Fatal Games 1984
aka The Killing Touch aka Olympic Nightmare
Directed by: Michael Elliot
Starring: Sally Kirkland, Sean Masterson, Lynn Banashek
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Fatal Games was released a couple of years after the largest peak in the slasher cycle’s popularity lifeline and it was one of the first additions to my collection on big box VHS. I have watched it many times, but it is never one that I have held a particular fondness for and it rarely gets mentioned alongside other genre favourites. It lacks even the charm of say, Graduation Day, which is a film it is often accused of imitating.
Many eighties slashers that don’t deserve their following managed to live on simply because they became rare, which meant that enthusiasts like me dedicated weeks (sometimes years) to try to find them. A fair few were also castrated by censors upon release, which meant that the human nature of wanting to see the things that we weren’t allowed to gave them a notoriety that they would never have deserved without such intervention. In cases such as the one that befell The Dorm that Dripped Blood, the honour of being chucked on the video nasty list and banned for public consumption was a golden ticket to a longer life expectancy as bootlegs would surface and interest would sustain.
This entry lacks either of the above benefits and therefore only offers what it says on the tin. However no one can say that a film featuring a hooded-javelin wielding maniac can be totally devoid of interest, so I was keen to give it another look after years of it collecting dust particles in my garage.
An athletic training school is preparing for a National contest and all the young hopefuls are being put through gruesome training routines. Things take a turn for the worse when a javelin brandishing nut job begins slaughtering the students when they stay behind to practice after hours. It becomes apparent that the disappearances are linked, so who or what could be behind the occurrences?
It seems bizarre to accuse a movie of ripping off Graduation Day, because Herb Freed himself will probably admit that his cheeseball is hardly a title worthy of such adulation. It’s hard not to level that at Fatal Games however, because there are a few otherwise inexplicable similarities between the two. Everything from the athletic teens getting slaughtered and then their faces crossed off of a team-photo to the javelin as a murder weapon seems to reference the former sports-themed genre piece. They even start with almost identical credit sequences, which show the characters training in slow-mo shots with a funky rock tune setting the vibe.
Do you remember during the eighties when almost every film had a sugar-coated message and an equally mushy theme tune to hype up headband wearing audiences (which we all were back then)? Songs like Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’ are postcards from a lost generation that fortunately thus far hasn’t found its route to return. Now if you thought, “Everybody wants to be a winner” from the opening of Freed’s opus was taking the biscuit in terms of eighties pumping up tracks, then Fatal Games runs away with the whole pack. Here we have lines such as ‘winning is everything’ and ‘take it to the limit’ (clearly ripped from Scarface’s ‘Push it to the Limit’) and the song is so laughably energetic that I almost jumped out of seat and began doing press-ups.
It’s a shame that first (and last) time director Michael Elliot never ‘took it to the limit’ as his direction is so flat that it feels like the print was placed under a steamroller before it received distribution. What we have here is two gears: bland and even blander and things don’t get any better than that. There’s one very good shadowy ‘studio shot’ that must’ve been filmed by the AD, DP or maybe next-door neighbor because it is re-used continuously every time the killer strikes and nothing else from Elliot comes close to matching it. Like the maniac from Baby Doll Murders, this guy is a bit of a fashionable psychopath. When on massacre duties, he dresses in a shiny striped tracksuit with matching trainers and it’s easy to see that this is an assassin with considerable eighties style. Of course we are all meant to be trying our hardest to work out who it is hiding under the hood, but the conclusion, upon revelation, is completely implausible if fun all the same.
There’s no real tomato juice goo on display here, but there’s some creative ways to finish off a teenager with a javelin. The guy under the mask has a ‘supernatural slasher villain ability‘. These are much like super hero powers and many eighties psycho killers had them. Like, for example, being able to appear exactly in front of a fleeing victim or being able to move a corpse and clean liters of blood in seconds without any products available to do so. The nut job here can throw the said javelin with enough power to impale someone from as far out as 500 yards! That’s a necessary skill however, because the director doesn’t believe in close-ups on the action and everything is filmed from football-pitch length distances. I really enjoyed the swimming pool killing, which was obviously lifted from The Prowler, but it is a real slice of fun as well as being grimly effective. The assailant puts on a full scuba kit and climbs in to the pool, before swimming underneath his intended victim and waiting for her to pass by before adding her corpse to his collection. How the girl managed to remain oblivious to someone with a bubble-bellowing scuba tank attached to his back and a two-foot pole in his hands was quite amazing, but the sequence is amongst my favourites simply for that.
The only thing that this can really be remembered for is the extremely high levels of nudity on display. All the bunnies (and most of the guys too) are naked at one point throughout the runtime and there’s a hilarious sequence where a girl flees the killer in her skin suit, which goes on for about three minutes. The cast also warrants a mention, with Sally Kirkland who would later get an Oscar nod and comedian Sean Masteson as one of the youngsters. The performances are pretty lame throughout, but I think most of the student-aged cast members were hired more for their gymnastic abilities than their dramatic credibility.
What else can I say? Well the finale is quite well staged as a guy on crutches finds the bodies of his colleagues stashed in lockers and there’s a chase sequence that ends on a scaffold tower, which was a novel idea. But that’s pretty much it to be honest.
So this is somewhat lacking in charm and it’s flatly directed, but it’s not necessarily that bad of an entry. I would pick this over 90% of the modern day slasher trash anyway...
Final Girl √
Blood Frenzy 1987
Directed by:Hal Freeman
Starring: Wendy MacDonald, Tony Montero, Lisa Loring
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It still amazes me to this day the effect that Halloween had on cinema. Over thirty years after its initial release, the impersonations may have slowed up a tad, but they still keep coming and no other movie in the history of film-making has achieved the feat of being imitated over 500 times. During the eighties directors that were looking to make a mark in the movies found an easy path through the slasher genre, due to the fact that production costs are relatively small and the films almost always make a considerable return on their budget. Although it’s understandable that a young director would want to follow in the footsteps of the much celebrated John Carpenter, Hal Freeman’s choice to create a category entry is slightly more interesting.
Freeman had been a relatively successful porn director that had shot to fame in America for single-handedly beating the regulation that quashed the production of erotic films. ‘The people vs. Freeman’ was an interesting case in the history of US law and its conclusion changed the adult entertainment market forever. Up until that point, it had been a crime to film persons performing sex acts, even if the filmmakers could produce hand-written documents of consent from the participating models and conviction carried a three-year prison sentence without the possibility of parole.
Most movies before then had been shot in secret locations to avoid prosecution under the ‘pandering’ laws of the state. However when caught and convicted, Freeman’s team of attorneys argued that the First Amendment prohibited the application of pandering laws to the creation of adult materials and ultimately he won the case. The victory opened a whole new avenue of possibilities for the industry and it has since become a high-grossing entertainment medium.
The fact that Freeman now had the freedom to indulge in his chosen market and make a considerable profit without the added worries of Police intervention made his decision to swap genres and direct a slasher movie profoundly intriguing.
An eccentric psychiatrist decides to take six of her patients away to the Mohave Desert for confrontational therapy. The pick of the gang of emotionally delicate travellers includes Rick (Tony Montero), a Vietnam vet who is suffering from that age-old Hollywood chestnut of stereotypical post-war flashback syndrome. Also worth mentioning is Dory (Lisa Loring), a highly-charged lesbian with a deep-rooted hatred for masculinity and a desire to seek an argument in almost every situation.
Almost soon as the group arrive, their RV is ransacked by an unseen someone and they find themselves stranded with dwindling supplies of food and water. Their rations of luck diminish even further when a gloved and unseen maniac begins slaughtering the group one by one. Every character has a motive for murder, but who is the real assassin?
Despite containing all the correct ingredients that made most eighties slashers popular with enthusiasts, Blood Frenzy has become notoriously rare and at the time of writing there is no plan for a DVD release. Freeman’s slasher is somewhat undeserving of its obscure status and boasts some extreme gore and a fairly ambitious plot. The film starts in traditional territory with a pre-teen murder sequence that is extremely similar to the opening of Juan Piquer’s ‘Mil Gritos Tiene la Noche’.The throat slicing effect here is satisfyingly gruesome and the mood is set early on for the gore-filled plot line to follow.
For a first time horror director, Freeman does a good enough job and he attempts adequately to give the film a creepy aura of the macabre. In the opening, the homicidal adolescent is seen playing with a blood-soaked musical box after committing a violent act of slaughter, which acts along the common horror thread of mixing the serenity of childhood innocence with the depravity of cold-blooded murder. Attempts at suspense are continual, albeit rarely successful, but the director does well to create at least one credible jump-scare. Despite Freeman’s well-documented links to pornography, Blood Frenzy isn’t the fornication marathon that you’d expect and there’s no extreme nudity on display. Although sexual references are strong, the film concentrates mainly on horror and the plot rarely seeks gratuitous shock tactics in any other avenue. The script is brilliantly hilarious in places, with some comical profanity and technically the film looks a treat.
Each character has enough of a motive to be the maniacal assassin and the plot offers significant development to allow the viewer to pick his choice for the nut job. To be fair, the revelation of the killer’s identity is quite a surprise and the mystery is handled quite well, but it lacks enough competent tension to be a truly intriguing revelation.
The biggest problems with Blood Frenzy are the horrendous performances from the haggardly cobbled-together ensemble. Despite being by far the most experienced cast-member, Lisa Loring is laughable as the obnoxious Dory and a creative synopsis was ruined by poor dramatisation. It looks as if the cast and crew had an excellent time on set and the actors seem to have bonded extremely well. Unfortunately, this is evident in the finished print and you can’t help but feel that many scenes were shot purely for laughs, which is unforgivable for a film of this genre.
Blood Frenzy is an extremely gory (the opening murder is a prime example), competently handled slasher that suffers from a lack of professionalism. But with that said, it’s a damn site better than many of the more recognised entries from this period. Hal Freeman never returned to the horror genre and instead continued his career in porn. Fans of slasher movies however will be pleased that he had the ambition to try, because Blood Frenzy is well worth a look.
Final Girl √√
Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas 1984
Directed by: Edmund Purdom
Starring: Edmund Purdom, Kelly Baker, Alan Lake
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Don’t open ’till Christmas was the middle of the three slasher flicks from the short-lived Dick Randall/Steve Minasian production partnership and by far the most bizarre. Most of it was shot in August 1982, but after various creative disagreements, it was shelved, whilst extra footage was filmed and then spliced together some two years later.
After three potentials rejected the script, it was set to be the debut of Edmund Purdom in the director’s chair, but he soon realised that he was way above his head and so handed the steering wheel over to the story’s writer, Derek Ford. Ford managed a number of scenes, but was soon fired from the project, so Randall drafted in someone who had experience of taking over the hot seat in a jumbled production, namely Ray Selfe. He was also given the unenviable job of editing the footage and making some kind of cinematic sense out of the misguided work of three separate visions, which was an incredibly difficult task. He was joined by Alan Birkinshaw who at that time had just wrapped up filming on eighties cult feature Killer’s Moon and to add more confusion, he also shot some parts and dabbled with the story. Many scenes failed to make the final cut and it is perhaps credit to Selfe that he managed to put enough together to get the film released.
Randall’s previous production, Pieces, had been a relatively successful entry and the mission statement here was most definitely to aim for more of the same. Make no bones about it, this is pure slasher by the numbers and has been given a Christmas gimmick for the chance of a big festive audience and a longer life expectancy. But what this flick does do differently is instead of having a maniac in a Santa suit killing off people, which had already been done, they turned it around to give us a masked psycho killing guys wearing that distinctive clothing.
After a Father Christmas is killed during a fancy dress party, the victim’s daughter and her boyfriend get involved in the investigation. They believe that the Police aren’t doing all they can with the mystery and before long, the killer begins to target them. With only hours remaining until the big day and Santas dropping like flies, who will be able to solve the mystery?
You know what? Don’t open ’till Christmas plays like it was the result of a few opposing personalities that had thrown contrasting ideas in to a saucepan and hoped for the best. Hold on a minute; that’s exactly what happened! Ok, so seriously, this one is a bit like singing the words of Living’ on a Prayer over the backing track of Sweet Child o Mine at a karaoke bash. Before I was informed about its production woes, I just assumed that it was a poorly paced and rushed released mess, but now I know about what happened, it’s easy to see the reasons why it’s such a patchwork. Characters pop up here and there without any real structure and some scenes, like the hilarious twist revealing phone call between Kate Briosky and the housekeeper were definitely added in a lazy attempt to string the plot together. George Dugdale, the director of Slaughter High and the hubby of Caroline Munro, was involved in this project and got his wife to turn up for a cameo in an obvious attempt to add some experience to the cast. She is on screen for two minutes tops (singing an awful disco oddity) and then disappears completely, almost as quickly as the story loses focus. It all starts very well, with three murders in ten minutes, but from then on the momentum just vanishes and the fun comes to a screeching halt. It’s hard to tell what was in the original concept and what wasn’t, but the film is something of an enigma. It spends ages building up a possible final girl, only to brutally slaughter her and bring on a substitute who doesn’t fit the traditional characteristics about half way through. I guess that Randall took the real reasons that an interesting venture fell apart to the grave with him in 1996.
Christmas plays host to the worst chase sequence anywhere ever. The location is immense (The London Dungeon no less), the killer has an outstanding guise, but it’s just so poorly handled that it is far more comedic than it is suspenseful. In fact, despite boasting a huge body count, none of the killings are creepy, even though they most definitely have the potential to be just that. The movie does its best to keep you guessing and the unmasking scene is ok, but to be honest, the whole thing is such a crack handed knot that it could have been anyone. Hell, it could have been you!
The film aims to come across as sleazy and therefore sacrifices the fun factor that’s usually abundant in eighties slashers. One overweight Santa gets castrated in a grimy urinal whilst another gets his face burned off on a grill for roasting chestnuts. The gore effects by Peter Litton are surprisingly good, but got the movie in a hell of a lot of trouble with UK censors and I was only able to see the full version because I picked it up in Spain. It also has a rather haunting score; a kind of eerie take on Jingle Bells, which if used properly could have set a macabre environment. I also thought that the various masks that the killer used were pretty cool, especially the one in the picture below. Whether it was intentional or not, the atmosphere conveyed here is one of depression and the film, much like Scrooge, ignores any attempts at festive spirit, which means it is definitely not one that I could recommend to be watched this time of the year.
By far the worst of Randall’s eighties output, it gives the viewer as much of a headache as I’m sure that it gave the people involved in the concept. I like seeing London as a backdrop and lines such as, “Get away, go on clear off!” in a Bermondsey tone were amusing, but I can’t find much here to warrant a purchase. The grammatical mistake on the title card (dont instead of don’t) is only the start of the incompetence and the film never escapes its clutches thereafter.
Not one of the merriest decorations on the ceiling, you would be better to deck the halls with Black Christmas and Silent Night Deadly Night instead.
Final Girl √
Killer Workout 1986
Directed by: David A. Prior
Starring: Marcia Karr, Ted Prior, David James Campbell
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I was reading the reviews posted recently on the excellent site, Retro Slashers, about slasher hybrids. They rolled out some interesting pieces, including Cruising and the obvious cash-in featuring Chuck Norris, Silent Rage. One that often gets overlooked however is this cheddar drenched throwback, Killer Workout. Although most may think that this is a bog standard stalk and slasher and not a crossbreed of any kind, for me it can best be described as a bizarre blend between Prom Night and a fitness video of which there were many around that time. Yep, aerobics in leotards was another craze that we have fortunately left behind us.
It’s also perhaps the most unintentionally self-referential of all eighties genre entries. I mean, what do you think of first when you recall that era? Big hair? Spandex? Sweat bands? Cheesy bubble gum pop? Killer Workout takes every last drop of the above mentioned and squeezes it all into an hour and a half’s runtime to create a cocktail of the wackiest variety.
This was the second slasher effort from B-movie hack David A. Prior whose début was the actually fairly decent SOV entry, Sledgehammer from 1983. Prior was a prolific filmmaker during the eighties, but had moved on to focus more on the other popular genre staple during those times, the action flick. He returned to his roots for this extravaganza and despite not being often touted as one to remember, this does offer an intriguing journey into the realm of stalk and slash
Grumpy gym owner Rhonda has more of a reason to frown when an unseen someone begins slicing their way through the members of her fitness classes with a large safety pin. As more lifeless corpses turn up in lockers, it is left up to detective Morgan to get to the bottom of the mystery.
If I had to describe Killer Workout in one word, then that word would be ‘wow’. But let’s be honest that wouldn’t be much of a review, even if it is an apt description of the events that unfold at Rhonda’s Workout throughout the runtime. I remember thinking that I Know What You Did Last Summer was somewhat tacky in its attempt to film everything through the cleavage of Jennifer Love Hewitt, but in comparison it feels like she was dressed in a duffel coat when you see the looming photography in this cheeseball. 75% of the movie is focused on either a sweaty pair of heaving bosoms or a female backside and it’s fair to say that Prior was only looking for certain niche qualities when casting for this shoot. Put it this way, if you’re straight and hooked-up and your libido has gone in to hiding, just watch Killer Workout and it will rekindle that lust for the female form within minutes. Yep, it is that gratuitous that it’s better than Viagra.
Although it’s obvious to see that this was a low budget production, it’s worth noting the soundtrack, which includes various songs from unsigned artists. The majority are quite well produced and even if some of them were laughable (lyrics like, If your body’s feeling big and you feel like Mr. hippo or Mrs. pig you got to work out etc), no one can tell me that they didn’t enjoy the disco monstrosity of, ‘Only You Tonight’. I was watching this on a train and it made me feel like jumping up and dancing. I guess I just get that feeling when I hear pure eighties synthesiser pop with a big bubblegum chorus that will stay in your brain for the next two months. Come on, don’t lie, you know that you loved it too!
When we are not seeing well-endowed bunnies in tight spandex bouncing up and down to the strings of pop oddities, then we are either watching the unseen maniac slaughter them or the male characters going toe to toe in the strangest of locations. As you can imagine by the gymnasium setting, there’s more testosterone here than in a Prison rugby team and so there was bound to be a couple of punch ups. In one of them Chuck (played by the director’s brother) takes on Jim, our suspect número uno to settle a fall out over a babe. Or was it a garbage can? I can’t recall now, but anyway they pull off their best Hulk Holgan impersonations and roll about on the floor pounding each other repeatedly. When it breaks up though, neither of them has even the faintest bruise.
So 500 or so words and I still haven’t mentioned the killings, which I’m guessing is the real reason why you are watching. Well there’s a large body count and some lashings of crimson, but nothing in terms of suspense. If you ignore the impossibilities of the safety pin as a weapon, then I guess that you could call it a neat gimmick, but the movie’s far too cheesy to be creepy. What is quite astounding is how after eleven dead fitness freaks are wrapped in white body bags and stretchered off to cinema obscurity, it doesn’t affect business at all and Rhonda’s gym remains open all hours for working up a sweat. In some cases, corpses are carried out the back, whilst the strumpets carry on twisting and none of them discuss the sudden loss of their silicone embedded buddies.
The movie concentrates very hard on its mystery aspect and it’s a case of you will either guess it immediately or you won’t at all, but it keeps the plot chugging along nicely. Prior uses his experience and obvious favouritism toward the action genre to even add in a gun battle during the climax and if you include the various fist fights, slashings and endless scenes of scantily clad floozies working out, then this has far too much in its gym bag to become tedious. It does however suffer from a lack of creativity in its cinematography and feels somewhat flat and uninspired. Sledgehammer, the director’s previous foray in to stalk and slash cinema, was really creepy in places and had a couple of memorable set pieces. It’s been noted that there were disagreements between some of the crew members, especially the director of photography, which may explain why this is so pedestrian in the way that it’s conveyed, but for me it was crying out for a tad of tension. If they had used the same energy during the kill scenes as they had when filming the movements of their bazooka breasted bimbos, we would have been discussing a cult classic right now.
Killer Workout is a flame grilled cheddar treat, which fails as a slasher movie, but works as an outrageous slice of nostalgia from an era that most of us love. It’s one that fans will adore, because its so cheesy in everything from its performances and characters to its use of eighties stereotypes. And let’s not forget the soundtrack, which is literally awesome. Even the theme that plays over the opening credits is like a disco’d up version of Halloween’s notorious score. The director was a man with a good sense of humour and it’s easy to see that tongue was firmly in cheek here.
I am not one to favour using a cliché, but this flick really deserves it, because it is in fact so bad that it’s so damn good…
Final Girl √
Ladrones De Tumbas 1990
aka Grave Robbers
Directed by: Rubén Galindo Jr.
Starring: Fernando Almada, Rebeca De La Huerta, Germán Bernal
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The best thing for me about growing older is that you actually begin noticing new things that you like that you never paid attention to before. Lately, I enjoy nothing more than locking the kitchen door, putting on some music and combining some herbs and spices for dinner. Ten years ago I’d have never believed that I could find such satisfaction from cooking.
So for all those like minded individuals, let me give you a Mexican recipe that I came across recently that’ll warm your cockles. Take an unstoppable zombie, some big haired denim-sporting eighties throwbacks, about 12 gallons of corn syrup and tomato paste, a creepy location, some satanic references and about fifty-tonnes of melted cheese and put it all in a gumbo pot. Leave it all to simmer for a while and what do you get? Well one of the greatest crazy splatter classics of the nineties!
A Satan worshipping monk is caught trying to sacrifice a local village girl in ancient Mexico. The priest condemns him and finishes him off with an axe to the chest. In his dying breath, the evil satanist swears vengeance on those that will ever remove the hatchet from his body.
Skip forward a few centuries to modern day and we are introduced to a gang of tomb raiders. As you expect, they come across the grave of the menace from the prologue. Before long, he’s back on the road looking for a virgin to impregnate and slaughtering anyone that gets in his way.
Most post Halloween slashers followed John Carpenter’s methodology of putting their fear factor in locations that we all associate with normality. Probably about 90% of the category sets its terror in places such as schools, streets or holiday camps and the stalking rarely takes place nowadays on a site more related to the venues of old . Although this has a bit to do with limitations of budget, it’s mega refreshing to see that horror for Ruben Galindo Jr is still best portrayed through cobwebs, skeletons, dilapidated basements and crypts. The film has some incredibly lush visuals, with nice bright colours and the sets are gothic and well decorated. He also makes a very good use of his sound effects and the sky is filled with an ominous buzzing of midnight nature, which helps to build the spooky atmosphere.
The plot brings to mind titles such as Evilspeak with its opening and it’s quite supernatural in its theme. But when the killer gets going, the rules and methods stay loyal to the slasher category. Well in fact, I mean the Mexican version of it. It’s interesting to note that films from south of the US border, despite being obviously influenced by Friday and Halloween, actually have their own variations on the template and don’t always follow the traditional navigation completely.
This doesn’t waste too much time on delivering a coherent story though and the films only real ambition is to get cracking with the action as soon as cinematically possible. Much like that other wonderful nineties Mexican slasher, La Noche Del Payaso – Tumbas rolls out its players with very little depth or development, but gets away with it because it’s just so much fun. I liked the ‘slightly psychic’ final girl, who predicts the danger and her morally redeemed boyfriend is one that I really wanted to survive. I’m not sure if the English translated versions of this do justice to the hilarity of the dialogue, but for a Spaniard, the lines like ‘somos ricos’ (we’re rich) were delightfully silly in their delivery. It even goes for a cheesier than a dairy ‘happy ending’, which I could do nothing apart from beam at. The real hero of the feature is an elder lawman and he wins over the audience almost immediately. It’s great that the remaining survivors work as a team to defeat the marauding psychopath and the final battle is outrageous and compelling.
The bogeyman has to be amongst the top ten of the genre. He is huge, creepy and unstoppable and he looks great stalking through the forest in his monk’s robe. The axe that he uses is one of the better tools for mass slaughter and as Galindo has proved in his previous efforts, he is not shy to splash some red stuff. We get gore here by the bucket load, which includes decapitations, dismemberment and an internal stomach rip. There’s a humongous body count and a few really good moments, so you will never get bored.
I’d had a pretty rubbish day before I sat down to watch Ladrones de Tumbas and it was everything that I needed it to be. Despite being shot in 1990, it feels like it was a mid-eighties offering, which only adds to its charm. The only real negatives are the over the top dramatics, which at times border on annoyance, but with so much enjoyment to be had, any complaints are hard to level at this entry
Slick, sharp and always enjoyable, now it’s available with subtitles means that you must give it a shot.
Final Girl √√√
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 he bizarrely seems to die from. 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 affected, 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 inadvertent humour, 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 yourselves…
Final Girl √
Don’t Panic 1987
aka Dimensiones Ocultas aka El Secreto de la Ouija
Directed by: Rubén Galindo Jr.
Starring: Jon Michael Bischof, Gabriela Hassel, Helen Rojo
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Part A Nightmare on Elm Street, part Halloween with a little bit of The Bogeyman thrown in for good measure, Don’t Panic is a successful crossbreed of those styles which makes for an entertaining ninety minutes of slasher frolics. Latin American entries are always good fun and they were very easy for me to find when I was younger, because my native language is Spanish and many got released in España, my country of birth. Titles such as Bosque de Muerte, Trampa Infernal and La Noche del Payaso are all audacious in their approach and on top of that, they boast gore and credible suspense.
In the outset we meet Michael (Jon Michael Bischof), the star of the movie who’s recently moved down to Mexico with his alcoholic mother away from his unsympathetic father in Beverley Hills. He’s celebrating with his newly found friends, which include Tony (Juan Ignacio Aranda) – a smart-ass wise cracker – and Alexandra (Gabriella Hassel) whom he has the hots for. It’s Mike’s seventeenth birthday and as a present the gang have got him an Ouija board (Only ever really a great gift in moviedom if people want to get possessed or die!) and even though at first he refuses to take part, the gang force him to join in on one of their séances. They all gather round in a circle and join hands around an eerie looking candle lit table as Tony attempts to call up a medium known as ‘Virgil’. He isn’t very talkative but lifts up the arrow to point it at Mike in a threatening manner. All of a sudden, the door flies open and in bursts the birthday boy’s inebriated mother who soon sends the group packing and Mickey to bed.
Soon after that night Michael begins to have strange dreams that an unseen psycho holding an ancient dagger is viciously murdering his friends. When it’s revealed that the teens are actually being bloodily butchered, he begins seeing premonitions of someone warning him who is next on the killer’s list. With this knowledge, he is forced to attempt to save them from the maniacal assassin. But who is it that is slaughtering the hapless group and what are their motives?
About two weeks before I saw this, I watched the more recent British slasher Long Time Dead and it looks as if Don’t Panic may have been the inspiration for that flick because the two plots are almost interchangeable. Director Ruben Galindo Jr. – who was also behind slashers Cemetery of Terror and Ladrones De Tumbas- has given us an unique picture, which almost went too close to being an Elm Street dupe and therefore sacrificing its place within the category, but in the end turned out to owe more to the traditional slasher template. It makes a refreshing change when one of these efforts actually works, because films like Girl’s School Screamers or Pledge Night have either pushed themselves outside of the slasher branding due to their OTT supernatural elements or just ended up being totally confused or mundane. Although It’s obvious here that the performances aren’t the best, what the film lacks in that area, it more than makes up for with a decent premise and a good dose of originality.
This was the full-uncut copy that I purchased many moons ago in Spain and it includes some tacky but effective gore effects that I really enjoyed. In one such scene, a victim gets stabbed through the chin with a giant dagger, which protrudes through his mouth, and Screaming Mad George has created some fun cheapo splatter. There are also a couple of great chase sequences, which include a pursuit through a hospital that was vaguely reminiscent of Halloween II. The killer stalks in traditional slow-mo Michael Myers manner and taunts his victims viciously. You won’t get bored whilst watching, because Galindo maintains a good pace and even gives us the chance to play whodunit for the first half. He doesn’t spend too much time on the investigative stuff though and chooses instead to reveal the maniac’s identity early on, which gives us a real bogeyman for the rest of the feature
For all its attempts at extremity and creepy horror though, Don’t Panic never manages to escape the dairy and is overwhelmingly cheesy in so many places that I honestly lost count (in a good way of course). For example Jon Michael Bischof spends three quarters of the runtime in a pair of groovy pyjamas and I must confess that I don’t remember any other movie ‘hero’ that has battled tyrannic evil forces in an embarrassing pair of jim-jams. Also watch out for a whole lot of incredibly silly dialogue that occurs during the character development bits, like when Michael and the gorgeous Alexandra head out on a date in the beginning of the feature. Even if the things that they get up to whilst out and about are comical enough (riding bikes and letting go of balloons simultaneously etc), nothing can beat the advice that Tony gives Michael when he returns later. He tells his buddy that if he really loves her he should ‘give her a rose’, but not just any one mind, it must be ‘the magic rose’. He then walks over to a giant bowl in his room, places a towel over the top and then he pulls out a thorn covered stem and offers it to the confused looking character. What is this guy? A part time cupid..? Why does he have a bowl of fresh flowers in his bedroom…? The mind wanders…
It’s been a little while since I’ve watched a slasher that I’ve truly enjoyed and this high-tempo Mexican extravaganza is a great roller-coaster of cheesy thrills. Don’t Panic may be too campy to be scary, but it has been put together with thought and it adds supernatural touches to the age-old slasher clichés better than most. It may not be groundbreaking, but it’s pretty entertaining in a ‘so bad it’s pretty good’ way. Yeah, I recommend this and it rivals the extremely good (and from the same director) Grave Robbers from 1989
Final Girl √√
Blood Lake 1987
Directed by: Tim Boggs
Starring: Doug Barry, Angela Barter, Mike Kaufman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When reviewing these wonderful stalk and slash flicks, no matter how bad they may be (and some of them are bad bad bad), I always try to put at least a thousand words down and give as thoughtful an insight as possible. I know very well that there are many people globally like me who love these old hack and slashers and some of them are really hard to find. However, no matter how much I enjoy staying up and writing in depth reports, sometimes it’s just impossible to conjure such a large amount of words.
Blood Lake is an example when writer’s block has struck. Maybe because it’s an effort so empty that I feel I have already lost so much time watching it that I refuse to lose the same amount of time thinking of things to say? I am not sure, but my apologies for the short(er) review.
Now, I am all for a group of guys getting together with a camcorder and making a movie with their buddies. Let’s face it, if I had the chance to do the same, then I would lap it up quicker than an alcoholic locked in an off license. But I mean come on; the least you could do is make the most of it if fate allowed such an opportunity to arise.
A group of teenagers head off to wood-side cabin for a weekend of partying and debauchery. The location is based alongside a large lake, so they make the most of their time by water-skiing, fishing and taking romantic moonlight trips on a boat. They’re not aware however that they are sharing the location with a plump hick in cowboy boots who has different ideas for his choice of entertainment.
You know what? In my garage I have a skateboard that I used to ride on when I was thirteen-years old. Back in the day, I took it everywhere like a comfort rug and I reckon that if I dug it out, I could still bust a few ollies. However what I wouldn’t do, if I got that chance to make a feature film, was expect people to enjoy watching me use it for fifteen minutes. Well director Tim Boggs obviously has a very different idea of what pleases an audience, because here we are treated to an almost never-ending scene of his cast-members water-skiing. Now there’s nothing wrong with water-skiing. It’s a sport that I am sure I would thoroughly enjoy if I knew anyone with the necessary appliances. However what I am not too interested in is sitting and watching a quarter of an hour of unappealing actors getting dragged around behind a boat during a horror film.
In fact, long, tedious and ultimately pointless scenes are the director’s trademark and he seems to like nothing better than filling the screen with plot points that take the story absolutely nowhere. Character development I understand, but watching a Trans Am full of teens drive down the road for what feels like an eternity can start to grate quite quickly. Oh and please don’t get me started with the card game, which had me pulling out my chest hair before it had come to an end. By this point the film had begun to feel more like this was an over-long Youtube video on how cool the Blood Lake posse are at weekends instead of a slasher flick.
As I mentioned earlier, the chance to make a horror movie is an opportunity that not many of us get. I could never understand why if you are going to rip off Halloween and Friday the 13then you don’t go all out and dress your bogeyman appropriately. How much can it cost to get hold of a decent mask and a boiler suit? The killer here looks laughable in his cowboy boots and hat and a scruffy shirt that just about covers his beer belly. Scary? You’ll get more chills from Sesame Street. There’s no real gore on offer either and the obvious lack of cinematic experience from everyone involved is a big poo poo to the chance of any suspense. There was one decent shadow scene that I rather enjoyed and the soundtrack is not as bad as to be expected, but hardly enough to offer redemption.
After the self-mutilation inducingly poorly-acted climax, there is a shot that had me flabbergasted. I won’t spoil it for you, because it’s the best thing that Blood Lake had to offer. To be fair it had me scratching my head. I mean, I was like, how the hell did they do that? All due respect to the honesty of the film crew, because as the credits rolled it’s the first thing that they explained. Perhaps that was a bad move, because I may have looked on the feature SLIGHTLY differently if they had not revealed the trick. Good sense of humour from the film-makers though and shows that they probably knew how bad this movie was.
I am not usually that harsh on a poor movie, because to be fair at least these guys had the cojones to put together the funds to make a feature, which is something that I would love to do. The only thing that annoys me is that it’s such a splendid opportunity, why wouldn’t anyone make the most of it? Little old me, a Spanish genre fan living in London has watched and taken the effort to review a back-garden project that was made nearly twenty-five years ago. Doesn’t that make them wish that they’d tried harder?
Well I managed 1000 words, but I didn’t enjoy this flick. I doubt that anyone else will either.
Final Girl √
Buried Alive 1990
Directed by: Gerard Kikoine
Starring: Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence, Karen Witter
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The tag-lines that were sprawled across the colourful cover of this movie would lead you to believe that it was more of a zombie adventure. ‘Some secrets are best left buried. But will they stay there?’ and ‘The dead return!’ make this sound as if it’s yet another attempt at a Dawn of the Dead rip-off, something that happened more times than it should have during the eighties. I bought it anyway, as it was one of those titles, which I had seen many times on my travels when VHS was the only medium available and I often wondered what it was like. (Stalk and slash films aren’t my only vice, you know.) Anyway this is pure slasher cheese, right down to a masked killer preying on young female students in an all girl reform school.
Another point that also first attracted me was the fact that it was another of the countless efforts that claim to be adapted from the works of Edgar Allan Poe. By this, they meant his short story (one of his best) ‘The Premature Burial’. There’s a TV movie with exactly the same name that funnily enough was also released in the same year (although this was made twenty-four months earlier) that also based itself on that novel.
It opens with some gloomy shots of an eerie looking building silhouetted by the foggy night sky. The sign outside reads ‘Ravens croft Reform School’ and Inside we see a group of teenage girls all deeply sleeping, except for one dark-haired youngster who looks as if she’s packing her things to make a daring escape. She puts her rucksack on her back and heads towards the exit. Just before she leaves, her friend calls her back and gives her a leaving present – a blue switch-blade – and then she says her goodbyes and heads out into the misty night sky.
She hotfoots it through the woods, until she spots a car driving along a road in the distance. She takes a break for just a second, and all of a sudden a masked assailant jumps out from within the bushes and violently knocks her on to the floor. He picks her up and drops her into a man made pothole and she falls into a corrugated steel tube that leads into a dank and spooky underground chamber. She awakes to see the grisly psycho standing menacingly above her. He injects her with a sedative, puts her in a straight jacket and then drags her by the feat to a cramped cell-like room. Once inside the assassin begins to brick and cement up the doorway, effectively leaving her ‘Buried Alive’…
Next we meet a young science teacher named Janet Pendleton (Karen Witter) who has just got a job teaching at the college. We also see the head doctor Gary Julian (Robert Vaughn), his twitchy assistant Dr. Schaeffer (Donald Pleasence) and a group of bitchy female co-eds who enjoy nothing more than pulling each others hair out. (Later quite literally) When another girl goes missing from the campus, Janet becomes suspicious and investigates the history of Ravenscroft, only to find a sincere and shocking secret. But who is it that is violently killing the young helpless girls?
With a cast including Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence, John Carradine as well as porn star Ginger Allen and a plot that pits a group of saucy female co-eds against a vicious psychopath, Buried Alive should have had enough in its manbag to offer a decent offering to the cycle. Gerard Kikoine attempts to seduce you with his claim that this is adapted from the twisted mind of Edgar Allan Poe. But to be thoroughly honest, apart from the odd black cat popping up here and there, it looks as if the director – who started out in the porn business – has only added the homage as a marketing gimmick to give the movie a disguise of class. Unfortunately, it is just cliché by the numbers and certainly not something you’d associate with any class at all. For a start, what the hell was wrong with Donald Pleasence here? I never thought that I could describe one of his characterisations as ‘obnoxious’ – a million miles away from his legendary Sam Loomis. It probably didn’t help to put him in a dodgy toupee and a give the Nottinghamshire-born Brit a role that required a German accent. Anyway, he is by no means the only one here to be slummmmmmmmmingggggg… (Ahem, Mr Vaughn…!)
The screenplay by Jake Chesi must have been written in the director’s native French, translated to Polish and then to Swahili before being put through the Google translate of that day to end up this jumbled. In one scene Miss Pendleton has another of her strange nightmares, which begun plaguing her as soon as she arrived on campus and I think reached quadruple figures before the film ended. She ends up lying on the floor, panting, sweating and hysterically screaming. Dr Julian witnesses her freaky episode and instead of rushing to her aid, he asks with the oomph of water-logged crisp packet, ‘Is something wrong?’ I was expecting a sarcastic response along the lines of, ‘No, this is generally how I relax myself to sleep’ – but the screenwriter didn’t gives us that pleasure, unfortunately. Also at one point the doctor asks the shaky heroine if she’ll marry him. No harm in that you may think, the funny thing is, that the two of them only met a couple of days earlier and haven’t even shared so much as a date yet? I kept wondering if I had actually fallen asleep for a while. Who says that no one believes in love at first sight, eh?
I enjoyed the creative ways that they thought of to kill off the cast though. They included a painful looking electrocution, a trough in the side of the head and a young girl gets buried up to her waste in wet cement. When she screams for help, she gets a mouthful of the soggy muck to shut her up. The director at least shows promise with a couple of decent ideas. There are some morbid shots of the rotten corridors of the creepy chamber, which are accompanied by the victim’s screams as they get dragged off to their demise. Each unlucky individual spots a black cat before they are dispatched, which as I earlier alluded to, is the only real noticeable element lifted from Poe. I remember also at least one very gory scene that will liven you up if you end up nodding off. A female teen is curling her hair on a food mixer (?) when she’s scared by an unseen menace (presumably the masked maniac), and ends up drilling into her head and pulling her hair completely off…Ouch!
It’s also worth noting that the killer sports a Reagan mask to disguise his identity. Interesting because Reagan’s rein was notorious for many things, but one of them was cutting the federal funding for mental institutions across the US, which meant many people still needing treatment were thrown out on to the street. I was thinking that maybe this was a slight dig at those policies, but then I wasn’t sure if I was right in crediting such an inane script with hidden intelligence. I can’t see the point in including subliminal political statements in a screenplay if you can’t develop characters, dialogue or even common sense; but hey ho.
This was the last film that John Carradine worked on before his untimely death in 1988, which sadly wasn’t the greatest flick to finish off a five-decade career in the movies with. It’s not that it doesn’t try; it’s just that with a cast of sexy youngsters that were only too eager to reveal some skin, a decent enough budget and some senior faces with bundles of experience, the movie really shouldn’t have been this dull. Kikoine had worked with Jess Franco for years and although I am no great fan of Franco, this entry could have used some of his exploitation leering to liven things up. It’s occasionally interesting but mostly predictable and sadly long winded.
Although it pains me to steer you away from the slasher genre and into the land of thriller features, I must admit that you’re better off taking a look at the other made for TV flick with the same moniker…it’s a much stronger effort and this one is sadly best left in the bargain bucket…
Final Girl √√