Directed by: Doug Robertson
Starring: Brien Blakely, Blake Pickett, Michael Schwitzgebel
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The nineties certainly didn’t begin with a bang for the slasher genre, which was to be expected after its prolific population of horror cinema throughout the previous decade. Censorship restrictions and an extreme lack of originality meant that the category had become a dumping ground for low-budget and low-quality independent movies, which had lost the allure that made them so popular in the first place. It is widely considered that the last glory year was 1988, which saw the dying breath of the cycle unleash fairly intriguing titles like: Maniac Cop, Intruder, Evil Dead Trap and Edge of the Axe. From then on it was a downward spiral into mediocrity as throwaways like Zipperface and Live Girls put the final nails in the coffin. Hauntedween was another feature from the ‘lost years’ – a term that describes the gap between 1988 and the Scream rebirth in 1996.
If you check on the web, you will find a lot of sites related to Hauntedween and most of them praise the flick as if it were the slasher equivalent of Citizen Kane. Closer inspection however shows that the majority of these positive comments are from the local vicinity of where the feature was made because it has a somewhat legendary status there. Almost all of the actors were picked up from West Kentucky University and the producers held casting days in the town centre. Many residents were given parts as extras and local businesses got involved with the marketing. Rumour has it that still to this day, Kentucky families sit around a table on Halloween eve and watch the film back whilst celebrating their involvement in the ‘Kentucky Godfather’. – Ok so I made up the last bit, but you get the idea…
It also seems however that the featured inhabitants of this particular district seem to be incredibly vocal all over the world wide web. So much so that I once called the film ‘mediocre but strangely alluring’ on another website and was inundated with messages of how I was unfair and that the disapproving things that I had said were inaccurate. The movie was, apparently, everything but ‘mediocre’. I once again noticed that these people were either in the movie or were related to someone that was.
Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone from Kentucky and have only ever visited the fried chicken namesake, so I will call the movie as I see it. I obviously respect that this is a huge achievement for those involved, but I am here to share my views of slasher flicks with people that enjoy them and my views will always be my own. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fantastic that this feature has become a cult favourite and that it has such a loyal fan base. Even more so because it’s a slasher movie and I love that the genre is getting that kind of appreciation. I don’t have the bias however of being a local lad, so forgive me if I don’t give it a five star review…
In the prologue the camera heads along a country road that leads to a haunted house. There’s a young child at the gate collecting the entrance fee from revellers that all comment on his Halloween mask. Eddie Burber looks like a great prospect to become a junior serial slasher, mainly because he doesn’t speak too much and as we all know REAL bogeymen are inexplicably muted. The point is proved when he enters the house of horror and chases a young girl until she ends up impaled on a bizarrely misplaced spike. Accidents do happen, but that can’t be the excuse for young Eddie. He confirms his murderous intent by finishing the job with a huge machete that he conjured from thin air. He escapes the scene of the crime and heads back home to his mother who informs him that they’re going to have to go away for a while.
Twenty years down the line, we bump into the fully-grown Eddie and his mum living at a secluded ranch. Whilst chopping some firewood with a huge axe that I presume will play a part later in the feature, his mother drops to the floor, seemingly suffering from a coronary arrest. The still-unseen bogeyman picks up the corpse of his parent and tells her “It’s time to go home”.
Reguaws, Kentucky hasn’t changed much over two decades, except now there’s a new gang of thirty-year-old students in the Topshill State College. They’re struggling with the threat of having their Sigma Pi fraternity closed if they can’t come up with 37, 000 dollars in the next couple of weeks. Despite some bemusing moneymaking plans that include car washing (I estimate that they’d have to scrub about 20,000 cars!?), they settle with the idea of a haunted house at the home of the murderous child from the prologue. We all know how much Eddie enjoys attending these occasions, and he doesn’t disappoint when he turns up with a creepy mask and a few tricks up his sleeves…
The second time that I watched Hauntedween for this review; I noted that my opinion had changed ever so slightly as the years have passed by. When rating a small production like this you have to take into account the meagre budget and inexperienced crew, which probably amounted to little more than a few men, a dog and not much else. Hauntedween is as subtly tongue in cheek as the imaginative title would lead you to believe and has the obvious vibe of a good time movie. Now horror/comedies never really click and aside from the decent Blood Hook I can’t really think of any that have gelled well enough to steer away from mediocrity. Then again, Hauntedween manages not to annoy too much, because the humour is not forced and comes across more as a production team that realise that their movie is never going to be anything more than a cheesy slasher and they just want the viewer to join in with the fun that they’re having.There’s plenty of unconvincing accents on display to harmonise with the unmistakable twang of the resident Kentuckians and I think it became something of an in-joke between the cast members and crew.
When the killer starts his rampage, he proves to be a real showman by murdering victims in front of a baying crowd that believe they’re watching a ‘theatrical performance’. Luckily for him he can keep up the act without any fringe of suspicion, because the special effects are as hokey as a Rolex at a boot sale. There’s an ambitious decapitation and half a dozen or so victims that all get their chance to thesp-up their final breath whilst covered with a gallon of corn syrup.
The movie stays true to its slasher heritage and writer/producer/director Doug Robertson was definitely a fan of the genre. Despite the title, it doesn’t mimic Carpenter’s classic as much as you’d think it would and instead tries to spice things up a bit with some slightly different branches to the plot, which I won’t ruin for you.
You can almost feel the enthusiasm of the whole crew streaming out from the cheap plastic video cassette becuase it is that contagious. This blatant and clearly visual evidence that a good time was had by all behind the scenes and on set somewhat lifts Hauntedween above its flaws. I mean, let’s make no mistake about it, this is a shoe-string movie. But it’s one that knows its limitations and makes the most of them. That doesn’t make it worthy of the inflated purchase price that it sells for on VHS, but if you come across it cheap, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t give it a whirl. The final twenty minutes of mayhem are worth seeing for some cheapskate slasher shenanigans. I’m not sure if I am breaking any copyright laws by telling you this, but hey, whilst looking for more info I noticed that it is on YouTube. Sssshhhhh!!
A few buckets of blood, some topless chicks and a masked killer – what can be so bad about that? Take it with a pinch of salt and it might be worth a look…
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl √
Bikini Island 1991
Directed by: Anthony Markes
Starring: Holly Floria, Alicia Anne, Jackson Robinson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
There’s a title in my collection that I’ve been looking to add to this site for sometime. The thing is, it’s only available on VHS and watching a video is infinitely harder on my day plan than ripping a DVD and chucking it on my iPad. Last Dance was a belated entry to the category that hit video stores on the heels of Stripped to Kill, Slashdance, Deadly Dancer and the rest of those boogie/slasher flicks that strangely came out in mass around a similar timespan. Instead, I decided to review the same director Anthony Markes’ début feature, which is also a slasher movie and is thankfully available on Russian DVD. Good that I speak Russian – yay.
Released in 1991, Bikini Island is the kind of film that many men (me included) would kill to make. What we have here is a gang of pretty young women that are stranded on a desert island and dressed, as the title helpfully informs us, in next to nothing for an entire runtime. You want exploitation my friends, you’ve got it. The slasher sub-plot plays tenth-fiddle to more cleavage and bum shots than an Ann Summers catalogue. I had a feeling that I was in for a good time…
Swimwear Illustrated, the leading magazine for people who take their fashion sense and water sports seriously, are looking for five models for their anniversary issue. The women must represent the brand’s image and be beautiful, fit and presumably eager to whip off their undies. They head off to a remote island for the shoot, but after two days, they soon realise that one of their troupe has murderous intentions….
Although in reality this is not the case, Last Dance, instead of being a different movie, could have been a sequel or follow up to this. Both have an overdose of chicks in next to no clothing, both have an unseen mystery killer floating around and both have similar catchy soundtracks. To be frank, Bikini Island is the slasher movie equivalent of a Vodka and Coke that is 98.9% Coke. It takes us forty-five minutes or so to see the first killing and I had to fast forward through to check that it wasn’t just some cheesy late night drama or love story.
In the last half hour though, the maniac strikes. His weapon of choice – a kitchen plunger. No, seriously. We see in POV as two goons get ‘suffocated’ with said appliance and then he must’ve got bored, because out comes a length of hosepipe, a rock and a bow and arrow for the rest of the victims. Markes shows he knows the genre and attempts a rehash of the wonderful greenhouse killing from La Residencia. Minus the suspense, skilful photography, pulsating score, blood, shocks, superb performance and artistry, the two scenes are interchangeable. Our job of course is to guess the identity of our murderous psycho. To be fair, I had no idea, but that’s more down to randomness than brilliance on the screenwriter’s part. The final girl pouts her way through the last battle and we all live happily ever after. The end.
Despite its somewhat diluted feel, Bikini Island isn’t as boring as it could have been and it gleefully accepts the level of its ingenuity, which to be fair is pretty low. The producers were well aware that they had a cast with zero dramatic plausibility, so they have conjured up a script that specifically allows for this. What I didn’t like was that they killed a real mouse in a scene that was fairly pointless and it is something that I just don’t agree with. What did the mouse do to them?
This was released a few weeks before Popcorn proved that the slasher movie was no longer something that young audiences were interested in during the early nineties. It still became moderately successful enough for Markes to find funding for his follow-up and it was something of a staple on late night cable for many years and still plays even today. It’s by no means worth spending time hunting out, because it is far too weak and corny to be a compelling murder mystery. It scores points only because it is as cheesy as hell and amusing in an inadvertent type of way.
The first screen that we see boldly informs us that the picture that we are about to witness is ‘based on a true story’. Yes, that old transparent marketing chestnut that turns up every once in a while. I think we can quietly assume that they meant the ‘true story’ of a gang of models getting photographed and very little else. Pop-tastic soundtrack aside, Bikini Island is slasher by the numbers and as ‘lite’ as diet coke.
Final Girl: √√
aka Monkey Boy
Directed by: Lawrence Gordon Clark
Starring: John Lynch, Kenneth Cranham, Emer Gillespie
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Now here’s a review that I never thought I’d be adding to a SLASH above. Could a feature length edition of a four-part series that was aired way back in 1991 on the comfort of a Sunday evening’s television really be classed a slasher flick? Surprisingly the answer is yes. I remember watching Chimera as a ten year old child and being absolutely petrified by the sights I was witnessing. Many years later as my love for horror grew, I often reminisced about Lawrence Gordon Clark’s opus and was enthusiastic when I discovered an ageing copy at a video store under the alias of Monkey Boy. Chimera had launched to much critical acclaim in the United Kingdom and I wondered whether it could survive the stark condensation from a four hour runtime to a measly length of a hundred and four minutes.
It launches with a suspenseful set-piece, which was drastically shortened from the sequence broadcasted on television in 1991. In its original format we were given a huge amount of development into the lives of the opening victims, whereas in this shorter version, the characters are slaughtered almost as soon as they are introduced. It all kicks off in The Jener Clinic – a remote fertility surgery in the Yorkshire countryside. A van pulls into the car park and out jump four panic stricken workers. They drag something screaming from the back of the vehicle before silencing it with tranquillisers and carrying it into the complex. Although we don’t get to see the struggling aggressor, we can tell from its screams that it’s certainly not human. As night sets in on the clinic, the alarm is raised when an unseen someone begins stalking through the surgery and slaughtering the staff Michael Myers-style with a carving knife. The unseen maniac escapes the location, leaving behind him a mess of butchered corpses and flames.
The following morning we are introduced to Peter Carson (John Lynch). Peter is apprehended by Police whilst on his way to the clinic in order to meet his ex-girlfriend, Tracy. He is forced to identify the nurse’s mutilated corpse, but when he asks for answers he is given the run-around by the senior detectives. Visibly frustrated at the lack of information he is given, Peter begins to suspect that the Police are covering up the true motives behind the massacre. He soon launches his own private investigation, which uncovers something worse than he could ever have imagined.
The days when British Hammer Horror features were at the forefront of the genre have long since passed and UK cinema has yet to produce a slasher movie to rival its American brethren. It comes as some surprise that the closest they have come is with this made for TV thriller from the early nineties. Chimera combines a gripping story with the standard clichés to create an entry that sticks in your mind long after the closing credits have rolled. Mixing shady government conspiracies and genetic engineering with approachable characters and a bogeyman that splits the viewer between moods of sympathy and hatred, Stephen Gallagher’s script generates enough complexity and terror to allow it to stand as a memorable viewing experience.
The opening massacre borrows heavily from Halloween and its sequel, and in a further nod to the cycle, the killer sports a red striped top ala Freddy Krueger. As Chimera was made for television, the gore is kept to a bare minimum, but Clark’s sharp and rapid direction and a plot that successfully delays the explanation to the psycho’s identity keeps the tension running fluidly. John Carpenter has stated that one of the reasons that the original Halloween towered so prominently over the quality of its sequels was the excellent dramatisation of ‘the shape’ by Nick Castle. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of a chillingly portrayed bogeyman, but it’s something that Clark was aware of and Douglas Mann does an excellent job of giving the killer a distinguishing characterisation. In the lead, John Lynch fails to take advantage of a multi-layered plot and delivers a half-hearted colourless performance, whilst the majority of the cast members never leave the comfort zone of b-grade television dramatics. Only Kenneth Cranham emerges with credibility, portraying the ruthless Hennessey with a vicious guile that offers the viewer a genuine hate figure.
The fact that Chimera is based on Gallagher’s novel from 1982 – a time when the genre was at its most productive – explains why the plot is so knee deep in slasher references. But to classify Chimera as just another cycle entry would perhaps be an injustice, because it falls into a huge number of categories. Part Sci-fi, part detective mystery and a huge part stalk and slash, Clark’s opus is an altogether interesting feature that never outstays its welcome.
Ok so this is an updated write-up from a a few years back. It’s the first of two British TV slashers that I am going to post for you all. My first review of this flick got a mixed response, with people disagreeing and some in fact said it was insulting that I called it a slasher film. Well, if you don’t think that an unseen killer stalking through POV shots with a butcher’s knife is Carpenter-esque, then I don’t know what to do with you… Check it out…
Killer Guise: √
aka Phantom of the Cinema
Directed by: Mark Herrier
Starring: Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
For the slasher cycle, Popcorn was a whole lot more than just another genre retread…
You see, there weren’t really any other cinematic styles around during the eighties that could multiply a budget as easily as a stalk and slash flick. Drama? You either needed De Niro, Pacino, a Costner or someone like a Mickey Rourke; and they’re not cheap. Action? Good shout. But explosions, fake M60s, stuntmen and helicopters can also drain a monetary resource pool. Ok so what about a chick flick? Again always popular at the box office if they’re done well, but can you name me one without a megabucks pairing? Obviously not. No, it’s decided – when it comes to a quick and relatively easy way for a producer to make a fortune, nothing does it like a slasher does it.
But the small problem was that the good old milk laden cash cow had run bone dry midway through the eighties and left only a couple of major franchises to mop up the proceeds. If anything, Popcorn was a hand pushed in to the bath to test the temperature of the water before entry in to a bold new decade. A film well financed enough to get publicity, which boasted a great cast, cool location, neat gimmick and good marketing strategy. If it had been a success I predict we would have had a start to the nineties that would have mirrored the previous decade with a million wannabe duplicates. In effect, this was the first slasher since 1988 to be given actual backing from big studio players like Bob Clark and Ashtok Amiritraj. The only problem was that it flopped. Drastically.
But the biggest question is why?
A group of drama students are given the opportunity to renovate an old cinema for an all night horror-thon. At first, they’re less than impressed, but when they’re told that there may be some budget left over to make their own movie, they all climb aboard. Many years ago on that site, a deranged film cult screened ‘Possession’, which resulted in a few murders and then a big fire within which the aggressor supposedly perished. When sweet student Maggie begins seeing him in her nightmares and conspicuous things start happening, it seems that he’s returned.
Not only is Popcorn a belated entry to the slasher catalogue, which utilises all the traditional trappings, but it’s also a tribute to the notorious B-Movies of the fifties. We should keep in mind that Bob Clark would have grown up on the features of Christian Nyby, Andre De Toth and even Edward Wood, so it makes sense that he would want to reference them here. Popcorn is fun to watch, because when we are not seeing the black gloved killer get to work, we are enjoying full scenes of the films that the audience are watching.
It was shot in Jamaica, which was something of an intriguing slice of trivia. At first I though that it may have been a collaboration of sorts between the two countries, but I couldn’t find any evidence of a producer from JM. The film does however have a very fun reggae/pop play-list. Hell it even has a reggae band that come on and play for no apparent reason halfway through! Keep in mind that this was an era when Chaka Demus and Pliers, Bitty McClean and Shabba Ranks were regulars in the charts and the choice does not seem so unusual. In fact, I rather enjoyed the refreshing soundtrack.
The cast are pretty good in lightweight roles. I was thinking of giving Tom Villard a mention for a solid performance, but then just as I thought that, he went completely overboard with the hyper-acting and got lost somewhat. The gorgeous Jill Schoelen gives another great wide-eyed babe in the woods portrayal and easily manages to win over the audience. We last saw her in genre entry Cutting Class and it strikes me that of the three ‘stars’ that appeared in that flick, only the weakest performer on that occasion built a superstar career. Whilst everyone in the world knows the name and face of Brad Pitt; Schoelen gave up on movies to be a mother and never really fulfilled her potential. Despite the fact that everyone here is little more than a cliché, the characters are likeable and the villain is fun.
Perhaps I was tired (or drunk) at the time, but the twist really caught me off-guard. It was (for me) totally unexpected. It made sense too. There’s some far fetched examples of the maniac’s ability to camouflage himself, but they only add to the thick…THICK dollops of cheese. Yes; and I mean pure and unadulterated cheese. This is like a fondue festival and despite its nineties release date, could seriously be a contender for cheesiest movie of all time. SERIOUSLY. Everything from the bubblegum toons to the wacky costumes (it even incorporates fancy dress) is campy comedy at its best (or worst)
So with so much fun to be had, why was Popcorn such a flop? Good question. To be honest, it’s hard to understand exactly what happened, but the problems that plagued production certainly didn’t help. Original director Alan Ormsby disagreed on a few plot points and walked off the shoot, which unsettled his choice for the lead actress, Amy O’Neill and she soon followed after three-weeks of filming. Schoelen was a more than adequate replacement, but the script reeks of obvious re-writes and missing scenes.
The thing is though, many slasher movies suffered similar troubles behind the scenes and to the untrained eye, Popcorn’s riddles aren’t outstandingly obvious. So what else was wrong? Was it tad too diluted? (There’s no real gore anywhere throughout). Maybe it was just a wee-bit sillier than it should have been? Was it the extreme lack of a mean spirit? I think more realistically, cinema audiences had moved on from masked killers and screaming teens and the reputation of such flicks being incompetently made and embarrassingly bad was still in its fullest of flows back then. It’s a shame, because looking back now it’s actually a really quirky little gem.
Popcorn’s failure to grab an audience most definitely signified the death of the studio slasher flick and it would take the success of Scream five-years later to reignite the sub genre. Still, this deserved a lot more than it received and should be remembered as a decent entry that had everything except luck.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√√√
Frat Fright 1991
aka Happy Hell Night aka Hell Night
Directed by: Brian Owens
Starring: Charles Cragin, Frank John Hughes, Laura Carney
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Firstly I have to tell you that Frat Fright is Happy Hell Night (released in the UK simply as Hell Night) from 1991. Unfortunately, a lot of web sites have them listed as separate features and to add to the confusion one print says it’s directed by Brian Owens and the other by editor David Mitchell, but they are exactly the same movie. I already owned the UK VHS of Hell Night and bought this after seeing it on eBay, because I thought it was a different feature. It even had two listings on the IMDB back then, but they deleted the one for Frat Fright, which means my review that I posted under that flick also disappeared.
It was a joint development between Canada and Serbia (then part of Yugoslavia), with thirteen producers working on the concept. THIRTEEN! I mean that must be some kind of record. The shoot wasn’t the easiest and saw Brian Owens heading over to film some exteriors in Eastern Europe, whilst Mitchell did other parts in Canada. This must be the explanation as to why each has a director’s credit dependent where you look, but I still haven’t managed to discover why it had two releases on different labels.
The plot outline concerning a killer priest stalking teens is a duplicate of Deliver us from evil (Prom Night 4), but it’s hard to tell if it was coincidental or not because they were released around the same time. As both were Canadian productions, it’s hard to believe that it was just a twist of fate, but I have browsed everywhere and with very little information available, I can find no obvious link. Continuing in the vein started by its counterparts from the eighties, there’s an early appearance from a ‘soon to be’ superstar. In this case it’s a young Sam Rockwell, whose emotional four-word performance must have made an impression on some of the right people, because his career took off at the speed of a Concorde soon after. Also here is a young Jorja Fox AND Frank John Hughes!
Phi Delta Fraternity has a dark secret. 25 years ago a deranged priest murdered and mutilated 7 college students and a local girl on campus. The killer was caught and remains imprisoned in a local asylum. The massacre has been kept under wraps and has become the stuff of urban legend. Now in the present day, Eric Collins (Nick Gregory) and a group of fun-loving frats are preparing for the annual hell night celebrations. It’s tradition for the local colleges to hold a competition where an award is given for the best prank performed by a pledge from each faculty. Phi Delta has held the title for the past three years and doesn’t plan on loosing it tonight. When the kids find out about the gruesome slayings from a quarter of a century earlier, they decide to send in Sonny (Frank Hughes) – Eric’s younger brother – and Ralph to take a photograph of the psychopath in his cell. You don’t need to be a genius to guess that things don’t go exactly to plan and the wrong person leaves the institution. So with a psycho-priest heading for the campus where so many kids are partying, what will become of the celebratory frat boys and their friends?
Frat Fright starts with some familiar `he just sits there… waiting’ dialogue that will immediately lead you to believe that this is just another Halloween wannabe. But in fact, Owens manages to add a few spicy supernatural shenanigans that give an innovative twist to the standard plot outline. Although the talk of spells and re-animation is a little far-fetched to feel anywhere near believable, he earns credibility for – at least – trying something a little different. In the prologue scenes, Father Cane (Irfan Mensur) finds Malius splashed in blood and holding dismembered body parts in a dimly lighted basement. It’s an effectively creepy scene and an intriguing taster of what we hope is going to come. When the killer priest tries picking off the last four teens in the dark mansion one by one, things get pretty tense. There may be a lack of experience in some of the more technical elements, but a few impressively planned shots and good use of the shadows from the director manage to keep you on your toes and away from the eject switch. He even manages to pull off a smidgen of suspense towards the end of the runtime.
Aside from a lack of professional lighting, the (thirteen) producers manage to overcome the small funding extremely well. There’s some cheaply entertaining gore, which includes hands and arms getting ripped off and one murder ends rather sharply in this version, never showing us the results, which possibly means that it suffered at the hands of censorship intervention. I never expect great performances from a cheap slasher movie and this is no exception with most of the characters coming across as amateur and poorly coached. You’d think they could have made the most of their Serbian connections to cast more gorgeous Slavic women to up the eye candy factor, but we only get a few minutes of Tatjana Pujin and Gala Videnovic doing very little. Fans of T&A will get their fulfilment though, because there’s the usual amount of bouncing lady lumps.
One of the most disappointing things about Frat Fright was the killer’s unnecessary one-liners. They work in a movie like Nail Gun Massacre, because the film itself is so unintentionally comical that they never feel out-of-place. This had a chance to be something that’s nearly impossible to find in a horror movie lately – scary, but the poor attempts at humour ruined any chance for the director to make the most of his admittedly creepy bogeyman. The psycho priest has been done a few times, most recently in Deliver us From Evil and Goodnight Godbless. Zachary Malius is the best of those bogeymen, with his bulging black eyes and aura of invincibility, but the chirpy quips subtract from the menace that he builds with his presence.
There weren’t too many murders on-screen. Instead, the final girl just finds some of the corpses when she arrives scattered around the campus. I think that was a shame, because the ones that we saw were nice and gory and I would’ve enjoyed a few more. Some of you may find all the wizardry that begins to surface towards the end a little tiresome and yes, the way that they finally get rid of the formerly unstoppable maniac is laughable to say the least. It’s also paced like a documentary, so prepare for a lot of nonsense from (bad) actors talking about macho stuff. However, Frat Fright isn’t by any means a tragic effort. It’s not one that you’ll rush to watch again, but for the (extreme) budget price that I paid for it, I really can’t complain. I say slasher fans should check this one out if you can buy it cheap, as a ‘watch once and store’ movie, it does a good enough job.
Final Girl: √√