Cheerleader Camp: To The Death 2014
Directed by: Dustin Ferguson
Starring: Jarad Allen, Jennifer Banko, Karrie Bauman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So, a killer stalking cheerleaders that are training in some remote woodland in a film called Cheerleader Camp. Have we seen that before? I don’t know anymore… I’m going back to sleep.
Yes so here we have another extremely rare one from director Dustin Ferguson, the guy who also gave us Doll Killer, which I’ll review for you soon. In many ways, Ferguson reminds me of Gary Whitson, because his films are generally lowest of the low in terms of budget, but tick the boxes in terms of genre recognition and fun. Whitson has done a fair bit in his career, but nothing outshines the accomplishment of discovering the beautiful Tina Krause. Could Ferguson go on to achieve something similar?
A year ago, five cheerleaders were horribly mutilated and burned to death by an unknown someone replacing the water source to a sprinkler hose with sulphuric acid. Now, a group of girls return to the same site to prepare for the regional dance off for the first time since that fateful accident. Amongst them is Tanya, a youngster who was replaced on the last event due to her being ill. Living with the guilt that she escaped certain demise, she becomes a mother figure to the more sensitive members of the troupe and stands up to the lead bully. Almost as soon as they arrive though, their coach wanders off into the night and is seemingly slaughtered by a masked killer. Stranded with no contact with the outside world, the girls have to overcome their differences and do battle with the psychopathic assailant.
Cheerleader Camp kicks off with the aforementioned acid/sprinkler sequence, which despite not being delivered as well as it could have, still provides a gruesome shock. There’s perhaps nothing more frightening than the thought of having a molten liquid thrown in to your face and Ferguson tops it off with some tacky gore to boot. After an impressive credit sequence (the film has an awesome soundtrack), we meet the teenagers that will narrate us through the synopsis. It’s here that Camp somewhat loses some credibility, which is mainly because of two things. Firstly, the acting is extremely erratic and seems to descend into the depths of absurdity every time something happens that requires emotion. Secondly – and perhaps most importantly – the audio and clarity of the picture jumps from bad to abysmal at the drop of a hat.
There was a scene early on that saw Tanya explain her nervous behaviour on the trip. The dialogue was so difficult to hear and comprehend that I turned the volume on my TV up to 45. This was absolutely fine until the music kicked in and deafened everyone within a 200-yard radius. It’s strange because at times, Camp looks to have been comfortably produced, but then every now and then we are given lengthy set-ups that look to have been filmed on an old-skool Nokia. I guess in a way that my opinion of the film’s visual and audible quality could be re-used to describe the entire movie. We get a couple of genuinely out-there nightmare sequences and some creative camera placements that show panache from the director. These few moments of credibility though are often diluted by something unnecessarily inept that appears just moments after.
Overall, it’s fair to say that Camp achieves the feat of paying tribute to some of the genre’s lesser-known titles superbly. I’m sure that I’m not the only one that’s tired of the amount of new-age entries that are so desperate to prove that they’ve seen more than one eighties-slasher that they broadcast each tribute in neon lights. It reminds me of those short fifty-year olds that buy a Ferrari to compensate for their insecurities (party sausage??). Well in Cheerleader Camp, the homages are more under-played and the Jeep (similar to the one from the first Friday the 13th), a plunger murder (Bikini Island) and the killer’s guise (Girl’s Nite Out) are much more refined. In fact the only obvious acknowledgement was a verbal nod to Cropsy from The Burning. Oh and talking of the killer’s guise, here we have one of the best. A maniac in a Panda suit… Brilliant! I was somewhat surprised that there was no featured nudity, but Karrie Bauman, who played Sophia, certainly provided some eye-candy.
Recently, I was in my town centre in desperate need of some Wagamama action. My heart sunk when I noticed that my local chain was closed for refurbishment. Highly disgruntled, I headed off to buy a pack of Japanese noodles from Tesco, which was only a cheap compensation. Cheerleader Camp is very similar, because it’s an extreme budget example of the parts of these films that we adore. Sure, it’s certainly not going to win any awards, but it does offer some pretty fun scenarios. El cheapo fun for sure, but fun all the same…
aka La Casa Del Terror
Directed by: John Wintergate
Starring: John Wintergate, Kalassu Kay, Lindsay Freeman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Move over Nail Gun Massacre, make way Last Slumber Party and step aside Night Ripper… There’s a new kid in town… Boarding House is the new contender for king of the trash-video crown. This is a movie so criminally rubbish that you’ll believe that you’ve died and been deported to bad movie hell. I Learnt of its existence from The Terror Trap and then looked it up on the IMDB, where I read various write-ups that described the inadvertent humour and jaw dropping cheesy horror. I immediately set about buying a copy and two weeks later, here’s what I found…
It begins with a prologue showing us murders that have plagued ‘The Hoffman House’. A guy is pushed into a swimming pool, which bizarrely kills him. Another stranger is seen pulling out his intestines and an unseen someone with a black glove forces a woman (that really doesn’t seem too concerned) to hang herself. These are all intercut with a computer screen that shows us in text that every person that has ever so much as entered this abode has ended up either hung, drawn, quartered or has suffered some other gruesome fate. So can you guess who will be the next occupants to move in to the mansion and meet their doom? Why of course you can – it’s a randy telekinetic guy and a troupe of beaming ‘hotties’ with a tonne of mascara but not a trace of common sense between them.
This was the first horror movie to be shot on video, which is a big up yours to Christopher Lewis who made the belated claim that Blood Cult, his semi-slasher effort from three years after, was the first entry of that kind. Funnily enough, this one actually had a theatre run, but I have no idea about its box office successes. I can only guess that it was hardly a massive hit.
Surprisingly, to all intents and purposes, Boarding House is not your typical hack and slasher. Director John Wintergate has chucked in a neat dose of outer-body mayhem, which means that the killer can eliminate the useless thespians without being anywhere near them at the time. This gives us the chance to see the drama school dropouts attempting to look as if they’ve suddenly been possessed by a mysterious hellish agony, without knowing where the hell it’s come from. Cue plenty of unconvincing facial expressions and stilted cries as the cast choke and pull off their faces whilst trying to act like they’re completely unaware why they’re doing it. In one particular scene, our heroine screams consistently for about two minutes while she suffers (yet) another of her ‘terrifying’ nightmares, which I think reached double figures before the final credits rolled. I am not sure what was more effected, my eardrums or her throat after that yelling marathon.
The ‘star’ of the movie, Hank Adly (a guy who looks like Rod Stewart might after 12 grams of coke), provided bucket loads of inadvertent humour. I loved the bit where he made a bar of soap fly around his bathtub to show off his telekinetic abilities and impress the on looking bunnies. There’s certainly plenty of nonsensical activity to bring a smile to the lips to those who cherish those classic bad movie moments. The final scene is particularly hilarious, as the killer and two survivors stand off for a telekinetic battle. Staged like a showdown from a Sergio Leone movie, the three gather in a circle and simultaneously gurn as they each try to inflict psychic pain on one another. It’s hard to give you a description that would do justice to the extent of the silliness, but trust me – it’s worth its weight in comedy gold. All of the female cast members manage to whip off their underwear at one point or another and there’s just enough exploitation to satisfy eighties trash fans.
Interestingly enough, Boarding House was something of a first, because it included a warning for viewers of a weaker disposition that would let us know when something horrific was about to happen. Suddenly, the screen comes alive in a maze of colours and that’s when we the audience know that someone is going to get dismembered. I must admit that this was a novel idea if we were about to sit down and watch a Lucio Fulci marathon. I’m not exaggerating my claim however when I state that my four-year-old daughter can create more realistic body parts with her Play Doh kit. This is especially evident in the ‘intestine ripping’ scene, which is clearly an actor pulling corn-syrup coated sausages from the gap in his shirt. Maybe they could have featured a warning before every bad movie moment? In fact they could have just placed an ‘amateur morons at work’ notice before the first credit sequence? Imagine the savings on budget!
Boarding House IS as mind numbingly atrocious as you had probably expected it to be. Even the back cover blurb has NO relevance whatsoever to the movie and I can’t forget to mention the wonderful tagline that promises intrigue, suspicion and a sinister environment (yeah right!). Oh and before I go, I’ll leave you with a quote from the female lead singer of ’33 and a third’ – The heavy metal band that ‘entertain’ the party at the film’s climax. “You say you want a rock romance, you’ve been begging just to get in my pants!” And with that I shall leave you to explore for yourselves…
Final Girl √
Babysitter Massacre 2013
Directed by: Henrique Couto
Starring: Erin R. Ryan, Marylee Osborne, Joni Durian
Review by Luis Joaquín González
As fans of the slasher genre, if you got the opportunity to make your own movie, how would it look? Would you tick all the boxes in regards to the general trademarks that you know and love? Would you pack it with nudity and gore? I ask this because Henrique Couto’s Babysitter Massacre is exactly how I’d imagine a true genre lover might roll out a slasher flick. That’s not a critical evaluation by any means, but a brief outline of what you should expect from this overlooked entry.
A group of girls that grew up together have decided to spend Halloween at a slumber party to rekindle their friendships. They haven’t been as close since one of their number was kidnapped years earlier and has never been found. They used to run a group called ‘The Babysitter Club’ and charge a fee to look after younger children in the area. This all stopped after the disappearance of young April and they hold a girl called Bianca wholly responsible for the awful event. Little do they know that a masked killer has began stalking and murdering them one by one and he seems to have a specific focus on Angela, their bubbly host. Can they stop the psychopath before he kills them all?
What I thought really worked about Babysitter was that it went out of its way to highlight some of the category’s favourite moments without needing to revert to parody. I noticed nods to Slumber Party Massacre, Sorority House Massacre II, Halloween and others, but they were rolled out slightly under the radar, which made it more satisfying when I recognised them. The killer boasted a unique and surprisingly effective blank mask, which I felt really gave him an aura of macabre non-identity. He kidnaps the majority of his victims and kills them with more of a torture-porn approach, but most of these scenes are exceptionally brutal and fairly authentic. My favourite would have to be the opening shot, which sees a girl getting her fingernails pulled off by a pair of pliers… Ouch!
Scenes between cast-members are neatly staged and comfortably shot and Couto has written some expressive dialogue in places. Erin Ryan is solid as Angela, the final girl, and even if she is surrounded by a lot of lesser actresses, she keeps the dramatics believable. It’s strange because the sequences of characters in conversation seem to work much better than the moments when the killer strikes. There are quite a few murders, but we have absolutely no idea who most of the early victims are and none of them have any kind of build up or anticipation. What I did find interesting was the use of text messages as a tool to threaten rather than the usual deranged phone calls. Babysitter Massacre is definitely a modern advancement on the old When a Stranger Calls chestnut. There was one chase sequence in an office complex that was sharp and tense, but aside from that, the killer just turned up immediately in most of the other killings. It’s hard to tell how much of this was performed that way due to a lack of budget, but the film was crying out for more suspense. Especially because Couto had proved that he could deliver it when the opportunity arose.
The final third is again very torture-porn-esque and offers a set-up where two of a trio of kidnapped girls have to murder their friend with a claw hammer in order to have a chance to escape the concrete basement that they’ve been locked in. Whilst the idea is twisted and sadistic, it doesn’t make sense, because logic dictates that they should have at least waited and seen if they could use said hammer to retaliate against their abductor. This brought my rating of the feature down considerably as I felt that it was unrealistic and thrown together with minimal thought. Thankfully, the downbeat ending salvages the tone as the credits roll and I actually thought it was really quite a shock.
Babysitter Massacre is a fine example of exploitation that is packed to the rafters with nudity (seriously there’s loads), gore and a pretty good mystery. I just think that it had something of a stagnated flow, which in fairness may well have been because of the stringent funding. Director Henrique Couto is a cool guy and because of that, it’s hard to give his movies a bad rating. His personality shines through his work and he seemed to love splashing the screen with goo and getting most of his actresses naked as much as we enjoyed watching it. I am sure that no one knows more than he that there is room for improvement here, but in the meantime it’s a film that I definitely enjoyed.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Blood and Sex Nightmare 2008
Directed by: Joseph R Kolbek
Starring: Julia Morizawa, Andy McGuinness, Tina Krause
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Ok… Blood and Sex Nightmare (!)… Me, I’m a practical joker and I like nothing more than making my day more entertaining by pulling office pranks. There are a lot of cinema fans in my workplace and what I’ve been doing lately is dropping this title amongst a plethora of others when in the midst of a film conversation. For example if I’m asked about my favourite directors, I’ll say, ‘Lynch for Mulholland Drive, Buñeal for El Ángel Exterminador and Kolbek for Blood and Sex Nightmare.’ Or when discussing favourites, my recent answers have been, ‘Scarface, Goodfellas, The Godfather oh and Blood and Sex Nightmare, have you seen that?’ The funny thing is, people look at you like it’s some artsy European classic that they really should know about. I’ve even had workmates pretend they’ve already watched it. Try it next time you get the chance, you’ll thank me after….
Anyway, so in reality this tin-pot slasher is pretty hard to find much information on, but it was one of a number that crept out towards the end of the noughties and attempted to mix slasher action with softcore porn. It’s similar in a way to Porn Shoot Massacre, Massacre at Rocky Ridge and the like, but at $3000 for a production budget it’s a damn site cheaper even than those pocket-money entries.
It tells the tale of a boyfriend who wants to make-out with his girl, but the chances of that happening seem even less assured, because she’s just returned from her father’s funeral. In a bizarre move, he offers to take her to an adult (sex) retreat for a weekend and even though she’s not really comfortable with the idea, she tags along out of fear of him leaving her. Little do the pair know that the site is the home of a deranged zombie/ghost that likes to slaughter visitors and torture them sexually.
I respect the fact that my readers, you beauties, are smart enough to know that Blood and Sex Nightmare (costing $3000) is not going to redefine the genre. So keeping in mind that we’re well aware already that it’s trash, we can begin to look at it a bit more objectively. What I mean is, we can define the level of its trashiness and measure it up against other such titans of the trash basket.
To be fair, the cheap grainy SOV footage, a creepy sound effect for the killer’s heavy breath and a simple yet ominous score, do give Nightmare a rather gritty back garden tone. Due to the budget (or therefore lack of), it’s filmed with a husky fog around the visuals, so it kind of looks how you’d imagine a snuff film might. When we see the level of the dramatics though, we know that it’s definitely not snuff that we’re witnessing. I doubt that real people moan like their tea is cold whilst they’re being gruesomely mutilated. (Not that I’d know of course). First (and last) time director Joe Kolbek lays his cards on the table right from the start by showing us an unknown man getting his penis chopped off in the first ten-minutes. What follows from there is just under an hour of sex, blood and well, a nightmare in terms of stylish direction and character definition. I feel stupid criticising the lack of any background on the victims, because Kolbek seems to paddle comfortably in the fact that he’s doing exactly what he set out to do without any care in the world for credible filmmaking. I guess, in a way, we have to take our hat off to him for that.
The only real story elements are based around our lead couple and the struggles that they are facing in their relationship. These parts are surprisingly well written and give our heroine a likeable persona. There are quite a few murders and tonnes of nudity (full frontal too) so at just under an hour, you’ll never get bored. Our killer is a zombie-type guy that wants to be reborn, but in order to achieve this, he needs a virgin, which funnily enough our heroine is. This leads to a tasteless scene in which he masturbates blood over her whilst she lays their screaming. I’m not a fan of stuff like that and I’m not sure who is, but in this movie, it didn’t feel out of place at all. After watching Tina Krause get her vagina mutilated, I think I was prepared for anything.
So what’s left to say? Well, not much of note, but the make-up for the killer was actually quite good and the penis chopping scene was uncomfortably realistic. Oh, and, I share my reviews on Facebook, Twitter and up until a while ago on my LinkedIn profile. My boss pulled me to one side recently and said, ‘Look Luis, you’ve got CEOs in your contact list and maybe posting stuff like Sandy Hook Lingerie Massacre is not right for our company profile.’ I’m just glad I stopped it before publishing Blood and Sex Nightmare. It does what it says on the tin…
Blood Slaughter Massacre 2013
Directed by: Manny Serrano
Starring: Matt W. Cody, Michael Roche, Carmela Hayslett
Review by Luis Joaquín González
A film called Blood Slaughter Massacre could only be, in any language, a slasher movie. I’ve written before about the amount of entries that have titles that start with Blood or end with the word Massacre and here we have a combination of the two with Slaughter (another common term amongst this genre’s features) chucked in the middle for the hell of it. I like the fact that there’s no messing around with this one, you get what it says on the box.
Anyway, the movie had an aura surrounding it throughout its production with some exciting photos of a killer donning a mask that brought to mind the Tor Johnson one used in Small Town Massacre. That has always been one of my favourites, because it gave the killer a haunting ‘deranged’ look, which had a similar effect as Michael Myers’ cherub-like Shatner. It was also refreshing to see a film that whilst paying tribute to the classics of the eighties, avoided the ‘done to death’ parody angle. No matter how much I love the genre, I’ve grown tired of watching filmmakers demonstrate the amount of references they can include in a runtime. We’ve moved to a time now where the best way of representing the cycle is by introducing a unique approach and avoiding the need for satire.
Two detectives that were involved in a tough case a decade ago are thrown back into the heart of it when a ruthless killer returns to their town and begins murdering the children of earlier massacre victims. The police are left stumped as the maniac stalks the city, but it soon becomes clear that there’s a method to his madness…
Last week, I posted a review of Camp Blood here on a SLASH above. Even if it is a low budget slasher movie just like this one, there’s a major difference that separates the way the two are presented and received. If you threw, for example, three-million dollars at the production of Brad Sykes’ entry, there would surely be improvements, but not really enough to completely alter the net result. Serrano on the other hand delivers a picture that totally outshines its budget and you can only wonder what he could achieve with that much more funding. I admit that it’s perhaps unfair to compare a campy David Sterling flick with a film that exudes such ambition, but as they share the same sub-genre, it exemplifies my point.
BSM is a true horror movie; and what I mean by that is it sacrifices the modern stereotype of regular attempts at humour to maintain a grisly tone. Like the best slashers, this one rolls out its antagonist in the midst of a dark and compelling mystery. It comes close to crossing into serial killer flick territory with the focus on its investigation, but it works by finding the right balance of the two styles. Our lead persona is something of an anti-hero, (an alcoholic cop), but we can overlook his character flaws because we hope that his heart is in the right place. There is a final girl here, but she’s kept somewhat in the background and doesn’t play the typical central role. The screenwriters have certainly taken a risk by avoiding the structure that’s commonly utilised almost identically in these more recent films, but what we get instead plays in the most satisfying of ways.
With such a bright spotlight of focus shone upon the story, Serrano needed to develop a constant feeling of dread to keep up the film’s momentum. I’ve already highlighted that the killer looks extremely intimidating in that ghoulish mask, but the director makes the most of his hulking frame and menacing size to add extra trepidation to the kill scenes. Whilst there are a couple of gore shots (a shower murder very similar to the one from The Prowler and a chainsaw slaughter spring to mind), it’s the placing of the bogeyman in each stalking sequence that really delivers the necessary fear factor. He’s up there with the guy from The Orphan Killer as one of the scariest maniacs I can recall and the director doesn’t waste a chance to make the most of his presence. He butchers a huge amount of victims and his sadistic brutality is extremely threatening. This is one of those films that develops its shocks because it makes you question how you’d react if you were to be placed in the situation that you see unfolding on the screen.
At two-hours and five-minutes, Serrano has a lot of ground to cover and he does so with a plot that may seem slightly convoluted to the lesser viewer. I’m not sure if a further prologue scene was removed late in the production, but I recommend watching the film through twice to really understand the synopsis. The lesser actors amongst the cast survive due to solid direction and Serrano pushes his cast to the limit in order to draw the performances that he required. We even get something of a ‘The Departed’ moment during the film’s conclusion and it does succeed in leaving you unsure what’s going to happen next.
We live in a world now where every new production comes with pages of untrustworthy IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes reviews and exciting social media commentaries that more often than not build a level of anticipation that rarely proves accurate when a film is finally released. I’m pleased to say that Blood Slaughter Massacre is better than I thought it would be and that in itself is a real achievement. What Serrano has built on a modest budget should set the standard for the slasher films of 2015. It is not a remake and It really is that good…
Killer Guise: √√√√
Camp Blood 1999
Directed by: Brad Sykes
Starring: Jennifer Ritchkoff, Michael Taylor, Tim Young
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I have mentioned Camp Blood a number of times on a SLASH above, but never actually got round to reviewing it. I picked it up back in the early noughties on big-box VHS and it was possibly the first no budget slasher of the new age that I got to see. Since then, I always thought of it as the quintessential example of a bad dime-store take on the slasher template. Over a decade has passed since I last watched it and the genre has seen its fair share of features that were financed on even smaller pocket books. This left me wondering if Blood would still maintain the status that I bestowed upon it on first viewing.
Two couples head off to explore a secluded woodland called Camp Blackfoot. Locals have named it Camp Blood due to the fact that a betrayed husband killed his cheating partner and her lover with a machete before disappearing into the wilderness. Legend states that he still roams the hills and murders anyone that is unfortunate or stupid enough to roam his region…
It was a strange feeling sitting in front of Camp Blood again after so long. Part of me was reminiscing the stack of VHS that I used to trawl through in my room when I’d just turned twenty and the other part was proud of the patience that I possessed to ‘appreciate’ so many turkies. Make no mistake about it, Blood isn’t like a bottle of fine wine. What I mean by that is my ten-year hiatus from exposure to it hasn’t turned it into Halloween. With that said, I did find things here that made me smile, which was most definitely more that I’d expected.
Brad Sykes, for all his obvious signs of amateurism, does understand what people enjoy about slasher movies. It takes less than five-minutes for the inevitable boob shot (what a pairing) and the next sight that we are treated to is a lumbering maniac in a clown mask. The kill scenes are deftly edited considering the budget and for the un-trained eye (i.e. my Mrs), the various splashings of blood and an imposing menace could be considered as generally effective. To give you an example, there’s a sequence that starts dumbly, because our sympathetic hero type guy chases the assailant into the forest when there was absolutely no logic in him doing so (the killer was actually fleeing the scene). Anyway, it results in a fight sequence on a cliff that’s well staged and then we get a smartly crafted gore shot that was surprisingly audacious. There are countless ‘tributes’ to Friday the 13th of course, with the most obvious being the film’s title, which was what Camp Crystal Lake became known by after Jason and his mum’s rampages.
I guess the above paragraph may look like I am about to take back all the mocking things that I’ve said previously about Brad Sykes’ addition to the stalk and slash family. Well in honesty, my experience was less painful than I’d anticipated, but I won’t be adding this to any top slasher lists in the near future. You see, the few bits and pieces that are classic slasher fun are punctured by some of the worst and most bizarre filmmaking decisions I’ve ever seen. We spend what feels like a lifetime in the clutches of a group of poorly acted and whiny campers and when the killer finally turns up and starts chopping through them, we’ve completely lost interest in their plight. Our final girl sinks to levels of rancid dramatics that had me reaching for the vomit bag and the patently cardboard machete can only appear so many times without beginning to look comical. There’s a really good and creepy score that often borders on building a menacing tone, but just when I was about to write a positive comment, something dumb kept happening and I felt like the guy in the picture to my right >>. It’s strange, because Camp Blood includes all the ingredients to become a trash-slasher hit. It’s just that it somehow puts them together awkwardly, like trying to build a flat-pack wardrobe without the instructions. I guess the fact that I had prepared myself for something awful meant that I could better handle the unbelievable levels of amateurism when I put it on this time. I went in knowing that there was going to be a mountain of goofiness, which made it easier than when I initially saw this and had less of an idea of what to expect.
There’s no doubt that Blood was filmed on the smallest of budgets, which was obvious because the same actors were re-used to play different characters with minimal effort to disguise their identities. It was bizarre seeing faces returning to the screen as Police Officers or Nurses when we’d witnessed them get slashed just moments earlier(!) I’m sure that back in the day, I noticed this stuff and found it easy to criticise, whereas now I kind of appreciated the cheesiness, if that makes sense. In my opening paragraph, I called this the quintessential example of a bad dime-store take-on the slasher template. Whilst I stand by that statement, I feel now that I can add the word ‘fun’ before bad in that statement. Either I’ve developed a sense of humour over the past decade or I’ve just got used to sitting through so much worse. At least this one has its heart in the right place. So yeah, as discussed, Camp Blood is a (fun) bad dime-store take-on the slasher template
Killer Guise: √√√√
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: √√√