The Orphan Killer 2011
Directed by: Matt Farnsworth
Starring: Diane Foster, David Backus, Edward Winrow
Review by Luis Joaquín González
The IMDB is such a fantastic tool for checking out big budget movies. Before going to the cinema or buying a DVD, it’s always worth looking at the ranking that a studio flick has acquired. If it’s above an 8, you’re generally in for an out and out classic, whilst anything from 6.5 will certainly be worth investing two-hours of your life with. Where the site really has issues is when it comes to stalk and slash pictures. Whilst Halloween sits accurately at 7.9, Friday the 13th Part II has a measly 6. It’s even worse when you start to look at low budget entries, and that’s where I found a problem with The Orphan Killer.
After watching the film, I checked to see what others had been saying about it and I found five reviews in a row that had given it 1/10, the lowest ranking that the IMDB offers. There were also a few comments, including the classic, ‘Just when you think you’ve seen the worst movie in the world, you stumble upon this piece of trash.‘ Really? We live in an age where there are features available that have been shot and edited on an iPad, but if you listen to the users on the IMDB, this is poorer than any of them. Without blowing my own trumpet too much, I have to underline the necessity of a site like a SLASH above, where authors like my good self make the effort to analyse these films in detail to give you the best possible heads-up.
Two young children that survived the brutal murder of their parents in a botched robbery attempt are transferred to a catholic orphanage and put up for adoption. Upon arrival, Audrey manages to settle in quickly and make friends with the other kids, but her brother Marcus has a much tougher time and displays bouts of vicious violence that lead to aggressive punishment from his superiors. It doesn’t take long for Audrey to find a home with a loving family, but Marcus is left behind to suffer abuse from the over-zealous priest. Years later, Marcus escapes his confines and returns to the church to hunt out the sibling that he feels abandoned him.
As someone who was collecting slasher VHS during the late eighties, I remember the buzz of hunting out the full version of a gore film. Back then, due to censorship issues, it was a challenge to uncover an uncut copy from foreign (usually Dutch) shores and a real treat when you finally did. The likes of Absurd or Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche were never known for their intriguing plots or great acting, but they certainly delivered on the red stuff, which gave them a unique standing. In more recent times, we have much more leniency in what gets through on DVD or Blue Ray and it means that viewers don’t only demand gruesome effects; they want everything else to boot. If The Orphan Killer had been released in 1981, it would have become one of those cult classics that horror fans spent an eternity searching for. Nowadays though it’s a fossil from a bygone era and gratuitous bloodletting alone doesn’t have the same underground appeal.
Whilst it’s hard for me to say whether my recollections of those times have swayed my opinion, I found quite a lot to appreciate about The Orphan Killer. I am writing this review the morning after the 2015 Oscars and Alejandro González Inarritu’s wonderfully kooky Birdman picked up Best Picture. It was filmed using lengthy tracking sequences that were so cleverly cut that the film looked like one continuous shot from start to finish. Director Matt Farnsworth (on a much smaller scale of course) utilises the completely opposite approach here, but also creates some intriguing visuals that brought to mind early Aronofsky. I counted 8 cuts in a thirty-second scene at one point; and each came from a camera placed in a creative location that was rarely static. It’s almost as if Farnsworth entered a room and spent hours defining all the possible areas that he could shoot from before deciding how he could apply movement to keep the momentum running. During the mid-section, there’s a marathon of stalk and slash action that includes so many camera switches and angles that I literally lost count of them. A great example of this can be found in the murder of the unfortunate nun that I have posted above.
Orphan is a splatter flick at heart and the gore is exceptional considering the stringent funding. Heads are crushed, squashed, smashed and in one really gruesome scene, split in two by a machete. I recall numerous moments that made me flinch away due to the level of grotesque imagery, and this is a picture that revels in the suffering of its players. Marcus Miller is a terrifyingly ruthless antagonist and he stalks with an obvious menace that brings to mind the iconic bogeymen of yesteryear. Unlike many of his kin, Marcus taunts his victims with verbal threats that add to his intimidation and the backstory works to help build his psychopathic aura. David Backus does a superb job of bringing the killer to life and he fills the role with power, strength and maniacal intent.
Even if I have highlighted that gore films are never huge on character development, it is clearly visible how the lack of any at all has left Orphan looking extremely hollow. It’s rare that you’ll see a cast list with so many anonymous credits such as ‘Skateboarder’ or ‘Urban Legend Teen #2’ and the people featured within are given less importance than the props the killer uses to dispatch them. It makes such a difference to have players that we’ve invested in emotionally, but even the heroine failed to win us over in this script. This leaves the film without a solid structure and it plays almost like a collection of kill scenes that have been loosely stapled together. I’m not a fan of death metal and I look at horror as a genre that succeeds when audio and visual are juxtaposed together to bring an environment to life. More often than not I found myself reaching for the ear plugs and the film could have done with a suitably creepy score.
Once Marcus has finally caught and imprisoned Audrey, we get some slower paced torture porn-like scenes that are a lot less engrossing. A directorial style as rapid as Farnsworth’s didn’t flow as well in an enclosed environment and the best pieces of his work came during the numerous chase sequences. In terms of dramatics, the performances were weak but serviceable and kudos to Diane Foster, who gives her all in a portrayal that asked an incredible amount of physicality. The insane killer stalking his sister synopsis has been done to death, but Orphan manages to keep you interested, despite the numerous flaws.
Matt Farnsworth has worked really hard here to give us a film that pushes the boundaries of what we have experienced previously. It infuriates me that all this effort can be brushed off by a 1/10 rating without recognition of all that he has achieved. It’s ok to dislike a film, but it’s a waste of time to read any write-up that contains something along the lines of ‘this is the worst movie ever made’. You’ll have to trust me when I tell you that it simply is not…
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √√
Directed by: Tim Cowles
Starring: Eleanor James, Emily Eaves, Jason Impey
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I’ve recently turned 34, which I tell you because I’m from a generation that grew up just before the invasion of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Hi5. I was in my twenties during the noughties, so I still got to experience the impact that these sites had on social interaction and relationships. It’s interesting, because I remember the times of having to call landlines or walk to knock on someone’s front door if I wanted to chat with them. Nowadays I can simply drop them a note on What’sapp or some other messaging service and ascertain where they are, who they’re with and whether they’re choosing to ignore me ;) I’m often told that I should be more proactive on Twitter and Facebook, especially with regards to a SLASH above, but perhaps it’s because of my age that I haven’t quite grasped the necessity of a social media presence.
Whether these methods of contact are a benefit or a hindrance to our evolution as humans is impossible to answer, but it’s an interesting theory to think about. It’s one that was certainly on the mind of director Tim Cowles when he put pen to paper for this British slasher that hit shelves last year. Not to be confused with 2005’s Backslash, Backslasher was poorly received upon release and currently holds a 2.2 rating on the IMDB. This Is incredibly low, but there’s always the excuse that slasher movies are easy targets for mockery from stern critics because of their simplistic style. Seeing that the excellent Billy Club has dropped from 7.4 to 5.6 on the same website adds weight to this theory.
A young woman who’s obsessed with her social media accounts launches an online business that sells lingerie and sex toys. She Is running a blog to assist with marketing but soon discovers that someone maybe taking an unhealthy interest in her status updates. It soon becomes apparent that a masked killer is stalking her friend list and it looks as if she’s next in his sights…
Shooting films on a penny sweet budget must be tough, because creative concepts can get lost amongst the lack of funding. Backslasher tries hard to deliver something unique and intriguing but has suffered, slightly unfairly, due to its minimal production values. It choses an unusual starting path, which introduces our characters rather awkwardly. The best horror movies begin with a scare or shock sequence of some kind to set a tone, but it takes fifteen-minutes or so for the killer to even put in an appearance here. This makes the opening scenes a bit pointless because we are left trying to get our heads around what we are watching. A group of girls prance around in lingerie to introduce the theme of the products that they’re selling, but these parts are a nothingness in terms of the film’s horror backbone. I haven’t seen the old chestnut of a maniac stalking two lovers parked in a secluded spot for quite some time, so it was refreshing to be back at a set up that is so rudimentary yet satisfying. Cowles shows his knowledge of the period slashers in a couple of the murders, including an assault of a female jogger, which was last seen in Graduation Day. Dressing the killer in a common mask and hooded jumper underlines the film’s cheapness, but he is at least brutal and intimidating when he strikes.
What I really liked about Backslasher was its smartly ambiguous conclusion. The plot works along the line of you thinking you’ve guessed who is under the mask, but just when you believe you’ve really nailed it, your choice of culprit becomes the next victim. I felt initially cheated by the revelation scene, but later I understood that it was the perfect end to a story that focuses on the privacy and anonymity of Social Media. It’s extremely unusual for a stalk and slash film to include an ending that you’ll need to watch through again to really understand and in honesty it impressed me. Whodunits have been done to death and outside of tricking the audience unfairly, there’s very little that we haven’t seen before. Cowles takes a risk that might disappoint some viewers, but I appreciated his ambition to try an off-kilter resolution.
It’s unfair to criticise a low budget movie for being low budget, but Backslasher’s main issues are visible exactly because of that. The performances are predictably mediocre and the footage is grainy and poor in quality. We do get a guitar-based score that is fresh and uplifting, but when the horror starts, there are some misplaced sci-fi-like buzzing sounds that are notably out of place. Whilst the screenplay does have moments that are strongly commendable, it could have been structured to have a much smoother flow. I imagine the film would play much better with a murder in the pre-credits and most of the background characters are interchangeable because they’re given very little to do. There were a couple of times when people got killed and I couldn’t remember who they were, which showed they had been poorly introduced.
Backslasher is a project that writes cheques its budget can’t cash. It’s a creative concept that could have done with some fine tuning. Many people won’t have the patience to really appreciate it, which is a shame, but a lesson that can be learned. Tim Cowles shouldn’t give up on his filmmaking dream, but he’s still some way off delivering a really credible entry.
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√
Burlesque Massacre 2011
Directed by: Tim Whitfield
Starring: Crystal Swarovski, Olivia Bellafontaine, Polly Peabody
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Tim Whitfield is another of those self-financing underground directors that has built up a catalogue of horror films on low budgets and released and distributed them through his own company, Timberwolf West Entertainment. Back in 2002, he produced a slasher movie called Summer’s End: The Legend of Samhain, which added a supernatural sheen to the standard masked killer vs teen template. It was extremely low budget, but it played true to its eighties heritage and delivered a high quota of boobs and blood. I have it in Spain amongst my other VHS cassettes and will no doubt review it in the future.
Over ten years later, Whitfield returned to the genre with Burlesque Massacre, a title that he has said pays homage to the sleaze-ridden entries from the seventies. It’s available to buy from his website and you can also get a copy on Amazon at an agreeable price.
After a creepy black and white intro that shows a naked chick getting drowned in a bath, we meet a group of low level strippers at a dance club. They’re planning to take a break for a weekend at the abode of one of their friend’s with a couple of days to practice before their next gig. Unfortunately for them, it seems that they’re sharing the house with a pair of vicious killers that plan to slaughter them all.
First things first, Burlesque Massacre is a huge improvement on Samhain in terms of production quality. The photography is crystal clear and beautifully plush, which gives the movie an extremely polished look. Whitfield incorporates various shades to his colour palette that include sepia for the recollection footage and grainy borders to reference the 70s Grindhouse inspirations. He’s also invested in a stylish soundtrack that is competently mixed and works wonders in the opening twenty-minutes to vitalise the tone. We hear a melodic piano composition at one point that is so unique and operatic that it really gives the runtime a gloss of professionalism that hides the moderate budget.
Burlesque doesn’t dwindle in the delivery of its subject matter and we see three murders and two full frontal nudity shots in the first fifteen minutes. I don’t recall any lengthy periods where someone isn’t about to get slaughtered and Whitfield shows an awareness that slashers often get tedious when the maniac is not on the screen. There is little chance of that happening though because there is a tag team of psychopaths at work, and they notch up an impressive number of corpses between them as the story unravels. The main bogeyman has a skull-mask and hulking frame and despite the film not being overtly gory with what it displays, the killings are gruesome due to their remorselessness.
I’m not giving away anything by revealing the crux of the plot, because Burlesque is not a whodunit. Our villains are a brother and sister who have grown into a incestuous relationship due to the abuse of their father. We are shown numerous scenes where they get it on (sometimes around corpses) and this ups the sleaze factor to the maximum. They plan to murder all of the strippers and then take off somewhere so that they can be together and open a dance school, but we never really learn how they plan to cover their tracks. It does seem that their murderous mission is the crux of the synopsis, because none of the other girls step up to take on the protagonist mantle. Usually this is the kind of thing that is likely to ruin similar features, but Burlesque moves so quickly and is so packed to the rafters with action that I barely got time to notice what was lacking.
This is at heart another title like Porn Shoot Massacre or Strip Club Slasher that aims to be as perverted as possible to attract the T&A type of audience. I have mentioned previously that slasher movies that go with the softcore approach are not my bag and if I must be honest, my stance hasn’t changed. The incest scenes were OTT and disturbing and went a bit too far for my tastes. I like my slashers to be cheesy and scary, but I don’t need to see so much nudity and exploitation. Still, I can openly admit that this is down to my personal preference and if screaming hookers in their skin suits rocks your boat then that’s fine by me.
Whilst not really being the kind of entry that I usually enjoy, I must admit that there’s loads for others to like about Burlesque Massacre. It’s a gritty take on the slasher template that has moments of creepiness, bundles of murders and an overall flair for unpredictability. Stalk and slash flicks are meant to be fun and Whitfield deserves credit for avoiding the flaws that destroy so many of his brethren. By avoiding the typical mystery aspect, giving us a twosome of maniacs and keeping with its aura of sadism, its actually fairly authentic.
I say check it out…
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl √
Killer Campout 2005
Directed by: Victor Franko
Starring: Jillian Swanson, Anthony Goes, Patrick Hickey,
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This is another total obscurity that I received in the post a few years back, but I’ve never got around to actually watching. I’ve been trying to review Camp Blood for a SLASH above since the start of the year, but I can’t locate my copy anywhere. Desperate to post a newish killer in the woods flick for y’all, I thought that I’d finally take the plunge and give this a viewing. Killer Campout is budget filmmaking at the lowest possible level, so there’s little more in terms of production value than a camcorder and an industrial sized container of corn syrup. I know that doesn’t sound like the most attractive prospect, but if I’m going to cover the entire genre, then I’ll have to sit through some of these from time to time.
It came from Victor D’Agostino (under the pseudonym Victor Franko) who had been working as an extra and picking up experience around the film industry since 2002. Amongst other things, he had assisted B-Movie director Jay Woelfel on the production of both Ghost Lake and Demonicus before finally getting the funds together to make his own slasher extravaganza three-years later. He hired locals and buddies to fill up the cast list and filmed it at a site that he knew extremely well.
Seven kids head off on a camping trip into some secluded woodland to smoke pot and make-out for a weekend. The forest is host to an urban legend of a monster of some kind that kills invaders of his domain. Before long, they soon discover this to be true, as a burlap sack sporting maniac begins to slash his way through them.
It would be foolish to have high expectations for a movie that cost $500 to produce, but prepare to be shocked señoras y señores, because Killer Campout is a real gem for the money that was put into it. What we have here is a tribute to Friday the 13th that pays homage in the best possible way and offers much more of a knowing nod than the likes of Blood Reaper or Day of the Ax managed. The killer looks splendid in a black burlap sack and traditional Killer in the Woods lumberjack get-up and he stalks with the kind of physically imposing frame that made Jason so memorable. D’Agostino didn’t have the budget to cast someone to play the maniac, so instead he performed the role himself. He really gave life to the hulking slayer, which may well have been due to his previous acting experience. A fine example of this is during the pulsating chase sequence in the closing minutes, where the final girl is pursued after she has sprained her ankle. Our bogeyman has a traditional slow-footed Michael Myers stalk, which means that her injury makes them equally paced and it generates some solid suspense. In another scene, the killer towers over the same cowering female after murdering one of her colleagues. She sits dumbfounded and in a state of shock and its one of those moments that makes you scream at the screen, “Get up and run for Gawd’s sake!” It was great to see the director transcending his budget in an effort to give us as thrilling a ride as possible.
The feature clocks in at fifty-four minutes, which doesn’t leave a great deal of time for character development, but the lightweight script still managed to chuck in some memorable gimmicks. These include a hilarious shoplifting skit and some wacky weed-smoking references that are delivered by a pair of rouge-ish chicks that are there to add a dose of humour. I was incredibly impressed with seventeen-year-old Jillian Swanson’s portrayal of the heroine, because with minimal dialogue and screen-time, she gave us a charming and approachable final girl. Her career blossomed for a couple of years after this and she appeared in a few other horror pictures, but she’s been missing since 2007, so I’m guessing that she’s given up on acting, which is a shame. Along with the energetic performances, I also found the gore effects to be worthy of credit, because they’ve pulled off some really effective visuals on shoelace funding. Amongst these was a gruesome impalement and an outstanding head-lopping trick that proved that with the right camera angles and a sharp mind, a lack of funding doesn’t effect what you can achieve.
Despite some crisp photography that is as radiant as anything that I’ve seen in slasher cinema, nothing can overcome the obvious amateurism of the sound mixing and editing. It looks as if scenes were completed and given musical accompaniment before everything was chopped together, so we get a whole heap of moments when two separate scores that don’t really fit are amalgamated into one set-piece. There are also times when the dialogue couldn’t be synced at the same times as the soundtrack for some unknown reason, which gives the audio an awkwardness that shows the film’s cheapness. They did make this work to their advantage in one place though, by giving the killer his own atmospheric POV that had a distinguished piece of music every time that he appeared on screen. It was a good way to make the best use of the budget restraints and its even something that they poked fun at later when the heroine grabbed a weapon during the conclusion.
I ask myself, did Victor D’Agonisto get what he could out of $500? The answer is as blatant a yes as a yes can possibly be. This is a very good entry that delivers far more thrills, Friday the 13th references and slasher fun than most of the films released recently on ten-times the expense. Whilst I admit that you need to be lenient in places, I think slasher fans will lap it up if they can find a copy.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√√
Camp 139 2013
Directed by: Matthew Joseph Adams, Benjamin James
Starring: Ricardo Andres, Greg Bronson, Michael Cooley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Last week, when I posted my write-up of Blood Shed, I was chatting about other entries that included a crazed soldier as an antagonist and how the ‘born to kill’ synopsis made a perfect motive for a film such as this. Well Camp 139 has a plot outline so similar to Shed that I had to check that they weren’t from the same crew. Released on DVD earlier this year, not many have given this the time of day, which makes your old uncle Luis proud to be the first to put pen to paper on a Slash above. Interestingly enough, there’s a short that I have seen called Camp 139 that was released back in 2010 by director Ryan Polukord. I haven’t uncovered a link between the two productions, which is strange, because they have similar woodland backdrops and the same unique title…
Four youngsters head off to a place in the forest where it’s rumoured that there lies an abandoned military hospital. Legend states that many years after the Second World War, the site became a hub of experiments to create soldiers that were brainwashed to become remorseless killing machines. After a while, we learn that a maniacal force is hiding amongst the woodland…
Like many hard working Joes across the world, I use public transport, the train in fact, to arrive at my place of work. (Rarely on time) Readers in countries like Germany and Canada can be comforted by the fact that they may never have to experience the catastrophe that is the National Rail Service in the United Kingdom. A couple of weeks ago, I arrived at the station to see that not just one, but two of my scheduled journeys had been cancelled due to an ‘undiagnosed fault’. When a carriage finally did pull up to my platform an hour and a half later, it was packed like a cattle truck so they would let no other desperate passengers clamber aboard. My boss was livid. Camp 139 is a similar experience to that event, because we wait 38 minutes for the killer to arrive, and when he finally does, he drags his victim off the screen in two-seconds flat. It felt like one of those crappy Secret Santa presents where a devious colleague has wrapped a health-food bar in an iPad box. I’m still not sure if I have fully recovered.
Up until that point, things had been grim, inescapably so. A mechanic couldn’t give you heart surgery, a bricklayer wouldn’t build you a cloud software platform and a person without a clue won’t deliver an exciting scary movie experience. I felt a bit sorry for the actors, because they weren’t doing such a bad job. I closed my eyes to listen to their conversations and they sounded almost how you would imagine a gang of friends to talk. It’s just that the dialogue is so bad and so tediously shot that it takes the will power of an ancient monk to keep focus. They didn’t even bother including a score of some kind to add energy to the sequences. It’s hard on occasion, when watching a bad movie, to put a finger on the true roots of the problem. With directors Matthew Joseph Adams and Benjamin James, there’s no mistake in uncovering the guilty party.
The final third takes place in an abandoned factory of sorts and rips off Blood Junkie so much that for a moment I forgot what film I was watching. I often wonder how psycho killers that reside in such a dilapidated place manage to survive when dumb teens don’t wander through on a camping trip. I mean, what do they eat? Do pizza guys accept payment from a fellow in camouflage and a Gas Mask? Do such people receive homeless benefits? Anyway, whereas Junkie was a fine example of craft and finesse on shoestring funding, Camp offers absolutely nothing. No chills, no thrills, no skills and no hundred-dollar bills baby. You can blame the minuscule budget all you want but that’s not an excuse for flat boring camera angles, cringeworthy conversations and a killer in a mask that doesn’t even fit him. I mean come on!!! Even the sight of Victoria Paege in a bikini couldn’t save it.
I knew that I was in for a bad time when the pre-credits scene burst on to the screen like a headless bull. Just who were those people and what the hell was going on? Before I even had a chance to analyse the visuals, my ears were pounded by some death metal and everything faded to black. It came to a close with a twist that you’ll have guessed and a hilarious explanatory scene, which had my partner and I grimacing. Following that, our room was like something from a Sergio Leone Western. All that was missing was a gust of wind and some tumbleweed. We looked at each other in silence and a state of shock. Perhaps it was only a bad dream? If only.
Quarantine this Camp on the double is my recommendation, I’m off to catch my train… (Crosses fingers)
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √
Rose Of Death 2007
Directed by: L. Alan Brooks
Starring: Luke Jones, Sarah McGuire, Sandra Winogrocki
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Buenos días slasher fans, my apologies that I have been away for so long, but since the last time that we spoke, I’ve moved house twice and stumbled a bit upon the work/life balance tightrope. Funnily enough the site’s visit stats during my MIA status have shot through the roof, which means one of two things: 1) You guys and girls prefer when I’m not updating a SLASH above or 2) the legion of global stalk and slash admirers is growing. I’m hopeful that it’s the second.
So here we have one that I believe not many have heard of, Rose of Death. It’s a cheapo quickie from 2007 that was included in the Tomb of Terrors 50-film DVD pack that I picked up a few years back. Much like the slashers of yesteryear it tells the tale of a group of kids that go too far with their bullying on Prom Night. A sadistic event leaves two teenagers, Rose and Kevin, dead and the wrongdoers agree a pact, never to tell anyone about what happened that fateful night.
Ten years later, the murderers attend their high school reunion, but it soon becomes apparent that someone must have worked out their secret. A masked menace and his accomplice begin killing them off one by one by the most brutal means possible. Who could be behind the killings?
For many years, Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2 held the record for the longest pre-credits sequence in cinema history. Rose of Death runs it close here with the opening slaughter of the unfortunate prom attendees. There’s a story that I guess makes sense, regarding a jilted jock ex-boyfriend who sets out to teach his geeky love rival a lesson, but accidentally murders him in cold blood. In order to cover up the grim deed, he and his buddies decide to get rid of Rose, who is the only surviving witness. This sequence is effectively brutal in its content, but it is filmed so badly that I began to lose interest after four minutes of struggling to make out what was going on.
We are plagued by the usual mind numbingly bad acting, mumbled speech and braindead dialogue, but its the lack of ilumination that’s the real issue. I noticed that some times, even during key moments, it was impossible to see anything at all. We learn later that the two corpses were put into an automobile and pushed into a lake, but if the producer invested any money in this effect, it was wasted because all that was visible was blackness. This continues throughout the runtime on every occasion that the camera heads outside into the night sky and it doesn’t take long to become frustrating.
We fast forward ten years and the plot then stumbles through the development of the guilty parties after the events of the prologue. If I had the chance, I’d ask what skin cream that they use because they haven’t aged a day. Soon enough, a gruesome twosome of killers begin to slash their way through the troupe and we get one slightly ok gore effect. As a nod to Rosemary’s Killer, they leave a freshly picked calling card at the scene of each death. The girl’s name was Rose, so they leave a bright red one.
To be fair, the momentum tightens during the second half of the story, because we are asking ourselves who the vigilantes could possibly be. The budget piggy bank must’ve been empty by the time that we get to the big revelation scene though because the whole thing is left pretty much unexplained. Without giving too much away, I was scratching my head with perhaps the most important of all questions, which is: how? Please let me know if you have any idea.
ROD has some good ideas in both it’s script and filmmaking technique, but it’s plagued by the obvious lack of funding. I liked the referencing of The Prowler and they even find the time to put in the old head in a toilet trick, which we saw in both Curtains and The House on Sorority Row. The odd flash of genre recognition is not enough to make up for the moments of ineptitude though and the film is just awkward to watch.
L. Alan Brooks’ slasher couldn’t help but bring to my mind the title of the underrated Nicolas Refn film, Only God Forgives. I feel that in this case though, even the almighty may not be quite forgiving enough…
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √
Silent Night Bloody Night 2013
Directed by: James Plumb
Starring: Philip Harvey, Victor Ptak, Alan Humphries
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Merry Christmas to all my readers!!! So the film featured in my last review, Silent Night, was a VERY loose re-imaging of Silent Night Deadly Night from 1984. It was in fact so loose that if I hadn’t had read the press pack that came with the pre-screener, I would have thought that it was just a stand alone feature. Silent Night Bloody Night: The Homecoming however didn’t even bother to get creative. It’s an almost word-for-word duplicate of a film of the same title that was made some forty-years earlier. The original Silent Night Bloody Night boasted an intriguing concept, a uniquely gothic tone and some solid performances. This British back garden rehash is as much of a tribute to that cult classic as would be a One Direction cover of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. In fact, it may even be worse…
Christmas Eve 2012, Jeffrey Butler returns to a small town after finally deciding to sell the house that had been left to him in the will of his Grandfather. William Butler had burned to death in mysterious circumstances twenty-five years ago and it has been vacant ever since. Three key figures from the local community, including the town Mayor, have mixed feelings on letting the property go on the market and want to purchase it for themselves. To make matters worse, a serial killer that has broken out of the local asylum decides to take refuge in the dilapidated abode. Before long, the maniac begins systematically slaughtering the locals, but what could all these events have in common with one another?
I would hate to play group poker with director James Plumb on my team. Here’s a guy who doesn’t hold anything back… even for a second. I knew from the moment that a Mark 4 Ford Transit (in production from the years 2000 – 2006) turned up in a prologue dated 1987 that I was in for a gruelling seventy-eight minutes. They even scribbled over the number plate with a whiteboard marker in a pathetic attempt to cover up the fact. Continuity, anyone?
So anyway, the plot gets rolling and they manage to achieve the almost impossible task of making what was a slightly complex but logical story seem like it doesn’t make a lick of sense. Did screenwriter Andrew Jones find an online copy of the original script written in Imperial Aramaic and run it through Google translate before submitting it as his final draft? For the first thirty minutes, I had no idea who was the protagonist, what was going on or why I should care about anything at all. Strangers walk on to the screen and say a few lines before getting killed in sequences that may have been edited by Wallace ‘Wally’ Karue from See No Evil, Hear No Evil. I could write a thousand words about the way that scenes look to have been chopped together on a freeware version of Windows Live Movie Maker, but the filmmakers couldn’t be bothered and so I can’t either. One couple got dispatched with an axe rather bloodily whilst underlining the have sex and die rule for the second time in fifteen-minutes. It was a shocking waste of circus potential though, because the nameless female is the only person in the history of sexual relations that can get down to it whilst keeping all of her clothes on. How cool is that? Maybe it had something to do with the size of his hatchet? Boom Boom.
Forty minutes in to the original Silent Night Bloody Night, we had spent that time establishing a group of suspicious, shady characters in a smartly convoluted plot. In this dumb and pointless reboot, I wasn’t interested In anyone or anything that I was seeing, except I was wondering who would be foolish enough to pay the bill for a phone in an abandoned house. Our maniac killer uses said tel to ring and, ahem, ‘terrorise’ his intended prey in the same kind of ways that were so scary the last time that this story was told. The difference back then was that the actor playing the psycho’s voice was stern and terrifying, whilst Adrienne King shows how rusty she is here by sounding like an amateur dramatics group cast her off after the first audition. I am not sure about you, but I don’t enjoy paying a premium price to watch awful dramatics. I’m also not the biggest fan of flat, lazy camera angles, cardboard characters, an awful score and a noughties registration Ford Transit being teleported back to 1987 for the opening scene. I did however like the security guard at the mental hospital. Anyone that drinks Red Stripe beer and watches Night of the Living Dead whilst working with the criminally insane is a legend in my eyes.
It’s hard to find much positive to say about Silent Night Bloody Night: The Homecoming, but there were a few things that I liked. James Plumb seemed to save all of his minimal directorial ability for the final chase sequence and it went really well up until we saw that dreaded Ford Transit again. (In case you forgot, it’s the one that was used in the prologue from twenty-five years earlier). I guess that you could say that the killer’s guise was decent and there’s a fairly large body count, but it’s not enough to warrant you tracking this down. Yes it’s low budget and yes it’s good that people still want to make slasher films, but I just felt that it was offensive to the classic that it attempts halfheartedly to rehash.
The most talented person in this production was the one that put together the box-art. He/she made it look like a free vodka for eternity gift voucher and that’s just irresistible. If you, like me, are on a mission to see every single slasher movie, then make sure that you borrow your friend’s copy and save yourself a miserable Christmas of regretting wasting your wonga.
Final Girl √
To All A Goodnight 1980
Directed by: David Hess
Starring: Jennifer Runyon, Forest Swanson, Linda Gentile
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So 11 more sleeps to the big day! I am already stocking up on Vodka. My Mrs always nags at me for even having one beer (so I get shouted at all weekend), but she promised that I can have a drink during the festive period… Of course, she doesn’t realise that it’s like given a cat the key to the dairy and saying you can have one lick of milk ;) As she is Polish, I am Spanish and we live in UK, we get to celebrate Wigila (the 24th), the big X (25th) and el Día de Reyes on the 6th of Jan. That’s an awful lot of alcohol haha – Anyway, I have set up some slasher action for the period and this entry is intriguing and collectible for two significant reasons. Número uno: It was the first slasher movie to include a Santa-suited psycho, before Silent Night-Deadly Night, Psycho Santa and Christmas Season Massacre et al took it beyond cool and into the realms of ‘please go invent something new’. Número dos: it was the directorial debut of David Hess – a man who was to the horror genre what Johan Cryuff was to football.
You’d most likely be surprised by Hess’ hugely impressive contributions to show business and the things that he achieved prior to his acting exploits. His professional career began as a singer-songwriter for the small label Shalimar Music in 1957. He penned ‘All Shook Up’ for The King shortly after and the song became a massive hit. In fact, it was just recently voted as one of the top 20 all time rockabilly classics.
Throughout the months that followed, Hess would see Conway Twitty, Andy Williams, Sal Mineo and Pat Boone take his tracks to the top end of the charts, before he settled for a career behind the scenes as head A&R man for Mercury Records. In 1972 his fortunes continued to improve when he was offered the lead role in Wes Craven’s cult classic ‘The Last House on the Left’. He gave such a nasty and memorable performance that would allow him to continue to play tormented characters in movies such as Autostop, Rosso Sangue and Ruggero Deodato’s Bodycount.
By the time 1980 came around, he was ready to broaden his horizons in the film industry and so he took to the director’s chair for this cheap and cheesy festive shocker.
The opening scene is conveyed so rapidly that it felt like my finger had brushed the FF button and it had remained playing on >>32. It is Christmas vacation at the Calvin Finishing School for girls and the co-eds are celebrating by chasing one female around the dormitory. She heads out onto the balcony, trips over a bizarrely placed plant pot and takes a tumble to the concrete floor below. We can only presume that the girl died, although we’re never given an explanation to the scene. We don’t even know who any of these characters are?
Two years later, Xmas; and a large amount of the youngsters are going home. A few eager chicks decide to hang around and prepare for their own on-site celebrations. The gang of fun-loving ladies includes a curvaceous man-eater called Melody (Linda Gentile), who spends her time being swapped among the guys like a football card. There’s a suspiciously accented English girl named Trisha (Angela Bath), and a traditional inadvertent comic relief character, Leia (Judith Bridges). Finally we meet the Jamie Lee Curtis-lite goody-two-shoes sure-to-be heroine by the name of Nancy (Jennifer Runyon). Their house is run by Ruth Jensen (Katherine Herrington) and Trina Ronsoni (Judy Hess), who judging by that surname must be related to the director – maybe his wife? She also shows a brilliant knack for comic timing, by quipping at one point, “I’ll stop off on my way back. That is if the grim reaper doesn’t come calling”. Like, really???
Anyway, Christmas alone for the girls wouldn’t be much fun, so they literally fly in a gang of randy would-be bed-sharers including a stereotypical geek, Alex (Forest Swanson). It doesn’t take long for the masked Santa-suited slasher to turn up and begin cutting his way through the revellers. He then buries their bodies in the backyard with the professionalism and speed of a gang of landscape gardeners. So who will survive this Christmas Massacre?
To all a Good Night isn’t as bad as its hideous reputation would lead you to believe. In fact it’s actually fairly watchable in a so bad it’s good kind of way. What makes it perhaps rise above its amateurism in the filmmaking department is the hilarity of some of the dialogue, which seems to have been written on a notepad at a Russian vodka buffet. For example, Trisha bumps in to the maniac in a secluded spot of the garden and goofs in her comical sub-Brit accent, “Oh Tom, take that bloody mask off and take me to bed!” She gets what she rightly deserves. It’s also worth noting that on planet eye test, all the guys here are captivated by the extremely dumb and slightly scary Leia. They then defy logic by completely ignoring the smart and decent Nancy. Leia, the aforementioned flat chested redhead, also provides most of the nudity, while the shapely Melody remains fully clothed throughout? Not being content with constantly ripping off her clothes, Leia also goes nuts towards the conclusion of the movie and spends the final third of the runtime singing and ballet dancing round the corpses of her chums. The killer, obviously realising that she’s a slice of cheese, bap and a burger short of a cheeseburger, doesn’t even give her the dignity of putting her out of her misery!
Mark Shostrum’s gore effects may well be the most spectacular ever filmed. We’ll never know if that’s true however, because the picture is just too dark. Day for night filters are used without any other form of lighting, and at times the lack of clear vision ruins the movie. The only good killing that I remember featured the maniac dressed in a suit of armour and it was thankfully filmed inside the house, so the lighting was at least passable.
Despite losing about six of their colleagues in the first thirty minutes, the remaining victims fail to acknowledge that there is a maniac stalking the campus. Instead they continue to mouth inept comments when each morning’s roll-call shows another disappearance, such as, “They must have gone to bed.” Even when the heavily-mutilated body of Ralph the albino gardener is discovered, they still refuse to accept that a maniac might be trying to cut down the guest list for their Xmas party. The utter stupidity of the youngsters destroys any sympathy for their eminent demise.
On the plus side, there is a humongous body count and as I said, it’s fairly amusing in an inadvertent kind of way. Whilst an abundance of time makes many slashers seem dated, in many ways, To All a Goodnight is helped by its age. The campy charm makes this one-star movie worthy of the two that I’ve given it below. It’s another fine example of intolerable rubbish-ness being salvaged by 80s ‘did they really’ nostalgia.
Unfortunately, Hess passed away two-years ago, but before he did, he said that filmmaking was something that he’d like to try again, although he admitted that he had neither the time nor the cash flow to apply such focus. It is a shame that he never got round to it, because modern slashers lack the goofy charm of this one.
Final Girl √
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: √√√√√