Movie House Massacre 1982
aka Blood Theatre
Directed by: Rick Sloane
Starring: Mary Woronov, Jenny Cunningham, Johnathan Blakeley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The successful cinema chain, Spotlite Theatres have decided to renovate an old abandoned auditorium and add it to their list of multiplexes. It has been closed since a manager went mad decades earlier and killed off a whole heap of people. Almost as soon as they get started though, the bodies begin dropping once again. Who could be behind the series of killings?
Fortunately, I’m a child of the Internet age and since I was eighteen, I have always had the ability to read an online review of the films that I’m looking to watch prior to purchasing them. There’s no doubt that the warning signs were there with Movie House Massacre. It’s been torn apart globally on the www; and even if sometimes I can disagree with other authors, the outright level of criticism on this particular title made the chance of that seem rather slim.
The reason I mention this is because the marketing team behind the packaging of Rick Sloane’s debut were most definitely the feature’s worst enemy. Looking at the box, it’s easy to believe that you are going to be in for a gory slasher in the vein of The Burning et al. That is totally inaccurate however, because Movie House Massacre is actually nothing but a goofy horror spoof. I got to the eleven minute mark in the runtime and had to rewind it to the beginning and start again with my comedy hat on. To continue watching whilst expecting attempts at terror would have been unfair on this film. So did the change of my initial perception make MHM any better?
Quite frankly, no. It lives up very well to its reputation of incompetence. What we have here is a shambolic example of filmmaking in every possible way. Technically, the level of professionalism is pitiful and this is most evident in the editing, which strings scenes together with no apparent logical structure. There’s a semblance of a story there, somewhere; but it’s muddled, unbalanced and ultimately very boring.
Good comedy done well is priceless and almost as tough to produce on the silver screen as effective suspense. I’m a big fan of slapstick and films such as Naked Gun or Airplane work because they fire everything at their audience and if the first five jokes don’t stick, it’s guaranteed that there’s a couple that will. The problem with Movie House Massacre is that it could fling a million attempts at us, but it’d make no difference because it is just not funny. Rick Sloane was 21 when he put this together, but he must have been twelve when he wrote the script. It’s simply awful.
As the majority of the crew don’t seem to have a clue about filmmaking, you don’t need me to tell you how low the level of the dramatics sink. I must, however, praise Mary Woronov who gives us some of the finest acting that I have ever seen. It’s not in the way that she portrays her character however. It’s her ability to hide the obvious disappointment and bewilderment that an actress of her experience must have had on this set. Seriously, she deserved an Oscar nod for that. I reckon that she must have sacked her agent straight after for putting her near this tosh.
If you type Movie House Massacre in to Google, you can find review after review that will tell you how bad the film is. There is absolutely zero point in me writing any more of the same things in a different way, but I did pick up a few interesting points. It seems as if the idea here was to spoof horror in general rather than just the slasher genre and there’s a couple of haunted-house type shenanigans that go on throughout the runtime, such as light bulbs smashing and objects flying across the room. Still this just qualifies as a slasher movie because it does include a knife clenching killer (an elderly man with zilch scare factor) and a ‘heroic’ final girl. What I did find to be authentic was that in the parallel universe where this story takes place, every door or locker makes a sound like a torpedo when it opens and people can disappear and get killed with no one at all noticing. One girl just turns up to get murdered (somewhat creatively) in a popcorn machine. Either I fell asleep briefly or she just appeared from nowhere, to be frank I just don’t know anymore. Excuse me, I need to go and have a lie down.
I have never deemed any film that I’ve seen atrocious enough to give a no star review. I was close here, but in the end I decided on half a star. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this is a terrible picture. Painful, horrible, grotesque and monstrous. It doesn’t attempt however to cover up its weaknesses with vulgarity, which is something that others seem to do constantly. I also laughed when I heard the Casio keyboard Halloween knock-off score, which is suspiciously similar to the cheesy club track ‘Little bit of luck’ by DJ Luck and MC Neat. It was amusing watching an old man with a knife stalk a theater isle, whilst a cheap rendition of “Ta na ne, ta na ne, ta na ne, ta na ne tee boi” was playing in the background. I think that alone salvaged the film somewhat. Maybe Sloane should have sued them for the use of his tune? He could have retrieved some of the budget that I am sure he never got back on this. Also, did anyone else notice how much the actor who played the young killer was similar to Ray Liotta? Gawd I must have been bored if I was thinking things like that.
If you needed to read it yet another time just to be sure, then I can confirm to you that Movie House Massacre should be avoided at all costs. I felt like throwing my sock at my iPad countless times throughout and I know people always say it halfheartedly, but I promise you that I was cringing in places. Horrible acting, no story, a dumb geriatric killer, zero suspense and well zero anything, really.
A good friend of mine recently was trying to split with his girlfriend. He had tried everything, but she just wouldn’t go. I told him to show her Movie House Massacre and pretend it was his favourite film. They are no longer together…
Fatal Games 1984
aka The Killing Touch aka Olympic Nightmare
Directed by: Michael Elliot
Starring: Sally Kirkland, Sean Masterson, Lynn Banashek
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Fatal Games was released a couple of years after the largest peak in the slasher cycle’s popularity lifeline and it was one of the first additions to my collection on big box VHS. I have watched it many times, but it is never one that I have held a particular fondness for and it rarely gets mentioned alongside other genre favourites. It lacks even the charm of say, Graduation Day, which is a film it is often accused of imitating.
Many eighties slashers that don’t deserve their following managed to live on simply because they became rare, which meant that enthusiasts like me dedicated weeks (sometimes years) to try to find them. A fair few were also castrated by censors upon release, which meant that the human nature of wanting to see the things that we weren’t allowed to gave them a notoriety that they would never have deserved without such intervention. In cases such as the one that befell The Dorm that Dripped Blood, the honour of being chucked on the video nasty list and banned for public consumption was a golden ticket to a longer life expectancy as bootlegs would surface and interest would sustain.
This entry lacks either of the above benefits and therefore only offers what it says on the tin. However no one can say that a film featuring a hooded-javelin wielding maniac can be totally devoid of interest, so I was keen to give it another look after years of it collecting dust particles in my garage.
An athletic training school is preparing for a National contest and all the young hopefuls are being put through gruesome training routines. Things take a turn for the worse when a javelin brandishing nut job begins slaughtering the students when they stay behind to practice after hours. It becomes apparent that the disappearances are linked, so who or what could be behind the occurrences?
It seems bizarre to accuse a movie of ripping off Graduation Day, because Herb Freed himself will probably admit that his cheeseball is hardly a title worthy of such adulation. It’s hard not to level that at Fatal Games however, because there are a few otherwise inexplicable similarities between the two. Everything from the athletic teens getting slaughtered and then their faces crossed off of a team-photo to the javelin as a murder weapon seems to reference the former sports-themed genre piece. They even start with almost identical credit sequences, which show the characters training in slow-mo shots with a funky rock tune setting the vibe.
Do you remember during the eighties when almost every film had a sugar-coated message and an equally mushy theme tune to hype up headband wearing audiences (which we all were back then)? Songs like Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’ are postcards from a lost generation that fortunately thus far hasn’t found its route to return. Now if you thought, “Everybody wants to be a winner” from the opening of Freed’s opus was taking the biscuit in terms of eighties pumping up tracks, then Fatal Games runs away with the whole pack. Here we have lines such as ‘winning is everything’ and ‘take it to the limit’ (clearly ripped from Scarface’s ‘Push it to the Limit’) and the song is so laughably energetic that I almost jumped out of seat and began doing press-ups.
It’s a shame that first (and last) time director Michael Elliot never ‘took it to the limit’ as his direction is so flat that it feels like the print was placed under a steamroller before it received distribution. What we have here is two gears: bland and even blander and things don’t get any better than that. There’s one very good shadowy ‘studio shot’ that must’ve been filmed by the AD, DP or maybe next-door neighbor because it is re-used continuously every time the killer strikes and nothing else from Elliot comes close to matching it. Like the maniac from Baby Doll Murders, this guy is a bit of a fashionable psychopath. When on massacre duties, he dresses in a shiny striped tracksuit with matching trainers and it’s easy to see that this is an assassin with considerable eighties style. Of course we are all meant to be trying our hardest to work out who it is hiding under the hood, but the conclusion, upon revelation, is completely implausible if fun all the same.
There’s no real tomato juice goo on display here, but there’s some creative ways to finish off a teenager with a javelin. The guy under the mask has a ‘supernatural slasher villain ability‘. These are much like super hero powers and many eighties psycho killers had them. Like, for example, being able to appear exactly in front of a fleeing victim or being able to move a corpse and clean liters of blood in seconds without any products available to do so. The nut job here can throw the said javelin with enough power to impale someone from as far out as 500 yards! That’s a necessary skill however, because the director doesn’t believe in close-ups on the action and everything is filmed from football-pitch length distances. I really enjoyed the swimming pool killing, which was obviously lifted from The Prowler, but it is a real slice of fun as well as being grimly effective. The assailant puts on a full scuba kit and climbs in to the pool, before swimming underneath his intended victim and waiting for her to pass by before adding her corpse to his collection. How the girl managed to remain oblivious to someone with a bubble-bellowing scuba tank attached to his back and a two-foot pole in his hands was quite amazing, but the sequence is amongst my favourites simply for that.
The only thing that this can really be remembered for is the extremely high levels of nudity on display. All the bunnies (and most of the guys too) are naked at one point throughout the runtime and there’s a hilarious sequence where a girl flees the killer in her skin suit, which goes on for about three minutes. The cast also warrants a mention, with Sally Kirkland who would later get an Oscar nod and comedian Sean Masteson as one of the youngsters. The performances are pretty lame throughout, but I think most of the student-aged cast members were hired more for their gymnastic abilities than their dramatic credibility.
What else can I say? Well the finale is quite well staged as a guy on crutches finds the bodies of his colleagues stashed in lockers and there’s a chase sequence that ends on a scaffold tower, which was a novel idea. But that’s pretty much it to be honest.
So this is somewhat lacking in charm and it’s flatly directed, but it’s not necessarily that bad of an entry. I would pick this over 90% of the modern day slasher trash anyway...
Final Girl √
Silent Madness 1984
aka Beautiful Screamers, The Omega Factor
Directed by: Simon Nuchtern
Starring: Belinda Montgomery, Viveca Lindfors, Solly Marx
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
In my review for The Scaremaker, I mentioned that it was one of a number of slasher flicks that were overlooked due to the barrage of releases at that time. Silent Madness is another such entry that barely gets any recognition nowadays, which I was keen to investigate once again having not watched it for a decade or so. As you are well aware, a SLASH above is always trying to hunt out hidden gems for your collections.
Recently, there has been a wealth of 3D in our cinemas, which could lead you to believe that it was something of a new invention for the humble stalk and slash category. Although effects have definitely improved, the truth is that we were treated to offerings in three dimension long before the remake of My Bloody Valentine. You are probably aware already of Friday the 13th part III, but there was also this much lower budgeted effort that launched across cinemas with the neat gimmick that you need groovy specs for.
After a blunder at a mental hospital, the staff release the mute and psychotic Howard Johns who was responsible for some sorority slashing years earlier instead of the relatively harmless John Howard. A considerate shrink believes that he could be on his way back to the location of his previous crimes and heads there in order to stop him.
By 1984 the genre was already less of a draw for studio financing, so it’s somewhat refreshing to watch an effort that seems to have the mission statement of being played in theatres rather than aiming straight for video store shelves. It’s notably bold in that unlike the same year’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, Silent Madness makes absolutely no effort to do anything even remotely authentic and instead sticks to the formula of a dollop of Slumber Party Massacre with a bit of Halloween and Friday the 13th thrown in just for good measure. The killer is your typical muted menace with a murder lust and there’s a whole host of teenagers that he slices through and stalks using the trademark methodology.
I own two copies of this feature. One is on VHS, which is totally uncut and then I have a budget UK DVD that omits a few fun cheesy gore scenes. In their entirety, the murders are all quite creative in their delivery and I was quite impressed with the director’s imagination. One skateboarding bunny gets her head crushed in a vice and there’s a couple of other gruesome highlights that are worth a look. Watch out for the bit when a girl is slaughtered whilst playing that old arcade classic, Dragon’s Lair, which I used to spend hours trying to complete with my brother on my Commodore 64. The director pulls off the odd moment of suspense and there’s a very good jump scare here too.
What I was really impressed with was the film’s subtle political commentary. There’s a lot said about the asylum not having the budget to keep all of its patients and they are trying to release as many as possible. This is an obvious dig at the cost cutting ideas of the Reagan era when it was noted that many patients were being freed too prematurely and it’s quite effective in its delivery. I also picked up on a heavy dose of obvious misogyny but not only in the maniac’s choice of victims, but in the way that the male characters approach the heroine. All the hospital workers treat her as an idiot and she is even disrespected by the orderlies (watch out of the hilarious evil laugh scene). If it weren’t for the fact that the head manager was a woman who was equally as dubious, I would have been sure that it was another subtle expression of cultural topic from the filmmakers.
The other character with a confused sense of morals is the goofball sheriff who spouts lines such as, ‘Just because the gawdamn broad is so good looking, don’t mean we all have to think with our dicks!’ In typical genre fashion, he’s a bit of a doofus and to call him ‘smart’ would be like saying that Ryan Giggs was ‘faithful’. No one really believes the Doctor when she warns them that the maniac could be on his way back to the sorority and she only has a journalist as a partner to help apprehend the murderous nut job. There’s a pretty unexpected twist that came as a surprise and in a rare move, there is no open ending so it hints that the production team were never considering a sequel even if this had of been a major success, which I doubt it was.
None of the teenage girls are given any real characterisation and they are only there to be murdered, but the leads put in a good enough shift with what they are given. Belinda Montgomery was charming as the final ‘woman’ and Viveca Lindfors gave it her all in the smallest of parts. The momentum stagnates a tad in places and some of the dialogue scenes were fairly limp, but the story has just enough to keep you hooked and I never felt the need to take my eyes off the screen.
Silent Madness is pretty much stalk and slash in its comfort zone and never manages anything out of the ordinary and plods through the clichés like a tortoise on Valium. It’s by no means a bad film, but not a diamond in the rough either. It is certainly no worse than some of its peers that it shares a release date with and I can only put it down to bad luck that it is not more often mentioned as a referential piece of slasher hokum.
If you’re a collector, I can’t think of any reason why you shouldn’t pick it up and it offers much more than the likes of Final Exam and He Knows You’re Alone. It made me want to download one of those C64 converters a have a shot at Dragon’s Lair and The Last Ninja once again…
Final Girl √√√
Splatter University 1984
Directed by: Richard W Haines
Starring: Francine Forbes, Ric Randig, Dick Biel
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Colleges, High Schools, Fraternities and Sororities have been the most popular stalking grounds for maniacal madmen since the slasher cycle first became a popular cinema culture throughout the late seventies. Even backwoods cabins and campsites have rode shotgun to the amount of massacres that have taken place on campus since Halloween categorised the genre as a cult horror style. From early entries like To all a Good Night right up until the big budgeted schlock of titles like Urban Legend or Schools Out, there’s usually always been a campus slasher lurking somewhere in the pipeline. Despite being picked up by Troma – the titans of B movie badness – Splatter University was heavily panned upon release and never really found an audience. Even notorious hack and slash websites have agreed that Richard Haines’ yarn is one of the worst of the early eighties boom. I always approach criticised movies optimistically because there’s often the chance than a few bad reviews can be unfairly contagious like a dose of the flu, which preempts the judgement of some authors.
It begins in traditional fashion at the place where any movie maniac worth his salts emerges. Yep you guessed it – an insane asylum! It seems that one of the inmates has decided that he’s unhappy with the level of service at the institution and therefore he’s looking to take his business elsewhere. The unseen nut-job makes his break after stabbing an unfortunate orderly where the sun certainly doesn’t shine. He obviously favours the dress sense of the murdered worker, so he takes the liberty of borrowing his uniform – blood stained trousers and all!
Three years later, we transfer to St Trinians College, an educational establishment that is controlled by catholic priests. A teacher is busy after hours marking her students work when all of a sudden there’s a knock at the door. Before she has a chance to find out what the unseen visitor wants, he stabs her in the chest with a kitchen knife and she falls to the floor in a bloody heap. This of course means that there’s a vacancy at the university and so we’re introduced to Julie Parker (Francine Forbes), the lovable replacement for the recently departed lecturer. It seems that her arrival has inadvertently given the resident maniac all the motivation that he needs to go on a no holds barred slaughter-thon. Before long students and teachers alike are dropping like flies to the camera shy menace as he stalks the corridors and local areas armed with an exceptionally large blade. Suspicious suspects abound, but can professor Parker solve the mystery of the campus murderer before she becomes just another statistic?
I’m not precisely sure how many versions of this movie are available. The UK altered video was released under the alias of Campus Killings, but the US copy that I own states that it’s the complete unedited edition, which could mean that there is a censored print floating about somewhere? I’d be fairly surprised if that was the case as Splatter University certainly isn’t as gore-delicious as the hyperbole packaging would lead you to believe. One or two litres of corn syrup certainly don’t stand up to gore hound’s scrutiny when compared to the likes of Blood Rage or Pieces, so in this instance the movie is somewhat over hyped. One thing that many critics have failed to mention is the charming lead performance from Francine Forbes, who ends up carrying the entire picture on her shoulders throughout the 79-minute running time. Despite amateurish direction from Richard Haines, she still unveils some magnificent potential that should have led to the chance of another stab at serious acting under a more accomplished helmer. Unfortunately that possibility never came and bottom of the barrel bombs like Death Ring and Splitz certainly didn’t help to nurture a talent that could have improved under the right scholarship.
The rest of the cast members were par for the course of movie obscurity, especially the wooden plank teenagers who for some strange reason acted like they were auditioning for a remake of Grease or The Wanderers. The bog standard point and shoot direction couldn’t have helped to build much confidence in the project and the fact that the few signs of potential were undermined by the clumsy handling of the script left the feature effectively unredeemable. Perhaps the only claim of originality to be found in Haines’ slasher is the brave attempt for the contrasting conclusion. Let’s just say that it’s not a final that I was expecting to witness in a movie that was so typical of the cycle. You have to give a high five for the effort, but I felt it was a mean-spirited and unnecessary risk to have taken.
At one point in the runtime, one of the teens says, “Man that Parker bores me to tears…” Well the same can be said for Splatter University, which never lifts the pace above slow motion. With that said though, Francine Forbes made for a delightful scream queen and undoubtedly one that I would have paid to watch again in a similar role. So that pretty much sums up this un-troma-tising ride. Slow paced, shoddy but still strangely alluring; you’d have to be especially forgiving to give it a chance…
Final Girl: √√√
Directed by: Edwin Brown
Starring: Debbie Thureson, Jackie Coogan, Jackson Bostwick
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
If imitation is truly a form of admiration, then Friday the 13th was entitled to carry an ego the size of a Brazilian rain forest during the early eighties. The success of Sean Cunningham’s opus led to an invasion of almost identically themed titles, which ranged from the good (Just Before Dawn) to the rancid (Don’t go in the Woods). Interestingly enough, The Prey was generally thought of as yet another bandwagon jumper, but recent cast-member reports have suggested that actually it was shot in 1978, two years earlier than Friday, but was shelved for a few years whilst finding a distributor. I find this hard to believe as it is CLEARLY borrowing from Halloween, which was released in October of that year. If I had to guess I would say early 1979, which still pre-dates Sean Cunnigham’s opus by enough time to give it the benefit of not being a rip-off. Just imagine, with a little better marketing and a quicker post-production this could have been the one with ten sequels and a remake under its belt. No, seriously!
After a muted release it rapidly disappeared under the landslide of negative media coverage that engulfed the genre during its heyday. Despite some impressive gore, Edwin Brown’s effort didn’t even manage to garner the cult status of an appearance on the UK’s notorious video nasty list, which added vitality to many of its undeserving cousins. Still awaiting a second shot at recognition on DVD, it looks as if Brown’s slasher has long since been forgotten and scrapped to the video graveyard.
The only available version of the feature is missing huge chunks of footage that had been filmed from the original script but failed to make it to the final cut. This includes a background story for the bogeyman’s motives and some gratuitous extensions to the gore scenes. The reason for their exclusion remains unclear and I would be interested to see a director’s cut, although that’s highly unlikely.
After a murderous and appealing opening, we meet a van full of kids that are heading into the forest for a relaxing vacation. They are welcomed by the Park Sheriff who becomes a key player in the plot and a memorable figure in the film’s poor reputation (more on that later). As they head deeper into the woodland, we are aware that they are not alone due to the constant point of view shots from the stalking maniac. After what seems like a lifetime, the killer finally gets to work on the youngsters and it’s up to the lethargic sheriff to come to their rescue.
The Prey is among the most widely panned of the early eighties slashers, which is probably the key reason why it hasn’t yet been offered a stab at secondary acknowledgement on DVD. The first factor that the film’s many critics set-upon is the use of a lot of wildlife stock footage, which digresses somewhat from the ‘horror’ structure of the plot. Although over emphasised, I actually felt that the shots worked well to build the backwoods surroundings of the storyline and I never found it as irritating as many viewers describe.
I said in my description that I would return to the Park Sheriff and rightly so, because he has become something of a cult figure in slasher cinema – unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. His self-confessed ‘phoned-in’ performance sets a tone that’s impossible to take seriously from the start, but he is most fondly remembered for three exceptional slices of unintentionally hilarious cinema. One bizarre piece of script writing sees him telling a rubbish joke to a faun in the midst of the forest, whilst another equally peculiar sequence has him playing a four-minute solo on an ukulele, which offers absolutely *nothing* to the storyline! The third of the trio allows him to share the spotlight with Jackie Coogan as they discuss the benefits of his miniature sandwiches. I was left wondering whether the screenwriter was hoping to get noticed for a later career in comedy.
The inadvertent humour doesn’t end there and the slow-mo chase scene during the climax is pure slapstick that is all the more amusing as it was actually supposed to look rather creepy. And while we’re talking of the climax, I cannot forget to mention final girl Nancy (Debbie Thureson)’s contribution. The Prey, just like many of its brethren, boasts performances around the level of a high-school musical, but Thureson’s portrayal of a woman awaiting her fate from the maniacal assassin sinks to new depths of amateurism. Even this early in the cycle, it’s obvious that directors were picking pretty faces over dramatic credibility.
Edwin Brown attempts to emulate Joe D’Amato’s method of feature pacing, which to be fair is about as beneficial as a playboy using Eddie Murphy’s methods of contraception. The film drags along at the speed of an eighty-year old winger and if it weren’t for the odd inter-cut shot of the heavy-breathing psycho you could be forgiven for forgetting that this is a horror film. The score is a jumbled mix of ear piercing keyboard jaunts that sound like it was rustled up on one of those Casio keyboards that you can buy for children aged 2+ and the photography is limp and lacks energy.
To be fair when the maniac does get focused on the slashing, the murders are lively enough to bring you out of your siesta and John Carl Buechler’s gore effects outshine the minuscule budget. It’s interesting for me that the things that most people criticise, I actually found to be rather credible. It’s almost as if the philosophy here was to build an environment through visual examples of wilderness desolation and a slow boiling climax. The problem we have is that we are not seeing the movie as it was intended to be seen, which means it is impossible to blame the director when a full cut may have delivered a clearer example of his vision. More than likely, this footage has long since been destroyed and deleted and will never resurface.
The Prey is not gonna be anyone’s idea of a classic and it’s not my idea of one either. To call it one of the worst of the cycle though is incredibly harsh and I think it’s worth a viewing.
You know, I used to go to school with a guy whose video cassette of The Usual Suspects ended before the last few minutes of the feature. When I asked him if he liked it, he said, “It’s ok, but who actually was Keyser Söze?” I realise that this might be an extreme example, but that’s why I’m never sure about films that are missing some footage. It’s somewhat unfair to judge them…
Final Girl √√
Satan’s Blade 1984
aka Espada Satánica
Directed By: L. Scott Castillo
Starring: Tom Bongiorno, Stephanie Leigh Steel, Paul Batson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This will be the second time I have written a review of Satan’s Blade, as it’s a film I watched seven-years ago and rated it under an old user name on the IMDB. As I have said previously, I don’t get as much time to browse my old collection of VHS and as this is not on DVD, it is not one of those that I could convert to MP4 and enjoy on my iPad on the way to work. I have, however, recently had a little bit of time on my hands. Basically my parent in-laws are visiting from sunny Poland for two-weeks and as we only have two bedrooms (one with a single bed), I’m off to my mum’s for a little break. When the cat’s away, the mice will play and all that, so I watched Cards of Death, Moonstalker and Satan’s Blade one after another on my first night of freedom. Oh the debauchery!
Now as I said, I have already had a say on this dirt-cheap but alluring entry, but as the years have passed and my film-knowledge has grown, I have actually noticed that my opinions have changed quite a bit. Of the 700+ slashers that I own, Satan’s Blade always stood out to me, because of the cheesy but intriguing cover, which boasts a skull-faced killer in a cape holding a blade and staring out in to reality as if to say, “buy me young man, I will absolutely terrify you”. To a teenage boy, this was pretty intriguing stuff and back then, these young eyes were unaware of how much hyperbole eighties cheap video companies would add to their VHS covers. It’s actually pretty fun nowadays to look back on the amount of boxes from that time that had absolutely *no* significance to the film contained inside. Nowadays if Apex, Mogul and the like were still distributing movies, ambulance chasing lawyers would have a field-day with the false-advertisement claims. I bought an Argentinian VHS that I found in a shop in Spain, because I also search out most flicks in my country of birth as in general they are unrated and it allows me to see the complete version. In case you are interested, the blurb and tagline on that copy are equally as nonsensical
A group of ski bunnies and a pair of married couples head off to a cabin in the mountains for a weekend break. They soon learn that the site has a murderous past; with the most recent of its victims dying only a few hours earlier. Despite this, they ignore the warnings and book in to their rooms. Before long an unseen maniac begins slicing his way through the visitors one by one. But is there more to the location than meets the eyes?
Watching Satan’s Blade is a bit like hearing ABBA at an elderly relative’s birthday party. You know that its rubbish and you shouldn’t really like it, but as long as no one notices, you secretly do. To be fair there’s an absolute heap of stuff that is easy to criticize here, but what Blade does do well, it does very much so. Atmosphere is one of the hardest things to build for a horror movie, and Castillo manages to give his film a macabre, foreboding and somewhat ruthless feeling throughout. Borrowing heavily from Carpenter’s method of creating a daunting mood from the start, the continuous score – although monotonous – adds to the apprehension. There’s one scene, a dream sequence, which is so skilfully edited and competently shot that it sits quite comfortably alongside Curtains‘ ice skating murder as one of the best of the genre. Seriously, it is THAT good.
There are mountains of minutes of character development where not a lot happens and I’ll get back to that in a bit, but I actually felt sympathy for one or two of the personnel and was even disappointed when a couple of them died. When you consider the fact that ninety-percent of the cast were pretty rancid dramatically, to build audience sympathy is quite an achievement. As I mentioned earlier, the killings feel a lot more mean-spirited here and I think it’s because of their cheap execution (pun intended) and lack of gore. Compared to the majority of its brethren from the same period, Blade is extremely light in the blood department, but it makes up for that in the detail of the death sequences. The victims scream and struggle for their last breath and it’s much more unsettling than a gooey decapitation. So much so that the BBFC (or the film Gestapo as they were known back then) saw fit to cut out three and a half minutes of footage.
Also check out the bank heist, which seems to have been included for no other reason (in terms of plot benefit) than the director wanting to include a bank heist in his movie. It’s fast, direct and pretty mean-spirited, even though the cashier could have prevented everything by simply closing the door. It’s a very interesting way to start a standard slasher movie and I thought it just about worked.
The problems haven’t gone away over time however and the film still struggles drastically for momentum. If you want to see a ‘horror’ film, then watching bad actors go fishing and talk about ‘passing the bar’ can become very tedious very quickly and structurally the plot suffers. I have read the few comments from the cast that mention constant script re-writes and a lack of vision from the production team, which is quite apparent throughout. I find it hard to believe that there was no finished script, but hey if the cast members say so that must be the case. – Unless they’re a little bitter at not getting any money after this was released???
So Satan’s Blade is still not really worth tracking down unless you’re an obsessed enthusiast (hey, like me!). You have to question why the producer didn’t just film this on cheaper 16mm instead of 32 and invest some more cash in the production. An average genre entry that had the right ideas but struggled with the execution (yes I am using the same joke twice).
Oh and by the way – I still have *NO* idea what this has to do with Satan…?
Final Girl √√
Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas 1984
Directed by: Edmund Purdom
Starring: Edmund Purdom, Kelly Baker, Alan Lake
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Don’t open ’till Christmas was the middle of the three slasher flicks from the short-lived Dick Randall/Steve Minasian production partnership and by far the most bizarre. Most of it was shot in August 1982, but after various creative disagreements, it was shelved, whilst extra footage was filmed and then spliced together some two years later.
After three potentials rejected the script, it was set to be the debut of Edmund Purdom in the director’s chair, but he soon realised that he was way above his head and so handed the steering wheel over to the story’s writer, Derek Ford. Ford managed a number of scenes, but was soon fired from the project, so Randall drafted in someone who had experience of taking over the hot seat in a jumbled production, namely Ray Selfe. He was also given the unenviable job of editing the footage and making some kind of cinematic sense out of the misguided work of three separate visions, which was an incredibly difficult task. He was joined by Alan Birkinshaw who at that time had just wrapped up filming on eighties cult feature Killer’s Moon and to add more confusion, he also shot some parts and dabbled with the story. Many scenes failed to make the final cut and it is perhaps credit to Selfe that he managed to put enough together to get the film released.
Randall’s previous production, Pieces, had been a relatively successful entry and the mission statement here was most definitely to aim for more of the same. Make no bones about it, this is pure slasher by the numbers and has been given a Christmas gimmick for the chance of a big festive audience and a longer life expectancy. But what this flick does do differently is instead of having a maniac in a Santa suit killing off people, which had already been done, they turned it around to give us a masked psycho killing guys wearing that distinctive clothing.
After a Father Christmas is killed during a fancy dress party, the victim’s daughter and her boyfriend get involved in the investigation. They believe that the Police aren’t doing all they can with the mystery and before long, the killer begins to target them. With only hours remaining until the big day and Santas dropping like flies, who will be able to solve the mystery?
You know what? Don’t open ’till Christmas plays like it was the result of a few opposing personalities that had thrown contrasting ideas in to a saucepan and hoped for the best. Hold on a minute; that’s exactly what happened! Ok, so seriously, this one is a bit like singing the words of Living’ on a Prayer over the backing track of Sweet Child o Mine at a karaoke bash. Before I was informed about its production woes, I just assumed that it was a poorly paced and rushed released mess, but now I know about what happened, it’s easy to see the reasons why it’s such a patchwork. Characters pop up here and there without any real structure and some scenes, like the hilarious twist revealing phone call between Kate Briosky and the housekeeper were definitely added in a lazy attempt to string the plot together. George Dugdale, the director of Slaughter High and the hubby of Caroline Munro, was involved in this project and got his wife to turn up for a cameo in an obvious attempt to add some experience to the cast. She is on screen for two minutes tops (singing an awful disco oddity) and then disappears completely, almost as quickly as the story loses focus. It all starts very well, with three murders in ten minutes, but from then on the momentum just vanishes and the fun comes to a screeching halt. It’s hard to tell what was in the original concept and what wasn’t, but the film is something of an enigma. It spends ages building up a possible final girl, only to brutally slaughter her and bring on a substitute who doesn’t fit the traditional characteristics about half way through. I guess that Randall took the real reasons that an interesting venture fell apart to the grave with him in 1996.
Christmas plays host to the worst chase sequence anywhere ever. The location is immense (The London Dungeon no less), the killer has an outstanding guise, but it’s just so poorly handled that it is far more comedic than it is suspenseful. In fact, despite boasting a huge body count, none of the killings are creepy, even though they most definitely have the potential to be just that. The movie does its best to keep you guessing and the unmasking scene is ok, but to be honest, the whole thing is such a crack handed knot that it could have been anyone. Hell, it could have been you!
The film aims to come across as sleazy and therefore sacrifices the fun factor that’s usually abundant in eighties slashers. One overweight Santa gets castrated in a grimy urinal whilst another gets his face burned off on a grill for roasting chestnuts. The gore effects by Peter Litton are surprisingly good, but got the movie in a hell of a lot of trouble with UK censors and I was only able to see the full version because I picked it up in Spain. It also has a rather haunting score; a kind of eerie take on Jingle Bells, which if used properly could have set a macabre environment. I also thought that the various masks that the killer used were pretty cool, especially the one in the picture below. Whether it was intentional or not, the atmosphere conveyed here is one of depression and the film, much like Scrooge, ignores any attempts at festive spirit, which means it is definitely not one that I could recommend to be watched this time of the year.
By far the worst of Randall’s eighties output, it gives the viewer as much of a headache as I’m sure that it gave the people involved in the concept. I like seeing London as a backdrop and lines such as, “Get away, go on clear off!” in a Bermondsey tone were amusing, but I can’t find much here to warrant a purchase. The grammatical mistake on the title card (dont instead of don’t) is only the start of the incompetence and the film never escapes its clutches thereafter.
Not one of the merriest decorations on the ceiling, you would be better to deck the halls with Black Christmas and Silent Night Deadly Night instead.
Final Girl √
Silent Night Deadly Night1984
aka Noche de Paz Noche De Muerte
Directed by: Charles E Sellier Jr
Starring: Lilyan Chauvin, Robert Brian Wilson, Toni Nero
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I find generational changes in acceptance really interesting. What will life be like for my kids in twenty years? Whilst it was ok during the eighties in the UK for popular comedies like, Love Thy Neighbour and Only Fools and Horses to use slurs that would nowadays be considered so racist that they would cause riots in multi-cultural Britain, the sight of a teenager getting killed by the cheesiest effect imaginable caused a censorship outcry back then. Present day, most of those same films have been released uncut, but some sections of the PC Brigade will jump on you for so much as singing Merry Christmas too loudly in case you offend someone. Somewhere between these two extremes lies the common sense that the general public are fine with and it’s only those that are light years away from working class communities that dream up such rubbish.
Silent Night Deadly Night was a victim of the eighties political correct massacre. After TV spots that showed the featured bad Santa wielding an axe, the campaigners that were starving for a reason to rebel against something – anything, went absolutely mad. So much so that they picketed the cinemas upon its release, which eventually led to TriStar Pictures pulling it after a few days. It had taken more on its opening weekend than A Nightmare on Elm Street, which goes some way to showing how much its marketing had captured the imagination of audiences. The news of its controversial withdrawal gave the film much more publicity than it would have ever gained if it had just been left alone to become a collector’s item for slasher enthusiasts and guess what? Children would have still believed in St Nick and loved Christmas.
Roger Ebert was characteristically at the forefront of the criticism of the film’s synopsis, but Leonard Martin’s comment of ‘…what’s next, the Easter Bunny as a child molester?’ was pure bandwagon jumping on his part. How do I know? Well he gave the similarly plotted Christmas Evil an extremely favourable review and called it ‘…a sleeper with cult status possibilities’ just four years earlier. Go figure…
After witnessing his parents murdered by a robber dressed in a Santa suit, Billy and his brother are sent to a Catholic orphanage. Only one of his carers seems to realise that he is still suffering from the effects of the things he saw at such a young age, but she is powerless in her plea to get him some help. The Mother Superior instead constantly punishes him for his lack of festive spirit and subjects him to regular beatings. Ten years later, he is given a job at the local toy store and seems to have put his demons behind him. A can of worms is opened when the shopkeeper, unaware of his history, asks him to stand in as Father Christmas in full bright red Yuletide get-up. This sends Billy over the edge and he sets out on a killing spree, still disguised as St. Nick.
Silent Night Deadly Night was the last non franchise slasher movie to get backed by a major studio and for some followers the genre ended with this piece. Vera Dika in her book, Games of Terror, states clearly that the ‘stalk and slasher’ started with Halloween and closed just after this hit cinemas six years later. The trappings of the category are things that not everyone sees the same way and are dependent on individual opinion, but although I may stand alone in saying that Final Destination is not a slasher movie, I think that most will disagree with her in saying that anything produced after 1984 has to be classed as anything other. If you can seriously tell me that Dead Girls, Intruder or Hide and Go Shriek are not slasher flicks, then we could have a debate that I am not going to back down from.
This however has no identity issues and is a genre entry in anyone’s book. The high production values give it a chance to really make the most of its concept and it benefits no end from some effective performances and crisp visuals. Robert Brian Wilson was solid as the troubled Billy and cinema vet Lilyan Chauvin was scary as hell as the sinister Mother Superior. This differentiates itself from most of its brethren by offering an in-depth account of the bogeyman’s motives and it spends time developing a back story. You could be forgiven for feeling sympathy after such an unfortunate life of hardship, but the film opts to move the focus away from his plight as he begins his murderous rampage and on to more typical slasher ingredients.
In its uncut format, the killings are rampant and satisfying and I especially liked the antler impalement of a young (and topless) Linnea Quigley. There’s an ingenious decapitation of a teen on a sledge and the maniac’s chanting of the word,’Punishment’ as he murders each victim removes any mean-spirit and gives the film a more cheesy, fun kind of tone. He racks up quite a body count when he’s out on road and every murder is shown in gory detail. There are two parts that must have really, REALLY peeved the hordes of placard waving do gooders that set up the pickets around multiplexes. The first is when Billy hands a blood stained Stanley knife as a gift to a cute little girl who thinks he’s the real Santa (at first it looks like he’s going to stab her!). Then shortly after, a deaf Catholic Priest, who is dressed as Father Christmas and mistaken for our loony of the title, gets gunned down in front of a group of children. Catholicism gets a hard time throughout this picture, but you know what? I am Catholic, but I have a sense of humour and can take things with a pinch of salt when I know that they’re not intended to seriously offend. Why they got so upset about a cheesy eighties slasher is anyone’s guess. Too many people with too little to do and too much time on their hands if you ask me.
The movie is very authentic in the way that it depicts Christmas. A few characters mutter sentences like, ‘ I can’t wait until it’s all over’, which is a more realistic way of how some people look at the expense and stress involved with this time of year. It’s something that you would never see in typical Hollywood exaggerated visions of everyone holding hands and counting the hours, which is unreal in modern times. The script aims for black comedy in many places and on occasion successfully delivers. Charles E Sellier Jr directs comfortably and builds a few well crafted shocks, especially with the Granddad’s speech and the ruthless murder of Billy’s parents. There’s no real suspense, but at least there are no failed attempts, which leads me to believe that the modus operandi was more to rely on gore and outrageous imagery.
Nowhere near as bad as the majority of its genre colleagues that it shares its calendar date with, Silent Night Deadly Night is a treat for slasher fans that are looking for a fast paced festive movie with enough of everything in its stocking
There are many turkeys that you can watch on the big day, but do yourself a favour and go for the one that is well roasted with the best seasoning… And if you can’t find Black Christmas, then give this one a whirl…Tastes all the much better with an alcoholic beverage and a good sense of humour (something the numbskulls on the picket line clearly didn’t have).
Final Girl √
The Scaremaker 1982
aka Girls Nite Out aka Creando El Terror
Directed by Robert Deubel
Starring:Hal Holbrook, Julia Montgomery, James Carroll
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This entry can best be described as the Ray Parlour of the slasher genre. If you think that sounds strange or don’t know who Ray Parlour is, then allow me to explain. He was a football (soccer) player. Or more specifically, a hard working midfielder for Arsenal who never really got the recognition that he deserved. It was only after he was allowed to leave and then hung up his boots that his contribution was really noted. Looking back now, it’s easy to see that the Romford Pele was an energetic cog in the midfield engine room, who wasn’t flash or trendy and that probably contributed towards why he never reached superstar status. He was recently voted as one of the most underrated players of all time, so now, post playing days, people think of him more fondly than they had when he was in the midst of his career.
The Scaremaker is a similar case as in it doesn’t have gore effects by Tom Savini, it doesn’t boast a soon to be superstar in its cast and it wasn’t banned or tortured by censors upon release. What it does offer however is a slick stalk and slash adventure with a few sublime touches.
In the opening, we discover that Dickie Cavanaugh, a lunatic who killed a college co-ed during the annual scavenger hunt is found dead in his room in an asylum. When his corpse is about to be buried, he seems to come alive and escape in to the night, killing the two orderlies on route. He returns to the same college of his previous crime, where as if by fate, they are preparing for the same yearly celebration. After a big party, a killer in the basketball team’s mascot bear suit begins to stalk the location and makes creepy calls to the campus disc jockey. Can they decipher his clues in time to prevent him from killing any more students?
In many ways, The Scaremaker is coincidentally similar toSmall Town Massacrein the fact that it attempts to be somewhat retro in its approach. Whereas Michael Laughlin’s slasher works hard to provide a small town in peril vibe to its synopsis, this has a very good soundtrack of sixties music that must have cost the producers a small fortune to licence. It’s a really neat touch to hear the likes of The Lovin’ Spoonful playing in the background of a stalk and slash flick and it illustrates the strength that a yesteryear ambience can play in a film project and it definitely separates this from the multitude.
Key to the plot is the campy DJ who brings to mind Wolfman Jack from George Lucas’ American Graffiti. The only difference is that the guy spinning the tunes here is laughably cheesy in that he sports a fluorescent cap and Village People-like moustache whereas Wolfman was the epitome of cool; but it’s an interesting ingredient all the same. There’s also a wonderfully amusing fancy dress party scene, which again references the nostalgia of the sixties with its theme. I was hoping that we’d get another dancing sequence like the infamous Lightening Strikes piece, but unfortunately they didn’t go that far this time around.
The killer wears a hilarious bear mascot costume and uses a bladed glove a la Freddy Krueger, but this was made at least two years earlier so it’s authentic in that it was the first American entry that I can recall to use such a murderous device. Now this is an out and out slasher film and never tries to be anything other, but unlike the multitude of its category brethren it doesn’t steal directly from either Halloween or Friday the 13th. I certainly didn’t notice any real cut and pasted scenes and I guess the only major flick that this could be considered as being close to would be Prom Night, but again there’s nothing concrete to support any accusations of imitation.
When the psychopath strikes, the killings are impressively grim and eerie and the image of the big cuddly bear on a murderous rampage is one that manages to be disturbing and cheesy at the same time. He attacks his victims whilst mouthing obscenities such as, ‘Slut!”’ and ‘Whore!’ and it sets a really sleazy tone. There’s not much in terms of gore effects, but they at least had the budget for some suspiciously tomato-soup looking blood that is thrown over the corpses as they are stabbed. There are a couple of notable aftermath shots that show the bodies in a gruesome state, which make up for the lack of any truly graphic special effects. Director Robert Deubel has a fair few cracks at jump scares and there are a couple of neat moments of suspense. I liked the parts inside the gymnasium and locker room and the whole feature is blessed with energetic and lush cinematography from Joe Rivers. During the parts when the track list takes a break from sixties hits and the tone switches away from the shenanigans of the youngsters (they were supposed to be teens, but as usual in these flicks are closer to their mid-thirties), the terror is neatly scored and the feature has good pacing and just about gets the mix of moods spot on.
The cast of mostly unknowns do a very good job here and there’s no obvious signs of dramatic weakness. They all get a chance to shine during the interrogation scenes, which I thought were a neat addition. The only recognised actor, Hal Holbrook, looks to be the one who isn’t particularly motivated and it seems as if he is speaking his few lines over Skype rather than rising to the occasion. He only spent one day with the director and it’s easy to see by what he offers here that he wasn’t deeply involved or interested. He plays a rugged part that would have been perfect for Christopher George and at least George would have given his usual ham-feast delivery, which Holbrook never really captures. He was also involved in the only really weak part of the script during the unmasking, which is easy to tell was filmed with the two actors on different sets at different times. There’s no cohesion in their verbal sparring and then the film ends a tad too suddenly for my liking. It’s also somewhat strange that the story lacks a real central character and even though there is a possible final girl (she’s the most morally superior and the maniac even passes up the chance to kill her), she isn’t the synopsis’ focus. The personas that get most of the screen time are her cheating boyfriend and his bit on the side. You would think that they would get their comeuppance in the usual fashion for their misdemeanors, but the rapid conclusion means that we never know for sure if they survived? If I had to guess, I’d say that they were killed, but can’t be sure.
I have seen some negative reviews of this flick posted on other sites, but I enjoyed it – I mean, I can’t see what it is that people don’t like? It’s never tedious, the characters are fun, the tracks are outstanding, the killer costume is great and you’ll never guess who it is that’s murdering the teens. This was made in 1981, completed in ’82 and stayed on the shelves until 1984 and although I don’t have precise box office information on its performance, I doubt it recouped the amounts that were splashed on the soundtrack, let alone made a profit. That may explain the off-the-wall trailer that has a girl in it that doesn’t appear in the movie. You can see it above – I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a slice of the highest pedigree of WTF? Yes this is no world beater but I think it deserves a larger following than it has. I prefer this to Prom Night for example in terms of slasher thrills and atmosphere.
Give this one a shot if you haven’t bothered with it. It’s deserving of your time.
Final Girl √√