Category Archives: Slasher
Directed by: Don Gronquist
Starring: Laurel Munson, Janet Penner, Sara Ansley
Review by Luis Joaquín González
In these recent times of rapid action cuts and CGI overloads, slow boiling thrillers have lost some their allure amongst audiences. I always try to value craft over excess, but recently I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds again and noticed I was losing focus during the lengthy character development parts. It’s strange, because I loved that movie so much when I was growing up.
This fairly intriguing genre entry grabbed a slice of notoriety because it was banned in the United Kingdom and quickly added to the video nasty list upon its release in 1982. With only four on-screen killings during the seventy-two minute runtime, nowadays it’s hard to see what the BBFC found so offensive. It’s been billed most places as more of a psychological chiller than an out and out stalk and slasher, so I promised myself to be extra patient when watching it unfold.
Three young girls that are on their way to a Jazz concert, crash their car in a rainstorm and wake up stranded in a large mansion. Even though everything seems comfortable at first, it soon becomes apparent that there’s a local killer on the loose and the girls have to fight to survive.
Director Don Gronquist has said that his sole ambition throughout his life had been to make a feature film. His first attempt, a serial killer/crime drama based on Charles Starkweather’s exploits, wasn’t picked up until eight-years after its 1973 production date. He didn’t let this deter him and Unhinged proved to be a lot more attractive to relevant suitors due to the boom of the slasher genre. Costing only $100,000 to produce, the film is a mix of Halloween and Psycho that coincidentally results in a blend that’s a lot like The Unseen. The early shots of a car heading along a winding road brought to mind The Shinning, which I also believe played a part in the ambition behind the project.
In terms of the influences taken from Carpenter’s classic, Gronquist pulls off some generally effective heavy-breath POV shots and a strong utilisation of sound to unsettle viewers. Jon Newton’s brooding score works wonders in maintaining an atmosphere and lesser scenes come alive solely because of the striking audio accompaniment. Dressed in a rain-mac, the killer strikes with unpredictability and each murder is brutal and ruthless. If you’re expecting bundles of gore because of the video nasty status, you’ll be disappointed, but there’s something unsettling about the way the killings are staged. Tension is brought from a complex mystery and a claustrophobic feeling that the girls are truly stranded in the wilderness. Building a creepy environment is not something all can achieve, but the unusual characters and (again) that frantic score really do wonders in maintaining the menace.
Whilst there can be no greater sources of inspiration than Hitchcock, Carpenter and Kubrick; as a director, Gronquist doesn’t come close to achieving that level of artistry. Unhinged is shot rather flatly, and rarely tries anything audacious. Outside of the impressive steadi-cam moments, the camera always seems to abide by the safest option and this has a noticeable effect on the film’s energy. Some of the most amateur editing that I can remember certainly doesn’t help matters and it’s surprising that this wasn’t picked up upon before release. We’ll see a shot of an open doorway for three-seconds before someone walks through or a sequence will just stop and fade to black awkwardly. This also plays havoc with the story’s timeline, because I couldn’t keep track of whether minutes or hours had passed between one part and the next. Whilst it wold be fair to call Gronquist’s work ‘uninspired’, it deserved a lot better than how his editors made it look.
I called The Unhinged intriguing, and I really believe that it is. The plot concludes with a twist that I didn’t mention so as not to ruin, and it provides moments that are generally chilling. The performances are poor and the technical ability shoddy, at best. Despite that, it remains worth a look because it is so – what’s that word again? – Oh yes, intriguing. I prefer horror films develop an atmosphere and even if the pace does drop here and there, I actually quite liked it.
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √
Just Before Dawn 1981
Directed by: Jeff Lieberman
Starring: Mike Kellin, Chris Lemmon, Gregg Henry
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Being a collector of slasher movies during the eighties was a unique and lonely hobby. Long before there were sites like Hysteria Lives or even the IMDB, contacting other people that understood or shared this passion was an extremely difficult task. I grew up desperately hoping to meet someone who carried the same obsession, but the closest I ever came was a guy that owned a second hand book shop in Bromley-By-Bow. The film I had been searching for at that time was Graduation Day and he was the only person I’d spoken to that knew it existed. He was adamant in his advice that I could certainly live without it, but the more he tried to convince me, the more I wanted to track it down.
In hindsight, I guess you could say that he was right about Herb Freed’s cheesy throwaway, so I had high expectations for the one slasher that he guaranteed I’d enjoy, Just Before Dawn. It’s not hard to find positive reviews for Dawn, it’s amongst the most celebrated of the peak period titles. I remember reading a complimentary piece on The Terror Trap, which led me to put more effort into uncovering a copy, but strangely enough, this is the first time that I’ve sat down to watch it.
A van full of youngsters head up into a mountainous forest for a camping trip and the chance to spend some time together. Almost as soon as they arrive, they meet a strangely deranged local who warns them of a demon that lurks in the mountains. Not letting his rants ruin their adventure, the troupe continue off on their trail. Little do they know that a psychopathic killer awaits them and they have no place to hide.
The cult success of Jeff Lieberman’s Squirm was what had attracted producer David Sheldon to hire him when he set about grabbing his slice of the slasher movie cash cake. Lieberman put together a brief script and an idea for a location, which changed numerous times before shooting began. It’s easy to see how well budgeted Dawn looks in comparison to some of its contemporaries and there’s no doubt that this helped to give the movie it’s thoroughbred reputation. Thanks to a stylish mix of brightly coloured and creatively planned cinematography, we get to experience the work of a director that’s brimming with confidence in his ability. Some of the shots of Silver Falls State Park as a backdrop are so gorgeous that the film feels almost like an advertisement to prospective campers.
Jeff Lieberman has stated recently that he was more inspired by Deliverance than any of the slasher movies that had been storming the box office around this time and it’s visible in what we see on the screen. Dawn doesn’t include lingering POV shots from a heavy breathing antagonist and it ignores the cliched approach for its final girl. Instead we get a group of interchangeable personalities that are given plenty of screentime, but offer nothing that we feel we can bond with. The best horror films climb inside your psyche and convey character actions that you recognise because they’re how you’d react if placed in a similar situation. Our heroine here never convinces that she’s deserving of our sympathy and seeing her climb a tree instead of fleeing her lumbering pursuer and putting on make-up once she’s escaped him makes her look peculiar and withdrawn. It’s almost as if the amount of effort they put into avoiding genre stereotypes left us with a script that forgot about the necessities of compelling drama. With no one from the cast list to root for, the amount of time it takes for the villain to put in an appearance does seem longer than it should have.
Backwoods hillbilly nuts are an ingredient that’s always fun to play with and Lieberman’s bogeyman is a fine example of a merciless assailant. In the opening, we get a gruesome machete impalement that leads us to believe that we could be in for a gory ride, but that early slaughter is by far the most graphic. It’s disappointing that we aren’t given more than a couple of brief bloody after-shots and Jonathan’s murder is ruined because we never really know how he was dispatched. Lieberman instead invests in some artful stalking scenarios where we are made aware that the killer could strike at any moment, but never sure when he will. These include a superb set-piece in a waterfall and a taut sequence that sees the maniac secretly hanging on to the back of the youngsters’ van as they drive into the wilderness. There’s a twist that I wish I wasn’t aware of before I watched the movie and it ends with an impressive tone that could almost be considered surreal.
Whilst Just Before Dawn is certainly amongst the classiest (and dare I say best) of the peak entries, there’s a fair bit that it could have done better. It’s stylishly directed and successful in its attempts to deliver a constant underscore of intimidation, but it’s a bit long-winded and doesn’t pack the punch that it took so long preparing. Stick Ginny Fields in place of the less than appealing final girl and it would have worked a whole lot better. Still, I must give praise for the slick production values and a wonderful soundtrack that gives us Blondie’s Heart of Glass and a terrific score from Brad Fiedel. I just felt that all the gloss couldn’t disguise the gaping hole in the story that a group of well-defined personalities would have fulfilled perfectly.
I have always believed that slasher flicks and especially those of the killer in the woods variety are the most terrifying scary movie, because they convey a concept that we know could really happen. Just Before Dawn understands these fears and brings them to life with some compelling suspense. It’s a slick and well-staged slasher that maintains an engrossing atmosphere. When it comes to killers on campsites though, its cousin from Camp Crystal Lake is still the one I enjoy the most…
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √√
Ripper: A Letter From Hell 2001
Directed by: John Eyres
Starring: A.J. Cook, Bruce Payne, Kelly Brook
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Being that I host a SLASH above, it’s fair to say that I’ve watched my share of films that definitely weren’t the best. A few of those though included enough for me to see that certain crew members had the talent for another shot at stardom. Whether it be a smart line of dialogue or a smoothly edited set-piece, a bad film doesn’t always mean that everyone involved is part of the bad-ness. There are a million things that can go wrong during a movie shoot and sometimes a person’s true ability can be concealed through no fault of their own.
John Eyres was responsible for 1987’s woeful killer priest slasher, Goodnight Godbless, and I have to say that seeing his name here didn’t fill me with confidence. I certainly don’t recall anything from that picture that made me think that Eyres’ skill was restrained by the mediocre budget. Still, I’m one of those that believes everyone deserves a second chance and so I’ve finally got round to checking out his follow-up, Ripper: A Letter From Hell.
A girl with a slight attitude problem decides to study criminology under an eccentric professor. She doesn’t get along too well with her classmates, but they become close after a vicious maniac begins to target the group and brutally murder them one by one. They soon discover that they share their initials with the victims of Jack the Ripper and it looks like he could be back from beyond the grave…
At just under two-hours, if Ripper had been of similar quality to its elder brother Godbless, we would have been in for a tiresome exercise in visual punishment. Thankfully, during the fourteen-year gap between those two entries, Eyres has learned a lot about the art of slick direction. In fact, the film launched with such an impressive amount of panache that I was left wondering if this was really the same guy. It shows us the conclusion of a set of killings that occurred sometime earlier in a dense forest. We get flashy cuts and intense camera tricks that build neat tension, even though we don’t know yet who or what we are witnessing. After a couple more fast-paced shocks, we learn that this was a unique way of introducing Molly, our central character. It seems that she was the lone survivor of the aforementioned massacre and she’s now relocated to restart her life and enrolled in a new university.
The next few parts that develop the players (and likely suspects) who will carry us through the runtime are amongst my favourite of the picture. They contain intelligent discussions on the characteristics of serial killers and are shot with intriguing movement that delivers a subtle underscoring of energy to the talk scenes. It’s nice to see that the writers have researched their subject-matter and also they’ve included an authentic slant on one of Scream’s major gimmicks. Whilst Kevin Williamson’s screenplay name-checked the likes of Tom Cruise and Richard Gere, here we get Ted Bundy, Albert DeSalvo and of course Jack the Ripper. The fact that Eyres has privately investigated the Jack the Ripper case for most of his adult life made him the perfect choice for this project. It’s easy to see that he felt he had a score to settle with the slasher genre.
Whilst Godbless owed a lot to John Carpenter’s Halloween, here it seems that Eyres has followed the path taken by Jamie Blanks’ Urban Legend. There are a lot of similarities in the way both films are staged, which I mean as a genuine compliment. The kill scenes are delivered with style and they create some memorable images, like when a freshly murdered corpse pours blood on to a girl’s white dress as she dances below. Another youngster gets rammed off a cliff by a truck that brought to mind the one used in Mirage, and whilst these murders may not be overtly gory, they are powerful due to their brutality. By the time the conclusion comes around, we end up in a tree-chopping factory (?) that really needed a visit from a health & safety expert in a hi-viz jacket. If it doesnt bother the authorities that there are deadly blades that spin around 24/7, perhaps the fact that it’s left totally unguarded will. This leads to a couple of taut chase sequences and a revelation that is highly ambiguous. This was apparently down to Eyres not havin enough budget left to deliver what he had initially intended. I am guessing that might also explain why such a smart story suddenly becomes disjointed in the final ten-minutes.
The cast do a good enough job of keeping things moving without really delivering any sympathetic characters. Ripper is a film that believes in its dialogue and compelling mystery, so the focus is taken off individuals and centred more around the overall plot. We are treated to some truly beautiful actresses and kudos to Eyres for killing off the worst performers quickly. Brit glamour girl Kelly Brook is the first to go and despite her highly unconvincing pleas for mercy, she takes part in one of the greatest stalk and slash murders of the entire cycle. You should watch the film if only for that one sequence.
John Eyres’ website completely ignores Goodnight Goodbless and doesn’t even list it as one of his features. In fact, it goes as far as to say that his filmmaking career began in 1990, which is three-years after that film was released. Whilst it’s unlikely that another British ‘John Eyres’ was responsible for Godbless, the fact that he wants to erase it from his filmography speaks a thousand words. I’m not sure whether that was really necessary, but either way, he had certainly upped his game by the time Ripper went in to production. It’s a tense and engrossing entry that really does impress. In fact I’m fairly surprised that it isn’t more fondly thought of amongst genre connoisseurs.
I guess the only question we are left with is what Eyres was doing that was so important he turned down the sequel…?
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √√
The Orphan Killer 2011
Directed by: Matt Farnsworth
Starring: Diane Foster, David Backus, Edward Winrow
Review by Luis Joaquín González
The IMDB is such a fantastic tool for checking out big budget movies. Before going to the cinema or buying a DVD, it’s always worth looking at the ranking that a studio flick has acquired. If it’s above an 8, you’re generally in for an out and out classic, whilst anything from 6.5 will certainly be worth investing two-hours of your life with. Where the site really has issues is when it comes to stalk and slash pictures. Whilst Halloween sits accurately at 7.9, Friday the 13th Part II has a measly 6. It’s even worse when you start to look at low budget entries, and that’s where I found a problem with The Orphan Killer.
After watching the film, I checked to see what others had been saying about it and I found five reviews in a row that had given it 1/10, the lowest ranking that the IMDB offers. There were also a few comments, including the classic, ‘Just when you think you’ve seen the worst movie in the world, you stumble upon this piece of trash.‘ Really? We live in an age where there are features available that have been shot and edited on an iPad, but if you listen to the users on the IMDB, this is poorer than any of them. Without blowing my own trumpet too much, I have to underline the necessity of a site like a SLASH above, where authors like my good self make the effort to analyse these films in detail to give you the best possible heads-up.
Two young children that survived the brutal murder of their parents in a botched robbery attempt are transferred to a catholic orphanage and put up for adoption. Upon arrival, Audrey manages to settle in quickly and make friends with the other kids, but her brother Marcus has a much tougher time and displays bouts of vicious violence that lead to aggressive punishment from his superiors. It doesn’t take long for Audrey to find a home with a loving family, but Marcus is left behind to suffer abuse from the over-zealous priest. Years later, Marcus escapes his confines and returns to the church to hunt out the sibling that he feels abandoned him.
As someone who was collecting slasher VHS during the late eighties, I remember the buzz of hunting out the full version of a gore film. Back then, due to censorship issues, it was a challenge to uncover an uncut copy from foreign (usually Dutch) shores and a real treat when you finally did. The likes of Absurd or Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche were never known for their intriguing plots or great acting, but they certainly delivered on the red stuff, which gave them a unique standing. In more recent times, we have much more leniency in what gets through on DVD or Blue Ray and it means that viewers don’t only demand gruesome effects; they want everything else to boot. If The Orphan Killer had been released in 1981, it would have become one of those cult classics that horror fans spent an eternity searching for. Nowadays though it’s a fossil from a bygone era and gratuitous bloodletting alone doesn’t have the same underground appeal.
Whilst it’s hard for me to say whether my recollections of those times have swayed my opinion, I found quite a lot to appreciate about The Orphan Killer. I am writing this review the morning after the 2015 Oscars and Alejandro González Inarritu’s wonderfully kooky Birdman picked up Best Picture. It was filmed using lengthy tracking sequences that were so cleverly cut that the film looked like one continuous shot from start to finish. Director Matt Farnsworth (on a much smaller scale of course) utilises the completely opposite approach here, but also creates some intriguing visuals that brought to mind early Aronofsky. I counted 8 cuts in a thirty-second scene at one point; and each came from a camera placed in a creative location that was rarely static. It’s almost as if Farnsworth entered a room and spent hours defining all the possible areas that he could shoot from before deciding how he could apply movement to keep the momentum running. During the mid-section, there’s a marathon of stalk and slash action that includes so many camera switches and angles that I literally lost count of them. A great example of this can be found in the murder of the unfortunate nun that I have posted above.
Orphan is a splatter flick at heart and the gore is exceptional considering the stringent funding. Heads are crushed, squashed, smashed and in one really gruesome scene, split in two by a machete. I recall numerous moments that made me flinch away due to the level of grotesque imagery, and this is a picture that revels in the suffering of its players. Marcus Miller is a terrifyingly ruthless antagonist and he stalks with an obvious menace that brings to mind the iconic bogeymen of yesteryear. Unlike many of his kin, Marcus taunts his victims with verbal threats that add to his intimidation and the backstory works to help build his psychopathic aura. David Backus does a superb job of bringing the killer to life and he fills the role with power, strength and maniacal intent.
Even if I have highlighted that gore films are never huge on character development, it is clearly visible how the lack of any at all has left Orphan looking extremely hollow. It’s rare that you’ll see a cast list with so many anonymous credits such as ‘Skateboarder’ or ‘Urban Legend Teen #2’ and the people featured within are given less importance than the props the killer uses to dispatch them. It makes such a difference to have players that we’ve invested in emotionally, but even the heroine failed to win us over in this script. This leaves the film without a solid structure and it plays almost like a collection of kill scenes that have been loosely stapled together. I’m not a fan of death metal and I look at horror as a genre that succeeds when audio and visual are juxtaposed together to bring an environment to life. More often than not I found myself reaching for the ear plugs and the film could have done with a suitably creepy score.
Once Marcus has finally caught and imprisoned Audrey, we get some slower paced torture porn-like scenes that are a lot less engrossing. A directorial style as rapid as Farnsworth’s didn’t flow as well in an enclosed environment and the best pieces of his work came during the numerous chase sequences. In terms of dramatics, the performances were weak but serviceable and kudos to Diane Foster, who gives her all in a portrayal that asked an incredible amount of physicality. The insane killer stalking his sister synopsis has been done to death, but Orphan manages to keep you interested, despite the numerous flaws.
Matt Farnsworth has worked really hard here to give us a film that pushes the boundaries of what we have experienced previously. It infuriates me that all this effort can be brushed off by a 1/10 rating without recognition of all that he has achieved. It’s ok to dislike a film, but it’s a waste of time to read any write-up that contains something along the lines of ‘this is the worst movie ever made’. You’ll have to trust me when I tell you that it simply is not…
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √√
Directed by: Tim Cowles
Starring: Eleanor James, Emily Eaves, Jason Impey
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I’ve recently turned 34, which I tell you because I’m from a generation that grew up just before the invasion of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Hi5. I was in my twenties during the noughties, so I still got to experience the impact that these sites had on social interaction and relationships. It’s interesting, because I remember the times of having to call landlines or walk to knock on someone’s front door if I wanted to chat with them. Nowadays I can simply drop them a note on What’sapp or some other messaging service and ascertain where they are, who they’re with and whether they’re choosing to ignore me ;) I’m often told that I should be more proactive on Twitter and Facebook, especially with regards to a SLASH above, but perhaps it’s because of my age that I haven’t quite grasped the necessity of a social media presence.
Whether these methods of contact are a benefit or a hindrance to our evolution as humans is impossible to answer, but it’s an interesting theory to think about. It’s one that was certainly on the mind of director Tim Cowles when he put pen to paper for this British slasher that hit shelves last year. Not to be confused with 2005’s Backslash, Backslasher was poorly received upon release and currently holds a 2.2 rating on the IMDB. This Is incredibly low, but there’s always the excuse that slasher movies are easy targets for mockery from stern critics because of their simplistic style. Seeing that the excellent Billy Club has dropped from 7.4 to 5.6 on the same website adds weight to this theory.
A young woman who’s obsessed with her social media accounts launches an online business that sells lingerie and sex toys. She Is running a blog to assist with marketing but soon discovers that someone maybe taking an unhealthy interest in her status updates. It soon becomes apparent that a masked killer is stalking her friend list and it looks as if she’s next in his sights…
Shooting films on a penny sweet budget must be tough, because creative concepts can get lost amongst the lack of funding. Backslasher tries hard to deliver something unique and intriguing but has suffered, slightly unfairly, due to its minimal production values. It choses an unusual starting path, which introduces our characters rather awkwardly. The best horror movies begin with a scare or shock sequence of some kind to set a tone, but it takes fifteen-minutes or so for the killer to even put in an appearance here. This makes the opening scenes a bit pointless because we are left trying to get our heads around what we are watching. A group of girls prance around in lingerie to introduce the theme of the products that they’re selling, but these parts are a nothingness in terms of the film’s horror backbone. I haven’t seen the old chestnut of a maniac stalking two lovers parked in a secluded spot for quite some time, so it was refreshing to be back at a set up that is so rudimentary yet satisfying. Cowles shows his knowledge of the period slashers in a couple of the murders, including an assault of a female jogger, which was last seen in Graduation Day. Dressing the killer in a common mask and hooded jumper underlines the film’s cheapness, but he is at least brutal and intimidating when he strikes.
What I really liked about Backslasher was its smartly ambiguous conclusion. The plot works along the line of you thinking you’ve guessed who is under the mask, but just when you believe you’ve really nailed it, your choice of culprit becomes the next victim. I felt initially cheated by the revelation scene, but later I understood that it was the perfect end to a story that focuses on the privacy and anonymity of Social Media. It’s extremely unusual for a stalk and slash film to include an ending that you’ll need to watch through again to really understand and in honesty it impressed me. Whodunits have been done to death and outside of tricking the audience unfairly, there’s very little that we haven’t seen before. Cowles takes a risk that might disappoint some viewers, but I appreciated his ambition to try an off-kilter resolution.
It’s unfair to criticise a low budget movie for being low budget, but Backslasher’s main issues are visible exactly because of that. The performances are predictably mediocre and the footage is grainy and poor in quality. We do get a guitar-based score that is fresh and uplifting, but when the horror starts, there are some misplaced sci-fi-like buzzing sounds that are notably out of place. Whilst the screenplay does have moments that are strongly commendable, it could have been structured to have a much smoother flow. I imagine the film would play much better with a murder in the pre-credits and most of the background characters are interchangeable because they’re given very little to do. There were a couple of times when people got killed and I couldn’t remember who they were, which showed they had been poorly introduced.
Backslasher is a project that writes cheques its budget can’t cash. It’s a creative concept that could have done with some fine tuning. Many people won’t have the patience to really appreciate it, which is a shame, but a lesson that can be learned. Tim Cowles shouldn’t give up on his filmmaking dream, but he’s still some way off delivering a really credible entry.
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√
Chill: The Killing Games 2013
aka Chill (Working Title)
Directed by: Noelle Bye, Meredith Holland
Starring: Roger Conners, Bradley Michael Arner, Kelly Rogers
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I must tell you that Chill was one of those movies that I was really excited about getting my hands on. Haydn Watkins, the co-author of magnificent upcoming slasher book Alone in the Dark, told me about it and so I got in touch with director Noelle Bye who sent me over an online copy to review. At the time of writing, it boasts a 7.5 ranking on the IMDB and it has been keenly anticipated amongst cult horror circles due to a couple of successful pre-screenings.
Despite accusations that slasher movies are all exactly the same, genre completists will note the small traits that distinguish titles by their production date. Since about 2011, we have seen a theme of strategic multi-layered twists and revelation scenes that have appeared in the likes of Billy Club, Camp 139, Smiley, Blood Junkie and Backslasher. From what I’d heard on the grapevine about Chill, it was another that had been written with a focus on maintaining a compelling mystery.
A college in the US has become notorious due to the grim legend of a game that goes by the name of Chill. It involves a number of people randomly picking a piece of paper from a box and keeping what they get a secret from the other participants. Dependent on what they receive, they will either become the ‘killer’ or a ‘victim’ and it’s the killer’s job to hunt out and ‘murder’ the other players, whilst keeping his/her identity anonymous until the end. Chill was popular until about 1988, when one gamer took the whole assassin thing a bit too seriously and butchered twelve students before succumbing to a gruesome fate. Since then, the game has been outlawed on campus and it has become a part of the town’s history that they’d rather leave behind. One business-minded local thinks otherwise though and decides to revisit the scene of the original massacre and televise a new version of the game for profit. Despite resistance from some of the townsfolk, especially an over-zealous professor, the launch date goes ahead as planned. It seems that someone still has an axe to grind and before long, the youngsters are forced to pit their wits against a maniacal villain.
Before we get going, I think it’s important that you understand one thing about Chill that’s really essential as to how you perceive it. I’d been wrapped up in the decent IMDB rating and the positivity that I’d heard and so I was expecting a slick slasher along the lines of Billy Club. It wasn’t until thirty-five minutes in that I realised this was in fact a micro-budget production ($3,000) and only then did I really begin to appreciate the film’s accomplishments.
You see, Chill is quite long for a slasher movie, (one hour and forty-five minutes in fact) and the first half of those are pretty unconvincing. Awkwardly acted characters in under-lit scenarios are the order of the day and I was thinking that I was going to be the first critic to put a dent in the film’s glorious reputation. There’s a lot of focus on a group of marginally-appealing personalities and they’re given dialogue that barely registers because it’s so basic and unimaginative. To offer an example, we meet a washed-up kid star who has been invited to take part in the game, but upon his arrival he is disappointed that there’s no fanfare and only one person recognises him. He’s obviously deluded as to the level of his notoriety, but it’s a joke that doesn’t need or warrant the amount of attention that it’s given by the script.
I was thinking the worst by that point, but when the games finally launch, the directors unleash a couple of really sharp and effective shock sequences. There’s nothing quite as creepy as dark dilapidated corridors and the film is nicely scored with gloomy low-chords that help maintain the morbid tone. In the earlier killings, we don’t get to see the antagonist’s bird mask clearly, but there’s a really well structured scene that introduces him with credible menace. He then goes on to slash the throat of a hapless youngster and there’s a juicy blood effect to maximise the impact. For the next half an hour, we get a tense showdown as the remaining players discover that they are locked inside the auditorium with a vicious maniac. Blood flows fluidly as people are sliced, diced and strangled, but the real suspense is delivered by the enigma of who it is that’s slaughtering the group. I didn’t work out the psychopath’s true identity, but I still am unsure as to whether it was a surprise or a bit of a a cheat on the audience. Either way, it successfully keeps you guessing and there’s nothing more that I could have asked for.
What I thought was really authentic was that the story was led for the most part by an openly homosexual central character. Kyle Carpenter (cool surname) does a good job of giving us a likeable protagonist and ticks many of the boxes that are stereotypically filled by a heroine. We also get a role reversal that I don’t want to reveal without giving anything away, but let’s just say that the film’s choice of survivor(s) is an uncommon piece of template realignment. It all leads to an intriguing open ending and I have heard through the same grapevine that Chill 2 is already on the cards.
Chill is one of a number of recent entries that underline the necessity of the slasher genre as a filmaking talent pool. There truly is no better style of movie to unleash some flair and the more of these examples we get, the closer we come to a complete category rebirth. Whilst the feature itself is not without its problems (poor illumination, half-hearted dialogue, noticeably average acting, a couple of WTF revelations and it could have done with some eye candy), it gives me great pleasure to see that we have moved well away from the era of Camp Blood and Carnage Road. Nowadays low budget features are stronger than they’ve ever been and that in itself is a real achievement. Congratulations to Noelle, Meredith and Roger for a decent effort considering the budget. The gloss and invention in some of their photography was extremely impressive and I am looking forward to seeing more of their work.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Halloween 4 1988
Directed by: Dwight H. Little
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris
Review by Eric LeMaster
Buenos Dias and Happy Valentine’s Day a SLASH abovers, I’m extremely proud to include a guest post from regular reader Eric LeMaster. For his debut, he has chosen the film that got him hooked on the genre and I am sure you’ll agree that he’s done a sterling job of describing for us what he loves about it…
Halloween 4 is my favorite horror movie of all time, so I was quite thrilled when Luisito asked me to write my first guest review about this– what I believe to be– a gem of a film. Some don’t appreciate this instalment because they believe that Michael should be dead– and by all rights, he should have been after the hospital explosion in Halloween II. If you take the movie at face value, it’s a wonderful entry into the sub-genre that is the SLASHER FILM!
Many years ago, I watched this for the first time on AMC. It succeeded in getting me hooked on slasher movies. The setting and the realistic premise of a madman who wants nothing more than to kill you makes slasher flicks pretty much the only style that can give me chills. The wonderful cinematography and utter darkness of the film bring something special that “budget” movies just don’t ever seem to give.
To prepare for this review, I popped in my Blu-ray of Halloween 4– that’s right, I own the Blu-Ray. Does that make me cool? No? Ok. Continuing… The montage of Midwestern Autumn scenery immediately brings me back to my childhood, though not too far, because I can still see the rickety farm buildings and “country” scenery around where I live. Eastern Kentucky hasn’t grown up much; we’re stuck in 1988. The only thing that could make the film seem more “true to the area” is if John Cougar Mellencamp sang the score– and I guess that just wasn’t on the cards.
After Halloween 3 flopped due to the removal of Michael Myers, Moustapha Akkad wanted to continue the franchise and bring back its iconic villain. John Carpenter and Debra Hill weren’t on board for another Halloween and sold their rights to the series, so Moustapha found the very talented director, Dwight Little.
Alan McElroy would write the script and finished it in an amazing eleven days. Ellie Cornell, whose only previous acting experience included an episode of Thirtysomething and a minor role on Married to the Mob, would play the seventeen year-old Rachel Carruthers, the foster sister to the main protagonist, Jamie Lloyd (the lovely, young Danielle Harris) the daughter of the late Laurie Strode (who apparently died in a car accident).
Donald Pleasance signed on to continue his role as Dr. Loomis, the once psychiatrist of Michael Myers, who would continue to chase him and try to end Michael’s killing spree once and for all. Also signing on were Sasha Jenson who would play Rachel’s boyfriend (Brady), Beau Starr who would play Sheriff Ben Meeker, and Kathleen Kinmont would play his daughter, Kelly Meeker.
We begin the fun with an ambulance traveling in a rain storm. We find that Michael is being transferred from Smith’s Grove unbeknownst to Dr. Loomis. Once approved for transfer, Michael is wheeled into the ambulance. Per the conversation between the EMTs, Michael discovers that he has a living niece and decides to murder his only living blood-relative. He kills the ambulance workers and makes his way back to Haddonfield.
True to form, Dr. Loomis becomes concerned with the transfer and begins to question the head of the Sanitarium. While he’s there, the manager receives a phone call informing him of the accident. Overhearing, Loomis takes off and lets his sixth sense of Michael’s whereabouts take over.
What happens after then? Much trick-or-treating, high school drama, and some high class stalking! There’s even some humor, too. The scene with the “traveling Reverend” is hilarious, and adds some comic relief to a more serious film. You’ll have to see it all for yourself.
To say that I recommend this film would be an understatement. It’s got plot, it’s got good acting, it’s got a great score by Alan Howarth, and it has some good gore. I beg you to see it. Don’t watch it as a perfect continuance of the series and you will find that it’s a gem. If you don’t like it for all of these things, at least you’ll enjoy it for it’s 80’s vibes– and boy does it have it. If you’re like me, you’ll fall in love with Ellie Cornell, and if Danielle Harris isn’t one of your favorite child movie stars, you’ll more than likely change your opinion.
This movie is widely available on DVD and Blu-Ray with or without its less amazing partner, Halloween 5; and, if you’re lucky, you can catch it on AMC like I did.
Luis’ view: Whilst I agree with a lot of what Eric has said here, I must confess it’s a three and a half star rating from me, simply because I slightly preferred Rick Rosenthal’s sequel.There’s no denying though that this is somewhat underrated due to its dark tone and engrossing story. Whilst it may be slightly disjointed and Michael’s mask looks almost comical, it shares more with its elder siblings than any of the latter installments.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl √√√
Girls School Screamers 1986
Directed by: John P Finnegan
Starring: Molly O’ Mara,Sharon Christopher, Mari Butler
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Imagine taking a film, any film in fact, and bolting on top scenes that would turn it into a slasher movie. You could have, say, a psychopathic mobster trimming the cast list of The Godfather. It’d be something like Cleaver from The Sopranos. Just remove the current deaths of Moe Green, Luca Brasi and Sonny Corleone and splice in footage of a masked menace doing the deeds with a pitchfork. It makes me wonder how Casablanca might look with an extended chase sequence that sees Inga Berman pursued by a maniac in a burlap sack? Do you think it could work? CGI is pretty good nowadays.
Whilst that does of course sound somewhat far fetched, Troma, the studio responsible for a number of cinematic curiosities, did exactly that when they picked up budget haunted house flick, The Portrait in late 1985. John P Finnegan had set out with absolutely no experience to make himself a motion picture. He pencilled a script and sourced funding independently in order to realise his dream. With $100,000 to play with, he called the University of New York and asked if they had any students that may be interested in his project. Within a couple of months, he had secured a cast of 18, a full crew and a superb location. His original intention had been to create a Hitchcockian tale of the ghosts of an incestuous relationship returning home. Troma agreed to distribute his work only if they could call it Girls School Screamers and shoehorn in some slasher action. The net result is an entry that can best be described as, well, something of a curiosity.
Seven fresh faced college girls have just found out that they’re going to be spending four days cleaning up an old Victorian mansion. It had been left to the school in the will of a recently deceased entrepreneur who stated that they could renovate or sell it. The youngsters pack their bags and head to the location, but soon learn that they could be in for more than they bargained for.
Look, I’ll give it to you straight, I’m not a massive fan of the supernatural/slasher hybrids that I’ve come across. Whilst there are a couple that have taken parts of each sub-genre and created a passable combination, more often than not, the strength of one style brings out the weaknesses in the other. I guess that in the same way I wouldn’t like a possessed child turning up during the conclusion of Halloween, I wouldn’t feel great about Michael Myers slashing his way through The Exorcist either. The glaring possibilities for creative expression make it seem strange that we haven’t yet been treated to a truly credible crossbreed, but of the ones that are currently available, none do a good job of selling the concept. Girls School Screamers is an interesting case in point though, because it’s a ghost flick that has been Godfrey Ho’d by its distributor. Watching it now, after learning of Troma’s tampering does give it something of an extra allure.
GSS, for all intents and purposes, is not a film that’s ashamed of its minimal budget. This fact is emphasised at the start of the credits where the words ‘introducing’ are placed before the entire cast, as if to helpfully inform us that none of the names that follow have done anything else before this at all. This is clearly evident in everything that we witness thereafter, from the plodding direction to the amateurish performances. Dialogue and story scenes are conveyed as if they’re filmed on a soundstage and it’s rare that we get any camera movement at all. Finnegan’s script, which Is certainly ambitious, spends a long time building its background and giving its characters the chance to make an impression. They’re all written to be pretty much interchangeable though, so the first hour, while we are waiting for the maniac to turn up, struggles to hold your attention and quickly becomes sluggish. It can’t have helped to have so many debutants throughout the cast, because they had no one to turn to when in need of some guidance.
If you haven’t nodded off by the time that the action starts, we finally get to see what Troma’s input brought to the production. The killings are rather random in how they’re staged, because one or two are shown to be committed by a traditional unseen maniac, whilst the rest come courtesy of an invisible ‘force’. This has an effect on the story, because we have no central villain to fear. Whist the same actors were used and the footage doesn’t stand out as if it’s been bolted-on, it does leave obvious plot holes. It also make classifying Girls School Screamers as a slasher movie something of a harder task. Whilst we see meat cleavers, pitchforks and electrocutions with regularity in the genre, there are things here that are alien to the template. I want a SLASH above to be the truest stalk and slash catalogue on the web, but if I haven’t yet posted The Superstition or The Incubus here as entries, is it fair of me to include Screamers? I guess that you could call it a slasher-esque, what was that word again? Oh yes, curiosity.
John Finnegan has never shied away from the fact that he believes that Troma’s intervention ruined his initial ideas for the template. It’s easy of course to point the finger somewhere else for failings, but does he have a point? Yes and no is the answer, because without the added gore scenes, we would be left with a hideously boring travesty. At least now, the film does have moderate cult appeal, but it comes at the cost of a bewildering effect on the continuity. We see a silly intro involving a child that never gets resolved and the motivation of the antagonist is left up to the imagination. There’s the odd atmospheric moment that comes courtesy of a truly superb score and it’s funny to see college girls played by actresses the wrong side of their thirties, but is it enough? I really wanted to like Girls School Screamers and find a defence for it, but it is, unfortunately, a bit of a mess. A curiosity type mess? Well, yes funnily enough…
Killer Guise: √√
The Unseen 1980
Directed by: Danny Steinmann
Starring: Stephen Furst, Barbara Bach, Sydney Lassick
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
With the process of a studio backed film to go from pre-production to post production taking quite a while, I’m amazed that so many early slashers managed to ‘borrow’ so much from Halloween so quickly. Carpenter’s hit was released on October the 31st 1978, but within a few months, there were already titles like The Demon that were definitely trampling the borders of creative inspiration. That isn’t the case so much with The Unseen though, because despite being labelled as a stalk and slash flick everywhere you look, it really doesn’t play by the rules of a typical genre piece.
It was one of the first films that I came across on big box VHS, but back then, I never rated it as a favourite. I hadn’t bothered with it for at least twenty-years before I sat down to write this review and I was keen to see what I’d make of it now.
After a mix-up with the bookings at their hotel, three female journalists are forced to seek somewhere else to stay. Due to there being a celebratory festival in town, rooms are impossible to come by, but they find salvation in a jovial museum owner. He lives with his wife in a hotel that has been closed for ages, but after considering their panicked situation, he allows them to stay there. What he doesn’t tell them is that his son that lives in the basement doesn’t know how to play friendly…
I was reminded of this feature recently after completing my review of Silent Scream for the site. The two films have more in common than just an almost identical synopsis, because they both suffered fairly troubled productions. Whilst after an extensive reshoot, ‘Scream ended up close to what Denny Harris had envisioned, director Danny Steinmann was so disappointed with the final print of The Unseen that he asked to have his name removed from the credits. His justification was that the producers had edited out the majority of the big scares and left his feature unrecognisable. This intrigued me no end, because I wondered how a director’s cut of the footage might look. Steinmann never pursued the opportunity outside of a few interview comments, but it’d be interesting to know how much was removed or replaced.
The Unseen has its fans amongst slasher critics, but I must admit that I’m not really one of them. Whilst there is a lot to be credited that I’ll happily tell you about, I feel that in its entirety, it’s just a bit too odd for its own good. It spends the majority of the runtime building up an antagonist in the traditional fashion, but his revelation throws a swerve ball at us that’s just, well, alien. Without giving too much away, the bogeyman turns out to be more clumsy than creepy and then in a truly bizarre move, the script gives him an incomprehensible layer of pathos. He then makes a swift exit in a scene that’s as mushy as the death of Bambi’s mother, only to pass the mantle to another villain that is nowhere near as scary. I understand that they were trying to keep us on our toes by giving us something new to fear, but the idea is lost in its execution. We had waited so long for a glimpse of what we expected to be a hulking menace, only to be forced to change our perception at the last minute.
Another thing that you’ll notice is that the film is extremely slow paced. It plods along like a soap opera for large chunks, but then launches into an outrageous nudity scene that feels out of place. It does manage to build enough of a tone to keep us interested though and we do get a couple of creatively planned murder scenes. The first sees a young woman have her neck broken in a steel trap door and it’s juxtaposed with shots of a chicken being decapitated in a back garden farmhouse. This is one of a number of slightly off-kilter, yet effective moments, with the majority of the rest coming courtesy of an eccentric portrayal by Sydney Lassick.
I mentioned that I’d be interested in seeing a director’s cut of The Unseen and that’s because from a pure filmmaking perspective, it is simply a SLASH above. As I have already said, Lassick’s erratic characterisation really has to be seen to be believed. He shared top billing with Barbara Bach, who is also superb as the hapless heroine. One could be forgiven for thinking that the former Mrs Ringo Starr had been hired only for her looks, but she is totally believable as the woman in peril. My favourite performances though came from Lelia Goldoni as Virginia, Lassick’s long-suffering wife, and Stephen Furst who played his son. It’s not an exaggeration to state that if awards could be given for horror film dramatisations, Furst would have at least walked away with a nomination. It’s a totally different person from his comedic turn in Animal House and he’s quite brilliant with the level of his conviction. We also get some classy cinematography in and around the gothic Victorian mansion that helps sustain an uneasy atmosphere that manifests itself credibly during the climax.
This is a tough film to review, because in many ways it embodies everything that I usually spend paragraphs criticising the lack of in other features. The thing is, you can photograph a crystal with the best lens that money can buy, but it’ll never be a diamond. There are certain rules of horror that can’t be broken and what we’re left with is a film that over promises and under delivers. It’s a shame that we will never see what Steinmann really intended, but there are those that like it, so check around before you take my word as gospel
Final Girl √√√
Slumber Party Massacre 1982
Directed by: Amy Jones
Starring: Michelle Michaels, Robin Stille, Debra De Liso
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I’ve been putting off reviewing Slumber Party Massacre for quite some time and I’m not sure exactly why. It has become a notorious example of peak period slasher movies and went on to launch a long list of tributes and rip-offs. Roger Corman, arguably THE most prolific producer of low-budget clones of box office hits ever, had taken his time to jump on-board the stalk and slash bandwagon. When he finally did though, he used his flair for understanding cinematic trends to develop a feature that would become highly successful.
The film began life as a parody of teenie-kill flicks with the added allure of being pencilled by a female-scribe. Controversy had began surrounding the genre amongst left-wing critics and feminist groups that felt the movies were riddled with misogyny and unnecessary violence. Rita Mae Brown had decided to make light of the situation and show that it wasn’t only men that could contribute to the craze. She wrote a story that poked fun at the themes that were under the spotlight called, ‘Sleepless Nights’. Once Roger Corman got hold of the screenplay, he maintained some of the humour, but shot it as an out and out slasher flick. The rest, as they say, is history.
A group of sorority sisters decide to have a celebratory slumber party whilst one of their friend’s parents are away on vacation. Little do they know that an escaped lunatic is loitering around the location. It’s left up to new transfer Valerie and her younger sister to try and prevent a bloodbath.
I hadn’t seen Slumber Party Massacre for many years and in honesty, it turned out to be much better than I had remembered. My recollections of a half-hearted rehash of the traditional clichés has been smashed by re-visiting the movie as a more-experienced viewer. It’s perhaps because the last copy that I saw was the heavily edited UK print released as The Slumber Party Murders. Watching it now, totally uncut, after all that time really changed the idea that I had in mind for a rating and I’m so glad that I’ve given it another look.
Any thoughts that director Amy Jones and author Rita Brown were looking to support criticisms of anti-feminism are destroyed by an opening that’s extremely gratuitous. In the first five minutes alone, a key character whips off her top to give us a boob shot and soon after we get mounds of T&A from a lengthy group shower scene. Jones doesn’t hang around to introduce her antagonist, but the first two victims are barely given a line of dialogue before they’re killed and the earlier parts of the story take a while to settle themselves. I expected the worst when we got to see the assailant, a pint-sized loon that looks like an average everyday Joe, almost immediately. Horror works much better when a bogeyman is left somewhat in the shadows and upon revelation, at least looks the part. Thankfully after four false-scares in a row (a record?), the girls get hungry and spice up their evening by ordering a pizza. When they are greeted upon opening the door by a corpse with his eyes plucked out, the momentum seriously begins to tighten.
What I think works best about Slumber Party Massacre is the way that Jones handles the actions of her characters. There’s a scene where two girls barricade themselves in a room to hide from the intruder downstairs. Thanks mostly to some genuine dialogue, you really can believe that this is how they would act in that situation. It’s not always a grim depiction of reality that we get though, because there’s a comedic moment when one of the youngsters prizes the pizza from the dead delivery guy’s hand. She then states that she feels much better after eating a hearty slice. Robin Stille, as the heroine, had obviously been ordered to watch Laurie Strode and base her performance on that of Jamie Leigh Curtis’. Whilst she doesn’t hit the same levels of scream queen perfection, she creates a sympathetic lead that we grow to bond with.
Much like Prom Night before it, Slumber Party does borrow heavily from Carpenter’s Halloween. There are many parts here that are weaker imitations of sequences from that film, but because they’re sharply delivered, we don’t really bother to pick on them as much. Jones pulls off a number of effective shocks and scares, with one set-piece that sees two males run out of the house to search for help, proving to be impressively tense. This leads to a bloody stabbing that’s inter-cut with a scene from Corman’s Hollywood Boulevard and it’s stylishly edited together. Due to the murder of some sympathetic personalities, we are never totally sure who will survive the assassin’s drill. The conclusion wraps it all up neatly and for a film that was supposed to be riddled with humour, it’s actually quite downbeat.
As I have alluded to, Slumber Party Massacre does fall foul of not improving upon ingredients that we’ve seen done better elsewhere. Also, I do still believe that it was lucky to receive the adulation and amount of imitations that it has acquired since its release. I’ve been captured by some of its charms though and it is one of the better peak entries. It’s funny that we live in a world that is light years away in terms of technology from the early eighties. One thing that definitely hasn’t improved is the production of slasher movies. They don’t make them like this anymore no matter how hard they try.
Final Girl √√√