aka Night Crew: The Final Checkout aka Intruso en la Noche
Directed by: Scott Spiegel
Starring: Elizabeth Cox, Sam Raimi, Renée Estévez
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Every decade creates its own individual cultural characteristics that are easy to look back on and distinguish as key to that era. Even though perhaps there has been little invention during the last fifteen years or so, the tail end of the twentieth century delivered a multitude of creation within the entertainment industry. The fifties will always be remembered for the birth of rock and roll, whilst The Beatles, Bob Dylan and the introduction of the ‘make love not war’ anti-Vietnam mentality of Western youth signified the cultural identity of the sixties. Vivid images of white suited, medallion sporting men and disco divas became synonymous with the seventies, but it was the eighties that will be remembered for launching the most memorable generation landmarks.
Slasher films also played their part in defining the personality of those years and despite the invasion of titles during the post-Scream outbreak that emerged after 1996, there will never be a time that can compete with the genre’s initial overkill period. It all began with the notorious, “kill her mommy” lines of Friday the 13th and despite a fall in popularity; studios were still producing cycle entries consistently right the way through. I have said previously in my review of Maniac Cop that despite many believing that 1981 was the peak of the entire cycle, ’88 was in my opinion not that far off. Not that far off at all…
Released towards the end of those twelve heavily populated months, Intruder tells the tale of a group of night staff in a super market that are asked to work through the night, pricing down all the stock as they all have been made redundant due to the closure of the store. As they lock the shutters for the last time, it becomes apparent that an unwelcome guest has crept in amongst them. Before long, the staff are being killed one by one by an unseen maniac.
In film, as in life, timing is everything. Whether it be that of a screen comedian or the understanding of the span of suspense by a director, the clock can be a vital tool in the creation of cinematic perfection. The reason I write this is because as it stands, Intruder is an obscure slasher movie that is highly regarded by those that have seen it. If, however, it had been released eight years earlier, I would be writing the review of an out and out horror classic. Spiegel’s opus has enough wit, gore, audacity and creativity to be ranked amongst the best of its ilk and it is only purely due to the multitude of titles that it was released with that it has been so unfairly overlooked.
If Sam Raimi’s adventurous direction makes him the outlaw of Hollywood sensibility, then Scott Spiegel should be Billy the Kid. The Jesse James of eccentric cinematic vision. Here is a man whose modus operandi seems to be to imagine the most audacious and outrageous camera angle possible and then in the same breath attempt to shoot it. Although, much like mayonnaise on chips, you’ll either love his flamboyant approach or hate it; kudos should be given for his brazen audacity and outlandish vision.
What we have here is a pie-eating contest of slasher clichés, which add up to a mega-feast of tongue-in-cheek over-indulgence that leaves you begging for more after the final curtain. The gore is Intruder’s biggest selling point. Heads get lopped off, crushed and sawed in half; and much like the work of Fulci, everything is filmed in loving close-up. A movie can sometimes become an extension of the film-maker’s personality and having watched Scott Spiegel’s interviews many times, this, his signature feature, is truly a case in point. It’s a shame that such a modest, down-to-earth and clearly talented director has never reached the heights of his high-school buddies, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell.
Paramount Studios– the enemy of all gore hounds after their stringent censorship of countless genre classics – were responsible for changing the name of Intruder from the much better Night Crew: The Final Checkout; and their VHS release also, characteristically, cut out all the gore. The first copy that I watched was the BBFC’s rated version, which in all fairness was still a well-produced and competent slasher, but the uncut print is the real gem. Obviously Spiegel’s effort is no Halloween and it’s something that the director is obviously aware of. But if you asked me to pick the best fifty – hell, best twenty – genre classics, Intruder would certainly be amongst them somewhere alongside Carpenter’s seminal favourite.
Very few know that Intruder is a remake of an old Spiegel 8mm feature that he shot during the early eighties, titled Night Crew. Credit has to be given to Lawrence Bender’s slick production skills, which turned an equally gory, but ultimately mediocre Halloween-clone (which the aforementioned short most definitely was) into a stand-out slasher classic. This project would act as a learning curve for Bender who would go on – through Spiegel’s introduction – to become one of the most important producers of the last twenty years. It’s strange to think that this low-budget stalk and slash flick would be the first step on the career that would bring us Quentin Tarantino and a host of Hollywood hits including, Good Will Hunting.
OK, so the cast were never going to turn up at the academy awards, but they do enough to get the job done and a nod to Dan Hicks, who delivers a highly committed performance. One change that I would have made would be to have given Renee Estévez (sister of Charlie and Emilio) the lead role over Elisabeth Cox, who I felt was the weakest link in places, but this is only a minor gripe. The ‘twist’ ending – which I really enjoyed – has been seen before, although I am convinced that it was just coincidental rather than Spiegel borrowing from other genre pieces. There’s also a decent whodunit plot running, which is stupidly ruined by the packaging on many versions that gives away the killer’s identity on the front cover. Doh!
Intruder is by far one of the best slasher movies of the eighties and should be a member of every avid fan’s collection. It mixes black humour and gruesome slaughter outstandingly well and basically takes the guide book to making a slasher movie, reads it and then blows it out of the window by maximising every damn page/trapping. This is how slashers are supposed to be and Señor Spiegel is welcome back here anytime to have another crack at a genre classic…
Final Girl √√
Maniac Cop 1988
Directed by: William Lustig
Starring: Tom Atkins, Laurene Landon, Bruce Cambell, Robert Z’Dar
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Ok I am going to be a tad controversial here and I know that many of you will disagree with me (especially JA Kerswell over at Hysteria Lives), but 1981 is not my favourite year of the slasher period. Don’t get me wrong, I can see the reason why people will think I’m a tad crazy. ’81 gave us the best entry to the Friday the 13THseries, not to mention a sequel to Halloween. We also had, to mention just a handful, My Bloody Valentine, Pieces, Pranks, The Prowler (my personal favourite), The Burning and Small Town Massacre – all of those are genre classics that actually achieved a run in the cinema instead of just a quiet transfer to budget VHS. (Also in February of that year in a pueblo blanco in Spain, someone special was born – well, me…) – However the best time of the cycle for this particular slasher enthusiast was 1988. Hold on, hold on – allow me to explain why…
Ok, so admittedly, my justification for this is based on personal experiences. I was knee-high to a hubcap back then and can clearly recall searching video stores, after seeing Halloween on TV, for more guilty pleasures that I could sneak up to my room and add to my forbidden collection of ex-rental VHS. What a large amount of trash that there was for me to choose from. Who can honestly admit to not enjoying the cheese on toasts that were Hack-O-Lantern, Iced, Demon Warrior, Memorial Valley Massacre, The Last Slumber Party or Fatal Pulse? Or the gore splattered Evil Dead Trap, Demonwarp or 555? For a decent mystery with a good twist you could do much worse than Al Filo Del Hacha, whilst franchise fans had an outright extravaganza with Installments to Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13TH and Sleepaway Camp to contend with. Just to think, I haven’t even mentioned Scott Spiegel’s wonderfully audacious and awesomely gory, Intruder.You see, my argument is gathering steam…
Despite that impressive collection of titles, the biggest players of the category had admittedly been running a little dry on ideas. Halloween 4 was a major disappointment and we will never get to see how John Carl Buechler’s The New Blood may have been had big brother not gone mad with his scissors during certification. The genre was screaming out for a new icon to lead the way in to the brave oncoming decade and in 1988 we very nearly had one. (Two if you are one of those that consider Child’s Play to be a slasher flick.)
This competently produced and visibly slick offering boasted a brilliant synopsis that had the potential to revitalise the slasher the same way that Halloween had done ten-years earlier. Carpenter has said that he thought that his seminal flick was so successful because he had taken horror away from the cliché of desolated environments and on to the streets and schools that we associate with secure normality. Maniac Cop attempted to build on this by turning the Police – the entity that we immediately associate with safety when horror strikes– in to the film’s bogeyman.
With a script from Larry Cohen, a director in William Lustig who had already had a successful stab at stalk and slash cinema with Maniac and a dreamy ensemble of B-Movie favourites, this looked to have more than enough in its locker to rival the titans for a place at the peak of the splatter-laden pyramid…
A serial killer is talking the streets of New York at night and murdering seemingly innocent bystanders. Witness reports have mentioned that the maniac is dressed as a Police officer, which makes tensions run high around the city. Could there really be a maniac cop on the force or is it a disguise for something far more sinister?
Some critics deny that this is a slasher picture and instead label it as a revenge flick in the vein of Death Wish et al. I completely disagree with that assessment, because the strong, silent bogeyman and countless examples of genre self-recognition mean that it’s definitely got the right recipe to sit alongside its brethren here on this website. In fairness, the larger budget allows Cohen to crossbreed various cinematic styles and there is something here for action audiences, those who like vigilante flicks and also back-street exploitation thrillers.
From the off you can tell that Maniac Cop is a SLASH above the usual plop that was littering shelves or being released DTV this late in the cycle, due to some decent photography and the obvious qualities that an experienced director and production team automatically bring. Lustig cloaks the screen in lingering shots of dark and dilapidated streets that bring a sleazy Taxi Driver-esque feel to the opening. This brings an abundance of energy to the feature and the killer, who is seen mainly in silhouette, has a supernatural ambiance not too dissimilar to that of Michael Myers.
Turning a cop in to the bogeyman offers a wealth of potential for set pieces and one of those is especially effective. Two backstreet muggers attempt to rob a barmaid of her bag, but after a brief struggle, she manages to escape and run to the supposed safety of a uniformed officer. It’s a well-delivered opening sequence as the shadowed maniac hoists the female up high and snaps her neck in front of the on looking thugs who are rightly bewildered by the sight of a Policeman sinking to lower depths of criminality than even they could muster.
Compared with Lustig’s Maniac from 1980, the film is much more restrained in terms of gratuitous special effects. Terror is conveyed in the brutality of the death scenes, the choices of victims and a haunting score, which is authentic and memorable. The prison murder sequence is incredibly vicious and was deemed too gruesome by the BBFC, who removed it, almost completely, from the 18 rated print. But that’s the only gooey shot in the entire picture and the rest of the kill scenes are relatively tame. I liked the police station massacre, which was neatly paced and creepy, but again was surprisingly dry on the gore score.
Cohen attempts to transcend the normal template of the slasher cycle by focusing on the media reaction to the effects of a killer at large. It doesn’t take long before citizens begin to fear the boys in blue and one character rightly mentions that criminals now have a valid justification to fight back against the Police. Things come to a head when an elderly woman shoots an officer who was only trying to help her with her broken down vehicle and the town mayor rightly begins to panic.
It’s in these multiple plot additions that Maniac Cop somewhat looses its way. The direction fails to sustain the high energy levels that it began with and before long things begin to become predictable. There’s so much going on in the first twenty-minutes that it leaves little time to tie up all lose ends. The story hints at a whodunit mystery initially by keeping the monster in silhouette and showing characters that share his build or act suspiciously, but then chooses to reveal the nut job’s identity about halfway through. There’s an underdeveloped sub-story about his motive, which never gets resolved and the conclusion feels somewhat rushed, uninspired and ultimately disappointing when you consider how the script had started with so much creativity.
In terms of eighties horror, excuse the pun, but Maniac Cop has a cast to die for. Tom Atkins plays it straight and delivers a rugged and approachable performance and the film does miss him after his early exit, which was as much as a shock as when Tom Skerritt bowed out of Alien back in 1979. It takes guts to kill off your tough and sympathetic leading man. Cult favourite Bruce Campbell doesn’t get the comedic style of script that plays to his strengths and he is somewhat subdued here, although it was an interesting choice to make him more of an anti-hero. He is exposed as an insensitive adulterer quite early on in the runtime, but just about manages to win over the audience with his unique style of B-Movie charm. Overall the dramatics were never weak enough to ruin the momentum and Robert Z’Dar was the perfect choice for the marauding psychopath.
Maniac Cop is a good horror film and one of the best late entries to the slasher cycle. I don’t want to steer you away with my minor gripes, but I am slightly disappointed because it had everything that was needed to be great instead of just ‘good’ and ended up following the pattern that we have seen time and time again. Still, the opening 30 minutes are absolutely amazing and Atkins’ grizzled performance itself makes this worth a look. Also, keep an eye out for the goof when Laurene Landon is handcuffed to a dead Police officer and just before the scene fades he sits up and moves out of the way of the smashing glass!
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl √√
Phantom Brother 1988
Directed by: William Szarka
Starring: John Gigante, John Hammer, Cheryl Hendricks
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Woo-wee!!! You know those times when you have a few beers too many and your head pounds like a bass drum? Well Phantom Brother is the stalk and slash equivalent of that feeling. Allow me to catch my breath… One second. Ok right, let me attempt to explain…
I have owned the VHS of this one for literally ages and its been peering at me from my shelf for as long as I can remember. There has been many a time that I’ve stumbled home late and been in the mood for some slasher action and I’ve picked up this cover only to put it back down and watch something else. I can’t explain exactly why I never had the urge to see it, but I guess that I had the feeling that it was another Splatter Farm or Death Nurse quality hunk of junkola. How wrong I was.
Four ‘young adults’ head off in to the forest, where there’s an old abandoned house that is perfect for a spot of rumpy pumpy. One of the girls senses danger, so she wants to wait outside with her beau, whilst the other couple head on upstairs. The guy shouts all the time with an obvious Brooklyn accent and has a hairstyle that looks like someone has skinned a wolf and put the fur coat on his head. His partner could most definitely do with discovering a washing machine, but has arguably the most fantastic natural boobs that I have ever seen. Seriously, they’re amazing. Anyway, they’re not at it for long, when a loon in a great mask/hood combo jumps out and kills them both with a kitchen blade. The guy downstairs hears a scream and shoots off to check it out, but he also meets his end via a bloody tracheotomy.
The last remaining chica decides against following them to their doom and instead runs off to look for help. She bumps in to Abel, who promises to go and take a look, but seems to know more than he cares to let on about the dilapidated abode. We learn that it used to belong to his family, before they were all killed in a car accident in which Abel was the only survivor. The remaining spirits of his mother and sister haunt the woodland along with his ‘Phantom Brother’ who enjoys nothing more than murdering trespassers with his trusty blade.
Abel is disgusted with the antics of his family, but there’s very little he can do except clean up after them. He does however have feelings for the unfortunate surviving girl who is curious about what happened to her friends. They partake in an ‘awkward’ getting to know you scene that goes something like: Girl: (Jill) You’re very nice. Guy: (Abel) You’re groovy. Jill: You’re sweet. Abel: You’re happening. Jill: You’re interesting. Abel: You’re pretty. Jill: You’re bleeding. Abel: You’re observant. And on and on and Ariston… Can he protect her from his murderous hermano whilst at the same time cleaning up the blood from the multitude of victims?
Phantom Brother is in many ways a really authentic piece of slasher hokum. Much like Evil Laugh, it’s a parody of the genre it frequents, but it’s also one of the VERY few horror comedies that actually works. There’s a good example of the cheeky humour about halfway through that I have to tell you about. Abel has arranged to meet Jill at the horror house that is frequented by the murderous trio. He informs us over narration (the vocal story guidance is another unique aspect) that he is running late because he stopped off to purchase some condoms, ‘just in case’. When he gets there, his date is nowhere to be seen because unbeknownst to him, she’s been tied up by his maniacal bro. The voice over continues, ‘I hoped that nothing bad had happened to her and also wondered if the chemist would give me the money back for the condoms if it had’. Brilliant.
It’s not that there are loads of hilarious lines throughout the picture, it’s just that it is totally weird and if it had have taken a more serious approach, I don’t think things would’ve worked. There’s so much going on that in order to tell you everything I’d need to buy a new server to handle the amount of paragraphs, so I will try to keep it as condensed as possible. Suffice to say that various plot-branches pop-up that are arranged solely to give us more victims to kill off. The special effects are really bargain basement and are pretty much just a few lashings of corn syrup and dismembered body parts. There was one seriously good throat-slashing though and there is a fairly humongous body count. People could have thought that maybe it was too supernatural to be a typical stalk and slash movie, but that isn’t the case at all. It also includes a really good twist that I was not expecting and it ties things together nicely.
The mystery-aspect helps to keep things rolling at a great pace and some of the cinematography is really impressive. The score is a bit manic. Almost like Jan Hammer had sniffed a gram of pure cocaine and then attempted to do a cover version of the Halloween medley, but I guess it suits the film’s atmosphere. The bad acting also helps the cheesiness and it’s one of those mega rare occasions where the overall amateurism works to the film’s favour. Professional crews don’t make movies like this and so it’s nice to find one that’s not exactly ‘so bad it’s good’, but more ‘quite bad but at the same time pretty good’, if you get what I mean.
It was shot by a gang of acquaintances who really wanted to jump aboard the SOV horror bandwagon. Director William Szarka has previously worked on the godawful Plutonium Baby, but had walked off set after a disagreement with his camera operator. Here they get it just about right by giving us a cheesy dose of slasher trash with enough ingenuity for it to stand out from the crowd. It’s an interesting movie that packs in bundles of strange situations and a superb guise for its psycho killer. High alcohol intake aside, I really enjoyed it and am surprised that I haven’t seen it before. The corny attempts at humour are not as despicable as usual because the movie is not trying to be two things at the same time and it sets the goofy tone early on. Whilst I have never been a fan of stupid comedy mixed with slasher shenanigans, this one somehow managed to get the blend spot on.
It’s not often that I will tell you to track down an obscurity here on a SLASH above, but this one’s well worth a punt. I had a great time watching it and I am sure that you will too. It’s incredibly hard to find, but if you can grab a copy for a couple of quid, then by all means add it to your collection. I think that because I was expecting something really awful, I was really surprised with what I got. If you like ‘em cheap and quirky, you should feel the same. Cheryl Hendricks’ breats alone are worth the purchase price…
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √√
Nightmare Beach 1988
aka Welcome to Spring Break
Directed by: Harry Kirkpatrick
Starring: Nicholas De Toth, Sarah Buxton, John Saxon
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Along with Ruggero Deodato’s Bodycount, Joe D’Amato’s Absurd and Michele Soavi’s Stagefright, Nightmare Beach is a mostly Italian produced slasher film that avoids its native ‘giallo’ trappings and instead goes all out to be as American as possible. Shot in 1988, one of the most prolific years on the slasher time line, it never came close in terms of popularity to the other titles that I mentioned and in effect is rarely noted by enthusiasts.
As time has gone by, it has become wrapped in something of a mystery as to who directed it. Check the IMDB and you’ll see that is credited to Umberto Lenzi. It was marketed however as the work of an unknown by the name of Harry Kirkpatrick. It is not unusual for European exploitation directors to have a list of aliases as long as a desert highway. Joe D’Amato, Jesus Franco and Bruno Mattei would regularly release films under ‘Americanised’ names to assist with exposure to wider global audiences. (Franco used them mainly because he would make two, sometimes three, features from one production budget). It was believed for many years that this was just Umberto operating under an assumed identity, but he recently said in an interview that Mr Kirkpatrick DID in fact exist and that the majority of this feature was shot by him with Lenzi only assisting in places.
This intriguing insight raised more questions than it did answers. After reading about it, I immediately began to try and find out a bit more about Harry Kirkpatrick. A quick browse on the IMDB brought up three people that have used that name. The first and most popular is Alec Baldwin, who adopted that pseudonym when he was displeased with the way that his directorial début ‘Shortcut to Happiness’ was cut during post production. Baldwin does like to reinvent himself every now and then, but shooting a cheesy slasher movie at the peak of his eighties screen persona prowess? No way – it definitely wasn’t him. Next up, we have Signor Lenzi, the guy who logic dictates would be the most likely ‘Kirkpatrick’. According to his own words though, he was barely involved with the actual development of this picture, so unless he is telling fibs, then we can cross him off from our list. The third and last that appears on the IMDB search is James Justice, who has only two cinema credits and one is as the screenwriter of Nightmare Beach.
So armed with that information, I did some further research and discovered the truth of the matter. Lenzi was hired by his Italian counterparts as the ideal lead for this project. Unfortunately, he had a huge falling out with the US-based producers and threatened to walk off the set after only three weeks. The only friend he had from the American side of the crew was the aforementioned writer of the screenplay, James Justice. Justice used his bond with Lenzi to keep him on set as a consultant and with the film having to be finished quickly, he took over the reins with the experienced Italian by his side. So ‘Harry Kirkpatrick’ turned out to be two people pretty much. Mystery solved.
We launch seeing a guy get strapped in to an electric chair. Eduardo ‘Diablo’ Santor, the leader of a gang of vicious bikers, has been accused of murder by the over zealous Police chief, John Strycher. The victim’s younger sister, Gail, is in the stands to watch him fry. As the executioner prepares to flick the switch, Diablo shouts that he has been set up and swears vengeance from beyond the grave. Sometime after, a killer dressed in motorcycle leathers with a tinted helmet begins stalking the local beach and slaughtering random teenagers. When the friend of one of the fatalities begins searching for clues, the maniac begins to target him and Gail…
This is another title that I reviewed around ten years ago, but wanted to check out again to see what I would make of it now. My post today is not so much an update as a total re-write of my thoughts on the movie, but there’s one thing that I said then that I still agree with: The best way that I can describe Nightmare Beach to you is like an episode of Baywatch with a hooded killer running amok in the background. The action takes place around a beautiful Florida beach and the runtime is packed to the brim with bikinis, bad hair, muscle bound jocks, stupid pranks and metal music. They even manage to chuck in a wet T-shirt contest! The ‘metal music’ that I mentioned isn’t the worst and in fact, it’s arguably the only rock slasher playlist that I can remember, which didn’t make me want to turn down the volume to avoid a headache. The bands (including Rough Cutt) are pretty decent and were obviously captured on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip, where glam and sleaze was hot stuff in 1988. To put it short, it’s more Faster Pussycat than Slipknot, which is cool by me.
Beach is a slickly produced feature and shows literally *zero* signs of its Italian heritage. The music by Claudio Simonetti of the Goblin fame is unrecognisable from his previous work, there are no European cast members and the humour and tone tries its hardest to come across as 200% American. Put it this way, if you hadn’t read somewhere that Lenzi and co were involved, you’d never guess that to be the case. Keeping that in mind though, there is one interesting reference that I noticed. A gang of bikers play a huge part in the delivery of the plot and they are called ‘The Demons’. In a not so sly nod to Lamberto Bava’s film of the same title, the troupe have that name embroidered across the back of their leathers using the same logo.
On top of those nuisance motorcyclists who at one point raid a Police station to rescue their leader in a scene obviously inspired by John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, we are given a whole host of other characters and our maniac killer. His method of slaughter is electrocution and he works his way through a large number of victims. He rides around on a motorbike that has an ‘electric chair’ contraption on the back, but funnily enough he only uses it once or twice. The effects from Gary Bentley are cheesy as hell, but gory and some of the murders are actually quite brutal. I liked the death of the Police Chief played by John Saxon the best. It is always a pleasure to see him turning up in slasher movies and he has done a fair few. I have liked him since I saw him in Enter the Dragon when I was a young child, but always thought that he was wasted in titles like Baby Doll Murders, Beyond Evil and Blood Salvage. It could be argued though that he was a fan of low brow horror, because he did in fact direct Zombie Death House from 1987.
With so much going on, you won’t fall asleep whilst watching Beach, but in honesty it does feel somewhat disjointed. I’m not sure if this was due to the problems behind the scenes? The characters are well written and with a cast that includes Lance LeGault, Michael Parks AND John Saxon, you’d think that the dramatics wouldn’t be an issue. The effort from everyone seems to be somewhat lacklustre though and the runtime is a bit limp because of it. The two leads have absolutely no chemistry and Nichols De Toth is useless as the hero. It’s worth noting that he doesn’t drink, rejects advances from a hot busty eighteen-year-old who throws herself at him and doesn’t really do anything throughout the whole film. A boring actor playing a boring persona. 10/10 to the casting team then! I much preferred his friend, Ronnie and his constant quips about nailing hotties and being on ‘beaver patrol’. He died far too early in the story and even if, admittedly, it was a pretty cool gore scene, his presence was missed when we were left with only Señor Tedium carrying the rest of the story.
There’s not really much suspense in any of the killings, the mystery is far too easy to figure out and it also makes literally no sense when it is revealed. With that said though, Nightmare Beach is a fun slasher flick with eighties action as bright as the photography of the sun kissed sandy beaches. It falls someway short of being a good addition to the category, but it’s worth watching all the same. Killers in motorcycle helmets have been here since Strip Nude for your Killer and I personally quite like the guise. Terror Eyes from 1981 also used it, but my favourite would have to be the wonderful duck-taped goofball maniac from Nail Gun Massacre. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean.
Something of an overlooked entry, I say give it a shot.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√
Fatal Pulse 1988
Directed by: Anthony J. Christopher
Starring: Joe Estevez, Michelle McCormick, Ken Roberts
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
There’s no doubt about it, the slasher boom of the eighties should always be traced back to the release of John Carpenter’s Halloween. Hot on its heels though, were two other key genre pieces that also became outlines for copycat titles to follow. Friday the 13th must take its share of credit for launching the mass of killer in the woods titles, which included Don’t go in the Woods, Just Before Dawn, The Prey and more recently Camp Blood et al. Another offering that can also be attributed with generating a long line of mostly inferior imitations is Amy Holden Jones’ Slumber Party Massacre. Despite being initially received unenthusiastically by critics and audiences alike, Jones’ splatter flick eventually managed to achieve cult status and went on to inspire the likes of Sorority House Massacre, The Last Slumber Party, Blood Sisters, Cheerleader Massacre and Anthony J Christopher’s Fatal Pulse from 1988.
Sororities were never a safe place during the eighties and Fatal Pulse is no exemption to that rule. After co-eds begin turning up murdered around the campus, Jeff Kramer (Ken Roberts) is immediately put in the frame when it is revealed that he was the last person to see one of the victims before she was slaughtered. Aided by his lumbering buddy Mark (Blair Karsch), Jeff sets out on a mission to prove his innocence and catch the psychopath before he kills again. As the bodies pile up, Jeff begins to realise that his girlfriend Lisa (Michelle McCormick) could be next on the assassin’s list.
Fatal Pulse is truly a bizarre movie experience, which combines moments of mediocrity, stupidity, inadvertent comedy and uncomfortable brutality to conjure up a somewhat authentic juxtaposition. Technically, we are in amateur-ville once again and the performances from the unknown cast are completely awful. The hero of the feature (Ken Roberts) was the worst offender and boasted the expressive fluency of a turnip. Seriously, I have seen wooden bridges with more emotional definition. Michelle McCormick made for an incredibly unapproachable final girl and pretty much everyone involved delivered their lines with the conviction of a toilet cleaner on the day before retirement. They were not helped by a woefully uninspired script, which added just about every stereotype from the annals of bad-movie obscurity. Brad the obnoxious ‘tough guy’ was characterised as some kind of odd fifties ‘Grease’ throwback, whilst the token comic relief inclusion, Mark, was greeted by a peculiar ‘Boing!’ effect in the soundtrack upon his every arrival. Strangely enough, this even occurred during a suspense scene towards the film’s conclusion. Boing!
Director Anthony Christopher mimics the giallo titans of yesteryear, by conveying every murder from the view of the black gloved assassin. Mario Bava was a master of creating artistic suspense in his set pieces, whereas Christopher fails to generate even a millisecond. Despite the disappointedly fast-paced nature of the murders, the merciless brutality of them does provide a somewhat reverse spiral on the quality of the feature. Even heavily financed slashers such as Friday the 13th failed to add convincing viciousness to their slaughters. Despite being laughably lacklustre in almost every department, Fatal Pulse is surprisingly sadistic in the way it draws out the suffering of its victims. The electrocution sequence was particularly mean spirited and ruthless. But any fear factor that could have been gained by a particularly savage antagonist is cheapened and therefore ruined by the fact that *every* female victim manages to flash her heaving breasts before being executed. An advertisement for feminism in the slasher industry Fatal Pulse certainly is not.
The score also becomes an irritation with consistent screeching synthesizer accompaniment, whilst the less said about the ‘jazz band on acid’ intro music, the better. As Fatal Pulse is a bad eighties movie, it characteristically offers its share of bad eighties movie moments, which have become lovably nostalgic for many retro cheese fans. Part of the story involves an un-engaging romance between the two emotionless leads. There are plenty of inadvertent laughs to be had when the couple go cycling to the strains of an eighties pop monstrosity. Also watch out for a bizarre and somewhat inexplicable scene involving comic relief character Mark (Boing!) and a Captain Marvell outfit. I won’t ruin it for you by explaining it here, but it almost beggars belief.
The killer does have a fairly intriguing motive and to be fair the last 15 minutes manage to add the smallest possible dose of intrigue to the final chase sequence. But it’s tough to recommend Fatal Pulse for any kind of recognition as it is just too poorly conceived.
Another that has been completely overlooked on DVD, I think that even the most loyal slasher fan will find it tough to sit through. It does include some interesting killings (one girl has her throat sliced by a 12″ vinyl – WHAT?), but the lack of suspense, chills or shocks mean that there’s very little to like. It just seems so carelessly misogynistic that it leaves a sour taste in the throat.
Final Girl: √
Blizzard of Blood 1988
Directed by: Jeff Kwitny
Starring: Joseph Alan Johnson, Lisa Loring, Deborah Deliso
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I used to work with a guy who thought himself a bit of a lad. He wore designer clothes to work (and probably to bed), slick hairstyle, drove a BMW, had the latest gadgets, bit of a bully, girlfriend with fake boobs – you know the kind. Anyway, i thought he was shallow and the complete opposite to me (I don’t even bother to comb my hair some days) but despite the fact we were complete opposites, we got on quite well.
We did have one thing in common though; both of us were massive fans of cinema. We often compared lists of flicks and spent time discussing Tarantino et al. Just like me, he had tonnes of DVDs and I introduced him to Amazon’s budget discs at good prices. I never really talked slashers with him as he didn’t come across as someone that’d know what one was, however he did mention that he had a soft spot for the rubbish eighties flick, No Retreat No Surrender. So much so that he bought a cinema print of it for a whole heap of cash.
In case you haven’t seen it, this is a very corny eighties film with a laughable synopsis and it boasts probably Van Damme’s worst performance, which must be saying something. Anyway, my point is, even people who act like they’re hard usually have a cheesy secret at home on VHS in the cupboard that they break out when alone – almost like a comfort blanket. It’s not only geeks like me. But how many of us have the cojones to openly admit to them?
Now you could say that I have got more than one, because I actually gave Graduation Day a good review and that’s definitely not something that’ll give me much street credibility. But the real embarrassment in my collection, the one I watch when no one can see and when I’m feeling pretty down and it perks me up every time is this little cheeseball.
Iced is a film so bad that it could be broadcast to life forms in galaxies far away so that they think humans are too dumb to bother with and don’t invade. Now don’t get me wrong, you can find worse lying around (Night Divides the Day oh and Carnage Road – the movie equivalent of being in a concrete cell for a week), but Iced just has a special charm for me. Maybe it’s that it was meant to be actually quite scary and mysterious? Or maybe it’s the killer’s awesome disguise? I am not sure, but I have seen Iced probably much more than many in my collection and for all the wrong reasons.
This is not the only snow bound slasher available on the market, but it’s the one that makes the most of its icy surroundings (death by icicle – ooh yeah!). Six acquaintances are mysteriously invited to a mountainous snow bound resort for a weekend break. It’s the first time that they’ve been skiing since the death of a former friend five years earlier. Jeff died after he had sworn vengeance on Cory for stealing the woman he had eyes for, Trina. Even before they all arrive, a psycho sporting the snowsuit and ski mask that the deceased was wearing when he was killed has made an extra room available by splashing one of the invitees across the motorway with a snow plough. So it looks like Jeff is back from the grave to get revenge…
If you are thinking that the plot is as hackneyed as they come, then you are completely right and it’s perhaps one of the reasons that I like this so much. Iced never even tries to be anything other than complete slasher trash. Whereas many of the latter genre entries were attempting to spice up things in an attempt to win new audiences, Kwitny’s opus studies the slasher text book and ticks off all ingredients one by one. Masked Killer: Check. POV shots: Check. Dumb victims: Check. Yes, it’s all here and even if there’s a small tad of self-recognition, mostly this plays things straight and remains content to swim in the shallow depths of the stalk and slash formula.
Funnily enough, the story was written by Joseph Alan Johnson, a name that you may recognise as he was a member of the cast for two other cheesy entries namely: Berserker: The Nordic Curse from 1986 and also Slumber Party Massacre from 1982. He played a small part here and was not the only one who had a bit of a history in cinema. He was sharing the stage (or slopes) with Debra Deliso (also from Slumber Party Massacre) and Lisa Loring who was lucky enough to get her break at a very early age. She played Wednesday in the original Addam’s family series and despite a few TV roles after, her career certainly stalled after such a decent start. 1987 saw her comeback with parts in Savage Harbour and the gooey slasher, Blood Frenzy and it went on to reached its peak with this. She married adult star Jerry Butler the same year and her next screen offering was in porn film Layin’ Down the Law in a non-sex role (well that’s what it says). It probably wasn’t the career resurgence that she initially intended, to be fair.
You’ve more chance of discovering the corpse of Thomas Desimone than you have of finding any even slightly polished dramatics here and the characters are all clichés. I did however really like Carl, the sleazy coke-head, who spent most of the runtime walking around naked or sniffing lines in the bathroom. During his haze of cocaine, cheese and snow, he cracks on to Lisa Loring’s character with the awesome line, ‘I would love to make the blood pump in your veins again!” – That has to be amongst the best and most direct chat up hooks that I have ever heard. Oh and did I mentioned that he has one of those tiny pig-style ponytails? How could you not love the guy? Whilst everyone walked around in a mullet, he went for the bad in any decade rat’s tail look. What a tool.
There are enough plot holes throughout the runtime to soak up the rivers from the recent Thailand floods. We get a small touch of the supernatural when a recently murdered character calls up to say that he’s ‘…with Jeff now’ but it never really goes anywhere. It’s also amusing that during the five years that’s supposed to have passed since the opening, none of the charter’s appearances have changed and they don’t seem to have aged at all. The first victim’s car conveniently breaks down where the killer has a snowplough parked so that he can rearrange his body parts and these guys must all be stone deaf, because they never hear the dying screams of their buddies as they’re massacred only a few yards away.
Aside from suffering from hearing difficulties, Trina is also particularly dumb. She wakes up to find her husband lying in the kitchen with a knife sticking out of his chest and after the obligatory fumble for the keys to a car that won’t start, she eventually decides to use the telephone. Instead of ringing the local law enforcement or a paramedic for her partner who is by now probably bleeding to death, she calls Alex the resort manager whom they shared dinner with the night before. Sometime later when the killer is finally unmasked after a pretty pacey showdown, his motives are thinner than Lisa Loring’s ‘comeback’ career. And just as baffling!
It’s not all campiness though and Kwitny does manage at least one jolt. There’s an ok-ish chase sequence towards the climax too, which adds some suspense. The best thing about it is the excellent score, which was obviously ripped off from a certain Harry Manfredini, but is brilliant all the same. It’s a shame that they didn’t make any use of the potentially intriguing set locations. You’d think that they could have staged a few remarkable set pieces and made good use of the snow coated mountains. Instead they decided just to kill off everyone in and around the cabin. With that said, the murder scenes are fairly unique and I’m sure that the use of indoor sites had more to do with budget than a lack of creativity.
If you are one of those that’s riding the eighties revival and your favourite song is still ‘it’s the final countdown’, then Iced will rock your world. It was released in the years when slasher directors no longer had gore to rely on to hide their lack of talent, so instead they used lame nudity and – mostly unintentional – humour.
I am sure that this will not be the last time I reach for this decrepit VHS when I need a slasher fix. I’ll have to put up with bad tracking though, because there’s still no sign of a release date on DVD. Perhaps people nowadays prefer the infinitely better Shredder from 2001? Either way, I like this cheesy slasher and recommend it wholeheartedly to those who love their campy eighties movies.
Final Girl √√
Demon Warrior 1988
Directed by: Frank Patterson
Starring: Wiley M. Pickett, Leslie Mullin, John Langione
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It didn’t take too long after Halloween had kicked off the slasher boom for the category to be cursed by continuous mediocrity. As early as 1983 the genre was already struggling to release more than a handful of decent offerings per year and by ’90 the stalk and slash flick had become pretty much the whipping boy of horror cinema. By that time major studios were all aware that repeating the tired formula was no longer a lucrative direction, which left it up to independent and mostly inexperienced filmmakers to continue the legacy that John Carpenter had created. Although there was still an impressive number of features hitting shelves in 88, most of them were weakly produced and taken as a whole it was surprising that there were a fair few gems amongst the rubble. Scott Spiegel’s Intruder in its uncut form was a superb gross out classic, whilst Evil Dead Trap proved that the cycle had not yet completely run out of style and panache. William Lustig’s Maniac Cop was successful enough to launch a franchise and we haven’t yet mentioned Hardcover.
It was the continual release of schlock like Blood Lake, Deadly Dreams and The Last Slumber Party that cursed the slasher movie to eight years of obscurity. It finally took the big budgeted flamboyance of Wes Craven’s Scream to provide the necessary resuscitation. Having not heard anything about Demon Warrior before I came across it unexpectedly, I instantly assumed that it was part of the low brow trash that led to the downfall of the slasher phase. But with that said the movie boasts an intriguing premise that sits comfortably beside Scalps and Camping Del Terrore as another welcome addition to the Native-American influenced catalogue.
A truck pulls up on a woodland road and out step two laughably dramatised rednecks. The hillbilly lumberjacks are only on screen for around for ten seconds and then they are murdered by an unseen menace. Next we meet a troupe of five young adults that are heading to the same location for a spot of shotgun-target-practice on some of the local wildlife. The area is owned by Neil Willard and has been passed down through three generations of his family. His Grandfather stole the land from an Indian medicine man that was rumoured to have left a curse on the property. According to legend, every ten years a Demon Warrior with an extreme hatred for mankind stalks the forest reaping revenge on those he deems responsible for the pilfering of the tribe’s home. It wouldn’t be much fun if those myths were a falsehood, so regular as clockwork a maniacal assassin turns up with a taste for blood. Will the kids be able to stop this phantom killer…?
Demon Warrior is best described as a bigger budgeted (but still woefully cheap) re-imaging of Fred Olen Ray’s Scalps. The bogeymen from both films are virtually identical and the director even throws in a scalping sequence to confirm my suspicions. Things start promisingly with some crisp Friday the 13th-style first-person cinematography and a couple of shock-jolts that were composed with finesse by director Frank Patterson. Thomas Callaway did a good job with the photography and the tribal-drum score makes a refreshing change from the more traditional late-eighties synthesizer rubbish. Flourishes of suspense are juxtaposed with a couple of credible directorial embellishments and there are even a few attempts at humour. The killer looked successfully creepy in demon attire and the inclusion of a bow and arrow as the main murder weapon was a deft touch from the director.
Fred Olen Ray’s notorious slasher was notable for its stark and credibly unsettling atmosphere. Unfortunately despite being produced on twice the budget, Demon Warrior never comes close to the film that it so desperately emulates. Rumour has it that the majority of the actors were drafted from the Texas Baylor University and were not even paid for their inclusion in the feature. Of course it goes without saying that the dramatics are appropriately abysmal. I especially enjoyed the hilarious John Langione – an ‘Italian’ Native American (don’t ask) that portrays about as much emotion as the trees in the forest that surrounded him. Warrior started with some credible glimpses of panache from the director that actually led me to believe that this could be a welcome inclusion to the slasher index. Unfortunately, the poisonous cocktail of limp dialogue and an ending plucked directly from stupidsville seriously changed the initial plan I had in mind for a rating. It’s a shame that the dramatics were so scraped from the bottom of the thespian barrel, because at times Demon Warrior showed flashes of potential.
All in all, Patterson’s movie is a mixed bag of ideas – some of them were good, but mostly they were staggeringly mediocre. Because this was released at a time when the slasher genre had been watered down to avoid the scissor happy censors, there’s really no gore worth mentioning. Even the scalping sequence is relatively tame compared to Olen Ray’s graphic depiction. It may not be quite as bad as the aforementioned Deadly Dreams, Blood Lake et al, but not really THAT good either….
Final Girl: √√
Cutting Class 1988
Directed by: Rospo Pallenberg
Starring: Donovan Leitch, Jill Schoelen, Brad Pitt
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So you’ve all been told until you are blue in the face by me and others how Scream redefined the genre blah blah. Whilst Kevin Williamson’s script was sharp and clever, attempts at a comedic self-referential whodunit had been on the scene since the late eighties. The majority had been overlooked or in effect weren’t really good enough to grab the attention garnered by Wes Craven’s hit.
One of that number was Cutting Class from 1988. A film that is often overlooked by genre enthusiasts, probably because it’s always been very easy to find on VHS and then DVD. It will have been seen perhaps more times than it would have if it hadn’t had boasted a pre Thelma and Louise performance from a young Brad Pitt, who by this point was still some way off his super star status.
An unseen nut job is killing students and teachers at a High School. The murders seem to have a connection with beautiful student Paula Carson, but as more bodies turn up, she realises that it could be someone closer to her than she expected…
Lushly financed and shot with a gorgeous cast of up and coming talent and a couple of veterans, Cutting Class was released at a time when the slasher genre was not much of a draw at all for audiences. They had already by that time seen everything that could be done with the simplistic plot structure and had ambled along to pastures new. This one offers absolutely nothing adventurous, but packs just about enough to please fans looking for a period piece of slashertastic action.
You can see what they were attempting with the story, which focuses heavily on the mystery of who it is committing the killings. Could it be Brian Woods who has just been released from an insane asylum and looks the most likely? Maybe it’s the possessive and aggressive Dwight Ingalls, who in typical slasher fashion shows no redeeming moral features? Or perhaps it’s the creepy caretaker who hangs around muttering about being the ‘custodian of lives’? The screenwriter tries hard to throw as many red herrings in as possible, but the revelation still lacks punch. Between all this we have a teen romance between the three leads, which engulfs much of the runtime. The killings are numerous, but rushed and gore free, so at times it’s easy to forget that you’re watching a horror film. I still liked the way they were conveyed, especially the gruesome demise of the art teacher, the vice principle’s death by photocopier and the twin murder during a basketball game. There are attempts at comedy to stop the pace from dissolving, but it rarely hits a crescendo in either mood.
The picture quality is superb with a lot of bright colours and the performances are good enough all round. Brad Pitt had his moments, but was outshone by Donovan Leitch who built audience sympathy well with his portrayal of a misunderstood loner. Jill Schoelen was cute and naïve as the gorgeous goodie goodie heroine and although underused, the comedic turn from Roddy McDowall was a nice addition. Like many of its eighties colleagues, Cutting Class is unbelievably cheesy and sometimes a tad too silly. Despite missing people, bodies turning up on a daily basis and a killer on the loose, the Police presence is non existent and the fate of William Carson III is beyond logical explanation.
Rospo Pallenburg had been a screenwriter prior to the shoot and somehow blagged his way in to the director’s chair. He lacks invention here and his style is bland and it feels almost as if it is being filmed from the pages of ‘a beginner’s guide to filmmaking’. It makes you wonder what it would have looked like in the hands of a helmer with a good knowledge of building suspense. Someone like Scott Spiegel or Skip Schoolnik who both would have jumped at the chance to utilise this cast and funding. Thankfully the feature is kept afloat by the energetic performances and an overdose of OTT eighties fashions.
When I sit down to watch a slasher movie, I think of a checklist with the most important box being, ‘Am I having a good time’. Cutting Class is a fun time waster that you’ll easily forget, but enjoy while it lasts. It even has a moral to its story that says, ‘stay at school’, which is ironic as it is flicks like these that I used to skip class to watch.
The cinematic equivalent of a McDonald’s double sausage and egg McMuffin. You know that it has no nutrients or goodness for your body, but hits the spot from time to time; most definitely after a long night on the lash. It’s far too silly to be memorable, but thanks to a fantastic leading lady and an all round interesting cast, it’s worth dusting off to take a look at. We would see Ms Schoelen again in Popcorn, before she disappeared, which is a shame because she should have done much more
Final Girl: √√√√√
Directed by: Emmett Alston
Starring: George Kennedy, David Michael O’Neill, Michelle Bauer
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
In the eyes of the majority of splatter fans across the globe, John Carl Buechler has always played second fiddle as a serious contender for king of the horror crown. Despite Roger Corman crediting him as ‘the best in the business’ and being the only make up effects guy to work on all three of the giant franchises (Freddy/Jason/Michael Myers), he never quite attracted the cult appeal that Tom Savini held throughout horror’s heyday. As a director he showed potential with kids favourite Troll; but Paramount’s stringent censoring of his Friday the 13th sequel (part VII) left the movie ranking among the series’ worst. His directorial career pretty much faded following The New Blood’s dismal reception and his recent slasher – Miner’s Massacre – underlined the fact that he would never share a stall with the likes of Wes Craven and John Carpenter. Demonwarp was my first taste of Buechler as an author and in all honesty I felt quite optimistic. There’s no denying that he possesses extreme talent, it’s just unfortunate that a few of his greatest moments have suffered under the hands of the MPAA.
Demonwarp chucks everything but the kitchen sink into a horror cocktail that sounds extraordinary on paper. Zombies, aliens, UFOs and a murderous big foot all play a part in a plot that’s riddled with gore and mayhem. But it can really only be categorised as a slasher movie, because the majority of the runtime plays almost identically to cult favourite and former video-nasty Night of the Demon.
The opening scene is actually supposed to be set in the 1880s, but we’re not told that until much later in the feature. A priest is wandering leisurely along the top of a cliff reciting bible psalms and giving his horse a personnel sermon. (I know that sounds strange, but there was no one else anywhere near him!) As he reaches the peak of the mountain, out of the corner of his eye he spots an unidentified flying object hurtling directly into his path. It crashes down to create a huge crater just a yard from his feet. Despite leaving a chasm the size of a football pitch, the impact doesn’t even unbalance the churchman and his trusty mule! Don’t forget that this guy is so religious that he even preaches to his horse, so it’s understandable that he believes it’s the second coming. I’m less convinced.
Transport forward a century to the glorious eighties and things are already looking hackneyed as we enter a remote cabin in the woods. That old hamster George Kennedy must have been in desperate need of a bit of extra ‘beer money’; because here he is further degrading his one-time Academy Award garnished status. You can tell that he signed up for this just BEFORE the first Naked Gun job was offered, because that pretty much lifted his career beyond the realms of B movie plop for a few years or so. Anyway here he plays Bill Crafton, an old coot that’s just trying to spend a little quality time with his bubble-permed daughter. We can tell that this reunion isn’t going to last much longer as soon as we see those classic growling POV shots creeping up the road in front of the cabin. Before you can say ‘Friday the 13th’, the door flies off the hinges and Julie Crafton is victim número uno. She gets brutally smothered to death by what looks to be a huge Big Foot creature, whilst her dad’s left fighting for consciousness on the floor.
Next up a van full of clichés pull up outside the cabin, presumably for a woodland break, although Jack (a creditable Kurt Russell look-alike) has his own reasons for visiting that particular spot. Apparently his uncle Clem disappeared around that area and so he’s brought along some psycho-fodder to help track him down. As if you hadn’t guessed Big Foot is still out roaming and he continues his rampage upon the group of eighties space fillers. Will George Kennedy’s numerous explosive traps save them? Or will they have to stop the beast by themselves?
Demonwarp traipses through the trappings like a programmed robot for the first hour or so, with nothing to separate it from any other killer in the woods flick from around that time. As soon as scream queen extraordinaire Michelle Bauer turns up only to rip off her top, I knew that this was going to be cheese by the bucket full. But then on the hour-mark things get even sillier as we’re given zombies, aliens, satanic rituals and even spacecrafts all in the space of about thirty-five minutes. I won’t ruin the plot by telling you how Buechler’s story tried to incorporate every known horror icon in one movie; but let’s just say that by the end it wouldn’t have looked out of place if we had seen cameos from Frankenstein, Dracula and Jekyll and Hyde.
The acting is as below par as you might expect and Kennedy just looks to be waiting for that paycheck to be written. There’s a couple of ok-ish gore scenes that brighten things up, which include a gooey head ripping and an ingenious ‘death by stick’, which is really quite unsettling. The monster also looks pretty good and infinitely better than the cheapo big foot in Night of the Demon.Unfortunately there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen somewhere else before. Emmett Alston fails to lift the shocks above passable, but what do you expect from the guy that directed New Years Evil?
So all in all a run of the mill eighties hack and slasher, despite the promise of everything rolled into one. The ending leaves you wondering just what drugs Buechler was snorting when he dreamt up this little beauty? Average…
Final Girl: √