Category Archives: Pure Eighties Cheese
Those that make you laugh as much (or more) than scream…
City In Panic 1986
Directed by: Robert Bouveir
Starring: David Adamson, Lee Ann Nestegard, Derrick Emery
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Dependent on the product there can be sometimes no better marketing tool than controversy. For their time, The Sex Pistols were controversial and made a great career out of it. The Rolling Stones, Elvis, hell even Sir Cliff Richard caused uproar in his day. As Max Clifford once famously said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” This little-known Canadian slasher must’ve been aiming for some of the same media coverage when it attempted to make an admittedly ham-fisted social comment on one of the eighties’ biggest discussion points – the HIV virus. Any severe medical condition should be handled with care and consideration by a filmmaker that is attempting to broach such delicate topics, but Bouvier’s feature is the cinematic equivalent of telling a friend that they looked better last year when they could still fit in those jeans.
In the first few minutes, the director attempts a role reversal on Hitchcock’s notorious shower scene. A hulking killer sporting a fedora, dark glasses and typical giallo-like psycho-garb bursts into a bathroom and hacks an unfortunate guy to death with a kitchen knife. Before leaving, the maniac carves the letter ‘M’ into his back with the aforementioned blade. This becomes the macabre calling card of the maniacal assassin and also the name that he becomes known by in media. Next up we meet Dave Miller (David Adamson) a radio talk show host that immediately takes an interest in the madman’s motives. As the bodies continue to pile up around the city, Dave decides to set a trap using his popular broadcast as the bait. Eventually, the killer himself phones the show and begins to slaughter people that are close to the presenter. Is Miller next on the death list?
City in Panic starts with a protagonist narrative that is vaguely reminiscent of the maverick cop thrillers of the seventies. The depiction of a sleazy town in peril led me to believe that Bouvier was as much a fan of Dirty Harry and the like as he was of Halloween. To be fair there are times when the atmosphere gets credibly morbid and some of the gruesome murders are brutal if not graphically audacious enough to rival gore marathons. We are treated to occasional flashes of innovative photography that are exciting and spontaneous and provide the odd glimpse of suspense that helps to strengthen the few moments of macabre mayhem. Perhaps the most memorable of those is the repugnant castration of a toilet loitering sex pest. After having his ‘Johnson’ chopped off by the masked killer, the guy is left to die in agony and spray blood on the walls like the final spurts of a wayward sprinkler system. It’s a grim sight indeed; but unfortunately, aside from the couple of select examples of flair from Bouvier, the majority of the film struggles to pull itself from the realms of amateur night.
I remember a Glam metal band that were unsigned in the late eighties and recorded two demos that were popular amongst collectors. Indian Angel’s set list included catchy tracks like Playing Hard To Get, Loneliness Motel and Just Pretending, but after a few years on the club circuit they disbanded. When they finally did call it quits it was clear that they had not improved on their musicianship and were still playing those same songs that I mentioned above. They failed to build upon their initial strengths and in the end were doomed to remain rock and roll apprentices. This film is a similar case in point as it perhaps needed Bouvier to step back, analyse his work and then try a bit harder. The spluttering dramatics fail to convince on even the lowest level, which immediately destroys any sense of realism being created. An idea with such a strong topical standpoint needed to be solid with its scripting in order to deliver what it intended, but Andreas Blackwell’s confused screenplay is sketchy and it leaves characters contradicting themselves. The glossy veneer of intellectual dialogue soon becomes transparent as nonsensical chit chat and the fact that City in Panic seems to have been written with minimal effort means that it only appeals to those that can’t be bothered to make the effort. At one point the investigator says, “Now I began to accept that the city had on its hands a killer”. That line came after we had already seen a couple of mutilated corpses with the same MO. Go figure.
The soundtrack is an example of what a chimp can get out of a Bontempi keyboard and it does absolutely * nothing * to add to the mood of the feature. I have also read that some viewers felt that the plot was deliberately homophobic. Making the majority of the victims homosexual guys and then torturing them sadistically was a dumb move and although a female (and a heterosexual male) also got splattered, the film, ends up with a tone that I can understand that some could find offensive. Over the years, the slasher genre has developed a large gay following and movies such as HellBent have been accepted warmly. Due to City in Panic’s lack of focus, it has failed to register as an entry that pays the same amount of respect. Personally, I found it to be far too mindlessly written to be offensive and too weakly structured to be controversial. We can’t ignore the fact though that director Robert Bouvier has clumsily, although surely unintentionally, exploited one of the most tragic diseases that mankind has ever known.
Despite the awful attempt at a social commentary, taken as a slasher movie, this never gets boring and the viscous murders are spaced quite frequently all the way through. For a cheap piece of junk hokum it could’ve been a passable entry to the cycle. It’s just a shame that the filmmakers took the wrong approach…
Movie House Massacre 1982
aka Blood Theatre
Directed by: Rick Sloane
Starring: Mary Woronov, Jenny Cunningham, Johnathan Blakeley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The successful cinema chain, Spotlite Theatres have decided to renovate an old abandoned auditorium and add it to their list of multiplexes. It has been closed since a manager went mad decades earlier and killed off a whole heap of people. Almost as soon as they get started though, the bodies begin dropping once again. Who could be behind the series of killings?
Fortunately, I’m a child of the Internet age and since I was eighteen, I have always had the ability to read an online review of the films that I’m looking to watch prior to purchasing them. There’s no doubt that the warning signs were there with Movie House Massacre. It’s been torn apart globally on the www; and even if sometimes I can disagree with other authors, the outright level of criticism on this particular title made the chance of that seem rather slim.
The reason I mention this is because the marketing team behind the packaging of Rick Sloane’s debut were most definitely the feature’s worst enemy. Looking at the box, it’s easy to believe that you are going to be in for a gory slasher in the vein of The Burning et al. That is totally inaccurate however, because Movie House Massacre is actually nothing but a goofy horror spoof. I got to the eleven minute mark in the runtime and had to rewind it to the beginning and start again with my comedy hat on. To continue watching whilst expecting attempts at terror would have been unfair on this film. So did the change of my initial perception make MHM any better?
Quite frankly, no. It lives up very well to its reputation of incompetence. What we have here is a shambolic example of filmmaking in every possible way. Technically, the level of professionalism is pitiful and this is most evident in the editing, which strings scenes together with no apparent logical structure. There’s a semblance of a story there, somewhere; but it’s muddled, unbalanced and ultimately very boring.
Good comedy done well is priceless and almost as tough to produce on the silver screen as effective suspense. I’m a big fan of slapstick and films such as Naked Gun or Airplane work because they fire everything at their audience and if the first five jokes don’t stick, it’s guaranteed that there’s a couple that will. The problem with Movie House Massacre is that it could fling a million attempts at us, but it’d make no difference because it is just not funny. Rick Sloane was 21 when he put this together, but he must have been twelve when he wrote the script. It’s simply awful.
As the majority of the crew don’t seem to have a clue about filmmaking, you don’t need me to tell you how low the level of the dramatics sink. I must, however, praise Mary Woronov who gives us some of the finest acting that I have ever seen. It’s not in the way that she portrays her character however. It’s her ability to hide the obvious disappointment and bewilderment that an actress of her experience must have had on this set. Seriously, she deserved an Oscar nod for that. I reckon that she must have sacked her agent straight after for putting her near this tosh.
If you type Movie House Massacre in to Google, you can find review after review that will tell you how bad the film is. There is absolutely zero point in me writing any more of the same things in a different way, but I did pick up a few interesting points. It seems as if the idea here was to spoof horror in general rather than just the slasher genre and there’s a couple of haunted-house type shenanigans that go on throughout the runtime, such as light bulbs smashing and objects flying across the room. Still this just qualifies as a slasher movie because it does include a knife clenching killer (an elderly man with zilch scare factor) and a ‘heroic’ final girl. What I did find to be authentic was that in the parallel universe where this story takes place, every door or locker makes a sound like a torpedo when it opens and people can disappear and get killed with no one at all noticing. One girl just turns up to get murdered (somewhat creatively) in a popcorn machine. Either I fell asleep briefly or she just appeared from nowhere, to be frank I just don’t know anymore. Excuse me, I need to go and have a lie down.
I have never deemed any film that I’ve seen atrocious enough to give a no star review. I was close here, but in the end I decided on half a star. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this is a terrible picture. Painful, horrible, grotesque and monstrous. It doesn’t attempt however to cover up its weaknesses with vulgarity, which is something that others seem to do constantly. I also laughed when I heard the Casio keyboard Halloween knock-off score, which is suspiciously similar to the cheesy club track ‘Little bit of luck’ by DJ Luck and MC Neat. It was amusing watching an old man with a knife stalk a theater isle, whilst a cheap rendition of “Ta na ne, ta na ne, ta na ne, ta na ne tee boi” was playing in the background. I think that alone salvaged the film somewhat. Maybe Sloane should have sued them for the use of his tune? He could have retrieved some of the budget that I am sure he never got back on this. Also, did anyone else notice how much the actor who played the young killer was similar to Ray Liotta? Gawd I must have been bored if I was thinking things like that.
If you needed to read it yet another time just to be sure, then I can confirm to you that Movie House Massacre should be avoided at all costs. I felt like throwing my sock at my iPad countless times throughout and I know people always say it halfheartedly, but I promise you that I was cringing in places. Horrible acting, no story, a dumb geriatric killer, zero suspense and well zero anything, really.
A good friend of mine recently was trying to split with his girlfriend. He had tried everything, but she just wouldn’t go. I told him to show her Movie House Massacre and pretend it was his favourite film. They are no longer together…
Nightmare at Shadow Woods 1983
aka Blood Rage
Directed by: John Grissmer
Starring: Mark Soper, Louise Lasser, Marianne Kanter
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Firstly, before we get going, I must confess that this review is of the old US video version under the name of Blood Rage. The film played briefly in theaters as Nightmare at Shadow Woods and I also have Dutch and Argentinian copies that were released the same way. There was a budget disc that came out quite recently, but it cuts out all the good stuff, so if you are looking to track this down after reading, go for the VHS ONLY. Well, at least until it gets picked up and given the care and attention that it should have received long ago…
Although this overlooked little gem wasn’t marketed as an out and out gore flick, in its uncut form it certainly delivers on the red stuff. It was shot in 1982 and finished early the following year, but it didn’t get released until much later when the stalk and slash style of horror had seriously become old hat. There are many such examples that you can find here on a SLASH above, where features have been left on the shelf for whatever reason, but in the case of Woods, it is a real disappointment that such a fun little entry has become totally obscure.
There’s something uniquely satisfying about watching a gory film. It may be impossible to put it into words, but there’s a reason why an uncut version of a splatter fest will always favour that of a censored print. Humans have a morbid curiosity and it’s fun watching an actor getting his face cut in half with a bench saw when you know it’s just prosthetics…
We kick off at a drive in movie theater. A mother is far too busy making out with her lover to notice that her twin boys Terry and Todd have crept out of the car and headed out onto the forecourt. After a brief confrontation with a teenage viewer and his girlfriend, one of the twins hacks the unfortunate jock to death with a handy axe that he picked up on route. Clearly a quick thinker, Terry gives the hatchet to his dumb-founded brother and leaves him to face a life behind bars in an asylum for a crime that he did not commit.
Fast forward ten years and Todd, who has been in a catatonic state since that fateful night, begins to recollect the fact that it is actually his twin-brother that should be held accountable for the grisly murder and so armed with the truth, he escapes the hospital to clear his name and bring his sibling to justice. Meanwhile the news of Todd’s escape, coupled with the uncomfortable fact that his mother is about to get married, sends Terry back on a maniacal rampage.
What we have here is the slasher movie equivalent of a ’67 Pontiac Firebird. Nowadays it may look a bit clunky and rough around the edges, but that doesn’t diminish any of its coolness. John Grissmer obviously set out with the ambition to fill his feature with all the necessary ingredients for it to rival the hard-hitters of the horror market during that period and if it weren’t for a few post-production issues, he would have succeeded wholeheartedly. As I mentioned earlier, the gore is spread thick and fast throughout the runtime and there’s no space left for sentimentality as the killer stalks his victims with a mean-spirited air of arrogance. In most traditional slasher films, the antagonist is either an unknown entity with no other link to his victims than a lust for murder or more commonly it’s a psychopathic colleague that’s seeking revenge, but conceals his identity from those that he stalks. Grissmer’s psycho however kills indiscriminately and celebrates the fact that he is slashing those that look upon him as a friend. He taunts as would a playground bully and like the most fearsome schizophrenic, he has no apparent realization of the grotesque acts that he is committing.
Future Oscar nominee Ed French’s gore effects are heavily underrated and hold up well against some of the cycle’s more renowned bloody treasures. My favorite of the bunch would have to be when Maddy discovers the corpse of her boyfriend in the apartment complex and unaware that he has been murdered, she prods him to ascertain why he is failing to answer her questioning. As his body falls forward, the head splits completely in half through the middle and its a decent and credibly handled scare. This is one of many neat directorial flourishes on display and the final stalking scenes build some flashes of suspense and tension. The budget restrictions are obvious, but the film holds it’s own against its slasher siblings.
Mark Soper steals the show here playing both of the evil twins with an intelligent and well researched performance that defies his lack of experience. Instead of just going for the obvious and giving his separate characters distinctive vocal twangs, his body language, composure and stride are uniquely delivered and therefore look almost unrecognizable as the work of the same actor. He has a ball playing the maniacal killer and his ‘cranberry sauce’ lines are chillingly dark and brought to mind something that Jack Nicholson might ad lib. Louise Lasser, a good actress usually, is hit and miss here as the mother, but I guess that she did manage much more ‘hit’ and the role was a difficult one. I also quite liked the innocent (and heroic) final girl who was played well by an unknown who had very few previous screen credits. Bruce Rubin’s screenplay is conventional of the slasher genre, but smart with the majority of its twists and gimmicks and it does well to set up scenarios that develop the story and maintain the pace. Do you remember the scene in Halloween when Laurie Strode is screaming and in desperate need for help from her neighbours, but they dismiss her cries as drunken malarkey? Well, there’s something similar here when a kiddie is pre-warned not to open the door because there’s someone dangerous about. Later, when the heroine is fleeing and looking for a place to hide, guess which house that she runs to and begins frantically knocking?
What I did find disappointing though was that Rubin didn’t make the most of an ambitious plot by adding a possible element of mystery. We know from the start that Terry is the psychopathic sibling, but with a bit more adventurous scripting, we could have been left deciding which of the twins is the true killer until an archetypal revelation climax.
With that said, Woods still remains a top top splatter flick and would be a great sister companion for The Prowler or My Bloody Valentine from the same period. It is scary, well-written, fast moving and unique and on top of that mega gory. Ray Peterson was a rock and roll singer in the late fifties who had a four-octave voice. His songs were brilliant and he covered everything from doo-wop to up-tempo ballads, but only boasted a handful of minor hits. Woods in a way is similar to Peterson, because it has it all; and for reasons that only the immortal guardians can provide, it never got the respect that it deserves…..
Final Girl √√
Hide and Go Shriek 1987
aka Close your Eyes and Pray
Directed by: Skip Schoolnik
Starring: Bunky Jones, Brittain Frye, Annette Sinclair
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
As I have said previously, despite the fact that many peeps believe that the slasher genre died early on in the eighties, there were still a few decent entries released right the way through the decade. Whilst Hide and go Shriek was never up to the standard of say The Prowler or My Bloody Valentine, it makes a good enough slasher Tortilla without adding any new herbs or spices to the age-old recipe.
During a break from school, eight teenagers decide to spend the night in one of their friend’s father’s store. Little do they know that they are not alone and an unseen maniac begins killing them off one by one…
Shriek is a fairly unique dose of hack and slash with some really neat pluses. What it does exceptionally well is create a very sleazy atmosphere for the plot to unravel within. The opening shots of desolate back streets in a gloomy American city that is shrouded with graffiti and smoke bellowing chimneys, sets a grim tone. In many ways, the obvious low budget is a benefit rather than a hindrance and it keeps in check with the gloomy environment. I think that the spacious locations of an empty store are great for stalking and chase sequences and much like Spiegel’s Intruder from the next year, this really attempts to make the most of the sets. Once inside, the lack of appropriate lighting only adds to the eeriness and you can always rely on mannequins to be one of the creepiest props for creating false scares. Talking of false scares, there are a couple of really good ones here thanks to some razor sharp editing and the director keeps his framing as claustrophobic as possible. Schoolnik was a first time shooter behind the lens, but he was no stranger to horror as amongst other work, he had edited Halloween II. I know that John Carpenter was quite heavily involved behind the scenes with that sequel, so maybe he picked up some tips from the master? Either way, I am sure that this helped him to understand timing, and there are some impressive flourishes dotted throughout the runtime that showed an eager hand.
John Ross’ score is interesting as it somewhat resembles Brad Fiedel’s now legendary composition from The Terminator. Even though that may make you believe that it sounds incredibly cheesy, it’s actually quite pulsating and distinctive. The killer spends most of the runtime in the shadows and the only real development of his character is his mad cackling after each murder. As a bit of a gimmick, he steals the clothes of each victim after they’re dead (both male and female) and tricks his next target in to the false sense of security that he’s actually their friend. He then leads them to secluded corners and brutally murders them using various creative methods. The slaughter scenes are gruesome, if not graphically outstanding and there’s one of the best and most startling decapitations of all time late on in the feature. It gets quite tense at times too and although not a master of suspense, Schoolnik does keep the pace very high.
There’s a very effective scene, which underlines the grim fate awaiting the teenagers in the abandoned store. When they realise that they’re trapped inside with a marauding maniac, they run to the window and are relieved to see a Police car parked directly outside the front door. They bang on the double-glazed glass to try and get the attention of their ticket to safety, but look on in horror as their screams go unheard and the patrolman drives off in to the night. It was a great way of underlining their desperation, isolation and sense of impeding doom and it really helped to keep the morbid pulse running. It’s also worth noting that the body count material here are also a lot smarter than usual and when they work out that they’re being picked off one by one, they get in to a corner and grab a weapon and decide to stick together until help arrives.
Everything works well up until the climax, which is totally out of left field and unnecessary. I mean, without ruining anything, I would say that it is like going to a fancy dress party stark naked. Many may give you credit for having the biggest balls of them all, but really it’s a stupid idea, because for sure you are going to offend some people. I can see the idea and understand what the filmmakers were trying to do here, but instead of being scary the conclusion is just distasteful, poorly delivered and well, a tad peculiar. Much like the previous year’s City in Panic, Shriek gets lost in its ambition somewhat; and if you are going to use a social comment in your screenplay, then you need to be a bit smarter so as not to offend. Unfortunately this handles everything with butter fingers and comes across like a deep-rooted chauvinist doing a marketing campaign for feminism, you know?
Performance wise, almost everything was ok, but Bunky Jones let the side down with a torrid cocktail of overacting and just plain shouting. The kids are all picked more as eye candy and there are some hot chicas here, especially the unfortunate who loses her head (quite literally). We also get the usual amount of silly late-eighties shenanigans and campy fun before the terror starts (watch out for the hilarious moonwalk and musical chairs in a van scenario. Pure comedy gold!) I felt that a few more murders would have made the film better as a whole, but these guys had a neat defensive strategy, which is why the killer didn’t work his way through that many of them.
A poorly handled conclusion doesn’t subtract too much from the rest of the feature and Shriek is good enough to keep you entertained.This would go well on a double bill with the equally fun Terror Night from the same year, which has finally seen light of day. It’s often overlooked, but Shriek does have moments that deserve a standing on your slasher shelf
Final Girl √√
Worth a look…
Evil Judgement 1981
Directed by: Claudio Castravelli
Starring: Pamela Collyer, Jack Langedijk, Walter Massey
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This is an update of the review that I posted on the IMDB way back in 2004. Enjoy…
Looking at the cheesy cover, one could be forgiven for immediately passing off Evil Judgement as just a typical bottom of the barrel slasher from the years when studios were knocking them out faster than the time it takes to boil an egg. Due mainly to the huge amount of slasher films released during the golden period, many struggled to find an audience and rapidly vanished without recognition. Although the likes of ‘Movie House Massacre’ and ‘Click: The Calendar Girl Killer’ were perhaps deserving of such a fate, the excellent ‘Terror Night’ and the two ‘BloodStreams’ (both 1985 and 2000 respectively) proved to be worthy of a more prominent status.
As I have said before, 1981 was a fine year for fans of slasher movies. Not only were enthusiasts treated to a sequel of Halloween, which was arguably the movie that started it all; but also they were given excellent features such as Small Town Massacre, Friday the 13th Part 2, The Prowler, My Bloody Valentine and Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse. It was also without a doubt the most lucrative period for the cycle and it is reported that over 60% of box office receipts were from slasher flicks.
Evil Judgement was also completed in 1981, but missed out on the chance to become a part of the peak year influx, due to post-production problems, which have remained undisclosed. The movie sat on the shelves for 3 years and was released direct to video in 1984. Usually such a fate is reserved only for the worst of entries (Twisted Nightmare anybody?), so initially the signs were unconvincing for this Canadian effort.
Everything kicks-off stereotypically as an unidentified patient escapes an asylum, murdering a doctor and an unsuspecting orderly along the way. Next up we meet our heroine, Janet (Pamela Collyer), who is hardly the virginal alter-girl that so often dictates the stereotype for the female protagonist of a slasher movie. Working in a grimy café really begins to get her down and so after much convincing, she decides to accompany her friend, who is an expensive hooker, on a money-spinning night of erotica. Janet’s prostitution début doesn’t go specifically as planned, because an unseen maniac turns up on site and attempts, albeit unsuccessfully, to murder her. Despite his failure to relieve us of our leading lady, the killer does manage to slaughter both her friend April (Nanette Workman) and their unfortunate client.
The killer realises that he has left a surviving eye-witness and begins to stalk Janet throughout the rest of the feature, gorily slaughtering everyone that gets in his way. Numerous twists and turns in the plot keep the audience guessing until the surprising conclusion…..
Evil Judgement has become something of an obscurity and is rarely mentioned in the same breath as titles such as Prom Night or My Bloody Valentine. It’s a real shame, because actually Castravelli’s slasher is one of the better peak-year murder-mysteries. The film’s strengths lie in the ambition of its synopsis and an excellent characteristic performance from Jack Langedijk as the anti-hero, Dino. When first watching, I had the feeling that he had turned up on the wrong set and was meant to be playing a wise guy in the Mafia flick that was shooting next door. But in fairness, he quickly began to grow on me and made a likeable persona from an audience boo-boy, which is no mean feat. Despite an obviously low production budget, the director manages to build an immensely atmospheric puzzle, which includes characters that break the monotonous slasher clichés. The story enters realms of the unknown in terms of plot development (how many slashers can you name that mix Mafioso with a demented psychopath?) and it deserves credit for its flair for the ambitious.
Judgement is not a gore film like so many that populated the genre at this point in the period, but there’s something notably gruesome in the manner that the killer dispatches his victims. The murders are bloody; and the camera never shies away from the graphic corpses. Some may argue that more creativity was needed – every victim suffers a gooey throat slashing. But with that said, Castravelli does well to build a fist-full of tension in the right places and the stalking scenes in the mansion are dark and memorable. Mixing a few decent shocks with a talent for building a gothic atmosphere, the movie makes the most of its plus-points and rarely struggles to keep up a comfortable momentum.
Whilst Jack Langedijk is excellent as the problematic Dino, Pamela Collyer is irredeemably poor as the one-toned Janet. In fact the couple perform arguably the worst ever sex-scene (I’m not an advocate of gratuitous sex in a movie, but hey, this sucked!) in the history of cinema. The words two, wooden and planks spring to mind. At times the lighting dims to keyring-torch illumination, which is usually a big negative for slasher flicks. On this occasion though, the darkness adds to the sleazy feel of Evil Judgement. And when we are not steering into the dimension of sleazy, things get surprisingly cheesy, which is a strong selling point to many retro fans. The OTT eighties fashions are pushed to the max here and the dialogue and music help to bolster the film’s inadvertent comedy factor. Swapping between the two moods is something that not many trash slashers can claim that they have mastered, which is why I am surprised that Judgement is so rarely acknowledged as a decent slice of genre garlic bread. With cheese, bacon and all the toppings too…
Its lack of a fan-base means that Evil Judgement may never get the respect it deserves, but if you have time then I recommend that you give this one a shot. Compelling and alluring, Castravelli’s part slasher/part crime movie is well worth a revisit.
Final Girl: √√
Directed by: Ollie Martin
Starring: Alan Dale, Christine Jenson, Gavin Wood
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
*I do write a lot of my new reviews on the go, but because I want to cover the entire slasher genre, I like to reuse some of the ones I have previously penciled. Whenever I do though, I always update them after watching the movie once again. Here we have Houseboat Horror and I was THE first outside of Australia to post a write-up of it! I spent years trying to track it down and eventually when I did, it was, ahem, everything that I had expected to be. It is available now on DVD, but this review is from April 2003, when it was still an obscure locally released VHS. I hope that you enjoy the update….
This late-eighties Australian inclusion to the slasher cycle is famous mainly for being the most widely panned of all of the hack and slash entries. It even manages to out-trash utter trashola like Home Sweet Home and the abysmal Voyeur.com in the bad review stakes. Considering the ‘quality’ of those aforementioned movie nightmares, being that poorly received is quite a considerable achievement. Perhaps Houseboat’s only saving grace is the fact that it has become so immensely rare to fans of the genre outside Melbourne, that most of us have more chance of buying the winning lottery ticket than actually seeing the damn thing. With that said, I must admit that its mystifying disappearance has indeed given the picture something of an alluring edge. I am ‘fortunate’ enough to be one of the few that actually own this rarity of a mishap on VHS and therefore feel a certain moral commitment to share my views on whether it’s actually as bad as its reputation would lead you to believe.
The hackneyed plot here is a pure cut and paste amalgamation of two of its biggest American brethrens: Friday the 13th and The Burning. Director Grant Evans (Alan Dale) has been given the job of shooting a music video for a struggling local rock band. He has chosen the location of Lake Infinity as a backdrop for his creation and before long his crew, the gang of musicians and their rowdy groupies are floating aboard the Houseboats of the title. Unfortunately for the youngsters, they decide to settle on a site where many years ago a group of actors were mysteriously torched and a young child was horrendously disfigured. Have you worked it out yet? Thought as much. Yes, it’s no surprise when almost as soon as they arrive, the motley crew begins to fall prey to the frazzled hands of an unseen maniac – Ho-hum indeed. The rest of the story goes exactly where you’d expect it to, as the crispy killer makes short work of the outrageously mulleted cast members…
To be fair, Houseboat Horror starts commendably with an atmospheric (and gory) murder and chase sequence that is plagued only by the fact that the young actress playing the victim has an issue keeping her eyes tightly closed for a two-second corpse close-up post-slashing. From that moment onward, the best way I can describe the feature to you is like a burger on a boiling hot griddle that has just had the cheese placed on top. If you imagine that minutes in real time were seconds on that grill, you can feel as the topping slowly melts and completely engulfs the entire burger/movie with melting fondue. For a start, I couldn’t fail to mention that one of the beer swilling, woman pressing rebel rousers is none other than Alan Dale, who is of course most famously known as Jim Robinson from Aussie daytime soap, Neighbors. Old Helen Daniels would be turning in her grave if she witnessed his loutish shenanigans, which include swearing prolifically and racing his car on the wrong side of the road! Whilst we are on the topic of Ramsey Street, it is even more surprising that his former neighbor (for want of a better word) and equally frumpy pudding faced goody-goody, Harold Bishop (Ian Smith) expressed his dark side in another corny throwaway named Body Melt. Neither actor returned to the horror genre, which I’m sure was something that they never regretted. The choice between working daily with mega-babes to the level of Kylie Minogue, Natalie Imbruliga and Holly Valance or ‘acting’ besides a gang of talentless brain-starved strumpets is surely the easiest decision since Dave Navarro said yes to Carmen Electra.
In fact, this cast of no-hopers manage to break records in the speed that they will begin clawing at the strings of your patience. Fifteen minutes into the feature you’ll be preying for a couple of The Burning’s ‘raft sequences’, so you can witness five or six of the poorly dramatised losers getting splattered simultaneously. Unfortunately, this Jason Voorhees wannabe is nowhere near as creative as good old Cropsy, so you’ll have to watch the numb-skulls getting slaughtered one by one – extremely S-L-O-W-L-Y. The murders are without a doubt the film’s highlight, simply because they boast some tacky yet surprisingly rewarding gore effects and there’s a whole bunch of them for you to check out. We also get a couple of murderous devices that are rarely seen in slasher cinema (Harpoon, flamethrower and how could I forget the horseshoe?). Let’s not underplay the fact that the chance of seeing Jim Robinson get his head split in half with a giant machete is an occasion that most would find simply too irresistible to miss.
Houseboat Horror certainly isn’t going to win any awards, but for all its nonsensical amateurism it does at least manage to provide a few bad movie giggles. The back cover boldly boasts the inclusion of a ‘pop hit’, which once heard, sounds like a drunken pub karaoke version of Boney M’s greatest hits (the song’s titled “Young Cool and Groovy” no less). Also, what about when the hero manages to go toe-to-toe with the maniac five minutes after he’s been almost chopped in half by a machete? And I can’t forget to mention when the same character is first confronted by the hulking killer and goofs, “Awww p**s off!” I could go on all day, but instead I’ll leave you with a choice slice of dialogue that I believe sums up this whole movie experience perfectly. When one of the bit part extras asks one of the mulleted moppets if his brain is in repeat mode, he answers boldly “Nah, just a little retarded” I couldn’t have put it any better myself…
Final Girl: √
Zombie Nightmare 1986
Directed by: Jack Bravman
Starring: Adam West, Jon Mikl Thor, Tia Carrere
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
And here we have an eighties ‘zombie’ movie, which despite a title that brings to mind illusions of Romero-type walking-dead mayhem, it owes a damn site more to slasher flicks such as Friday the 13th and The Prowler et al. Inexplicably, there was a high number of horror attempts during that decade, which incorporated the living dead into their titles, but delivered stalk and slash cinematic experiences. Lucio Fulci’s House by the cemetery was a prime example of a slasher film cloaked under the guise of a zombie-thon, whilst Zombie Island Massacre was another. The Dead Pit and Ruben Galindo’s Cementerio Del Terror went as far as to mix re-animated corpses with the plot trappings of the slasher craze and more recently, Todd Cook’s Zombiefied has brought the slasher/zombie hybrid back from the grave (no pun intended)
It opens on a high school baseball field sometime during the 1960s. An amicable coach named Bill Washington is watched playing catch with some youngsters by his wife and son. Also in the stands are a Haitian school girl and two troublesome youngsters who let their intentions be known by plotting a nasty surprise for the African spectator. As the young family head home across the streets of the idyllic neighbourhood, they come across the two hoodlums from earlier attempting to rape the passive Haitian. Bill Washington immediately intervenes, much to his downfall, because whilst his back is turned he is stabbed in the chest by one of the rampant thugs. The screen fades with a shot of the young boy watching his father struggle for life on the cold concrete side walk.
Fast forward twenty years and Tony Washington – the child from the prologue – has grown into a helpful and polite young man. Whilst out shopping for his mum’s groceries, he underlines his impressive community status by courageously battering two armed thugs that were attempting to rob the local shop keeper. Things takes a turn for the worse for the vigilante, when he is savagely run down and killed by a gang of inebriated teenagers. The gang of drunkards speed off into the night, showing no remorse for their victim. Despite being visually devastated, Tony’s mum decides not to inform the police of the murder and instead she calls upon the favour owed by the Haitian from the pre-credits sequence. Somewhat fortunately (albeit stereotypically) Molly Mokembe is now a voodoo priestess and so with a dust of black magic, Tony Washington rises from the dead to avenge his ruthless murder….
If you were looking for another possible pre-cursor to Kevin Williamson’s I Know What You Did Last Summer, then look no further than this cheap as you like slasher jam, which pre-dates the aforementioned title by a whole eleven-years. The plot is familiar to each and all, as the victim of a horrendous accident returns to avenge his death, systematically slaughtering the culprits one by one in gruesome fashion. Although we never reach the heights of slasher-classic status, this does boast a few credible benefits that lift it from the irreversible depths of a half-star review. The soundtrack is awesomely impressive, with songs provided by Motorhead, Girlschool and Thor and I must admit that I was astounded as ‘The Ace of Spades’ confidently adorned the credit sequence. As is the case with so many eighties slasher entries, Zombie Nightmare plays host to one young and fresh-faced ‘soon to be superstar’. Yep, you don’t need to clean those spectacles. That chubby faced youngster that is unconvincingly warbling through her lines is none other than Tia Carrere, most memorable for her characteristic performances in Wayne’s World and True Lies.
Unfortunately, it seems the budget spent on the soundtrack pretty much drained the finances from the rest of the feature, because Zombie Nightmare seems to take an unprecedented slope to mediocrity very quickly. Despite a decent début performance from Frank Dietz as the protagonist, the dramatics are really scraping along the lines of junior school play level. Watch out for the hilarious Manuska Rigaud, who seems to believe that ‘acting’ amounts to squawking her voice like she’s desperately in need of a lozenge. Zombie Nightmare is famous for thrash legend Jon Mikl Thor’s lengthy cameo in the opening half of the film. Despite proving that rock stars certainly shouldn’t walk the path to Hollywood, he also miraculously manages to grow a few inches post-death. It’s so easy to notice that Thor had taken his paycheque and scooted very early on in the production, leaving the crew to cast a totally unconvincing body ‘double’, which somewhat adds to the cheesy charm.
There’s no gore or suspense worth mentioning and the whole feature is weakly directed to the excess of point and shoot mediocrity. Originality is a wayward concept in the eyes of Jack Bravman, so basically, what you see is what you get – and you get very little. There’s a few kooky deaths and a fairly sympathetic motive for our hulking maniac, but it never escapes the feeling of being overly diluted, so I’m sure that you’ll end up fairly bored.
Zombie Nightmare is far from being the worst slasher movie released during the peak period, but I really could only find very little to recommend. The stalking lone killer proves that this is pure slasher trash and those searching for a dose of zombie gore will be thoroughly disappointed. It would probably have remained a complete obscurity if it hadn’t been rescued by MST3K who pointed out some of the cheesy aspects in their usual hysterical way. When I wrote this review three-years ago, there was a copy of their antics available on YouTube to watch, although it may have disappeared by now.
Ignore the word ‘Zombie’ in the title and add this to your slasher collection if you dig the eighties cheapies. There’s nothing here to recommend in a respectable way, but if you are a fan of pure trashola then you should most definitely pick it up. You’ll have to dust off your VCR though, because there’s no planned DVD rehash.
Final Girl: √
Phantom Brother 1988
Directed by: William Szarka
Starring: John Gigante, John Hammer, Cheryl Hendricks
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Woo-wee!!! You know those times when you have a few beers too many and your head pounds like a bass drum? Well Phantom Brother is the stalk and slash equivalent of that feeling. Allow me to catch my breath… One second. Ok right, let me attempt to explain…
I have owned the VHS of this one for literally ages and its been peering at me from my shelf for as long as I can remember. There has been many a time that I’ve stumbled home late and been in the mood for some slasher action and I’ve picked up this cover only to put it back down and watch something else. I can’t explain exactly why I never had the urge to see it, but I guess that I had the feeling that it was another Splatter Farm or Death Nurse quality hunk of junkola. How wrong I was.
Four ‘young adults’ head off in to the forest, where there’s an old abandoned house that is perfect for a spot of rumpy pumpy. One of the girls senses danger, so she wants to wait outside with her beau, whilst the other couple head on upstairs. The guy shouts all the time with an obvious Brooklyn accent and has a hairstyle that looks like someone has skinned a wolf and put the fur coat on his head. His partner could most definitely do with discovering a washing machine, but has arguably the most fantastic natural boobs that I have ever seen. Seriously, they’re amazing. Anyway, they’re not at it for long, when a loon in a great mask/hood combo jumps out and kills them both with a kitchen blade. The guy downstairs hears a scream and shoots off to check it out, but he also meets his end via a bloody tracheotomy.
The last remaining chica decides against following them to their doom and instead runs off to look for help. She bumps in to Abel, who promises to go and take a look, but seems to know more than he cares to let on about the dilapidated abode. We learn that it used to belong to his family, before they were all killed in a car accident in which Abel was the only survivor. The remaining spirits of his mother and sister haunt the woodland along with his ‘Phantom Brother’ who enjoys nothing more than murdering trespassers with his trusty blade.
Abel is disgusted with the antics of his family, but there’s very little he can do except clean up after them. He does however have feelings for the unfortunate surviving girl who is curious about what happened to her friends. They partake in an ‘awkward’ getting to know you scene that goes something like: Girl: (Jill) You’re very nice. Guy: (Abel) You’re groovy. Jill: You’re sweet. Abel: You’re happening. Jill: You’re interesting. Abel: You’re pretty. Jill: You’re bleeding. Abel: You’re observant. And on and on and Ariston… Can he protect her from his murderous hermano whilst at the same time cleaning up the blood from the multitude of victims?
Phantom Brother is in many ways a really authentic piece of slasher hokum. Much like Evil Laugh, it’s a parody of the genre it frequents, but it’s also one of the VERY few horror comedies that actually works. There’s a good example of the cheeky humour about halfway through that I have to tell you about. Abel has arranged to meet Jill at the horror house that is frequented by the murderous trio. He informs us over narration (the vocal story guidance is another unique aspect) that he is running late because he stopped off to purchase some condoms, ‘just in case’. When he gets there, his date is nowhere to be seen because unbeknownst to him, she’s been tied up by his maniacal bro. The voice over continues, ‘I hoped that nothing bad had happened to her and also wondered if the chemist would give me the money back for the condoms if it had’. Brilliant.
It’s not that there are loads of hilarious lines throughout the picture, it’s just that it is totally weird and if it had have taken a more serious approach, I don’t think things would’ve worked. There’s so much going on that in order to tell you everything I’d need to buy a new server to handle the amount of paragraphs, so I will try to keep it as condensed as possible. Suffice to say that various plot-branches pop-up that are arranged solely to give us more victims to kill off. The special effects are really bargain basement and are pretty much just a few lashings of corn syrup and dismembered body parts. There was one seriously good throat-slashing though and there is a fairly humongous body count. People could have thought that maybe it was too supernatural to be a typical stalk and slash movie, but that isn’t the case at all. It also includes a really good twist that I was not expecting and it ties things together nicely.
The mystery-aspect helps to keep things rolling at a great pace and some of the cinematography is really impressive. The score is a bit manic. Almost like Jan Hammer had sniffed a gram of pure cocaine and then attempted to do a cover version of the Halloween medley, but I guess it suits the film’s atmosphere. The bad acting also helps the cheesiness and it’s one of those mega rare occasions where the overall amateurism works to the film’s favour. Professional crews don’t make movies like this and so it’s nice to find one that’s not exactly ‘so bad it’s good’, but more ‘quite bad but at the same time pretty good’, if you get what I mean.
It was shot by a gang of acquaintances who really wanted to jump aboard the SOV horror bandwagon. Director William Szarka has previously worked on the godawful Plutonium Baby, but had walked off set after a disagreement with his camera operator. Here they get it just about right by giving us a cheesy dose of slasher trash with enough ingenuity for it to stand out from the crowd. It’s an interesting movie that packs in bundles of strange situations and a superb guise for its psycho killer. High alcohol intake aside, I really enjoyed it and am surprised that I haven’t seen it before. The corny attempts at humour are not as despicable as usual because the movie is not trying to be two things at the same time and it sets the goofy tone early on. Whilst I have never been a fan of stupid comedy mixed with slasher shenanigans, this one somehow managed to get the blend spot on.
It’s not often that I will tell you to track down an obscurity here on a SLASH above, but this one’s well worth a punt. I had a great time watching it and I am sure that you will too. It’s incredibly hard to find, but if you can grab a copy for a couple of quid, then by all means add it to your collection. I think that because I was expecting something really awful, I was really surprised with what I got. If you like ‘em cheap and quirky, you should feel the same. Cheryl Hendricks’ breats alone are worth the purchase price…
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √√