Category Archives: Superstars hiding a slasher movie on the small print of their CV…
Terminal Choice 1985
aka DeathBed aka Critical List
Directed by: Sheldon Larry
Starring: Joe Spano, Diane Venora, Ellen Barkin
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
During my bizarre life long mission to track down all the obscure slasher movies ever released I came across this little known mid-eighties entry, which threw a real curve ball into the mix. Terminal Choice is NOT a typical genre piece in the Halloween/Friday the 13th mould. But it does include enough of the trappings (mystery killer/bloody deaths) to allow it to carve a way into the category. Unlike fellow medicinal additions such as Hospital Massacre and Visiting Hours, Sheldon Larry’s mystery thriller uses futuristic computer technology as the main method of slaughter. This makes a refreshing change from the traditional surgical masked psycho with a scalpel, and its always interesting to see a slice of originality in a cycle that has often been slandered for its repetitiveness.
Terminal Choice is set in a high tech clinic in the near future, where operations are controlled by a huge computer terminal and monitored by numerous doctors. This is certainly not the kind of hospital that you or I would want to have your tonsils removed at, because the medics gamble on patient’s recovery and survival. Lylah Crane (Teri Austin) is in for a minor complaint, which Dr. Frank Holt (Joe Spano) believes he has handled with ease. Things turn nasty when an unseen someone enters the head computer terminal and poisons the youngster’s drip with an unknown substance. The female chokes on her own blood and leaves Dr. Holt under extreme pressure as the top suspect in an in-house investigation. When more patients fall victim to fatal computerised glitches, Frank unravels a sadistic conspiracy of murder, deceit and treachery. But who is responsible for these unexplained killings…?
Even though Terminal Choice has been bemusingly overlooked, it does hold its corner remarkably well as an appealing mystery thriller. The first murder is extremely gooey, claustrophobic and scary, which makes it succeed impressively in leaving the viewer flinching away from the screen. Sheldon Larry focuses mainly on exploiting people’s underlying fear of untrustworthy medical centres. A fear that can be embedded in almost anybody that has at one time or another put their life in the hands of a stranger in a white coat. That’s why Choice flourishes as an enjoyable and fascinating cinematic journey. Boasting equal moments of suspense and fascination, the story never outstays its welcome and despite a fairly predictable false-scare climax, the majority of the runtime is eminently triumphant.
So many eighties slasher movies famously launched the careers of actors that would become home-names in later years. Brad Pitt, Bill Paxton, Tom Hanks, Sally Kirkland…you can find so many soon to be superstars if you search hard enough. Well this time around it’s Ellen Barkin looking amusingly fresh-faced and youthful. Some time later she would embark on a lengthy career that would peak with starring roles alongside method titans Al Pacino (Sea of Love) and Mickey Rourke (Johnny Handsome). Here she plays a young nurse by the name of Mary O’ Conner, and does a good enough job with a small part. The rest of the cast manage to keep things running smoothly enough without a hiccup and I especially thought that Diane Venora added flamboyance to her character.
Some people may argue that this really isn’t much of a slasher movie. To be honest, they certainly have a case in point. But as I said earlier, Larry was well aware of the clichés, especially with the Tenebrae-like stalking of Ellen Barking in the shower. Many features of the time were still cashing in on the mystery-killer craze, and it looks as if Peter Lawson was keeping that in mind when he put pen to paper. When you consider the fact that movies like Candyman, Final Destination and Demon Possessed are often falsely accused of fitting in the cycle, Terminal Choice slots among the guidelines with relevant ease. I picked this up in Krakow many years ago and the reason that I did so was because it was marketed in that particular country as an out and out slasher flick. I have posted the cover of the VHS that I own above. They even put a traditional kitchen knife there just to make sure!
Making good use of a common trepidation and chucking in a few better than average performances, Terminal Choice succeeds as a solid mid-week night’s diversion. As one writer on the IMDB said previously, you may never trust a hospital again. That’s an atmosphere that titles like the rancid Hospital Massacre could only ever dream of creating…
Final Girl: √√
The Burning 1981
Directed by: Tony Maylam
Starring: Brian Matthews, Brian Becker, Jason Alexander
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Tony Maylam’s The Burning is one of the most notorious non-franchise slashers of all time. Even before pre production had begun in the summer of 1980, the movie had an incredible buzz surrounding it. Enough so in fact that superstar horror FX maestro Tom Savini rejected the chance to return to the Friday the 13th series for Steve Miner’s classic sequel and instead took this project for a lesser salary.
Of all the peak period genre entries, none can boast the depth in terms of personnel that was put together here. Alongside the aforementioned magic of Savini, the cast included Jason Alexander, Ned Eisenberg and Oscar winners Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter. The grim and unique score came from former Yes keyboardist, Rick Wakeman and directorial duties went to Tony Maylam, who at the time had been predicted for big things after his work on rock band Genesis’ outstanding concert video from 1977.
There can be little doubt that the hype and quality in recruitment was down to an early example of the skills of production partnership Harvey and Bob Weinstein, whose company Miramax films would go on to become one of the most successful entertainment brands in Hollywood over the next three decades. This was the first feature length motion picture to be released under that brand and thereafter, they would go on to distribute over fifty films, including classics such as The Crying Game, Pulp Fiction and even Wes Craven’s Scream. If that wasn’t enough, then can you believe that the script was co-written by future Paramount Pictures CEO Brad Grey? Astonishing…
After a prank goes wrong, a sadistic camp caretaker returns to the site where the accident took place, looking for revenge. Armed with a shiny pair of shears, Cropsy begins to stalk a group of counsellors with mutilation on his mind…
In the UK, The Burning was one of the first entries to join the video nasty list and it received perhaps higher persecution for the fact that Thorn-EMI accidentally released the full uncut print instead of the censored copy that the BBFC had cleared. The tapes were impounded and destroyed, but bizarrely, Thorn-EMI were more fortunate than David Grant who was sent to prison for doing the exact same thing when he distributed a longer version of the film Blood Splash a year later. I paid an absolute fortune for an unedited version of this when I was a nipper and it was a mistake as the cassette had an infuriating line running through the middle, which made it almost as bad as just sticking to the 18 rated VHS. Watching it now though, on the BlueRay pre-screener that I was sent, is a glorious experience and the film looks as if it could have been a production from the last decade. The masters have obviously been well looked after and playing it on my Plasma allowed me to turn out the lights and almost feel like I was in the cinema in 1981.
Maylam attempts the John Carpenter methodology of slowly generating an undertone of dread that boils along in the background and then attacks like a shark in the places when the killer strikes. A great example of this is the infamous ‘Raft Massacre’ sequence, which boasts an almost perfect build up. Whilst Wakeman’s score warns us that something is about to happen, but the camera never reveals enough to let us be sure. When the loon finally strides on to the screen, the bloodletting is quick, brutal and graphic. To this day, you can count on one hand the amount of times in slasher cinema that an antagonist has taken out so many victims in one fell swoop. Tom Savini proves once again here why he was the go to guy for the most realistic special effects back in the overkill period of the slasher cycle.
What I like about the script is that it spends time developing its characters and their performances really add the necessary realism that makes what happens later seem all the more shocking. Jason Alexander steals every scene as a quick-witted camper, whilst Brian Matthews, Leah Ayers and Ned Eisenberg were solid and flawless in their roles. The dialogue and banter works not only to add fun to the parts where the horror takes a backseat, but also to develop a genuine level of believability in the set up and I found it easy to forget that I was watching a group of actors. The screenplay also separates itself from the multitude of its genre brethren by having a ‘final boy’ instead of the usual heroine left alone to face the marauding maniac. The thing is that despite the fact that Brian Becker does a good job with the role, the decision is a risk that just doesn’t pay off.
The Burning has become a true cult classic and has legions of admirers in not only slasher but also horror movie circles. Personally though, I think that it is slightly overrated and perhaps undeserving of so much notoriety. Despite its visible slickness, it lacks a real cutting edge in its moments of terror. Whilst the gore is great and almost like a snuff film in places, the murder sequences lack jump scares or suspense and there’s very little true tension. This is most evident in the conclusion, which I found to be really disappointing. Our hero heads up with an axe to take on the bogeyman and we’re expecting at least a fight. There’s a revelation that builds up a deserving target, at least in the eyes of our nut job caretaker, but Maylam’s attempts at prolonging the money shot are overwrought. In the end it’s more ‘was that it?’ than ‘oh yeah that’s it!’ if you get what I mean. Whilst the notorious ‘Raft Massacre’ is magnificent in terms of the excellence of the make-up FX and it’s an all round great postcard of slasher genre splatter, has anyone ever wondered how it might have looked had it not been SO rapidly edited?
As I highlighted earlier, the script doesn’t bother with a traditional female heroine and instead develops a male geeky type guy in her place. The thing is though we are not talking about a loveable mummy’s boy here. Instead, he is conveyed as an unlikeable pervert and it’s just too hard to bond with him or even want him to survive. It’s funny because before this, we watched The Prowler and Joseph Zito opted for a conventional lead character there and the difference is impossible not to notice. When Vicky Dawson was trying her darnedest to fend off the pitch folk clenching maniac, my partner shouted, “Go on girl!” But there was never any chance of the Mrs doing the same thing here. We ended up saying that Todd should leave Cropsy to get on with it and save himself instead of risking his life for the dweeby Alfred.
I have regular conversations with you guys and girls about these slasher films and I know that not all of you will agree with my view. That’s the beauty of the genre though; everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Tom Savini delivers on the goo-o-rama, there are some nice performances, it’s beautifully produced and Rick Wakeman’s score is a masterpiece. If I could however take maybe 15% of its reputation and give it to Nightmare at Shadow Woods, I would feel a lot better about the whole thing. Tony Maylam’s biggest film after this was Split Second with Rutger Hauer. Maybe this picture would have been better if Steve Miner had also opted not to work on Friday the 13th Part 2 and followed his friend Tom over to Camp Blackfoot? Just a thought…
The Dorm that Dripped Blood 1981
aka Pranks aka Death Dorm
Directed by: Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow
Starring: Laurie Lapinski, Stephen Sachs, Daphne Zuniga
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Many of the slasher films from the early eighties were made by filmmakers with minimal experience that were looking for their first big break. Whenever I get a chance to speak to crew members from the peak period, I notice that there’s usually always a unique story about how they secured funding or what corners they cut to get the feature released. None of those that I’ve heard though startled me quite as much as what I found out about this movie, which is one of my favourites of the golden age.
I was sure that lurking behind the scenes here was a fat cat producer with a wad of notes and a hunger to cash in on the slasher craze. The Dorm that Dripped Blood however was nothing more than a thesis project from three ambitious students of the University of California, Los Angeles. After seeing John Carpenter’s seminal Halloween at the cinema, Jeffrey Obrow, Stephen Carpenter and Stacey Giachino decided that they wanted to have a crack at making something similar. With minimal funding they came across other up and comers and the project became a launch pad for a few very fine careers. Christopher Young was studying music on a campus that was situated yards away from Obrow and Carpenter, whilst twenty-four year old make-up artist Matthew Mungle was pitching his small portfolio around town to get work. Years after they completed this film, Young would become one of the most popular composers of recent times and Mungle would win an Academy award and gain a further three nominations.
The shoot took place mainly during the December of 1980 and Obrow and his crew built their entire schedule around when the equipment that was provided by UCLA was available for their use. The locations were all discovered in and around the campus and the majority of cast members were unknowns or friends that had been eager to sign on. The net result is a superb example of the genre’s strengths when handled with ambition
A group of youngsters stay behind over the Christmas period to help clean and disassemble a dorm that is about to be closed down. Little do they know that they are sharing the location with a brutal killer…
I came across the film Pranks (as it was known in the UK) when I was growing up in London. Alongside The Driller Killer, Night of the Demon and Madhouse it had been quickly added to the DPP list and classified as a video nasty. Although the intention of the British government had been to do the exact opposite, the tag gave the film a cult classic reputation and it was passed around on bootleg with the added rebellious attraction of its unlawful status. A younger kid called Dean from across the street had a genuine copy that his dad had rescued from the claws of the Video Nasty campaign. In the end he sold to me for £10, which was a lot of money for an eleven year old child, but I wanted it so badly I would have paid £50.
Dorm is without a shadow of a doubt one of the grittiest of the period slashers and in my opinion, one of the most underrated. Despite not boasting the finesse of a My Bloody Valentine or Dressed to Kill, it succeeds by sacrificing an atmosphere of campy fun and replacing it with unrelenting grimness. From the first moment on screen, when a guy is brutally murdered before the pre-credits, the audience is made aware that they are watching a horror movie and there are no real attempts to alter the mood. I have always believed that in terms of structure for a slasher, you need to open with a shock, spend no more than thirty-five minutes on plot development with maybe the odd killing to maintain the tone. Follow that with a suspenseful mid-section as the body count mounts and then leave a good twenty-five minutes for the showdown/unmasking scene with the protagonist. The screenplay here gets that pretty much spot on and despite a few hollow moments that could have perhaps been much shorter, Christopher Young’s fantastic score (one of the best of the genre) sustains the energy.
Watching the newly released director’s cut has given Matthew Mumble’s gore effects the stage that they deserve and on BlueRay, they look superb. Hearing about the minimalistic funding that he was given to achieve these results somehow makes them seem all the better and in its entirety, Dorm can rightly be acknowledged as one of the most gruesome of its kind. There’s a fairly well-constructed mystery with red-herrings popping up in the right places and even if the killer’s revelation is not expertly conveyed (the motive is non-existent) it leads to a bold final scene, which was unique at the time of filming.
Perhaps what the feature lacks the most is a group of well developed personalities that we can bond with. The players here are wafer thin and therefore we never feel particularly intrigued by their dialogue or sympathetic towards their plight. In film’s such as Iced, Evil Laugh or Friday the 13th Part II, memorable faces such as Carl, Barney and Ted added some comedic warmth to the proceedings and make us care more about the results of the oncoming horror. Here though, Laurie Lapinski gave us a one-dimensional and extremely unapproachable final girl, whilst the rest of the cast were never offered anything authentic to escape their stereotype. Soon to be superstar Daphne Zuniga gets no chance to impress on her five-minute feature debut, even if the kill scene that sees her get gruesomely mutilated along with her parents has been written in to slasher folklore as one of the best sequences of the cycle. Whilst it could be argued that the lower amount of definition in the characters that guide us through the story give the film a more ‘complete’ feel of out and out horror, I couldn’t help but wonder how good this could have been with a tad more depth put into the protagonist and her co-stars.
Perhaps the most impressive thing of all is that despite the complete lack of experience of all involved, they have managed to put together one of most notorious pieces of the initial slasher phase. Dorm is a brutal, scary, gory and atmospheric slasher that engulfs you in its storm of underlying gloom. It overcomes its obviously raw level of filmmaking technicality to be a real treat for horror audiences. I thoroughly recommend it.
Final Girl √√
Friday the 13th 1980
Directed by: Sean S Cunningham
Starring: Adrienne King, Kevin Bacon, Betsy Palmer
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s a known saying amongst film fans that the first actor that you see who plays Bond will always be your favourite. There’s most definitely some truth in this, because I watched The Spy who Loved me when I was about six years-old and Roger Moore, despite being nowhere near as cool as Sean Connery, is inexplicably the one that I like the most.
I wondered if a similar method could work on Friday the 13th films. Now first things first, I’m a massive fan of the franchise. I mean massive. I live in London, but flew to the US specifically to attend an advanced screening of Jason X when I had barely turned 20. It cost me an arm and a leg, but it was worth it. It all started because I was desperately searching for some more slasher action after watching Halloween when I was knee-high to a hub-cap. Back then, without the Internet, we had to rely on the stock of our local video stores for selection choices and there I found the extremely Michael Myers-alike back-cover blurb of Friday the 13th Part 2. So that became my first taste of the Voorhees legacy.
Straight after, I began visiting all the mom and pop rental shops within a 100 mile radius until I’d tracked down every single entry to the story. In Spain, Paramount distributed parts 2 to 8, but this film, the opening chapter, was released by Warner Bros. It could be because they didn’t print as many copies on VHS, but bizarrely enough, this was the last of them that I got to see.
Taking a browse around the other websites, I noticed that it is perhaps the most highly rated by my fellow stalk and slash critics in the blogosphere. Justin over at Hysteria Lives gave it a full five-stars, whilst Hud from Vegan Voorhees did the same. In my review of Friday the 13th Part 2, I said that it was my número uno of the series and one of the best slasher movies ever made. I have watched it at least ten times, whereas I’ve only seen this on two occasions and both were many many moons ago. I guess that the point that I’m trying to make is would a mind completely free of bias or any kind of sentimentality really call Sean S Cunningham’s notorious shocker the best of the collection? Is it really THAT good?
A local businessman has decided to reopen a summer camp that has remained in his family for almost fifty years. Previous attempts to restore Camp ‘Crystal Lake’ have always met with ominous incidents that began after the drowning of an unfortunate child. The following year, two youngsters were brutally murdered and when the killer was not apprehended, the cabins were closed and abandoned. Nowadays, townsfolk call it ‘Camp Blood’ and gossip amongst them states that it is cursed and so it has remained uninhabited since that fateful night. Steve Chrysty doesn’t believe in those whispers and has already hired a group of counsellors to help him with preparation for the grand opening. As soon as they’ve began to settle however, they are stalked and ruthlessly butchered by an elusive psychopath…
Whilst the filmmakers have admitted both privately and in interviews that this was little more than a cash-in on the success of Halloween, the key source of inspiration behind the picture was Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood and knowing that allows you to clearly see the nods and winks. Cunningham makes great use of the campsite location and the crisp photography laps up the greens and browns of the forest to give the picture a colourful radiance of a backdrop. After a brief (and surprisingly – keeping in mind that Savini was on board) gore free murder in the pre-credits, we get introduced to the first of our counsellors. What is interesting is that Annie, a bubbly hitchhiker, is given enough screen time that would lead you to believe that she could become our heroine. She’s sweet, fiery and sincere and offers something of a backstory to her persona. The opening scenes with her are intriguing because we don’t get a clear picture of what we can expect to happen. Crazy Ralph’s warnings are that ‘Camp Blood’ is doomed. Does that mean haunted? Are we about to watch a ghost story? Whilst of course we know now that wasn’t the case, the film does begin with a feeling like we could be up against something more supernatural than a twisted killer.
Victor Miller’s screenplay manages to break archetypal slasher movie boundaries even before they were set by killing off that first, well developed, character almost immediately and letting us know that no one is safe from the unseen menace. Whilst the world and their mother are aware by now of who the antagonist of this feature turned out to be, audiences of 1980 had no idea, and the story plays like something of a regular giallo/whodunit. Sean Cunningham didn’t get the breaks that would build careers for Carpenter, Craven and Hooper, but what is clear to me here is that he got the right performances from his inexperienced cast. Whilst none of them are given complex enough dialogue to really steal a scene, infamous moments such as Marcie’s Audrey Hepburn in the mirror, Ned’s practical jokes and Alice’s hysterical heroine were all pitch perfect for this campy horror classic
Once the night scenes come around, the movie really steps up a gear and delivers a genuinely dark and tense atmosphere. The backgrounds are shot in a tone that’s almost grey scale and the constant barrage of rain is a horror cliché that is used to the best possible effect. If Cunningham deserves credit for helping sustain a sense of mystery and suspense, the film really belongs to Tom Savini’s make-up effects and Bill Freda’s razor sharp editing. The pair create some amazing death scenes; with the impalement of a young Kevin Bacon and Jeannine Taylor’s gruesome end being two of the most memorable slasher murders of all time. Harry Manfredini’s musical accompaniment is powerful enough to single handedly change the mood and the poignant tranquility of his last piece, which successfully builds up to the closing jump scare – Jason’s screen début – is creative and unique.
When the killer is revealed and finally shows her face it’s a genuine shock, but also a bit of a cheat. The majority of the runtime sees suspicion point at Steve or maybe one of the campers but then it turns out to be a face that hasn’t yet been introduced to us. It’s hard to believe that this could really be the person that we have seen ramming axes through people’s faces and nailing counsellors to cabin doors, but once the final battle gets going, we just let the filmmakers take over and it turns out to be one of the best showdowns of the cycle. Betsy Palmer was heavily criticised by Roger Ebert and the like and Gene Siskel even went as far as to tell fans to write to her expressing their disappointment that she accepted such a poor choice in role. She was also nominated for that year’s supporting actress Razzie – one of the worst and most insulting things that can happen to any screen performer. Personally, I really enjoyed her natty Mrs Voorhees and think that she did exactly what was asked of her. That hammy as a sandwich schizophrenia is surprisingly effective and I just couldn’t imagine how the film would play without it. Oh and by the way Señor Siskel, Señora Palmer later stated that she received exactly 0 complaints through the mail and only letters praising her inclusion in the picture. So there :p
Friday the 13th is, for me, a four star slasher movie. It’s a suspenseful and exciting killer in the woods flick that has a couple of memorably edited scares, a wonderful final battle and some of the best character-driven situations of the entire genre. The only thing that it lacks is a solid central antagonist; or to be more clear, a Jason Voorhees. Of course though, we have to keep in mind that without this, we would never have had a mass-murderer in a hockey mask and the greatest legacies have to start somewhere. Whilst I am still convinced that part two, the first that I ever saw, is the best in the series, I have only the tiniest of disagreements with those that consider this to be their favourite.
Maybe it is just like what they say about Bond and that I saw the sequel first…?
Final Girl: √√√√
Deadly Blessing 1981
aka Bendición Mortal
Directed by: Wes Craven
Starring: Maren Jensen, Sharon Stone, Susan Buckner
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
At first glance, one could be forgiven for believing it was fairly paradoxical that it should be Wes Craven that ended up directing Kevin Williamson’s tribute to the slasher films of the early-eighties. The polished offerings that earned him his reputation up until that point had not actually been the traditional stalk and slash flicks that Scream so lovingly references. Despite what a lot of people assume, A Nightmare on Elm Street was more of a supernatural new style of horror flick than a typical slasher. That isn’t meant as any kind of criticism, because a little originality goes a very long way in this category. At the end of the day though, Freddy Krueger was not really a slasher movie bogeyman and neither was Horace Pinker from Shocker, which is also often wrongly confused as a formulaic Halloween spin-off. Horace’s ability to merge with electricity and possess his victims spoiled his chances of joining the brand that Mr. Myers and his knife-wielding accomplices frequent with their own stringent guidelines.
It’s a debate that could go on forever and I guess no one is truly ‘right’. For me however, with so many titles that follow the Halloween/Friday the 13th mould so closely, Freddy and the like always just felt a tad too far removed from the initial template and that’s why I don’t consider them to be true stalk and slash flicks. I mean, shouldn’t a ‘slasher’ use a blade or something to ‘slash’ with?
Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that Craven did create a rarely-mentioned offering that can neatly slot itself alongside its counterparts and was indeed good enough to rub shoulders with a few of the genre giants. His 1981 opus Deadly Blessing, makes good use of the clichés that hadn’t been so severely overused at the time of its release and he also includes a few authentic ingredients of his own, which mark an intriguing addition to the formula.
This was also an early movie role for the woman who would later become one of the eighties’ sexiest leading ladies. She was famous for the most memorable leg-crossing scene in movie history and also managed a few credible dramatic performances including a big-budget Scorsese classic. You guessed it -one of the scrumptious females terrorised by the mystery killer is an extremely young and barely recognisable Sharon Stone.
The Hitties are an Amish-like sect who have built their own community in the secluded hills of a rural area. When a former member of their number is mysteriously murdered in the opening, they lay the blame on his wife, Martha (Maren Jensen) by calling her ‘the incubus’. In order to help with her grief and animosity from the locals, two of her friends drive up from the city to stay with her. After a while, a black-gloved maniac begins cutting his way through the locals and taking a particular interest in the widow and her visitors. Who could be the assassin?
Wes Craven mixes some neat visual flourishes and some superb set pieces to great effect throughout Deadly Blessing. The barn-scene has already made a place for itself amongst horror aficionados and it’s an electric and pulsating sequence. Lana (Sharon Stone) heads to the farmhouse to find a replacement spark plug for a tractor that the girls have been using for the land work. Once she’s inside, the door and windows slam shut, as if by a supernatural force. Then a mysterious assailant stalks her in one of the tightest and most skilfully crafted sequences of the slasher era. After a successful jump-scare, she finally sees a way out of the claustrophobic nightmare and heads for the exit. Just as she’s about to leave, an earlier victim’s corpse – which was strung up by rope – drops down in front of her, marking the perfect finish to a superb scene. Sharon Stone gets a pretty torrid time in this feature and when she’s not being targeted by the unseen menace, she’s having nightmares about a large spider being dropped in her mouth! (Real spider by the way)
That isn’t the only moment that shines with the incandescent brim of stylish craftsmanship. The bathtub-sequence was equally as spellbinding and because it’s a Craven flick, he has enough confidence in his storytelling to avoid making the movie a total rip-off of it’s peers. Although at heart, this is a slasher film with all the necessary ingredients that keep it in the category, the constant use of snakes and spiders as a skin-crawling alternative to masks and kitchen knifes is very inviting. There is also a satanic sheen and the supernatural twist at the end, which you may not get to see, depending on what version that you own. The IMDB states that the UK release omits that final scene (which is not true) so as to avoid confusing viewers, but the Spanish copy that I own definitely doesn’t include it. Yes, the notorious incubus ending does add a bit of a desperate and unnecessary enigma to an otherwise fairly decent story. Don’t blame Craven for this though, apparently it was the decision of over anxious producers.
The experienced cast members do a good job here, especially Ernest Borgnine who is restrained when handling a potential ham-feast. Obviously someone saw enough in Sharon Stone’s somewhat amateur portrayal, which would begin her on the road to mega stardom. It’s worth noting that Lana is probably the most approachable and sympathetic character that she’s ever played. She’s certainly a lot different from the ice-cold personas that Stone would later become famous for.
The film has an interesting moral compass with an unusual and authentic logic on who to root for. The plot touches on subjects such as marriage and adultery, but doesn’t reward either as a rightful path and has no defined stance. Glenn Benest’s script also builds very strong female players and this is especially evident in the climax, which I won’t spoil here. Placing the synopsis around such a religious and respectful sect explores various intriguing notions. Whilst the elders are disgusted about the modern and what they consider to be reckless ways of Martha and her alien city folk friends, the younger males are captivated by their style and free and easy-natured beauty. Because of the difference in the levels of morality between the opposing lifestyles, there are obvious clashes and the slasher rules like ‘have sex and die’ seem all the more prohibited and warranted due to that. Although this is nowhere near as dream focused as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven’s obsession with our sleep subconscious is also utilised here in the aforementioned spider sequence and there’s almost always some nightmare imagery incorporated somewhere in his features. ( Remember the dentist part from Last House on the Left?). In fact even if the incubus finale does somewhat destroy any coherent structure, it does leave the feature with a dreamlike surreal tone, even if it was unintended.
The only real let down is the somewhat intermittent pacing. The killer doesn’t really get enough screen time and the murders are too infrequently placed for my liking. With a fantastic score and good cast to play with, I would have perhaps liked to have seen a few more killings. This is still an underrated and stylish feature and the evidence that Craven needed to prove that he could turn low budget exploitation efforts in to stylish studio-backed productions.
Boasting an intriguing synopsis, hot Sharon Stone, polished production and adept direction, it’s everything a slasher movie needs to be. The jump scares here are very well delivered and the suspense is teeth-clenching. If you can find Deadly Blessing, then it’s definitely worth checking out.
Final Girl √√√√
Campsite Massacre 1981
aka The Final Terror aka Carnivore
Directed by: Anthony Davis
Starring: Ernest Harden, Rachel Ward, Daryl Hannah
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Another of the golden age slashers that is often overlooked – and no more so than by myself, Campsite Massacre has recently become something of a cult classic in some circles. I have owned it on VHS since I can remember, but haven’t really ever watched it more than once until picked up a budget DVD in a newsagents recently.
Pencilled in 1980 and filmed in ’81, it would never have secured distribution if it weren’t for the rapid rise to fame of a few of its cast members. Check out the amount of ‘soon to be stars’ in this listing: Daryl Hannah, Rachel Ward, Adrian Zmed, Ernest Harden, Lewis Smith and even Joe Pantoliano – phew that’s some ensemble.
It was directed by Andrew Davis who has had quite a prolific career of mid to large budgeted features. Although admittedly, his resume boasts more misses than hits, The Fugitive and Holes are both very good films that received positivity from audiences and critics alike.
A group of youngsters head off deep in to the forest for a work project. It starts off normally enough, but when one of them goes missing, all hell breaks lose. Before long, they are left alone with a maniacal mad man and a deadly cat and mouse battle of wits begins…
There’s no better feeling than unearthing an undiscovered gem. Although it can be said that Campsite Massacre is hardly ‘undiscovered’ and it’s not a ‘gem’ either, I must admit that I enjoyed it a damn site more this time around than I’d initially expected. As far as slasher movies go, it’s very well made with razor sharp cinematography, good editing and an overall feeling of competence from the production team. As it includes such a qualified group of performers, you’ll find no surprise in the fact that it’s competently acted. Even if none of the characters are given a great deal to do, they do each build an identity for themselves. The film seems to mould itself more on Deliverance than Friday the 13th, but it does still manage to pack in the clichés. These include a campfire tale, the have sex and die rule and some stereotypical killer-cam shots.
Andrew Davis pulls off some very good set pieces, including an exciting ‘rooftop attack’ aboard a bus. It’s a frantic scene with some credible jumps and shocks. There’s not much gore to brighten up our screens, because it seems that the modus operandi was to aim for chills through slow boiling suspense and a grim atmosphere. It almost pays off and utilises a smart use of sound to help and create a menacing tone. Massacre doesn’t really have a score to rival the likes of Halloween/Friday the 13th and instead it uses low-chords or spooky effects in the right places to sustain the creepy vibe. The killer also warrants a mention as he is a backwoods loon of the old school type. He stalks his prey almost like The Predator, often camouflaging himself amongst his surroundings. There’s a good example of this halfway through, where the group row straight past him on their way down a river without seeing him at all. Its impressive how well he blends in with the scenery and appears only briefly from behind a rock to throw a corpse on to their raft.
Perhaps the most authentic thing about Campsite Massacre is that it doesn’t have a final girl and instead leaves a group to do battle with the psychopath. There’s also a cool role reversal in the story for the players, because the hunted become hunters and look to get revenge on who they think is the assailant. Much like Lance Johnson from Apocalypse Now, their leader swallows a bag of magic mushrooms and spends the majority of the conclusion wildly hallucinating. It’s intriguing, because despite being in a dazed state, he is still followed by the rest of the group, which must have been because of his aura of toughness and natural leadership skills. There’s a twist also, which I have tried my hardest not to give away, but you will probably figure it out anyway.
Campsite Massacre is a good enough slasher yarn that’s deserving somewhat of a better reputation. I think the reason that it has been pushed to the bottom of the pile is simply because there’s not much of a body count (6), it’s sometimes too dark to see clearly and it may be a tad too slow-moving for some folks.
If you are a fan of period pieces however and appreciate neat attempts at suspense, you can most definitely find worse entries floating around. A good cast along with a few moments of superb creepiness and a beautiful location give it a high five from a SLASH above. Just don’t go expecting much of a Campsite Massacre…Oh, hold on that’s what it was called… hmmm…
Killer Guise: √√√
Zombie Nightmare 1986
Directed by: Jack Bravman
Starring: Adam West, Jon Mikl Thor, Tia Carrere
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
And here we have another eighties ‘zombie’ movie, which despite having a title that brings to mind illusions of Romero-alike walking-dead mayhem, owes a damn site more to slasher flicks such as Friday the 13th and The Prowleret al. Inexplicably, there was a high number of horror attempts during that decade, which incorporated the living dead into their titles, but delivered stalk and slash cinematic experiences. Lucio Fulci’s House by the Cemetery was a prime example of a slasher film cloaked under the guise of a zombie-thon, whilst Zombie Island Massacre was another. The Dead Pit and Ruben Galindo’s Cementerio Del Terror went as far as to mix re-animated corpses with the plot trappings of the slasher craze and more recently, Todd Cook’s Zombiefied has brought the slasher/zombie hybrid back from the grave (no pun intended)
It opens on a high school baseball field sometime during the 1960s. An amicable coach named Bill Washington is watched playing catch with some youngsters by his wife and son. Also in the stands are a Haitian school girl and two troublesome youngsters who let their intentions be known by plotting a nasty surprise for the Caribbean spectator. As the young family head home across the streets of the idyllic neighbourhood, they come across the two hoodlums from earlier attempting to rape the passive Haitian. Bill Washington immediately intervenes, much to his downfall, because whilst his back is turned he is stabbed in the chest by one of the rampant thugs. The screen fades with a shot of the young boy watching his father struggle for life on the cold concrete side walk.
Fast forward twenty years and Tony Washington – the child from the prologue – has grown into a helpful and polite young man. Whilst out shopping for his mum’s groceries, he underlines his impressive community status by courageously battering two armed thugs that were attempting to rob the local shop keeper. Things takes a turn for the worse for the vigilante, when he is savagely run down and killed by a gang of inebriated teenagers. The gang of drunkards speed off into the night, showing no remorse for their victim. Despite being visually devastated, Tony’s mum decides not to inform the police of the murder and instead she calls upon the favour owed by the Haitian from the pre-credits sequence. Somewhat fortunately (albeit stereotypically) Molly Mokembe is now a voodoo priestess and so with a dust of black magic, Tony Washington rises from the dead to avenge his ruthless murder….
If you were looking for another possible pre-cursor to Kevin Williamson’s I Know What You Did Last Summer, then look no further than this cheap as you like slasher jam, which pre-dates the aforementioned title by a whole eleven-years. The plot is familiar to each and all, as the victim of a horrendous accident returns to avenge his death, systematically slaughtering the culprits one by one in gruesome fashion. Although we never reach the heights of slasher-classic status, this does boast a few credible benefits that lift it from the irreversible depths of a half-star review. The soundtrack is awesomely impressive, with songs provided by Motorhead, Girlschool and Thor and I must admit that I was astounded as ‘The Ace of Spades’ confidently adorned the credit sequence. As is the case with so many eighties slasher entries, Zombie Nightmare plays host to one young and fresh-faced ‘soon to be superstar’. Yep, you don’t need to clean those spectacles. That chubby faced youngster that is unconvincingly warbling through her lines is none other than Tia Carrere, most memorable for her characteristic performances in Wayne’s World and True Lies.
Unfortunately, it seems the budget spent on the soundtrack pretty much drained the finances from the rest of the feature, because Zombie Nightmare seems to take an unprecedented slope to mediocrity very quickly. Despite a decent début performance from Frank Dietz as the protagonist, the dramatics are really scraping along the lines of junior school play level. Watch out for the hilarious Manuska Rigaud, who seems to believe that ‘acting’ amounts to squawking her voice like she’s desperately in need of a lozenge. Zombie Nightmare is famous for thrash legend Jon Mikl Thor’s lengthy cameo in the opening half of the film. Despite proving that rock stars certainly shouldn’t walk the path to Hollywood, he also miraculously manages to grow a few inches post-death. It’s so easy to notice that Thor had taken his paycheque and scooted very early on in the production, leaving the crew to cast a totally unconvincing body ‘double’, which somewhat adds to the cheesy charm.
There’s no gore or suspense worth mentioning and the whole feature is weakly directed to the excess of point and shoot mediocrity. Originality is a wayward concept in the eyes of Jack Bravman, so basically, what you see is what you get – and you get very little. There’s a few kooky deaths and a fairly sympathetic motive for our hulking maniac, but it never escapes the feeling of being overly diluted, so I’m sure that you’ll end up fairly bored.
Zombie Nightmare is far from being the worst slasher movie released during the peak period, but I really could only find very little to recommend. The stalking lone killer proves that this is pure slasher trash and those searching for a dose of zombie gore will be thoroughly disappointed. It would probably have remained a complete obscurity if it hadn’t been rescued by MST3K who pointed out some of the cheesy aspects in their usual hysterical way. When I wrote this review three-years ago, there was a copy of their antics available on YouTube to watch, although it may have disappeared by now.
Ignore the word ‘Zombie’ in the title and add this to your slasher collection if you dig the eighties cheapies. There’s nothing here to recommend in a respectable way, but if you are a fan of pure trashola then you should most definitely pick it up. You’ll have to dust off your VCR though, because there’s no planned DVD rehash.
Final Girl: √
Urban Legends: Final Cut 2000
Directed by: John Ottman
Starring: Jennifer Morrison, Eva Mendes, Hart Bochner
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
In a film packed to the brim with clichés, one character uses an equally common proverb at one point, ‘Those that can’t do teach’. Perhaps the more fitting one would have been, ‘An optician is no good when you have a toothache‘ but we are getting ahead of ourselves.
The first Urban Legend was two things that the slasher genre needs, pretty darn good and very successful, so a sequel had to be on the cards. It’s never the best sign though when a second chapter doesn’t include the survivors from número uno, so instead they just brought back who they could and set it as an unrelated story in the same fictional universe. They even mention the earlier massacre, but by then it had also become an urban legend due to a cover up. Good gimmick.
At Alpine University or ‘the greatest film school in the world’ the students are each working on their own project to be entered in to ‘the Hitchcock awards’, which will give the winner a shot at Hollywood recognition. Junior director Amy Mayfield soon notices that her crew members are disappearing. Could it be that there’s a murderer on campus or is it all a prank?
The Final Cut looks the business with its high production values and expensive sets. Whilst some of the best slasher pictures of the category were either shot on unlicensed property or anywhere cheap that could be found, Ottman had a whole Bell Tower built at the same cost that was spent on the entire production of Honeymoon Horror, The Prey, Halloween and Friday the 13th. The film opens with a campy, fleetingly photographed sequence that unleashes some stylish strobe flashing lights and break-neck editing. Set aboard a plane, Ottman creates an atmosphere of claustrophobia, panic and desolation to great effect. It turns out that it’s a film within a film and even though that was supposed to be the first building block or an example of the director’s talents, unfortunately the picture had already peaked by that point.
It’s interesting nowadays to look back at these late nineties slashers and spot the fresh-faced newcomers who would go on to a big career (hey it’s Eva Mendes!) and there’s an extremely solid cast at work here. Whilst a slasher of old was really all about the director, these big financed tributes are credited with good dramatics from real performers. There was some nice bonding between the players and they were quite well-developed. I didn’t feel that I could relate to the good guys here so much, but that was more the fault of a lightweight script than bad acting.
I mentioned earlier about an optician doing nothing for a toothache and Ottman may well be a great editor and composer, but in the hot seat he doesn’t even get anywhere near his franchise predecessor, Jamie Blanks. There are numerous occasions that came so close to building suspense, but his framing is wasteful and his attempts are poorly delivered. Let’s take the first killing for example. A girl wakes up in a bathtub full of ice and notices she’s a kidney light. The killer is in the next room and unaware that she’s conscious. She accidentally slams the door shut, which alerts his attention and the bogeyman races after her and begins smashing through the paneling. Recipes for building suspense don’t come much easier to prepare than that, but the pace didn’t change at all.
There’s another great opportunity where a grim tone is built whilst the nut job is searching for our heroine, whilst she is hiding on a soundstage. Clearly frustrated, he begins playing low chords with one finger on a piano in order to unsettle his intended victim, which gives the sequence a morbid and pulsating atmosphere. It could have been really good from then on, but Ottman doesn’t really take it anywhere. Loretta Devine returns to the series as the characteristic campus security guard, but even after being stabbed and shot last time around for not believing the stories that there was a killer on the loose, she does exactly the same thing this time around and the implausibility of her actions is no less than infuriating. Ottman references Hitchcock with both the dialogue of his characters and again verbally in his final scene. For me, the best homage that he could have paid was by attempting to deliver a similar flair for suspense, which he never captures.
I couldn’t write a review of this feature without mentioning the fencing mask, which we’ve seen before in Graduation Day. Obviously, it looks better here, but I wonder if Ottman had intentionally borrowed it from that cheese feast from 1981 or it was just the recommendation of someone in wardrobe?
I guess that the mystery is good enough and it all ends with a Tarantino-esque multi-gun stand-off, which was fun; but it closes with an unshakeable feeling of hollowness. There’s too much missing here that made the first one a blast; the most obvious being the alluring sense of fun.There’s a big enough body count, some nice photography and the odd great idea that is commendable. Unfortunately, the punctured plot, lack of excitement and silly motive leave it being no more or no less than average. Not surprising that Ottman never directed again, but instead stuck to what he knows best.
Final Girl: √√
Demons Never Die 2011
aka Suicide Kids
Directed by: Arjun Rose
Starring: Robert Sheehan, Ashley Waters, Jason Maza
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Oh Tulisa Tulisa. A couple of months ago I posted a review of Nine Lives here on the site. Admittedly it’s a hunk of junk, but the fact that it had a cameo from alcoholic nympho Paris Hilton, meant that at least it had some minor sense of allure. Well here we have Demons Never Die, one of the few slasher flicks produced in 2011. Ok so there’s no Gucci bag clenching heiresses in sight, but it does include a walk on appearance from Tulisa Contostavlos aka the new Cheryl Cole. (Just before finishing this review, I noticed she also has a sex tape floating about)
Hands up who watches X Factor? Come on boys, you’re only lying to yourself if you say no. Not many people know this, but I’ve had an action packed life so far and I once got through a couple of auditions for the big X. I sang Enrique Iglesias’ Hero to a producer and she said, “Yes!” What a great day that was. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those people that watch every show with my One Direction t-shirt on and my phone in my palm. I do however have it on in the background while the Mrs remains transfixed and if I could recreate that magic feeling when I got the golden ticket and sell it on to everyone that I know… Well let’s just say coke dealers in London would be out of business. Was it really that good? Heeeell yeah!
Anyway back to the film, or kind of. So Tulisa’s success as the Cheryl replacement on the aforementioned program has pushed her celebrity status up a few thousand notches and Arjun Rose (cool name) has capitalised on that timing to get her in a bit part here. Did she improve sales amongst teeny-boppers? I would say probably yes. Does she improve the movie in any way outside of eye candy? I would definitely say no. Funnily enough she grew up in the same part of London as me and we obviously both come from ‘other’ European heritage, which is noticeable by our (not so) ‘strong British names’. The difference is that she is now a millionaire celebrity and me… well I’m definitely not. But hey, it’s not all doom and gloom, I get to review slasher films for you peeps every day.
When a girl is mistakenly thought to have taken her own life, a gang of youngsters launch a suicide pact. They plan to go out with a bang and decide to set-up a memorable occasion. In the meantime, they seem to be getting help in the form of a masked maniac. Who could it be that’s killing them off?
Back in the days when Internet was still growing, a small company called Google was desperately looking for an injection of cash. They had two meetings with Yahoo CEO Terry Selem over dinner with the possibility of a take-over. Larry Page was not over keen on selling, but admitted that an offer of $3billion would be tough to turn down. Selem was furious at the proposal and felt he had a much better plan B. “Five billion dollars, seven billion, ten billion. I don’t know what they’re really worth and you don’t either,” he told his staff. “There’s no fucking way we’re going to do this!” So talks closed down, both chased their own projects and went their separate ways. Some ten years later, Google reported gross profits of $7.8 billion in Q4 of 2011, whilst Yahoo managed $1.08. Selem is now in a different employment and Yahoo missed the chance to be the undisputed kings of the internet. That my friends is what you would call a bad decision.
Do you want to hear about another?
Ok check this out. You put together the funds to make a slasher movie. In a haze of trying to be original, some bright spark comes up with a maniac killing off people that want to die. No, seriously. So this brings up a major problem. How do you build any kind of sympathy or connection with people that the killer is in effect helping to achieve their aims? Now don’t get me wrong, the story does attempt to divert from this by revealing the ‘shock’ decision that they change their minds and actually decide against it. But the thing is that by that point we are left with a bunch of cardboard cut out personalities and no one really to bond to.
Demons is obviously heavily inspired by Wes Craven’s Scream and includes a multitude of references. Many of them reach beyond the realms of just ‘inspiration’ in to flagrant cut, copy and paste territory. For a genre that has survived on its ability to self reference, this is all acceptable if it’s handled correctly. Rose’s script lacks charm however and the wit to accompany its lack of authenticity and energy. A solid collection of capable actors are left without a challenging depth to their characters and therefore have no possibility to shine.
As slasher movies are not renowned for their strengths in dramatics, complexity in plotting or philosophical messages, they can only really aim for two emotions. The first and most obvious is fear – everybody loves a good scare. The only other option is to make the film as camp as possible and give the audience something to enjoy in a more humorous way. Demons however gets lost in its attempt to convey a message that a) we don’t understand and b) we don’t give a damn about and takes itself far too seriously to be fun. There’s a large-ish body count, a few attempts to mimic horror classics such as The Blair Witch Project and an unclear but interesting motive, but it’s technically weak and therefore just not good enough to deliver any thrills.
I saw some positive reviews floating around before I picked this up myself, but I am guessing that they were posted by crew members as a form of marketing, because what I saw was pretty irredeemable. I mean, what’s the moral of the story? What’s the point? Don’t commit suicide because a maniac will come and kill you? I wouldn’t care about the lack of logic if it at least had something, anything to cover up the obvious amateurism. I grew up in the kind of areas that this film attempts to convey. The thing is that some of the people I knew back then lacked an education or anything really to offer the tough society that we lived in. None of them however were dumb enough to run in to a dimly lighted forest instead of to the nearest crowd of people after witnessing a murder, which these fools seem to do consistently.
I remember one great song on the soundtrack that lifted the mood about halfway through. Congratulations to Jessie J; a fine example of the talent of London youth. As for Arjun Rose, a former stockbroker, he needs to try harder…
Final Girl: √√
Urban Legend 1998
Directed by: Jamie Blanks
Starring: Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Jared Leto
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So here it is, one of the first ever reviews that I wrote of a slasher movie. I posted this way back in 2001 and wanted to see if I still agree with what I said after eleven long years. I have updated some parts of it, but it’s still pretty much the same… Enjoy!
First things first, there are a couple of things that I have to get off my chest before I begin my review of Jamie Blanks’ much-maligned slasher/whodunit Urban Legend. What caught my attention initially was the fact that it boldly states on the front cover that it’s the: `Bloodiest teen slasherfest to come over from the states so far…’ That, I then thought to myself, was one hell of a bold statement to make. Could it be a film gorier than Nightmares in a damaged brain or Maniac? Could it even be a flick with more goo than Blood Rage, The Burning or the uncut Intruder? If so how did it gain a certificate from the BBFC? Or could it be that the unnamed reviewer from The Sun who wrote that article was trying out some freshly picked highly hallucinogenic magic mushrooms? I’m afraid that after watching this I found that the latter is probably the closest to the truth because although Urban Legend has its moments, gore is definitely not one of the movie’s strong points. As for it being one of the bloodiest of its kind to come over from the states so far? Well lets just say that this must’ve been the first slasher flick that the writer in question had seen, or he must have accidentally watched the wrong film. Who knows?
Secondly before watching UL I was biased into thinking it was going to be really rather terrible after the amount of bad publicity it got from its UK release. Almost every review that I read was warning the viewer to avoid it at all costs. But to anyone, who has got a video library filled with as many, how can I put it, ‘matter of taste’ flicks as me will know that is all the invitation I needed.
After an exciting opening, we are shown a campus named Pendleton University and introduced to a few likely suspects or victims that are discussing the recent murder of Michelle Mancini, a girl that was killed in the pre-credits. The conversation then turns to the legend of the ‘Stanley Hall Massacre’, where It’s rumoured that 25 years earlier at that same college a professor went berserk and off’d ‘a whole floor’ full of students before stabbing himself through the heart with a honey knife. In good old slasher tradition the kids decide to have a party to commemorate the aforementioned kill frenzy, which you know is definitely going to be a bad idea.
Before long a butcher in a parka coat puts in a few appearences and starts working his way through the cast in some pretty imaginative ways. Natalie, our obvious heroine, witnesses most of these murders but of course, no-one else sees them or believes her, especially the somewhat suspicious Deane. As more people disappear, the killer’s motive is revealed and it’s left up to Natalie to stop him.
To be honest, and I’m going to be an individual here, I can’t for the life of me see what is so bad about Jamie Blanks’ first attempt at a horror movie. Seeing how this was his directorial debut (previously he had worked as a camera operator on action flick The Huntsman) I think he’s done a pretty damn good job. I was so puzzled when I had finished watching after reading such bad reviews and thoroughly enjoying it that I rang up two of my friends and invited them to come around and view it with me and my girlfriend. When it was finished I asked what they thought and all three of them agreed it was a good film, one even went as far as to say it was better than Scream.
Each murder gets more imaginative than the next, with the killer going to various lengths to stage his slaughter. All are based on popular urban legends and most of them are burning with innovation. The opening gimmick is brilliant with the way it cheats the audience and who can honestly say that they didn’t jump when Damon bit the dust? I agree that when the butcher’s identity is revealed you are left thinking how did he manage to perform those killings unaided, but that is by no means grounds to say that the film is poor. If you’re watching a slasher movie for sensible continuity, then you’re on a losing team there buddy. What lifts Urban Legend way above average is its wonderful imagination, pulsating energy and ability to make the most of its bag full of good ideas. It also benefits from a haunting score and a strong cast, which were at the time of release mostly unknowns. Jared Leto has since gone on to earn roles in Fight Club and American Psycho, not to mention The Thin Red Line. He is an actor that I have seen many times, but has never grabbed the moment or left me with the impression that he’s an outstanding performer. He does very well here though and shows much promise in his delivery. Alicia Witt is solid as the final girl and there’s a fair turn from Rebecca Gayheart as her bubble head friend. This was made before Tara Reid had developed a reputation as a party girl and was hoping for a career as an actress. She had the look and a good agent, but that wasn’t enough to hide her limits as a dramatic success. I did kind of hope that her character would survive, although I believe that’s more because she’s hot. However, Blanks is quite ruthless with the cast and not many players avoid the assassin’s blade.
We are treated to a couple of effective jumps and false scares and some wonderful flowing cinematography, which keeps the energy level at maximum. Due to the impressive momentum, things also gets ‘edge of your seat’ tense toward the end as you play the game of work out the killer’s identity. The story keeps on twisting and pointing the finger at everyone who appears on screen and you can’t help but carry on guessing. I even enjoyed the OTT motive and even though the actor struggled to deliver a believable portrayal of insanity, the revelation just about works.
So all said and done I think it just goes to show Urban Legend is a matter of taste movie; you’ll either love it or hate it. I must admit that I actually thought it was fairly enjoyable and remains far more entertaining than the one-toned Valentine. Don’t be dissuaded by the poor publicity that circled this one, its well worth checking out.
Final Girl: √√√