Category Archives: Slasher
Savage Lust 1989
aka Deadly Manor
Directed by: José Ramón Larraz
Starring: Liz Hitchler, Claudia Franjul, Jerry Kernion
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This total obscurity came from the hands of Jose Ramón Larraz, a Spanish filmmaker most famous for his exploitation work during the seventies. Amongst his back-catalogue is Vampyres, a gothic rarity that to this day remains a cult classic. He also made a very good stalk and slash mystery called, Edge of the Axe in 1987. Unlike Axe, which was mostly an European production, Lust saw him accept directorial duties on US soil during the cycle’s dying days.
Opinions that I’ve seen and heard on this are split, with some generally positive tributes being mixed with harsh negativity. Larraz’s previous achievements have allowed him to build something of a hero status amongst underground film fans and I wasn’t sure whether that had contributed to the praise that I had seen posted about on the web. Keeping that in mind, I decided to push my Spanish patriotic loyalties to one side and focus on the film as I would any other…
Six youngsters head out on a camping trip deep into the wilderness where one of them knows of a beautiful lake. On the drive through the long winding roads, the group lose their way and pick up a mysterious hitchhiker that says he knows how to get to the area that they’re seeking. As the warm summer day gives way to a stormy night sky, the gang decides that they better find some shelter for the night. As they search the woodland for a place to settle, they come across an eerie derelict mansion shrouded by the darkness of the surrounding trees. Curiosities arise when they discover a car-wreck statue in the front garden that looks like some kind of bizarre shrine. On closer exploration of the premises they discover coffins in the basement and an array of photos of a beautiful woman. Although they feel uneasy, the weather has become unbearable outside and they realise that the only option is to stay for the night. Before long a masked psycho begins to brutally murder the kids one by one. But what is the reason for these ruthless unprovoked murders?
I remember when Andrij Shevchenko signed for Chelsea FC for a massive fee and fans of rival teams like myself were quaking in our boots at the thought of the former European Footballer of the year being added to their ranks. Upon his arrival though, it soon became apparent that his days of glory were long behind him and it was almost painful to watch a former legend struggling to adapt to the quick pace of UK football. I mention this because I had trouble believing that Savage Lust was the work of a filmmaker that had previously been touted as one of the most creative in exploitation cinema. For the first twenty minutes we cut from one flat and boring long-range shot to the next and the camera literally doesn’t move at all. It got so bad that you could hear characters speaking before they walked past the lens and then they would just simply stroll out of shot before the obligatory cut. I mean, they didn’t even zoom in on anyone! By 1989, when this began production, even shot on video flicks were using a dolly track or steadicam; but here it felt like Larraz just couldn’t be bothered to do anything other than point the camera at the actors. He even seemed to perform that menial task from as far away as humanly possible and with the flair of a road sweeper with a hangover.
If there’s a total lack of energy in the photography, then hiring a cast that are so wooden that they could camouflage in a timber yard certainly wasn’t going to help. One girl yelps, “I saw a woman’s face in a white mask at the window” like she’s asking for more milk in her coffee. Did they even bother giving these guys auditions? They stroll around the dilapidated house spouting lines so ignorant that you want to flinch away from the screen in disgust and at one point, I caught myself reading the small print on a crisp packet, because I was so intensely bored by the antics going on in front of me. In the time that it took to order, wait for delivery and then demolish a large pizza with two cans of Tyskie, no one got killed and whilst I appreciate that a good amount of mystery was built around the contents of the spooky hacienda, it was done at the pace of a queue at a funeral.
The killer eventually gets to work and begins slashing his way through the youngsters, but any suspense is ruined by the fact that on the copy that I had, I could barely see anything. If you’ve ever been in a pitch black room and tried to locate a darkly coloured object, you will have probably had more success than trying to see what’s going on during the kill scenes here. Lighting rigs are expensive and it’s understandable that pictures like this that are made on tiny budgets may struggle to afford perfect illumination. The likes of Sledgehammer and City in Panic have managed to overcome this with a touch of creative thinking though, so I wonder why they couldn’t have done so here..?
I’m disappointed by Savage Lust because it had the chance to be a lot more. The killer’s motive is superb and there’s a really dark, gothic and mysterious tone running rampant throughout the picture. Chuck on top of that a couple of voluptuous chicas, some slick art-direction, a creepy killer guise and this should easily be a four-star picture. The lack of motivation from the filmmakers is too evident though and you’re left asking yourself why they even bothered. A job worth doing and all that, right?
There’s not too much left to say, except that I wondered if this had been jinxed by a troubled production? It felt like there were two screenwriters that had never met, because how else can you explain that in one moment we get awesome dialogue about houses being haunted by evil energy and then in the next we are given lines that would embarrass a ten year old? I’d be interested in hearing if anyone has any information on this. Oh and I just realised that I haven’t even mentioned the score, which seemed to have been put together freestyle on a Casio keyboard in thirty seconds flat.
Savage Lust does at least include a deep-rooted moral to its story. If ever you’re out in the woods and you discover an ‘abandoned’ house that has coffins in the basement, strange occult signatures garnishing the walls and human’s scalps lying around freely on the mantelpiece, then it’s a good idea NOT to just ignore these signs and think that they’re ‘inspired’ décor. Instead you should realise someone with a severe mental impediment must be nearby and it’s a good idea to get in your car and head for somewhere else… on the double!
I am afraid that I just can’t see where all that positivity on the WWW stems from. I gave up about forty-minutes in to this and slept uninterrupted for nine-hours. When I woke up fully refreshed in the morning, I put it on again and had to fight against nodding off for a second time. I recommend that you stick with Edge of the Axe…
Final Girl √
The Collector 2009
Directed by: Marcus Dunstan
Starring: Josh Stewart, Andrea Roth, Juan Fernández
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When Saw was released almost a decade ago, a lot of horror websites had billed it as a macabre slasher movie, but then after it hit screens sometime later, it turned out not to be a slasher flick at all. Its surprising success, and that of the multitude of copycats that followed, allowed the birth of a new sub genre, which was affectionately named, torture porn. The differences in structure between torture porn and that of our favourite category are small, but obvious enough that director Marcus Dunstan could merge the two together for this nerve-jangling cross-breed from 2009.
Whereas Saw and its brothers are big on slash, they are generally low on stalk, but The Collector fixes that by giving us a masked menace that imposes himself on the audience as would a Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. His lack of vocal characterisation and background development is straight out of an old skool classic, but he utilises the tools of murder that we find more generally in modern horror.
An ex-con that is determined to help his wife pay off a debt to some ruthless gangsters, plans a burglary at his new employer’s country home. He is unaware however that a maniacal killer has also targeted the family, and has set up deadly traps and devices to fulfil his lust for murder.
I must confess that Marcus Dunstan had not been a name that I had initially recognised until I was informed that he had written the screenplays to parts IV, V and VI of the Saw franchise. The intention here was to set this up as a prequel to that series, however the content owners declined and it proved to be the right decision. The mystery surrounding the identity of the antagonist, much as in Halloween, is perhaps one of the strongest things about this story, and it gives the villain a boosted fear factor. For a hardened horror veteran such as myself, it’s unusual that there is a feature that can both keep my eyes transfixed in tension and force me to recoil at the gore that I’m witnessing on screen. I can truly say that I found this to be much scarier than anything that I have witnessed within more recent gore led flicks.
What we have here is an exhilarating motion picture and it’s one that bursts with suspense and energy. Much of that is thanks to the fact that we are guided through the mayhem by an un-archetypal hero; a criminal who redeems his unlawful motives by striving to assist the victims that he comes across throughout the bloody death trap. There’s a point in the runtime where he could escape the minefield of blood-letting, but he returns; not for selfish reasons, but because a young girl that reminds him of his daughter, is still trapped inside the house. The pair then team up against the menace and work in tandem to survive, which drives our hope that they can conquer the assailant.
Dunstan directs the action impeccably and the camera at times feels like a webcam that is giving us a sneak view inside the production of a snuff video. We see close-ups of colourful spiders in the opening, which turn out to be not just artistic flair, but symbolic of the antagonist’s modus operandi and predatory instinct for trapping and executing his prey. There’s heaps of goo splattered throughout the numerous kill scenes and as a nod to the stalwarts of the genre, they even include the ‘have sex and die’ rule. One youngster loses his fingers, before falling into a floor laden with bear traps, whilst another is catapulted onto a wall of spikes. Perhaps the most gruesome moments are saved for our hero, and he suffers constantly when pitted against the maniac inside the house. Unlike the heroines that we have seen conquer seemingly unstoppable villains time and again, we feel that mano a mano the pair are on an almost equal footing without the deadly appliances, so we are constantly anticipating the moment that they come face to face. When that finally happens, it doesn’t disappoint and somehow the fight scenes seem all the more realistic due to this.
The screenplay does suffer from a lack of logic somewhat in places. Whilst our killer is mysterious and ominous, it’s physically, practically and financially impossible that he could rig the house the way that he did in order to achieve his goals. It’s true that cinema is a form of entertainment that should be allowed to push the boundaries of reality, but the story aimed for continuity in so many other places that the key aspect of the horror flies in the face of all that was built up around it. Still this is hardly a big complaint and it is one that is easily forgiven when we are biting our nails and wondering what could come next. I felt that Josh Stewart’s Arkin was outstanding as the lead character and Fernández brought so much to the bogeyman’s role without saying a word. In certain lighting, his eyes shine like crystals and this makes him look almost superhuman. His motives are never really disclosed to us, which helps to maintain the aura of fear that surrounds him.
There was a time when new-age horror movies were called ‘MTV’ by long-time enthusiasts and unworthy to share a stall with the classics of old. The Collector is one of the most frightening pictures that I’ve seen for ages and could never be accused of being diluted for PG-13 audiences. If you’re looking for a film that makes you double check if you have locked the door tonight, you could do a lot worse than this. I loved it..
Silent Night Bloody Night 2013
Directed by: James Plumb
Starring: Philip Harvey, Victor Ptak, Alan Humphries
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Merry Christmas to all my readers!!! So the film featured in my last review, Silent Night, was a VERY loose re-imaging of Silent Night Deadly Night from 1984. It was in fact so loose that if I hadn’t had read the press pack that came with the pre-screener, I would have thought that the two had nothing in common at alll. Silent Night Bloody Night: The Homecoming however didn’t even bother to get creative. It’s an almost word-for-word duplicate of the film was made some forty-years earlier. The original Silent Night Bloody Night had an amazing twist, a uniquely gothic tone and some solid performances. This British back garden rehash is as much of a tribute to that cult classic as would be a One Direction cover of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. In fact, it may even be worse if that’s possible…
Christmas Eve 2012, Jeffrey Butler returns to a small town after finally deciding to sell the house that had been left to him in the will of his Grandfather. William Butler had burned to death in mysterious circumstances twenty-five years ago and it has been vacant ever since. Three key figures from the local community, including the town Mayor, have mixed feelings on letting the property go on the market and want to purchase it for themselves. To make matters worse, a serial killer that has broken out of the local asylum decides to take refuge in the dilapidated abode. Before long, the maniac begins systematically slaughtering the locals, but what could all these events have in common with one another?
I would hate to play group poker with director James Plumb on my team. Here’s a guy who doesn’t hold anything back… even for a second. I knew from the moment that a Mark 4 Ford Transit (in production from the years 2000 – 2006) turned up in a prologue dated 1987 that I was in for a gruelling seventy-eight minutes. They even scribbled over the number plate with a white board marker in a pathetic attempt to cover up the fact. Continuity, anyone?
So anyway, the plot gets rolling and they manage to achieve the almost impossible task of making what was a slightly complex but logical story seem like it doesn’t make a lick of sense. Did screenwriter Andrew Jones find an online copy of the original script written in Imperial Aramaic and run it through Google translate before submitting it as his final draft? For the first thirty minutes, I had no idea who was the protagonist, what was going on or why I should care about anything at all. Strangers walk on to the screen and say a few lines before getting killed in sequences that may have been edited by Wallace ‘Wally’ Karue from See No Evil, Hear No Evil. I could write a thousand words about the way that scenes look to have been chopped together on a freeware version of Windows Live Movie Maker, but the filmmakers couldn’t be bothered and so I can’t either. One couple got dispatched with an axe rather bloodily whilst underlining the have sex and die rule for the second time in fifteen-minutes. It was a shocking waste of circus potential though, because the nameless female is the only person in the history of sexual relations that can get down to it whilst keeping all of her clothes on. How cool is that? Maybe it had something to do with the size of his hatchet? Boom Boom.
Forty minutes in to the original Silent Night Bloody Night, we had spent that time establishing a group of suspicious, shady characters in a smartly convoluted plot. In this dumb and pointless reboot, I wasn’t interested In anyone or anything that I was seeing, except I was wondering who would be foolish enough to pay the bill for a phone in an abandoned house. Our maniac killer uses said tel to ring and, ahem, ‘terrorise’ his intended prey in the same kind of ways that were so scary the last time that this story was told. The difference back then was that the actor playing the psycho’s voice was stern and terrifying, whilst Adrienne King shows how rusty she is here by sounding like an amateur dramatics group cast her off after the first audition. I am not sure about you, but I don’t enjoy paying a premium price to watch awful dramatics. I’m also not the biggest fan of flat, lazy camera angles, cardboard characters, an awful score and a noughties registration Ford Transit being teleported back to 1987 for the opening scene. I did however like the security guard at the mental hospital. Anyone that drinks Red Stripe beer and watches Night of the Living Dead whilst working with the criminally insane is a legend in my eyes.
It’s hard to find much positive to say about Silent Night Bloody Night: The Homecoming, but there were a few things that I liked. James Plumb seemed to save all of his minimal directorial ability for the final chase sequence and it went really well up until we saw that dreaded Ford Transit again. (In case you forgot, it’s the one that was used in the prologue from twenty-five years earlier). I guess that you could say that the killer’s guise was decent and there’s a fairly large body count, but it’s not enough to warrant you tracking this down. Yes it’s low budget and yes it’s good that people still want to make slasher films, but I just felt that it was offensive to the classic that it attempts halfheartedly to rehash.
The most talented person in this production was the one that put together the box-art. He/she made it look like a free vodka for eternity gift voucher and that’s just irresistible. If you, like me, are on a mission to see every single slasher movie, then make sure that you borrow your friend’s copy and save yourself a miserable Christmas of regretting wasting your wonga.
Final Girl √
Silent Night 2012
Directed by: Stephen C. Miller
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Jaime King, Donal Logue
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
On a SLASH above, I often analyse the stats of my visits and around this time of year, the traffic that I get on certain pages is astronomical. I guess that you’ve already worked out that those are the reviews for Home Sick, Black Christmas, To All a Goodnight, Don’t Open ’till Christmas, Home for the Holidays et al. The logic in making a festive slasher is undeniable. I mean, it’s natural that people think, ‘Hey it’s Christmas, let’s watch a themed horror movie’ and so there’s cash to be made for ambitious producers. Santa pickaxing teenagers is the perfect visual present for the advent calendar countdown.
But would such a feature truly offer the same level of entertainment in the middle of spring?
I think about this, because for me, there’s a certain stigma about watching an Xmas themed horror flick at any other time of the year. They lose their charm somewhat. I wanted to have some reviews ready to post earlier for Xmas, but I just couldn’t motivate myself to sit down and put one of them on. As soon as I read my six year-old daughter’s letter to St Nick in early December however, I was ready to rock and roll…
On Christmas Eve in a small Midwestern town, the police search for a killer Santa Claus who is picking off citizens in secluded places. As the bodies begin to pile up, it seems certain that it’s someone who knows the local inhabitants…
So I heard that Silent Night is a semi-remake of Silent Night Deadly Night. I also have no idea what semi-remake means, but after watching, I can say that it’s more of a total re-imaging. We’ve got a killer in the guise of St Nick and a few minor references (including a rehash of one of the killings), but aside from that there’s very little else that you’d recognise. The good news is that the film doesn’t need to borrow from anywhere, because as far as Christmas entries go, it’s one of the best by a country mile.
Slasher movies were as popular as bell-bottom slacks in 2012, so I was over the moon when I found out that this was being developed on a good budget. What we ended up with was proof that there’s still life in the aging recipe if you do it the right way. Steven C Miller -who had previously given us the underrated TV Movie, Scream of the Banshee – does a wonderful job in the hot seat and delivers us a juggernaut of slasher fun that rips and roars it’s way through a slick runtime of thrills.
He doesn’t hang around to introduce audacious killings as the film’s vocal point. Our maniac is on screen from the opening minute and he doesn’t stay away for long thereafter. We are treated to goo by the bucket load, including a gruesome scene where a girl is dismembered and then pushed into a timber cutter. Although her screams of pain are disturbing, the film avoids being too mean-spirited by giving us a reason to dislike the victims before their demise. We also get a head split with an axe, lopped off fingers and a couple of frantic chase scenes before the inevitable money shot. Even if the script looks to be set up like a standard slasher, it works so that we never really know what could happen next and there’s a fine blend of tension in the unravelling of the Police investigation.
I was impressed by the way that the plot breaks the unwritten slasher code with its revelation of the psychopath’s identity, but it all made sense in the end. Jamie King’s Aubrey Bradimore is a tough, likeable and brave heroine that reminds of the ones of old and she delivers by far the best performance of the pack. McDowell is hammy as hell as the sheriff, but he gets the job done and overall the dramatics are suitable for the content. Screenwriter Jayson Rotwell deserves a thumbs up for some memorable dialogue and if lines such as, ‘Don’t put Avocado on the burger’ can’t grab your attention then you’re surely not in tune with the overall mood. Donal Logue, who plays one of the key suspects, gets a strong scene with King in which he talks about why so many people go crazy around the festive period. He highlights that Christmas has become more of a blue-chip marketing tool than a religious celebration and it’s an interesting point that caught my attention.
The final showdown is set-up in an Argento-esque haze of red lights and sprinklers that creates an impressive tone of isolation. Even if the heroine gets a convenient route to escape (she just happened to land next to a loaded weapon), the suspense that surrounds the outcome means that we can easily forgive a bit of unlikely fortune for the good guys. It climaxes with a chance that we haven’t seen the final chapter in this story and let’s keep our fingers crossed that there is still belief amongst financiers that this is a franchise that has legs.
I seriously can’t give Silent Night any higher praise than saying that it’s a perfect tribute to the pictures of old. I was left wanting more and I’m hopeful that there will be other projects in the pipeline that can follow this example.
Slasher films of late seem to have forgotten that they ought to be gory, outrageous and fun. Miller’s entry is the perfect example of these three elements and for that it deserves to be seen. There was criticism that it didn’t bring anything new to the table, but with so many failed attempts at updating the template, I for one was just relieved to see things done the right way.
Final Girl √√√√
To All A Goodnight 1980
Directed by: David Hess
Starring: Jennifer Runyon, Forest Swanson, Linda Gentile
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So 11 more sleeps to the big day! I am already stocking up on Vodka. My Mrs always nags at me for even having one beer (so I get shouted at all weekend), but she promised that I can have a drink during the festive period… Of course, she doesn’t realise that it’s like given a cat the key to the dairy and saying you can have one lick of milk As she is Polish, I am Spanish and we live in UK, we get to celebrate Wigila (the 24th), the big X (25th) and el Día de Reyes on the 6th of Jan. That’s an awful lot of alcohol haha – Anyway, I have set up some slasher action for the period and this entry is intriguing and collectible for two significant reasons. Número uno: It was the first slasher movie to include a Santa-suited psycho, before Silent Night-Deadly Night, Psycho Santa and Christmas Season Massacre et al took it beyond cool and into the realms of ‘please go invent something new’. Número dos: it was the directorial debut of David Hess – a man who was to the horror genre what Johan Cryuff was to football.
You’d most likely be surprised by Hess’ hugely impressive contributions to show business and the things that he achieved prior to his acting exploits. His professional career began as a singer-songwriter for the small label Shalimar Music in 1957. He penned ‘All Shook Up’ for The King shortly after and the song became a massive hit. In fact, it was just recently voted as one of the top 20 all time rockabilly classics.
Throughout the months that followed, Hess would see Conway Twitty, Andy Williams, Sal Mineo and Pat Boone take his tracks to the top end of the charts, before he settled for a career behind the scenes as head A&R man for Mercury Records. In 1972 his fortunes continued to improve when he was offered the lead role in Wes Craven’s cult classic ‘The Last House on the Left’. He gave such a nasty and memorable performance that would allow him to continue to play tormented characters in movies such as Autostop, Rosso Sangue and Ruggero Deodato’s Bodycount.
By the time 1980 came around, he was ready to broaden his horizons in the film industry and so he took to the director’s chair for this cheap and cheesy festive shocker.
The opening scene is conveyed so rapidly that it felt like my finger had brushed the FF button and it had remained playing on >>32. It is Christmas vacation at the Calvin Finishing School for girls and the co-eds are celebrating by chasing one female around the dormitory. She heads out onto the balcony, trips over a bizarrely placed plant pot and takes a tumble to the concrete floor below. We can only presume that the girl died, although we’re never given an explanation to the scene. We don’t even know who any of these characters are?
Two years later, Xmas; and a large amount of the youngsters are going home. A few eager chicks decide to hang around and prepare for their own on-site celebrations. The gang of fun-loving ladies includes a curvaceous man-eater called Melody (Linda Gentile), who spends her time being swapped among the guys like a football card. There’s a suspiciously accented English girl named Trisha (Angela Bath), and a traditional inadvertent comic relief character, Leia (Judith Bridges). Finally we meet the Jamie Lee Curtis-lite goody-two-shoes sure-to-be heroine by the name of Nancy (Jennifer Runyon). Their house is run by Ruth Jensen (Katherine Herrington) and Trina Ronsoni (Judy Hess), who judging by that surname must be related to the director – maybe his wife? She also shows a brilliant knack for comic timing, by quipping at one point, “I’ll stop off on my way back. That is if the grim reaper doesn’t come calling”. Like, really???
Anyway, Christmas alone for the girls wouldn’t be much fun, so they literally fly in a gang of randy would-be bed-sharers including a stereotypical geek, Alex (Forest Swanson). It doesn’t take long for the masked Santa-suited slasher to turn up and begin cutting his way through the revellers. He then buries their bodies in the backyard with the professionalism and speed of a gang of landscape gardeners. So who will survive this Christmas Massacre?
To all a Good Night isn’t as bad as its hideous reputation would lead you to believe. In fact it’s actually fairly watchable in a so bad it’s good kind of way. What makes it perhaps rise above its amateurism in the filmmaking department is the hilarity of some of the dialogue, which seems to have been written on a notepad at a Russian vodka buffet. For example, Trisha bumps in to the maniac in a secluded spot of the garden and goofs in her comical sub-Brit accent, “Oh Tom, take that bloody mask off and take me to bed!” She gets what she rightly deserves. It’s also worth noting that on planet eye test, all the guys here are captivated by the extremely dumb and slightly scary Leia. They then defy logic by completely ignoring the smart and decent Nancy. Leia, the aforementioned flat chested redhead, also provides most of the nudity, while the shapely Melody remains fully clothed throughout? Not being content with constantly ripping off her clothes, Leia also goes nuts towards the conclusion of the movie and spends the final third of the runtime singing and ballet dancing round the corpses of her chums. The killer, obviously realising that she’s a slice of cheese, bap and a burger short of a cheeseburger, doesn’t even give her the dignity of putting her out of her misery!
Mark Shostrum’s gore effects may well be the most spectacular ever filmed. We’ll never know if that’s true however, because the picture is just too dark. Day for night filters are used without any other form of lighting, and at times the lack of clear vision ruins the movie. The only good killing that I remember featured the maniac dressed in a suit of armour and it was thankfully filmed inside the house, so the lighting was at least passable.
Despite losing about six of their colleagues in the first thirty minutes, the remaining victims fail to acknowledge that there is a maniac stalking the campus. Instead they continue to mouth inept comments when each morning’s roll-call shows another disappearance, such as, “They must have gone to bed.” Even when the heavily-mutilated body of Ralph the albino gardener is discovered, they still refuse to accept that a maniac might be trying to cut down the guest list for their Xmas party. The utter stupidity of the youngsters destroys any sympathy for their eminent demise.
On the plus side, there is a humongous body count and as I said, it’s fairly amusing in an inadvertent kind of way. Whilst an abundance of time makes many slashers seem dated, in many ways, To All a Goodnight is helped by its age. The campy charm makes this one-star movie worthy of the two that I’ve given it below. It’s another fine example of intolerable rubbish-ness being salvaged by 80s ‘did they really’ nostalgia.
Unfortunately, Hess passed away two-years ago, but before he did, he said that filmmaking was something that he’d like to try again, although he admitted that he had neither the time nor the cash flow to apply such focus. It is a shame that he never got round to it, because modern slashers lack the goofy charm of this one.
Final Girl √
See No Evil 2006
Directed by: Gregory Dark
Starring: Christina Vidal, Glenn Jacobs, Zoe Ventoura
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
You know, it’s a shame that no one told Randy the Ram from Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler that he could have perhaps cured his depression by re-launching himself as a slasher movie villain. Whilst leotard-sporting grapplers that have made the switch to the silver screen have never been huge dramatic successes, the likes of The Rock or Jesse Ventura utilised their intimidating glares and hulking frames to create memorable presences in cheesy flicks.
This particular title was the first full motion picture produced by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and it turned out to be a belated attempt to grab a bite of the slasher pie. They gave Glenn Jacobs, one of their leading stars, the chance to portray the film’s antagonist and the logic in doing so was unquestionable. Bogeymen need to be surly, deranged-looking and unusually big. Jacobs ticks all those boxes and to be fair, he’s probably one of the better things in this rarely mentioned slash extravaganza.
A group of male and female convicts are given supervised release and the task of helping to renovate an old hotel. For every three days that they spend working on the clean up, they get their sentences reduced by a month, so they are keen to get cracking. Once on site though, they begin to ignore their duties and frolic in the usual slashertastic ways. Hidden within the mass of corridors however is Jacob Goodnight, a demented serial killer that has a fetish for removing his victims eyeballs…
Many of the newer stalk and slash films that hit shelves after the release of Scream tried their hardest to imitate the self-recognition and humour that was made a modern stereotype by Kevin Williamson’s screenplay. Thankfully Gregory Dark’s entry doesn’t bother with that and instead returns to the old skool maniac against naughty youngsters set-up and it’s a refreshing touch. The location for the carnage is a large dilapidated hotel and whilst it was hard to tell how much of the exteriors were CGI, they did help to create an impressive tone of isolation. Inside, we are treated to a lot of gloomy corridors and decayed rooms, which equally unsettle in a Silent Hill-type way. Our resident psycho stalks about in the shadows before making his screen entrance, which doesn’t take long and the runtime is well paced so that we are never left waiting long for some action.
As I alluded to earlier, Jacob Goodnight is an effective menace and pulls off a magnificently gruesome killing. One young woman climbs out of a window on a rope that is supported by her boyfriend in an attempt to flee for help. She gets about halfway down and notices that her beau is no longer speaking with her, because he has just been dispatched (off-screen). The maniac then teases her a bit, before letting go of the rope so that she smashes through a glass conservatory below. Still alive, the blood streaming from her wounds attracts a pack of wild dogs, which maul her to death whilst she is stuck in suspension inches above the ground. This sequence was the first that I previewed for See No Evil and I was extremely excited about the film’s release after. It’s one of a number of gooey moments scattered throughout, but I must admit that I was slightly disappointed that the ‘spoiled bitch’ type girl didn’t suffer a more gruesome demise.
The story is populated by the usual slasher stereotypes, but we are given pretty much zero development on any of them. I watched the film only yesterday and am struggling to remember the name of the heroine and that shows how much effort they put into bringing her to life. Every character is so paper-thin to the audience that it’s almost like I wanted the bad guy to emerge triumphant. I mean, why not? He was the only one that got any backstory at all and therefore was far less of a stranger. We are given facial freeze screens and text as a form of introduction to the troupe, which is the screenwriting equivalent of a microwave spaghetti Bolognese. The acting ranges from ok-ish to dire, but frankly, DeNiro couldn’t really have given much more to these lines. There are tonnes of those annoying MTV flash cuts that are totally unnecessary and I still somewhat cringe at hearing Hip-Hop in a slasher movie. Maybe that’s just a sign of my advancing years. Things do pick-up around the forty-minute mark though and I’m reminded of Robert McKee (Brian Cox)’s ‘Wow them in the end’ speech from Adaptation, because the unexpected twist really was a surprise. It is just a shame that it was ruined by the ludicrous cheap-gag in the credits that I won’t spoil for you; but the words, corpse, dog and urinating may give you an idea.
In hindsight, the script feels like it was little more than a first draft, which was barely given a second look before they began shooting. It seems strange that WWE were in such a rush to release their big screen debut that they didn’t concentrate more on the personalities of those guiding us through, but I really can’t think of another explanation as to why it’s so threadbare. There’s fun to be had with the death scenes and I recall a few shades of suspense, but I couldn’t help but feel that the depth of the story was considered as no more important than the gore effects. The script also spent time building the mystery of the killer removing the eyeballs of his victims, only to brush it off later with an underwhelming explanation. It was like, wow is that REALLY it?
Despite the sloppiness, See no Evil does deliver on occasion and has moments that are genuinely quite we’ll done. Fans looking for a quick fix won’t be disappointed and It also has a low-budget clone (rip-off?) by the name of Psycho Ward, which you may fancy as a double billing? I’d be the first to admire your tolerance levels if you sat through those two in a row…
One thing that I will say is that my partner, Kasia Kokocka that I watched it with loved it and gave it an a SLASH above ranking of 4/5 . But then again, she liked Spaceship Terror and said that Halloween was too slow moving… so keeping that in mind, who would you agree with? haha – (PS… she’s the boss, not me ;))
Final Girl √
Blood Harvest 1987
aka The Marvelous Mervo aka Nightmare
Directed by: Bill Rebane
Starring: Tiny Tim, Itonia Salchek, Dean West
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Blood Harvest is yet further evidence how the slasher genre was a good cash cow for ambitious B-Movie producers during the eighties. So much so that even celebrated low budget titans like Bill Rebane were keen to get in on the action and have a stab at creating their ownHalloween.
Rebane himself is a bit if a movie enigma who preferred the comfort zone of budget sci-fi/Horror than a golden ticket to Hollywood. An educated film-maker whose creativity and flair for adventure saw him innovate cinema with his 360 degrees wrap-around motion picture process, he could have used his skill for technology and his cultural intelligence (He was Latvian born and fluent in five languages) to join a major studio. Instead he stuck to releasing his own self-financed productions that were each fairly successful in their own right.
In the mid-eighties he hosted a 50s nostalgia event at his Wisconsin based studio, The Shooting Ranch. There, a chance meeting with Tiny Tim, another oddball celebrity who had found fortune with his falsetto voice and quirky character – led to the production of this curious slasher.
There are three versions of the feature in circulation and each is slightly different. The American VHS release includes all the nudity and gore, whilst the UK tape is missing three-minutes of footage, which was considered too gruesome by the BBFC. There’s also a director’s cut on DVD, which is itself rather strange because it also removes most of the blood and bare skin. That must be the first time that a director’s version subtracts from the existing print and offers a more lenient alternative. It’s rumoured that this may have been either due to Rebane’s political ambitions at the time or the fact that the gore was not in his initial vision for the flick and rather it was added at the insistence of his production partners (most of his previous work was PG13 rated) to make the film more marketable to the splatter audiences.
Jill returns home to her city from University to find that her parents are missing and the local bank (which they own) has forced most of the farmers to sell their properties. They are not the most popular people in the neighborhood, so Jill is rightly concerned about their disappearance. Things go where you expect them to, when a killer with a stocking on his head turns up and begins stalking the youngster and murdering anyone who has contact with her.
I can only say that a slasher film starring Tiny Tim is as jaw droopingly bizarre as you would expect it to be. To be fair to him, his performance is one of the few highlights in an otherwise dull offering and he manages to deliver a troubled-childlike creepiness with depths to his character. Dressing him in a clown costume was a masterstroke from the scriptwriters and adds to the overall desperation of his deluded persona.
The rest of the cast are nowhere near as credible and he carries the torch in terms of capable dramatics. I have to mention Itonia Salchek, the final girl, who can’t act for toffee but seems to enjoy nothing more than getting her kit off at every available opportunity, which makes her a hit with T&A fans and most likely the highlight of a single guy’s night out in any bar that she frequents. Anyway, she is lost here carrying most of the plot development on her (usually naked) shoulders and comes across as unapproachable.
I mentioned about Bill Rebane being an enigma earlier, but he is nowhere near as mysterious as his lead actress. I couldn’t uncover any information about her anywhere. Now her surname looks Eastern European (I speak Russian and Polish and it’s not from those countries) but her first name Itonia is an epithet from Greek mythology for the Goddess Athena. Interesting stuff. Anyway, she vanished in to obscurity after this, but if you know something, then please give me a shout. Here’s a rare screenshot of her in clothing, which is something that we don’t see very often.
It seems like Rebane was aware of the slasher genre but hadn’t researched its trappings and unlike many entries of the same year, the movie steers clear of feeling like a total rip off. There are no POV shots, the final girl doesn’t come across as shy and withdrawn and the killer seems more like what you would expect to find in a Giallo than a slasher flick. This is most evident in the heavy sexual undertones and his motive, which is at least well-handled and believable.
The film would suffer in later years, disappearing due to legal tangles, not just once, but for a second time after its outing on DVD. This gives it a somewhat alluring sheen, especially as it’s impossible to find now in its uncut form. The only version worth watching is the unrated cut, because despite of some uninspired and pedestrian direction from Rebane (I expected better) there are snippets of a really foreboding atmosphere. The killer is exceptionally merciless and brutal and the actor does well playing off-his-rocker insanity at the climax. There’s the mystery of guessing his identity, but there are not many choices and you’ll work it out pretty quick if you watch closely enough. Some more killings would have been nice (only two on screen) but the gooey throat-slashing is really well done (by soon to be big shot Dieter Sturm no less)
There’s a nice synth score that I liked and the killer looks creepy with a stocking over his head, but there’s too much missing in terms of continuity to make this a hidden-gem. Some of the plot points were bordering on stupidity and what the hell was with the incredibly inept sheriff? There are long periods of dull rubbish acting where your attention will turn away from the screen and it definitely hasn’t aged well.
Worthy only because it’s rare and a great performance from Tiny Tim, but otherwise not really recommended as a competitor.
Final Girl √√√
Friday the 13th: Halloween Night 1994
Directed by: Chris Seaver
Starring: Brad Gough, Zach Allen, Chris Seaver
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So peeps, it’s Halloween, let’s make it a good one! What are y’all up to? I’m taking Oliverio and Kalinka trick-or-treating with two of the scariest women I know (I need to be careful with my words here – żartuje dziewczyny przysięgam) and then most likely going somewhere Friday in full psycho garb. It’s the only time that slasher fans can get away with dressing like their heroes and fit in with everybody else. I’m not going for my traditional Jason Voorhees outfit this year because I believe that I’d make an excellent vampire. I mean, I have the chiseled dark good looks and the unrivalled ability to pull the ladies, right? Are you all in agreement…? Erm… Any of you? Just one? HELLLLLLLOOOOOOO? Oh ok…
Anyway, as it’s our favourite day of the year, I wanted to take this opportunity to post a real rarity from my collection and break the a SLASH above mould somewhat. You see, my A-Z list of slasher movies is a fairly good reference point, but it doesn’t include any of the fabulous ‘shorts’ that can be found all over the globe in multiple formats. I did post a review of Death O’ Lantern recently, but aside from that, I’ve overlooked them more than I ignore my flat mate when she keeps telling me that the coffee table is not the best place to leave half-empty bottles of vodka. But you can teach an old dog new tricks, so here we have a real interesting entry… (Excuse me, I have some bottles in the living room that I need to clear up)
After a horrific massacre on a campsite, a local enthusiast heads to the location to survey the aftermath. He discovers Jason’s notorious hockey mask and feels an unavoidable urge to put it on just the once. Suddenly, he becomes possessed by the spirit of the notorious murderer and heads to a town on Halloween night where Michael Myers is already out on the prowl for teenage victims. What happens however when the pair come face to face?
I mentioned the cheese treat Death O’ Lantern earlier and interestingly enough, this is an extremely early production from the same director, Chris Seaver. I can’t say for sure whether it was his debut movie, but I did find out that it was most definitely amongst the first that he scraped the funds together for. It’s a fan boy video through and through, shot on a camcorder with Beastie Boys and the like playing in the background just for good measure. In terms of visual quality, my iPhone can create better footage during a fog-laden blackout, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not going to have a giggle whilst watching the events that unfold herein.
At thirty-four minutes, there’s not a great deal that I can write in terms of critical appraisal, but I will say that there’s some really good ideas on display. One moment that i thought demonstrated a fine level of creativity, was when a teen is butchered under a strobe effect, which really does look the business. Taking on board the total amateurism of the setup, I must say that the editing was actually quite slick in places and the guys playing Jason and Michael did a credible job at mimicking the renowned horror icons.
Where the film really stands out is in the high amount of gore. One cut throat is that impressive that it wouldn’t have looked out of place in a much bigger budgeted picture and each kill scene is lively, bloody and fun. Jason and Michael are finally shown on screen together for (arguably) the first time in video history and although the budget restraints restrict a super battle between them, it’s still cool to watch.
There’s no doubt that the cast are just a bunch of mates and funnily enough there’s not one female amongst the characters. You would have thought that they could have convinced the local prom queen to put in an appearance, but instead we get to watch Seaver’s buddies get slashed gorily, which is a subtle up yours to the ‘feminism against slashers’ movement. We get some periodic references for eagle-eyed viewers (OJ’s trial is mentioned and we see posters of Jason goes to hell on one guy’s bedroom) and they even pinch the original Halloween score for good measure.
Friday the 13th: Halloween Night is an interesting (and confusingly titled) little obscurity that needs to be seen by slasher fanatics who can forgive shoestring budgeting. Whilst technically it’s at the level that you’d expect for $200 (the POV through eye-hole shots are clearly just a mask placed on top of the camcorder) there’s enough cheesy fun to be had by forgiving fans. If you got through Day of the Reaper without screaming, then you may just be able to survive this.
Good work again from Señor Seaver, a filmmaker who is really just one of us. Enjoy…
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Directed by: Steve Latham
Starring: Linnea Quigley, Cameron Mitchell, Ryan Lathshaw
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s the third birthday of a SLASH above and almost Halloween, so I thought I’d post some related features On that note, any film that has horror veterans Linnea Quigley, Cameron Mitchell and John Carradine all in the same cast list must surely be worth a watch, right?
Jack-O was the second to last movie to include a role for Mr. Carradine senior. He died in 1988 and this was released in 1995, which means that his performance must have been lifted from stock-footage. It’s actually quite ingenious how director Steve Lathshaw made it work so well. It was also the swan song for cheesy slasher regular Cameron Mitchell, before his death in 1994. The screenplay was adapted from a story by Fred Olen Ray, whom we all know exceedingly well from his previous ‘videomatic’ misdemeanors. He was behind slashers,Scalps and Final Examination and is still chucking out B-movies at a rate that Lance Armstrong on a whole bag of his performance enhancing drugs couldn’t keep up with. Lathshaw went on after this to direct a couple more flicks, including the interesting Death Mask, before switching to screen-writing and churning out scripts for twenty-eight movies. Unlike most American direct to video/cable horror films from the mid-nineties, this actually secured a global distribution and I have VHS versions from England, Poland and Spain. The UK’s Midnight Movies label released so few copies that originals have now become somewhat of a rarity and sell for fairly good money on eBay. Is it one that deserves the hunt?
Many years ago, the families of Oakmoor Crossing tracked down a vicious murderer named Walter Machen (Carradine) and lynched him. He was a powerful warlock and just before he died, he summoned a demon from the depths of hell to seek revenge on the townsfolk. The maniac attacked and butchered lots of people, until a man called Arthur Kelly found a way to stop him for good. Now, present day, three rowdy teens accidentally revive the pumpkin headed fiend, much to their dismay. Armed with a scythe, he heads back to the same town to continue where he left off his killing spree. He couldn’t have picked a better night for murder, because it happens to be October the 31st, or in other words, Halloween. Arthur’s great, great Grandson, Sean Kelly (Ryan Lathshaw) is only a young boy, but little does he know, that he is the only person alive with the power to stop the bloodthirsty killer. Will he realise his potential before the demon reaches his parents, or will he be too late?
Make no mistake about it, they certainly don’t come much cheesier than this fierce example of dairy produce in a videomatic format. Everything from the killer’s laughable Jack O’ Lantern head to the way that his urban legend is spread through rhymes that my six-year old daughter could have written (Mr Jack will break your back and chop off your head with a whack whack whack!) is the cinematic equivalent of a fondue festival. Olen Ray has once again rushed out a nonsensical screenplay, which is overflowing with make believe characters, impossible situations and basically poor screenwriting. I especially enjoyed the woefully out of date ‘cool dude’ guy, who, dressed in a leather jacket, jeans and quiff whilst perched on a motorbike, couldn’t have been more cliche if he’d had ‘cool character’ written on his forehead. Over the years, since her debut in Psycho from Texas and inclusion in tonnes of cheapo flicks including Graduation Day and Fatal Games, Linnea Quigley has gained herself a devoted cult following. She doesn’t disappoint fans here and takes a long gratuitous shower just to display her lady lumps for at least two minutes in her first scene. Just do your thing, baby…
Unfortunately, the lesser-known faces are all good actors in a dimension that’s totally the opposite to this one. Gary Doles was the only human in a 100-mile radius that even attempted to add a little life to his character and the rest really didn’t look bothered. Mind you, Jack Nicholson couldn’t recite these lines much better. If you blink, you’ll miss Cameron Mitchell’s brief cameo. He plays Dr.Cadaver, a creepy TV presenter that hosts a show filled with all things horror. His inclusion in flicks ranging from The Toolbox Murders to Memorial Valley Massacre made it a part that suited him to the thing that golfers hit their balls off (a T dummy;)). There were two anti-establishment toffs who I guess were there to supply the comic relief bits. That really wasn’t necessary though, because the whole thing was little more than a bad joke in the first place.
Jack O’ chucks in some supernatural elements, but the special FX for these gimicks are poorly conceived, which is a shame, because other titles produced on similar budgets have delivered much more. The lightening, for example, looked like it had been drawn onto the negatives with a felt tip pen and the killer’s lantern-head was pretty much a dime-store mask. A cool one mind, but hardly ‘convincing’. The production team at least manage to chuck in some gooey red-stuff and a fairly well modeled decapitation, which is surprisingly gory. Even if Lathshaw didn’t get much from his amateur cast, he planned a few interesting camera angles and the woodland scenes are all well lighted. You won’t get bored whilst watching and it doesn’t hang around to introduce cheesy horror as the central characteristic, so really you can’t complain too much. I don’t know, it just feels like amateur night at the local karaoke bar and if that’s what tickles your fancy, then you’re in luck. By the way, keep a look out for the director’s son, Ryan in a starring role. You can’t deny that he’s an ‘authentic’ actor, if nothing else.
What did you actually expect from a movie called ‘Jack-O’ with a pumpkin-headed killer on the cover and Linnea Quigley in the cast? Yeah, yeah; I was also expecting a trip to the Oscars – damn it. Thankfully, it’s bad in a good way and fans of mature cheddar circumstances will find more than enough to fill their hunger. It’s better than that other Halloween-based throwaway, Hack-o-Lantern, but go in with the right frame of mind to avoid disappointment. Come October the 31st, don’t you dare forget that Mr. Jack will snap your spine and cut you in half with a scaly vine…! Oooooooh!
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √
American Nightmare 1981
Directed by: Don McBrearty
Starring: Michael Ironside, Lawrence Day, Lora Stanley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This is the earlier of two slasher movies in circulation that have the title American Nightmare. The more recent one was unleashed amongst the mass of Scream imitators and disappeared fairly quickly, whilst this entry from the golden years looks to have suffered a similar fate. With a score from Paul Zaza and a cast that included (then) up and coming talents like Michael Ironside, Lora Stanley and Lenore Zann it came as a surprise to me that it didn’t grab any of the buzz that served its compatriots like Curtains, My Bloody Valentine and Terror Train so well.
The son of a wealthy local businessman returns to his hometown after receiving a letter from his younger sister that begs for help. Upon arrival, he learns that his sibling has disappeared (brutally murdered in the pre-credits) and asks a stripper to help to locate her. Unbeknownst to them, her murder was the first at the hands of a vicious psychopath that is butchering local hookers.
I have been collecting slasher movies for longer than I care to remember and as the list on a Slash above shows clearly, I’ve worked hard to uncover a share of the hidden ‘gems’. I didn’t know that this even existed until fairly recently and I was quite surprised that I’d never come across it before. American Nightmare is a misleading title in more ways than one, because the film was actually a Canadian production that was shot in Toronto and it plays like a European Giallo. It has very little in common with Slashers from the US and this is most obvious in the disguise for the killer and characterisation of the key players. We do have a final girl, but she’s no Laurie Strode. In fact, she’s a stripper, which is an unusual touch for a film of this style.
Another way that it feels more closely aligned to its European counterparts is in its excessive use of sexual psychology as a backbone for the story. The victims are all degenerates of the kinky variety and the motive is one that you’re more likely to find from the films of Southern Europe. McBrearty tries hard to develop a sustainably sleazy tone, but he goes about it the wrong way and the runtime instead becomes needlessly repetitive and in all truth, slightly tedious.
The majority of the female victims are killed whilst in a state of undress and in between there are a lot of scenes that take place at a seedy strip bar. Whilst it makes sense to use this location in order to develop the atmosphere, the director includes long sequences from nude dancers as a form of padding. Now padding, much like ice in a vodka and coke, is something that looks like, feels like and smells like what it is – unnecessary. It doesn’t help that these parts are flatly directed and dull, and whilst I appreciate that bare skin is part of the exploitation package, the choreography was mind-numbing and the girls were not the hottest. At first, I wanted to acknowledge the realism, because let’s face it; bottom-dollar prostitutes are not going to be as beautiful as roses. Needless to say, if you are going to pack your feature with overlong set pieces of chicks whipping off their kit, it may be an idea to at least make them worth watching.
It was also a struggle to relate to the story as neither of the key players shine in any way at all. Staley is fine as the heroine, but she is given very little that makes us want to bond with her, whilst Lawrence Day is colourless and weak in the lead. The majority of the picture is shot with the creativity of a soap opera and lacks any va-va-voom, so the pace remains stagnant for extended periods. This changes drastically when the shadowed psycho gets to work and the killings are surprisingly well executed and mix an unnerving level of brutality with a superb, but sadly underused score from Paul Zaza. One of the later murders is almost unwatchable due to the visible suffering of the victim and at times it almost feels like these parts are too good to be have been shot by the same guy that has bored us rigid during the development of the characters and the mystery.
I didn’t manage to work out the identity of the maniac, but this is one of those films where I did think it may well be her, but then I kept changing my mind as the plot unravelled. I am not sure if this can really be credited as great screenwriting though, as it was hardly a shock once the big unmasking scene came around. I remained eager to see who the sadistic slayer was though and I guess that’s what matters most.
What American Nightmare does brilliantly is give depth and a face to a horror film cliché. Think about titles like Maniac, The Burning, Close your eyes and prey and, well, I could go on but the list is endless. Prostitutes in these films are always introduced as lowlifes that can be killed without anyone batting an eyelid, whereas here we are given more of a look into their lifestyles. Some, (but not all surprisingly), want to leave the game behind and they work the streets out of desperation, which makes a refreshing change from the norm. Our hero even gets a scene where he realises his error in pre-judgement and I liked this concept very much.
To be honest though I’m not quite sure what to rate this one. It has some really unique, sharp and brilliant moments, but struggles with the basics a bit too often to be a classic. I think it could be so much better if it were twenty minutes shorter, but at just shy of an hour and a half, it’s hardly Dances with Wolves. It’s a shame, because there’s stuff here that is worthy of Argento, but it’s the little bits, you know, those that aren’t so much fun to film, where we lose that momentum and focus. I’m reminded of my review of Grim Weekend, where I mentioned that the trailer had me fooled into believing that I was in for a good time. It feels here like McBrearty was only interested in the parts that were setup to convey horror and although he does well to build suspense and trepidation at the hardest of times, he strolls through the rest of the movie in first gear like it doesn’t matter.
If you haven’t seen American Nightmare then you should track it down. I just get disappointed when something comes within smelling distance of greatness, but throws it all away in the midriff. With better lighting and pacing, it could have given Curtains a run for its money, as it stands, it sits alongside Evil Judgement as an obscure Canadian picture that hits the right switches, but only on occasion