Category Archives: Pure Eighties Cheese
Those that make you laugh as much (or more) than scream…
Girls School Screamers 1986
Directed by: John P Finnegan
Starring: Molly O’ Mara,Sharon Christopher, Mari Butler
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Imagine taking a film, any film in fact, and bolting on top scenes that would turn it into a slasher movie. You could have, say, a psychopathic mobster trimming the cast list of The Godfather. It’d be something like Cleaver from The Sopranos. Just remove the current deaths of Moe Green, Luca Brasi and Sonny Corleone and splice in footage of a masked menace doing the deeds with a pitchfork. It makes me wonder how Casablanca might look with an extended chase sequence that sees Inga Berman pursued by a maniac in a burlap sack? Do you think it could work? CGI is pretty good nowadays.
Whilst that does of course sound somewhat far fetched, Troma, the studio responsible for a number of cinematic curiosities, did exactly that when they picked up budget haunted house flick, The Portrait in late 1985. John P Finnegan had set out with absolutely no experience to make himself a motion picture. He pencilled a script and sourced funding independently in order to realise his dream. With $100,000 to play with, he called the University of New York and asked if they had any students that may be interested in his project. Within a couple of months, he had secured a cast of 18, a full crew and a superb location. His original intention had been to create a Hitchcockian tale of the ghosts of an incestuous relationship returning home. Troma agreed to distribute his work only if they could call it Girls School Screamers and shoehorn in some slasher action. The net result is an entry that can best be described as, well, something of a curiosity.
Seven fresh faced college girls have just found out that they’re going to be spending four days cleaning up an old Victorian mansion. It had been left to the school in the will of a recently deceased entrepreneur who stated that they could renovate or sell it. The youngsters pack their bags and head to the location, but soon learn that they could be in for more than they bargained for.
Look, I’ll give it to you straight, I’m not a massive fan of the supernatural/slasher hybrids that I’ve come across. Whilst there are a couple that have taken parts of each sub-genre and created a passable combination, more often than not, the strength of one style brings out the weaknesses in the other. I guess that in the same way I wouldn’t like a possessed child turning up during the conclusion of Halloween, I wouldn’t feel great about Michael Myers slashing his way through The Exorcist either. The glaring possibilities for creative expression make it seem strange that we haven’t yet been treated to a truly credible crossbreed, but of the ones that are currently available, none do a good job of selling the concept. Girls School Screamers is an interesting case in point though, because it’s a ghost flick that has been Godfrey Ho’d by its distributor. Watching it now, after learning of Troma’s tampering does give it something of an extra allure.
GSS, for all intents and purposes, is not a film that’s ashamed of its minimal budget. This fact is emphasised at the start of the credits where the words ‘introducing’ are placed before the entire cast, as if to helpfully inform us that none of the names that follow have done anything else before this at all. This is clearly evident in everything that we witness thereafter, from the plodding direction to the amateurish performances. Dialogue and story scenes are conveyed as if they’re filmed on a soundstage and it’s rare that we get any camera movement at all. Finnegan’s script, which Is certainly ambitious, spends a long time building its background and giving its characters the chance to make an impression. They’re all written to be pretty much interchangeable though, so the first hour, while we are waiting for the maniac to turn up, struggles to hold your attention and quickly becomes sluggish. It can’t have helped to have so many debutants throughout the cast, because they had no one to turn to when in need of some guidance.
If you haven’t nodded off by the time that the action starts, we finally get to see what Troma’s input brought to the production. The killings are rather random in how they’re staged, because one or two are shown to be committed by a traditional unseen maniac, whilst the rest come courtesy of an invisible ‘force’. This has an effect on the story, because we have no central villain to fear. Whist the same actors were used and the footage doesn’t stand out as if it’s been bolted-on, it does leave obvious plot holes. It also make classifying Girls School Screamers as a slasher movie something of a harder task. Whilst we see meat cleavers, pitchforks and electrocutions with regularity in the genre, there are things here that are alien to the template. I want a SLASH above to be the truest stalk and slash catalogue on the web, but if I haven’t yet posted The Superstition or The Incubus here as entries, is it fair of me to include Screamers? I guess that you could call it a slasher-esque, what was that word again? Oh yes, curiosity.
John Finnegan has never shied away from the fact that he believes that Troma’s intervention ruined his initial ideas for the template. It’s easy of course to point the finger somewhere else for failings, but does he have a point? Yes and no is the answer, because without the added gore scenes, we would be left with a hideously boring travesty. At least now, the film does have moderate cult appeal, but it comes at the cost of a bewildering effect on the continuity. We see a silly intro involving a child that never gets resolved and the motivation of the antagonist is left up to the imagination. There’s the odd atmospheric moment that comes courtesy of a truly superb score and it’s funny to see college girls played by actresses the wrong side of their thirties, but is it enough? I really wanted to like Girls School Screamers and find a defence for it, but it is, unfortunately, a bit of a mess. A curiosity type mess? Well, yes funnily enough…
Killer Guise: √√
Slumber Party Massacre 1982
Directed by: Amy Jones
Starring: Michelle Michaels, Robin Stille, Debra De Liso
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I’ve been putting off reviewing Slumber Party Massacre for quite some time and I’m not sure exactly why. It has become a notorious example of peak period slasher movies and went on to launch a long list of tributes and rip-offs. Roger Corman, arguably THE most prolific producer of low-budget clones of box office hits ever, had taken his time to jump on-board the stalk and slash bandwagon. When he finally did though, he used his flair for understanding cinematic trends to develop a feature that would become highly successful.
The film began life as a parody of teenie-kill flicks with the added allure of being pencilled by a female-scribe. Controversy had began surrounding the genre amongst left-wing critics and feminist groups that felt the movies were riddled with misogyny and unnecessary violence. Rita Mae Brown had decided to make light of the situation and show that it wasn’t only men that could contribute to the craze. She wrote a story that poked fun at the themes that were under the spotlight called, ‘Sleepless Nights’. Once Roger Corman got hold of the screenplay, he maintained some of the humour, but shot it as an out and out slasher flick. The rest, as they say, is history.
A group of sorority sisters decide to have a celebratory slumber party whilst one of their friend’s parents are away on vacation. Little do they know that an escaped lunatic is loitering around the location. It’s left up to new transfer Valerie and her younger sister to try and prevent a bloodbath.
I hadn’t seen Slumber Party Massacre for many years and in honesty, it turned out to be much better than I had remembered. My recollections of a half-hearted rehash of the traditional clichés has been smashed by re-visiting the movie as a more-experienced viewer. It’s perhaps because the last copy that I saw was the heavily edited UK print released as The Slumber Party Murders. Watching it now, totally uncut, after all that time really changed the idea that I had in mind for a rating and I’m so glad that I’ve given it another look.
Any thoughts that director Amy Jones and author Rita Brown were looking to support criticisms of anti-feminism are destroyed by an opening that’s extremely gratuitous. In the first five minutes alone, a key character whips off her top to give us a boob shot and soon after we get mounds of T&A from a lengthy group shower scene. Jones doesn’t hang around to introduce her antagonist, but the first two victims are barely given a line of dialogue before they’re killed and the earlier parts of the story take a while to settle themselves. I expected the worst when we got to see the assailant, a pint-sized loon that looks like an average everyday Joe, almost immediately. Horror works much better when a bogeyman is left somewhat in the shadows and upon revelation, at least looks the part. Thankfully after four false-scares in a row (a record?), the girls get hungry and spice up their evening by ordering a pizza. When they are greeted upon opening the door by a corpse with his eyes plucked out, the momentum seriously begins to tighten.
What I think works best about Slumber Party Massacre is the way that Jones handles the actions of her characters. There’s a scene where two girls barricade themselves in a room to hide from the intruder downstairs. Thanks mostly to some genuine dialogue, you really can believe that this is how they would act in that situation. It’s not always a grim depiction of reality that we get though, because there’s a comedic moment when one of the youngsters prizes the pizza from the dead delivery guy’s hand. She then states that she feels much better after eating a hearty slice. Robin Stille, as the heroine, had obviously been ordered to watch Laurie Strode and base her performance on that of Jamie Leigh Curtis’. Whilst she doesn’t hit the same levels of scream queen perfection, she creates a sympathetic lead that we grow to bond with.
Much like Prom Night before it, Slumber Party does borrow heavily from Carpenter’s Halloween. There are many parts here that are weaker imitations of sequences from that film, but because they’re sharply delivered, we don’t really bother to pick on them as much. Jones pulls off a number of effective shocks and scares, with one set-piece that sees two males run out of the house to search for help, proving to be impressively tense. This leads to a bloody stabbing that’s inter-cut with a scene from Corman’s Hollywood Boulevard and it’s stylishly edited together. Due to the murder of some sympathetic personalities, we are never totally sure who will survive the assassin’s drill. The conclusion wraps it all up neatly and for a film that was supposed to be riddled with humour, it’s actually quite downbeat.
As I have alluded to, Slumber Party Massacre does fall foul of not improving upon ingredients that we’ve seen done better elsewhere. Also, I do still believe that it was lucky to receive the adulation and amount of imitations that it has acquired since its release. I’ve been captured by some of its charms though and it is one of the better peak entries. It’s funny that we live in a world that is light years away in terms of technology from the early eighties. One thing that definitely hasn’t improved is the production of slasher movies. They don’t make them like this anymore no matter how hard they try.
Final Girl √√√
Blood Sisters 1987
Directed by: Roberta Findlay
Starring: Amy Brentano, Shannon McMahon, Dan Eriksen
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I’ve obviously never met her, but I’d imagine Roberta Findlay to be the kind of woman that would come along to watch a match and then join you at the bar to get smashed on Jägerbombs after. The type of cool chick that a guy can hang out with and tell her everything as if she were one of the lads. I think this because Exploitation films from the seventies were almost always male-dominated productions. With some help from her hubby (fellow director Michael) though, Roberta often managed to totally out-sleaze the competition and her filmography makes for interesting reading. She took softcore porn to the boundaries of hardcore territory with The Alter of Lust in 1971. Then three-years later she created controversy (and profit) by the bucketload with a fake pretending to be real Snuff movie that was imaginatively titled, Snuff. It had began life as a proto-slasher (many of her and Michael’s movies were), but producer Alan Shackleton tipped off the Police and spread word that the murders committed in the footage were in fact real. This brought audiences flocking and it has become something of a Grindhouse classic since.
The birth of the slasher genre offered former-exploitation directors an opportunity to return to the frontline. Successful titles like Halloween and Friday the 13th were not a million miles away from the style of film that they had been churning out over a decade earlier, which made it an even more logical step. It took Roberta Findlay until 1987, but she finally released Blood Sisters and I couldn’t help but be excited by the possibilities. What kind of slasher movie would a person responsible for everything from hardcore porn to sadomasochistic thrillers bring to the table?
The set-up is as traditional as they come. A group of sorority pledges have to spend the night in an old dilapidated mansion to become fully fledged members. Little do they know that the site was once a knocking shop that is reportedly haunted after a gruesome murder thirteen-years earlier. Unfortunately for the girls, it seems that a psychopathic intruder dressed in the clothing of the deceased prostitute has come along to spoil the party.
In fairness to Findlay, she had proven in films such as The Clamdigger’s Daughter that underneath all the sexploitation, she was more than capable of handling drama and extracting good performances from a cast. Whilst Blood Sisters is not amongst the best of her work, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I enjoyed watching it. Running a SLASH above means that I have to sit through tonnes of modern slashers when sometimes all I really want is a dose of cheesy eighties trash. Thankfully, it’d be hard to get more trashy than this one. Much like the fat kid at school that wears broken spectacles and gets picked last for the soccer team, this has become something of an easy target to be mocked. I had a browse online to see what other people were saying about it and the general consensus is that it offers very little to be appreciated. Whilst I agree that there’s not much here in terms of credible filmmaking, I have to admit that Sisters deserves a little more love from slasher buffs than it currently receives.
There’s nothing more hilarious than seeing someone try their hardest to achieve a feat, whilst it falls down all around them. TV shows like You’ve Been Framed or Funniest Home Videos have made a fortune out of broadcasting such scenarios for audience pleasure. There’s a good example of this during Sisters in an early character definition scene. It’s set at a party and Findlay packs every shot with extras bustling past the lens in a bid to bring the environment to life. The problem is that they act in such a cheesy manner that it ends up looking extremely comedic. This is applicable especially to the sultry Diana, who after admitting that she has three dates lined up for the evening, boogies on down whilst a trio of jocks leer over her and try their hardest to dance at the same speed as the person closest to them.
When we do finally reach the fabled ‘haunted whorehouse of horror’, the tone does become somewhat darker. All of the girls are sent on a scavenger hunt, which means they split into pairs and head off to secluded corners of the spacious building. Whilst it does take maybe ten-minutes too long for the maniac to finally get to work (an hour in fact), Findlay does a sterling job of keeping things interesting in the meantime. Our characters are possessed briefly by the ghosts of former prostitutes that worked there, which is peculiar because we only saw one of them murdered in the beginning(?). Despite that, some of these sequences are strangely effective, especially an erotic scene that’s seen through a reflection. It’s hinted that mirrors are doorways of sort to the afterlife; an interesting concept that’s never really taken anywhere further.
Without a doubt the reason that Sisters is not thought of more highly is because after such a long build up, the bogeyman finally arrives and rushes through a bunch of diluted killings without any suspense. If Findlay had taken the approach of say, Pieces for example, we’d be looking at this with a similar level of adulation. Instead we have a film that has the cheese, hilarious dialogue and acting, but excludes the gore and grittiness. A director with such an extensive experience of Grindhouse pictures should have known better than most what ingredients were necessary. When it comes to the horror parts though, she flies through them with minimal application. I had trouble picking my choice of final girl to do battle with the lunatic, but there’s a reason why I found it so hard, which I won’t spoil for you.
To give you a better idea, Blood Sisters is extremely similar to the previous year’s Girls School Screamers. In fact I could go you one better by saying that it was almost completely reproduced by Jim Wynorski a few years later and titled Sorority House Massacre Part II. If Findlay had gone with what I guess would be her natural instinct and been more exploitive with the death scenes, we’d be looking at a trash slasher classic. In the end though, a few softcore embraces and bemusing characters don’t do enough to salvage it. I liked the fact that it was such a clear postcard of eighties fashion and goofiness and simply for that reason, if very little else, it does deserve to be seen.
Killer Guise: √√
The Slayer 1982
aka Nightmare Island
Directed by: J Cardone
Starring: Sarah Kendall, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The Slayer only manages to scrape its way in to the slasher genre with its heels dragging across the floor. Like Dead Pit, Hard Cover and Small Town Massacre; J.S. Cardone’s video nasty includes many of the prominent trappings, but tries to incorporate something slightly different. The majority of the runtime is pretty standard stuff as a silhouetted killer hacks off cast members one by one, but when the maniac is revealed to be a supernatural monster, Cardone stretches the realms of the category beyond tradition. There’s certainly nothing wrong with a tad of originality, but the stalk and slash cycle is renowned for its stringent similarities. This of course pushes titles like Pledge Night, Child’s Play and A Nightmare on Elm Street just outside of the equation. Much has been written about The Slayer’s obvious links to the creation of Wes Craven’s Freddy franchise, so I won’t dwell too much on that topic. But it’s worth recognising the fact that he certainly lifted a few plot points from this and the Frankie Avalon bore fest of the following year (Blood Song) to come up with the idea for his huge horror series.
Surreal artist Kay (Sarah Kendall) has been having the same reoccurring dark dream since she was a young child. It contains vivid images of a horrific monster that stalks her in a flame filled room. Even though the nightmare has plagued her more and more over the past few days, she has never been able to see it through to its conclusion. Her Doctor husband David (Alan McRae) has agreed to take her away on a trip with her brother Eric (Frederick Flynn) and his wife Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook). He hopes that a little break from the pressures of everyday life will finally put an end to the restless nights. They have borrowed a beautiful house on a secluded island, which at this time of the year remains virtually un-inhabited. The rugged beauty of the isle immediately captivates Eric, but Kay is spooked because she believes that she has been there sometime before. On the first night they are warned that a dangerous storm is thundering towards the land, and it’s arrival sends the atmosphere into total chaos. The following morning when they awaken, David has disappeared, unbeknownst to them, murdered by an unseen menace. Before long, the silhouetted killer begins stalking the island with a pitchfork, looking to turn Kay’s dreams into a shocking reality.
The Slayer succeeds in being one of the few video nasties that someway lives up to its gruesome reputation. Robert Folk’s impressively orchestrated score keeps the tension running high and Cardone adds some neat directorial touches that build a few satisfying scares throughout the runtime. Although Richard Short’s special effects don’t stand up to the scrutiny of Tom Savini’s greatest hits, there are still some memorable gore scenes on offer. One guy gets semi decapitated in an ingenious killing that has surprisingly never been imitated over the following years, and there’s a decidedly grisly pitchfork impalement that is worth the budget purchase price alone. The film does drag somewhat in places, but some splendid scenes, which see Kay battling to stay awake and prevent the monster’s reappearance, salvage the final third. A good plot twist in the closing scene makes up for the somewhat brief showdown when the beast is finally unveiled. The net result is a movie that overcomes it’s flaws with a generally macabre underlining of claustrophobic doom.
Unfortunately, the years haven’t been to kind to this feature and the digitally remastered DVD cannot hide the numerous blips on the negative. The level of performance from the cast is really bad, especially the lack of emotion from lead, Sarah Kendall. Even when her brother and husband have been slaughtered she fails to look anything other than totally flat. At times, the script falls foul of the old ‘victim # 1 goes missing so victim # 2 goes looking for him’ shortcut, which shows a weakness in the screenplay. But the intriguing set locations and some stunning aerial photography keep things moving.
The Slayer is one of the many old horror movies that have been re-released totally unedited on budget DVD. You can pick it up for next to nothing on Amazon, so there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t. Eerie and at times downright gruesome, this one is certainly worth re-visiting.
Final Girl √
Directed by: Joe D’amato
Starring: George Eastman, Annie Belle, Ed Purdom
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
About fifteen-years ago, whilst looking round the second-hand video shops in Soho, London, I stumbled upon a gleaming copy of Absurd for only £4.00 ($8.00). Seeing how the movie had been banned in Great Britain since the Video Nasty days, I knew that the guy behind the counter wasn’t sure what he was losing out on. Finding Joe D’amato’s splatter extravaganza completely unedited and at an extreme budget price was indeed good fortune on my part and so I picked it up and rushed home for a gore-soaked evening’s viewing.
This is not a direct sequel to Anthropophagus, although George Eastman returns as the demented bogeyman. The secluded Island has been abandoned as a location and instead he roams a small (supposedly) American town and hospital, which was obviously inspired by Michael Myers’ exploits in John Carpenter’s Halloween and Halloween II. Eagle eyed viewers will spot British-born actor and slasher regular, Edmund Purdom, who was certainly slumming it after already ‘starring’ in Pieces and following this with Don’t open ’til Christmas. His choices of roles over those years deserved an award of some kind. A B-movie Razzie? Well, not many performers at any level have endured trash to such an extent.
In the beginning, a priest (Purdom) is seen chasing Mikos Stenopolis through a forest. The pursuit continues until the visually deranged giant reaches a huge gate. As he begins to climb over, the clergyman grabs him and pulls him on to the sharp spikes, effectively disemboweling him. Mikos crawls up to the house that was behind the fence and staggers in to the kitchen where he falls to the floor clutching his entrails. A quaint family owns the mansion that he stumbles in to, and as you can well imagine, they’re pretty shocked when they see the bearded beast collapse in their doorway with his guts in his hands. (Literally!) He is taken to a nearby hospital where surgeons are bewildered by his impressive recovery skills and before long he’s up on his feet, drilling through the head of an unsuspecting nurse as he goes. For some bizarre reason, he seems to have taken a liking to the house that he chanced upon earlier, so he heads back there, taking the time to kill off any bystanders that he runs into on the way. A teenage girl that’s recovering from a spinal operation, a young (extremely obnoxious) boy and their babysitter inhabit the home and before long, our unstoppable maniac is skulking in the shadows with an axe. Meanwhile, perhaps the family’s only salvation is the priest from earlier who has joined forces with the local constabulary in a bid to stop the maniacal Killer. We soon learn that his indestructibility was the result of a military science experiment and the only way that he can be killed is by completely destroying his brain. That sounds like the perfect cue for a gore-tastic showdown.
Whereas Anthropophagus made good use of its effectively foreboding locations to create an overall feeling of uneasiness that sat heavily on your shoulders throughout the movie, Absurd rarely touches on that level of fear or apprehensiveness. Instead the movie’s real impact is displayed visually, in the bundles of goo and vicious murders. Perhaps the most disturbing of the bunch is when an unfortunate guy is caught off guard whilst sweeping a warehouse and gets his head chopped in half with a band saw, which is, of course, filmed in graphic close-up. D’ amato tries to add as much suspense as he can to the stalking scenes, but more often than not his results are inconclusive. On occasion, he pulls off the odd effective shock, like when the bogeyman springs on the unsuspecting Emily as she attempts to cross the spacious kitchen to reach the child that she’s protecting. He then continues the savage brutality by trying to cook her head in an oven, whilst she’s alive and screaming for mercy. Slasher films are notorious for setting a tone that borders on black comedy and therefore avoid displaying the suffering of their dumb and poorly acted victims. Absurd on the other hand is incredibly sadistic and unforgiving in what it conveys on screen when Stenopolis strikes.
The roots of inspiration are grounded in the genre pieces from America and D’amato avoids the Giallo approach that is far more prevalent amongst his native counterparts. The director relinquishes the black hat and gloves of a mysterious killer in favour of a Michael Myers-alike hulking bogeyman that stays on screen from the outset. Setting a temporarily disabled teenage target as the film’s heroine was an effort to maximise Carpenter’s methodology of making his protagonist a polar opposite in terms of strength and defensive ability. It’s obvious that the director wanted the chance of survival for his characters to be as inconceivable as possible in order to make things all the more terrifying. Perhaps the only influence taken from his countrymen is the excessive use of gore that would become a trademark for names like Lucio Fulci, whom perhaps D’ Amato’s work can be most closely compared with. He lacks the panache of an Argento or Bava, and instead opts for shock tactics and bloody excess.
Seeing too much of Eastman’s growling insanity breaks the ‘less is more’ guideline that proved most effective in deft slasher outings. The fact that we know from the start that Mikos is indestructible removes the surprise element that we got from Michael Myers when he arose after those six shots in Halloween. There’s no denying the fact that the barrage of gore is attractive to horror hounds, but the film struggles to sustain a credible momentum during the in-between parts. The performances are extremely poor and Purdom’s attempt at a Greek accent is hilarious, even though he was arguably the best performer of an awful bunch. Let me state that again, Edmund Purdom was the best actor on show here… Yes, the movie does have that many problems. When we are away from the ferocity of Mikos and his machete, the pace slows right down to an almost standstill and sleepy heads might find their eyes beginning to link together for a snooze.
D’amato gets labelled as a hack more regularly than most, but the recent peak in slashers that include bags of goo have justified his work to be better than the criticism that he has received for the best part of thirty-years. It’s not hard to fill the screen with corn syrup, but creating a tone of dread is a skill that we don’t come across regularly enough. Even if it may be true that this lacks the chills that his previous slasher conveyed so credibly, it still provides enough to create an underlying atmosphere of gloom.
Final Girl: √
Don’t Go In The Woods 1981
Directed by: James Bryan
Starring: Jack McClelland, Mary Gail Artz, James P. Hayden
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Picking out the crème de la crème of the stalk and slash genre is a task that’s only too easy. Ask nine out of ten fans for their opinions on who’s the king bogeyman, and I’m betting that they’ll all reply, without pause for a breath: Michael Myers, Halloween. You may get the odd individuals that’ll pipe up with their love for Scream or Friday the 13th, but more often than not, it’ll be John Carpenter that rightly snatches the glory for his long-standing seminal masterpiece. A much tougher task on the other hand is attempting to root out the category’s biggest toads, simply because, there’s just so many of them. For every one half-decent attempt at rehashing the formula, there are twenty or more total turkeys, which makes the mission to save Private Ryan look simple compared to hunting out the undisputed crapola champion. If there were ever a poll to seek out the lowest of the low in psycho-killer entertainment, then I can guarantee, without a shadow of a doubt in my mind, that Don’t go in the woods would be there gleaming amongst the top five.
Woods is a true, true travesty of a movie that sinks the tonal depths in just about every way shape and form that a motion picture possibly can. Everything from the torch with low-batteries worthy lighting to the woefully irritating score – which sounds like it was composed by a drunken moggy running across the keys of his owner’s Bontempi – puts this rancid beast on a new level of shameful amateurism.
Certainly the most bizarre slice of trivia that has allowed this to gain the smallest level of cinematic notoriety is the fact that it was banned in the United Kingdom. Along with the bland, but not quite as atrocious Delirium, this is yet another video-nasty that leaves you questioning the astoundingly stringent decisions of UK censorship during the early eighties. Perhaps it was all just an ingenious marketing ploy to allow copies of this junk to sell for nonsensical prices on e-bay in years to come? (The other day I saw one up for £30!) I don’t know for sure, but either way, it doesn’t deserve the cult-classic accolade it has achieved since it was considered a tad too extreme by some numbskull left-wing Guardian reader.
It kicks off with shaky shots of some beautiful woodland. A young woman comes sprinting from out of the trees, closely pursued by jerky steadi-cam. She trips over, screams, and just when you think she’s about to get splattered – the screen jumps like a kangaroo on a hot plate. At first I thought that I may have been watching a heavily censored print, I mean this was 1982 and the video-nasty prohibition was just about to kick-off all over the world. I took the liberty of asking JA Kerswell from the kingdom of slasher knowledge – Hysteria Lives – if there was an uncut copy floating around. He told me that this was the only version that he knew of, and simply to put the erratic skipping down to cack-handed editing. In fact, he told me to put the whole movie down to bad editing, but I guess that we’re jumping the gun a little by saying that this early in the review. (Though I must admit, he does have a point.) Cut to a bird watcher loitering in the same area (presumably). He’s only on screen for ten seconds tops, and then the still unseen maniac turns up and offers him a life-long disability permit by gorily yanking off his hokey arm, which looks like it was moulded with paper-mâché.
Finally we get to meet four characters that aren’t only there to be butchered (just yet). There’s Craig, who infuriatingly keeps lecturing everyone on the dangers of strolling through the woodland. It’s a characteristic that grates throughout the runtime, until he bumps into Mr. nut-job a lot later than we’d really have liked him too. Suffice to say that his woodland experiences didn’t prepare him for that particular endeavour. The second male along for the ride is Peter, the brash rebellious guy, who’s full of piss and vinegar right through to the film’s ridiculous climax. They’ve also brought along their two girlfriends, but they’re both so flat that I really can’t be bothered to think up a description. The only thing that I will say is that one of them looks alarmingly like Richard Cunningham from Happy Days, even sporting a ginger ‘flat top’ side-parting. Anyway things plod along at the pace of an autistic tortoise, as we cut between the four nincompoops enjoying all that nature has to offer, and various no-hopers getting splattered by the psycho, who looks like a cross between a caveman and a hippy. Don’t go in the Woods’ only claim to any originality comes when Peter decides enough is enough, and heads out into the trees to track down and get revenge on the killer. Ho-hum indeed…
Funnily enough, the film was released this side of the ocean as Don’t go in the woods Alone, which would’ve been a catchy little title if it wasn’t so profoundly riddled with irony. You see, when the ‘hero’ does eventually jog off into the forest on his lonesome, not only does he manage to emerge with his limbs intact, but he also ends up defeating the maniac. Perhaps a more suitable title would have been Don’t go in the Woods in a Wheelchair, because one unfortunate friend of the director spends a tiresome ten minutes struggling to get to the top of a rocky hill in his. When he finally does reach the peak, the loony proves that he’s a nasty piece of work by showing us that he has no compassion for those with disabilities – Tsk! We never find out why this particular victim decided to take his wheelchair into the uneven grounding of a forest of all places, but to be honest, character development wasn’t brimming from the screenwriter’s mind when it came to padding out these 82 minutes with body count material. Characters are manufactured only for the slaughter, and if they do get a small snippet of dialogue, then it’s usually so inane that they themselves look puzzled as they struggle desperately to convince. Take for example the two newly-weds (so it says on the cover), who provide the only real quality cheesy giggle. It seems that the guy’s unfortunate enough to be called Dick, and his fledgling missus makes the best comical use of his name, by goofing things like, ‘Oh Dick, oh Dick…It’s just that my head isn’t in the right place Dick.’ (Make what you want of the last bit) Anyway Dick and Cherry (no, really) won’t be celebrating any anniversaries in the near future, they too were cast only as soon-to-be deadites.
Every review that I’ve ever read on this dollop of dung, refers to the theme song that plays over the end credits, which means it’d be pretty un-original of me to do exactly the same thing. But after hearing it, I can appreciate an author’s keenness to quote the lyrics word for word. God bless composer H. Kingsley Thurber is all that I can say, his ‘remarkable’ nursery rhyme re-imaging is one of the funniest things that I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. This being a ‘video-nasty’, you’d expect to find gore to rival the bloodiest Fulci or sexual nudity straight from Debbie does Dallas. But no luck in that department either, every character keeps their blouses buttoned, and the first Friday the 13th was bloodier, which cancels any gore hounds delight, because that got released on a stringent eighteen certificate.
Don’t go in the Woods is truly a work of utter incompetence that can only be rivalled by crap like Movie House Massacre in the shoddy film-making department. One character summed up her movie-making experience perfectly as she trundled through the woodland on the long winding path to film obscurity. Discussing the enviroment at that particular moment, she blurted out something along the lines of, ‘what a stink, yuk – it’s rancid!’ What she could never have predicted is that not even a truly polished cinema critique could have given a more accurate description of what she was partaking in. If you’re still one of the insane few that bids tirelessly on eBay to own an original copy of this stinker, then please do yourself a favour and save yourself the pain. This is one of the many cases when the bidding is the most fun that you’ll ever get if you win. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √
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: √√