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 √√√
City In Panic 1986
Directed by: Robert Bouveir
Starring: David Adamson, Lee Ann Nestegard, Derrick Emery
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Dependent on the product there can be sometimes no better marketing tool than controversy. For their time, The Sex Pistols were controversial and made a great career out of it. The Rolling Stones, Elvis, hell even Sir Cliff Richard caused uproar in his day. As Max Clifford once famously said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” This little-known Canadian slasher must’ve been aiming for some of the same media coverage when it attempted to make an admittedly ham-fisted social comment on one of the eighties’ biggest discussion points – the HIV virus. Any severe medical condition should be handled with care and consideration by a filmmaker that is attempting to broach such delicate topics, but Bouvier’s feature is the cinematic equivalent of telling a friend that they looked better last year when they could still fit in those jeans.
In the first few minutes, the director attempts a role reversal on Hitchcock’s notorious shower scene. A hulking killer sporting a fedora, dark glasses and typical giallo-like psycho-garb bursts into a bathroom and hacks an unfortunate guy to death with a kitchen knife. Before leaving, the maniac carves the letter ‘M’ into his back with the aforementioned blade. This becomes the macabre calling card of the maniacal assassin and also the name that he becomes known by in media. Next up we meet Dave Miller (David Adamson) a radio talk show host that immediately takes an interest in the madman’s motives. As the bodies continue to pile up around the city, Dave decides to set a trap using his popular broadcast as the bait. Eventually, the killer himself phones the show and begins to slaughter people that are close to the presenter. Is Miller next on the death list?
City in Panic starts with a protagonist narrative that is vaguely reminiscent of the maverick cop thrillers of the seventies. The depiction of a sleazy town in peril led me to believe that Bouvier was as much a fan of Dirty Harry and the like as he was of Halloween. To be fair there are times when the atmosphere gets credibly morbid and some of the gruesome murders are brutal if not graphically audacious enough to rival gore marathons. We are treated to occasional flashes of innovative photography that are exciting and spontaneous and provide the odd glimpse of suspense that helps to strengthen the few moments of macabre mayhem. Perhaps the most memorable of those is the repugnant castration of a toilet loitering sex pest. After having his ‘Johnson’ chopped off by the masked killer, the guy is left to die in agony and spray blood on the walls like the final spurts of a wayward sprinkler system. It’s a grim sight indeed; but unfortunately, aside from the couple of select examples of flair from Bouvier, the majority of the film struggles to pull itself from the realms of amateur night.
I remember a Glam metal band that were unsigned in the late eighties and recorded two demos that were popular amongst collectors. Indian Angel’s set list included catchy tracks like Playing Hard To Get, Loneliness Motel and Just Pretending, but after a few years on the club circuit they disbanded. When they finally did call it quits it was clear that they had not improved on their musicianship and were still playing those same songs that I mentioned above. They failed to build upon their initial strengths and in the end were doomed to remain rock and roll apprentices. This film is a similar case in point as it perhaps needed Bouvier to step back, analyse his work and then try a bit harder. The spluttering dramatics fail to convince on even the lowest level, which immediately destroys any sense of realism being created. An idea with such a strong topical standpoint needed to be solid with its scripting in order to deliver what it intended, but Andreas Blackwell’s confused screenplay is sketchy and it leaves characters contradicting themselves. The glossy veneer of intellectual dialogue soon becomes transparent as nonsensical chit chat and the fact that City in Panic seems to have been written with minimal effort means that it only appeals to those that can’t be bothered to make the effort. At one point the investigator says, “Now I began to accept that the city had on its hands a killer”. That line came after we had already seen a couple of mutilated corpses with the same MO. Go figure.
The soundtrack is an example of what a chimp can get out of a Bontempi keyboard and it does absolutely * nothing * to add to the mood of the feature. I have also read that some viewers felt that the plot was deliberately homophobic. Making the majority of the victims homosexual guys and then torturing them sadistically was a dumb move and although a female (and a heterosexual male) also got splattered, the film, ends up with a tone that I can understand that some could find offensive. Over the years, the slasher genre has developed a large gay following and movies such as HellBent have been accepted warmly. Due to City in Panic’s lack of focus, it has failed to register as an entry that pays the same amount of respect. Personally, I found it to be far too mindlessly written to be offensive and too weakly structured to be controversial. We can’t ignore the fact though that director Robert Bouvier has clumsily, although surely unintentionally, exploited one of the most tragic diseases that mankind has ever known.
Despite the awful attempt at a social commentary, taken as a slasher movie, this never gets boring and the viscous murders are spaced quite frequently all the way through. For a cheap piece of junk hokum it could’ve been a passable entry to the cycle. It’s just a shame that the filmmakers took the wrong approach…
Symphony of Evil 1987
aka Coda aka Deadly Possession aka Sinfonía Del Diablo
Directed by: Craig Lahiff
Starring: Penny Cook, Arna-Maria Winchester, Liddy Clark
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s a well-known fact amongst those that know their horror movies that Australia hasn’t exactly excelled itself with the quality of its output within the slasher genre since Small Town Massacre in 1981. It’s intriguing then that within the space of a month I’ve found two credible efforts that successfully manage to disprove that fallacy. Firstly, I came across the creepy Cassandra, which mixed erratic photography and razor sharp editing to a surprisingly credible effect. Then I discovered the ambitiously restrained and meritoriously tense Symphony of Evil.
Taking a large slice of Halloween‘s appetizing pie and filling the spaces with a few Hitchcockian nods just for good measure, this confident offering is perhaps one of the most commendable long forgotten late entries to the stalk and slash cycle. It succeeds mainly because it chooses to follow the path of down to earth realism over far-fetched gore and gratuitous shock tactics. For example, the heroine of the feature is not an archetypal buxom bimbo that’s played simply for eye candy instead of character. She’s an ordinary young woman who finds herself in a tricky situation, which helps to give the film an undeniably naturalistic edge.
Director Craig Lahiff also accepts with glee, the challenge of giving his female characters complete control of the script without relying on sexual overtones to make them appealing. There’s no needless nudity or even any slight references towards it; and to be honest, it isn’t something that’s missed.
A masked maniac is slaughtering musical students at an Australian university. A young innocent woman becomes involved in the plot when her flatmate is brutally murdered. With the body count mounting, it becomes clear that the psychopath has intriguing motives.
To say that Symphony of Evil was ‘inspired’ by Halloween is like saying that Joan Rivers has had a touch of plastic surgery. . The film borrows heavily from the title that it so obviously tries to emulate, leaving very little to disguise the obvious influences (the killer stalking the hospital, the Michael Myers-alike disguise etc). Imitation however is not necessarily a bad thing if it’s handled correctly and Lahiff’s opus feels more like a tribute to Carpenter’s classic than it does a rip-off. The director shows an impressive flair for building suspense and in places the feature becomes remarkably tense. A perfect example is the sword-murder about halfway through the runtime. The brooding photography creates a foreboding and tight environment and the stalking sequence makes good use of those ageless stalk and slash clichés.
The performances from a likable cast are fairly comfortable and there’s even a classy score that’s vaguely reminiscent of John Williams’ theme from Oliver Stone’s masterpiece, JFK. The characters are competently scripted and approachable, which builds a decent amount of sympathy for the protagonist. Evil doesn’t boast a huge body count, so a large majority of the runtime is filled with the development of the mystery and the persona of the leading players, which if poorly dramatised could lose momentum and leave little in terms of reward for viewers. Thankfully, the actors do a fine job of keeping us intrigued and they are realistic and amicable enough to win over audiences and to allow the plot to move neatly to its conclusion.
Because the synopsis takes place at a classical music school, the production team get the chance to experiment with an excellent operatic soundtrack, which satisfies both cinematically and audibly. Frank Stragio’s work does wonders to help sustain a good level of energy, which is great because during the moments where not a lot happens, you’re always aware that something is just about to.
Like many eighties slashers, Symphony of Evil focuses heavily on the mystery of discovering who it is behind the creepy mask, which is possibly the feature’s only flaw. Guessing the killer’s identity is a relatively simple task and more thought should have been put into giving us more suspects or at least a credible red-herring. It’s interesting that despite earning the respect to be trusted with bigger budgets from this offering, Lahiff never improved upon his work on this atmospheric murder-mystery. Heaven’s Burning was a so-so thriller that had the added bonus of starring Russell Crowe. Also his most recent movie Black and White was promising, but hardly a worthy follow-up to such an ambitious debut. It proves that bigger budgets don’t always make better features and it seems that with Symphony of Evil he struck the perfect medium.
If you like slasher movies, then you’ll like Symphony of Evil – there’s really nothing else to say. It is good enough to sit comfortable alongside the likes of The Dorm that Dripped Blood, Curtains and The House on Sorority Row as a worthwhile genre entry that has been bizarrely overlooked. It seems surprising that the cruddy Houseboat Horror has numerous fans across the globe, but a real treat like this disappears from the face of the planet. Recommended
Final Girl √√√
The Dorm that Dripped Blood 1981
aka Pranks aka Death Dorm
Directed by: Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow
Starring: Laurie Lapinski, Stephen Sachs, Daphne Zuniga
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Many of the slasher films from the early eighties were made by filmmakers with minimal experience that were looking for their first big break. Whenever I get a chance to speak to crew members from the peak period, I notice that there’s usually always a unique story about how they secured funding or what corners they cut to get the feature released. None of those that I’ve heard though startled me quite as much as what I found out about this movie, which is one of my favourites of the golden age.
I was sure that lurking behind the scenes here was a fat cat producer with a wad of notes and a hunger to cash in on the slasher craze. The Dorm that Dripped Blood however was nothing more than a thesis project from three ambitious students of the University of California, Los Angeles. After seeing John Carpenter’s seminal Halloween at the cinema, Jeffrey Obrow, Stephen Carpenter and Stacey Giachino decided that they wanted to have a crack at making something similar. With minimal funding they came across other up and comers and the project became a launch pad for a few very fine careers. Christopher Young was studying music on a campus that was situated yards away from Obrow and Carpenter, whilst twenty-four year old make-up artist Matthew Mungle was pitching his small portfolio around town to get work. Years after they completed this film, Young would become one of the most popular composers of recent times and Mungle would win an Academy award and gain a further three nominations.
The shoot took place mainly during the December of 1980 and Obrow and his crew built their entire schedule around when the equipment that was provided by UCLA was available for their use. The locations were all discovered in and around the campus and the majority of cast members were unknowns or friends that had been eager to sign on. The net result is a superb example of the genre’s strengths when handled with ambition
A group of youngsters stay behind over the Christmas period to help clean and disassemble a dorm that is about to be closed down. Little do they know that they are sharing the location with a brutal killer…
I came across the film Pranks (as it was known in the UK) when I was growing up in London. Alongside The Driller Killer, Night of the Demon and Madhouse it had been quickly added to the DPP list and classified as a video nasty. Although the intention of the British government had been to do the exact opposite, the tag gave the film a cult classic reputation and it was passed around on bootleg with the added rebellious attraction of its unlawful status. A younger kid called Dean from across the street had a genuine copy that his dad had rescued from the claws of the Video Nasty campaign. In the end he sold to me for £10, which was a lot of money for an eleven year old child, but I wanted it so badly I would have paid £50.
Dorm is without a shadow of a doubt one of the grittiest of the period slashers and in my opinion, one of the most underrated. Despite not boasting the finesse of a My Bloody Valentine or Dressed to Kill, it succeeds by sacrificing an atmosphere of campy fun and replacing it with unrelenting grimness. From the first moment on screen, when a guy is brutally murdered before the pre-credits, the audience is made aware that they are watching a horror movie and there are no real attempts to alter the mood. I have always believed that in terms of structure for a slasher, you need to open with a shock, spend no more than thirty-five minutes on plot development with maybe the odd killing to maintain the tone. Follow that with a suspenseful mid-section as the body count mounts and then leave a good twenty-five minutes for the showdown/unmasking scene with the protagonist. The screenplay here gets that pretty much spot on and despite a few hollow moments that could have perhaps been much shorter, Christopher Young’s fantastic score (one of the best of the genre) sustains the energy.
Watching the newly released director’s cut has given Matthew Mumble’s gore effects the stage that they deserve and on BlueRay, they look superb. Hearing about the minimalistic funding that he was given to achieve these results somehow makes them seem all the better and in its entirety, Dorm can rightly be acknowledged as one of the most gruesome of its kind. There’s a fairly well-constructed mystery with red-herrings popping up in the right places and even if the killer’s revelation is not expertly conveyed (the motive is non-existent) it leads to a bold final scene, which was unique at the time of filming.
Perhaps what the feature lacks the most is a group of well developed personalities that we can bond with. The players here are wafer thin and therefore we never feel particularly intrigued by their dialogue or sympathetic towards their plight. In film’s such as Iced, Evil Laugh or Friday the 13th Part II, memorable faces such as Carl, Barney and Ted added some comedic warmth to the proceedings and make us care more about the results of the oncoming horror. Here though, Laurie Lapinski gave us a one-dimensional and extremely unapproachable final girl, whilst the rest of the cast were never offered anything authentic to escape their stereotype. Soon to be superstar Daphne Zuniga gets no chance to impress on her five-minute feature debut, even if the kill scene that sees her get gruesomely mutilated along with her parents has been written in to slasher folklore as one of the best sequences of the cycle. Whilst it could be argued that the lower amount of definition in the characters that guide us through the story give the film a more ‘complete’ feel of out and out horror, I couldn’t help but wonder how good this could have been with a tad more depth put into the protagonist and her co-stars.
Perhaps the most impressive thing of all is that despite the complete lack of experience of all involved, they have managed to put together one of most notorious pieces of the initial slasher phase. Dorm is a brutal, scary, gory and atmospheric slasher that engulfs you in its storm of underlying gloom. It overcomes its obviously raw level of filmmaking technicality to be a real treat for horror audiences. I thoroughly recommend it.
Final Girl √√
Easter Bunny BloodBath 2010
Directed by: Richard Mogg
Starring: Shayan Bayat, Meghan Kinsley, Travis Turner.
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Back in the golden age of the genre, we had it all, didn’t we? Christmas got stalked and Halloween got slashed. Valentine’s and April fool’s Days were pickaxed, whilst a maniac aboard a locomotive terrorised New Year’s Eve. Hell, even Thanksgiving was dismembered by a loony with a machete… But what about Easter? That time of year when everyone puts on 6kg in weight due to a chocolate egg overload and then spends the next month at the gym trying to burn it off? Why didn’t we get a multitude of titles set around the Good Friday break?
It seems that when it comes to slashertastic action on an annual holiday, Easter was like the geeky kid at school that always got picked last for the soccer team and remained on his lonesome at the end of term disco. We had to wait for what seemed like a lifetime before someone decided to ‘massacarise’ that particular calendar event, but then finally in 2002 we received, along with our cacao butter coated calorie overdose, an attempt to revive the European Giallo named, Semana Santa. Next up four years later came the slightly better Easter Bunny Kill! Kill!
I was thinking of reviewing one of those for you in time for today, but by now I am sure that my regular readers will know that a SLASH above will always pick the more obscure entries over those that have been covered to death. So here I offer you the wonderfully rare, Easter Bunny Bloodbath from 2010.
This is the first film from director Richard Mogg who I have spoken to recently and he’s a lovely guy. Much like Chris Seaver from Warlock Home Video (Death O’Lantern review coming soon), his features are tributes to the SOV titles of the eighties that we all know and love. I really enjoy these fan flicks, simply because most of the time they have been put together by someone with the same kind of lifetime respect for the genre that we have.
A young man chooses to return with some of his friends to his deceased father’s house after twenty-years. It’s his first time back since a girl was brutally murdered by a guy dressed as the Easter Bunny when he was only six years old. He witnessed the killing, but has since put the incident to the back of his mind. Almost as soon as they arrive however, he begins to feel uneasy, because he sees a nut job in a white rabbit suit with a machete hanging around the location. Is it all in his head or are the group really up against a vicious psycho with creative dress sense…?
When I was growing up, like many immigrants that flocked to London from the EU, my family didn’t have a great deal of money. Whilst the rest of the kids were playing their C64s on a colour TV, my Brother and I would be reading library books or rolling abandoned tires down the hill outside our back garden. My mum was never one to let the lack of funds hold us back however and she would always try and be creative with what little cash that we had. I remember one particular time that there was a fancy dress presentation at school and my buddies were all discussing what costume that their parents were going to buy for them. The usual names were coming up, Batman, Spider Man, Superman et al and I remember having this overpowering feeling of rejection. I was pretty upset by the time that I got home and when I explained to my mother why, she would hear no more about it. She stayed up practically all night rapping cardboard boxes with oven foil and sticking coloured fruit gums on them with Sellotape. In the morning when I woke up, I had a full silver robot suit that cost us literally nothing. I wish I still had a photograph of me in it to show you how good that it was, but the children in my class loved it and my teacher even gave me a prize for the ingenuity.
Easter Bunny Bloodbath is very similar to that robot suit actually, because despite being filmed on a nothing budget, it’s covers up the fact exceptionally well that it is missing some of the elements that its cash loaded siblings have in abundance. Just like one of those classic eighties slashers that it pays its dues to, it starts with a prologue set twenty years earlier and Mogg uses black and white photography to highlight the fact. The gap in time becomes especially apparent later, because after the credits have rolled, the director dazzles us with an amazing amount of bright colour. The picturesque forests and lakes of the beautiful British Columbia backdrop look extremely crisp and the quality of the picture somewhat betrays the lunch money production that financed it. Shooting everything in the daytime showed good planning as the film remains well lit throughout and the director pulls off some decent and extremely creative camera tricks during the runtime. All this is accompanied by a professional soundtrack that has been mixed perfectly to match the superb visuals.
The choice of costume for the killer is intriguing because much like the bear mascot suit from Girl’s Nite Out, there’s something really intimidating about seeing such an innocent child-like guise splashed in blood. At times, Mogg manages to build an incredibly creepy atmosphere and the kill scenes are brutal, well timed and fairly gory. My favourite would have to be the kitchen murder of an unsuspecting female. She has her face boiled in water and then her head squished like a cherry. Mogg looks to have followed the method that worked for both Gaspar Noé (Irréversible) and Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) by using the right sound effect for the head crushing scene. It’s gruesome. Obviously, we have become accustomed to bad acting in SOV flicks, but I must mention the surprise of the final girl here, Lisa, who was played superbly by unknown actress, Meghan Kisnley. She does a really good job with the role and managed a nice range of emotions. She also had a kind of a ‘looks a bit like Katy Perry’ thing going on and well… who doesn’t think Katy’s hot???
There is a fair bit to be admired here, but also something that majorly disappointed me about Bloodbath, and it is a personal bugbear of mine that I speak about more often than I feel that I should have to here on a SLASH above. I just fail to comprehend why these pictures are continually plagued by mixing unnecessary attempts at comedy into horror films that truly should just focus on the scares. Black humour can fit superbly when utilised the right way in a scary movie, but how many times do we need to see dumb slapstick failing in the slasher genre before filmmakers begin to realise that it just doesn’t work? Here it feels especially out of place because the tone became quite grim on occasion and I was really impressed by the mixture of mystery and terror. Despite some of the dialogue being amusing and the film having some fun, I felt that Mogg could have got much more out of the concept if he just played it straight. Characters like the obnoxious Steve were kept alive for far too long and the quips were little more than a hindrance on the movement of the plot. I have rarely seen a low budget offering that had so much potential to be effectively eerie but instead preferred to go for cheap laughs. Although it can be of course said that the whole point of paying homage to SOV flicks is to keep things campy, I found it harder to take because Mogg was close to achieving the toughest feat of all: – creating a genuine villain and an ominous environment to unleash him within. It is clear that shoe-string budgeted pictures are never going to have A-list continuity, but leaving vehicles, DVD Players and TVs from the last decade in a scene that’s billed as 1967 is a strange decision. Or was that another joke that I didn’t quite get?
There’s still the chance there for an ambitious filmmaker to create a really memorable Easter themed stalk and slash movie, but the ones that we have will do the job in the meantime. Easter Bunny Bloodbath is most definitely not a bad film and in fact I rather enjoyed parts of it. It took slightly too long to get going, a couple of the cast members could have died earlier; but I still saw some great signs of potential. I will be keeping an eye on Mogg’s future pictures, because there were moments here that brought to mind a Scott Spiegel or a Sam Raimi. All that on the tiniest of budgets…
I guess that if you take your horror served with a slice of American Pie-style laughs, then you can overlook my paragraph about the negatives. For me however I would like to see Señor Mogg make a pure out and out slasher flick. It’s rare that such a cheap movie delivers a few chills. This one managed just that…
Final Girl √√√
Night of the Demon 1980
Directed by: James C. Wasson
Starring: Michael Cutt, Joy Allen, Bob Collins
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Some of the video nasties from the early eighties were nowhere near as gruesome as their reputation would lead you to believe and half of the time they left you bewildered as to why they were banned in the first place. That’s not the case with Night of the Demon though, which doesn’t take long to let you know what philosophy these filmmakers believed in. We can safely assume that someone over at the BBFC was concerned that a contrast of images that includes a biker getting his ‘Johnson’ ripped off by a furry beast may be just a tad too much for public consumption. In the end, they decided that the best thing to do was to chuck this in a vault and hope that it quietly went away. It was resubmitted and heavily edited ten years later by ex-video nasty distributor, VipCo films. I found a copy on that label in a trade store on Regent Street, London. Imagine my unparalleled joy when I got home and watched it only to notice that it was time-coded and totally uncut. It turns out that I had discovered a pre-screener and it was a personal ‘up yours’ from me to the establishment. Sometime later I came across another version in Spain with a hilarious cover, which I have posted here.
In all fairness, director James C Watson is somewhat extreme with his over-use of visual suggestion. In the first five minutes alone, a fisherman is forced to a life collecting disability benefits courtesy of bumping into the ‘demon’ who was out on his rounds and hungry for a dismembered limb or two. The movie continues in this gratuitous vein all the way through, never bothering to add a touch of suspense or atmosphere development. Instead, it relies on grotesque images to boost the shock factor, breaking new grounds for gooey extremities.
The first scene takes place in a dingy little room that I guess is really supposed to look-like it’s a Hospital ward. A guy lays bed-ridden, with his face covered by bandages and plasters. Two doctors and a Sheriff discuss his injuries, stating that, ‘… his face is horribly mutilated (and) most of the skin is burned away’. Any man with his extreme medical condition must have some sombre tale of woe that (graphically) details how he ended up in such an uncomfortable position. When the lawman asks for his description of the events that left him so severely disfigured, he kicks it all off with the cheesy intriguing build up, ‘Those horror stories that you heard about the forest…they’re all true!’ So begins the flashback that will narrate us through his gore-laden adventure…
Apparently, the man without a face is Bill Nugent, an anthropology lecturer (a popular career amongst slasher alumni, I’m sure you’ll agree), that you could say is somewhat obsessed with uncovering the truth behind the legend of a murderous Big Foot. He and a group of budding students have decided that a journey out to the location where the stories came from should offer some clues to solve the mystery. They are to be joined on their excursion by Carla Thomas, the daughter of the unfortunate angler that I told you about earlier. She warns the volunteers of the dangers that lie ahead, by telling them the tale of a man who was brutally murdered whilst making-out in the back of a van with his girlfriend. The young woman who survived the murder was especially memorable, because she seems to think that portraying fear amounts to making ecstatic grunts that sound more like she had been sharing a bed with Ron Jeremy after he’d swallowed a bag of Viagra. Despite the fearful advice, the group decide to continue with their trip and head off in small boats down a long winding river into the wilderness, just like Burt Reynolds and his pals did in Deliverance.
They arrive at the destination and we get another flashback (within a flashback) that shows us the fate of a previous victim of the hairy beast. Note that our bogeyman actually looks more like an unshaven member of the heavy metal group Twisted Sister than any kind of rare big-foot mammal. This story involves a guy in a sleeping bag being swung round in circles before plummeting on to a dangerously miss-placed branch. The next morning, the group decide to interrogate the local townspeople in a scene that was most definitely ‘borrowed’ by The Blair Witch Project some time later. They’re told tonnes of conflicting rumours by the villagers, but every story that they hear has at least one thing in common: a hermit who lives in the hills and goes by the fitting name of ‘Crazy Wanda’. Apparently, she had a baby that was, ‘Awful to look at… deformed…a Mongoloid.’ The somewhat straight talking interviewee also gives us her opinion on what made the sprogg look so retarded. “It could have been down to malnutrition”, she comments. Erm… Okey. Now that they finally have a real lead, they head deeper into the forest and conveniently further away from civilization, which makes any sort of rescue attempt a definite impossibility.
As darkness falls, the group sit around a bonfire and discuss their findings so far. They learn from the professor that they’ve arrived at the point where years earlier a motorcyclist took his last piss in the bushes, due to the creature showing up and ‘copping a feel’ with horrifying results. Apparently in the edited print, the actual castration is totally removed. In the full version, it’s not that it’s particularly gory, but any male that’s watching will most definitely flinch purely at the thought of it. During the night, the campers are awoken by mysterious sounds emulating from within the trees. Nugent and his buddy investigate and come across a black mass, which looks more like a Country dancing festival, but I suppose it was meant to look really creepy. A young girl lies in the middle of the chanting crowd and we see that she is awkwardly consenting to intercourse with a strange fellow that looks suspiciously like Davy Jones from The Monkeys. The anthropologist immediately thinks that it’s rape and spoils the party by popping off a few caps into the sky from his trusty firearm. The revellers take off running in different directions, leaving the heroic visitors to head back to their tents feeling like they’ve done a good deed. As wrongful repayment for their helpful services, the next morning they wake up to find that their boats are missing. That means they’re stranded without any ammunition; – or in other words, doomed. Their luck worsens when two of the teenage students take a stroll under the moonlight for a spot of nookie, which is always a bad idea. Their fondling comes to an abrupt halt when the guy’s back is violently scratched by the killer’s fury hand (or should that be paw?). They sit round and chat about the assault, but strangely enough, not one of them seems to realise that they’re on a crash course for destruction if they hang around this area any longer. What more proof do they need? I’d hate to enroll at the university that these guys attended. I’ve heard about students offering blood, sweat and tears for their assignments, but as Eddie Cochran so truthfully said, that’s something else.
Eventually the hapless group stumble across Wanda’s cabin, which is situated in an area where a few years ago, the dumbest movie murder ever transferred to celluloid took place. Two girls are grabbed by Big Foot and bashed into each other unconvincingly. They’re both holding knifes in their hands, which results in them spraying blood over one another, because they didn’t think of ‘dropping the blades’. After a while, we’re finally introduced to the crazy hermit who really doesn’t help too much, because she’s been left muted by her involvement with the walking carpet. Before the remaining hunters even have the chance to shout ‘Help me Wanda’, old Mr. Grisly turns up and reveals himself to the unwelcome tourists. He expresses his apparent distaste that they’ve come traipsing into his area without direct permission, by surrounding and then violently murdering them one by one, in one of the goriest final scenes in the whole history of splatter flicks.
Watching Night of the Demon is like attending a horror reunion filled with parts that were ‘borrowed’ from the more popular films released from the mid-seventies to when this hit the shelves. We start in traditional Friday the 13th territory, with victims getting picked off in the woods by an unseen assailant. Then we sail into the realms of Eaten Alive with a rape sequence, which is watched by a baying gang of hillbilly crazies. Chuck in some Rosemary’s Baby, as we get all sacrilegious with the inclusion of a demonic offspring and plenty of satanic cursing. Finally we take a trip into the world that was prominently inhabited by Lucio Fulci around this time, with a gore-tastic showdown that’s not a million miles away from the House by the Cemetery. There are some truly blood-soaked scenes that have made the uncut version highly sought after, selling for big bucks on eBay. The most amusing of the bunch, is when the monster pulls out one gentleman’s intestines and spins them around his head like a cowboy twirling his lasso. Perhaps his true ambition was to be accepted as a hairy Southern wrangler? Hey, now there’s a plot twist…
The cast manage to offer nothing but putrid performances all the way through. It’s not like they’re bad actors trying to look good; they just aren’t any kind of actors at all. Dennis McCarthy’s music sounds like he dropped a vial of acid and then blew the flute over some Jazz that’s been played badly and the photography seems to have been performed by a guy with a nervous twitch because it judders more than a Sumo wrestler on a bouncy castle. Most of the characters remain nameless (and pointless) all the way through. In fact I’m sure that it was only the professor that was addressed by a title? The plot suffers from narration that’s about as much use as Stevie Wonder guiding you through a mile-long maze, and we never even find out a reason why the Big-foot has such animosity against human kind in the first place? It would have been nice to perhaps learn an interesting motive for his apparent hatred.
Despite the back-garden amateurism of the production, Wasson’s slasher film pulls no punches. Even if it is absolute trash, it’s fun trash all the same. I actually found it to be highly unforgiving with its level of outright brutality and the gooey murders do add something of a grim tone to the final scene. I’m no stranger to gory mayhem, but it does succeed in its excessive overindulgence. It is too cheesy to be taken seriously, but for such a low budget picture, the hokey effects manage to really unsettle at times. The director even manages a superb jump scare at the end that caught me off guard.
I guess that Demon most definitely deserves credit for trying something a little different from the majority of early eighties killer in the woods flicks. The POV shots and various references keep it tightly nailed into the slasher genre, but at least it isn’t just another masked killer on a campsite offering. If you want some gory fun then check out the UNCUT copy only. Alongside Pieces, The Last Horror Film et al, it’s become something of a Grindhouse dish of the day…. I am sure that you’ll have a good time.
Evil Night 1992
Directed by: Todd Cook
Starring: Holly Aeck, Joseph Fautinos, Spencer Trask
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s always been intriguing for me how a clown can be one part children’s comic performer and one part icon of horror. Clowns are family entertainment personified, but would you feel comfortable sharing a dimly lighted alleyway with one in the early hours of the morning? That instantly recognisable figure has been used throughout the slasher genre almost since its birth. Rumour has it that Michael Myers would have worn clown attire had someone in John Carpenter’s wardrobe not found that iconic Shatner mask. It’s interesting how we can take the comforts of our youth and twist them into horrific imagery.
Evil Night continues the trend set way back in the annals of horror history, by giving its bogeyman the guise of a circus jester. Although the costume is unoriginal, movies such as the excellent House on Sorority Row and Stephen King’s IT have proved that if used correctly, such a figure can successively invade your innermost fears. Mixing the comforts of childhood serenity with the malevolence of a psychopathic imposter always seems to give horror fans the goosebumps and rightly so.
Here we have a clown killer story from Todd Jason Cook that treads the familiar territory of a bullied school boy that seeks revenge on those who have taunted him. In the opening we get to meet Jimmy Fisher (Spencer Trask), a high school geek that has a crush on the girlfriend of one of the school’s most popular rebels. Jimmy has been subjected to various humiliating taunts by the gang of bullies, so he has lost faith in the humanity of his classmates. However he is flattered and shocked when lead bully Peter (Joseph Pautinos) invites him to a party. Foolishly, Jimmy accepts the invitation and if you haven’t already guessed, it turns out to be yet another vicious prank. Humiliated and left unconscious in his boxer shorts, Jimmy finally loses his cool and sets out to seek revenge on those who have taunted him…..
OK so first things first, Evil Night was originally released DTV in 1992 and pretty much vanished in to obscurity almost immediately. After the popularity of the DVD phenomenon, Cook (Night of the Clown/Demon Dolls) gave his movie a second shot at recognition on a budget disk, which can be picked up from Amazon at an agreeable price. As I have stated previously in my review list, I am all for ambitious directors having a crack at making their own independent features. The beauty of the slasher genre is the fact that you don’t need a six figure budget to make a profitable schlockbuster. But keeping that in mind, this backgarden entry feels like an attempt to win the Indy 500 on a tricycle.
Do I respect Todd Cook? Quite frankly, yes. I envy him a bit too. Here we have a guy who loves horror movies and found in his wife Lisa, a soul mate who was so supportive of his ambition that she helped out in major ways with the release his five or six no budget movies. Their most recent effort, Zombiefied, picked up some real good press (review coming soon) and much like Dead Pit and others, mixed the zombie and slasher sub-genre’s together into something of a B-movie cocktail. Twenty years earlier when this was produced though, they had neither the experience nor the budget to deliver their visions and Evil Night is a tough runtime to sit through.
If you can accept the camcorder like quality of the picture and you are forgiving enough to ignore the rotten Thrash Metal soundtrack, then you will still struggle to understand how a movie can be produced without a logical concept. In fact the scenario seems to take place in a dimension where logic is an uncommon word. I searched and I searched, but all I uncovered was a screenplay that works along the lines of, ‘unknown guy walks in front of the camera, gets killed and then the scene fades to black’. Forget character development, because it’s simply non-existent. Cast members appear without rhyme or reason, as if they’re on a conveyer belt from a production line to be slaughtered. This makes Evil Night seem more like a collection of images than a film and despite some impressive gore effects, it rapidly loses its momentum.
You know, I was the first to post a review of this on the IMDB and it’s a film that few have seen. This is probably because watching Evil Night is almost an impossible mission. It lacks even the slightest of structures and there’s no pay-off in viewing the plot through to its conclusion. The cast sound like they’re reading their lines from the small print of a spam email and the most memorable slice of dialogue spoken throughout the runtime is, “Eric are you taking a dump again?” The whole movie looks to have been edited by a blind man with a blunt razor-blade and the lighting for the night scenes seems to have been provided by one of those pencil sized torch keyrings that you get in souvenir shops.
On the plus side, there are the imaginative gore effects that I mentioned and kudos to Clark for the creepy killer costume. However, his attempt to build a competitive Slaughter High imitation is suffocated by its stringent funding. I agree that it was made tongue in cheek to be watched with that in mind, but that doesn’t make it any easier to sit thorough. Even if I’m being mega generous, there’s absolutely nothing that I can recommend here. Bad, bad, bad and not in a good way, Evil Night is destined for obscurity once again….
Final Girl: √
Directed by: Ollie Martin
Starring: Alan Dale, Christine Jenson, Gavin Wood
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
*I do write a lot of my new reviews on the go, but because I want to cover the entire slasher genre, I like to reuse some of the ones I have previously penciled. Whenever I do though, I always update them after watching the movie once again. Here we have Houseboat Horror and I was THE first outside of Australia to post a write-up of it! I spent years trying to track it down and eventually when I did, it was, ahem, everything that I had expected to be. It is available now on DVD, but this review is from April 2003, when it was still an obscure locally released VHS. I hope that you enjoy the update….
This late-eighties Australian inclusion to the slasher cycle is famous mainly for being the most widely panned of all of the hack and slash entries. It even manages to out-trash utter trashola like Home Sweet Home and the abysmal Voyeur.com in the bad review stakes. Considering the ‘quality’ of those aforementioned movie nightmares, being that poorly received is quite a considerable achievement. Perhaps Houseboat’s only saving grace is the fact that it has become so immensely rare to fans of the genre outside Melbourne, that most of us have more chance of buying the winning lottery ticket than actually seeing the damn thing. With that said, I must admit that its mystifying disappearance has indeed given the picture something of an alluring edge. I am ‘fortunate’ enough to be one of the few that actually own this rarity of a mishap on VHS and therefore feel a certain moral commitment to share my views on whether it’s actually as bad as its reputation would lead you to believe.
The hackneyed plot here is a pure cut and paste amalgamation of two of its biggest American brethrens: Friday the 13th and The Burning. Director Grant Evans (Alan Dale) has been given the job of shooting a music video for a struggling local rock band. He has chosen the location of Lake Infinity as a backdrop for his creation and before long his crew, the gang of musicians and their rowdy groupies are floating aboard the Houseboats of the title. Unfortunately for the youngsters, they decide to settle on a site where many years ago a group of actors were mysteriously torched and a young child was horrendously disfigured. Have you worked it out yet? Thought as much. Yes, it’s no surprise when almost as soon as they arrive, the motley crew begins to fall prey to the frazzled hands of an unseen maniac – Ho-hum indeed. The rest of the story goes exactly where you’d expect it to, as the crispy killer makes short work of the outrageously mulleted cast members…
To be fair, Houseboat Horror starts commendably with an atmospheric (and gory) murder and chase sequence that is plagued only by the fact that the young actress playing the victim has an issue keeping her eyes tightly closed for a two-second corpse close-up post-slashing. From that moment onward, the best way I can describe the feature to you is like a burger on a boiling hot griddle that has just had the cheese placed on top. If you imagine that minutes in real time were seconds on that grill, you can feel as the topping slowly melts and completely engulfs the entire burger/movie with melting fondue. For a start, I couldn’t fail to mention that one of the beer swilling, woman pressing rebel rousers is none other than Alan Dale, who is of course most famously known as Jim Robinson from Aussie daytime soap, Neighbors. Old Helen Daniels would be turning in her grave if she witnessed his loutish shenanigans, which include swearing prolifically and racing his car on the wrong side of the road! Whilst we are on the topic of Ramsey Street, it is even more surprising that his former neighbor (for want of a better word) and equally frumpy pudding faced goody-goody, Harold Bishop (Ian Smith) expressed his dark side in another corny throwaway named Body Melt. Neither actor returned to the horror genre, which I’m sure was something that they never regretted. The choice between working daily with mega-babes to the level of Kylie Minogue, Natalie Imbruliga and Holly Valance or ‘acting’ besides a gang of talentless brain-starved strumpets is surely the easiest decision since Dave Navarro said yes to Carmen Electra.
In fact, this cast of no-hopers manage to break records in the speed that they will begin clawing at the strings of your patience. Fifteen minutes into the feature you’ll be preying for a couple of The Burning’s ‘raft sequences’, so you can witness five or six of the poorly dramatised losers getting splattered simultaneously. Unfortunately, this Jason Voorhees wannabe is nowhere near as creative as good old Cropsy, so you’ll have to watch the numb-skulls getting slaughtered one by one – extremely S-L-O-W-L-Y. The murders are without a doubt the film’s highlight, simply because they boast some tacky yet surprisingly rewarding gore effects and there’s a whole bunch of them for you to check out. We also get a couple of murderous devices that are rarely seen in slasher cinema (Harpoon, flamethrower and how could I forget the horseshoe?). Let’s not underplay the fact that the chance of seeing Jim Robinson get his head split in half with a giant machete is an occasion that most would find simply too irresistible to miss.
Houseboat Horror certainly isn’t going to win any awards, but for all its nonsensical amateurism it does at least manage to provide a few bad movie giggles. The back cover boldly boasts the inclusion of a ‘pop hit’, which once heard, sounds like a drunken pub karaoke version of Boney M’s greatest hits (the song’s titled “Young Cool and Groovy” no less). Also, what about when the hero manages to go toe-to-toe with the maniac five minutes after he’s been almost chopped in half by a machete? And I can’t forget to mention when the same character is first confronted by the hulking killer and goofs, “Awww p**s off!” I could go on all day, but instead I’ll leave you with a choice slice of dialogue that I believe sums up this whole movie experience perfectly. When one of the bit part extras asks one of the mulleted moppets if his brain is in repeat mode, he answers boldly “Nah, just a little retarded” I couldn’t have put it any better myself…
Final Girl: √
Zombie Nightmare 1986
Directed by: Jack Bravman
Starring: Adam West, Jon Mikl Thor, Tia Carrere
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
And here we have an eighties ‘zombie’ movie, which despite a title that brings to mind illusions of Romero-type walking-dead mayhem, it owes a damn site more to slasher flicks such as Friday the 13th and The Prowler et al. Inexplicably, there was a high number of horror attempts during that decade, which incorporated the living dead into their titles, but delivered stalk and slash cinematic experiences. Lucio Fulci’s House by the cemetery was a prime example of a slasher film cloaked under the guise of a zombie-thon, whilst Zombie Island Massacre was another. The Dead Pit and Ruben Galindo’s Cementerio Del Terror went as far as to mix re-animated corpses with the plot trappings of the slasher craze and more recently, Todd Cook’s Zombiefied has brought the slasher/zombie hybrid back from the grave (no pun intended)
It opens on a high school baseball field sometime during the 1960s. An amicable coach named Bill Washington is watched playing catch with some youngsters by his wife and son. Also in the stands are a Haitian school girl and two troublesome youngsters who let their intentions be known by plotting a nasty surprise for the African spectator. As the young family head home across the streets of the idyllic neighbourhood, they come across the two hoodlums from earlier attempting to rape the passive Haitian. Bill Washington immediately intervenes, much to his downfall, because whilst his back is turned he is stabbed in the chest by one of the rampant thugs. The screen fades with a shot of the young boy watching his father struggle for life on the cold concrete side walk.
Fast forward twenty years and Tony Washington – the child from the prologue – has grown into a helpful and polite young man. Whilst out shopping for his mum’s groceries, he underlines his impressive community status by courageously battering two armed thugs that were attempting to rob the local shop keeper. Things takes a turn for the worse for the vigilante, when he is savagely run down and killed by a gang of inebriated teenagers. The gang of drunkards speed off into the night, showing no remorse for their victim. Despite being visually devastated, Tony’s mum decides not to inform the police of the murder and instead she calls upon the favour owed by the Haitian from the pre-credits sequence. Somewhat fortunately (albeit stereotypically) Molly Mokembe is now a voodoo priestess and so with a dust of black magic, Tony Washington rises from the dead to avenge his ruthless murder….
If you were looking for another possible pre-cursor to Kevin Williamson’s I Know What You Did Last Summer, then look no further than this cheap as you like slasher jam, which pre-dates the aforementioned title by a whole eleven-years. The plot is familiar to each and all, as the victim of a horrendous accident returns to avenge his death, systematically slaughtering the culprits one by one in gruesome fashion. Although we never reach the heights of slasher-classic status, this does boast a few credible benefits that lift it from the irreversible depths of a half-star review. The soundtrack is awesomely impressive, with songs provided by Motorhead, Girlschool and Thor and I must admit that I was astounded as ‘The Ace of Spades’ confidently adorned the credit sequence. As is the case with so many eighties slasher entries, Zombie Nightmare plays host to one young and fresh-faced ‘soon to be superstar’. Yep, you don’t need to clean those spectacles. That chubby faced youngster that is unconvincingly warbling through her lines is none other than Tia Carrere, most memorable for her characteristic performances in Wayne’s World and True Lies.
Unfortunately, it seems the budget spent on the soundtrack pretty much drained the finances from the rest of the feature, because Zombie Nightmare seems to take an unprecedented slope to mediocrity very quickly. Despite a decent début performance from Frank Dietz as the protagonist, the dramatics are really scraping along the lines of junior school play level. Watch out for the hilarious Manuska Rigaud, who seems to believe that ‘acting’ amounts to squawking her voice like she’s desperately in need of a lozenge. Zombie Nightmare is famous for thrash legend Jon Mikl Thor’s lengthy cameo in the opening half of the film. Despite proving that rock stars certainly shouldn’t walk the path to Hollywood, he also miraculously manages to grow a few inches post-death. It’s so easy to notice that Thor had taken his paycheque and scooted very early on in the production, leaving the crew to cast a totally unconvincing body ‘double’, which somewhat adds to the cheesy charm.
There’s no gore or suspense worth mentioning and the whole feature is weakly directed to the excess of point and shoot mediocrity. Originality is a wayward concept in the eyes of Jack Bravman, so basically, what you see is what you get – and you get very little. There’s a few kooky deaths and a fairly sympathetic motive for our hulking maniac, but it never escapes the feeling of being overly diluted, so I’m sure that you’ll end up fairly bored.
Zombie Nightmare is far from being the worst slasher movie released during the peak period, but I really could only find very little to recommend. The stalking lone killer proves that this is pure slasher trash and those searching for a dose of zombie gore will be thoroughly disappointed. It would probably have remained a complete obscurity if it hadn’t been rescued by MST3K who pointed out some of the cheesy aspects in their usual hysterical way. When I wrote this review three-years ago, there was a copy of their antics available on YouTube to watch, although it may have disappeared by now.
Ignore the word ‘Zombie’ in the title and add this to your slasher collection if you dig the eighties cheapies. There’s nothing here to recommend in a respectable way, but if you are a fan of pure trashola then you should most definitely pick it up. You’ll have to dust off your VCR though, because there’s no planned DVD rehash.
Final Girl: √
Directed by: David DeCoteau
Starring: Thomas Bern, Ashlyn Gere, Sylvia Summers
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s hardly a secret that a surprisingly large percentage of superstar actors of the past thirty years began their career somewhere within the slasher genre. Whilst those specific faces (George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Eva Mendes etc) went on to find fortune and fame beyond the realms of masked killers and screaming teens, there were a few artists that seemed content to dwindle in the security of B-movie minor-budget rhapsody. These include the likes of Fred Olen Ray, David A. Prior, Steve Jarvis, Linnea Quigley and the most relevant for this write-up, David DeCoteau. Today, I want to explore with DeCoteau as the example if it was the fact that he had reached the height of his talent that forced him to stay in the kingdom of penny-budgets or if it was a choice that he made due to his love of cheese on toast horror…
Dreamanic is His first excursion into slasher land and although not particularly groundbreaking, it does have a few novel aspects that warrant a mention. Female scribe Helen Robinson has given us a story unique enough to make this one of the select few of the 600 or so genre entries that juxtaposes elements from giants Halloween and A Nightmare in Elm Street, without straying too far outside of the stalk and slash guide book. Whilst titles such as Pledge Night and the rancid The Oracle gave up their places in the cycle by edging too far into the realms of supernatural futility, Dreamaniac remains true enough to the trappings to be worthy of inspection here on a SLASH above…
The movie centres on a gang of fun loving stereotypical period teens who end up battling a deranged menace. Boasting a baby face that makes him look like an extra from The Sorcerer’s Stone, protagonist Adam (Thomas Bern) shows his eighties credibility by spending most of the flick running around in a groovy Def Leppard t-shirt. Despite looking like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, surprisingly Adam is a part time Satanist with a passion for black magic rituals. His bubble-haired girlfriend Pat (Ashlyn Gere) has no idea that her beau spends his spare time conjuring dark spirits from beyond the grave, and often she wonders why he spends so much time alone in his room. In an attempt to bring him out of his shell for a few hours, Pat has organised a huge party at her boyfriend’s vacant abode. The guest list includes all the typical sure-fire body count ingredients and before long they arrive and get the beer flowing.
Unbeknownst to them, Adam has summoned a porn star-like succubus from another dimension and it goes without saying that she has arrived with a taste for blood. Before long the corpses begin to mount as the maniacal fiend begins seducing the male guests and then butchering them in various imaginative ways. Will anyone be able to stop the demon? Or will the rampage continue for the chance of a profit-escalating sequel?
Interestingly enough, after the inevitable Halloween-alike synthesizer score, the director leads us along a path that’s filled with imaginative twists, turns and stepping stones. There’s a fair bit of originality in the Freddy/Michael Myers conjunction that allows the movie to develop a few authentic ideas. Towards the finale, we get zombies and various other supernatural gimmicks that add a welcomed touch of spice to the story, and the borders of the standard slasher template are elasticated to stretch into new realms. When compared to the majority of features from the same year like Evil Laugh or Night Ripper, DeCoteau’s effort offers much more in terms of creativity and flair. Although the “too gory for the silver screen” boast from the hyperbole packaging is definitely a half-truth, there are one or two credibly handled splatter scenes. Tom Schwartz’s power drill decapitation can rank among the neatest killings of the genre and the gruesome hand impalement that precedes it is also impressive.
Sadly, despite a couple of ambitious camera angles, it is fairly easy to see why DeCoteau has never taken his career above SOV and DTV status. In fact, at times the movie fails to generate any kind of atmosphere at all, which is majorly disappointing. The constant homo-erotic references that would become his trademark are in full flow and there’s the usual amount of cheese and ear numbing hair metal for your enjoyment.
As is the case with so many eighties slashers, the film’s biggest flaw is the heinous work from the bubblegum cast. It’s also worth noting that these ‘actors’ have the worst hairstyles ever featured collectively in a runtime. It is kind of like a hair horror movie or something, where the real bogeyman is the stylist with the comb in his hand in the dressing room. Even if the dramatics are most definitely those of the ‘high school play’ variety, funnily enough though there was a soon to be “award winning screen actress” amongst the hopefuls. Ashlyn Gere (yes her again), ‘star’ of Evil Laugh and Lunch Meat would give up on feature films and go on to become a big name in the porn industry. She even directed her own adult movie! I must admit that I like female killers very much, but the nut job here is not the best advertisement for psychos in stilettos. We want our maniacs to look creepy and disfigured or at least slightly deranged. This succubus is little more than a washed-up Kim Basinger… no fair!
To be honest, pushing the imaginative work of the screenwriter to one side, there’s not much here to warrant hunting out a copy of Dreamaniac. Despite giving you the false hope that it’ll taste like a Nandos after a night on the San Miguels, it ends up more like a greasy kebab that you found on the table the next morning. It simply fails to build on a promising foundation. There are a lot better efforts floating around, but I guess that for people like us – the slasher enthusiasts – it’s worth seeing for a couple of cool gore scenes.
The highlight of Decoteau’s career thereafter; I mean, his biggest motion picture, would be Puppet Master III. He did return to the slasher genre, with The Frightening, Final Scream and the sequel to Jeff Obrow’s Legend of the Mummy, which funnily enough plays more like a stalk and slash flick. Aside from that, he would remain a big-enough figure in B-Movies to have made a name that almost everyone in horror is aware of, which is a considerable feat. I cannot be sure if he is satisfied that he has reached the peak of his ambition, but I think he can be proud of his contributions to cinema. His ship never quite rolled in close enough to take him to the level of the names that I mentioned in my opening paragraph, but he carved out a career that has seen him roll out almost a hundred titles. Not bad for a guy that constantly works on the smallest of budgets.
Final Girl: √√