of an incestuous relationship returning home. Troma agreed to distribute his work only if they could call it Girls School Screamers and shoehorn in some slasher action. The net result is an entry that can best be described as, well, something of a curiosity.
Seven fresh faced college girls have just found out that they’re going to be spending four days cleaning up an old Victorian mansion. It had been left to the school in the will of a recently deceased entrepreneur who stated that they could renovate or sell it. The youngsters pack their bags and head to the location, but soon learn that they could be in for more than they bargained for.
Look, I’ll give it to you straight, I’m not a massive fan of the supernatural/slasher hybrids that I’ve come across. Whilst there are a couple that have taken parts of each sub-genre and created a passable combination, more often than not, the strength of one style brings out the weaknesses in the other. I guess that in the same way I wouldn’t like a possessed child turning up during the conclusion of Halloween, I wouldn’t feel great about Michael Myers slashing his way through The Exorcist either. The glaring possibilities for creative expression make it seem strange that we haven’t yet been treated to a truly credible crossbreed, but of the ones that are currently available, none do a good job of selling the concept. Girls School Screamers is an interesting case in point though, because it’s a ghost flick that has been Godfrey Ho’d by its distributor. Watching it now, after learning of Troma’s tampering does give it something of an extra allure.
GSS, for all intents and purposes, is not a film that’s ashamed of its minimal budget. This fact is emphasised at the start of the credits where the words ‘introducing’ are placed before the entire cast, as if to helpfully inform us that none of the names that follow have done anything else before this at all. This is clearly evident in everything that we witness thereafter, from the plodding direction to the amateurish performances. Dialogue and story scenes are conveyed as if they’re filmed on a soundstage and it’s rare that we get any camera movement at all. Finnegan’s script, which Is certainly ambitious, spends a long time building its background and giving its characters the chance to make an impression. They’re all written to be pretty much interchangeable though, so the first hour, while we are waiting for the maniac to turn up, struggles to hold your attention and quickly becomes sluggish. It can’t have helped to have so many debutants throughout the cast, because they had no one to turn to when in need of some guidance.
If you haven’t nodded off by the time that the action starts, we finally get to see what Troma’s input brought to the production. The killings are rather random in how they’re staged, because one or two are shown to be committed by a traditional unseen maniac, whilst the rest come courtesy of an invisible ‘force’. This has an effect on the story, because we have no central villain to fear. Whist the same actors were used and the footage doesn’t stand out as if it’s been bolted-on, it does leave obvious plot holes. It also make classifying Girls School Screamers as a slasher movie something of a harder task. Whilst we see meat cleavers, pitchforks and electrocutions with regularity in the genre, there are things here that are alien to the template. I want a SLASH above to be the truest stalk and slash catalogue on the web, but if I haven’t yet posted The Superstition or The Incubus here as entries, is it fair of me to include Screamers? I guess that you could call it a slasher-esque, what was that word again? Oh yes, curiosity.
John Finnegan has never shied away from the fact that he believes that Troma’s intervention ruined his initial ideas for the template. It’s easy of course to point the finger somewhere else for failings, but does he have a point? Yes and no is the answer, because without the added gore scenes, we would be left with a hideously boring travesty. At least now, the film does have moderate cult appeal, but it comes at the cost of a bewildering effect on the continuity. We see a silly intro involving a child that never gets resolved and the motivation of the antagonist is left up to the imagination. There’s the odd atmospheric moment that comes courtesy of a truly superb score and it’s funny to see college girls played by actresses the wrong side of their thirties, but is it enough? I really wanted to like Girls School Screamers and find a defence for it, but it is, unfortunately, a bit of a mess. A curiosity type mess? Well, yes funnily enough…
Killer Guise: √√
The Unseen 1980
Directed by: Danny Steinmann
Starring: Stephen Furst, Barbara Bach, Sydney Lassick
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
With the process of a studio backed film to go from pre-production to post production taking quite a while, I’m amazed that so many early slashers managed to ‘borrow’ so much from Halloween so quickly. Carpenter’s hit was released on October the 31st 1978, but within a year, there were already titles like The Demon that were definitely trampling the borders of creative inspiration. That isn’t the case so much with The Unseen though, because despite being labelled as a stalk and slash flick everywhere you look, it really doesn’t play by the rules of a typical genre piece.
It was one of the first films that I came across on big box VHS, but back then, I never rated it as a favourite. I hadn’t bothered with it for at least twenty-years before I sat down to write this review and I was keen to see what I’d make of it now.
After a mix-up with the bookings at their hotel, three female journalists are forced to seek somewhere else to stay. Due to there being a celebratory festival in town, rooms are impossible to come by, but they find salvation in a jovial museum owner. He lives with his wife in a hotel that has been closed for years, but after considering their panicked situation, he allows them to stay there. What he doesn’t tell them is that his son that lives in the basement doesn’t know how to play friendly…
I was reminded of this feature recently after completing my review of Silent Scream for the site. The two films have more in common than just an almost identical synopsis, because they both suffered fairly troubled productions. Whilst after an extensive reshoot, ‘Scream ended up close to what Denny Harris had envisioned, director Danny Steinmann was so disappointed with the final print of The Unseen that he asked to have his name removed from the credits. His justification was that the producers had edited out the majority of the big scares and left his feature unrecognisable. This intrigued me no end, because I wondered how a director’s cut of the footage might look. Steinmann never pursued the opportunity outside of a few interview comments, but it’d be interesting to know how much was removed or replaced.
The Unseen has its fans amongst slasher critics, but I must admit that I’m not really one of them. Whilst there is a lot to be credited that I’ll happily tell you about, I feel that in its entirety, it’s just a bit too odd for its own good. It spends the majority of the runtime building up an antagonist in the traditional fashion, but his revelation throws a swerve ball at us that’s just, well, alien. Without giving too much away, the bogeyman turns out to be more clumsy than creepy and then in a truly bizarre move, the script gives him an incomprehensible layer of pathos. He then makes a swift exit in a scene that’s as mushy as the death of Bambi’s mother, only to pass the mantle to another villain that is nowhere near as scary. I understand that they were trying to keep us on our toes by giving us something new to fear, but the idea is lost in its execution. We had waited so long for a glimpse of what we expected to be a hulking menace, only to be forced to change our perception at the last minute.
Another thing that you’ll notice is that the film is extremely slow paced. It plods along like a soap opera for large chunks, but then launches into an outrageous nudity scene that feels out of place. It does manage to build enough of a tone to keep us interested though and we do get a couple of creatively planned murder scenes. The first sees a young woman have her neck broken in a steel trap door and it’s juxtaposed with shots of a chicken being decapitated in a back garden farmhouse. This is one of a number of slightly off-kilter, yet effective moments, with the majority of the rest coming courtesy of an eccentric portrayal by Sydney Lassick.
I mentioned that I’d be interested in seeing a director’s cut of The Unseen and that’s because from a pure filmmaking perspective, it is simply a SLASH above. As I have already said, Lassick’s erratic characterisation really has to be seen to be believed. He shared top billing with Barbara Bach, who is also superb as the hapless heroine. One could be forgiven for thinking that the former Mrs Ringo Starr had been hired only for her looks, but she is totally believable as the woman in peril. My favourite performances though came from Lelia Goldoni as Virginia, Lassick’s long-suffering wife, and Stephen Furst who played his son. It’s not an exaggeration to state that if awards could be given for horror film dramatisations, Furst would have at least walked away with a nomination. It’s a totally different person from his comedic turn in Animal House and he’s quite brilliant with the level of his conviction. We also get some classy cinematography in and around the gothic Victorian mansion that helps sustain an uneasy atmosphere that manifests itself credibly during the climax.
This is a tough film to review, because in many ways it embodies everything that I usually spend paragraphs criticising the lack of in other features. The thing is, you can photograph a crystal with the best lens that money can buy, but it’ll never be a diamond. There are certain rules of horror that can’t be broken and what we’re left with is a film that over promises and under delivers. It’s a shame that we will never see what Steinmann really intended, but there are those that like it, so check around before you take my word as gospel
Final Girl √√√
Slumber Party Massacre 1982
Directed by: Amy Jones
Starring: Michelle Michaels, Robin Stille, Debra De Liso
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I’ve been putting off reviewing Slumber Party Massacre for quite some time and I’m not sure exactly why. It has become a notorious example of peak period slasher movies and went on to launch a long list of tributes and rip-offs. Roger Corman, arguably THE most prolific producer of low-budget clones of box office hits ever, had taken his time to jump on-board the stalk and slash bandwagon. When he finally did though, he used his flair for understanding cinematic trends to develop a feature that would become highly successful.
The film began life as a parody of teenie-kill flicks with the added allure of being pencilled by a female-scribe. Controversy had began surrounding the genre amongst left-wing critics and feminist groups that felt the movies were riddled with misogyny and unnecessary violence. Rita Mae Brown had decided to make light of the situation and show that it wasn’t only men that could contribute to the craze. She wrote a story that poked fun at the themes that were under the spotlight called, ‘Sleepless Nights’. Once Roger Corman got hold of the screenplay, he maintained some of the humour, but shot it as an out and out slasher flick. The rest, as they say, is history.
A group of sorority sisters decide to have a celebratory slumber party whilst one of their friend’s parents are away on vacation. Little do they know that an escaped lunatic is loitering around the location. It’s left up to new transfer Valerie and her younger sister to try and prevent a bloodbath.
I hadn’t seen Slumber Party Massacre for many years and in honesty, it turned out to be much better than I had remembered. My recollections of a half-hearted rehash of the traditional clichés has been smashed by re-visiting the movie as a more-experienced viewer. It’s perhaps because the last copy that I saw was the heavily edited UK print released as The Slumber Party Murders. Watching it now, totally uncut, after all that time really changed the idea that I had in mind for a rating and I’m so glad that I’ve given it another look.
Any thoughts that director Amy Jones and author Rita Brown were looking to support criticisms of anti-feminism are destroyed by an opening that’s extremely gratuitous. In the first five minutes alone, a key character whips off her top to give us a boob shot and soon after we get mounds of T&A from a lengthy group shower scene. Jones doesn’t hang around to introduce her antagonist, but the first two victims are barely given a line of dialogue before they’re killed and the earlier parts of the story take a while to settle themselves. I expected the worst when we got to see the assailant, a pint-sized loon that looks like an average everyday Joe, almost immediately. Horror works much better when a bogeyman is left somewhat in the shadows and upon revelation, at least looks the part. Thankfully after four false-scares in a row (a record?), the girls get hungry and spice up their evening by ordering a pizza. When they are greeted upon opening the door by a corpse with his eyes plucked out, the momentum seriously begins to tighten.
What I think works best about Slumber Party Massacre is the way that Jones handles the actions of her characters. There’s a scene where two girls barricade themselves in a room to hide from the intruder downstairs. Thanks mostly to some genuine dialogue, you really can believe that this is how they would act in that situation. It’s not always a grim depiction of reality that we get though, because there’s a comedic moment when one of the youngsters prizes the pizza from the dead delivery guy’s hand. She then states that she feels much better after eating a hearty slice. Robin Stille, as the heroine, had obviously been ordered to watch Laurie Strode and base her performance on that of Jamie Leigh Curtis’. Whilst she doesn’t hit the same levels of scream queen perfection, she creates a sympathetic lead that we grow to bond with.
Much like Prom Night before it, Slumber Party does borrow heavily from Carpenter’s Halloween. There are many parts here that are weaker imitations of sequences from that film, but because they’re sharply delivered, we don’t really bother to pick on them as much. Jones pulls off a number of effective shocks and scares, with one set-piece that sees two males run out of the house to search for help, proving to be impressively tense. This leads to a bloody stabbing that’s inter-cut with a scene from Corman’s Hollywood Boulevard and it’s stylishly edited together. Due to the murder of some sympathetic personalities, we are never totally sure who will survive the assassin’s drill. The conclusion wraps it all up neatly and for a film that was supposed to be riddled with humour, it’s actually quite downbeat.
As I have alluded to, Slumber Party Massacre does fall foul of not improving upon ingredients that we’ve seen done better elsewhere. Also, I do still believe that it was lucky to receive the adulation and amount of imitations that it has acquired since its release. I’ve been captured by some of its charms though and it is one of the better peak entries. It’s funny that we live in a world that is light years away in terms of technology from the early eighties. One thing that definitely hasn’t improved is the production of slasher movies. They don’t make them like this anymore no matter how hard they try.
Final Girl √√√
Blood Sisters 1987
Directed by: Roberta Findlay
Starring: Amy Brentano, Shannon McMahon, Dan Eriksen
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I’ve obviously never met her, but I’d imagine Roberta Findlay to be the kind of woman that would come along to watch a match and then join you at the bar to get smashed on Jägerbombs after. The type of cool chick that a guy can hang out with and tell her everything as if she were one of the lads. I think this because Exploitation films from the seventies were almost always male-dominated productions. With some help from her hubby (fellow director Michael) though, Roberta often managed to totally out-sleaze the competition and her filmography makes for interesting reading. She took softcore porn to the boundaries of hardcore territory with The Alter of Lust in 1971. Then three-years later she created controversy (and profit) by the bucketload with a fake pretending to be real Snuff movie that was imaginatively titled, Snuff. It had began life as a proto-slasher (many of her and Michael’s movies were), but producer Alan Shackleton tipped off the Police and spread word that the murders committed in the footage were in fact real. This brought audiences flocking and it has become something of a Grindhouse classic since.
The birth of the slasher genre offered former-exploitation directors an opportunity to return to the frontline. Successful titles like Halloween and Friday the 13th were not a million miles away from the style of film that they had been churning out over a decade earlier, which made it an even more logical step. It took Roberta Findlay until 1987, but she finally released Blood Sisters and I couldn’t help but be excited by the possibilities. What kind of slasher movie would a person responsible for everything from hardcore porn to sadomasochistic thrillers bring to the table?
The set-up is as traditional as they come. A group of sorority pledges have to spend the night in an old dilapidated mansion to become fully fledged members. Little do they know that the site was once a knocking shop that is reportedly haunted after a gruesome murder thirteen-years earlier. Unfortunately for the girls, it seems that a psychopathic intruder dressed in the clothing of the deceased prostitute has come along to spoil the party.
In fairness to Findlay, she had proven in films such as The Clamdigger’s Daughter that underneath all the sexploitation, she was more than capable of handling drama and extracting good performances from a cast. Whilst Blood Sisters is not amongst the best of her work, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I enjoyed watching it. Running a SLASH above means that I have to sit through tonnes of modern slashers when sometimes all I really want is a dose of cheesy eighties trash. Thankfully, it’d be hard to get more trashy than this one. Much like the fat kid at school that wears broken spectacles and gets picked last for the soccer team, this has become something of an easy target to be mocked. I had a browse online to see what other people were saying about it and the general consensus is that it offers very little to be appreciated. Whilst I agree that there’s not much here in terms of credible filmmaking, I have to admit that Sisters deserves a little more love from slasher buffs than it currently receives.
There’s nothing more hilarious than seeing someone try their hardest to achieve a feat, whilst it falls down all around them. TV shows like You’ve Been Framed or Funniest Home Videos have made a fortune out of broadcasting such scenarios for audience pleasure. There’s a good example of this during Sisters in an early character definition scene. It’s set at a party and Findlay packs every shot with extras bustling past the lens in a bid to bring the environment to life. The problem is that they act in such a cheesy manner that it ends up looking extremely comedic. This is applicable especially to the sultry Diana, who after admitting that she has three dates lined up for the evening, boogies on down whilst a trio of jocks leer over her and try their hardest to dance at the same speed as the person closest to them.
When we do finally reach the fabled ‘haunted whorehouse of horror’, the tone does become somewhat darker. All of the girls are sent on a scavenger hunt, which means they split into pairs and head off to secluded corners of the spacious building. Whilst it does take maybe ten-minutes too long for the maniac to finally get to work (an hour in fact), Findlay does a sterling job of keeping things interesting in the meantime. Our characters are possessed briefly by the ghosts of former prostitutes that worked there, which is peculiar because we only saw one of them murdered in the beginning(?). Despite that, some of these sequences are strangely effective, especially an erotic scene that’s seen through a reflection. It’s hinted that mirrors are doorways of sort to the afterlife; an interesting concept that’s never really taken anywhere further.
Without a doubt the reason that Sisters is not thought of more highly is because after such a long build up, the bogeyman finally arrives and rushes through a bunch of diluted killings without any suspense. If Findlay had taken the approach of say, Pieces for example, we’d be looking at this with a similar level of adulation. Instead we have a film that has the cheese, hilarious dialogue and acting, but excludes the gore and grittiness. A director with such an extensive experience of Grindhouse pictures should have known better than most what ingredients were necessary. When it comes to the horror parts though, she flies through them with minimal application. I had trouble picking my choice of final girl to do battle with the lunatic, but there’s a reason why I found it so hard, which I won’t spoil for you.
To give you a better idea, Blood Sisters is extremely similar to the previous year’s Girls School Screamers. In fact I could go you one better by saying that it was almost completely reproduced by Jim Wynorski a few years later and titled Sorority House Massacre Part II. If Findlay had gone with what I guess would be her natural instinct and been more exploitive with the death scenes, we’d be looking at a trash slasher classic. In the end though, a few softcore embraces and bemusing characters don’t do enough to salvage it. I liked the fact that it was such a clear postcard of eighties fashion and goofiness and simply for that reason, if very little else, it does deserve to be seen.
Killer Guise: √√
aka Cut Throat
Directed by: Keith Walley
Starring: Luciano Saber, Kate Norby, Raquel Baldwin
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
You know what? I had a great idea the other day for the opening of a slasher film. A girl is all alone in her house late at night, when the telephone rings. She answers it and a demented voice that she doesn’t recognise begins taunting her with personal knowledge that he has about her life. At first she wonders if it could be a prank, but then the deranged caller becomes more threatening and asks if she wants to play a game. We soon learn that he has a family member/boyfriend tied up close by, and if she doesn’t complete the quiz, the loved one will die. So then we… Hold on, my phone is ringing…. “Oh hi Mr Craven. Yes, of course I know what a lawsuit is, why do you ask?”
This totally forgotten entry from the boom years of the second cycle starts pretty much the way that I’ve written above. Whilst I appreciate that it may have been a subtle comment on the magpie nature of the slasher genre, it doesn’t really hint at satire and instead plays it incomprehensibly straight. Would a film really be bold enough to rip off its obvious inspiration (Scream) so openly?
A film crew that are working on an up and coming slasher movie called Death Blade become the target for a brutal masked killer. As more crew and cast members end up dead, the leading lady decides to hunt out the murderer.
Whilst watching Scared, I was reminded of a very good Tim Robbins film from 1992 called The Player. Aside from having an intriguing synopsis, it became renowned for an eight-minute tracking shot that was truly a miraculous slice of cinematography. It wasn’t only the length of running time that made the scene impressive, but also the amount of action that was perfectly coordinated all the way through. There were a large number of actors working in conjunction and on cue to maintain the momentum, which really stood out as an ambitious director going the extra mile. Scared includes a somewhat shorter (96 seconds), but similar in craft set-piece that immediately created the impression that we were watching a stylish slice of motion picture development. In fact, with so much dialogue revolving around the background details of movie production, I was convinced that we may have a slasherised homage of type to Roger Altman’s classic. Unfortunately, like a senior manager that berates his team for their lack of focus whilst clearly logged on to Facebook, Scared doesn’t lead by the example that its script brags about.
I remember a time when even the worst slasher movies included characters that we kind of enjoyed watching. Give me a van full of numbskulls from The Prey or Don’t go in the Woods over a group of conceited silicone-enhanced brats any day. Scared has a cast that’s so deplorably unlikeable that I failed to understand the screenwriters’ logic for even bothering to include a central character. They were all involved in some kind of inane love triangle that made them look like a bunch of junkie sluts. I forget the exact details, but our heroine Samantha had been passed round more of the crew members than the script they were working on and her buddy was portrayed to have the intelligence of a tadpole. They set out to uncover the identity of the masked killer, but this wasn’t much fun for us, because we had guessed it ages ago. It turns out that there’s a tag team of homicidal maniacs on the loose, which I think I might have seen somewhere else ( Mr Craven, whilst I have you on the line…)
When a mystery is really crappy in a slasher movie, it’s an easy slant for a critic to call it Scooby Doo-esque. With Scared, we don’t even need to resort to such slander, because the final girl and her partner set out on a mission to catch the psychopath using a gimmick that they admit was learned from an episode of Scooby Doo(?). This involves them both dressing as the killer so that the villains will think that the person they come across is actually their partner-in-crime and not an intended victim. Sound confusing? Well it gets that way, when the final girl bumps into the assailant and they roll about on the floor in exactly the same attire. Robert McKee from Adaptation said that voice-narration is a cheat’s way of depicting what’s going on in scene. I can only assume that he hadn’t experienced Scared’s methodology of having a conclusive battle between two identically dressed characters. Perhaps they could have placed two luminous arrows on the screen above each participant and scribbled, ‘bad guy’ and ‘the one we’re rooting for’ to make it clearer? Then in what I guess could only have been included as a deliberate piece of inadvertent humour, the heroine challenges the maniac, who had thus far notched up about 6 of her colleagues, to a knife fight. You know, as you do. How we laughed. It’s almost as dumb as trying to track down a psychopathic killer by yourself… Oh yeah… Oh. Mind you, if you meet cops as incompetent as those featured here in real life, you might just feel the need to start your own investigation. I forgot about the unwritten rule that makes detectives in crud horror films a) insanely inept and b) unable to purchase a normal suit and tie combo. Damn it.
Bad slasher movies are two-a-penny, but what made this one worse was that it talked a good game. It’s ironic that the script was filled with choice lines about making ‘the next Scream‘ and ‘the need for a good twist and T&A’ but Scared doesn’t practice what it preaches. It was released in the US as Cut-Throat; a title that I guess was safer than Cut-Off-My-Own-Head-With-A-Blunt-Hacksaw, which is what, at times, I felt like doing. The awful acting (the director guy was abysmal), terrible inept dialogue, characters that vanish without trace from scene to scene and predictable mystery are totally at odds with some creative cinematography. It’s a shame that it was totally wasted in this junk.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl √
The Silent Scream 1979
Directed by: Denny Harris
Starring: Barbara Steele, Rebecca Balding, Cameron Mitchell
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Perhaps it’s because they were generally more amateurish projects, or maybe it’s just that funding was often hard to secure, but I’ve always wondered why so many slasher movies from the peak years suffered problematic productions. Titles like Moon In Scorpio, Scalps, Truth or Dare, Killer Party and especially Curtains never saw light of day as they were initially intended and the issues were certainly visible in the final print. Silent Scream was completed in 1977, but was considered unreleasable by director Denny Harris. He hired an entire new cast and brought in Jim and Ken Wheat to re-write the script at his own expense. Together they decided to make it more similar to the boom that had swept cinema around that time, the slasher genre.
Now the major difference between the titles that I mentioned earlier and Silent Scream is that for once the movie that we ended up with worked superbly. Whereas for example Curtains never escaped its muddled backbone, if I hadn’t have read the stories of a troubled shoot, I would have been none the wiser here.
In the rush to find housing before the new semester, four students end up at a recently refurbished house overlooking a remote beach. A couple of hours after they move in, they are shocked when one of their number is brutally murdered by an unseen fiend during the night. Little do they know that the deranged killer is closer than they could ever have imagined.
Whilst I have no doubt in my mind that Halloween played a part in the inspiration for the final version of Silent Scream, the fact that it was released so close to Carpenter’s classic means that it avoids many of the traditional trappings. Instead, the Wheat brothers seem to have followed the blueprint of features like Black Christmas and Psycho to come up with the synopsis for this doom-laden thriller. Even if we do get the standard troupe of teenage victims, there’s no sign of trademarks like the have sex and die rule. I found it refreshing that the heroine’s characterisation didn’t follow the path that would become a cliché and the story feels closer to reality because of that. The four key personalities are so well developed during the opening scenes that it’s tough to chose who we think will succumb to the killer’s blade first. This gives the picture an extra shade of suspense that only adds to the solid mystery.
Harris had been a big fan of horror movies and he rallied valiantly to get his first film produced. After watching how professionally everything had been put together, I had no idea that this was the work of a debutant and I’m still surprised that it’s his one and only motion picture credit. A slick juxtaposition of fixed camera angles and shots that loom ominously give the feature an extremely polished look and a fitting score from Richard Kellaway adds an extra layer of class. What impressed me most about the film was that the screenwriters took something as unoriginal as a tale of a bogeyman in the basement and twisted it continuously keep viewers guessing. The decision to include a corny doo-wop tune as the psycho’s calling card worked along the same methodology as utilising childlike themes such as a clown or a doll. Once combined, these elements gave Silent Scream an incredibly creepy tone of subtle menace that remained constant throughout.
It’s often forgotten that the art of acting is not just spouting lines of dialogue with emotion. I was saying to a friend just recently that if Brad Pitt ends his career without an Oscar, it would be almost criminal. It could have been easy for him to become a Rom-Com king and trade on his looks, but he always chooses audacious roles that for whatever reason he hasn’t yet been acknowledged for. Barbara Steele shows here that she can deliver a performance via body language and gestures that puts her a level above her peers. She steals every scene in a brilliant portrayal that must’ve motivated those around her to up their game. The dysfunctional family stereotype is skewed to perfection and it never reaches the realms of over indulgence.
Silent Scream is a brilliant slasher movie and amongst the best of the genre. Whilst it may be more of a Hitchcockian nod to Psycho than a true teenie-kill feature, it delivers blood and scares like the best of them. Quite why it is not as fondly thought of as The Burning et al is an enigma and I definitely think you should re-visit it sooner rather than latter.
Final Girl √√√
Directed by: Denis Devine
Starring: Meredith Mills, Eric Bunton, Joe Decker
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When you take a look at some of slop that has populated the slasher genre since 1978, it’s not hard to see why so many entries are mocked for their ineptitude. Have you ever wondered what was the initial production plan behind movies like Night Divides the Day or Camp 139? Do you think that the distributors who picked them up were expecting extravagant success when they watched them through? Were they haunted by a delusion that prevented them from recognising the heinous level of their product’s quality? Keeping that in mind, it would take a brave man to take a gamble on a slasher movie that hasn’t – as of yet – been signed for any kind of distribution. Made way back in the year 2000, Bloodstream has yet to find a scheduled release anywhere across the globe. It was only because it had come from genre veterans Dennis Devine and Steve Jarvis (Dead Girls/Fatal Images/Club Dead) that I even bothered trying to track a copy down. I eventually managed to contact Jarvis, who was good enough to send me a DVD screener. Despite the experience of the filmmakers behind the project, I found it hard not to approach Bloodstream with expectations lowered. Surely if the movie was any good then it would have been snapped up moons ago, right? Well fortunately enough and not for the first time in my splatter-reviewing career, my preliminary expectations were off target with this one….
It kicks off in the unfamiliar settings of a chemical laboratory. A devious worker manages to trick a dim-witted security guard into letting her sneak out a small quantity of an unknown substance. The woman takes the vial to a remote warehouse, but she is brutally murdered by an unseen menace before she is able to receive payment for her pilfering! Next up we meet the likely body count material and massacre applicants at a Los Angeles ‘talent’ show. Pam has traveled from Arizona to watch her younger sister Sandy’s singing debut and she soon gets to meet her friends and colleagues. Unbeknownst to her and the guests, Sandy will not be performing tonight, which is due to the fact that she has been kidnapped by a nut job who may or may not be a vicious serial killer. The following morning when she doesn’t return, Pam and her new found friends begin searching for the youngster. It soon becomes apparent that someone doesn’t want Sandy to be discovered, because members of the search party begin being kidnapped and then surgically dissected by a cackling masked psycho. Next we learn that the motive for the attacks is not as straight-forward as first expected and soon a mysterious link between the victims leads to an authentic conclusion…
Unlike traditional post-Scream slasher yarns, Bloodstream has an extremely complex and creative synopsis. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that the screenwriters deliver an impressive number of sub-plots and branches without wrapping themselves up in an awkward knot. Despite a huge amount of interchanging activity in the story, ‘Stream manages to maintain its momentum, which is all down to some slick work from Jarvis and Devine. Even if the budget restrictions are visually obvious from the start, the sets are stylishly lighted and attempts at suspense are carried out with flair and panache. There are also a couple of bloody murders that liven up proceedings, which include a grisly eye-stabbing that reminded me of the terrific opening from Evil Dead Trap. Also watch out for a few surgical ‘torture’ scenes that manage to look credibly realistic, despite the miniscule budget. There’s an extra lick of gloss that comes from an engaging mystery and Bloodstream is a movie that stays in your head hours after the film has ended. That’s a very accomplished feat for a modern teen-slasher.
When reviewing a pre-screener, you have to ignore some of the continuity mishaps because they would likely be ironed out before the final print is submitted. I did pick up on a few blunders that really stood out though, like seeing the nozzle of a smoke machine bellowing fog into the moody night sky. Jarvis admits that the audio on the disc is not perfect; and in honesty, it is sketchy in places. What I found stood out more to me though was the cheesy level of the acting quality, which gives away the amateurism of the budget cast members. Still, there was enough in the story to overcome this and none of the issues were nearly bad enough to have kept the film from being released. It was apparently re-edited and streamlined twice to tweak the mystery elements and give the runtime a smoother flow. This left a couple of minor gaps in the plot, which don’t detract credit from the complexity of the story, but were likely explained in the footage that was later removed.
It isn’t far off a crime, when you consider the amount of schlock being released with regularity, that an authentic and ambitious title like Bloodstream hasn’t yet been given an opportunity at mass consumption. Perhaps it is not too late for a company to pick up the title and give it the exposure it deserves. I find it hard to explain why movies as contemptible as Paranoid and Head Cheerleader Dead Cheerleader managed to find distribution, whilst this looks set to suffer the fate that befell ‘The Legend Of Moated Manor’ before it. I just hope that this isn’t the case and one day you guys have the chance to see if you agree with my comments……
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl √√