Category Archives: Pure Eighties Cheese
Those that make you laugh as much (or more) than scream…
Hanging Heart 1983?
Director Jimmy Lee
Starring, Barry Wyatt, Francine Lapensee, Debra Robinson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
How does that old Bruce Springsteen number go again, Everybody’s got a hungry heart? Well not everyone’s got a Hanging Heart that’s for sure. This peak period entry from 1983 is so obscure that it has no reviews on its lonely IMDB page… Until now. I picked it up in Poland on VHS many moons ago because its back-cover blurb sounded slightly slasher-esque. It’s been gathering cobwebs in my garage since that time, because I didn’t really think it was a genre entry until a SLASH above reader Alexander Gretil contacted me and said that it certainly was. (Thanks for that Alex))
Much like Cards of Death, the film was shot in California, but only secured distribution in a handful of countries outside of the US. I managed to source a Brazilian copy with much better visuals than my aging videotape and I also saw a Dutch cassette on eBay, which shows that it’s not ‘totally’ impossible to track down. There’s very little information that I can find scattered about on the web, so I really have no idea why it was never picked up in its country of origin. Although it’s MIA status did set off alarm bells that it may be utter tosh, I was still keen to give it a go.
A masked killer targets an up and coming theatre production, leaving the star, Denny, as the most likely suspect. When he is arrested and thrown in jail, his lawyer begins a campaign to free him. As soon as he is released the murders begin again, which makes him look extremely guilty. Is he the killer?
At the time that this went to production, the film’s director, Jimmy Lee was a South Korean citizen who had emigrated to study in the US and chase his filmmaking dream. Since 1998’s Whispering Corridors, South Korean horror has had a huge impact on the genre, which led me to believe that I may have been in for an undiscovered precursor of sorts with this. Well, whilst Hanging Heart is not one that plays it by the book, its tricks and twists are definitely those of the least impressive variety.
Heart is, in fact, one of the strangest films that I have ever seen. Characters pop up out of nowhere with no introduction in scenes that are totally disjointed and we never really know who is doing what and for why. At first I thought that it must have been an inexperienced editor that gave it the structure of Spaghetti Bolognese, but Steven Nielsen had three films under his belt before he worked on this, so that can’t be the case. It’s very hard to ascertain what went wrong and how no one picked up on the incoherent flow before it was packaged up for release, but it makes the film difficult to watch.
Lee incorporates an abundance of obvious homoerotic imagery that goes way beyond anything David DeCoteau has ever rolled out. Our lead character/suspect, Denny, is constantly pursued by his homosexual lawyer who has the hots for him and this leads to a graphic scene where Denny dreams that he is sexually assaulted in the shower. Later, we watch full on as he is strip searched in a Police station, before being thrown in a cell with two guys that make out in front of him, much to his discomfort. We also get a flashback from his childhood that shows him being forced to perform a sex act on his stepfather and it’s all done in real bad taste. Whilst titles such as Hellbent have been gleefully accepted for opening up the slasher genre to a sexual preference that had been largely ignored for too long, Hanging Heart, whether intentionally or not, conveys homosexuals as sleazy stalkers and that’s unforgivable.
What is unique about the picture though is that it follows the main suspect through a trial, into prison and then to a mental hospital, which begs the question is this more of a drama than a slasher movie? Well with only three blood-less killings (a stocking is used to strangle the first two victims) that’s actually a point that holds some weight. Whilst there is a hooded nutjob doing the rounds, the core of the story is most definitely the mystery, which is unfortunate, because the conclusion turns out to be the person that we expected it to be all along. Conveyed over 100+ minutes, Heart does rather hang on the borders of tedium. In fact that’s a rather generous description, because it smashes through said borders to send viewers in to a coma-like state. Whilst my tolerance levels for trash cinema have weakened over the years, I am lucky enough to have found a partner who is not as critical and generally enjoys everything from Mask of Murder to Houseboat Horror. The fact that she fell asleep three times (we had to watch the feature over a trifecta of days) should tell you all that you need to know. If a movie can’t keep someone as forgiving as my Mrs interested then it has got serious problems.
None of the cast featured here went on to do anything else, which is perhaps unfair because they were by no means the worst actors to grace slasherdom. It can’t have helped that their debut received such limited exposure, but it still seems strange that all of their careers started and ended with this. One thing that I found interesting was that the IMDB has it dated as 1983, but it looks at least three-years younger. Jimmy Lee made another film nearly two decades later and I wonder if this has been listed incorrectly? I’d be keen to find out
It’s not hard to see why Hanging Heart wasn’t picked up for US distribution. It’s overlong, boring and possibly offensive to boot. Whilst its obscurity does give it a cult-ish sheen, it is not one that offers much more.
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl √
Mask of Murder 1985
Directed by: Arne Mattsson
Starring: Rod Taylor, Valerie Perrine, Christopher Lee
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Following hot on the heels of my reviews of Out of the Dark and Dead End, Mask of Murder is another of those mystery thrillers that borrows plot points from the slasher movies and giallos that had been popular around the time. It was a joint Swedish/Canadian production that was shot in Uppsala län, and it was that unusual blend of cultural heritage that initially caught my attention.
Christopher Lee’s credits over the last twenty years have included three mega-blockbusters, which isn’t bad going for an actor that made his first movie appearance way back in the midst of World War 2. He was initially John Carpenter’s choice to play the Sam Loomis character in Halloween, but he didn’t accept; something he admits he’s always regretted. He even went as far as to call it the biggest blunder of his career.
Obviously annoyed that he’d missed out on some supreme slasher action, perhaps the reason he took a supporting role here was because he didn’t want to make the same mistake twice? Or maybe he was blackmailed into doing it? I really don’t know, but one thing is certain however, he was definitely slumming it.
It’s all set in a small snowy Canadian town. Almost immediately, a loony in a mask grabs an unsuspecting woman and slices her throat with a straight razor. Later that day in another location, a second victim suffers the same fate at the hands of the gruesome killer. He removes his disguise and heads back to a remote cabin where he proves his dementia by gnashing his teeth and staring into the screen. Ooooh scary…
We next get to meet the members of our cast over an evening’s gathering. First off there’s John (Christopher Lee) the chief of the local Police Force. His best detective, Bob (Rod Taylor) has been having problems with his wife Marianne (Valerie Perrine). These difficulties must have a lot to do with the fact that his partner Ray (Sam Cook) is busy banging her every time that he gets the chance. The dinner party is cut short when Bob receives a call informing him that they have the assassin surrounded. They rush to the scene and to cut an overlong story short; the city of Nelson should be a little quieter from now on. But the tranquillity doesn’t last. It begins to look like there’s a copycat murderer at work when more women turn up with their throats slit. Is someone mimicking the murders? Or is the killer back from beyond the grave?
Why Christopher Lee turned down Halloween but chose to play a part in this turkey is one of the world’s biggest mysteries. It’s up there with the Bermuda Triangle, Roswell and Big Foot. I mean seriously come on; surely the screenwriter must have known that the killer’s identity was patently obvious from the start. This is perhaps the dumbest and most basic premise for a murder mystery that I have ever seen. The Scooby Doo cartoon offers less obvious plot twists. Swedish filmmaker Arne Mattsson directs so sloppily that he manages to drag surprisingly wooden performances from an inviting ensemble of screen veterans. Lee’s the best of the bunch, but he’s not on screen long enough to warrant his fans to hunt this down. The pace moves like a traffic jam, and perhaps the most obnoxious thing about Mask of Murder is the horrible music that accompanies every ‘twist’ in the story. It sounds like one of those guitar-sporting beggars that you sometimes see on the street had been recorded whilst heavily inebriated.
Surprisingly though, there are some things that I liked about the film’s set up. For example, the killer has a pillow case over his head and if you squint your eyes it almost looks like the kind of burlap sack that Jason wore in Friday the 13th Part II. Also, the throat slashings are fairly bloody and in one scene a girl is murdered in a cinema – a trick that has become a slasher trademark after He Knows You’re Alone, Cut and Scream 2. The only problem is that the gore scenes are so leisurely executed that the gratuitous blood gushes just look like a poor attempt to flog a dead horse. There was never really a moment where I felt like things might improve or that I was perhaps being a tad over-critical. My suspicions were confirmed once and for all when I witnessed Rod Taylor sniffing his adulterous wife’s underwear. (Don’t ask!)
Mask of Murder was once amongst the rarest fossils of the genre, despite being released in quite a few countries. Nowadays though, its available on a Dutch DVD, although I must admit that I haven’t seen what the quality is like or what version it is on that disc.The first copy that I ever found was the BBFC rated print, which is missing 124 seconds of footage, but then I came across a VHS in Spain that’s totally uncut. It doesn’t really make much of a difference though because the film is as exciting as root canal surgery and almost as painful…
Killer Guise: √√√
Directed by: Paul Lynch
Starring: Janet Julian, David Wallace, Janit
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I must admit that Humongous was always a slasher movie that I had a certain fondness for. Not because I remembered much about its production quality (I’d only seen it the once, many years ago), but it always struck me as one that had been completely overlooked, perhaps unfairly. Personally, I love an underdog and that’s why I was keen to see if I could salvage some positives from giving it another blast on my Plasma.
Director Paul Lynch had come hot off making a major success out of a relatively average movie in Prom Night and therefore the odds were looking good for a similar return with this, his second effort. In the end though, his follow up turned out to be not very humongous at all and a bit of a cocktail sausage in the popularity stakes. Despite solid distribution from a major label, it failed to achieve the standing of titles like Madman or Hell Night, which are fairly similar in their concepts.
After a disturbing rape sequence in the pre-credits, we meet five youngsters who are planning to go sailing on a huge lake. When their boat explodes after an unfortunate accident, they find sanctuary on a remote island. Little do they know that the land is inhabited by a woman and her deformed son who are not the most welcoming hosts…
A lot of critics (myself included in an earlier review) have written about the film’s poor illumination, so to save you from reading the same thing, I have decided not to go over it again. It could be argued though that Lynch deliberately attempted to keep his antagonist off screen for the most part and reveal him gradually as the film rolled on. It’s a ploy that is used regularly in horror features and it reminds me of the anticipation of having a surprise present in a wrapped box and guessing what’s inside as you shake it. You only have to check titles like Halloween, The Predator, The House by the Cemetery or even Night of the Demon to see that it works. In the case of Humongous though, photos recently discovered by JA Kerswell over at Hysteria Lives show that not only was the director aiming to deliver suspense, but his bogeyman’s make-up was definitely the kind that you wouldn’t want to have the best lighting rig in town for.
Paul Lynch has spoken quite openly about the film’s low budget, but the locations and earlier effects (the uncut dog mauling scene especially) demonstrate funding that looked superior to other titles released around the same time. Perhaps the monetary reservoir drained far quicker than expected, so they had to cut costs for the remainder of the shoot? I often wondered why the first on screen murder was so gruesome and the rest looked brief and diluted. I presumed that much like Happy Birthday to Me, the studio had shortened the death scenes to escape punishment from scissor happy censors. If that was the case, does any of that footage still exist? It’d be nice to know. Further proof of this possibility can be found in the double murder that cuts so rapidly that it’s tough to make out what’s happening. The majority of the runtime is comfortably edited, which makes it look even more unusual and likely that some gore was removed prior to release.
I was never the biggest fan of Lynch’s Prom Night as I felt it took the Halloween pilfering to the gatepost and then crashed straight through it. There are signs of the same level of imitation here, especially in the shot for shot duplication of the stalking sequence from Carpenter’s classic, where Michael Myers emerges from the shadows to push Laurie Strode down some stairs. This came straight after a scene where Sandy, our final girl, momentarily confuses the bogeyman by dressing in his mother’s clothes. This had been quite blatantly lifted from Friday the 13th Part II, which was released a year earlier. Whilst the reuse of ideas is extremely common in the slasher genre, Humongous overcomes accusations of being a freeloader by bringing a few of it’s own drinks to the party.
Some of the characters featured are intriguingly developed and filled with insecurities. The hero’s brother, Nick, is obviously envious of his elder sibling. So much so in fact that he fires a loaded rifle past his head for no apparent reason. Then Donna, a cheeky redhead, adds some depth to her ‘slut’ persona by conveying subtly that she uses her breasts and body to sell herself due to a lack of confidence and to get people to like her. There’s also an ambiguous hint that perhaps the youngsters had stumbled upon the island out of destiny and that our heroine was there to follow in the footsteps of the deranged mother. The final freeze frame shows us how the events that Sandy has overcome have affected her psychologically. This begs the question, did she stay behind to live in the house and therefore takeover from the deceased landowner? I also liked how the killer, who it is suggested had grown up with only dogs as companions, growled and grunted like he was in fact a mongrel himself.
Whilst the previous issues with Humongous still remain and the acting is up and down-ish, I really enjoyed watching the movie this time around. It’s obvious that Lynch had grown as a director and parts like the eyeball jump scare and Donna filling her bra with blueberries rate high up there with the other great slasher postcards. I think that the best achievement of all was the successful delivery of an ominous tone that wraps around the runtime like a comfort blanket and kept me guessing what will come next. Moments like this have been too easily overlooked due to criticisms of the lighting, which is a huge shame.
I have a lot more respect for this picture now and would say that it’s the best example of Lynch’s slasher work. It may never achieve the status of a cult classic, but there’s enough here to have made me glad that I saw it again
Final Girl: √√
The Demon 1979
Directed by: Percival Rubens
Starring: Jennifer Holmes, Cameron Mitchell, Zoli Marki
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I discovered The Demon on big-box VHS when I was about twelve-years-old at a jumble sale in my local village hall. It’s hard to believe that it was one of the first to jump on the Halloween-inspired slasher bandwagon, because nowadays, it barely gets a mention amongst the plethora of peak period entries. That does seem somewhat strange, because it received global distribution and plays closer to John Carpenter’s rule book that many of its contemporaries from back then.
It tells the tale of a mysterious hulking menace that kidnaps a teenager in the opening sequence and then proceeds to slash his way through anyone that he bumps into thereafter. He sets his sights on a teacher and her cousin whom share a house in a secluded neighbourhood. Meanwhile, the abducted girl’s father hires a psychic to help find the shadowy madman and the pair set out to track him down. Can they stop him before he strikes again?
If ever a movie were to be called a mixed bag, then The Demon would have to be top of that list. There’s some decent stuff here, but it pops up only on the rarest of occasions and the rest is a bit of a puzzle. We begin things with the family of the kidnapped child and their efforts to track down the perpetrator. They hire an ESP specialist (delivered hilariously by Cameron Mitchell) to assist them and the it builds some intriguing momentum. After twenty-minutes or so, we are introduced to two new characters and a separate storyline, which dominates the majority of the runtime from then onward. We cut between the two simultaneous branches sporadically, but they lack a connection aside from the antagonist and so the film becomes disjointed and begins to lose it’s way.
Our heroine Mary (Jennifer Holmes) is a school teacher that lives with her cute cousin Jo (Zoli Marki). They are given a lot of time to flex their acting chops, especially Marki, who gets a silly romance sub-plot, which is extremely long winded. Dialogue like, “Drive me to the moon” feels like it’s been lifted from Romeo and Juliet and the fact that wardrobe gave her dresses that look like shower curtains certainly didn’t help. Talking of shower curtains, did I mention that the final girl does indeed sport one in order to cover her dignity after being chased around the house in only her nickers for the climax? Seeing a bra-less heroine battle the killer was a new one on me.
During the bloated mid-section, the psycho pops up a couple of times to prevent us from nodding off. One of these events occurs outside a nightclub called, ‘Boobs Disco’, which sounds like my kind of joint. After boogieing to the pop strains of ‘Funkytown’, a South African lass is stalked and almost raped (?) by The Demon, whose techniques for attracting the opposite sex are those of the Borat variety. She is saved by two passing motorcyclists who receive a vicious clothesline for their efforts, which leaves them in heaps upon the concrete. One of them is especially unfortunate because his bike explodes into a ball of flames after bumping into a wall. I’m still scratching my head as to how that was possible. Spontaneous combustion perhaps? Well, he is The Demon, I guess…
There’s a great scene shortly after, which shows the maniac preparing for his showdown and it’s intercut with Jo getting ready for her date. Once he arrives on site, the slasher chills are extremely effective and deliver some shades of suspense. We don’t get to learn anything about the maniac’s motive and this adds depth to his aura of menace. The script conveys his anonymity superbly and the actor playing him is probably the best thing about the feature. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he is up there with Jason and Michael in the villain stakes and his hefty frame and creepy white mask create an imposing menace.
The only copies available of The Demon are poor in quality and many scenes are dark and unclear. There’s minimal gore due the fact that the nutjob’s method of murder is to put a bag over the head of each victim and asphyxiate them. We can’t escape the scriptwriting shipwreck of the character development parts, which are snooze-inducing, and they seem to have let Cameron Mitchell loose on the quaaludes before he turned up on set. Does this make The Demon a total waste of space? Well funnily enough, no. We may be somewhere off Halloween with what we have here, but there’s enough in the extremely cute actress, remorseless assailant and idea that a place in the world exists called Boobs Disco to have kept me engaged.
What we need is a proper DVD with a commentary to answer some of the questions that I’ve raised here. Until then, I’m not saying don’t pick up a copy of this, but a few cans of lager will help you to appreciate it
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√
Bloody Moon 1981
Directed by: Jesus Franco
Starring: Olivia Pascal, Christopher Moosbrugger, Nadja Gerganoff
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I always believed that the Máximo Espejo character in the brilliant romantic comedy, ¡Átame! (1989) was based on Jesús Franco. That film’s director, Pedro Almodovar, also used scenes from Bloody Moon in another of his Antonio Banderas led pictures, Matador from 1986. Does this mean that Almodovar is a fan of his fellow countryman’s work? It’s hard to say, but the amount of sleaze in Franco’s 180+ filmography makes it easy to overlook the fact that he could be a capable filmmaker when he put his mind to it.
After the success of Halloween, a German production team approached Franco to help them put together an entry strong enough to grab a share of the hottest cinema craze. Bloody Moon went on thereafter to become something of a grindhouse classic in cult circles. This was mainly due to its whacky dialogue, explicit gore and extreme nudity. After being released uncut pre-cert on VHS in the United Kingdom, it went on to join the DPP list and become a video nasty, which added to its notoriety. Much like I had done with Juan Simón’s Pieces, I wanted to go back and view it with an open mind to see what I made of it.
A group of German students head to a language school in Spain to brush up on their Español and catch a bit of sun. It becomes apparent that they are sharing the location with a disfigured murderer who has just been released from the local asylum. Girls soon begin disappearing, so could it be that Miguel has not been fully cured?
Checking out Bloody Moon after all these years, I found that I appreciated it much more than I did a decade ago when I wrote the review that you can find here. This time around, I watched it in Spanish and the dialogue is not as hilarious as the, “I love your tenderness” and “let yourself melt in my arms” slop that we got in English language prints, which helps to make it a bit less comical. Juan Soler utilises a bright palate of cinematography that brings the screen alive, but he does overuse the zoom effect too much. Screenwriter Erich Tomek pinches a lot from Halloween, including the isolation of the final girl in her knowledge that there’s a psychopath on campus. In that role, Olivia Pascal screams her way through each new scenario with a subtle vulnerability and we do genuinely want her to survive.
The mystery is clumsy in the amount of early information that it gives us, but there are still a few surprises to be had as it unravels. Franco includes a couple of tense sequences, like the claustrophobic finale, which sees Pascal’s character uncover the corpses of her chums spread around her apartment. Juan Molina’s gore effects haven’t aged well, because nowadays, we can see similar levels of goo in most DTV efforts. Still, there’s something quite unsettling about watching a young kid get mowed down by an automobile (no, really) and the famous buzzsaw murder of a promiscuous chick hasn’t lost any of it’s pitch black humour. After letting herself be tied to a table, the aforementioned bimbo quips that she’s up for anything with what she believes is a hunky Latin lover. It’s funny, because she’s expecting to get drilled (if you know what I mean) and instead, she ends up getting sawed and TOTALLY screwed!
I wrote in my notes that some elements of the extraordinary soundtrack were almost Pink Floyd-like and then I read that Franco had falsely been promised some authentic music from that band by his producers before signing on. No wonder that he later stated that he had countless problems with them and that may explain some of the outright weirdness that we come across in the story. I mean, if there were two opposing visions working on the project, then who knows what came from where.
Going back after all this time, I’m still not convinced that Bloody Moon is much more than a cheese-sleaze slice of trash. It’s enjoyable trash though, which I guess is most important. It’s a film that I feel often gets overlooked, because with the hottest collection of chicas that I can remember, some fun gore and more moments of WTF than you can shake a stick at, it deserves a lot more recognition than it currently boasts.
Bloody Moon is gleefully bad enough to be enjoyed and although it hasn’t aged as well as others, it’s still well worth re-checking.
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√√√
Savage Lust 1989
aka Deadly Manor
Directed by: José Ramón Larraz
Starring: Liz Hitchler, Claudia Franjul, Jerry Kernion
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This total obscurity came from the hands of Jose Ramón Larraz, a Spanish filmmaker most famous for his exploitation work during the seventies. Amongst his back-catalogue is Vampyres, a gothic rarity that to this day remains a cult classic. He also made a very good stalk and slash mystery called, Edge of the Axe in 1987. Unlike Axe, which was mostly an European production, Lust saw him accept directorial duties on US soil during the cycle’s dying days.
Opinions that I’ve seen and heard on this are split, with some generally positive tributes being mixed with harsh negativity. Larraz’s previous achievements have allowed him to build something of a hero status amongst underground film fans and I wasn’t sure whether that had contributed to the praise that I had seen posted about on the web. Keeping that in mind, I decided to push my Spanish patriotic loyalties to one side and focus on the film as I would any other…
Six youngsters head out on a camping trip deep into the wilderness where one of them knows of a beautiful lake. On the drive through the long winding roads, the group lose their way and pick up a mysterious hitchhiker that says he knows how to get to the area that they’re seeking. As the warm summer day gives way to a stormy night sky, the gang decides that they better find some shelter for the night. As they search the woodland for a place to settle, they come across an eerie derelict mansion shrouded by the darkness of the surrounding trees. Curiosities arise when they discover a car-wreck statue in the front garden that looks like some kind of bizarre shrine. On closer exploration of the premises they discover coffins in the basement and an array of photos of a beautiful woman. Although they feel uneasy, the weather has become unbearable outside and they realise that the only option is to stay for the night. Before long a masked psycho begins to brutally murder the kids one by one. But what is the reason for these ruthless unprovoked murders?
I remember when Andrij Shevchenko signed for Chelsea FC for a massive fee and fans of rival teams like myself were quaking in our boots at the thought of the former European Footballer of the year being added to their ranks. Upon his arrival though, it soon became apparent that his days of glory were long behind him and it was almost painful to watch a former legend struggling to adapt to the quick pace of UK football. I mention this because I had trouble believing that Savage Lust was the work of a filmmaker that had previously been touted as one of the most creative in exploitation cinema. For the first twenty minutes we cut from one flat and boring long-range shot to the next and the camera literally doesn’t move at all. It got so bad that you could hear characters speaking before they walked past the lens and then they would just simply stroll out of shot before the obligatory cut. I mean, they didn’t even zoom in on anyone! By 1989, when this began production, even shot on video flicks were using a dolly track or steadicam; but here it felt like Larraz just couldn’t be bothered to do anything other than point the camera at the actors. He even seemed to perform that menial task from as far away as humanly possible and with the flair of a road sweeper with a hangover.
If there’s a total lack of energy in the photography, then hiring a cast that are so wooden that they could camouflage in a timber yard certainly wasn’t going to help. One girl yelps, “I saw a woman’s face in a white mask at the window” like she’s asking for more milk in her coffee. Did they even bother giving these guys auditions? They stroll around the dilapidated house spouting lines so ignorant that you want to flinch away from the screen in disgust and at one point, I caught myself reading the small print on a crisp packet, because I was so intensely bored by the antics going on in front of me. In the time that it took to order, wait for delivery and then demolish a large pizza with two cans of Tyskie, no one got killed and whilst I appreciate that a good amount of mystery was built around the contents of the spooky hacienda, it was done at the pace of a queue at a funeral.
The killer eventually gets to work and begins slashing his way through the youngsters, but any suspense is ruined by the fact that on the copy that I had, I could barely see anything. If you’ve ever been in a pitch black room and tried to locate a darkly coloured object, you will have probably had more success than trying to see what’s going on during the kill scenes here. Lighting rigs are expensive and it’s understandable that pictures like this that are made on tiny budgets may struggle to afford perfect illumination. The likes of Sledgehammer and City in Panic have managed to overcome this with a touch of creative thinking though, so I wonder why they couldn’t have done so here..?
I’m disappointed by Savage Lust because it had the chance to be a lot more. The killer’s motive is superb and there’s a really dark, gothic and mysterious tone running rampant throughout the picture. Chuck on top of that a couple of voluptuous chicas, some slick art-direction, a creepy killer guise and this should easily be a four-star picture. The lack of motivation from the filmmakers is too evident though and you’re left asking yourself why they even bothered. A job worth doing and all that, right?
There’s not too much left to say, except that I wondered if this had been jinxed by a troubled production? It felt like there were two screenwriters that had never met, because how else can you explain that in one moment we get awesome dialogue about houses being haunted by evil energy and then in the next we are given lines that would embarrass a ten year old? I’d be interested in hearing if anyone has any information on this. Oh and I just realised that I haven’t even mentioned the score, which seemed to have been put together freestyle on a Casio keyboard in thirty seconds flat.
Savage Lust does at least include a deep-rooted moral to its story. If ever you’re out in the woods and you discover an ‘abandoned’ house that has coffins in the basement, strange occult signatures garnishing the walls and human’s scalps lying around freely on the mantelpiece, then it’s a good idea NOT to just ignore these signs and think that they’re ‘inspired’ décor. Instead you should realise someone with a severe mental impediment must be nearby and it’s a good idea to get in your car and head for somewhere else… on the double!
I am afraid that I just can’t see where all that positivity on the WWW stems from. I gave up about forty-minutes in to this and slept uninterrupted for nine-hours. When I woke up fully refreshed in the morning, I put it on again and had to fight against nodding off for a second time. I recommend that you stick with Edge of the Axe…
Final Girl √
To All A Goodnight 1980
Directed by: David Hess
Starring: Jennifer Runyon, Forest Swanson, Linda Gentile
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So 11 more sleeps to the big day! I am already stocking up on Vodka. My Mrs always nags at me for even having one beer (so I get shouted at all weekend), but she promised that I can have a drink during the festive period… Of course, she doesn’t realise that it’s like given a cat the key to the dairy and saying you can have one lick of milk ;) As she is Polish, I am Spanish and we live in UK, we get to celebrate Wigila (the 24th), the big X (25th) and el Día de Reyes on the 6th of Jan. That’s an awful lot of alcohol haha – Anyway, I have set up some slasher action for the period and this entry is intriguing and collectible for two significant reasons. Número uno: It was the first slasher movie to include a Santa-suited psycho, before Silent Night-Deadly Night, Psycho Santa and Christmas Season Massacre et al took it beyond cool and into the realms of ‘please go invent something new’. Número dos: it was the directorial debut of David Hess – a man who was to the horror genre what Johan Cryuff was to football.
You’d most likely be surprised by Hess’ hugely impressive contributions to show business and the things that he achieved prior to his acting exploits. His professional career began as a singer-songwriter for the small label Shalimar Music in 1957. He penned ‘All Shook Up’ for The King shortly after and the song became a massive hit. In fact, it was just recently voted as one of the top 20 all time rockabilly classics.
Throughout the months that followed, Hess would see Conway Twitty, Andy Williams, Sal Mineo and Pat Boone take his tracks to the top end of the charts, before he settled for a career behind the scenes as head A&R man for Mercury Records. In 1972 his fortunes continued to improve when he was offered the lead role in Wes Craven’s cult classic ‘The Last House on the Left’. He gave such a nasty and memorable performance that would allow him to continue to play tormented characters in movies such as Autostop, Rosso Sangue and Ruggero Deodato’s Bodycount.
By the time 1980 came around, he was ready to broaden his horizons in the film industry and so he took to the director’s chair for this cheap and cheesy festive shocker.
The opening scene is conveyed so rapidly that it felt like my finger had brushed the FF button and it had remained playing on >>32. It is Christmas vacation at the Calvin Finishing School for girls and the co-eds are celebrating by chasing one female around the dormitory. She heads out onto the balcony, trips over a bizarrely placed plant pot and takes a tumble to the concrete floor below. We can only presume that the girl died, although we’re never given an explanation to the scene. We don’t even know who any of these characters are?
Two years later, Xmas; and a large amount of the youngsters are going home. A few eager chicks decide to hang around and prepare for their own on-site celebrations. The gang of fun-loving ladies includes a curvaceous man-eater called Melody (Linda Gentile), who spends her time being swapped among the guys like a football card. There’s a suspiciously accented English girl named Trisha (Angela Bath), and a traditional inadvertent comic relief character, Leia (Judith Bridges). Finally we meet the Jamie Lee Curtis-lite goody-two-shoes sure-to-be heroine by the name of Nancy (Jennifer Runyon). Their house is run by Ruth Jensen (Katherine Herrington) and Trina Ronsoni (Judy Hess), who judging by that surname must be related to the director – maybe his wife? She also shows a brilliant knack for comic timing, by quipping at one point, “I’ll stop off on my way back. That is if the grim reaper doesn’t come calling”. Like, really???
Anyway, Christmas alone for the girls wouldn’t be much fun, so they literally fly in a gang of randy would-be bed-sharers including a stereotypical geek, Alex (Forest Swanson). It doesn’t take long for the masked Santa-suited slasher to turn up and begin cutting his way through the revellers. He then buries their bodies in the backyard with the professionalism and speed of a gang of landscape gardeners. So who will survive this Christmas Massacre?
To all a Good Night isn’t as bad as its hideous reputation would lead you to believe. In fact it’s actually fairly watchable in a so bad it’s good kind of way. What makes it perhaps rise above its amateurism in the filmmaking department is the hilarity of some of the dialogue, which seems to have been written on a notepad at a Russian vodka buffet. For example, Trisha bumps in to the maniac in a secluded spot of the garden and goofs in her comical sub-Brit accent, “Oh Tom, take that bloody mask off and take me to bed!” She gets what she rightly deserves. It’s also worth noting that on planet eye test, all the guys here are captivated by the extremely dumb and slightly scary Leia. They then defy logic by completely ignoring the smart and decent Nancy. Leia, the aforementioned flat chested redhead, also provides most of the nudity, while the shapely Melody remains fully clothed throughout? Not being content with constantly ripping off her clothes, Leia also goes nuts towards the conclusion of the movie and spends the final third of the runtime singing and ballet dancing round the corpses of her chums. The killer, obviously realising that she’s a slice of cheese, bap and a burger short of a cheeseburger, doesn’t even give her the dignity of putting her out of her misery!
Mark Shostrum’s gore effects may well be the most spectacular ever filmed. We’ll never know if that’s true however, because the picture is just too dark. Day for night filters are used without any other form of lighting, and at times the lack of clear vision ruins the movie. The only good killing that I remember featured the maniac dressed in a suit of armour and it was thankfully filmed inside the house, so the lighting was at least passable.
Despite losing about six of their colleagues in the first thirty minutes, the remaining victims fail to acknowledge that there is a maniac stalking the campus. Instead they continue to mouth inept comments when each morning’s roll-call shows another disappearance, such as, “They must have gone to bed.” Even when the heavily-mutilated body of Ralph the albino gardener is discovered, they still refuse to accept that a maniac might be trying to cut down the guest list for their Xmas party. The utter stupidity of the youngsters destroys any sympathy for their eminent demise.
On the plus side, there is a humongous body count and as I said, it’s fairly amusing in an inadvertent kind of way. Whilst an abundance of time makes many slashers seem dated, in many ways, To All a Goodnight is helped by its age. The campy charm makes this one-star movie worthy of the two that I’ve given it below. It’s another fine example of intolerable rubbish-ness being salvaged by 80s ‘did they really’ nostalgia.
Unfortunately, Hess passed away two-years ago, but before he did, he said that filmmaking was something that he’d like to try again, although he admitted that he had neither the time nor the cash flow to apply such focus. It is a shame that he never got round to it, because modern slashers lack the goofy charm of this one.
Final Girl √
Directed by: David A. Prior
Starring: Ted Prior, Sandy Brooke, John Eastman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
During the eighties, the entertainment industry was rocked by the explosion of Sledgehammer’s unexpected success. Combining styles from the sixties, seventies and its own period to create something unique and fresh, it is still to this day remembered as a trend innovator and receives global recognition. Oh, yeah, and I guess that I should also mention that aside from Peter Gabriel’s classic 1986 hit, there was also a DTV slasher flick released three years earlier under the same name that was barely noticed and sunk without trace. That would be the one that I’m reviewing for you today.
People often forget that filmmaker David Prior didn’t only bless the genre one time with that notorious slasher/fitness-vid crossbreed. His first film was also a Halloween knock-off, which is somewhat less renowned. I enjoyed Killer Workout wholeheartedly and felt that it had been a fantastic advertisement for all that was ‘memorable’ about the eighties. Prior should have been eligible for an award of some kind for putting spandex, silicone, sweatbands, cheese-ball pop and a hooded killer all on one VHS cassette. I uncovered his debut a couple of years later and was generally excited to watch it. The only way that a movie can make up for being totally rubbish is by being totally rubbish in a funny way and I was hopeful that this flick had the strengths in that area that its older brother boasted so brazenly
It starts with a mind numbingly long shot of the outside of a country house. We are awoken by the camera panning inside and we see a mother struggling to silence a young child who doesn’t look too interested by the fact he’s in a movie. The alarm bells in my head were already screaming ‘abusive parent alert’ by that point; and the woman proved that I was right by locking the boy in a closet for the evening. She then returns downstairs to her boyfriend and tells him, “Don’t worry about the kid, I took care of that little b*stard, he won’t be bothering us again tonight.” This means that the couple can start getting jiggy, which leaves them blissfully unaware that the little b*stard has escaped and is creeping up behind them with a sledgehammer, looking all menacing and stuff. Before you can say ‘by the book’, the unsuspecting lover gets cracked on the back of the head with the aforementioned tool – great gore scene by the way. After the mother is also measured up for a body bag, the screen fades to black…
Fast-forward fifteen years and a van pulls up outside of that same now-abandoned abode. Out pops a gang of outrageously mulleted muscle bound jocks and their scrawny girlfriends, who have presumably turned up only to party-party-PARTY! So they begin doing all the things you attribute with a good fiesta, including throwing food at each-other, jumping around like headless chickens and then having deep discussions about relationships. What a party! If that wasn’t enough, they decide that the beer is flowing so of course it is time for a… séance. Eventually, this proves to be a silly ides as the customary killer turns up and a battle for survival begins….
In all honesty, I can think of no finer example of something that when stripped down to its bare components doesn’t look ideal, but taken as a whole is surprisingly efficient. You see, Sledgehammer doesn’t boast many of the core ingredients that you would consider to make up a good movie, but I kind of enjoyed watching it all the same. It all takes place in a large empty house that is exactly that: a large empty house. There’s no set design at all and the backgrounds are pale with a bed here or a cupboard there just so that we don’t mistake the location for a padded cell. They didn’t even bother to decorate the walls with the usual fake cobwebs, candles and clichés, which was likely because the art director quit pre-shoot as he was offered some work in a bar or something. I mean the house was supposed to be derelict for fifteen-years, but looks like it was vacuumed and feather-dusted just that morning. Did Prior and co book a viewing of an abode that was up for sale and secretly get a key cut so that they could film their picture there on the sly? That could well be the case. You have to love zero budgets!
Anyway the action commences after the usual sloppy dialogue and padding and we eventually get to see some slasher shenanigans. There’s a blessing in disguise, because the dull and misty photography on the print gives the movie a surreal, almost dream-like vibe, which was surely unintentional but worked quite well. To be fair the tone switches effortlessly from inadvertently cheesy to actually pretty creepy and the psychopath’s large and hulking frame compliments the narrow lens to make some claustrophobic scenes. At first glance, a transparent plastic clown mask and lumberjack shirt seem suspiciously cheapskate, but the more that we see of the assailant, the more threatening he becomes. Prior demonstrates some neat flourishes to maintain the tone of apprehension, including a great slowmo door-opening sequence that is unpredictable and genuinely effective. He showed a much stronger flair for horror direction here than he did three-years later when he made Killer Workout. It’s also worth noting that he drew some surprisingly credible performances from a couple of the inexperienced actors. Sandy Brooke, who I I remember mentioning in my review of Terror on Alcatraz, offers another good charecterisation and Ted Prior and Linda McGill overcome their weak parts by being believable when it matters most. It’s a shame that Brooke didn’t do more genre movies, as I feel that she always made the most out of the material and it would have been nice to see her play the ‘final girl’ just once. Chuck on top of all that a couple of decent gore scenes from Robin Beauchesne and we have slasher movie that’s miles better than anyone would have imagined it to be.
Perhaps the only attempt at any originality was allowing the killer to appear and disappear as if he were being beamed up by Scottie every time that he needed a rapid escape from a set piece. This could have worked really well if utilised in the right places, but Prior’s decision making left a lot to be desired and he ended up overdoing it to the point of, ‘enough already!‘. As per my example in the paragraph above, slow-motion at the right time can really make the most of a tense moment, but using it in almost every kill scene is just too much. Also look out for the ‘cardboard’ sex scene, which reminded me of those puppets that used to be seen in the likes of Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and more recently Team America: World Police. I mean I’m guessing that was two humans playing the lovers, but I can imagine more enthusiasm from a pair of mannequins. It begs the question, why include it in the first place?
Sledgehammer is as clichéd as an Elvis look-alike contest and makes no attempt to conceal what it wants to be. Nowadays you can find a million films that have exactly the same setup as this, but the fact that it was one of the first gives it a retro feel and sometimes that’s all you need. Whilst It is certainly not good enough to be up there with the classics of the golden years, it could sit quite comfortably with Graduation Day, Embalmed, Scalps and the rest of that second tier.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √
Directed by: Christopher Reynolds
Starring: Loretta Leigh, Tobe Sexton, Jerry Brewer
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Halloween was such a great movie. Seriously, it was just amazing. Stylishly shot, perfectly acted for the material and scary as hell. I used to enjoy judging the amount that later slasher films ‘borrowed’ from that masterpiece, but the ones I liked most were those that took the least. Curtains, The Prowler, Friday the 13th Part II and My Bloody Valentine were all influenced by Carpenter’s baby, but because they went about it the right way, no one really paid attention. There are a few however that took the pilfering just a little bit too far.
You see it’s ok to pay homage to a brilliant film. Scorsese has done it, Almodovar too and hell even Carpenter got his lead from Señor Hitchcock. But when does highlighting your inspirations begin to look like blatant theft? I watched Offerings well over a decade ago and I remember thinking that it was a turgid rip-off that added nothing new to those ideas. Now that I’m a bit older, I was wondering if my analysis from back then was spot on or if I had been suffering from one of those temporary cases of movie bipolar? Let’s see…
After mute child John Radley is pushed down a well by a gang of bullies, he is sent to an asylum for the rest of his life. Eighteen years later he escapes and heads back to his town to cause problems once again…
If John Carpenter ever finds that he is short of a few quid, I recommend that he hunt out one of those no win no fee lawyer types and gets to work on a case against the production team behind Offerings. Instead of just nicking the odd idea – hulking killer, final girl, heavy breath etc – Christopher Reynolds has duplicated entire scenes shot for shot. I’ll pick one of the many just for an example. Remember when Sam Loomis visited the grave of Judith Myers to see if Michael had gone there after escaping? Well here, some psychiatrist (can’t recall his name, although he may as well have also been Sam Loomis) does exactly the same thing. It’s like WTF? The film feels like a picture that gets photocopied and then reproduced a thousand times. The quality has been degraded, but the content is still exactly the same. I remember reading about how much effort Carpenter and his team had put into making the ‘Haddonfield’ streets of the backdrops look like it was the 31st of October and not the middle of Spring. This crew have put a similar level of work into making some random US neighborhood look like it was identical to Haddonfield. But why? What kicks would a filmmaker get out of completely ripping something off? What came first, the second bottle of vodka or the blind drunkenness whilst I was watching? These are all questions that I just can’t answer.
Anyway you all will be aware of this already, it’s been written in tonnes of reviews tonnes of times and I need to take notice of my own criticism on lack of originality. So what else happens? Well in fairness, not much. We know the story by now. One thing that I will say is that there is one decidedly nasty killing. Radley ties up some poorly acted dweeb, turns on a chainsaw and then it stops working. He reaches for a power drill and the same thing happens. The victim musters up all 2% of his acting ability to say something like, ‘So now you won’t kill me?’ It’s not his lucky day however and he gets his cabeza squished in a vice. It’s surprisingly well done to be fair. There was also a smart self-depreciating scene, where two girls are shown watching a zero budget (slasher?) movie. They hurl insults at the characters and show signs of mimicking the genre eight years before Wes Craven’s Scream. See Kevin Williamson, eat your heart out ;)
One perhaps slightly more original aspect of the story is that the nutjob makes ‘offerings’ to Gretchen, our final girl. These turn out to be stuff like chopped up body pieces (a nose, an ear, some ‘sausage shaped’ human parts, which have been placed on top of their pizza – ooh err misses!) and he leaves them on the doorstep for her to collect; or for her dog to chew upon. Whilst I’m sure that there’s some Freudian meaning to all this, we don’t really get an explanation as to why it happens. Well if you’re looking for logic peeps, go read an encyclopaedia. One question though; what the hell happened to the pizza delivery guy? We also learn that Radley murdered his mama before he got sent away to the looney bin. It’s great that they tell us this, because they sure didn’t think that it was something important enough to demonstrate to us on the screen. You know, there’s no real point in showing us why we should fear the antagonist in a horror film at all. Oh and by the way, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE F**KING PIZZA DELIVERY GUY?
So that leaves us to deal with our heroine with the authentic name. Well the best way to describe young Gretchen is like going out on a date with a semi-hottie that sits opposite you and looks at the floor all night. You would get bored pretty quickly, eh? Fill your film with rubbish actors Mr Reynolds and this is what will happen. And whilst we are on the subject of rubbish actors, I must mention the waistband-edly challenged buffoon that wins the ‘idiot cop of the year award’. He achieves this because he knows full well that John Radley is on the loose, but when young Gretch and her scrawny buddy call him because they have found a dismembered ear in a pool of blood on their porch, he tells them to go upstairs and go to sleep whilst he does a big pile of NADA. I’m reminded of Grandma Carpenter from the film, House of Death, when she says the unforgettable line, “If brains were dynamite, he couldn’t muster a good fart!” Also, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE F**KING PIZZA DELIVERY GUY?
It is what it is, and what it is is not an Academy Award winner. It’s basicallyHalloween with all the good parts left out. They even ripped off the score! So should you go out and buy Offerings? Well there are worse things that you could do, but don’t expect anything that’s going to make you search your pizza box for ‘sausage shaped’ body parts. Silly dialogue, bad acting, amateur directing, basic script, ripped off scoring, scruffy sound, yawn-inducing editing and blurry cinematography aside, it was an almost perfect piece of filmmaking. Just one thing remains, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE F**KING PIZZA DELIVERY GUY?
Sorority Girls and the Creature from Hell 1989
Directed by: John McBrearty
Starring: Deborah Dutch, BJ Davis, Dori Courtney
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Although I have to confess that’s it a real honour supplying y’all with a weekly dose of slasher trash to chew through, the constraints of time and the pressure of the everyday hustle and bustle of a young Spaniard in the United Kingdom do take their toll. Especially when you have a Mrs like mine who would much rather watch ‘Zakochani’ for the hundred-millionth time than anything with masked killers and screaming chicks in it.
Anyway it also helps a great deal when you guys and gals recommend me slasher pictures to post, because with a collection of so many titles, sometimes it’s hard to pick out just the one to go to work on. Funnily enough though, I got the strangest of emails recently. It was strange because it came from the address ‘free email service – do not reply’ and I have no idea who sent it. He/she recommended that I review Sorority Girls and the Creature from Hell and it’s one that to be honest, I had left at the bottom of my VHS pile and completely forgotten about. So thanks anonymous mailer…. This is just for you…
These late eighties slasher movies are usually a giggle because filmmakers would always try to spice up the formula with a supernatural twist or an ambitious synopsis. The censorship uproar that had left patchworks of earlier entries meant that producers could no longer utilise gory effects as a marketing gimmick and so instead they went for big-breasted bimbos and that’s just fine by me.
It kicks off with a haze of cheesy action. We are introduced to a guy who spends his time uncovering Native American artifacts in a secluded cave (he should’ve known better – hasn’t he seen Scalps?). At the same time a group of prisoners are driven out to do manual labour in some woodland. The benefit of this work is not really clarified, because they seem to just be digging pointless holes amongst some trees. (Were they preparing their own graves? Wow what a great plot twist that would have been). But seriously, couldn’t they have painted a church, worked on a construction site or done something that helped local society? Who knows? Anyway, the guards are momentarily disrupted by a sorority girl with a boob-tube and a push bike, which gives the jailbirds the opportunity to launch a violent, but successful escape attempt and they sprint off in separate directions.
A large number of the escapees are shot and killed or captured soon after by a sheriff with a machine gun that sounds like a GI Joe toy, but a villain called Gerome Disenso, who brings to mind a poor man’s Richard Marx, manages to flee into the forest. I guess by the search that’s made thereafter, he must be a dangerous criminal; however we never really find out why we should fear him. I mean, perhaps he was just a run of the mill down on his luck kinda guy that was doing a week in jail for jaywalking or something? It would have been nice to be told such things.
So next up, we meet a gang of sorority jocks (that look about 38) and some free and easy bunnies that are on their way to a party at the cabin that belongs to the archaeologist from the beginning. Unfortunately for them, and him, his relentless digging has uncovered an ancient demonic relic that has possessed him and sent him out to murder anyone that he bumps into. So with a bloodthirsty killer, a secluded location AND an escaped convict, these guys are in for the party of their lives… (Most likely the last)
By the first thirty minutes of SGATCFH, you would never tell that this is a slasher film and instead you’d probably be under the impression that you were set for a First Blood rip-off. We seem to be focused mainly on the jailbreak storyline and it’s only later that things fall back into the traditional set up. It’s been said that back in the glory days of the cycle, producers would pride themselves on the amount of helicopter shots that they could afford to put in to their pictures. The Burning had a good one and Maniac borrowed a few from Dario Argento’s Inferno. Well these guys managed to get a full military chopper out for the hunt for their man on the run, but I’m convinced that it had more to do with John McBrearty knowing a guy that owned one rather than him having a healthy budget to play with.
Why do I have this opinion? Well the film is filled with a cast that may be the worst ever put together in a barrel-bottom ensemble and that can only be because they couldn’t scrape together what was needed to fund anyone better. These guys greet things like the uncovering of a freshly mutilated corpse with the same emotional oomph that a normal person puts into changing the TV channel. I have grown accustomed to over or under-acting through the years, but completely non-acting is a new one for me. The killer, who has a cheesier than cheesy black and white heavy breath POV, is rarely seen under any kind of light, which is obviously because the make-up effects (or rubber mask) for him were so shoddy. Saying that though, I was impressed with the screenplay for the first 45 minutes or so, because it split the characters into separate groups and gave each of them a story that eventually threw them together in the cabin for the grand finale. Whilst this showed an impressive flair for structure from first-timer McBrearty, he didn’t give us any kind of central protagonist and so the final pair felt more like they’d literally been picked out of a hat than built up to battle the demonized assailant. We were introduced to a geeky virginal type in the early scenes and I felt sure that she would be the one that would end up being the heroine, but instead she was one of the first of the troupe to get splattered.
Despite the problems with the feature in terms of the poor quality of the dramatics and the lack of gooey effects, I still thought that it was actually a fun flick to sit through. It’s just so incredibly cheesy and dumb that I think you’d be hard pushed to find someone that wouldn’t enjoy it. The ancient artifact that possesses the unfortunate excavator and sends him on a kill spree, speaks flawless English with a New York accent, which is impressive for something that’s been entombed in a cave since the days of the Native American tribes. We never get to find out why it needs the blood of those dead bodies in the first place and I was guessing for why it could be. Will it bring him back from beyond the grave so that he can cause havoc again? Is it a plan to rid the world of heinous acting? Your guess is as good as mine. Don’t you just love a villain with a clear motivation? Also could someone tell me the point of the prison break-out part of the story? Maybe I missed it or something, because from what I saw, it went absolutely nowhere, changed absolutely nothing and affected absolutely no one. Confused? I most definitely was.
Sorority Girls and The Creature From Hell mixes a kaleidoscope score (very similar in fact to the one from Ruggero Deodato’s BodyCount), some fun characters, loads of big boobs and a laughable story to make a cheese-drenched treat that a SLASH above readers will most definitely enjoy watching. It’s basically Scalps with an overdose of inadvertent stupidity and that my friends is surely a good thing. I loved it.
Final Girl: √√