Category Archives: Proto-slasher
Savage Water 1979
Directed by: Paul W. Kener
Starring: Ron Berger, Bridget Agnew, Pat Comer
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I never used to write the abbreviation, lol. Then I started texting with a female friend who would use it constantly. Lol this and lol that and eventually, it grew on me. I work in sales, and I have found that it is really an ingenious tool at times for breaking the ice in a business sense. You can write a statement and make it seem as a joke, but get your point across. For example: “For a moment there Mr Client, I thought you were serious about looking at one of our competitor’s lesser products lol”. It’s called planting the seed my friends.
Anyway, I have found another use for this wonderfully versatile three letter acronym. Ask me what I think of the film, Savage Water and my answer, both verbally and written will be, LOL. You see, of all of cinema’s B-movie genres, there’s certainly no doubt that the slasher cycle has the largest percentage of virtually impossible to locate titles. Movies like Houseboat Horror, Cards of Death, HauntedWeen, Streets of Death, New York Centrefold Massacre and Savage Vows have become so impossibly obscure that tracking them down has become a serious hobby to fans of the category like myself.
It’s amongst those rarities that you’ll find Paul Kener’s low budget, low grade, low quality, low brain-cell’d, low life cure for insomnia. A movie so far down the pecking order that it failed to even get released in its country of origin. I came across it in a small video exchange shop whilst on a day trip to Devon. When I asked the storekeeper if it was worth watching, he told me that I was one of the only people that had ever paid any attention to it. The signs were good.
They say that when a film completely disappears, it’s never without a damn good reason. But to be fair, titles like Terror Night, Satan’s Altar, Too Beautiful to Die and Bruno Mattei’s terrific Eyes without a Face have certainly raised a strong enough case for the defence to that age old fallacy.
A group of holidaymakers have booked themselves a dream trip with the Wild West White Water River Boat Company. Their journey will take them along the great Colorado so they can experience first hand the beauty of the Grand Canyon and the ferocity of the water crashing over the rapids. Once they are well away from civilisation, things take a turn for the worse as it’s realised that someone on board has their own reason for wanting to be stranded in the Canyon without interference from the authorities. Before long, the group begin getting bumped off one by one by an unseen maniac with a hunting knife and a murderous agenda. It seems that the killer wants to turn the mighty Colorado into a river of blood…
If Terror Night acts as the defence for slasher obscurities that don’t deserve to disappear, then Savage Water is as guilty as a suicidal convict begging to be frazzled in the electric chair. A truly wretched time waster, it’s as soggy as the Life jackets worn by the boaters of the feature. I should’ve known that I was in for a stinker as soon as I heard the heinous Country twanged theme tune over the opening credits, which was so awful that it almost took my mind off the shaky work of the cameraman as he panned the cliffs of the canyon. And yes I mean awful. A-W-F-U-L. Lyrics from the mind of a four-year old, two chord guitar and the vocal talents of Satan’s pit-bull. I was in shock.
When I was finally introduced to the cast of nincompoop boaters, I realised that I was heading for a shocking 105 minutes of unforgivable bile. The pick of the gang of brain-dead river rats include an elderly pair of (ahem) ‘Germans’, whose accents are as convincing as a politician’s promise. Then you have a dodgy psychiatrist who fancies ‘pushing his mind into the boundaries of insanity’ and looks like he still digs the era of The Monkees. I can’t forget to mention the bubbly blonde who reminded so much of Deborah Harry circa ‘Heart of Glass’ that I kept expecting her to drop the oar and kick off a musical rendition. Hot Chica by the way.
Although it was unfortunate that such a moment never came, she was at least responsible for by far the best of the films laugh out loud bad movie blunders. Whilst sharing a drink with an Arabic businessman that was along for the ride, the saucy starlet gave him an unexpected kiss. All of a sudden he jumped up like a bare footed basketball player on a vat of hot ashes and gaffed, “You kissed me, you kissed me, they told me it would happen but not so soon!” “My cousin told me that American woman would do it. Will you marry me?” To add to the hilarity of his bemusing reaction was the fact that this guy was about thirty-eight years old!
There’s really no reason for anyone to want to see Savage Water. It’s over-long, boring and filled with heinous acting and pathetic dialogue. The Screenwriter seemed to believe that film fans would be interested in watching a ten-minute example of how to put on a life jacket, or a dozen or so lectures on the dangers of eating wild plant life. You’d probably get about as much enjoyment out of watching a plank of wood float down your local river as you would viewing this mind numbingly tedious excuse for a murder mystery. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the lump of timber would probably deliver a more convincing performance than the obscurities featured within.
In honesty, I am not sure that the ambition here was to cash in on the success of Halloween. I think this way, only because this was released in 1979 and it may have been a tad to soon, seeing as THE slasher classic hit screens on the last day of October the previous year. It is probably more of a stab at making a thriller, but with a knife-clenching killer as the antagonist. What did interest me though, was that it did seem to have a similar ‘make out and die’ theme going on. Despite the fact that there are no sexual embraces in the film, the flirtiest of the girls does get slashed. This is something that would become a trademark of the stalk and slash genre over the next decade and onward and was very prominent after John Carpenter’s choice of virginal final girl.
To cut an over-long review short, there’s no gore, nudity or anything remotely interesting to be found here. It just makes you wonder how director Paul W. Kener actually felt about his creation when he watched it back after the shoot? Let’s just hope he had a sense of humour and it was along the lines of: LMFAO, ROTFL, ROFL…. Peace
aka I Corpi Presentano Tracce di Violenza Carnale, Torso: Violencia Carnal
Directed by: Sergio Martino
Starring: Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Angela Covello
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When I launched a SLASH above, my motivation was to focus solely on the slasher genre and not branch too far outside the category. But with the differences being so slim between those and the Italian and Spanish Gialli flicks, I decided to post reviews of the titles that were most definitely inspiration to the style of cinema that we love today.
Being that I was first captivated by Halloween, I never paid attention so much to the European exploitation features that laid the groundwork for Carpenter’s classic. As I have aged and become accustomed to a higher level of filmmaking, I have grown keener on their classy style and twisted mysteries. Sergio Martino’s Torso or I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale is one of a number of my all time favourite Giallos and holds up superbly with the features released almost forty-years after.
A maniac in a white mask has been killing girls and mutilating their bodies around a college campus. After one murder, he leaves a scarf at the scene of the crime and Dani swears that she has seen it before. Soon after, she begins receiving anonymous and threatening phone calls, so she flees with four young beautiful girlfriends to the safety of an isolated country villa. Little do they know the crazed loon has followed them to the retreat and they’re next on his list.
Watching Torso is like seeing a making of feature for the entire slasher category. There is so much that was most definitely borrowed from this for the template and it is done here with such panache that you have rarely seen it bettered. The masked assailant stalking a love-making couple in a parked car has been conveyed a billion times since, but there’s something crisp about its authenticity here. The killer turning off the lights so that he could trap his victim launched a great set piece and the murder is bloody and ferocious. There’s also a morally ‘purer’ final girl who is left alone to fend off the killer and the have sex and die rule is in full effect here too.
Martino directs with a wonderful flamboyance and his lens soaks up the gorgeous backgrounds and architecture with a wide overflowing frame. Giancarlo Ferrando’s cinematography is adept and skilful, utilising lush tracking shots that glide across the screen like a ballet dancer. The forest stalking sequence is tightly crafted and full of suspense and the off- beat scoring helps to build the victim’s desolation. The smart finale shows the mastery of a tension maestro as Jane goes downstairs to find the corpses of her friends. The killer is unaware that she is in the house, so she has to look on in complete silence as he dismembers her buddies with a hacksaw. Martino takes time to develop a pulsating atmosphere and it builds up to a perfect closing scene. The script is strong enough to keep you guessing and there is a good number of red herrings so that you won’t have an idea until later in the runtime. There’s also a nice dose of the macabre as the killings are intercut with a creepy doll very similar to the one used a decade later in Curtains.
As you can imagine by the translation from the original Italian title, “Bodies bear traces of Carnal Violence” (in Spain it is called Torso: Carnal Violence), it has a nice load of gore in its uncut version. There’s throat slashings, an eye gouging, mutilation and one guy gets his head squished by a car! The effects look quite poor compared to more recent splatter, but during the times of extreme censorship that would follow, they are gruesome enough to get it cut in most countries.
I mentioned the eye-catching locations, but even they do not come close to the looks of the cast. I must mention the voluptuous Patrizia Adiutori whose mystique green eyes give her an outstanding beauty. It’s nicely acted from a strong European cast and there’s also mounds of nudity for T&A fans
I am very fortunate to have some great readers and I love speaking with you all by email. One thing I have noticed is that a lot of you prefer the more modern slashers, maybe that’s because at 30, I’m a tad older than you now. I urge you all however to check out Torso as it is one of the best thrillers available and was definitely inspiration for Carpenter’s Halloween.
Sergio Martino may not have the reputation of Argento, but this is a stand out classic and should be seen and seen again. It is sleazy, but has the class to get away with it
Final Girl: √√√
Home for the Holidays 1972
Directed by: John Llewellyn Moxey
Starring: Sally Field, Jill Haworth, Julie Harris
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
What we are gonna do here is go back, way waaay back. Back before Messrs Carpenter and Clark had ‘invented’ the slasher genre…
I was speaking recently to a screenwriter by email who I won’t name right now, because I am going to do a feature on one of his unreleased films at some point in the new year. Anyway, he had scripted (and co-directed) a few slasher flicks during the eighties and I asked him if he was a personal fan of the style or whether it had just been work for him at that time. He told me that he has always had a love for horror flicks and slashers in particular, but the only thing that frustrates him is that everyone seems to think that it all started with Halloween and Black Christmas. He said that this took credit away from the numerous earlier ventures that were equally as good (sometimes better). I do see his point and agree half-heartedly, but I guess the reason why people turn to those two films so regularly is because they actually cemented the trademarks for a new sub genre. They were so popular and so critically well received that it would have been impossible not to use them as reference points. Granted, neither of those could be considered as the first stalk and slash entries, but what they did was take a style of picture that hadn’t yet really been classified and give it definition. They placed the cherry on top, for want of a better way of putting it…
Now Home for the Holidays plays so closely to the rulebook (which hadn’t yet been written) that if you had told me that it had been shot in 1982 and I hadn’t recognised any of the actors involved with the picture, I probably wouldn’t have known any different. This one has it all from a goodie final girl to a hooded killer with a pitchfork.
A father calls back his four estranged daughters for Christmas as he believes that his wife is slowly poisoning him to death and he wants them to get rid of her. Almost as soon as they arrive, it begins frantically raining and they become stranded in the creepy house. Before long a killer in a rain mac begins slaughtering them one by one. Can any of them get out alive?
I’m tempted to say now that they don’t make them like they used to, but I am in fear of sounding a bit older than my thirty years would call for. Home for the Holidays is a stylish, suspenseful treat and it’s a perfect Christmas scary movie. In all honesty, I watched this whilst suffering from a nasty dose of man flu. I felt quite tired, run-down and at first I found it hard to pay attention. This was by no means the fault of the feature, it’s just that it was early in the morning and I wanted to read the news, make myself a cup of tea and the usual palaver. Once the plot got in full swing however, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen and the ending had me on the edge of my seat. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve seen it all before in other slasher movies, but somehow the fact that this pre-dates the overkill period means that you never can be sure of the rules that it abides by – if any. The twist at the end may not be mind blowing, but it’s the strength of the performances that add depth to the mystery.
Aaron Spelling was the executive producer and the initial plan was that this be shot for Television exposure only, but it later saw a second lease of life on VHS. As it wasn’t intended for cinematic audiences, it spends a lot of time with the characters and in lesser hands could have become tedious and over-talky. But TV director John Llewellyn Moxey builds a truly sinister environment and the constant battering of the rain and thunderstorms creates not only a foreboding atmosphere, but some great jump scares. It’s a tight script from Joseph Stefano of Psycho fame, but it’s the casting department that should really take a bow. The daughters are all clichés; one an alcoholic, one promiscuous, the baby faced goodie and the elderly superior who seems to be the most dependable. But they are so brilliantly conveyed that they never allow the story to feel unrealistic or banal. Sally Field is fantastic and charming as the trusting final girl, whilst Jill Haworth’s exceptional beauty demands a viewing on its own. Julie Harris was also very classy as the ‘is she or isn’t she’ wife and they even managed to get Walter Brennan to play the father!
There’s not much of a body count and we only really get to see the killer stalking on a couple of occasions, but still this is a wonderfully crafted and skilfully shot thriller that deserves to be seen this Xmas. It may not be quite as good as Black Christmas, but the truth is, it’s not lagging that far behind…
Final Girl √√√√