Category Archives: Slasher
Directed by: Colin Eggleston
Starring: PJ Soles, Kit Taylor, Grigor Taylor
Review by Luis Joaquín González
After watching so many modern slashers of late, I really felt the need to go back and check out an early-eighties piece. It’s interesting how the new-age entries can be so similar to the peak additions in one way, but there again, to the trained eye, they do, in effect, have striking differences. There’s something about the oldies that just sets them apart. The characters were so much easier to like and the fact that I grew up hunting them out across rivers deep and mountains high, means that they carry a certain amount of nostalgia. They’re also cheesy as hell…
This particular picture is an interesting example when it comes to discussing dates, because it was shot in 1983, completed in 84, but sat on a shelf until 1991. That makes it a golden-age slasher that was released during ‘the lost years’ and barely made a ripple upon genre fans. It’s from Colin Eggleston, a prolific horror auteur, who already has two titles listed on a SLASH above: the first of the five Stage Frights and also Cassandra from 1986. Eggleston has never hid the fact that he’s a huge fan of Carpenter’s Halloween and here he cast a recognised face from that picture, P.J Soles, as his heroine. Whilst Innocent Prey is certainly a slasher movie, it boasts something of a unique structure that allows it to stand apart…
Soles plays Cathy, a Dallas based woman who is married to a business man from New Zealand. Thinking that her husband may be betraying her trust, she follows him one night to a hotel, where she looks on through a window whilst he sleeps with and then murders a young prostitute. After helping the authorities to capture him, she is terrified to learn that he has escaped his asylum and is heading back to take revenge. Cathy flees the country to her friend in Australia, however she soon realises that she’s jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire…
I recall writing that Colin Eggleston’s Cassandra stood out as an intriguing slasher flick due to its creative photography and bundles of suspense. Innocent Prey offers more of the same slick direction in places and manages to make a lot more out of its premise than I assumed would be possible. Unlike Cassandra and Stage Fright before it, Prey is not a typical genre entry. We don’t get either a masked killer or a whodunit angle. Instead it offers a synopsis that’s a lot more authentic; and as much intriguing as it is diverse. Cathy’s husband is the lead antagonist and despite being given an identity of sort, he carries a similar maniacal aura to that of Michael Myers. He’s sadistically evil and imposes himself on the screen with impeccable menace. When his unfortunate wife escapes to Australia after his initial rampage, she meets another loon that’s equally as murderous, but different in his approach and MO. The fact that she hotfoots it from one nutjob and immediately bumps into another means that she could well be the most unfortunate final girl in the whole history of slasher films.
It’s indeed interesting that Innocent Prey switches location and antagonist halfway through the shoot and it does give the film an extra layer of uniqueness. To be frank, the second killer has less of an impact than Cathy’s husband and I wonder if it might have played better if the story had focussed solely on the initial villain and his plan of revenge. I can’t but help wonder if there may be a production based reason as to why the change was necessary? Would this explain the delayed release? It’d be interesting to know for sure, because it’s hard to ascertain why the film didn’t secure immediate distribution. Unlike Cassandra, Prey is superbly acted and Brian May’s intense operatic score compliments Eggleston’s expertise with shadow play immaculately. Soles is convincing as the unfortunate final girl, but despite the quality of her acting, I was left feeling that she wasn’t particularly approachable. Perhaps she should have followed in the footsteps of her school friend Laurie Strode, from her most famous film.
When all’s said and done though, Innocent Prey delivers enough to remain worth a look. It’s not quite a classic, but it generates some spooky moments and a riveting finale. There’s some suspense and violence when the killer strikes, an incredibly cheesy final scene and hell, they even cast Debi Sue Voorhees (topless.) Colin Eggleston may not be as celebrated as other genre names, but his films are fairly underrated and deserve to be seen. This one’s debatably his best.
Click: The Calendar Girl Killer 1989
Directed by: Joe Stewart, Ross Hagen
Starring: Ross Hagen, Gregory Scott Cummins, Troy Donahue
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I picked up a VHS copy of Click The Calendar Girl Killer for $1 on Amazon back in the early noughties and I’ve wanted to post a review of it for ages, because it is indeed something of a slasher obscurity. I’ve never managed to get past the thirty-minute mark in previous attempts at watching, but I was determined to make a go of it this time around after receiving an enquiry from one of you lovely peeps via my Facebook page.
As far as I could make out, it leisurely tells the tale of an up and coming fashion photographer that enjoys snapping hot chicas in bizarre situations. Think Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Chicks that love Guns’ short from Jackie Brown and it should give you an idea of his artistic tendencies. Anyway, he invites a group of hopefuls away to a spot in the wilderness to complete an important shoot, but it seems there’s a psychopathic drag-queen-masked-killer on the loose that is determined to ruin the party.
This time last year, pretty much everyone I knew was getting soaked from the #icebucketchallenge phenomenon, which was a great idea to raise some funds for good causes. I’m thinking of launching my own charitable event soon, with the task being, ‘Try watching Click: The Calendar Girl Killer for a whole hour without: yawning, checking your phone, fast-forwarding or poking your eyes out with cocktail sticks.’ I tell you, it’s nigh on impossible. The film rolls through its first sixty-minutes like a collection of personal videos from a weirdo’s iPhone gallery. Characters appear and then disappear at the drop of a hat and scenes merge together in a row without a lick of sense between them. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a runtime that’s so incomprehensibly disjointed and it makes for a tiresome viewing experience. The girl that I was watching it with was so disgruntled that she begged me to turn it off and put on something else. For the love of my a SLASH above readers, I continued (alone), and I’m not sure if even I’ve recovered yet.
If there was an award for the length of time it takes for a killer to turn up in a slasher movie, Click would be in the running to win hands-down. After an hour of mindless tedium, the pace does perk up slightly when the maniac (dressed in drag) begins slicing his way through the models and their beaus. There’s one ok-ish death scene in a bath tub, but it barely makes up for the boredom that we’ve suffered whilst getting there. Many sites have this flick listed as a thriller but it’s definitely a slasher movie. It includes everything from a (very bad) whodunit aspect to heavy breath POVs and a smidgen of nudity.
Like many of its eighties genre buddies, Click suffered one hell of a bemusing development, which certainly aided in the creation of the barely logical structure that we’re left with today. I have found out that the project was pitched around to agencies as a Union backed feature and a cast was hired under the impression that their contracts were secured by a regulatory body. When the SAG became aware seventeen-days into the shoot that there actually wasn’t any Union supporting the production, they pulled most of their members from the site, which left a host of scenes unfinished. This of course explains the disappearance of so many characters without rhyme or reason. Now I’m only speculating, but after the loss of those experienced faces, it could be that Hagen threatened to walk too unless he could take more of a lead on the development. The credits list him as producer, co-screenwriter (there’s ‘six’ of them) and co-director and the film does play like something of a vanity product for the veteran actor. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because he delivers an interesting performance, but it does feel like it’s entirely focussed on him and him only.
There are rumours rumbling around the internet that former Friday the 13th babe Juliette Cummings gave up on horror movies after such an unsettling experience with this production. I’ve also read an interview within which she states that she doesn’t know anything about Click: The Calendar Girl Killer and her scenes were taken from a clip show for the promotional reel of a mid-eighties feature that she thought nothing became of. It’s her belief that someone purchased those parts that she’d completed previously and then spliced them into the current version of this feature. She went on to say, “Amazing! You can shoot something and never know what it’s going to be used for!” Her statement creates more questions than it does answers, because she is clearly seen in scenes with Hagen, another Friday the 13th babe: Susan Jennifer Sullivan, and co-star Gregory Scott Cummins (from Hack-O-Lantern fame). This can only mean either that: a) She was extremely bitter to the crew behind Click (She was left uncredited), so when she said she had no idea about its existence, that wasn’t the truth. Or b) It’s a film that was shot in about 1985 then left in a vault until some new footage was spliced in towards the end of the decade and it was patched up and released as is. I mean that certainly explains the mess that we’re left with, but I’ve searched and searched on the Internet and that’s all the information that I could uncover. I was having an email conversation with someone who was involved with the film, but they didn’t respond when I asked about the date that it was shot. So the mystery remains open to interpretation
What we’re left with is a jumbled picture that there’s really no reason for anyone to sit through. The potential was certainly there for an eighties cheese-fest, what with all those models and mullets, but aside from a couple of energetic performances, it’s mostly a boring knot of badness that’s impossible to enjoy. It’s probably the most mixed-up slasher that I’ve ever sat through and that really is saying something.
Stage Fright 2015
aka The Gallows
Directed by: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing
Starring: Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I was just thinking, it’s been a whole two-weeks since I reviewed a film called Stage Fright; I might be getting withdrawal symptoms… So here we have the most recent of the five identically titled stalk and slash movies and it is something of a crossbreed of styles that we need to discuss. I first heard about this project in 2011, when I read an article that described it as a cross between Friday the 13th and Candyman. A trailer soon followed that stated an October 2012 release date and included a host of shots that I don’t recall appearing in the version, now titled as The Gallows, that I saw last night at the cinema. I could find very little information regarding the name change and all pages/sites that hosted the original trailer have been deleted. It’s lucky that I kept a copy, which I’ve attached to this post so you can see the differences for yourself. It’s been reported that the DVD/Blue-Ray release will include a lot of the deleted scenes, so I’ll be looking forward to finding out via a commentary what it was that led to such drastic re-modelling tactics? I wonder if it had anything to do with the release of the musical Stage Fright that may have been the first to successfully copyright that title…?
Since The Blair Witch Project made a splash back in 1999, horror has been awash with found footage ghost stories. Paranormal Activity is likely the most recognised of these, but a quick glance at any horror playlist will find countless films with similar concepts. Supernatural slashers are nothing new but aside from a couple of half-hearted additions (Dead of Nite), we haven’t really had a true combination of that style and the slasher genre… Until now. I guess that you could call it the first ‘Paranormal Slasher’.
A school in a small town is going to relaunch a play called The Gallows after twenty-two years. The show has a haunted history, because the last time that some students attempted to open it, a youngster named Charlie Grimille was killed by hanging on stage. The accident was caught on camera, but the investigation is still open due to some suspicious circumstances. A new generation of actors that are playing key parts in the second production decide to break into the theatre and stay there for the night. Little do they know that some things are best left alone…?
Ok, so the first question that I need to answer for you is whether The Gallows is actually slasher-tastic enough to be on the right website here. Well, I’m happy to confirm that it is most definitely a stalk and slash flick, but it’s one with a few supernatural flourishes. It has the whole House on Sorority Row/I Know What You Did Last Summer ‘revenge for a fateful event from the past’ thing going on, which is a key ingredient of a host of genre entries. It’s also worth noting that Charlie Grimille is a typical antagonist with a hulking frame and Burlap Sack-type hangman’s mask. I have always had a problem with a Nightmare on Elm Street being classed as a standard slasher movie because its methods of slaughter are too fantastical and therefore far removed from the original source code: Psycho/Giallos. Here, the victims are killed by a noose, which is a far less outlandish gimmick.
When the psycho makes his presence known, the film becomes extremely tense as the four teens are left wandering the dark corridors of the theatre and desperately trying to discover an exit. Travis Cluff does a superb job of realising the panic of being trapped inside with an unknown intruder and an adept use of soundbites and shadows means that we are constantly left uneasy about what could happen next. Another sign that this is a slasher movie is the placement of the hulking killer, because he manages to convey the Michael Myers-alike ‘appear in the background’ trick extremely well. I guess that the only true ghostly ingredients are the inclusion of unexplained sounds and a TV and VCR that plays footage of the initial accident with no connected power.
Whilst the handheld camera approach works to provide a few moments of tension and an incredibly effective late jump-scare, it has to be said that the movie might have played much better if it had been shot like a more standard third-person horror. The story was unoriginal but good-enough, the boogeyman was scary and the location was immense; so one can only wonder how it might have turned out if completed differently. I was speaking recently with a SLASH abover Brandon who agreed with my review of Gutterballs. What I said was that the characters are so deplorable that you don’t really care what happens to them and therefore are left without anyone to root for. The main camera operator here, a guy by the name of Ryan, is also a jerk, which means he ruins the opening part of the movie and dominates your reaction to the fate of other players. It’s not the fault of the actor, who alongside the rest, did what was expected of him. It’s just hard to understand what the screenwriters had in mind when they were dreaming up his personality.
With that said, after an intro that struggles to sustain interest, The Gallows becomes a scary and unique horror movie and one that I’m glad to have seen in the cinema. We watch these films to be scared and entertained and Cluff’s picture does exactly that. The missing footage may explain some of the parts that are slightly unclear (it’s hinted that you should not mention Charlie’s name in a Candyman type way, but not really clarified) and I am actually looking forward to seeing a director’s cut of the feature. Until then, this copy has enough to be worth checking out…
Directed by: Stevan Mena
Starring: R. Brandon Johnson, Samantha Dark, Heather Magee
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Ok, so I’ve got a bit of a confession to make. The fact that I run a SLASH above and often post a plethora of the rarest entries here kind of gives the impression that I’ve seen them all, doesn’t it? Well, despite its reputation for being one of the most highly commended titles of the early noughties, I hadn’t watched Malevolence until last night. Shock! Horror! (I was going to mention that I haven’t viewed Haute Tension yet either but that’s enough surprises for one review ;))
Released initially as the mid-entry of a trilogy, Stevan Mena’s debut quickly became a fan favourite amongst collectors. A prequel hit shelves in 2010, called Bereavement, which further developed the background of Martin Bristol, the series’ villain. There’s currently a third chapter in production that looks set to be completed later this year. The photos of a killer in a Burlap Sack that I’d seen had led me to believe this was something of a Killer in the Woods/Friday the 13th rip off. I was startled to learn that it’s nothing of the sort…
After a typical genre opening (steadicam up to a house, a merciless killing), the film goes into Satan’s Blade territory with the unusual inclusion of a bank robbery. A group of down and outs pull off a daring heist that owes a damn site more to Reservoir Dogs than it perhaps should have, but manages to work well considering the restraints of the budget. After some tense twists and turns, the gang of thieves (and two hostages) end up stranded in an abandoned house. They soon learn that they are not alone, because they have entered the domain of a vicious killer who is intent on slaughtering them.
Of all the 311 reviews that I’ve posted here on the site, the one that splits readers the most is Tyler Tharpe’s Freak from 1996. I gave it a three-star rating and praised it’s method of story development and character driven plot. Many of you agreed, whilst some, quite blatantly, didn’t. It’s fair to say that this feature includes a lot more action than Tharpe’s slasher, but I did notice shades of the same slow-boiling and gritty approach. Aside from that slight similarity, I can’t think of another slasher movie that I can accurately compare with Malevolence. Sure, it has a handful of nods to Halloween (sound cues are almost cut and pasted) and a killer guise that resembles Jason Voorhees’ from Friday the 13th Part II, but aside from that it’s unlike anything that I’ve seen previously. During the first twenty minutes, a group of intriguing personalities are placed in engrossing scenarios that are shot creatively with sublime camera placement. The initial tale of criminals trying to pull off a score meant that we were only made aware that this was a horror film by the odd chime of a low chord and a growing undercurrent of dread. I could sense the kind of eerie peculiarity that is often found in Asian horror titles such as The Ring or Ju-on. It’s not that Mena was attempting to particularly mimic that style, but the grim aura of doom that surrounds characters that are untypical of slasher trademarks, creates a novel tone.
It could be said that the director takes some risks with his filmmaking style; – especially in the way he invests deeply in the background of his story. Thankfully, those risks just about pay off and the film rolls through a crescendo of moods to maintain the uniqueness. Humans have a morbid fascination with abandoned places, such as Prypriat for example, and Mena seems to recognise this by setting the majority of the horror in a large dilapidated farmhouse. The scenes where the camera probes the vacant rooms and picks up on discarded objects from past memories are really quite creepy. He compliments this distinctive imagery with a smart use of sharp sounds and lighting. Whilst there isn’t really a stand-out score, our senses are kept constantly alert by the squawk of a crow or the sudden impact of bush crickets wurring from the surrounding wildlife. I’ve seen scattered comments about the lack of killings and it’s true that there are very few, but the couple that we are given are handled surprisingly well. Mena pays tribute to Carpenter’s methodology of the background placement of his silently ominous antagonist and the killer looks great in what can best be described as an ‘almost Burlap Sack.’
The plot point of having criminals on the run brought to mind Hitchcock’s Psycho and the film works along the same lines of constantly re-adjusting your evaluations. If I had any complaint at all, it would be that much like Freak, there is a certain level of attention needed to really enjoy the feature and gore hounds may grow frustrated with the amount of time it takes to get going. With that said, there’s so much that’s creatively delivered about the film that I could overlook the minor negatives and the shoddy-ish acting.
I had heard good things about Malevolence and to be honest I enjoyed it more than I was expecting to. It’s much easier to fill a film with nudity and gore than it is to provide craft. Mena delivers a slasher that is not only smartly put together and nicely shot, but it also tries something different and that makes it stand out.
Stage Fright 2005
Directed by: Rick Jordan
Starring: Craig Saslow, Christopher Wolfe, Clive Kennedy
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I got an email recently from one of my readers asking me to review Stage Fright. I immediately replied with the link to my write-up of Michele Soavi’s 1987 slasher spectacular. He replied only, ‘No, I’ve read that, I meant the other Stage Fright.’ So with that, I forwarded my thoughts on Colin Eggerton’s nude-fest from 1980, hoping that finally, I’d fulfilled the request. His response was almost identical, ‘No, that’s not the one I meant.’ I wrote back asking if he was referring to the stalk and slash musical from last year or the newest entry that’s currently playing in cinemas as The Gallows? His answer was something along the lines of, ‘The OTHER Stage Fright damn it.‘ This could have gone on forever, but I suddenly felt the urge to take a siesta. Of course, he was absolutely right.
There are five (or more?) Stage Frights that I know of and all of them were released at different stages of the cycle. In a way, you could use each as a marker to define the milestones of the genre’s lifespan. The first came out hot on the heels of Halloween, whilst Soavi’s hit was a rare slice of panache during the comedown of that boom. Rick Jordan’s is by far the most obscure of them all and was produced slap bang between the euphoria of Scream‘s rebirth and the period of creativity that we are currently witnessing. The fact that it’s so tough to track down a copy somewhat heightens its allure.
A crew that are desperately working on an amateur production of Hamlet, come into some luck when they secure a large theatre in order to rehearse and prepare for their show. Despite its location and classic feel, the complex was once the sight of a gruesome massacre and the reputation has lingered ever since. As soon as the group begin to practice, an unseen killer starts bumping off the cast members one by one. Who could be behind the murders?
So this one starts rather weirdly for a slasher in as much as it takes about twenty-minutes to introduce any indications that it’s even a horror film. We get to meet a group of characters who seem to argue and jest without adding any depth to their characterisations at all. There’s an English producer who is ruthless and stereotypically money hungry, a director that demands respect for past achievements that no one seems to acknowledge and an author who is infuriated at the way the others are making a mockery of Shakespeare’s work. Chuck in a couple of hot chicas and three guys that are much of a muchness and all the ingredients were there for a decent slasher romp.
A decent slasher romp is not really what we get, but after an impossibly long opening, the pace does pick up somewhat when the killings start. The group split up to begin looking for an open exit (the doors were locked by a mysterious force) and then they are picked off by the psycho in imaginative, if gore-free, ways. What I guess is slightly different about Stage Fright is that it kind of comes full-circle when the killer reveals himself and is defeated in a sword fight (?). Then another maniac turns up – a supernatural one (?) – and we start again almost from scratch! Our remaining two players are stalked by the supernatural guy (who doesn’t seem to have any mystical powers of note) until he is stopped by exactly the same method that we saw in a popular Australian slasher from five-years earlier. It almost as if they completed the movie and then bolted on some extra scenes when they realised that the running time was just over an hour. Either that or the screenwriter was overly ambitious and wanted to include a bit of everything? Who knows…
It could be said that coincidentally, this Stage Fright is a sum of parts of all of the others. The whole whodunit backstory was memorable of Eggerton’s early entry. Those supernatural ingredients could be considered similar to Stage Fright aka ‘The Gallows that’s currently playing in cinemas. There’s a lot of dialogue based around the fear of the opening day that reminded me of the musical Stage Fright, and sitting all the corpses in chairs on the stage was directly copy and pasted from Soavi’s classic. I guess I am just waffling. So to cut a over-long review short, Stage Fright is a bit of a bare bones slasher and lacks gloss, grace, style and grit. It started really badly, but picked up briefly enough during the mid-section to keep me entertained. Probably not worth the effort of hunting down, but you won’t be too disappointed if you come across it cheap…
Cheerleader Camp: To The Death 2014
Directed by: Dustin Ferguson
Starring: Jarad Allen, Jennifer Banko, Karrie Bauman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So, a killer stalking cheerleaders that are training in some remote woodland in a film called Cheerleader Camp. Have we seen that before? I don’t know anymore… I’m going back to sleep.
Yes so here we have another extremely rare one from director Dustin Ferguson, the guy who also gave us Doll Killer, which I’ll review for you soon. In many ways, Ferguson reminds me of Gary Whitson, because his films are generally lowest of the low in terms of budget, but tick the boxes in terms of genre recognition and fun. Whitson has done a fair bit in his career, but nothing outshines the accomplishment of discovering the beautiful Tina Krause. Could Ferguson go on to achieve something similar?
A year ago, five cheerleaders were horribly mutilated and burned to death by an unknown someone replacing the water source to a sprinkler hose with sulphuric acid. Now, a group of girls return to the same site to prepare for the regional dance off for the first time since that fateful accident. Amongst them is Tanya, a youngster who was replaced on the last event due to her being ill. Living with the guilt that she escaped certain demise, she becomes a mother figure to the more sensitive members of the troupe and stands up to the lead bully. Almost as soon as they arrive though, their coach wanders off into the night and is seemingly slaughtered by a masked killer. Stranded with no contact with the outside world, the girls have to overcome their differences and do battle with the psychopathic assailant.
Cheerleader Camp kicks off with the aforementioned acid/sprinkler sequence, which despite not being delivered as well as it could have, still provides a gruesome shock. There’s perhaps nothing more frightening than the thought of having a molten liquid thrown in to your face and Ferguson tops it off with some tacky gore to boot. After an impressive credit sequence (the film has an awesome soundtrack), we meet the teenagers that will narrate us through the synopsis. It’s here that Camp somewhat loses some credibility, which is mainly because of two things. Firstly, the acting is extremely erratic and seems to descend into the depths of absurdity every time something happens that requires emotion. Secondly – and perhaps most importantly – the audio and clarity of the picture jumps from bad to abysmal at the drop of a hat.
There was a scene early on that saw Tanya explain her nervous behaviour on the trip. The dialogue was so difficult to hear and comprehend that I turned the volume on my TV up to 45. This was absolutely fine until the music kicked in and deafened everyone within a 200-yard radius. It’s strange because at times, Camp looks to have been comfortably produced, but then every now and then we are given lengthy set-ups that look to have been filmed on an old-skool Nokia. I guess in a way that my opinion of the film’s visual and audible quality could be re-used to describe the entire movie. We get a couple of genuinely out-there nightmare sequences and some creative camera placements that show panache from the director. These few moments of credibility though are often diluted by something unnecessarily inept that appears just moments after.
Overall, it’s fair to say that Camp achieves the feat of paying tribute to some of the genre’s lesser-known titles superbly. I’m sure that I’m not the only one that’s tired of the amount of new-age entries that are so desperate to prove that they’ve seen more than one eighties-slasher that they broadcast each tribute in neon lights. It reminds me of those short fifty-year olds that buy a Ferrari to compensate for their insecurities (party sausage??). Well in Cheerleader Camp, the homages are more under-played and the Jeep (similar to the one from the first Friday the 13th), a plunger murder (Bikini Island) and the killer’s guise (Girl’s Nite Out) are much more refined. In fact the only obvious acknowledgement was a verbal nod to Cropsy from The Burning. Oh and talking of the killer’s guise, here we have one of the best. A maniac in a Panda suit… Brilliant! I was somewhat surprised that there was no featured nudity, but Karrie Bauman, who played Sophia, certainly provided some eye-candy.
Recently, I was in my town centre in desperate need of some Wagamama action. My heart sunk when I noticed that my local chain was closed for refurbishment. Highly disgruntled, I headed off to buy a pack of Japanese noodles from Tesco, which was only a cheap compensation. Cheerleader Camp is very similar, because it’s an extreme budget example of the parts of these films that we adore. Sure, it’s certainly not going to win any awards, but it does offer some pretty fun scenarios. El cheapo fun for sure, but fun all the same…
The Initiation 1984
Directed by: Larry Stewart
Starring: Daphne Zuniga, Clu Gulager, Vera Miles
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Although it’s fantastic for avid collectors like myself that the slasher genre was so heavily populated during its two lengthy runs, it perhaps made it harder for some titles to achieve the recognition that they deserved. Whilst it’s generally acknowledged that Friday the 13th and the Halloween series were the most memorable genre outings from the overkill period of the eighties, many of their cousins from that time were deserving of further recognition.
The likes of My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday to Me, Prom Night, Maniac, The Prowler and Intruder are often mentioned as the ‘second-tier’ of the category and have achieved cult status and a legacy in their own right. Unfortunately that means movies such as Hell Night, Just Before Dawn and Madman have been somewhat unfairly overlooked.
If judged solely on its merits as a motion picture, then The Initiation doesn’t even sit amongst the latter titles that I mentioned above. It does however boast an undeniably alluring sheen, which is impossible to ignore. Sure, it’s cheesy as hell; but it nicely paced, slickly produced, atmospheric and has its share of decent moments. It’s not a view that is shared by everybody, but personally I like the movie and think it’s somewhat under-valued.
Kelly Fairchild is a pledge at her local college and as the new term draws near, she learns that she has to participate in the annual prank-filled Initiation in order to earn the respect of her senior sorority sisters. This year, the youngster and three of her friends have been tasked with stealing the uniform of the security guard that patrols the local mall after hours. Fortunately for the youngsters, the shopping centre is owned by Kelly’s father, Dwight, who is somewhat of a local entrepreneur. Unbeknownst to the group, they have picked a time when a recently escaped lunatic is also hiding in the dimly lighted complex and before long the girls are being stalked and systematically slaughtered by an unseen assassin.
There are two key reasons as to why Halloween is widely regarded as the best and the most respectable of all the early eighties genre entries. Firstly, John Carpenter is an extremely talented director and he developed a motion picture that displays a pure undertanding of horror as a genre and tone. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, his movie was made purely with the inspiration to do something different. This contrasts completely with what I believe to be the motivation behind titles like The Initiation, which was simply to cash in on the stalk and slash craze that had swept the early part of the decade. Things move swiftly in cinema and the fact that a quick profit was all that most producers were looking for from the genre meant that film-makers were never given enough time to indulge in their cinematic visions.
There’s no hiding the fact that money was the key factor behind the production of TV director Larry Stewart’s one and only flick. In fairness though, he looks to have been given the space and freedom to develop the project as he had initially intended, which means that we the audience benefit from an entry that never feels pressured.
Cinematically, The Initiation is a film of two halves and starts rather flatly with nothing to note from Stewart’s direction. It’s only when the victims are locked in the mall with the maniac killer that he gets the chance to flex his creative muscle and deliver some taut suspense and engaging set pieces. He has a ball with the spacious locations and pulls off some cat and mouse suspense during the second half of the runtime, which turns the feature into an explosive cocktail of slasher clichés and pacey scenarios.
The cast remain cheesy throughout, but do enough to allow the audience to warm to them. All eyes are on Daphne Zuniga in her first real film role (if you ignore her brief cameo as ‘the girl that gets gruesomely squished by a car’ in The Dorm that Dripped Blood), but she does precious little to separate herself from the rest of the junior hopefuls. It’s the impressive script that really steals the limelight here and very few can honestly admit that they expected the Scooby-Doo twist conclusion.
Yes, it could be argued that this is a remake (rip off?) of another successful early eighties slasher, which I can’t mention without ruining the crux of the plot. That’s hardly a bad thing however and The Initiation has just about enough in its locker to succeed on its own merit. Blood hounds may be disappointed with the lack of any extreme gore, but those looking for a fun slice of slasher hokum will certainly find enough to get their teeth into.
All in all, I liked the Initiation. It is a reminder of all that was good about early-eighties splatter flicks and unlike many of its genre cousins, it also packs a double fisted punch to your ocular senses. The acting is hilariously campy, but the good points, such as the impressively strong pacing, just about outweigh the bad.
Final Girl √√√
aka La Casa Del Terror
Directed by: John Wintergate
Starring: John Wintergate, Kalassu Kay, Lindsay Freeman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Move over Nail Gun Massacre, make way Last Slumber Party and step aside Night Ripper… There’s a new kid in town… Boarding House is the new contender for king of the trash-video crown. This is a movie so criminally rubbish that you’ll believe that you’ve died and been deported to bad movie hell. I Learnt of its existence from The Terror Trap and then looked it up on the IMDB, where I read various write-ups that described the inadvertent humour and jaw dropping cheesy horror. I immediately set about buying a copy and two weeks later, here’s what I found…
It begins with a prologue showing us murders that have plagued ‘The Hoffman House’. A guy is pushed into a swimming pool, which bizarrely kills him. Another stranger is seen pulling out his intestines and an unseen someone with a black glove forces a woman (that really doesn’t seem too concerned) to hang herself. These are all intercut with a computer screen that shows us in text that every person that has ever so much as entered this abode has ended up either hung, drawn, quartered or has suffered some other gruesome fate. So can you guess who will be the next occupants to move in to the mansion and meet their doom? Why of course you can – it’s a randy telekinetic guy and a troupe of beaming ‘hotties’ with a tonne of mascara but not a trace of common sense between them.
This was the first horror movie to be shot on video, which is a big up yours to Christopher Lewis who made the belated claim that Blood Cult, his semi-slasher effort from three years after, was the first entry of that kind. Funnily enough, this one actually had a theatre run, but I have no idea about its box office successes. I can only guess that it was hardly a massive hit.
Surprisingly, to all intents and purposes, Boarding House is not your typical hack and slasher. Director John Wintergate has chucked in a neat dose of outer-body mayhem, which means that the killer can eliminate the useless thespians without being anywhere near them at the time. This gives us the chance to see the drama school dropouts attempting to look as if they’ve suddenly been possessed by a mysterious hellish agony, without knowing where the hell it’s come from. Cue plenty of unconvincing facial expressions and stilted cries as the cast choke and pull off their faces whilst trying to act like they’re completely unaware why they’re doing it. In one particular scene, our heroine screams consistently for about two minutes while she suffers (yet) another of her ‘terrifying’ nightmares, which I think reached double figures before the final credits rolled. I am not sure what was more effected, my eardrums or her throat after that yelling marathon.
The ‘star’ of the movie, Hank Adly (a guy who looks like Rod Stewart might after 12 grams of coke), provided bucket loads of inadvertent humour. I loved the bit where he made a bar of soap fly around his bathtub to show off his telekinetic abilities and impress the on looking bunnies. There’s certainly plenty of nonsensical activity to bring a smile to the lips to those who cherish those classic bad movie moments. The final scene is particularly hilarious, as the killer and two survivors stand off for a telekinetic battle. Staged like a showdown from a Sergio Leone movie, the three gather in a circle and simultaneously gurn as they each try to inflict psychic pain on one another. It’s hard to give you a description that would do justice to the extent of the silliness, but trust me – it’s worth its weight in comedy gold. All of the female cast members manage to whip off their underwear at one point or another and there’s just enough exploitation to satisfy eighties trash fans.
Interestingly enough, Boarding House was something of a first, because it included a warning for viewers of a weaker disposition that would let us know when something horrific was about to happen. Suddenly, the screen comes alive in a maze of colours and that’s when we the audience know that someone is going to get dismembered. I must admit that this was a novel idea if we were about to sit down and watch a Lucio Fulci marathon. I’m not exaggerating my claim however when I state that my four-year-old daughter can create more realistic body parts with her Play Doh kit. This is especially evident in the ‘intestine ripping’ scene, which is clearly an actor pulling corn-syrup coated sausages from the gap in his shirt. Maybe they could have featured a warning before every bad movie moment? In fact they could have just placed an ‘amateur morons at work’ notice before the first credit sequence? Imagine the savings on budget!
Boarding House IS as mind numbingly atrocious as you had probably expected it to be. Even the back cover blurb has NO relevance whatsoever to the movie and I can’t forget to mention the wonderful tagline that promises intrigue, suspicion and a sinister environment (yeah right!). Oh and before I go, I’ll leave you with a quote from the female lead singer of ’33 and a third’ – The heavy metal band that ‘entertain’ the party at the film’s climax. “You say you want a rock romance, you’ve been begging just to get in my pants!” And with that I shall leave you to explore for yourselves…
Final Girl √
School Killer 2001
aka El Vigalante
Directed by: David DeCoteau
Starring: Paul Naschy, Carlos Fuentes, Zoe Berriatúa
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Spanish people, in general, are notorious for doing things slightly differently from everybody else. It’s an unwritten rule for us that we take a standard task and add our own slant on it, whether it be for the better or for the worse. That’s why I wasn’t surprised that this post Scream inclusion to the stalk and slash cycle wasn’t by any means a run-of-the-mill genre entry.
El Vigilante or School Killer – as it’s known on these shores – was released with something of a buzz during the early noughties. This was due to the fact that it included a starring role for Paul Naschy who was Spain’s very own Christopher Lee. He was a former bodybuilder that stepped into Lon Chaney Jr’s shoes to portray ‘Wolfman’ Waldemar Daninsky in a script that he had penned for Hell’s Creatures (1968). He reprised the popular role for the series of sequels and became a horror icon by playing Dracula, The Mummy and even Jack the Ripper throughout the following decades. Perhaps the purest example of a fan dedicating his life to the genre that he adored, Naschy passed away in 2009 at the age of 75, leaving behind over a hundred movies.
It’s a shame that such a charismatic actor didn’t make more slasher films. With his hulking frame and imposing presence, he was perfect bogeyman material. His participation in the obscure El Lado Oscuro (2002), the Giallo, El asesino está entre los trece (1976), and this new-age stalk and slasher are the only examples that we have. The plot for School Killer seems fairly routine at first glance and involves a group of six kids heading off to a dilapidated school to spend a weekend exploring the creepy corridors. Upon arrival they notice that some lights are turning on and off by themselves and it seems that they’re far from alone. Soon after, they begin being stalked and slaughtered by the deranged groundskeeper. The strange thing is, he was supposed to have died many years ago…
I was having a chat recently with Haydn Watkins, co-author of the upcoming book Alone in the Dark: 80 years of stalk and slash. He agrees with my controversial theory that A Nightmare on Elm Street is a tad too supernatural to be a standard inclusion to the genre. If that’s the case though, how do I justify putting a film like this on a SLASH above? Well, whilst there are ghostly apparitions here and even jumps in the time/space continuum, the hulking maniac murders victims with methods more common to the standard template than Freddy’s subconscious fantasies. We get stabbings, slashing and a gruesome decapitation that allow us to be sure that this is on the right website.
Director Carlos Gil had been a successful assistant to Steven Spielberg on the original Indiana Jones trilogy. His experience is clearly evident here and he wraps the movie in a foggy blue tint of cinematography that works wonders in setting the tone of desolation. A large campus is used as the backdrop for the stalking scenarios and the darkened corridors isolate the players exceptionally. Naschy gives us a killer with a relentless brutality and although generally I prefer a strong silent antagonist, his delivery of the dialogue does add ruthlessness to his impact. Only a couple of the main cast members are clearly developed and the rest were pretty much interchangeable, but their jesting succeeded in convincing us that they were indeed a group of close friends. There are the supernatural flourishes that we don’t usually see in these movies, but they are more of an after-effect than a key ingredient and the inclusion of trademarks like the heavy breath POV, mean this is definitely a stalk and slasher. It is an authentic one for sure, but not so much as to push it outside of the category.
Whilst I certainly enjoyed School Killer and was impressed by the way it was conveyed, it shot itself in the foot somewhat with that age-old issue that plagues countless horror films. Our group of youngsters had various opportunities to escape the site and save themselves or get help, but the more that they bizarrely chose not to, the sillier the whole thing began to look. Whilst the script did try to explain away their peculiar indecision, each explanation became more and more farcical and it had a huge effect on the believability of the story. For example, the troupe learn early on that the tyres on their car have been slashed, which would make the average everyday Joe start sprinting until their legs buckled from exhaustion. These nitwits however decide to return back inside the complex and wait around until it’s their turn to get butchered. I am hesitant to call this lazy scripting, but it certainly should have been handled more creatively. I also felt that the film would have played better with a more suitable score, but it’s impossible to say whether this was down to a small-ish budget.
There’s a lot about School Killer that I really liked. It’s suspenseful, creepy and original with a few Kevin Williamson-alike referential quips from the cast (Including a mention of Scream 3 funnily enough). We get a couple of hot chicas, an extremely convincing head-lopping and a downright creepy atmosphere. There’s just something that holds it back from touching on greatness, even if, it’s hard to ascertain exactly what that is. I guess that the film is best summed up by its conclusion, which is bold and ambitious but somewhat inadequately executed.
Final Scream 2001
aka Final Stab
Directed by: David DeCoteau
Starring: Jamie Gannon, Erinn Hayes, Melissa Martin
Review by Luis Joaquín González
The fact that I grew up collecting low budget slasher flicks meant that I was fully aware of what to expect when I walked into Blockbuster video in the early noughties and saw the cover of Final Scream amongst the horror titles for rent. It looked too cheap to be a sequel to Wes Craven’s groundbreaking series, but I’m sure that because it had been targeted to trick unsuspecting viewers into believing it was a fourth chapter in the franchise caused confusion amongst less-experienced viewers. I wonder how many people picked up a copy expecting to find Ghostface, Courtney Cox and Neve Campbell amongst the runtime? Talk about taking the biscuit with creative marketing.
Anyway, the film was a return to the stalk and slash sub-genre for horror regular David DeCoteau after his work on Dreamaniac during the eighties. Whilst D’maniac was something of a loose inclusion that pushed the boundaries of standard stalk and slash, Final Scream has no such identity issues and knows exactly what it wants to be.
A group of youngsters head off to a secluded mansion in order to pull a prank on two of their colleagues. At the same time, one of them wants to trial a set-up for a murder-mystery weekend so that she can open her own business. Before long, they’re all in on the idea that it’s only a prank until a real masked killer turns up and begins slicing his way through the stranded troupe
In 2001, the slasher genre was still very much in Kevin Williamson ‘know the rules’ territory. Whilst this picture smartly decides to avoid the parody angle that so many of its brethren chose to follow, the fact that it still mentions Friday the 13th means that it shows a similar type of genre self-recognition. It opens with a scene that incorporates some stylish lighting and sharp flourishes to set a sleek tone. Decoteau’s trademark of replacing the typical amount of bra-less chicas with topless males is showcased almost immediately in an early shower scene. In fact, there’s only one female victim that I remember throughout the entire movie and the rest are muscle bound jocks.
After the obligatory fumble through the development of a group of cardboard characters, the killings start fairly rapidly. Although there isn’t really any gore or hint that there will be, the focus on the mystery and a few taut stalking scenarios deliver a smidgen of suspense. The killer looks creepy in a mask not too dissimilar to that of Blood Slaughter Massacre or Small Town Massacre and the fact that there is quite a huge body count means that we never feel bored by what’s going on. Melissa Martin does a good job as the self-centred hostess and if we have to compare the performances with those of DeCoteau’s prior work, he had definitely sharpened his pencil when it came to subtracting a believable level of dramatics from his cast. He also directs with polish and some neat camera angles, but the fact that almost every victim uses the age-old ‘hey I know it’s you out there, stop fooling around’ chestnut, shows obvious repetition and a lack of creativity from the screenwriter. It’s a shame that the peeps that dreamed up the scandalous title weren’t allowed to get involved with the dialogue in the script. I’m sure they’d have added a lot more controversy ;)
I must admit that the idea of a murder-mystery weekend did remind me of 1986’s April Fools Day, but DeCoteau doesn’t explore that plot angle too much and it ends up more of a typical slasher by the numbers synopsis. There is a revenge backstory that unearths itself as the picture flows, but for something so simple to execute it is bewildering how DeCoteau allows it to become so convoluted. It results in a couple of plot twists that make zero sense upon revelation and are easy enough to guess anyway. Still, there is some excitement as the victims are slaughtered by the loon and the revelation scene smothers itself in an equal share of ineptitude and cheesy fun.
Final Scream is a standard stalk and slasher that does deliver the odd thrill, but it’s more bland than it is bouncy. It steps close to being a one-star movie, but the fact that it is easy on the eye and fairly watchable for the most part, means that it just about scrapes the two stars I’ve given it below. It reminds me of the recent records of Enrique Iglesias; as in, gone are the new-wave chimes of originality, but you kind of get exactly what you were expecting. So I doubt you’ll shout, ‘Baby I like it’ and it won’t ‘Be your Hero’ but at least you won’t feel that you need to ‘Escape’ – (Boom Boom, I’m here all week)) ;)
Killer Guise: √√√√