Death O’ Lantern 1986
Directed by: Chris Seaver
Starring: Candase Patterson, Dutch Hogan,Savanna Ramone
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s a shame that there aren’t more filmmakers like Chris Seaver about. He has been producing budget features for about twenty years and his filmography is packed with titles that the majority of a SLASH above readers might adore. I was first introduced to his recent work by accidentally stumbling across the Warlock Video website whilst researching a Steve Lathshaw horror flick of a similar title to this one. The name Chris Seaver was not new to me, because I remembered that he had been the director of an old VHS on the Low Budget Productions label from ’94 called, Friday the 13th ‘Halloween Night’ . It was a fan film in every sense of the word, which pitched Michael Myers against Jason Voorhees at a Halloween party. Despite being a very obvious back garden development, I never forgot about it because it was immensely gory and extremely fun. In fact, I’m somewhat surprised that it has never made it on to a shiny disc. Perhaps that’s something that could happen as an Extra or Easter Egg in the near future?
Over the years, Seaver and his buddies over at Warlock Video have continued to secure funding so that they can develop DTV chillers and they have built a solid reputation in cult circles. They recently came up with the idea of letting their fans financially contribute towards their projects and receive the benefit of an executive producer credit or something similar, which is great for the horror community and really takes the genre to its grassroots. I was hoping that whilst browsing through his extensive online catalogue I would discover at least one or two slashers. With all of his films being tributes to the SOVs of the eighties, I knew that there had to be an entry laying around there somewhere.
At 42 minutes, Death-O-Lantern is more of a semi-short than an all out extravaganza, but it’s extremely affordable to pick up so I was keen to give it a shot. It tells the tale of a small town in 1986 where the talk on the kids’ lips is still heavy metal, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Four such youngsters are forced to face their own horror story when the urban legend of Stingy Jack, a child murderer who was killed in the 1800s, comes alive to haunt them a few days before Halloween night. Before long, they are battling to survive against a vicious maniac that needs to butcher six teenage souls in order to return for good…
I watched Death-O-Lantern on my iPad on the train to Reading from my home in London and I honestly had no idea what to expect. The screen lit up with a typical, but impressive, Halloween-alike score and some driving shots of a small suburban city. Within the next two minutes there was an audacious gore shot that was as exceptionally good as it was drastically cheesy and the tone had been set from there on.
You see, Lantern is not a film that wants to confuse itself and its audience in a clash of styles like so many others. Entries like Easter Bunny Bloodbath tend to build a solid foundation with a creepy intro only to shatter it mindlessly when desperation sets in and they resort to goofy attempts at humour to maintain the pace. Seaver sets a campy tone from the off and never attempts to divert far away from it and this allows his feature to remain fast moving and entertaining. As the story is set in 1986, anyone that knows their horror will remember that killers of that time were as quick with a wisecrack as they were with a machete. Well Stingy Jack is a follower of annual fashions and he quips and talks as he kills throughout the runtime, which not only keeps things cheesy, but also gives us the chance to stay up to date with the plot. The characters are defined in the archetypal fashion, but the bunny that I thought was sure to be the final girl, suddenly got splattered, which I wasn’t expecting.
It would be pointless of me to rate the dramatics because this is a time when SOVs were full of bad actors, so they are deliberately playing it tongue in cheek. Personally I found the talky scenes to be more annoying than I’d have liked, but thankfully the killings are spaced frequently enough to separate the screen time with the players. The witty dialogue, which was quite obviously pencilled from the mind of a genre enthusiast, was by far the best thing about the picture. We hear the kids discussing Friday the 13th Part VI and Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend, which were two of the biggest horror films of the year and it’s those bonus additions that set this feature apart. For such a minuscule ZERO budgeted production, the gore effects are quite brilliant and the bogeyman looked surprisingly effective in that mask and scarecrow-alike garb.
So is Death-O-Lantern a great horror movie? No. But then again it’s not trying to be. What we have here is a doorway into the mind of a fan of camp eighties horror and as I’m one of those myself, I quite enjoyed it. The ending seemed a bit ‘thrown on top’ and the comedy was a tad risqué for my liking, but yes; it is still worth a look.
For viewers with a sense of humour that understand something about a no budget production, this is a quirky effort with enough pluses in its carry case for it to deliver. Seaver is growing all the time as a director and I’ll be waiting patiently for his next slasher effort.
Killer Guise: √√√√
*Ps you probably guessed that this was not really made in 1986, it’s 2011, but why ruin a good gag?
Terror Night 1988
aka Bloody Movie
Directed by: Nick Marino (Andre De Toth rumoured)
Starring: John Ireland, Cameron Mitchell, Alan Hale Jr.
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This is an update of the review that I posted on the IMDB many years ago. I think that I wrote something like 2,500 words, so I have condensed it down to the bare minimum for you here
Produced in 1987, Terror Night became the slasher movie equivalent of the Holy Grail for horror enthusiasts after it never secured its expected release. We waited for twenty years until it finally crept out almost unnoticed on a budget DVD with a cruddy transfer. It had been covered in various horror fanzines during its production, meaning that when a launch date never arrived, fans were left wondering what exactly had happened. It became almost an urban legend with people knowing someone who knew somebody else that had seen it, but it wasn’t until the late nineties when I came across a German subtitled bootleg copy that I was sure that it even existed.
It is believed that copyright wrangles with additional footage, which was ‘borrowed’ from classic movies for inclusion into the story, prevented Terror Night from gaining public exposure. There are also purely unconfirmed reports that it was funded by mob money, which adds a real Hollywood-style twist to its reputation. I must admit that I find that hard to believe, because the Mafia in Los Angeles surely had better things to throw their money at than an entry to a dying craze, which the slasher was by 1988. With that said, I have also read a report that stated that Nick Marino’s Mafioso cousin got him involved in the production as a favour and convinced Andre De Toth to sign on to help the inexperienced débutant. Perhaps they made De Toth an offer that he couldn’t refuse? Horses’ heads and all that. Anyway, a few pre-screeners saw the light of day, which were then copied privately and passed around on the VHS black-market, but up until very recently, it had remained locked in a studio vault. The unfortunate production problems admittedly gave the film a somewhat alluring edge and I was happy when I finally got my hands on it.
A group of youngsters decide to spend the night in the dilapidated Hollywood mansion of one-time screen idol Lance Hayward. Hayward has been missing for over forty years and despite rumours that he emigrated to Europe, it is believed that he died many years ago. The teenagers soon learn that this is not true as Hayward begins stalking and slaughtering the group one by one, whilst donning costumes of the characters from his previous cinematic adventures.
Had Terror Night been released as had been intended by the production team, I predict that it may well have been a relatively popular addition to the category and a good seller on the VHS and drive-in markets. It boasts many of the essential ingredients that made its more successful genre counterparts household names, including a young and attractive cast, some decent bloody deaths, credible gore and a unique antagonist.
The use of retro movie footage to accompany the murders was an interesting touch; even though it almost certainly proved to play a key part in the film’s downfall and ruined any chance of the ongoing franchise that producers during this period would have hoped for. Despite sticking closely to the familiar rulebook, the key source of influence seems to stem from the 1980 thriller, Fade to Black. The synopsis is incredibly similar, although Terror Night gives its all to be an out and out slasher flick, whereas Fade to Black promised so much but turned out to be nothing of the sort.
The cast do a good enough job with what they are given, especially the old-timers who seem to be having a ball with their small cameos. Cameron Mitchell turns up for an awesome slice of scene-chewing and like all the senior screen veterans, he seems to be motivated to do more than just phone-in a few lines for the paycheque. The various choices of costume for the killer provide a good dose of cheesy fun (I especially enjoyed the maniacal knight-in-armour) and the murders are almost always energetic and gory. Screen queen Michelle Bauer comes along for her usual shift of getting naked and then viciously slaughtered and porn hottie Jamie Summers is also included for a rare non-adult film role to up the eye-candy factor.
First (and last) time director Nick Marino creates little in terms of tension or suspense and his modus operandi seemed to be little more than point the camera, shoot what was in front of him and then shout ‘Cut’! Andre De Toth’s involvement in the direction of a share of the scenes is a rumour that has never been confirmed or denied, but either way, there’s nothing exceptional here to be noted. He gets a thank you in the closing credits, which adds some weight to the case, but unfortunately, without the press package that would have accompanied Terror Night if it had secured a better release, there is little way of knowing for sure who worked on what.
Perhaps the flaws that we come across whilst watching are also to be blamed on the problematic production? The sets are inadequately lighted to the point of frustration in places and they lack the visual gloss that their creative layouts deserved. The story is also somewhat rushed and unclear and fails to deliver a satisfying resolution to the puzzle that it works so hard on creating throughout the length of the runtime. We never find out if our bogeyman is actually a ghost or just a semi-supernatural ninety-year-old with the appearance of someone half that age. Would these issues have been ironed out if the movie had not had come up against so many issues during and after the shoot? It is really hard to say and we will never know for sure when it was decided that Terror Night would not secure worldwide circulation. Perhaps the filmmakers never got the chance to add the finishing touches that would have given their project a more ‘completed’ feel. The campy ending however can’t be blamed on disjointed development woes. It’s pure eighties cheese on toast slasher screenwriting at its funniest – you just have to check it out!
It’s as clear as a polished crystal that Terror Night didn’t have the most straight forward journey on to budget DVD. Even if there are a handful of weak moments, none of them look to have been big or bad enough to have kept the movie in a vault for so long. It has enough in its gore coated handbag to satisfy fans that are looking for an obscure and fun genre-piece that does deliver the goods. It’s packed to the brim with hokey gore and excessive nudity, which makes it an almost perfect exploitation piece.
I briefly thought about adding Terror Night to my top 30 slasher pictures category here on a SLASH above, but I finally decided against it. Still, it is quite a quirky slasher picture and I really enjoyed sitting down to watch it.
Final Girl √√
Atração Satânica 1990
aka Satanic Attraction
Directed by: Fauzi Mansur
Starring: Emilia Mazur, Gabriela Toscano, Ênio Gonçalves
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Completely off topic, but Brazil can boast a peerless reputation for producing some of the greatest soccer idols that mankind has ever known. Pele, Ronaldo, Bebeto, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and the magnificent Romario are just some of the football legends that have worn the fluorescent yellow shirt of their five-time world cup winning country. Being a massive football fan and former player means that I have the greatest respect for my Latin cousins from across the pond and whenever I go out in central London, the hottest parties are those at my favourite Brazilian club on the Charing Cross road.
With their notorious flamboyant lust for life and excellent titles such as City of God already very popular amongst critics, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this late addition to the slasher cycle. Shock Diversao Diabolica was an interesting entry from 1982, but nowhere near good enough to rival the key players from the US during the boom years. But Spain, France and Italy – three other great football nations – can boast slasher output that is nearly as good as their World Cup winning squads, which made the initial signs look promising for Satanic Attraction.
It kicks off in traditional satanic fashion in the midst of a crowded ritual. A masked figure makes his way through a pack of dancers and heads down some underground stairs to host a bizarre black mass in front of a crowd of hooded revellers. The strange cult leader picks up a huge dagger and heads over to a pair of blonde beaming twin children. The mysterious stranger then slices the wrists of the youngsters and pushes their arms together, presumably to link the pair with a bond of blood. The crowd look on in anticipation as the twins grin sadistically.
Sometime later we meet Fernanda, a radio announcer who hosts a controversial show on which she tells creepy stories to a captivated nationwide audience. Some listeners believe that her ramblings are dangerous and could result in violent consequences, while others are just happy to see so many people turning to radio for their source of entertainment. Her latest tale concerns a dark figure roaming the town and murdering young women with various gruesome weapons. The killer then uses the victim’s blood to reanimate his deceased sister in her beachside grave. After dismembered bodies begin turning up around the local town, Fernanda realises that her stories are somehow connected to identical murderous events that are taking place at exactly the same time as she speaks on air. What connection does she share with the ritualistic psycho and what links the killings to the hapless DJ?
Satanic Attraction looks to have been produced on a fairly decent budget and it’s immediately apparent that director Fauzi Mansur didn’t scrape the barrel for the effects that he decided would make his movie a hit. A few of the murders are extremely gory: meat cleaver through the head, dismemberment, gooey throat lashing’s and a spear pushed through a love making couple a la Friday the 13th II. The killer is seen mainly from behind and dresses in traditional Giallo-like black psycho-garb. Although part of the plot concerns searching for the maniac’s identity, the whodunit aspect is mostly left simmering on the backburner. Even though things stick closely to the typical Giallo/slasher rulebook, Mansur manages to mix in a share of supernatural elements that are both interesting and utterly confusing in equal measures.
As this is a Brazilian production, the original vocal soundtrack is in Portuguese and the producers didn’t opt for subtitles to export the feature to English speaking nations. Instead the movie has been dubbed by a gang of wooden planks, sorry, students from America and the United Kingdom. Obviously it’s impossible to tell what these guys were studying, but one thing’s for certain; they definitely weren’t considering a career in drama. This has to rank along with Samurai Reincarnation as the worst dubbing in cinema history. But that’s not Satanic Attraction’s only problem. The movie is nearly two hours long and a huge majority of this time is spent listening to the aforementioned ‘actors’ warble their way through a poorly translated script, with characters popping up all over the place without any rhyme or reason. The net result is an overlong dreary feature that takes an hour and a half to finally shift into gear as the killer goes on an excellent maniacal spree. When we reach the film’s conclusion, it just gets silly as one twist that was easy to predict gives way to yet another.
Unfortunately, Satanic Attraction is a major let down in every respect. It’s hardly worth tracking down for the excessive gore and all that’s left is a long corridor of confusion and horrendous acting. Put it this way, I think even Jag Mundhra’s Open House, which also incorporates a DJ could be better – seriously!
I’ll stick to watching Brazilian football for now…
Final Girl √√
The Burning 1981
Directed by: Tony Maylam
Starring: Brian Matthews, Brian Becker, Jason Alexander
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Tony Maylam’s The Burning is one of the most notorious non-franchise slashers of all time. Even before pre production had begun in the summer of 1980, the movie had an incredible buzz surrounding it. Enough so in fact that superstar horror FX maestro Tom Savini rejected the chance to return to the Friday the 13th series for Steve Miner’s classic sequel and instead took this project for a lesser salary.
Of all the peak period genre entries, none can boast the depth in terms of personnel that was put together here. Alongside the aforementioned magic of Savini, the cast included Jason Alexander, Ned Eisenberg and Oscar winners Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter. The grim and unique score came from former Yes keyboardist, Rick Wakeman and directorial duties went to Tony Maylam, who at the time had been predicted for big things after his work on rock band Genesis’ outstanding concert video from 1977.
There can be little doubt that the hype and quality in recruitment was down to an early example of the skills of production partnership Harvey and Bob Weinstein, whose company Miramax films would go on to become one of the most successful entertainment brands in Hollywood over the next three decades. This was the first feature length motion picture to be released under that brand and thereafter, they would go on to distribute over fifty films, including classics such as The Crying Game, Pulp Fiction and even Wes Craven’s Scream. If that wasn’t enough, then can you believe that the script was co-written by future Paramount Pictures CEO Brad Grey? Astonishing…
After a prank goes wrong, a sadistic camp caretaker returns to the site where the accident took place, looking for revenge. Armed with a shiny pair of shears, Cropsy begins to stalk a group of counsellors with mutilation on his mind…
In the UK, The Burning was one of the first entries to join the video nasty list and it received perhaps higher persecution for the fact that Thorn-EMI accidentally released the full uncut print instead of the censored copy that the BBFC had cleared. The tapes were impounded and destroyed, but bizarrely, Thorn-EMI were more fortunate than David Grant who was sent to prison for doing the exact same thing when he distributed a longer version of the film Blood Splash a year later. I paid an absolute fortune for an unedited version of this when I was a nipper and it was a mistake as the cassette had an infuriating line running through the middle, which made it almost as bad as just sticking to the 18 rated VHS. Watching it now though, on the BlueRay pre-screener that I was sent, is a glorious experience and the film looks as if it could have been a production from the last decade. The masters have obviously been well looked after and playing it on my Plasma allowed me to turn out the lights and almost feel like I was in the cinema in 1981.
Maylam attempts the John Carpenter methodology of slowly generating an undertone of dread that boils along in the background and then attacks like a shark in the places when the killer strikes. A great example of this is the infamous ‘Raft Massacre’ sequence, which boasts an almost perfect build up. Whilst Wakeman’s score warns us that something is about to happen, the camera never reveals enough to let us be sure and when the loon strides on to the screen, the bloodletting is quick, brutal and graphic. To this day, you can count on one hand the amount of times in slasher cinema that an antagonist has taken out so many victims in one fell swoop. Tom Savini proves once again here why he was the go to guy for the most realistic special effects back in the overkill period of the slasher cycle.
What I like about the script is that it spends time developing its characters and their performances really add the necessary realism that makes what happens later seem all the more shocking. Jason Alexander steals every scene as a quick-witted camper, whilst Brian Matthews, Leah Ayers and Ned Eisenberg were solid and flawless in their roles. The dialogue and banter works not only to add fun to the parts where the horror takes a backseat, but also to develop a genuine level of believability in the set up and I found it easy to forget that I was watching a group of actors. The screenplay also separates itself from the multitude of its genre brethren by having a ‘final boy’ instead of the usual heroine left alone to face the marauding maniac. The thing is that despite the fact that Brian Becker does a good job with the role, the decision is a risk that just doesn’t pay off.
The Burning has become a true cult classic and has legions of admirers in not only slasher but also horror movie circles. Personally though, I think that it is slightly overrated and perhaps undeserving of so much notoriety. Despite its visible slickness, it lacks a real cutting edge in its moments of terror. Whilst the gore is great and almost like a snuff film in places, the murder sequences lack jump scares or suspense and there’s very little true tension. This is most evident in the conclusion, which I found to be really disappointing. Our hero heads up with an axe to take on the bogeyman and we’re expecting at least a fight. There’s a revelation that builds up a deserving target, at least in the eyes of our nut job caretaker, but Maylam’s attempts at prolonging the money shot are overwrought. In the end it’s more ‘was that it?’ than ‘oh yeah that’s it!’ if you get what I mean. Whilst the notorious ‘Raft Massacre’ is magnificent in terms of the excellence of the make-up FX and it’s an all round great postcard of slasher genre splatter, has anyone ever wondered how it might have looked had it not been SO rapidly edited?
As I highlighted earlier, the script doesn’t bother with a traditional female heroine and instead develops a male geeky type guy in her place. The thing is though we are not talking about a loveable mummy’s boy here. Instead, he is conveyed as an unlikeable pervert and it’s just too hard to bond with him or even want him to survive. It’s funny because before this, we watched The Prowler and Joseph Zito opted for a conventional lead character there and the difference is impossible not to notice. When Vicky Dawson was trying her darnedest to fend off the pitch folk clenching maniac, my partner shouted, “Go on girl!” But there was never any chance of the Mrs doing the same thing here. We ended up saying that Todd should leave Cropsy to get on with it and save himself instead of risking his life for the dweeby Alfred.
I have regular conversations with you guys and girls about these slasher films and I know that not all of you will agree with my view. That’s the beauty of the genre though; everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Tom Savini delivers on the goo-o-rama, there are some nice performances, it’s beautifully produced and Rick Wakeman’s score is a masterpiece. If I could however take maybe 15% of its reputation and give it to Nightmare at Shadow Woods, I would feel a lot better about the whole thing. Tony Maylam’s biggest film after this was Split Second with Rutger Hauer. Maybe this picture would have been better if Steve Miner had also opted not to work on Friday the 13th Part 2 and followed his friend Tom over to Camp Blackfoot? Just a thought…
The Dorm that Dripped Blood 1981
aka Pranks aka Death Dorm
Directed by: Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow
Starring: Laurie Lapinski, Stephen Sachs, Daphne Zuniga
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Many of the slasher films from the early eighties were made by filmmakers with minimal experience that were looking for their first big break. Whenever I get a chance to speak to crew members from the peak period, I notice that there’s usually always a unique story about how they secured funding or what corners they cut to get the feature released. None of those that I’ve heard though startled me quite as much as what I found out about this movie, which is one of my favourites of the golden age.
I was sure that lurking behind the scenes here was a fat cat producer with a wad of notes and a hunger to cash in on the slasher craze. The Dorm that Dripped Blood however was nothing more than a thesis project from three ambitious students of the University of California, Los Angeles. After seeing John Carpenter’s seminal Halloween at the cinema, Jeffrey Obrow, Stephen Carpenter and Stacey Giachino decided that they wanted to have a crack at making something similar. With minimal funding they came across other up and comers and the project became a launch pad for a few very fine careers. Christopher Young was studying music on a campus that was situated yards away from Obrow and Carpenter, whilst twenty-four year old make-up artist Matthew Mungle was pitching his small portfolio around town to get work. Years after they completed this film, Young would become one of the most popular composers of recent times and Mungle would win an Academy award and gain a further three nominations.
The shoot took place mainly during the December of 1980 and Obrow and his crew built their entire schedule around when the equipment that was provided by UCLA was available for their use. The locations were all discovered in and around the campus and the majority of cast members were unknowns or friends that had been eager to sign on. The net result is a superb example of the genre’s strengths when handled with ambition
A group of youngsters stay behind over the Christmas period to help clean and disassemble a dorm that is about to be closed down. Little do they know that they are sharing the location with a brutal killer…
I came across the film Pranks (as it was known in the UK) when I was growing up in London. Alongside The Driller Killer, Night of the Demon and Madhouse it had been quickly added to the DPP list and classified as a video nasty. Although the intention of the British government had been to do the exact opposite, the tag gave the film a cult classic reputation and it was passed around on bootleg with the added rebellious attraction of its unlawful status. A younger kid called Dean from across the street had a genuine copy that his dad had rescued from the claws of the Video Nasty campaign. In the end he sold to me for £10, which was a lot of money for an eleven year old child, but I wanted it so badly I would have paid £50.
Dorm is without a shadow of a doubt one of the grittiest of the period slashers and in my opinion, one of the most underrated. Despite not boasting the finesse of a My Bloody Valentine or Dressed to Kill, it succeeds by sacrificing an atmosphere of campy fun and replacing it with unrelenting grimness. From the first moment on screen, when a guy is brutally murdered before the pre-credits, the audience is made aware that they are watching a horror movie and there are no real attempts to alter the mood. I have always believed that in terms of structure for a slasher, you need to open with a shock, spend no more than thirty-five minutes on plot development with maybe the odd killing to maintain the tone. Follow that with a suspenseful mid-section as the body count mounts and then leave a good twenty-five minutes for the showdown/unmasking scene with the protagonist. The screenplay here gets that pretty much spot on and despite a few hollow moments that could have perhaps been much shorter, Christopher Young’s fantastic score (one of the best of the genre) sustains the energy.
Watching the newly released director’s cut has given Matthew Mumble’s gore effects the stage that they deserve and on BlueRay, they look superb. Hearing about the minimalistic funding that he was given to achieve these results somehow makes them seem all the better and in its entirety, Dorm can rightly be acknowledged as one of the most gruesome of its kind. There’s a fairly well-constructed mystery with red-herrings popping up in the right places and even if the killer’s revelation is not expertly conveyed (the motive is non-existent) it leads to a bold final scene, which was unique at the time of filming.
Perhaps what the feature lacks the most is a group of well developed personalities that we can bond with. The players here are wafer thin and therefore we never feel particularly intrigued by their dialogue or sympathetic towards their plight. In film’s such as Iced, Evil Laugh or Friday the 13th Part II, memorable faces such as Carl, Barney and Ted added some comedic warmth to the proceedings and make us care more about the results of the oncoming horror. Here though, Laurie Lapinski gave us a one-dimensional and extremely unapproachable final girl, whilst the rest of the cast were never offered anything authentic to escape their stereotype. Soon to be superstar Daphne Zuniga gets no chance to impress on her five-minute feature debut, even if the kill scene that sees her get gruesomely mutilated along with her parents has been written in to slasher folklore as one of the best sequences of the cycle. Whilst it could be argued that the lower amount of definition in the characters that guide us through the story give the film a more ‘complete’ feel of out and out horror, I couldn’t help but wonder how good this could have been with a tad more depth put into the protagonist and her co-stars.
Perhaps the most impressive thing of all is that despite the complete lack of experience of all involved, they have managed to put together one of most notorious pieces of the initial slasher phase. Dorm is a brutal, scary, gory and atmospheric slasher that engulfs you in its storm of underlying gloom. It overcomes its obviously raw level of filmmaking technicality to be a real treat for horror audiences. I thoroughly recommend it.
Final Girl √√
Friday the 13th 1980
Directed by: Sean S Cunningham
Starring: Adrienne King, Kevin Bacon, Betsy Palmer
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s a known saying amongst film fans that the first actor that you see who plays Bond will always be your favourite. There’s most definitely some truth in this, because I watched The Spy who Loved me when I was about six years-old and Roger Moore, despite being nowhere near as cool as Sean Connery, is inexplicably the one that I like the most.
I wondered if a similar method could work on Friday the 13th films. Now first things first, I’m a massive fan of the franchise. I mean massive. I live in London, but flew to the US specifically to attend an advanced screening of Jason X when I had barely turned 20. It cost me an arm and a leg, but it was worth it. It all started because I was desperately searching for some more slasher action after watching Halloween when I was knee-high to a hub-cap. Back then, without the Internet, we had to rely on the stock of our local video stores for selection choices and there I found the extremely Michael Myers-alike back-cover blurb of Friday the 13th Part 2. So that became my first taste of the Voorhees legacy.
Straight after, I began visiting all the mom and pop rental shops within a 100 mile radius until I’d tracked down every single entry to the story. In Spain, Paramount distributed parts 2 to 8, but this film, the opening chapter, was released by Warner Bros. It could be because they didn’t print as many copies on VHS, but bizarrely enough, this was the last of them that I got to see.
Taking a browse around the other websites, I noticed that it is perhaps the most highly rated by my fellow stalk and slash critics in the blogosphere. Justin over at Hysteria Lives gave it a full five-stars, whilst Hud from Vegan Voorhees did the same. In my review of Friday the 13th Part 2, I said that it was my número uno of the series and one of the best slasher movies ever made. I have watched it at least ten times, whereas I’ve only seen this on two occasions and both were many many moons ago. I guess that the point that I’m trying to make is would a mind completely free of bias or any kind of sentimentality really call Sean S Cunningham’s notorious shocker the best of the collection? Is it really THAT good?
A local businessman has decided to reopen a summer camp that has remained in his family for almost fifty years. Previous attempts to restore Camp ‘Crystal Lake’ have always met with ominous incidents that began after the drowning of an unfortunate child. The following year, two youngsters were brutally murdered and when the killer was not apprehended, the cabins were closed and abandoned. Nowadays, townsfolk call it ‘Camp Blood’ and gossip amongst them states that it is cursed and so it has remained uninhabited since that fateful night. Steve Chrysty doesn’t believe in those whispers and has already hired a group of counsellors to help him with preparation for the grand opening. As soon as they’ve began to settle however, they are stalked and ruthlessly butchered by an elusive psychopath…
Whilst the filmmakers have admitted both privately and in interviews that this was little more than a cash-in on the success of Halloween, the key source of inspiration behind the picture was Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood and knowing that allows you to clearly see the nods and winks. Cunningham makes great use of the campsite location and the crisp photography laps up the greens and browns of the forest to give the picture a colourful radiance of a backdrop. After a brief (and surprisingly – keeping in mind that Savini was on board) gore free murder in the pre-credits, we get introduced to the first of our counsellors. What is interesting is that Annie, a bubbly hitchhiker, is given enough screen time that would lead you to believe that she could become our heroine. She’s sweet, fiery and sincere and offers something of a backstory to her persona. The opening scenes with her are intriguing because we don’t get a clear picture of what we can expect to happen. Crazy Ralph’s warnings are that ‘Camp Blood’ is doomed. Does that mean haunted? Are we about to watch a ghost story? Whilst of course we know now that wasn’t the case, the film does begin with a feeling like we could be up against something more supernatural than a twisted killer.
Victor Miller’s screenplay manages to break archetypal slasher movie boundaries even before they were set by killing off that first, well developed, character almost immediately and letting us know that no one is safe from the unseen menace. Whilst the world and their mother are aware by now of who the antagonist of this feature turned out to be, audiences of 1980 had no idea, and the story plays like something of a regular giallo/whodunit. Sean Cunningham didn’t get the breaks that would build careers for Carpenter, Craven and Hooper, but what is clear to me here is that he got the right performances from his inexperienced cast. Whilst none of them are given complex enough dialogue to really steal a scene, infamous moments such as Marcie’s Audrey Hepburn in the mirror, Ned’s practical jokes and Alice’s hysterical heroine were all pitch perfect for this campy horror classic
Once the night scenes come around, the movie really steps up a gear and delivers a genuinely dark and tense atmosphere. The backgrounds are shot in a tone that’s almost grey scale and the constant barrage of rain is a horror cliché that is used to the best possible effect. If Cunningham deserves credit for helping sustain a sense of mystery and suspense, the film really belongs to Tom Savini’s make-up effects and Bill Freda’s razor sharp editing. The pair create some amazing death scenes; with the impalement of a young Kevin Bacon and Jeannine Taylor’s gruesome end being two of the most memorable slasher murders of all time. Harry Manfredini’s musical accompaniment is powerful enough to single handedly change the mood and the poignant tranquility of his last piece, which successfully builds up to the closing jump scare – Jason’s screen début – is creative and unique.
When the killer is revealed and finally shows her face it’s a genuine shock, but also a bit of a cheat. The majority of the runtime sees suspicion point at Steve or maybe one of the campers but then it turns out to be a face that hasn’t yet been introduced to us. It’s hard to believe that this could really be the person that we have seen ramming axes through people’s faces and nailing counsellors to cabin doors, but once the final battle gets going, we just let the filmmakers take over and it turns out to be one of the best showdowns of the cycle. Betsy Palmer was heavily criticised by Roger Ebert and the like and Gene Siskel even went as far as to tell fans to write to her expressing their disappointment that she accepted such a poor choice in role. She was also nominated for that year’s supporting actress Razzie – one of the worst and most insulting things that can happen to any screen performer. Personally, I really enjoyed her natty Mrs Voorhees and think that she did exactly what was asked of her. That hammy as a sandwich schizophrenia is surprisingly effective and I just couldn’t imagine how the film would play without it. Oh and by the way Señor Siskel, Señora Palmer later stated that she received exactly 0 complaints through the mail and only letters praising her inclusion in the picture. So there :p
Friday the 13th is, for me, a four star slasher movie. It’s a suspenseful and exciting killer in the woods flick that has a couple of memorably edited scares, a wonderful final battle and some of the best character-driven situations of the entire genre. The only thing that it lacks is a solid central antagonist; or to be more clear, a Jason Voorhees. Of course though, we have to keep in mind that without this, we would never have had a mass-murderer in a hockey mask and the greatest legacies have to start somewhere. Whilst I am still convinced that part two, the first that I ever saw, is the best in the series, I have only the tiniest of disagreements with those that consider this to be their favourite.
Maybe it is just like what they say about Bond and that I saw the sequel first…?
Final Girl: √√√√
Night of the Demon 1980
Directed by: James C. Wasson
Starring: Michael Cutt, Joy Allen, Bob Collins
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Some of the video nasties from the early eighties were nowhere near as gruesome as their reputation would lead you to believe and half of the time they left you bewildered as to why they were banned in the first place. That’s not the case with Night of the Demon though, which doesn’t take long to let you know what philosophy these filmmakers believed in. We can safely assume that someone over at the BBFC was concerned that a contrast of images that includes a biker getting his ‘Johnson’ ripped off by a furry beast may be just a tad too much for public consumption. In the end, they decided that the best thing to do was to chuck this in a vault and hope that it quietly went away. It was resubmitted and heavily edited ten years later by ex-video nasty distributor, VipCo films. I found a copy on that label in a trade store on Regent Street, London. Imagine my unparalleled joy when I got home and watched it only to notice that it was time-coded and totally uncut. It turns out that I had discovered a pre-screener and it was a personal ‘up yours’ from me to the establishment. Sometime later I came across another version in Spain with a hilarious cover, which I have posted here.
In all fairness, director James C Watson is somewhat extreme with his over-use of visual suggestion. In the first five minutes alone, a fisherman is forced to a life collecting disability benefits courtesy of bumping into the ‘demon’ who was out on his rounds and hungry for a dismembered limb or two. The movie continues in this gratuitous vein all the way through, never bothering to add a touch of suspense or atmosphere development. Instead, it relies on grotesque images to boost the shock factor, breaking new grounds for gooey extremities.
The first scene takes place in a dingy little room that I guess is really supposed to look-like it’s a Hospital ward. A guy lays bed-ridden, with his face covered by bandages and plasters. Two doctors and a Sheriff discuss his injuries, stating that, ‘… his face is horribly mutilated (and) most of the skin is burned away’. Any man with his extreme medical condition must have some sombre tale of woe that (graphically) details how he ended up in such an uncomfortable position. When the lawman asks for his description of the events that left him so severely disfigured, he kicks it all off with the cheesy intriguing build up, ‘Those horror stories that you heard about the forest…they’re all true!’ So begins the flashback that will narrate us through his gore-laden adventure…
Apparently, the man without a face is Bill Nugent, an anthropology lecturer (a popular career amongst slasher alumni, I’m sure you’ll agree), that you could say is somewhat obsessed with uncovering the truth behind the legend of a murderous Big Foot. He and a group of budding students have decided that a journey out to the location where the stories came from should offer some clues to solve the mystery. They are to be joined on their excursion by Carla Thomas, the daughter of the unfortunate angler that I told you about earlier. She warns the volunteers of the dangers that lie ahead, by telling them the tale of a man who was brutally murdered whilst making-out in the back of a van with his girlfriend. The young woman who survived the murder was especially memorable, because she seems to think that portraying fear amounts to making ecstatic grunts that sound more like she had been sharing a bed with Ron Jeremy after he’d swallowed a bag of Viagra. Despite the fearful advice, the group decide to continue with their trip and head off in small boats down a long winding river into the wilderness, just like Burt Reynolds and his pals did in Deliverance.
They arrive at the destination and we get another flashback (within a flashback) that shows us the fate of a previous victim of the hairy beast. Note that our bogeyman actually looks more like an unshaven member of the heavy metal group Twisted Sister than any kind of rare big-foot mammal. This story involves a guy in a sleeping bag being swung round in circles before plummeting on to a dangerously miss-placed branch. The next morning, the group decide to interrogate the local townspeople in a scene that was most definitely ‘borrowed’ by The Blair Witch Project some time later. They’re told tonnes of conflicting rumours by the villagers, but every story that they hear has at least one thing in common: a hermit who lives in the hills and goes by the fitting name of ‘Crazy Wanda’. Apparently, she had a baby that was, ‘Awful to look at… deformed…a Mongoloid.’ The somewhat straight talking interviewee also gives us her opinion on what made the sprogg look so retarded. “It could have been down to malnutrition”, she comments. Erm… Okey. Now that they finally have a real lead, they head deeper into the forest and conveniently further away from civilization, which makes any sort of rescue attempt a definite impossibility.
As darkness falls, the group sit around a bonfire and discuss their findings so far. They learn from the professor that they’ve arrived at the point where years earlier a motorcyclist took his last piss in the bushes, due to the creature showing up and ‘copping a feel’ with horrifying results. Apparently in the edited print, the actual castration is totally removed. In the full version, it’s not that it’s particularly gory, but any male that’s watching will most definitely flinch purely at the thought of it. During the night, the campers are awoken by mysterious sounds emulating from within the trees. Nugent and his buddy investigate and come across a black mass, which looks more like a Country dancing festival, but I suppose it was meant to look really creepy. A young girl lies in the middle of the chanting crowd and we see that she is awkwardly consenting to intercourse with a strange fellow that looks suspiciously like Davy Jones from The Monkeys. The anthropologist immediately thinks that it’s rape and spoils the party by popping off a few caps into the sky from his trusty firearm. The revellers take off running in different directions, leaving the heroic visitors to head back to their tents feeling like they’ve done a good deed. As wrongful repayment for their helpful services, the next morning they wake up to find that their boats are missing. That means they’re stranded without any ammunition; – or in other words, doomed. Their luck worsens when two of the teenage students take a stroll under the moonlight for a spot of nookie, which is always a bad idea. Their fondling comes to an abrupt halt when the guy’s back is violently scratched by the killer’s fury hand (or should that be paw?). They sit round and chat about the assault, but strangely enough, not one of them seems to realise that they’re on a crash course for destruction if they hang around this area any longer. What more proof do they need? I’d hate to enroll at the university that these guys attended. I’ve heard about students offering blood, sweat and tears for their assignments, but as Eddie Cochran so truthfully said, that’s something else.
Eventually the hapless group stumble across Wanda’s cabin, which is situated in an area where a few years ago, the dumbest movie murder ever transferred to celluloid took place. Two girls are grabbed by Big Foot and bashed into each other unconvincingly. They’re both holding knifes in their hands, which results in them spraying blood over one another, because they didn’t think of ‘dropping the blades’. After a while, we’re finally introduced to the crazy hermit who really doesn’t help too much, because she’s been left muted by her involvement with the walking carpet. Before the remaining hunters even have the chance to shout ‘Help me Wanda’, old Mr. Grisly turns up and reveals himself to the unwelcome tourists. He expresses his apparent distaste that they’ve come traipsing into his area without direct permission, by surrounding and then violently murdering them one by one, in one of the goriest final scenes in the whole history of splatter flicks.
Watching Night of the Demon is like attending a horror reunion filled with parts that were ‘borrowed’ from the more popular films released from the mid-seventies to when this hit the shelves. We start in traditional Friday the 13th territory, with victims getting picked off in the woods by an unseen assailant. Then we sail into the realms of Eaten Alive with a rape sequence, which is watched by a baying gang of hillbilly crazies. Chuck in some Rosemary’s Baby, as we get all sacrilegious with the inclusion of a demonic offspring and plenty of satanic cursing. Finally we take a trip into the world that was prominently inhabited by Lucio Fulci around this time, with a gore-tastic showdown that’s not a million miles away from the House by the Cemetery. There are some truly blood-soaked scenes that have made the uncut version highly sought after, selling for big bucks on eBay. The most amusing of the bunch, is when the monster pulls out one gentleman’s intestines and spins them around his head like a cowboy twirling his lasso. Perhaps his true ambition was to be accepted as a hairy Southern wrangler? Hey, now there’s a plot twist…
The cast manage to offer nothing but putrid performances all the way through. It’s not like they’re bad actors trying to look good; they just aren’t any kind of actors at all. Dennis McCarthy’s music sounds like he dropped a vial of acid and then blew the flute over some Jazz that’s been played badly and the photography seems to have been performed by a guy with a nervous twitch because it judders more than a Sumo wrestler on a bouncy castle. Most of the characters remain nameless (and pointless) all the way through. In fact I’m sure that it was only the professor that was addressed by a title? The plot suffers from narration that’s about as much use as Stevie Wonder guiding you through a mile-long maze, and we never even find out a reason why the Big-foot has such animosity against human kind in the first place? It would have been nice to perhaps learn an interesting motive for his apparent hatred.
Despite the back-garden amateurism of the production, Wasson’s slasher film pulls no punches. Even if it is absolute trash, it’s fun trash all the same. I actually found it to be highly unforgiving with its level of outright brutality and the gooey murders do add something of a grim tone to the final scene. I’m no stranger to gory mayhem, but it does succeed in its excessive overindulgence. It is too cheesy to be taken seriously, but for such a low budget picture, the hokey effects manage to really unsettle at times. The director even manages a superb jump scare at the end that caught me off guard.
I guess that Demon most definitely deserves credit for trying something a little different from the majority of early eighties killer in the woods flicks. The POV shots and various references keep it tightly nailed into the slasher genre, but at least it isn’t just another masked killer on a campsite offering. If you want some gory fun then check out the UNCUT copy only. Alongside Pieces, The Last Horror Film et al, it’s become something of a Grindhouse dish of the day…. I am sure that you’ll have a good time.
aka Night Crew: The Final Checkout aka Intruso en la Noche
Directed by: Scott Spiegel
Starring: Elizabeth Cox, Sam Raimi, Renée Estévez
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Every decade creates its own individual cultural characteristics that are easy to look back on and distinguish as key to that era. Even though perhaps there has been little invention during the last fifteen years or so, the tail end of the twentieth century delivered a multitude of creation within the entertainment industry. The fifties will always be remembered for the birth of rock and roll, whilst The Beatles, Bob Dylan and the introduction of the ‘make love not war’ anti-Vietnam mentality of Western youth signified the cultural identity of the sixties. Vivid images of white suited, medallion sporting men and disco divas became synonymous with the seventies, but it was the eighties that will be remembered for launching the most memorable generation landmarks.
Slasher films also played their part in defining the personality of those years and despite the invasion of titles during the post-Scream outbreak that emerged after 1996, there will never be a time that can compete with the genre’s initial overkill period. It all began with the notorious, “kill her mommy” lines of Friday the 13th and despite a fall in popularity; studios were still producing cycle entries consistently right the way through. I have said previously in my review of Maniac Cop that despite many believing that 1981 was the peak of the entire cycle, ’88 was in my opinion not that far off. Not that far off at all…
Released towards the end of those twelve heavily populated months, Intruder tells the tale of a group of night staff in a super market that are asked to work through the night, pricing down all the stock as they all have been made redundant due to the closure of the store. As they lock the shutters for the last time, it becomes apparent that an unwelcome guest has crept in amongst them. Before long, the staff are being killed one by one by an unseen maniac.
In film, as in life, timing is everything. Whether it be that of a screen comedian or the understanding of the span of suspense by a director, the clock can be a vital tool in the creation of cinematic perfection. The reason I write this is because as it stands, Intruder is an obscure slasher movie that is highly regarded by those that have seen it. If, however, it had been released eight years earlier, I would be writing the review of an out and out horror classic. Spiegel’s opus has enough wit, gore, audacity and creativity to be ranked amongst the best of its ilk and it is only purely due to the multitude of titles that it was released with that it has been so unfairly overlooked.
If Sam Raimi’s adventurous direction makes him the outlaw of Hollywood sensibility, then Scott Spiegel should be Billy the Kid. The Jesse James of eccentric cinematic vision. Here is a man whose modus operandi seems to be to imagine the most audacious and outrageous camera angle possible and then in the same breath attempt to shoot it. Although, much like mayonnaise on chips, you’ll either love his flamboyant approach or hate it; kudos should be given for his brazen audacity and outlandish vision.
What we have here is a pie-eating contest of slasher clichés, which add up to a mega-feast of tongue-in-cheek over-indulgence that leaves you begging for more after the final curtain. The gore is Intruder’s biggest selling point. Heads get lopped off, crushed and sawed in half; and much like the work of Fulci, everything is filmed in loving close-up. A movie can sometimes become an extension of the film-maker’s personality and having watched Scott Spiegel’s interviews many times, this, his signature feature, is truly a case in point. It’s a shame that such a modest, down-to-earth and clearly talented director has never reached the heights of his high-school buddies, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell.
Paramount Studios– the enemy of all gore hounds after their stringent censorship of countless genre classics – were responsible for changing the name of Intruder from the much better Night Crew: The Final Checkout; and their VHS release also, characteristically, cut out all the gore. The first copy that I watched was the BBFC’s rated version, which in all fairness was still a well-produced and competent slasher, but the uncut print is the real gem. Obviously Spiegel’s effort is no Halloween and it’s something that the director is obviously aware of. But if you asked me to pick the best fifty – hell, best twenty – genre classics, Intruder would certainly be amongst them somewhere alongside Carpenter’s seminal favourite.
Very few know that Intruder is a remake of an old Spiegel 8mm feature that he shot during the early eighties, titled Night Crew. Credit has to be given to Lawrence Bender’s slick production skills, which turned an equally gory, but ultimately mediocre Halloween-clone (which the aforementioned short most definitely was) into a stand-out slasher classic. This project would act as a learning curve for Bender who would go on – through Spiegel’s introduction – to become one of the most important producers of the last twenty years. It’s strange to think that this low-budget stalk and slash flick would be the first step on the career that would bring us Quentin Tarantino and a host of Hollywood hits including, Good Will Hunting.
OK, so the cast were never going to turn up at the academy awards, but they do enough to get the job done and a nod to Dan Hicks, who delivers a highly committed performance. One change that I would have made would be to have given Renee Estévez (sister of Charlie and Emilio) the lead role over Elisabeth Cox, who I felt was the weakest link in places, but this is only a minor gripe. The ‘twist’ ending – which I really enjoyed – has been seen before, although I am convinced that it was just coincidental rather than Spiegel borrowing from other genre pieces. There’s also a decent whodunit plot running, which is stupidly ruined by the packaging on many versions that gives away the killer’s identity on the front cover. Doh!
Intruder is by far one of the best slasher movies of the eighties and should be a member of every avid fan’s collection. It mixes black humour and gruesome slaughter outstandingly well and basically takes the guide book to making a slasher movie, reads it and then blows it out of the window by maximising every damn page/trapping. This is how slashers are supposed to be and Señor Spiegel is welcome back here anytime to have another crack at a genre classic…
Final Girl √√
Nightmare at Shadow Woods 1983
aka Blood Rage
Directed by: John Grissmer
Starring: Mark Soper, Louise Lasser, Marianne Kanter
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Firstly, before we get going, I must confess that this review is of the old US video version under the name of Blood Rage. The film played briefly in theaters as Nightmare at Shadow Woods and I also have Dutch and Argentinian copies that were released the same way. There was a budget disc that came out quite recently, but it cuts out all the good stuff, so if you are looking to track this down after reading, go for the VHS ONLY. Well, at least until it gets picked up and given the care and attention that it should have received long ago…
Although this overlooked little gem wasn’t marketed as an out and out gore flick, in its uncut form it certainly delivers on the red stuff. It was shot in 1982 and finished early the following year, but it didn’t get released until much later when the stalk and slash style of horror had seriously become old hat. There are many such examples that you can find here on a SLASH above, where features have been left on the shelf for whatever reason, but in the case of Woods, it is a real disappointment that such a fun little entry has become totally obscure.
There’s something uniquely satisfying about watching a gory film. It may be impossible to put it into words, but there’s a reason why an uncut version of a splatter fest will always favour that of a censored print. Humans have a morbid curiosity and it’s fun watching an actor getting his face cut in half with a bench saw when you know it’s just prosthetics…
We kick off at a drive in movie theater. A mother is far too busy making out with her lover to notice that her twin boys Terry and Todd have crept out of the car and headed out onto the forecourt. After a brief confrontation with a teenage viewer and his girlfriend, one of the twins hacks the unfortunate jock to death with a handy axe that he picked up on route. Clearly a quick thinker, Terry gives the hatchet to his dumb-founded brother and leaves him to face a life behind bars in an asylum for a crime that he did not commit.
Fast forward ten years and Todd, who has been in a catatonic state since that fateful night, begins to recollect the fact that it is actually his twin-brother that should be held accountable for the grisly murder and so armed with the truth, he escapes the hospital to clear his name and bring his sibling to justice. Meanwhile the news of Todd’s escape, coupled with the uncomfortable fact that his mother is about to get married, sends Terry back on a maniacal rampage.
What we have here is the slasher movie equivalent of a ’67 Pontiac Firebird. Nowadays it may look a bit clunky and rough around the edges, but that doesn’t diminish any of its coolness. John Grissmer obviously set out with the ambition to fill his feature with all the necessary ingredients for it to rival the hard-hitters of the horror market during that period and if it weren’t for a few post-production issues, he would have succeeded wholeheartedly. As I mentioned earlier, the gore is spread thick and fast throughout the runtime and there’s no space left for sentimentality as the killer stalks his victims with a mean-spirited air of arrogance. In most traditional slasher films, the antagonist is either an unknown entity with no other link to his victims than a lust for murder or more commonly it’s a psychopathic colleague that’s seeking revenge, but conceals his identity from those that he stalks. Grissmer’s psycho however kills indiscriminately and celebrates the fact that he is slashing those that look upon him as a friend. He taunts as would a playground bully and like the most fearsome schizophrenic, he has no apparent realization of the grotesque acts that he is committing.
Future Oscar nominee Ed French’s gore effects are heavily underrated and hold up well against some of the cycle’s more renowned bloody treasures. My favorite of the bunch would have to be when Maddy discovers the corpse of her boyfriend in the apartment complex and unaware that he has been murdered, she prods him to ascertain why he is failing to answer her questioning. As his body falls forward, the head splits completely in half through the middle and its a decent and credibly handled scare. This is one of many neat directorial flourishes on display and the final stalking scenes build some flashes of suspense and tension. The budget restrictions are obvious, but the film holds it’s own against its slasher siblings.
Mark Soper steals the show here playing both of the evil twins with an intelligent and well researched performance that defies his lack of experience. Instead of just going for the obvious and giving his separate characters distinctive vocal twangs, his body language, composure and stride are uniquely delivered and therefore look almost unrecognizable as the work of the same actor. He has a ball playing the maniacal killer and his ‘cranberry sauce’ lines are chillingly dark and brought to mind something that Jack Nicholson might ad lib. Louise Lasser, a good actress usually, is hit and miss here as the mother, but I guess that she did manage much more ‘hit’ and the role was a difficult one. I also quite liked the innocent (and heroic) final girl who was played well by an unknown who had very few previous screen credits. Bruce Rubin’s screenplay is conventional of the slasher genre, but smart with the majority of its twists and gimmicks and it does well to set up scenarios that develop the story and maintain the pace. Do you remember the scene in Halloween when Laurie Strode is screaming and in desperate need for help from her neighbours, but they dismiss her cries as drunken malarkey? Well, there’s something similar here when a kiddie is pre-warned not to open the door because there’s someone dangerous about. Later, when the heroine is fleeing and looking for a place to hide, guess which house that she runs to and begins frantically knocking?
What I did find disappointing though was that Rubin didn’t make the most of an ambitious plot by adding a possible element of mystery. We know from the start that Terry is the psychopathic sibling, but with a bit more adventurous scripting, we could have been left deciding which of the twins is the true killer until an archetypal revelation climax.
With that said, Woods still remains a top top splatter flick and would be a great sister companion for The Prowler or My Bloody Valentine from the same period. It is scary, well-written, fast moving and unique and on top of that mega gory. Ray Peterson was a rock and roll singer in the late fifties who had a four-octave voice. His songs were brilliant and he covered everything from doo-wop to up-tempo ballads, but only boasted a handful of minor hits. Woods in a way is similar to Peterson, because it has it all; and for reasons that only the immortal guardians can provide, it never got the respect that it deserves…..
Final Girl √√
Maniac Cop 1988
Directed by: William Lustig
Starring: Tom Atkins, Laurene Landon, Bruce Cambell, Robert Z’Dar
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Ok I am going to be a tad controversial here and I know that many of you will disagree with me (especially JA Kerswell over at Hysteria Lives), but 1981 is not my favourite year of the slasher period. Don’t get me wrong, I can see the reason why people will think I’m a tad crazy. ’81 gave us the best entry to the Friday the 13THseries, not to mention a sequel to Halloween. We also had, to mention just a handful, My Bloody Valentine, Pieces, Pranks, The Prowler (my personal favourite), The Burning and Small Town Massacre – all of those are genre classics that actually achieved a run in the cinema instead of just a quiet transfer to budget VHS. (Also in February of that year in a pueblo blanco in Spain, someone special was born – well, me…) – However the best time of the cycle for this particular slasher enthusiast was 1988. Hold on, hold on – allow me to explain why…
Ok, so admittedly, my justification for this is based on personal experiences. I was knee-high to a hubcap back then and can clearly recall searching video stores, after seeing Halloween on TV, for more guilty pleasures that I could sneak up to my room and add to my forbidden collection of ex-rental VHS. What a large amount of trash that there was for me to choose from. Who can honestly admit to not enjoying the cheese on toasts that were Hack-O-Lantern, Iced, Demon Warrior, Memorial Valley Massacre, The Last Slumber Party or Fatal Pulse? Or the gore splattered Evil Dead Trap, Demonwarp or 555? For a decent mystery with a good twist you could do much worse than Al Filo Del Hacha, whilst franchise fans had an outright extravaganza with Installments to Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13TH and Sleepaway Camp to contend with. Just to think, I haven’t even mentioned Scott Spiegel’s wonderfully audacious and awesomely gory, Intruder.You see, my argument is gathering steam…
Despite that impressive collection of titles, the biggest players of the category had admittedly been running a little dry on ideas. Halloween 4 was a major disappointment and we will never get to see how John Carl Buechler’s The New Blood may have been had big brother not gone mad with his scissors during certification. The genre was screaming out for a new icon to lead the way in to the brave oncoming decade and in 1988 we very nearly had one. (Two if you are one of those that consider Child’s Play to be a slasher flick.)
This competently produced and visibly slick offering boasted a brilliant synopsis that had the potential to revitalise the slasher the same way that Halloween had done ten-years earlier. Carpenter has said that he thought that his seminal flick was so successful because he had taken horror away from the cliché of desolated environments and on to the streets and schools that we associate with secure normality. Maniac Cop attempted to build on this by turning the Police – the entity that we immediately associate with safety when horror strikes– in to the film’s bogeyman.
With a script from Larry Cohen, a director in William Lustig who had already had a successful stab at stalk and slash cinema with Maniac and a dreamy ensemble of B-Movie favourites, this looked to have more than enough in its locker to rival the titans for a place at the peak of the splatter-laden pyramid…
A serial killer is talking the streets of New York at night and murdering seemingly innocent bystanders. Witness reports have mentioned that the maniac is dressed as a Police officer, which makes tensions run high around the city. Could there really be a maniac cop on the force or is it a disguise for something far more sinister?
Some critics deny that this is a slasher picture and instead label it as a revenge flick in the vein of Death Wish et al. I completely disagree with that assessment, because the strong, silent bogeyman and countless examples of genre self-recognition mean that it’s definitely got the right recipe to sit alongside its brethren here on this website. In fairness, the larger budget allows Cohen to crossbreed various cinematic styles and there is something here for action audiences, those who like vigilante flicks and also back-street exploitation thrillers.
From the off you can tell that Maniac Cop is a SLASH above the usual plop that was littering shelves or being released DTV this late in the cycle, due to some decent photography and the obvious qualities that an experienced director and production team automatically bring. Lustig cloaks the screen in lingering shots of dark and dilapidated streets that bring a sleazy Taxi Driver-esque feel to the opening. This brings an abundance of energy to the feature and the killer, who is seen mainly in silhouette, has a supernatural ambiance not too dissimilar to that of Michael Myers.
Turning a cop in to the bogeyman offers a wealth of potential for set pieces and one of those is especially effective. Two backstreet muggers attempt to rob a barmaid of her bag, but after a brief struggle, she manages to escape and run to the supposed safety of a uniformed officer. It’s a well-delivered opening sequence as the shadowed maniac hoists the female up high and snaps her neck in front of the on looking thugs who are rightly bewildered by the sight of a Policeman sinking to lower depths of criminality than even they could muster.
Compared with Lustig’s Maniac from 1980, the film is much more restrained in terms of gratuitous special effects. Terror is conveyed in the brutality of the death scenes, the choices of victims and a haunting score, which is authentic and memorable. The prison murder sequence is incredibly vicious and was deemed too gruesome by the BBFC, who removed it, almost completely, from the 18 rated print. But that’s the only gooey shot in the entire picture and the rest of the kill scenes are relatively tame. I liked the police station massacre, which was neatly paced and creepy, but again was surprisingly dry on the gore score.
Cohen attempts to transcend the normal template of the slasher cycle by focusing on the media reaction to the effects of a killer at large. It doesn’t take long before citizens begin to fear the boys in blue and one character rightly mentions that criminals now have a valid justification to fight back against the Police. Things come to a head when an elderly woman shoots an officer who was only trying to help her with her broken down vehicle and the town mayor rightly begins to panic.
It’s in these multiple plot additions that Maniac Cop somewhat looses its way. The direction fails to sustain the high energy levels that it began with and before long things begin to become predictable. There’s so much going on in the first twenty-minutes that it leaves little time to tie up all lose ends. The story hints at a whodunit mystery initially by keeping the monster in silhouette and showing characters that share his build or act suspiciously, but then chooses to reveal the nut job’s identity about halfway through. There’s an underdeveloped sub-story about his motive, which never gets resolved and the conclusion feels somewhat rushed, uninspired and ultimately disappointing when you consider how the script had started with so much creativity.
In terms of eighties horror, excuse the pun, but Maniac Cop has a cast to die for. Tom Atkins plays it straight and delivers a rugged and approachable performance and the film does miss him after his early exit, which was as much as a shock as when Tom Skerritt bowed out of Alien back in 1979. It takes guts to kill off your tough and sympathetic leading man. Cult favourite Bruce Campbell doesn’t get the comedic style of script that plays to his strengths and he is somewhat subdued here, although it was an interesting choice to make him more of an anti-hero. He is exposed as an insensitive adulterer quite early on in the runtime, but just about manages to win over the audience with his unique style of B-Movie charm. Overall the dramatics were never weak enough to ruin the momentum and Robert Z’Dar was the perfect choice for the marauding psychopath.
Maniac Cop is a good horror film and one of the best late entries to the slasher cycle. I don’t want to steer you away with my minor gripes, but I am slightly disappointed because it had everything that was needed to be great instead of just ‘good’ and ended up following the pattern that we have seen time and time again. Still, the opening 30 minutes are absolutely amazing and Atkins’ grizzled performance itself makes this worth a look. Also, keep an eye out for the goof when Laurene Landon is handcuffed to a dead Police officer and just before the scene fades he sits up and moves out of the way of the smashing glass!
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl √√