Blood Harvest 1987
aka The Marvelous Mervo aka Nightmare
Directed by: Bill Rebane
Starring: Tiny Tim, Itonia Salchek, Dean West
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Blood Harvest is yet further evidence how the slasher genre was a good cash cow for ambitious B-Movie producers during the eighties. So much so that even celebrated low budget titans like Bill Rebane were keen to get in on the action and have a stab at creating their ownHalloween.
Rebane himself is a bit if a movie enigma who preferred the comfort zone of budget sci-fi/Horror than a golden ticket to Hollywood. An educated film-maker whose creativity and flair for adventure saw him innovate cinema with his 360 degrees wrap-around motion picture process, he could have used his skill for technology and his cultural intelligence (He was Latvian born and fluent in five languages) to join a major studio. Instead he stuck to releasing his own self-financed productions that were each fairly successful in their own right.
In the mid-eighties he hosted a 50s nostalgia event at his Wisconsin based studio, The Shooting Ranch. There, a chance meeting with Tiny Tim, another oddball celebrity who had found fortune with his falsetto voice and quirky character – led to the production of this curious slasher.
There are three versions of the feature in circulation and each is slightly different. The American VHS release includes all the nudity and gore, whilst the UK tape is missing three-minutes of footage, which was considered too gruesome by the BBFC. There’s also a director’s cut on DVD, which is itself rather strange because it also removes most of the blood and bare skin. That must be the first time that a director’s version subtracts from the existing print and offers a more lenient alternative. It’s rumoured that this may have been either due to Rebane’s political ambitions at the time or the fact that the gore was not in his initial vision for the flick and rather it was added at the insistence of his production partners (most of his previous work was PG13 rated) to make the film more marketable to the splatter audiences.
Jill returns home to her city from University to find that her parents are missing and the local bank (which they own) has forced most of the farmers to sell their properties. They are not the most popular people in the neighborhood, so Jill is rightly concerned about their disappearance. Things go where you expect them to, when a killer with a stocking on his head turns up and begins stalking the youngster and murdering anyone who has contact with her.
I can only say that a slasher film starring Tiny Tim is as jaw droopingly bizarre as you would expect it to be. To be fair to him, his performance is one of the few highlights in an otherwise dull offering and he manages to deliver a troubled-childlike creepiness with depths to his character. Dressing him in a clown costume was a masterstroke from the scriptwriters and adds to the overall desperation of his deluded persona.
The rest of the cast are nowhere near as credible and he carries the torch in terms of capable dramatics. I have to mention Itonia Salchek, the final girl, who can’t act for toffee but seems to enjoy nothing more than getting her kit off at every available opportunity, which makes her a hit with T&A fans and most likely the highlight of a single guy’s night out in any bar that she frequents. Anyway, she is lost here carrying most of the plot development on her (usually naked) shoulders and comes across as unapproachable.
I mentioned about Bill Rebane being an enigma earlier, but he is nowhere near as mysterious as his lead actress. I couldn’t uncover any information about her anywhere. Now her surname looks Eastern European (I speak Russian and Polish and it’s not from those countries) but her first name Itonia is an epithet from Greek mythology for the Goddess Athena. Interesting stuff. Anyway, she vanished in to obscurity after this, but if you know something, then please give me a shout. Here’s a rare screenshot of her in clothing, which is something that we don’t see very often.
It seems like Rebane was aware of the slasher genre but hadn’t researched its trappings and unlike many entries of the same year, the movie steers clear of feeling like a total rip off. There are no POV shots, the final girl doesn’t come across as shy and withdrawn and the killer seems more like what you would expect to find in a Giallo than a slasher flick. This is most evident in the heavy sexual undertones and his motive, which is at least well-handled and believable.
The film would suffer in later years, disappearing due to legal tangles, not just once, but for a second time after its outing on DVD. This gives it a somewhat alluring sheen, especially as it’s impossible to find now in its uncut form. The only version worth watching is the unrated cut, because despite of some uninspired and pedestrian direction from Rebane (I expected better) there are snippets of a really foreboding atmosphere. The killer is exceptionally merciless and brutal and the actor does well playing off-his-rocker insanity at the climax. There’s the mystery of guessing his identity, but there are not many choices and you’ll work it out pretty quick if you watch closely enough. Some more killings would have been nice (only two on screen) but the gooey throat-slashing is really well done (by soon to be big shot Dieter Sturm no less)
There’s a nice synth score that I liked and the killer looks creepy with a stocking over his head, but there’s too much missing in terms of continuity to make this a hidden-gem. Some of the plot points were bordering on stupidity and what the hell was with the incredibly inept sheriff? There are long periods of dull rubbish acting where your attention will turn away from the screen and it definitely hasn’t aged well.
Worthy only because it’s rare and a great performance from Tiny Tim, but otherwise not really recommended as a competitor.
Final Girl √√√
Friday the 13th: Halloween Night 1994
Directed by: Chris Seaver
Starring: Brad Gough, Zach Allen, Chris Seaver
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So peeps, it’s Halloween, let’s make it a good one! What are y’all up to? I’m taking Oliverio and Kalinka trick-or-treating with two of the scariest women I know (I need to be careful with my words here – żartuje dziewczyny przysięgam) and then most likely going somewhere Friday in full psycho garb. It’s the only time that slasher fans can get away with dressing like their heroes and fit in with everybody else. I’m not going for my traditional Jason Voorhees outfit this year because I believe that I’d make an excellent vampire. I mean, I have the chiseled dark good looks and the unrivalled ability to pull the ladies, right? Are you all in agreement…? Erm… Any of you? Just one? HELLLLLLLOOOOOOO? Oh ok…
Anyway, as it’s our favourite day of the year, I wanted to take this opportunity to post a real rarity from my collection and break the a SLASH above mould somewhat. You see, my A-Z list of slasher movies is a fairly good reference point, but it doesn’t include any of the fabulous ‘shorts’ that can be found all over the globe in multiple formats. I did post a review of Death O’ Lantern recently, but aside from that, I’ve overlooked them more than I ignore my flat mate when she keeps telling me that the coffee table is not the best place to leave half-empty bottles of vodka. But you can teach an old dog new tricks, so here we have a real interesting entry… (Excuse me, I have some bottles in the living room that I need to clear up)
After a horrific massacre on a campsite, a local enthusiast heads to the location to survey the aftermath. He discovers Jason’s notorious hockey mask and feels an unavoidable urge to put it on just the once. Suddenly, he becomes possessed by the spirit of the notorious murderer and heads to a town on Halloween night where Michael Myers is already out on the prowl for teenage victims. What happens however when the pair come face to face?
I mentioned the cheese treat Death O’ Lantern earlier and interestingly enough, this is an extremely early production from the same director, Chris Seaver. I can’t say for sure whether it was his debut movie, but I did find out that it was most definitely amongst the first that he scraped the funds together for. It’s a fan boy video through and through, shot on a camcorder with Beastie Boys and the like playing in the background just for good measure. In terms of visual quality, my iPhone can create better footage during a fog-laden blackout, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not going to have a giggle whilst watching the events that unfold herein.
At thirty-four minutes, there’s not a great deal that I can write in terms of critical appraisal, but I will say that there’s some really good ideas on display. One moment that i thought demonstrated a fine level of creativity, was when a teen is butchered under a strobe effect, which really does look the business. Taking on board the total amateurism of the setup, I must say that the editing was actually quite slick in places and the guys playing Jason and Michael did a credible job at mimicking the renowned horror icons.
Where the film really stands out is in the high amount of gore. One cut throat is that impressive that it wouldn’t have looked out of place in a much bigger budgeted picture and each kill scene is lively, bloody and fun. Jason and Michael are finally shown on screen together for (arguably) the first time in video history and although the budget restraints restrict a super battle between them, it’s still cool to watch.
There’s no doubt that the cast are just a bunch of mates and funnily enough there’s not one female amongst the characters. You would have thought that they could have convinced the local prom queen to put in an appearance, but instead we get to watch Seaver’s buddies get slashed gorily, which is a subtle up yours to the ‘feminism against slashers’ movement. We get some periodic references for eagle-eyed viewers (OJ’s trial is mentioned and we see posters of Jason goes to hell on one guy’s bedroom) and they even pinch the original Halloween score for good measure.
Friday the 13th: Halloween Night is an interesting (and confusingly titled) little obscurity that needs to be seen by slasher fanatics who can forgive shoestring budgeting. Whilst technically it’s at the level that you’d expect for $200 (the POV through eye-hole shots are clearly just a mask placed on top of the camcorder) there’s enough cheesy fun to be had by forgiving fans. If you got through Day of the Reaper without screaming, then you may just be able to survive this.
Good work again from Señor Seaver, a filmmaker who is really just one of us. Enjoy…
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Directed by: Chris Notarlie
Starring: Ted Prior, Sandy Brooke, John Eastman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Ok so I’ll openly admit that I wasn’t clucking with anticipation to see Methodic. I’d been told that it was a tribute to John Carpenter’s Halloween and the last one of those that I’d watched was Offerings. Yea, exactly, someone pass me the Xylazines. Then, however, I saw that it had been directed by Chris Notarlie and I felt a slight flutter of interest in my brain. Like the last flaps of a dying moth, there was something there. The silver lining in the cloud? The light at the end of the tunnel? The wood between the trees? Well, maybe.
You see Notarlie has generated a buzz in the world of fan films for his cult shorts that you can find scattered across the Internet. These include tributes to icons of the superhero and slasher genres, which is great because the second of those categories is the one that we discuss every week. Zipp-a-dee-doo-daa! Amongst his lengthy résumé is Friday the 31st, a 22 minute story that pitches Jason Voorhees against Michael Myers in a fairly impressive setup. Whilst not being totally convinced that I was in for a good time, I did feel keener than I had previously. Like the last flaps of a dying moth? No, I’m talking butterflies baby…
After murdering his parents with a hammer, a nine-year old child is sent to an asylum. When his younger sister attempts to connect with him, it stirs his anger and he breaks out to confront her and murder anyone unfortunate enough to get in his way.
If you’re a fan of slasher flicks then you can consider yourself to be a unique individual because to be honest, there’s not very many of us about. There’s nothing quite like the buzz of meeting someone who shares this same passion, because it makes you feel connected in some miraculous way. The fact that Notarlie broadcasts his love for the genre everywhere possible means that I automatically took a shining to him and wanted to like his debut movie so much. You don’t need to be a genius to work out that there’s a big difference between a thirty-minute short and a full length motion picture, but even so, I wasn’t quite prepared for what I got with Methodic
Ok, so things started positively. There’s a Cloverfield-alike camcorder launch to the proceedings and the characters discuss the likes of Madonna to set the retro eighties vibe. The dialogue and interactions between the people on the screen feels genuine and unforced and I was impressed by the tone that was building. We are introduced to a slightly peculiar child who seems sure to be our bogeyman and we don’t have to wait long to see that this is the case. Within ten minutes, he has taken a claw hammer to both of his parents and the screen fades to black. With the end of that intro not only are we waving goodbye to the period references, but also to the impressive level of filmmaking ability.
I picked up on this fact for sure after the scene twenty-minutes in that involves two cops sitting in a car chatting. Instead of the typical shot reverse shot setup, Notarlie incorporates some strange camera angles and it just feels like the cuts are harsh and in all the wrong places. I was guessing that these were supposed to be hard as nails officers of the law, but their first conversation is about how they found out that their women were cheating on them and with how many men. Are you sure tough guys really talk like that? Can you imagine Dirty Harry; ‘Do you feel lucky punk? Luckier than me because I just caught my wife in bed with the milkman? Well, do ya?’ Or Pulp Fiction, ‘I’ve given a million women a million foot massages and they all ran off with the cable guy.’ I mean I’m all for cutting out the clichés, but this just felt weird.
Generally in a slasher movie, it takes, what, ten minutes for the bogeyman to have broken out of the asylum. Here we get to twenty-eight and fifteen of them could have been left on the cutting room floor. One line of dialogue from the psychiatrist would have summed up everything that happens between the kid killing his parents and then escaping the institution. So he’s a silent weirdo that hasn’t responded for fifteen years, ok comprendo, let’s move on. This time may have been spent developing the personality of his younger sister, our obvious final girl, because thus far we know only that she swears and has a great ass. Now I love great asses, but I don’t invest emotionally in every chick that’s got one. Physically, maybe; but that’s another story for another day.
The action really starts after the breakout part, which was strangely intercut with another sequence, but was quite exciting and well conveyed all the same. I was impressed that for someone that hasn’t been able to move unaided or respond for fifteen years, the bogeyman knows how to drive and make a scary mask with a sewing machine. My ex-wife couldn’t even turn on a sewing machine or drive a car and she responded all the f**king time. Especially when I didn’t want her to. This nutjob though is blessed with a lucky streak that makes me wonder why he didn’t take a moment’s break from slashing to do the lotto. Inside the first house that he breaks into, he finds not only the aforementioned stitching apparatus, but also a pair of jeans and a t-shirt that a tailor couldn’t fit for him any better. It takes me forever to purchase a decent 38″ chest and 32″ waist damn it.
Soon after, he begins cruising the streets and stalking his little sis and her buddies. These include two lesbians that give us an exploitive and totally unnecessary sex scene.To be fair, there are a couple of creepy shots and a bit of ingenuity in the final third and a ‘borrowed’ twist that I really wasn’t expecting. I recommend keeping the sound low though, unless you want your ear drums damaged by some hideous death metal. Why can’t we have a maniac that goes around slaughtering people to something melodic? Pat Boone anyone? Forget melodic peeps, this is Methodic, but exactly what that method was, no one knows. It sure as hell wasn’t the acting.
Now let’s be frank about this whole situation. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Chris Notarlie is a talented filmmaker and most definitely one to watch for the future. Not everyone has a strong debut and I’m sure that he has a good career in front of him. Methodic however is plagued basically by bad pacing, lighting, continuity and editing, but these are elements that can improve with practice. This may not be an entry worth much of your time, but I will most definitely look out for other stuff from the same director
The potential is there. I’ll be the first in the queue when it’s realised
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√
Directed by: David A. Prior
Starring: Ted Prior, Sandy Brooke, John Eastman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
During the eighties, the entertainment industry was rocked by the explosion of Sledgehammer’s unexpected success. Combining styles from the sixties, seventies and its own period to create something unique and fresh, it is still to this day remembered as a trend innovator and receives global recognition. Oh, yeah, and I guess that I should also mention that aside from Peter Gabriel’s classic 1986 hit, there was also a DTV slasher flick released three years earlier under the same name that was barely noticed and sunk without trace. That would be the one that I’m reviewing for you today.
People often forget that filmmaker David Prior didn’t only bless the genre one time with that notorious slasher/fitness-vid crossbreed. His first film was also a Halloween knock-off, which is somewhat less renowned. I enjoyed Killer Workout wholeheartedly and felt that it had been a fantastic advertisement for all that was ‘memorable’ about the eighties. Prior should have been eligible for an award of some kind for putting spandex, silicone, sweatbands, cheese-ball pop and a hooded killer all on one VHS cassette. I uncovered his debut a couple of years later and was generally excited to watch it. The only way that a movie can make up for being totally rubbish is by being totally rubbish in a funny way and I was hopeful that this flick had the strengths in that area that its older brother boasted so brazenly
It starts with a mind numbingly long shot of the outside of a country house. We are awoken by the camera panning inside and we see a mother struggling to silence a young child who doesn’t look too interested by the fact he’s in a movie. The alarm bells in my head were already screaming ‘abusive parent alert’ by that point; and the woman proved that I was right by locking the boy in a closet for the evening. She then returns downstairs to her boyfriend and tells him, “Don’t worry about the kid, I took care of that little b*stard, he won’t be bothering us again tonight.” This means that the couple can start getting jiggy, which leaves them blissfully unaware that the little b*stard has escaped and is creeping up behind them with a sledgehammer, looking all menacing and stuff. Before you can say ‘by the book’, the unsuspecting lover gets cracked on the back of the head with the aforementioned tool – great gore scene by the way. After the mother is also measured up for a body bag, the screen fades to black…
Fast-forward fifteen years and a van pulls up outside of that same now-abandoned abode. Out pops a gang of outrageously mulleted muscle bound jocks and their scrawny girlfriends, who have presumably turned up only to party-party-PARTY! So they begin doing all the things you attribute with a good fiesta, including throwing food at each-other, jumping around like headless chickens and then having deep discussions about relationships. What a party! If that wasn’t enough, they decide that the beer is flowing so of course it is time for a… séance. Eventually, this proves to be a silly ides as the customary killer turns up and a battle for survival begins….
In all honesty, I can think of no finer example of something that when stripped down to its bare components doesn’t look ideal, but taken as a whole is surprisingly efficient. You see, Sledgehammer doesn’t boast many of the core ingredients that you would consider to make up a good movie, but I kind of enjoyed watching it all the same. It all takes place in a large empty house that is exactly that: a large empty house. There’s no set design at all and the backgrounds are pale with a bed here or a cupboard there just so that we don’t mistake the location for a padded cell. They didn’t even bother to decorate the walls with the usual fake cobwebs, candles and clichés, which was likely because the art director quit pre-shoot as he was offered some work in a bar or something. I mean the house was supposed to be derelict for fifteen-years, but looks like it was vacuumed and feather-dusted just that morning. Did Prior and co book a viewing of an abode that was up for sale and secretly get a key cut so that they could film their picture there on the sly? That could well be the case. You have to love zero budgets!
Anyway the action commences after the usual sloppy dialogue and padding and we eventually get to see some slasher shenanigans. There’s a blessing in disguise, because the dull and misty photography on the print gives the movie a surreal, almost dream-like vibe, which was surely unintentional but worked quite well. To be fair the tone switches effortlessly from inadvertently cheesy to actually pretty creepy and the psychopath’s large and hulking frame compliments the narrow lens to make some claustrophobic scenes. At first glance, a transparent plastic clown mask and lumberjack shirt seem suspiciously cheapskate, but the more that we see of the assailant, the more threatening he becomes. Prior demonstrates some neat flourishes to maintain the tone of apprehension, including a great slowmo door-opening sequence that is unpredictable and genuinely effective. He showed a much stronger flair for horror direction here than he did three-years later when he made Killer Workout. It’s also worth noting that he drew some surprisingly credible performances from a couple of the inexperienced actors. Sandy Brooke, who I I remember mentioning in my review of Terror on Alcatraz, offers another good charecterisation and Ted Prior and Linda McGill overcome their weak parts by being believable when it matters most. It’s a shame that Brooke didn’t do more genre movies, as I feel that she always made the most out of the material and it would have been nice to see her play the ‘final girl’ just once. Chuck on top of all that a couple of decent gore scenes from Robin Beauchesne and we have slasher movie that’s miles better than anyone would have imagined it to be.
Perhaps the only attempt at any originality was allowing the killer to appear and disappear as if he were being beamed up by Scottie every time that he needed a rapid escape from a set piece. This could have worked really well if utilised in the right places, but Prior’s decision making left a lot to be desired and he ended up overdoing it to the point of, ‘enough already!‘. As per my example in the paragraph above, slow-motion at the right time can really make the most of a tense moment, but using it in almost every kill scene is just too much. Also look out for the ‘cardboard’ sex scene, which reminded me of those puppets that used to be seen in the likes of Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and more recently Team America: World Police. I mean I’m guessing that was two humans playing the lovers, but I can imagine more enthusiasm from a pair of mannequins. It begs the question, why include it in the first place?
Sledgehammer is as clichéd as an Elvis look-alike contest and makes no attempt to conceal what it wants to be. Nowadays you can find a million films that have exactly the same setup as this, but the fact that it was one of the first gives it a retro feel and sometimes that’s all you need. Whilst It is certainly not good enough to be up there with the classics of the golden years, it could sit quite comfortably with Graduation Day, Embalmed, Scalps and the rest of that second tier.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √
Directed by: Christopher Reynolds
Starring: Loretta Leigh, Tobe Sexton, Jerry Brewer
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Halloween was such a great movie. Seriously, it was just amazing. Stylishly shot, perfectly acted for the material and scary as hell. I used to enjoy judging the amount that later slasher films ‘borrowed’ from that masterpiece, but the ones I liked most were those that took the least. Curtains, The Prowler, Friday the 13th Part II and My Bloody Valentine were all influenced by Carpenter’s baby, but because they went about it the right way, no one really paid attention. There are a few however that took the pilfering just a little bit too far.
You see it’s ok to pay homage to a brilliant film. Scorsese has done it, Almodovar too and hell even Carpenter got his lead from Señor Hitchcock. But when does highlighting your inspirations begin to look like blatant theft? I watched Offerings well over a decade ago and I remember thinking that it was a turgid rip-off that added nothing new to those ideas. Now that I’m a bit older, I was wondering if my analysis from back then was spot on or if I had been suffering from one of those temporary cases of movie bipolar? Let’s see…
After mute child John Radley is pushed down a well by a gang of bullies, he is sent to an asylum for the rest of his life. Eighteen years later he escapes and heads back to his town to cause problems once again…
If John Carpenter ever finds that he is short of a few quid, I recommend that he hunt out one of those no win no fee lawyer types and gets to work on a case against the production team behind Offerings. Instead of just nicking the odd idea – hulking killer, final girl, heavy breath etc – Christopher Reynolds has duplicated entire scenes shot for shot. I’ll pick one of the many just for an example. Remember when Sam Loomis visited the grave of Judith Myers to see if Michael had gone there after escaping? Well here, some psychiatrist (can’t recall his name, although he may as well have also been Sam Loomis) does exactly the same thing. It’s like WTF? The film feels like a picture that gets photocopied and then reproduced a thousand times. The quality has been degraded, but the content is still exactly the same. I remember reading about how much effort Carpenter and his team had put into making the ‘Haddonfield’ streets of the backdrops look like it was the 31st of October and not the middle of Spring. This crew have put a similar level of work into making some random US neighborhood look like it was identical to Haddonfield. But why? What kicks would a filmmaker get out of completely ripping something off? What came first, the second bottle of vodka or the blind drunkenness whilst I was watching? These are all questions that I just can’t answer.
Anyway you all will be aware of this already, it’s been written in tonnes of reviews tonnes of times and I need to take notice of my own criticism on lack of originality. So what else happens? Well in fairness, not much. We know the story by now. One thing that I will say is that there is one decidedly nasty killing. Radley ties up some poorly acted dweeb, turns on a chainsaw and then it stops working. He reaches for a power drill and the same thing happens. The victim musters up all 2% of his acting ability to say something like, ‘So now you won’t kill me?’ It’s not his lucky day however and he gets his cabeza squished in a vice. It’s surprisingly well done to be fair. There was also a smart self-depreciating scene, where two girls are shown watching a zero budget (slasher?) movie. They hurl insults at the characters and show signs of mimicking the genre eight years before Wes Craven’s Scream. See Kevin Williamson, eat your heart out
One perhaps slightly more original aspect of the story is that the nutjob makes ‘offerings’ to Gretchen, our final girl. These turn out to be stuff like chopped up body pieces (a nose, an ear, some ‘sausage shaped’ human parts, which have been placed on top of their pizza – ooh err misses!) and he leaves them on the doorstep for her to collect; or for her dog to chew upon. Whilst I’m sure that there’s some Freudian meaning to all this, we don’t really get an explanation as to why it happens. Well if you’re looking for logic peeps, go read an encyclopaedia. One question though; what the hell happened to the pizza delivery guy? We also learn that Radley murdered his mama before he got sent away to the looney bin. It’s great that they tell us this, because they sure didn’t think that it was something important enough to demonstrate to us on the screen. You know, there’s no real point in showing us why we should fear the antagonist in a horror film at all. Oh and by the way, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE F**KING PIZZA DELIVERY GUY?
So that leaves us to deal with our heroine with the authentic name. Well the best way to describe young Gretchen is like going out on a date with a semi-hottie that sits opposite you and looks at the floor all night. You would get bored pretty quickly, eh? Fill your film with rubbish actors Mr Reynolds and this is what will happen. And whilst we are on the subject of rubbish actors, I must mention the waistband-edly challenged buffoon that wins the ‘idiot cop of the year award’. He achieves this because he knows full well that John Radley is on the loose, but when young Gretch and her scrawny buddy call him because they have found a dismembered ear in a pool of blood on their porch, he tells them to go upstairs and go to sleep whilst he does a big pile of NADA. I’m reminded of Grandma Carpenter from the film, House of Death, when she says the unforgettable line, “If brains were dynamite, he couldn’t muster a good fart!” Also, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE F**KING PIZZA DELIVERY GUY?
It is what it is, and what it is is not an Academy Award winner. It’s basicallyHalloween with all the good parts left out. They even ripped off the score! So should you go out and buy Offerings? Well there are worse things that you could do, but don’t expect anything that’s going to make you search your pizza box for ‘sausage shaped’ body parts. Silly dialogue, bad acting, amateur directing, basic script, ripped off scoring, scruffy sound, yawn-inducing editing and blurry cinematography aside, it was an almost perfect piece of filmmaking. Just one thing remains, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE F**KING PIZZA DELIVERY GUY?
The Hook of Woodland Heights 1989
Directed by: Michael Savino
Starring: Christine McNamara, Robert W. Allen, Michael Elyanow
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s easy to make a slasher film. No really, it is. Compared to any other cinematic genre, the funds and tools needed to get a masked killer movie on the shelves are quite simple to put together. That’s why a category so low on room for authenticity and creativity is as overcrowded as a central-London bus during rush hour. Although it may be a relatively simple task to pitch a dime store maniac against a group of your closest buddies and then package it as the most shocking cinematic gross-out since The Exorcist, creating a decent entry has become something of an impossibility for modern up and coming filmmakers.
Many, MANY budding directors have attempted bravely to give the cycle a new landmark feature, but the results have almost always been resoundingly dismal. Of the six-hundred-plus entries currently in existence, only a 3% have achieved recognition from celebrated cinema critics. 3%! Despite those shocking statistics, the genre continues to thrive on the bottom shelves of video stores across the globe and every now and then future stars are discovered hamming their way through a woefully uninspired killer in the woods yarn.
The huge personal satisfaction gained by a crew being involved in the production of a film that people have actually seen – that has actually gained some kind of back-hand distribution – also cannot be ignored. For most people it’s a dream that’s as far away as an undiscovered solar system; but for a select few – even if the said feature just happens to be an awful low-budget splatter flick – that dream has become reality.
With that said, it’s easy to understand the motivation behind the production of The Hook of Woodland Heights. Released on a twin-pack with the equally appetizing (in the cheesiest possible way) Attack of the Killer Refrigerator, Hook is one of those movies, made strictly tongue in cheek in order to be consumed in a similar fashion. Long live trash cinema…
It all kicks off with an introduction to our central characters. First off we meet Tommy, a weasel-like jock whose modus operandi throughout the runtime seems only to be to succeed in getting his leg over his frumpy sweetheart Katie. Kate is also no one’s definition of a genius and spends most of the movie attempting to do everything in her power to get herself killed. The pair head out to the serenity of the local woodland, blissfully unaware that Mason Kraine – a maniacal one-armed maniac – has taken it upon himself to escape the surprisingly cosy confinement of the local asylum and head out to bolster his already impressive list of victims. Will the angst-ridden youngsters be able to make-out in peace and avoid the now fork-handed psycho? Do ducks float on water?
Hook is an out and out slasher movie alright and seems content to swim amongst the platitudes of its brethren. There’s no danger of breaking any new ground here as director Savino stumbles through the clichés like a wrong-footed alcoholic on a Marine assault course.
With that said, in many places the film transcends its $32,000 budget. There’s some fun gore on display and the hilarious performance of the hyperactive killer is worth the budget rental price alone. It even plays host to by far the most bizarre murder ever committed to cheap videotape. Death by clipboard anybody? Exactly.
Hook of Woodland Heights runs no longer than forty minutes, which is probably the perfect length for a picture of this genre. I mean, it manages to pack in all the necessary character development, whilst in the same breath laughing in the face of titles such as The Prey, which found it essential to pad their runtimes with pointless and irrelevant footage in order to bolster the length of the feature. The script packs in everything that’s needed to keep the plot running and the audience are never left feeling short-changed.
Rumour has it that none of the cast and crew saw a shiny circular dime for their participation in the production of this ambitious title, so kudos to director Savino for keeping them motivated enough to deliver enthusiastic, if not decent, performances. There are the expected continuity shotgun holes and the acting is as rancid as a blooper reel from a daytime soap, but Hook is by no means the worst slasher flick on the market.
Savino even tries to go all controversial by putting a pre-teen to the sword, but things never get too mean-spirited. This is mainly thanks to the killer’s laugh-inducing performance and his awful make up, which leaves him looking like an anemic Russell Brand.
OK so there’s nothing here to recommend, but if you’re like me and have an unhealthy addiction to slasher trash, give this cheapie a try. There are a lot worse efforts clogging up Amazon.
Long Island Cannibal Massacre 1980
Directed by: Nathan Schiff
Starring: Loren Winters, Shepherd Sanders, Jeff Morris
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Firstly I have to apologize that I haven’t been posting reviews at the usual rate just recently. I have had a few changes in my life and what with moving house, getting a new job and a gorgeous new girlfriend to slowly break down mentally until she has no other choice but to agree to watch slasher films with me (lol), I have been finding time a little hard to come by. So it’s going to be just the once a week for the meantime, but I do have some good titles in store for you. Thanks as always for looking. We are still growing month on month and I really appreciate that you keep reading my reviews. If I was a millionaire, I would send every one of you a double vodka Sangria and a Tortilla con Salchicha Polaca, but unfortunately, I am not Anyway… on to our feature presentation….
Long before Andreas Schnaas began walking the streets of Hamburg with a camcorder and a bucket of pig’s intestines and long before studios like Sub Rosa were releasing any kind of horror junk that they could get their hands on, Nathan Schiff was directing no-budgeted gore films that rapidly gained cult status. His first, ‘Weasels rip my flesh’, was a throwback from the cheesy sci-fi movies of the ’50s and it proved to be successful enough to give him the funds for a follow up. The resulting feature is widely regarded as the director’s best work as a gore auteur and it acts as concrete evidence of what can be achieved on the merest of funding. And boy, do I mean the merest. ME-ERE-A-RE-EST. A new lease of life on DVD has opened Schiff’s work to a wider audience, and interest in his back-catalogue has reached an all time high.
Long Island Cannibal Massacre is not a standard slasher film like the multitude of horror flicks from this period were, but it does include many of the trappings that were prominent at that time. The film starts as it means to go on with a gruesome and audacious excuse to brighten the screen with colourful goo. A young girl that we see sunbathing in a remote field is assaulted and knocked unconscious by a masked assailant (wearing a costume extremely similar to Jason Voorhees’ in Friday the 13th Part 2, which would be released the following year). The maniac drags the girl into the bushes and ties her arms behind her back, before disappearing into the trees and leaving her struggling on the floor. He returns with a lawn mower and gives us the first gratuitous murder of the feature. You can see it just above…
Next up we meet Inspector James Cameron (played by John Smihula, who would appear in all of Schiff’s films); – a hard as nails wild card with a bitterly poetic view of crime on the streets. He soon gets involved in the mass of murders when he discovers a decapitated head on a beach whilst working undercover. When he fails to get the support that he needs from the local constabulary, Cameron quits the force and takes matters into his own hands. The vigilante soon discovers a circle of torture, slaughter and cannibalism that’s stranger than anyone could imagine.
As I said earlier, this is not a typical slasher movie and it combines elements from numerous genres. The inclusion of a masked maniac and various cinematic references to Carpenter’s Halloween mean that it has enough of the right stuff to slot into the category and in effect on to a SLASH above. Instead of having just the one psychopathic killer though, the plot gives us a gruesome-twosome; and even they play second-fiddle to an altogether more abominable bogeyman. This is where LICM really separates itself from the multitude of its brethren, because its conclusion owes more to monster features such as ‘Scared to Death’ than it does ‘Black Christmas‘ et al.
Nathan Schiff is a gore director, and the reason anyone watches his films is simply to see as much blood spraying fun as possible – and on that note the movie doesn’t disappoint. It’s also worth noting that he does try his hardest to provide an engaging plot and in places the movie succeeds quite impressively and shows strengths where some of the more heavily financed entries that I could name came up short. The revelation of the killer’s identity was certainly unexpected, and credit to the director for being so ambitious with his story telling.
Shot on Super 8mm, the picture quality is exactly as what you would expect, with the cinematography looking jaded and somewhat murky. Fortunately, Schiff wisely decided to shoot all the action under the security of daylight, which means the film isn’t ruined by a lack of visual clarity. The music was lifted from various bigger budgeted horror classics and it’s an enjoyable exercise for enthusiasts to try and recognise where we’ve heard those famous themes before. Despite the director’s lack of experience, he does manage to pull off at least one decent jump-scare and the photography is creative, which allows you to overlook the places where it isn’t completely clear.
In a feature such as this, the blood and guts is always the most important aspect and here it ranges from the outlandish to the outstanding. The chainsaw murder in the closing is uncomfortably detailed and kudos to the actors, because they took some huge risks with the deadly blades so close to their anatomy. Although there’s nothing here that would have forced Tom Savini to seek another profession, the effects are decent and gratuitous enough for fans to enjoy. If you ask your friends to act in your feature film, the performances are never going to win any awards, so I didn’t expect too much, but was impressed with the effort that was made, if nothing else. That’s neither here nor there however, as everything is just padding to give the plot an excuse to let the crimson flow.
So is Nathan Schiff an unsung horror hero? Not really; but if bucket loads of red corn syrup and dead animal’s internal organs are what you’re looking for then his movies are a lot better than really they should be. He’s some way off being the next Lucio Fulci, but his cheapo style has a neat little personality and is fun all the same… As Samuel L. Jackson said in Pulp Fiction, “Personality goes a long way…”
Killer Guise: √√√√
Wicked Games 1994
Directed by: Tim Ritter
Starring: Joel D. Wynkoop, Patricia Paul, Kevin Scott Crawford
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Before we get started, I’d just like to point out that in 1995 a film called Writer’s Block was released that attempted to be a sequel of kind to A Critical Madness. Back then, there was a lot of confusion as to whether Tim Ritter was involved or not with its production, because it lifted many elements from the series. Even though we soon learned that it had no official links, I may well post a review of it at some point if I feel that it has enough to warrant a place on a SLASH above – the web’s most dedicated stalk and slash site. I tried watching it just recently but had to rush out before it ended. I must admit that what I saw didn’t convince me in fact that it was even a slasher movie and therefore I am in no rush to post it here.
Anyway, I was actually quite impressed by the original Truth or Dare. It may have suffered from stinking performances and continuity that made ‘The Blazing Ninja’ look like Mensa staged it. Nevertheless, exploitation is also something of an art form and Tim Ritter’s ambition to go the extra mile made the whole thing seem a exciting and fresh, which is all good. If you aren’t aware of his previous work, Ritter could best be described as an American Jesus Franco. His movies are usually always unrated and contain explicit sexual situations and violence that would never in a million years make it through classification for any kind of release in numerous global countries. After working on a few other projects and picking up experience, it was decided that Ritter should dust off the old copper mask and bring his unique sleaze-ridden perspectives back to the slasher genre for something that had been anticipated for quite some time in cult circles.
In the beginning a woman in kinky bondage gear (she’s got to be a porn star?) is seen straddling a bearded man and asking him to ‘beg for it’. A bespectacled middle-aged guy that looks like Queen guitarist Brian May’s deranged brother is watching them unnoticed from the doorway. We soon learn that his name is Gary Block and he’s just caught his wife sleeping with someone she works with (sorry I didn’t remember exactly who he was), a fact that’s emphasised by his threatening to blow their brains out with a handgun. Clearly distraught he heads around to his buddy Dan’s place where yet another female (but the same actress?) in little but some pervy underwear greets him. Dan is a police officer that has been friends with Gary for some time, but has his reservations about him because his cousin is Mike Strauber, the maniac responsible for killing eleven people eight years ago. After hearing his tale of woe, the kind-hearted cop says that Gary can stay until he gets himself sorted, but later that night he finds him with a gun in his mouth playing truth or dare and threatening to take his own life.
Somewhat concerned about his pal’s mental-health, the detective takes a trip to Sunnyville mental hospital to discuss it with Dr. Siedow, the head psychiatrist. The shrink tries to calm the situation by telling him, `I think your friend is having some difficult times… but I don’t think he’s going to put on a Copper mask and go on a killing spree’ (!) As a form of proof, if ever it were needed, that you shouldn’t trust a Doctor that uses his stomach as an ashtray in his spare time (don’t ask); someone in an identical mask starts slaughtering sexually promiscuous individuals all around town. But is Gary Block the killer? He’s certainly proved he’s unstable by heavily drinking, smashing a bottle over the head of his love rival and urinating in a plant-pot outside a restaurant (please don’t ask!) As more bodies pile up, Detective Dan realises that it’s looking more and more like his mate’s gone too far off the rails…
Wicked Games’ exploration of rejection, sexual addictions and fetishes made for a deep and interesting approach. Where as most mystery/slashers fall flat because their conclusions are far too evident right from the start, Ritter has managed to create a good puzzle that’s obvious when it’s resolved, but will keep you guessing all the way through. To be frank, it’s a superbly written story with an element of sleaziness that’s rarely seen to such extremity in the horror that we’ve become more accustomed to. Due to the lack of a censor rating, Ritter’s been able to chuck in a fair bit of gore that’s brightens up the kill scenes. Almost every murder spews buckets of blood, but the best would have to be the woman that’s impaled on a sprinkler, which starts spraying crimson all over the garden! There was also a decidedly nasty ripped can to the throat and a gory barbed wire strangulation to name but two.
Ritter takes all you know about gratuitous and shows you that really you know nothing at all. Basically, it’s the closest that you’re going to get to porn without heading over to Pornhub. Most of the female characters wear very little or nothing at all and the endless references to bondage and kinky sex are so frequent that they actually become quite irritating. It’s disappointing then that we’re not given much in terms of eye candy and the hottest chica is rubbed out almost as soon as she enters the screen. (A scene that is classically described by the first cop on the scene, `It looks like they came out for a little picnic, a little sex… got killed!) Every single personality in the story is either a bizarre nymphomaniac with a fetish for pain or fag-burns, a rapist or generally just a pervert; and it can get a little overpowering at times. But the thing that really prevents this from scoring a higher mark is the home movie like quality of the photography that is no less than atrocious. I’m used to accepting and enjoying SOV horror, but the main issue here is that it’s painfully obvious that the budget here is nowhere near as healthy as it was in the previous chapter. In fact, it was so minuscule that Patricia Paul played the two lead parts, which explains the agonising wig. Acting that would make day-time Soap stars look like Academy nominees is never particularly inviting and the fact that these guys are probably just folk from the street should be enough of a warning what’s in store for you if you hunt this out. Perhaps the only thing that’s improved since last time around is the killer’s guise, which is amongst the best of the genre
Tim Ritter could’ve taken the time to raise a bigger budget and made good use of the interesting premise, but I guess that we can’t criticise his ambition to stick with the ‘underground’ scene that he made his name from. Wicked Games is not without its charms, but you need to forgive some of the quality issues in the first place to be dazzled by them. Kudos for not softening on the shock-factor in a bid to go mainstream, but A Critical Madness still does it for me a tad better than this follow up. The biggest (and it’s a big un’) disappointment is that they couldn’t convince John Brace to return for the follow up. The film is seriously lacking his heinous acting and ‘I’m a psycho’ gurning Fans of John Brace are still left, ever hopeful, that he will return to the screen once more!
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Grim Weekend 2002
aka S.I.C.K Serial Insane Clown Killer
Directed by: Bob Willems
Starring: Ken Hebert, Charlie Fenwick, Melissa Bale
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Back in 2004, I found Grim Weekend’s colourful cover at my local Blockbuster Video and was intrigued as to what kind of movie it actually was. I checked with the IMDB and no one had yet posted a review, but thankfully there was a link to the film’s official site, which included a small preview. From the clip I gathered that it didn’t include the most talented cast in the world, but it looked plausibly tight and brimming with suspense. Believe me, if you’ve seen that great trailer, you’ll understand where I’m coming from. Keeping in mind that said footage is only two minutes long and the movie is over eighty, it’s not always overly conclusive as to what’s in store for you when you finally watch. I had a good feeling about this one though and went ahead and bought a copy anyway. This was listed on most websites for ages as a TV movie, but judging by some of the bad language – the C word, no less – I quickly worked out that wasn’t the case. Last time that I looked it had been corrected almost everywhere and it’s actually a DTV effort.
In the opening we see a point of view murder that proves Director Bob Willems is a big fan of Halloween and is paying his homage (maybe completely ripping it off? Whatever you want to call it). An adulterous wife, or girlfriend (actually we never find out who she is and this scene has NOTHING to do with the rest of the movie) is on the phone when someone creeps up and stabs her in the stomach. As she recoils from the wound she asks, ‘What did you do?‘, which I actually found pretty amusing. I kept expecting the killer to reply ‘What do you think I did dummy‘. But the scriptwriter instead decided to try to keep things creepy… Next up we meet Brandon Walker (Ken Hebert), an office executive that’s planning a weekend getaway to a remote cabin out in the woods. It’d be a pretty boring movie if he went alone, so we are soon introduced to his date Tracy (Amanda Watson) and their friends Susan (Chris Bruck) and Mark (Hank Fields). Whilst on the long journey to the previously abandoned house, they meet Diane (Melissa Bale) in a bar and she soon joins the troupe of merry campers. After they have arrived and night falls, the group sit round a fire and tell ghost stories – so far so Friday the 13th-, but we see that they are being watched by an ominous presence. The next morning when everyone wakes up, Susan has disappeared and someone has filled the area with bizarre mutilated dolls. Before long they are stranded with only a ruthless killer clown for company!
Grim Weekend is a prime example of a movie putting most of the good bits into the trailer, leaving about an hour and a half of screen time totally devoid of anything redeeming. There are only three, yes THREE on screen murders in the whole film. The first is about thirty-seconds into the feature and the next over an hour after. They’re all mostly bloodless and instantly forgettable, which makes me wonder why the BBFC rated this as an 18. The killer clown is especially obnoxious, spending most of his time singing nursery rhymes or chopping wood for what seems like an eternity before he finally gets round to terrorising the campers. The performances are as horrible as you had probably imagined and the characters are mostly unsympathetic and flat. Mark finds a gutted victim lying in the woodland struggling for breath and makes no attempt to comfort or help him. He just looks at him with zero emotion and then wanders off leaving him to die (?). The most likeable person of the bunch was Denise, the under acted slut, and I’m sure that it was meant to be her that was the hate-figure for the audience. I couldn’t help but find myself rooting for her instead of the bore that was meant to grab the viewer’s vote of sympathy. When the gang enter a bar early on in the movie, they meet a prostitute called Sophia (Jamie Hartzog), who in a few lines proves to be far more talented than any of the other lame ‘actors’ that plague the screen throughout. Why couldn’t she have played a bigger part?
Thankfully the film doesn’t suffer from a lack of lighting like so many of its counterparts and the director manages a couple of decent shots. Admittedly the ending was quite unexpected, owing a sly nod perhaps to The Texas chainsaw Massacre without over using the influence. Finding strange dolls around the house started as a fairly macabre touch, but the idea gets tired very quickly, which sadly the crew failed to notice. It was a brave attempt by the director to try and extract fear without using many murders or too much gore, however an extreme lack of momentum and no apparent filling leaves Grim Weekend feeling like a Krispy Kreme doughnut without the Krispy bits or the Kreme. We get to play the tick the slasher trappings game and Willems opens the full bag and even chucks in a few sillier than silly POV shots through a clown mask. Nevertheless, the lack of professionalism is far too glaring to gain credit and he doesn’t even try to add anything new to the formula. I bought this on the same day that I picked up the 25th anniversary Halloween DVD. Watching the special features, I noticed that John Carpenter took his masterpiece to someone from 20th Century Fox without it’s excellent score and surprisingly they said that ‘it just wasn’t scary’. It makes you wonder what the hell did the producers think was frightening about this rubbish?
There really is very little to recommend about this lazy and flat lined effort. It’s tedious, poorly constructed and generally sucks harder than a black hole on a night out with Jasmine Tame. Yeah, that hard. Next time that I see something like this in the video store, I think I’ll keep my expectations a little lower.
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √
Death O’ Lantern 1986
Directed by: Chris Seaver
Starring: Candase Patterson, Dutch Hogan,Savanna Ramone
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s a shame that there aren’t more filmmakers like Chris Seaver about. He has been producing budget features for about twenty years and his filmography is packed with titles that the majority of a SLASH above readers might adore. I was first introduced to his recent work by accidentally stumbling across the Warlock Video website whilst researching a Steve Lathshaw horror flick of a similar title to this one. The name Chris Seaver was not new to me, because I remembered that he had been the director of an old VHS on the Low Budget Productions label from ’94 called, Friday the 13th ‘Halloween Night’ . It was a fan film in every sense of the word, which pitched Michael Myers against Jason Voorhees at a Halloween party. Despite being a very obvious back garden development, I never forgot about it because it was immensely gory and extremely fun. In fact, I’m somewhat surprised that it has never made it on to a shiny disc. Perhaps that’s something that could happen as an Extra or Easter Egg in the near future?
Over the years, Seaver and his buddies over at Warlock Video have continued to secure funding so that they can develop DTV chillers and they have built a solid reputation in cult circles. They recently came up with the idea of letting their fans financially contribute towards their projects and receive the benefit of an executive producer credit or something similar, which is great for the horror community and really takes the genre to its grassroots. I was hoping that whilst browsing through his extensive online catalogue I would discover at least one or two slashers. With all of his films being tributes to the SOVs of the eighties, I knew that there had to be an entry laying around there somewhere.
At 42 minutes, Death-O-Lantern is more of a semi-short than an all out extravaganza, but it’s extremely affordable to pick up so I was keen to give it a shot. It tells the tale of a small town in 1986 where the talk on the kids’ lips is still heavy metal, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Four such youngsters are forced to face their own horror story when the urban legend of Stingy Jack, a child murderer who was killed in the 1800s, comes alive to haunt them a few days before Halloween night. Before long, they are battling to survive against a vicious maniac that needs to butcher six teenage souls in order to return for good…
I watched Death-O-Lantern on my iPad on the train to Reading from my home in London and I honestly had no idea what to expect. The screen lit up with a typical, but impressive, Halloween-alike score and some driving shots of a small suburban city. Within the next two minutes there was an audacious gore shot that was as exceptionally good as it was drastically cheesy and the tone had been set from there on.
You see, Lantern is not a film that wants to confuse itself and its audience in a clash of styles like so many others. Entries like Easter Bunny Bloodbath tend to build a solid foundation with a creepy intro only to shatter it mindlessly when desperation sets in and they resort to goofy attempts at humour to maintain the pace. Seaver sets a campy tone from the off and never attempts to divert far away from it and this allows his feature to remain fast moving and entertaining. As the story is set in 1986, anyone that knows their horror will remember that killers of that time were as quick with a wisecrack as they were with a machete. Well Stingy Jack is a follower of annual fashions and he quips and talks as he kills throughout the runtime, which not only keeps things cheesy, but also gives us the chance to stay up to date with the plot. The characters are defined in the archetypal fashion, but the bunny that I thought was sure to be the final girl, suddenly got splattered, which I wasn’t expecting.
It would be pointless of me to rate the dramatics because this is a time when SOVs were full of bad actors, so they are deliberately playing it tongue in cheek. Personally I found the talky scenes to be more annoying than I’d have liked, but thankfully the killings are spaced frequently enough to separate the screen time with the players. The witty dialogue, which was quite obviously pencilled from the mind of a genre enthusiast, was by far the best thing about the picture. We hear the kids discussing Friday the 13th Part VI and Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend, which were two of the biggest horror films of the year and it’s those bonus additions that set this feature apart. For such a minuscule ZERO budgeted production, the gore effects are quite brilliant and the bogeyman looked surprisingly effective in that mask and scarecrow-alike garb.
So is Death-O-Lantern a great horror movie? No. But then again it’s not trying to be. What we have here is a doorway into the mind of a fan of camp eighties horror and as I’m one of those myself, I quite enjoyed it. The ending seemed a bit ‘thrown on top’ and the comedy was a tad risqué for my liking, but yes; it is still worth a look.
For viewers with a sense of humour that understand something about a no budget production, this is a quirky effort with enough pluses in its carry case for it to deliver. Seaver is growing all the time as a director and I’ll be waiting patiently for his next slasher effort.
Killer Guise: √√√√
*Ps you probably guessed that this was not really made in 1986, it’s 2011, but why ruin a good gag?