Blood Harvest 1987
aka The Marvelous Mervo aka Nightmare
Directed by: Bill Rebane
Starring: Tiny Tim, Itonia Salchek, Dean West
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Blood Harvest is yet further evidence how the slasher genre was a good cash cow for ambitious B-Movie producers during the eighties. So much so that even celebrated low budget titans like Bill Rebane were keen to get in on the action and have a stab at creating their ownHalloween.
Rebane himself is a bit if a movie enigma who preferred the comfort zone of budget sci-fi/Horror than a golden ticket to Hollywood. An educated film-maker whose creativity and flair for adventure saw him innovate cinema with his 360 degrees wrap-around motion picture process, he could have used his skill for technology and his cultural intelligence (He was Latvian born and fluent in five languages) to join a major studio. Instead he stuck to releasing his own self-financed productions that were each fairly successful in their own right.
In the mid-eighties he hosted a 50s nostalgia event at his Wisconsin based studio, The Shooting Ranch. There, a chance meeting with Tiny Tim, another oddball celebrity who had found fortune with his falsetto voice and quirky character – led to the production of this curious slasher.
There are three versions of the feature in circulation and each is slightly different. The American VHS release includes all the nudity and gore, whilst the UK tape is missing three-minutes of footage, which was considered too gruesome by the BBFC. There’s also a director’s cut on DVD, which is itself rather strange because it also removes most of the blood and bare skin. That must be the first time that a director’s version subtracts from the existing print and offers a more lenient alternative. It’s rumoured that this may have been either due to Rebane’s political ambitions at the time or the fact that the gore was not in his initial vision for the flick and rather it was added at the insistence of his production partners (most of his previous work was PG13 rated) to make the film more marketable to the splatter audiences.
Jill returns home to her city from University to find that her parents are missing and the local bank (which they own) has forced most of the farmers to sell their properties. They are not the most popular people in the neighborhood, so Jill is rightly concerned about their disappearance. Things go where you expect them to, when a killer with a stocking on his head turns up and begins stalking the youngster and murdering anyone who has contact with her.
I can only say that a slasher film starring Tiny Tim is as jaw droopingly bizarre as you would expect it to be. To be fair to him, his performance is one of the few highlights in an otherwise dull offering and he manages to deliver a troubled-childlike creepiness with depths to his character. Dressing him in a clown costume was a masterstroke from the scriptwriters and adds to the overall desperation of his deluded persona.
The rest of the cast are nowhere near as credible and he carries the torch in terms of capable dramatics. I have to mention Itonia Salchek, the final girl, who can’t act for toffee but seems to enjoy nothing more than getting her kit off at every available opportunity, which makes her a hit with T&A fans and most likely the highlight of a single guy’s night out in any bar that she frequents. Anyway, she is lost here carrying most of the plot development on her (usually naked) shoulders and comes across as unapproachable.
I mentioned about Bill Rebane being an enigma earlier, but he is nowhere near as mysterious as his lead actress. I couldn’t uncover any information about her anywhere. Now her surname looks Eastern European (I speak Russian and Polish and it’s not from those countries) but her first name Itonia is an epithet from Greek mythology for the Goddess Athena. Interesting stuff. Anyway, she vanished in to obscurity after this, but if you know something, then please give me a shout. Here’s a rare screenshot of her in clothing, which is something that we don’t see very often.
It seems like Rebane was aware of the slasher genre but hadn’t researched its trappings and unlike many entries of the same year, the movie steers clear of feeling like a total rip off. There are no POV shots, the final girl doesn’t come across as shy and withdrawn and the killer seems more like what you would expect to find in a Giallo than a slasher flick. This is most evident in the heavy sexual undertones and his motive, which is at least well-handled and believable.
The film would suffer in later years, disappearing due to legal tangles, not just once, but for a second time after its outing on DVD. This gives it a somewhat alluring sheen, especially as it’s impossible to find now in its uncut form. The only version worth watching is the unrated cut, because despite of some uninspired and pedestrian direction from Rebane (I expected better) there are snippets of a really foreboding atmosphere. The killer is exceptionally merciless and brutal and the actor does well playing off-his-rocker insanity at the climax. There’s the mystery of guessing his identity, but there are not many choices and you’ll work it out pretty quick if you watch closely enough. Some more killings would have been nice (only two on screen) but the gooey throat-slashing is really well done (by soon to be big shot Dieter Sturm no less)
There’s a nice synth score that I liked and the killer looks creepy with a stocking over his head, but there’s too much missing in terms of continuity to make this a hidden-gem. Some of the plot points were bordering on stupidity and what the hell was with the incredibly inept sheriff? There are long periods of dull rubbish acting where your attention will turn away from the screen and it definitely hasn’t aged well.
Worthy only because it’s rare and a great performance from Tiny Tim, but otherwise not really recommended as a competitor.
Final Girl √√√
Dead Above Ground 2002
Directed by: Chuck Bowman
Starring: Corbin Bernsen, Stephen J. Cannell, Robert Conrad
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Well, it all kicked off authentically enough, with stock footage of people turning up in limousines to the (fictional) ‘All-American Motion Picture Awards’ in Los Angeles. Director Chuck Bowman intercuts the baying crowds with a decent credit sequence, in which a robed killer slices through the screen with a steel axe. In my review for Killer Instinct, I said that Corbin Bernsen was really slumming it. Two years down the line and still nothings changed. Here he plays Mark Mallory, a director that has just won a prestigious award (yeah, that’ll be the day) for his Western. He returns home with his girlfriend, telling her that he’s going to use his statuette for… well, I’ll let her reply paint the picture, “If you think I’m gonna let you use that as a dildo, you’ve been hovering up some bad sh*t again…” Charming. Their night of questionable methods for passion is ruined when they reach the front door of his house to notice that it’s been vandalised. Someone has painted a bizarre satanic emblem around the knocker and written the words ‘Dead above ground’ in blood-red paint underneath. Instead of calling the police, Mallory decides to search the place himself and after a fumble in the dark and a smart trick by the caped killer, he discovers that offering to make his assailant a ‘movie star’ really isn’t going to save him from a fitting demise.
Afterwards, we head over to a school field where we’re introduced to our obvious victims and two forsaken Gothics. Dressed all in black (naturally), they prove their joint-weirdness by talking about, `Escaping into the Kelt world to be with the dark gods’ because the `Malevolent entities don’t ask for photo-ID!’ Then we discover that the guy’s name is Jeff Lucas and apart from being a credible Gareth Gates look-alike, he’s a budding film director too. The other Goth is his faithful girlfriend, who also worships all things Pagan. For their media studies course, all the kids have made summer video documentary projects, but Lucas has just ignored all that and cranked out a gory slasher film, much to the distaste of his grumpy lecturer. He screens the short anyway, and it invokes laughter and insults from the jesting teen-audience. This makes Jeff loose his rag and he warns everyone that they `…will die on the seventh equinox of Maven’ (?) He really dislikes his frumpy old teacher and tastefully informs him, ‘his end is nigh’. By now, I was beginning to wonder if the screenwriter had swallowed a few volumes of Shakespeare before he got to work on this. Jeff is carted off for a visit with the attractive Doctor Brenda Boone for a psychic examination. She’s the kind of medic that would make most Hi-school boys pretend that they were hearing voices, just so they could share a room with her for ten minutes. She thinks that Jeff is not crazy and it’s just a cry for help, but after he talks a lot more gibberish about ‘cutting eternity into time and space’, everyone agrees that he’s ‘certifiable’ and ‘a real nut job!!’ (And a really bad actor.)
Surprisingly enough, later that evening the mad student is invited to a pool party with his classmates, where Dr. Boone and the principal discuss his crazy fits and we also find out that he is actually the nephew of George Lucas. (I wonder if old Georgie knows about this?) Jeff dreams of being a big-time director just like his uncle, which would lead me to suggest that he gives up the trench coats and eyeliner and invests in some of those ‘stylish’ flannel shirts that Lord Skywalker loves so much. It doesn’t take long before he blows a fuse again and he slaps a girl with considerable force, knocking her into the swimming pool. Her boyfriend, Dylan, flaws the spiky haired anarchist and he curses everyone again before legging it to his car. Unsatisfied that he’s taught him a tough-enough lesson, Dylan takes off in pursuit and after the most leisurely paced car-chase ever filmed, Jeff’s brakes conveniently cease to exist and he drives off of the edge of a cliff. The car drops about 100 feet and then explodes into a ball of flames, making survival a total impossibility. Don’t forget that this is a slasher film, so it’s unlikely that people are going to be allowed to get away with that kind of thing without some loony or another coming back to seek revenge…
Twelve months down the line, a new student has moved into Jeff’s old house at Moss Point and is knocking about with his former ‘friends’. Chip reckons that he keeps having nightmares about someone warning him that they’ll come back to kill off everyone that was involved in the accident. The Gothic chick suggests that they attempt to contact Jeff’s spirit through a séance and she’ll be the medium. Later that night, they all sit in a circle and she tries to conjure a spirit guide with the rip-roaring speech, `Spirits of the South that are warm and bright like Atlantis’. Chip starts moaning the words ‘dead above ground’ and generally begins looking deranged, so everyone breaks the circle and the séance ends. Before long a hooded killer with a steel axe begins chopping up the teens and their teachers in the exact same ways that were depicted in Jeff’s movie one year earlier. It looks as if he’s come back from the grave to settle the score…
Television director Chuck Bowman has made such a sloppy mess of Dead Above Ground, that I’m surprised he can still get work on the small screen, let alone in the movies. Instead of using operatic themes to create suspense and tension, he’s chucked in cheap and junky heavy metal that’s genuinely painful to the ears. The cast sound as if they’d struggle to get bit parts dubbing a video game and they must’ve generally believed that expressing an emotion would put them higher up the killer’s to-do list, because they remain as flat as ten year old can of coke all the way through. Josh Hammond is perhaps the worst actor on the planet and the lack of any interesting characters means that you couldn’t care less if they all died of gonorrhea or if they invented a cure for diabetes. We are treated to a laughably small body count and there is probably more gore in a three-hour teletubbies extravaganza than there is in this utter dross. Slashers that are this crud usually manage to redeem themselves with a little unintentional comedy, but the fact that this is so painstakingly boring pretty much puts a poo-poo on the chance of that. The pagan-chatter was occasionally amusing, but everything else was put together at such a slow pace that I managed to read all of the eight-hundred and eighty-eight documents of the Warren Commission and still only be halfway through. Couldn’t they at least have thought of a premise that hadn’t been done more times than Danielle Lloyd? It’s like The Burning never happened, and what’s with all the ‘I swallowed a dictionary’ dialogue?
Horror movies need to be big on atmosphere. The only feeling that this creates is contempt for shelling out the money to pay for it. When I was living in Moscow, I picked up a copy of this for 100 Rubles, which is about £2. I remember wondering how on earth it got a release there? What did the fine people of Russia do to deserve such fodder exported and thrust upon them? The Cold War is long over, you know. Dead Above Ground, should be ‘dead under ground’ – Never to resurface again!
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √
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 √√
Last Dance 1992
Directed by: Anthony Markes
Starring: Cynthia Basinet, Elaine Hendrix, Jason Logan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The ability to recognise your own faults is a quality that’s seen only too rarely amongst human kind. We all come across many people in life that would rather conjure up an impossibly improbable story than admit to any wrongdoing on their own part. Thankfully though, there are some exceptions. My friend Juan has an awful voice, but loves karaoke, so what he does is pick fairly easy songs that people can’t help but sing along with. This works, because in a drunken haze, crowds always remember him as being one of the best and stay stuff like, ‘He really got everyone going!”
Director Anthony Markes is a lot like my friend, Juan, because he looks to have worked out pretty quickly that he wasn’t quite up to the John Carpenter level of delivering shocks. So what does he do when making slasher films? Well he packs them full of scantily-clad chicas and campy frolics and then he simply hopes for the best.
This is his second slasher movie in the space of a year after the cheese ball that was Bikini Island. He was most definitely sticking to the ‘if it got financed last time around don’t fix it’ methodology, so he was returning to a playground that he knew fairly well. He also wrote the screenplay for 1990′s The Invisible Maniac. Unlike the fate that befell many similarly budgeted and produced features from this point in the span, both of his directorial additions to the grouping became late night cable TV regulars, and still are to this day, so I guess that he can be quietly satisfied by his achievements.
A club is preparing to host a dance off on live TV and the girls are having to perform arduous tasks not only to stay on the stage, but also to stay alive! It seems that a certain someone is taking the competition a tad too seriously and has gone on a kill frenzy. Will there be anyone left to prance in a leotard?
Location aside, the storyline is *identical* to the one from Bikini Island, right down to the personalities of the characters, so instead of writing the same stuff for you all over again, you could always save yourself some time and read that review here. Of course, it would be incredibly lazy on my part just to leave it like that and not give you the lowdown on this one too, so I will do my best to be original with my musings on Markes’ película del terror número dos. (Hopefully more original than he was with his idea for this movie…)
Maybe it’s because it is early in the morning, but I just can’t think of any other directors that followed up their début with another film that is EXACTLY the same? Last Dance is an interesting case however because it is tough to ascertain what audience it was produced for. People get killed, but it’s far too diluted to be a true horror film. There are two scenes that are more explicit than the usual embraces that we see in slasherdom (they include mounds of T&A and the most OBVIOUS body double in the history of cheap videotape), but they’re still not hard enough to be considered even light eroticism. Could we call this a a murder mystery? Well, the fact that it is painfully obvious from the twenty-minute mark who it is that’s bashing people’s brains in with tree-branches, a bucket and the like is pretty much a pooh-pooh for that category too. I think that these kind of genre entries are unique enough to have their own exclusive branding. Instead of stalk and slashers we could call them cheese and trashers. What do you reckon?
It’s a bit of a chore to sit through Last Dance if you’re not a fan of choreographed dance scenes. Each of the starlets gets her chance to give it her all and twirl on the stage to some pop rock tunes, whilst dressed in a skimpy outfit. Jeff Kwitny’s Iced from 1988 was a slasher set on a ski slope, but you could fit the amount of actual ‘skiing’ that we see in to the pre-credits sequence alone it was that minimal. Markes however is not a man to overlook a backdrop and so we get as much; – in fact we get more – boogie scenes than we do slashertastic action. It’s ok though, because the girls are fairly hot if you like fake tan and ten-inches of foundation and the whole film glows (not a fake tan type of glow) with a vibe that everyone involved was keeping their tongue firmly in cheek.
That tongue in cheek-ness produces a few unintentional laughs that make up for the moments when I was snoozing in front of a bunny dancing the jig. One victim walks straight into a hilariously placed noose that was just hanging there hoping that someone would be dumb enough to do exactly that, whilst the final girl discovers a novel way to put a pause on a marauding maniac’s rampage, which involves some speed of thought and a disco ball(!). There’s also an effectively handled sequence where said final girl begins to discover the bodies of her chums lying around the abandoned club. Did I also mention the fact that The Seeds have a song on the surprisingly good soundtrack?
Recommending Last Dance to you creates a bit of a paradox. Whilst in filmmaking terms it fails at almost every hurdle (acting, direction, script, editing etc etc), I can’t help but feel that some of you, much like me, might just enjoy it. There’s no gore and there’s as much chance of getting scared watching Friends, but somehow I kind of liked it. As much as Bikini Island? Hmmm… well yes actually.
It was a Thursday evening and the choices were minimal. I could have either chosen How to lose a guy in 10 days, which was on one channel or Spurs’ Europa league match, which was on the other. In the end I went with the VHS of Last Dance and it was the right decision. Whilst that may not be a gigantic compliment, it at least proves that I wasn’t too bored.
Final Girl √√
Easter Bunny BloodBath 2010
Directed by: Richard Mogg
Starring: Shayan Bayat, Meghan Kinsley, Travis Turner.
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Back in the golden age of the genre, we had it all, didn’t we? Christmas got stalked and Halloween got slashed. Valentine’s and April fool’s Days were pickaxed, whilst a maniac aboard a locomotive terrorised New Year’s Eve. Hell, even Thanksgiving was dismembered by a loony with a machete… But what about Easter? That time of year when everyone puts on 6kg in weight due to a chocolate egg overload and then spends the next month at the gym trying to burn it off? Why didn’t we get a multitude of titles set around the Good Friday break?
It seems that when it comes to slashertastic action on an annual holiday, Easter was like the geeky kid at school that always got picked last for the soccer team and remained on his lonesome at the end of term disco. We had to wait for what seemed like a lifetime before someone decided to ‘massacarise’ that particular calendar event, but then finally in 2002 we received, along with our cacao butter coated calorie overdose, an attempt to revive the European Giallo named, Semana Santa. Next up four years later came the slightly better Easter Bunny Kill! Kill!
I was thinking of reviewing one of those for you in time for today, but by now I am sure that my regular readers will know that a SLASH above will always pick the more obscure entries over those that have been covered to death. So here I offer you the wonderfully rare, Easter Bunny Bloodbath from 2010.
This is the first film from director Richard Mogg who I have spoken to recently and he’s a lovely guy. Much like Chris Seaver from Warlock Home Video (Death O’Lantern review coming soon), his features are tributes to the SOV titles of the eighties that we all know and love. I really enjoy these fan flicks, simply because most of the time they have been put together by someone with the same kind of lifetime respect for the genre that we have.
A young man chooses to return with some of his friends to his deceased father’s house after twenty-years. It’s his first time back since a girl was brutally murdered by a guy dressed as the Easter Bunny when he was only six years old. He witnessed the killing, but has since put the incident to the back of his mind. Almost as soon as they arrive however, he begins to feel uneasy, because he sees a nut job in a white rabbit suit with a machete hanging around the location. Is it all in his head or are the group really up against a vicious psycho with creative dress sense…?
When I was growing up, like many immigrants that flocked to London from the EU, my family didn’t have a great deal of money. Whilst the rest of the kids were playing their C64s on a colour TV, my Brother and I would be reading library books or rolling abandoned tires down the hill outside our back garden. My mum was never one to let the lack of funds hold us back however and she would always try and be creative with what little cash that we had. I remember one particular time that there was a fancy dress presentation at school and my buddies were all discussing what costume that their parents were going to buy for them. The usual names were coming up, Batman, Spider Man, Superman et al and I remember having this overpowering feeling of rejection. I was pretty upset by the time that I got home and when I explained to my mother why, she would hear no more about it. She stayed up practically all night rapping cardboard boxes with oven foil and sticking coloured fruit gums on them with Sellotape. In the morning when I woke up, I had a full silver robot suit that cost us literally nothing. I wish I still had a photograph of me in it to show you how good that it was, but the children in my class loved it and my teacher even gave me a prize for the ingenuity.
Easter Bunny Bloodbath is very similar to that robot suit actually, because despite being filmed on a nothing budget, it’s covers up the fact exceptionally well that it is missing some of the elements that its cash loaded siblings have in abundance. Just like one of those classic eighties slashers that it pays its dues to, it starts with a prologue set twenty years earlier and Mogg uses black and white photography to highlight the fact. The gap in time becomes especially apparent later, because after the credits have rolled, the director dazzles us with an amazing amount of bright colour. The picturesque forests and lakes of the beautiful British Columbia backdrop look extremely crisp and the quality of the picture somewhat betrays the lunch money production that financed it. Shooting everything in the daytime showed good planning as the film remains well lit throughout and the director pulls off some decent and extremely creative camera tricks during the runtime. All this is accompanied by a professional soundtrack that has been mixed perfectly to match the superb visuals.
The choice of costume for the killer is intriguing because much like the bear mascot suit from Girl’s Nite Out, there’s something really intimidating about seeing such an innocent child-like guise splashed in blood. At times, Mogg manages to build an incredibly creepy atmosphere and the kill scenes are brutal, well timed and fairly gory. My favourite would have to be the kitchen murder of an unsuspecting female. She has her face boiled in water and then her head squished like a cherry. Mogg looks to have followed the method that worked for both Gaspar Noé (Irréversible) and Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) by using the right sound effect for the head crushing scene. It’s gruesome. Obviously, we have become accustomed to bad acting in SOV flicks, but I must mention the surprise of the final girl here, Lisa, who was played superbly by unknown actress, Meghan Kisnley. She does a really good job with the role and managed a nice range of emotions. She also had a kind of a ‘looks a bit like Katy Perry’ thing going on and well… who doesn’t think Katy’s hot???
There is a fair bit to be admired here, but also something that majorly disappointed me about Bloodbath, and it is a personal bugbear of mine that I speak about more often than I feel that I should have to here on a SLASH above. I just fail to comprehend why these pictures are continually plagued by mixing unnecessary attempts at comedy into horror films that truly should just focus on the scares. Black humour can fit superbly when utilised the right way in a scary movie, but how many times do we need to see dumb slapstick failing in the slasher genre before filmmakers begin to realise that it just doesn’t work? Here it feels especially out of place because the tone became quite grim on occasion and I was really impressed by the mixture of mystery and terror. Despite some of the dialogue being amusing and the film having some fun, I felt that Mogg could have got much more out of the concept if he just played it straight. Characters like the obnoxious Steve were kept alive for far too long and the quips were little more than a hindrance on the movement of the plot. I have rarely seen a low budget offering that had so much potential to be effectively eerie but instead preferred to go for cheap laughs. Although it can be of course said that the whole point of paying homage to SOV flicks is to keep things campy, I found it harder to take because Mogg was close to achieving the toughest feat of all: – creating a genuine villain and an ominous environment to unleash him within. It is clear that shoe-string budgeted pictures are never going to have A-list continuity, but leaving vehicles, DVD Players and TVs from the last decade in a scene that’s billed as 1967 is a strange decision. Or was that another joke that I didn’t quite get?
There’s still the chance there for an ambitious filmmaker to create a really memorable Easter themed stalk and slash movie, but the ones that we have will do the job in the meantime. Easter Bunny Bloodbath is most definitely not a bad film and in fact I rather enjoyed parts of it. It took slightly too long to get going, a couple of the cast members could have died earlier; but I still saw some great signs of potential. I will be keeping an eye on Mogg’s future pictures, because there were moments here that brought to mind a Scott Spiegel or a Sam Raimi. All that on the tiniest of budgets…
I guess that if you take your horror served with a slice of American Pie-style laughs, then you can overlook my paragraph about the negatives. For me however I would like to see Señor Mogg make a pure out and out slasher flick. It’s rare that such a cheap movie delivers a few chills. This one managed just that…
Final Girl √√√
Hide and Go Shriek 1987
aka Close your Eyes and Pray
Directed by: Skip Schoolnik
Starring: Bunky Jones, Brittain Frye, Annette Sinclair
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
As I have said previously, despite the fact that many peeps believe that the slasher genre died early on in the eighties, there were still a few decent entries released right the way through the decade. Whilst Hide and go Shriek was never up to the standard of say The Prowler or My Bloody Valentine, it makes a good enough slasher Tortilla without adding any new herbs or spices to the age-old recipe.
During a break from school, eight teenagers decide to spend the night in one of their friend’s father’s store. Little do they know that they are not alone and an unseen maniac begins killing them off one by one…
Shriek is a fairly unique dose of hack and slash with some really neat pluses. What it does exceptionally well is create a very sleazy atmosphere for the plot to unravel within. The opening shots of desolate back streets in a gloomy American city that is shrouded with graffiti and smoke bellowing chimneys, sets a grim tone. In many ways, the obvious low budget is a benefit rather than a hindrance and it keeps in check with the gloomy environment. I think that the spacious locations of an empty store are great for stalking and chase sequences and much like Spiegel’s Intruder from the next year, this really attempts to make the most of the sets. Once inside, the lack of appropriate lighting only adds to the eeriness and you can always rely on mannequins to be one of the creepiest props for creating false scares. Talking of false scares, there are a couple of really good ones here thanks to some razor sharp editing and the director keeps his framing as claustrophobic as possible. Schoolnik was a first time shooter behind the lens, but he was no stranger to horror as amongst other work, he had edited Halloween II. I know that John Carpenter was quite heavily involved behind the scenes with that sequel, so maybe he picked up some tips from the master? Either way, I am sure that this helped him to understand timing, and there are some impressive flourishes dotted throughout the runtime that showed an eager hand.
John Ross’ score is interesting as it somewhat resembles Brad Fiedel’s now legendary composition from The Terminator. Even though that may make you believe that it sounds incredibly cheesy, it’s actually quite pulsating and distinctive. The killer spends most of the runtime in the shadows and the only real development of his character is his mad cackling after each murder. As a bit of a gimmick, he steals the clothes of each victim after they’re dead (both male and female) and tricks his next target in to the false sense of security that he’s actually their friend. He then leads them to secluded corners and brutally murders them using various creative methods. The slaughter scenes are gruesome, if not graphically outstanding and there’s one of the best and most startling decapitations of all time late on in the feature. It gets quite tense at times too and although not a master of suspense, Schoolnik does keep the pace very high.
There’s a very effective scene, which underlines the grim fate awaiting the teenagers in the abandoned store. When they realise that they’re trapped inside with a marauding maniac, they run to the window and are relieved to see a Police car parked directly outside the front door. They bang on the double-glazed glass to try and get the attention of their ticket to safety, but look on in horror as their screams go unheard and the patrolman drives off in to the night. It was a great way of underlining their desperation, isolation and sense of impeding doom and it really helped to keep the morbid pulse running. It’s also worth noting that the body count material here are also a lot smarter than usual and when they work out that they’re being picked off one by one, they get in to a corner and grab a weapon and decide to stick together until help arrives.
Everything works well up until the climax, which is totally out of left field and unnecessary. I mean, without ruining anything, I would say that it is like going to a fancy dress party stark naked. Many may give you credit for having the biggest balls of them all, but really it’s a stupid idea, because for sure you are going to offend some people. I can see the idea and understand what the filmmakers were trying to do here, but instead of being scary the conclusion is just distasteful, poorly delivered and well, a tad peculiar. Much like the previous year’s City in Panic, Shriek gets lost in its ambition somewhat; and if you are going to use a social comment in your screenplay, then you need to be a bit smarter so as not to offend. Unfortunately this handles everything with butter fingers and comes across like a deep-rooted chauvinist doing a marketing campaign for feminism, you know?
Performance wise, almost everything was ok, but Bunky Jones let the side down with a torrid cocktail of overacting and just plain shouting. The kids are all picked more as eye candy and there are some hot chicas here, especially the unfortunate who loses her head (quite literally). We also get the usual amount of silly late-eighties shenanigans and campy fun before the terror starts (watch out for the hilarious moonwalk and musical chairs in a van scenario. Pure comedy gold!) I felt that a few more murders would have made the film better as a whole, but these guys had a neat defensive strategy, which is why the killer didn’t work his way through that many of them.
A poorly handled conclusion doesn’t subtract too much from the rest of the feature and Shriek is good enough to keep you entertained.This would go well on a double bill with the equally fun Terror Night from the same year, which has finally seen light of day. It’s often overlooked, but Shriek does have moments that deserve a standing on your slasher shelf
Final Girl √√
Worth a look…
The House by the Cemetery 1981
aka Quella Villa Accanto Al Cimetero
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Starring: Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Ania Peroni
There will be spoilers in the later part of this review, so best not to read if you haven’t as of yet seen this –
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Lucio Fulci had been working steadily in Italian cinema since the late fifties and had achieved critical acclaim for efforts like I quattro dell’apocalisse and Sette note in nero, but he didn’t find his film-making forte until sometime later. After being briefly blacklisted in his home country for expressing his political views in movies like Non si sevizia un paperino, he returned to grace with the popular Zombi 2 and finally discovered his trademark. During the years that followed, he quite proudly carried an association with no holds barred exploitation that resulted in a string of notable horror films. These included the brutal Giallo, Lo squartatore di New York and the splatter drenched, E tu vivrai nel terrore! If Zombi 2 was Fulci’s Dawn of the Dead, then Quella villa accanto al cimitero or House by the Cemetery could quite easily have been his Psycho. Many people have made the mistake of confusing this title as another of Fulci’s living dead efforts, but it clearly has a structure like a slasher flick and was even released during the most important year of the category.
There are no flesh eaters munching on blood spurting throats to be found anywhere and instead Fulci makes good use of the traditional ingredients and marries them off with his own flair for graphic visual violence. I find it to be somewhat strange that some critics continue to misleadingly label this as a regular zombie horror picture, when it looks strikingly clear from the first knife through the cranium murder that Fulci’s inspirations for the feature owed more to the other leading horror sub-genre of the period. If you are still not sure, answer me this; what is the difference between this movie and Black Christmas? An attic and a basement? Both have mysterious ‘live-in’ killers that store corpses in the abode and they also share a knack for keeping themselves extremely well-hidden. So why is only one of those features touted as a stalk and slash flick?
That’s not to say that the zombie classifications are completely unfounded. I mean, what exactly was Dr. Freudstein if not a psychotic re-animated corpse? But one thing that I deliberately haven’t touched on is that it is in fact a whole lot more than either of those aforementioned brandings…
The project re-teamed Fulci with Fabrizio De Angelis as producer and the special effects genius of Gianetto De Rossi, whose work on Flesh Eaters is still very highly regarded. The best returnee here is Sergio Salvati whose unique style of photography helped to set the tone for every good Fulci feature. With such a great crew at his disposal and a genuinely creepy location to create some gore drenched set pieces, House by the Cemetery was bound to be memorable…
A young family relocate to a house by a cemetery in New England so that doctor Boyle can continue the studies that a colleague never completed because he committed suicide. Before long it becomes apparent that the house has more than just an architectural character….
Released by VipCo (heavily cut) in the UK in the early nineties, I picked this up back then as a teenager and have watched it countless times. I never really used to think that much of it as most of the gore was missing and the plot seemed to drag terribly. As I have matured and discovered other areas of cinema, I decided to come back and give it another look (in all its uncut glory, of course).
My favourite ‘outside of slasher’ films are those by David Lynch and Luis Buñuel and I began thinking, what if I had just given up on Mullholland Drive deciding that it was incoherent rubbish? Instead, I watched it another time with an open mind and all was revealed (well I think it was). House is heavily panned for its lack of logic, but returning this time around, everything made a bit more sense to me. Now I have the opinion that instead of being a misconstrued feature with only a few nice kill scenes, it is actually a very intelligent script with a surreal and Lynchian plot. The killer is not called FREUDstein for nothing you know…
Now come the spoilers – Ok so I was seriously not considering sharing my thoughts, I mean the best thing about ambiguity in cinema is the fact that everyone has their own opinion, but I wanted to see if maybe some of you would agree with my opinion. We know Norman Boyle had definitely been to that town before with a female (according to locals who keep saying he had visited with his daughter, which he venomously denies). People suggest that he and the mysterious (and gorgeous) Ann were having an affair. Well it was them that had been there previously together, but I’m more inclined to believe that they were partners in his research firstly and therefore found that they were attracted to one another along the way. Norman had learned from his friend Dr. Peterson (whom he denied knowing to his wife) that Dr Freudstein had uncovered a way to stay alive. Whether he knew that Freudstein’s methods included freshly splattered corpses is questionable, but he most definitely was aware of that the doctor was up to something in that house.This would also explain why Ann mops up the pools of blood without batting an eyelid (she knew enough about the research not to be shocked by it) and is ignorant to Lucy, Norman’s wife, whom she considers to be a threat to her romance with Doctor Boyle. I think Ann knew what was going on and helped to make Lucy think that she was going mad. But why she decided to head down to the basement and into the madman’s clutches is anyone’s guess? Perhaps she just didn’t believe it to be true
Now even if Norman knew more than he let on about the house, he obviously wasn’t planning on revealing that and adding more strain to his marriage. I believe that he was only really after one thing – Freudstein’s secret. This explains his somewhat lackadaisical rescue attempt when he hears the tape of his predecessor warning him about the monster and why he doesn’t really want to rush off and save his family. A small part of him was most definitely concerned, but he was more consumed by the strength of his yearning – totally obsessed.
As for the final scene, Fulci has admitted that the children entered another dimension and I’m guessing in that he meant death or eternal life in ‘the Beyond’. I would suggest that the child gets killed by Freudstein and the two ‘angels’ guide him in to the spirit world (or hell). It’s quite obvious that Mae is a supernatural being and maybe young Bob is like the kid from The Sixth Sense. Or maybe they were all dead from the start and The House is actually hell – again, the beauty of ambiguity.
I read many reviews that criticise the confusing plot in the film, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it was deliberate from the filmmakers and The House by the Cemetery is not going to take your hand and lead you through the story, instead you need to work it out on your own. Lost Highway has a similar lack of an incoherent structure, which I also enjoyed working out.
Yet another interesting point is that this film was meant first and foremost for the Italian Market, with obvious latter translations so that the rest of the world could see it. But the copy I own hints that Norman is the killer (he is holding a knife above the house). Now we know that this is not cinematically the case, so automatically we think that its typical cack-handed marketing. But consider that for a second. Who is the real monster? Is it the maniac in the basement or the one responsible for leading victims to him for selfish reasons?
Now I’m not saying those reviewers are dumb and I’m the Spanish matador that worked it all out, because there’s one major problem that ruins this for English speaking audiences my friends (I’ve most recently seen the Italian version with Spanish subtitles) – and it is the biggest flaw of the feature – poor translation and gawd awful dubbing. Much like Kenji Fukasaku’s classic Samurai Reincarnation, it was unfortunate enough to be awfully converted for the English speaking world, which pretty much ruined the chance for anyone who doesn’t understand Italian to enjoy it. Take young Bob’s voice-over for example, who succeeded in turning the child into the most vocally infuriating character ever set to celluloid. Due to the poor acting, the movie becomes pretty slow and long-winded in places. It’s a shame, because that was a sin that Fulci himself considered totally unforgivable. His attempts at building an unsettling atmosphere are impressively creepy, but the ghost-like cries and ‘bumps in the night’ are ruined every time one of the poorly dramatised cast-members has a line of dialogue.
If the only reason that you are watching is for the gore, then you will be slightly disappointed. I mean, when Freudstein eventually does come out of his hiding place, the murders are nice and gooey, and Fulci’s flair for setting a Gothic tone runs rampantly throughout the feature. But there aren’t too many killings aside from a great climax and I don’t think that it was Fulci’s mission to simply make yet another exploitation piece. Walter Razzatis music sets the right mood in places and the snappy editing adds to the overall peculiarity. Fulci is not a master of the type of suspense that John Carpenter excelled in. His strengths are setting a slow morbid tone that engulfs his features and keeps you aware that terror will consume the characters at any moment.
The use of a Henry James passage for the film’s finish wasn’t just plucked from a bookshelf either. In fact I could never track down where it came from and would suggest that it’s a quote he created and attributed to the author. Fulci, a great fan of James, who never gave too much away about this feature, did confirm that it was heavily influenced by ‘Turn the screw’. He had to however, because the references are so obvious (especially the children being terrorised by a menace in a house with a bloody history). But there are also some nods to Lovecraft, especially that the film is set in Lovecraft County (New England).
So what we have here is a miss-understood masterpiece that got lost somewhere in poor translations. Or maybe not. Perhaps it is just the illogical rubbish that some have said – but that’s the beauty of a surrealist feature, it can be whatever you want it to be.
As a fan of this type of exploratory cinema, I prefer to think of it as I have described here, but either way the fact that it is open to this much discussion makes it the work of art that it is.
A slasher with a brain – and then some… You can watch it if you just want to see some (very typical, but gooey) stalk and slash murders or even if you want a little more...
Final Girl √
Directed by: Michael J. Murphy
Starring: Patrick Olliver, Jacquelin Logan, Catherine Rowlands
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It is said by some historians that back in the times before humans began to travel and integrate, a name was thought to be much more than just a term of identification.
In places like Israel, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persia, names were given as a pathway to destiny and could also be earned by acts of courage and strength. A person would be judged as much upon what they were called as a star sign today distinguishes characteristics for those that believe in horoscopes. Ancient Hebrew forbade the true name of God to be used in writing or speech and it was thought that his spirit could be summoned by verbally addressing him. Nowadays of course names mean very little and such superstitions have long been banished to memory. Kids get lumbered with the trend of the month when it comes to Christenings and I’ve seen everything from ‘Biscuit’ to ‘Rainbow’ to ‘Pilot Inspektor’. (The last one is Jason Lee’s son!)
Michael J Murphy’s slasher from 1985 pushed two separate words together to conjure up the title, ‘Bloodstream’. Fifteen years later, Steve Jarvis and co from Cinematrix films coincidentally did exactly the same thing. What really stands out as a bizarre and inexplicable link is the fact that both films never secured distribution. So two motion pictures released within twenty years of each other in a niche genre with identical titles suffered exactly the same unusual fate. Could it be that their names somehow jinxed their destiny?
This is another a SLASH above exclusive and a total rarity that I am posting for your perusal. It’s from cult horror helmer Michael Murphy and British film has far too few directors like him. His style can be compared to that of Nathan Schiff and he has released well over twenty-five pictures on the smallest of budgets. Invitation to Hell and The Last Night are the most recognised, with the latter being considered by some to sit within the stalk and slash grouping. Whilst The Last Night’s place amongst the category is indeed questionable, Bloodstream has none of the same identity issues. It’s a slasher through and through.
When up and coming director Alistair Bailey is fired from a project by notorious VHS distributor William King, he believes that his footage has been left in the trash can. He soon discovers however that King tricked him and is planning to globally sell the movie that he spent ages working on. As the lust for revenge strengthens, Bailey decides to don the same disguise as the one used by his antagonist and make a new feature. Only this time, the effects will be real…
Interestingly enough, Bloodstream is a project that was made with the mission to deliver a unique message to specific parties. Murphy’s career up until that point had been blighted by poor deals with shady producers, which meant that he had seen little financial gain from his experiences. He had been stiffed on both of his previous efforts, and so he created this ‘revenge’ story that sees characters similar to those that had wronged him getting slaughtered in the worst possible ways. Although it must have been a personal triumph to make his point so vividly, it no doubt contributed to the fact that the film failed to pick up any kind of release and was forgotten fairly quickly. It’s not even listed on the IMDB.
Shot on Super 8mm, the only available version is tough to watch even for a fan of the category. The quality of the production is obviously unprofessional in everything from the visuals to the performance of its participants. Somehow though, the strength of its creativity gives it some kind of escape ticket from the clutches of mediocrity and it touched me because it plays like it has been created as a back garden tribute of kind to the horror genre.
The synopsis has no mystery angle and we learn the maniac’s identity right from the start, but it all manages to unfold in an interesting way. The killer is the central character that guides us through the story and even if he seems open to the idea of vicious avengement, he would probably have done very little if he had been left to his own devices. Instead, he is guided by a willing partner whose motivation is far more shallow. This relationship between the two is intriguing and well written. It made me consider the fact that there are hundreds of slasher films without an ounce of authenticity that are available to find quite easily. This one, despite its novel approach, remains locked away, which seems somewhat unfair.
The majority of the runtime is filled with ‘film within a film’ scenes that are blended into the story by the fact that our antagonist watches a constant stream of VHS movies in his bedsit. Murphy uses this as an excuse to pay homage (rip off) everything from Mad Max to Friday the 13th Part II, because we get to view everything that our protagonist inserts into his VCR. The director even takes on The Exorcist and other classics that I’ll leave you to discover for yourself. There’s no doubt that these are included as a form of padding to extend a minimalistic story, but the runtime rarely drags and the cocktail just about works. When the maniac finally begins his rampage, the kill scenes are bloody in the tackiest possible way and surprisingly brutal. The first one, which ‘borrows’ an idea from Happy Birthday to Me is edited and structured superbly and shows impressive technical craft from Murphy. Such moments made me believe that he most definitely should have been offered the chance to work with a bigger budget during his career. Dick Randall and the like may have missed a trick by not looking him up.
Bloodstream has a big enough number of victims and the right amount of outright weirdness for me to have enjoyed it. Whilst it can by no means be considered a good movie, it earns points for its peculiarity. I’m sure that now Michael Murphy has forgotten the financial loss and frustration at not seeing his project picked up for circulation, he must be quite happy that his VHS message to dishonest distributors has become a cult rarity.
Whilst I can’t recommend that you hunt this one out for its ability to generate even the lowest level of fear, it is worth tracking down because it is truly a warped take-on the slasher template.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √
Directed by: Bill Crain
Starring: Jennifer McAllister, Laura Albert, Kenny Johnson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Bill Crain’s rarer than a bus in the rain ‘slasher’ movie certainly doesn’t follow the standard guidelines that have become so essential of its counterparts. The bogeyman this time around uses grenades and small arms as well as an awesome array of melee weapons; – ingredients that are rarely seen in most post-Halloween genre pieces. But there’s still just enough familiarity to keep slasher buffs from checking the rule book and the plot never strays too far from the path that you’ve grown to expect. I was truly flabbergasted to learn that this has never been released in its country of origin, which was strange for me as it seems to be a picture that had been well financed and produced. I would love to understand the reason behind this, but with so minimal information available about the feature on the www It’s hard to say. Nowadays it has become something of a phantom on the VHS market and a highly sought after piece for true collectors.
It all takes place in the middle of the dessert, which as I’m sure you’ll agree is a unique location for a slasher. Four Youngsters head out for a night away from the commotion of the city. Chris (Jennifer McAllister) and her boyfriend Greg (Kenny Johnson) meet up with amusing new age hippies Trip (Kevin McParland) and Mary (Nicole Anton) at a make shift camp site in the midst of the dune-like wilderness. Greg’s older brother Kyle (Todd Schaefer) and his buxom girlfriend Bambi (Laura Albert) soon turn up to join the body count applicants in their quest for an early grave. Kyle used to date Chris before his younger brother took the liberty of stealing his squeeze – something that Kyle doesn’t seem too keen to forget. Sound like a motive for a massacre? Well what did you expect? Before long an unseen someone driving a truck with tinted windows joins the gathering with a unique set of tricks up his sleeve. Will any of the kids survive to turn up for a sequel?
Due to the fountain of (false) information that is the IMDB, I was confused for ages as to who directed this film. They have listed it under Bill Crain, but have given him a separate profile from William Crain – the man behind Midnight Fear and a few popular TV shows. I quickly found out that both are one and the same person and that explains why Mirage looks so well put together. It’s stylishly photographed with some superb work from DP Michael Crain, and there’s a real talent for building suspense on display from the man in the hot seat. R. Christopher Biggs’ gore FX are imaginatively created and bloody, and a big thank you to the half-hearted employee over at the BBFC who inexplicably let this pass through UNCUT on a usually stringent 18 rating. A couple of the murders are indeed extremely gruesome. One guy gets buried up to his neck in sand before coming face to face with a grenade, while another ends up literally legless after loosing a battle with a chain and a pick up truck! We spend the majority of the time seeing only the killer’s boots as he steps out of his vehicle and stalks the youngsters. Later, he is revealed to be someone that completely shattered the image of what I was expecting. I mean that in a good way, obviously. There’s an unique mix of moods here and the atmosphere manages to be creepy, brutal and mercilessly unforgiving in places. The stand off between the maniac and the final girl seems more mean-spirited than usual. He thoroughly enjoys taunting her and looks as if he wants the torture to drag on as long as possible.
The screenplay earns points for not overdoing the use of stereotype with its characters. There are two brothers who bicker very much like you’d imagine siblings would do and then there is another couple whose conversation and banter reminded very much of the kind of jokes that I share with my Mrs. It’s that level of realism here that somehow makes Mirage play like it is more focused and believable. The majority of slasher films that I watch are filled with personalities so shallow and situations so extreme that you never feel true sympathy or recognition of the terror that you are watching on screen. There’s an ambition here to make you believe what you are seeing and I think that it allows Crain’s effort to separate itself somewhat from the more common-or-garden entries.
This is achieved mainly be some restrained and controlled performances from a cast who overcome weaknesses in the level of their emotional dramatic competence by playing things straight. I remember a conversation that I had with Christian Veil after he had completed the slasher movie Evilbreed. I asked him if he felt that it had been a risk to fill his feature with actresses that had only worked in the porn industry. He told me that it was more the job of the director to work closely with his team and to understand the ways to elicit the best of their ability from them. It was his belief that if he coached them the right way, he could get the results that he was searching for. I would suggest that Crain is from the same school of thought, because he has driven some astuteness to make the story work. Jennifer McAllister does a fine job as the heroine and B.G. Steers portrays off his rocker dementia with finesse. I must mention the gorgeous Laura Albert as Bambi whose amazing body and bubbly personality stole every scene that she was in. Much like the equally as hot Cheryl Lawson from The Dead Pitt, Albert went on to become a prolific stunts woman appearing in various big budget pictures. The soundtrack works well to build the desolate atmosphere of isolation, which is carefully handled by a filmmaker that I would have liked to see more pictures from. Watch out for the superb nightmare sequence that is truly horror imagery at it’s freakiest.
Mirage is a good late entry to the cycle that was somewhat unfortunate to miss a boom year placing amongst the slasher elite. When you consider that this was made with just a cast of seven and a pick up truck, you have to say that they did a damn fine job. Any slight dramatic flaws don’t detract credibility from the net result. I especially liked the subtle homage to Halloween during the conclusion, which I really advise you to look out for and see if you can spot. Unfortunately you’ve probably got more chance of finding liquid gold in your coffee mug than you have of ever tracking down a genuine copy. If you find this one covered in dust on the top shelf of your local video store, then make sure you pick it up straight away. Recommended.
Final Girl √√√√