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 √√√
Blood Splash 1981
aka Nightmare aka Nightmare’s in a Damaged Brain
Directed by: Romano Scavolini
Starring: Baird Stafford, Sharon Smith, Danny Ronan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
During the eighties slasher boom, there were two different styles that launched successfully from the initial template. Whilst the multitude of genre entries would focus on an undeveloped identity for their bogeymen and build their plot structures on the characterisation of the victims, there were a few that took the opposite cinematic approach. The potential flaws were obvious. It’s incredibly difficult to establish a favourable personality for a homicidal maniac; especially when he must carry the entire feature as the protagonist. The key strength that made the synopsis for Halloween so successful was the lack of clarity for Michael Myers’ identity and motives. Just why did he want to kill Laurie Strode? Why did he get up after being shot six times by Sam Loomis? We never got to find out, and that was an ingenious touch from Carpenter. The guessing game is an addictive one and it attracts much interest and lengthy post-movie debate amongst audiences.
Despite the potential banana skins, the few features that experimented with the concept of giving the antagonist the lead role delivered mixed results. Whilst William Lustig’s Maniac can be credited as a genre classic, Bits and Pieces was shoddy and forgettable. That’s why I was thoroughly inspired to watch Blood Splash, which after years of repression as a video nasty has garnered itself a gruesome reputation. I own two copies of the movie and each has a separate title. The first one I came across was under the title Blood Splash and is heavily edited, but the second is an uncut VHS that I picked up in Amsterdam with all the gooey bits intact
In the opening few scenes, we learn that George Tatum was recently released from his asylum due to the fact that his doctors have discovered a breakthrough cure for his violent spells of delirium and psychosis. The combination of drugs had completely cured the patient of his psychopathic hallucinations and his adviser believed that with time and measured access to society, Tatum would be fit to fully resume a normal standard of life. However it doesn’t take long for us to realise that his doctor’s hypothesis was drastically erroneous. This is evidently demonstrated when Tatum drops to the floor foaming from the mouth whilst watching a patently lackadaisical pornographic peep show.
Soon after, the clearly psychotic loner heads across the country on a personal vendetta to confront the inner demons of his consistent nightmares. His doctors panic when they realise that they have made a deadly mistake, and it’s a race against time to see if they can catch Tatum before he murders again…
Splash succeeds in being an unsettling, brutal and straight laced horror experience. It’s the kind of movie that does what it says on the tin. The Daily Mail-inspired campaign that launched the video nasty phase of the early eighties was unnecessary; simply because as human beings we have a choice. If you don’t want to be offended by a film that was created directly to shock, then don’t watch Blood Splash. In 1984 David Grant, a former UK porn producer that had moved into feature film distribution, was jailed for 18 months (later reduced to 12) for releasing a version that waived the 62 seconds of cuts slapped upon it by the BBFC. This was a harsh statement of intent to further enforce the video nasty ban and it was a ridiculously un-democratic way of informing us that Big Brother was watching and the establishment reigned supreme.
The movie itself however is an uniquely conveyed mix of unthinkable brutality, gooey money shots and dreary depiction of a descent into vicious madness. Director Romano Scavolini makes no effort to hide his inspirations and the film references various genre maestros without ever directly stealing from them. In places, he impressively manages to mimic Carpenters skill of emanating terror from the background. By now you should know how it works: the camera is fixed on a focal point for a sustained time, but as it begins to pan you become aware that something menacing is looming into focus just out of shot. It’s moments like this that can make or break a decent horror film and Nightmare does boast its fair share of successful tricks and flourishes.
It’s not unusual for a slasher movie to have a cast that disappears down the long road to film obscurity almost immediately after release. The genre has never been credited for its emphasis on dramatics. However it seems somewhat harsh on the actors from Blood Splash as the majority of them do a good enough job. Baird Stafford was impressive in an extremely complicated part and it’s hard to pick any bones from his psychotic depiction. He delivers a gnashing, foaming portrayal of dementia, which rarely touches on the OTT. Without a doubt the film’s reputation derives from its copious amounts of gore; and in its uncut print the feature doesn’t disappoint. Tom Savini was credited as the make-up artist, although he latter sued the producers, claiming that he had only worked as a consultant. In reality the effects were supplied by soon-to-be Oscar nominee Ed French and his work was worthy of Savini’s name. The gory final sequence, which involves a messy decapitation and an axe through the head has become the stuff of slasher legend.
Splash is not without its negatives however and they stem from the confusing plot. The idea to break the runtime into segmented days ala The Shinning was a good one, but characters are randomly introduced without clarification, which creates a story that’s awkward to follow. There’s also a lack of cohesion in some of the promising ideas that are hinted but never followed through. Our deranged killer shares an interesting relationship with the child of the family that he stalks, but it never develops as we are left feeling like it should have. The script hints at an altogether more ambiguous depth to the synopsis, but it’s not given enough clarification to go anywhere.
Some may say that Blood Splash can be rather tedious in its long excursions into the depth of the protagonist’s insanity, but I managed to enjoy Scavolini’s opus and I recommend it to be seen. It’s not one that’s going to terrify you, but it’s slow and brooding atmosphere can become quite gripping.
Final Girl: √√
Rush Week 1989
Directed by: Bob Bralver
Starring: Pamela Ludwig, Dean Hamilton, Roy Thinnes
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I read it a lot, but have to argue that sayingHalloween was the first American slasher film is just lazy journalism. Simply check outBlack Christmas, Class Reunion Massacre, Drive-in Massacre, Savage Weekend or The Town that Dreaded Sundown for pieces that clearly pre-date 1978 and have many of the relevant trappings. There’s no denying however that John Carpenter’s seminal classic was the feature responsible for cementing the trademarks and turning them into an actual sub-genre that others could populate. The zillions of imitations that dominated horror cinema throughout the following ten-years are as much a part of eighties nostalgia as spandex or bad hair styles. A retro eighties party without someone dressing up as Jason or Freddy is no party at all. Even Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – the great PS2 game, which heavily parodied that era – referenced the slasher genre in a satirical way, confirming it’s importance as a referential milestone.
There are still about 3-5 slasher movies being released every year, most of them very low budget productions, but the eighties will always be recognised as the golden period. The whole cycle started with a bang. In 1980, Night of the Demon, Friday the 13th, Terror Train and To all a Good Night were all released before Summer and a new craze had been launched, which would continue without interruption for over twelve-months and continue on a lesser scale right through until the nineties.
So what does that have to do with Rush Week, I hear you ask? Well this was the last slasher movie to be produced in the golden decade, even though it was released a while later. That makes this an interesting reference point as you can see how much the genre had adapted during that period. If Friday the 13th was the flagship for the launch of ten-years of teen splatter, Bob Bralver’s slasher was the swan song.
During rush week, a young journalism student picks up on a story when she notices that young women seem to be disappearing after a seedy meeting with a photographer after hours in the science lab. A killer, dressed in a cape and old-man mask is stalking the dormitory and offing lonesome females. Who could be the masked menace and what are his motives?
Ok so we’re definitely not breaking new ground here. Set on a college campus, the movie follows the traditional route without ever attempting to add something even slightly adventurous to the norm. I guess the first thing to notice about the difference between this and its brothers from nine-years earlier is the lack of gore. Whilst Friday the 13th set a new tone with its gruesome death scenes and investment in special effects, stringent censors and bad media had left many movies with their ‘money shots’ on cutting room floors before they had reached audiences, so film-maker’s were much more prudent with their budgets in latter years. The killer has an authentic double-bladed axe, but the majority of the murders are off-screen and therefore lack any punch.
Bralver seems a director far more interested in Frat jokes and teen fart humour than he does horror and the majority of the runtime is filled with Porky’s style character development and a blossoming romance between the leads. The slashings take a back seat quite early in the picture and it made me wonder if they had chucked in a hooded killer to make the flick look more attractive to prospective financiers? There’s the chance to guess the cast member that’s hiding beneath the mask and cape, but the mystery is poorly handled and you’ll see through the apparent red herrings with relevant ease. There’s a smidgen of suspense during the final stalking sequence through the school corridors and some looming tracking shots help to build a nice atmosphere. To be fair, I have to mention that the movie does reference its brethren by casting Dominick Brascia (Friday the 13th 5/Evil Laugh) and Kathleen Kinmont (Halloween 4) in small cameos.
It seems like they had a good budget to play with and the cinematography is crisp and adventurous. The leads carried the film really well and built some nice chemistry during the romance and I really liked Pamela Ludwig as the final girl. It’s amazing to think that her film journey quickly stagnated soon after, because she had enough talent to build a career in pictures. Her co-star Dean Hamilton would find his fortune as a producer, working both in Television and Cinema. His biggest investment so far, the awful chick flick Blonde and Blonder (which he also directed), was absolutely ripped to shreds by critics but proved popular enough for a sequel and at the time of writing, he is working on a project with ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ director Joel Zwick.
If the producers had decided to veto the lashings of blood for fear of extreme censorship, they certainly didn’t scrimp on the nudity. There are more breasts on display here than feeding time in a maternity ward and I personally would have loved to have studied here at Tambers college as it seems every female student has the body of a Playboy model. In another slightly bizarre twist, hardly any of the developed characters that we meet become victims of the axe clenching madman. It seems women are simply introduced to take of their kit and then scream as the hatchet swings, which means that we feel absolutely zero sympathy for them. That adds ammunition to my suspicions that the slasher elements were a mere sub-plot to allow the story to focus on the romance/dorm ingredients that seemed to certainly be the priority.
So not much of a final farewell from Rush Week for the decade of decadence where the box office was stalked and slashed by masked killers like there would be no tomorrow. This is not necessarily a bad film, but will only act more as a small snack if your hungry for a full slasher buffet.
Final Girl √√√√
Symphony of Evil 1987
aka Coda aka Deadly Possession aka Sinfonía Del Diablo
Directed by: Craig Lahiff
Starring: Penny Cook, Arna-Maria Winchester, Liddy Clark
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s a well-known fact amongst those that know their horror movies that Australia hasn’t exactly excelled itself with the quality of its output within the slasher genre since Small Town Massacre in 1981. It’s intriguing then that within the space of a month I’ve found two credible efforts that successfully manage to disprove that fallacy. Firstly, I came across the creepy Cassandra, which mixed erratic photography and razor sharp editing to a surprisingly credible effect. Then I discovered the ambitiously restrained and meritoriously tense Symphony of Evil.
Taking a large slice of Halloween‘s appetizing pie and filling the spaces with a few Hitchcockian nods just for good measure, this confident offering is perhaps one of the most commendable long forgotten late entries to the stalk and slash cycle. It succeeds mainly because it chooses to follow the path of down to earth realism over far-fetched gore and gratuitous shock tactics. For example, the heroine of the feature is not an archetypal buxom bimbo that’s played simply for eye candy instead of character. She’s an ordinary young woman who finds herself in a tricky situation, which helps to give the film an undeniably naturalistic edge.
Director Craig Lahiff also accepts with glee, the challenge of giving his female characters complete control of the script without relying on sexual overtones to make them appealing. There’s no needless nudity or even any slight references towards it; and to be honest, it isn’t something that’s missed.
A masked maniac is slaughtering musical students at an Australian university. A young innocent woman becomes involved in the plot when her flatmate is brutally murdered. With the body count mounting, it becomes clear that the psychopath has intriguing motives.
To say that Symphony of Evil was ‘inspired’ by Halloween is like saying that Joan Rivers has had a touch of plastic surgery. . The film borrows heavily from the title that it so obviously tries to emulate, leaving very little to disguise the obvious influences (the killer stalking the hospital, the Michael Myers-alike disguise etc). Imitation however is not necessarily a bad thing if it’s handled correctly and Lahiff’s opus feels more like a tribute to Carpenter’s classic than it does a rip-off. The director shows an impressive flair for building suspense and in places the feature becomes remarkably tense. A perfect example is the sword-murder about halfway through the runtime. The brooding photography creates a foreboding and tight environment and the stalking sequence makes good use of those ageless stalk and slash clichés.
The performances from a likable cast are fairly comfortable and there’s even a classy score that’s vaguely reminiscent of John Williams’ theme from Oliver Stone’s masterpiece, JFK. The characters are competently scripted and approachable, which builds a decent amount of sympathy for the protagonist. Evil doesn’t boast a huge body count, so a large majority of the runtime is filled with the development of the mystery and the persona of the leading players, which if poorly dramatised could lose momentum and leave little in terms of reward for viewers. Thankfully, the actors do a fine job of keeping us intrigued and they are realistic and amicable enough to win over audiences and to allow the plot to move neatly to its conclusion.
Because the synopsis takes place at a classical music school, the production team get the chance to experiment with an excellent operatic soundtrack, which satisfies both cinematically and audibly. Frank Stragio’s work does wonders to help sustain a good level of energy, which is great because during the moments where not a lot happens, you’re always aware that something is just about to.
Like many eighties slashers, Symphony of Evil focuses heavily on the mystery of discovering who it is behind the creepy mask, which is possibly the feature’s only flaw. Guessing the killer’s identity is a relatively simple task and more thought should have been put into giving us more suspects or at least a credible red-herring. It’s interesting that despite earning the respect to be trusted with bigger budgets from this offering, Lahiff never improved upon his work on this atmospheric murder-mystery. Heaven’s Burning was a so-so thriller that had the added bonus of starring Russell Crowe. Also his most recent movie Black and White was promising, but hardly a worthy follow-up to such an ambitious debut. It proves that bigger budgets don’t always make better features and it seems that with Symphony of Evil he struck the perfect medium.
If you like slasher movies, then you’ll like Symphony of Evil – there’s really nothing else to say. It is good enough to sit comfortable alongside the likes of The Dorm that Dripped Blood, Curtains and The House on Sorority Row as a worthwhile genre entry that has been bizarrely overlooked. It seems surprising that the cruddy Houseboat Horror has numerous fans across the globe, but a real treat like this disappears from the face of the planet. Recommended
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 √√
Laser Moon 1993
Directed by: Douglas Grimm
Starring: Harrison Le Duke, Bruce Carter, Traci Lords
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Whilst everyone with even a passing interest in horror films would agree that the eighties was the most popular period of the slasher, perhaps it was wrong to state that the genre had completely died before the beginning of the next decade. Shifted maybe, but not died.
You see, watching as many of these films as I do allows you to spot the patterns that a part time viewer would miss out on. I’ve noticed that there were a lot of ‘thrillers’ released following the closure of the initial golden times that continued the slasher tone throughout the years that horror had given up on it. Titles like, The Babydoll Murders, Extramarital, Dead End, Out of the Dark, Whisper Kill et al took elements of the slasher genre, dunked them in a ‘cop on the case’ coating and then marketed them as suspense flicks. With lashings of nudity, a masked killer, lingering POV shots, stalking set pieces and a brazen final girl, many were not all that different from our favourite brand of horror that’s seen here on a SLASH above.
But where does the dividing line of separation come in to effect? When do we say that a film lacks the ingredients to join its siblings on this site? Let’s take for example the obscure ‘thriller’ from 1999, Resurrection. It was released obviously to cash in on the craze started by Se7en, but it includes a killer in a VERY cool mask, has a large amount of gore and a typical slasheresque revelation scene. You could maybe mention that it differentiates itself by focusing more on the Police and their hunt for the maniacal madman, but ladies and gents let’s not forget Night School from 1980, Pieces from ’82 and countless others that have included hardened detectives.
If you look up serial killer films on Wikipedia, you’ll find many stalk and slashers listed there, which proves that I’m not alone with this theory. Nevertheless, I would never call Se7en a slasher, or Silence of the Lambs, Citizen X, Zodiac, The Bone Collector, Just Cause etcetera etcetera. I guess that the crux of what I’m saying is that with such a huge similarity between the two styles, the structures can become blurred from time to time and leave interesting results.
Laser Moon has a masked killer stalking bunnies too, but instead of going all out for slasher classification, it’s tried to make itself into something of an engaging mystery. It tells the tale of a media personality whose ratings have dwindled excessively over a recent period. Add on top of that the fact that his marriage has crumbled and you could comfortably look at him as the perfect advert for anti-depressants. Things get worse when he is targeted by a loon who claims to be the elusive killer that has been offing young women around town. Can he pull himself together in time to help bring the madman to justice?
Cigarette smoke fills a dimly lighted room as a low key jazz song accompanies the opening credits. It was an intro that brought to mind those old cabaret places that you see in the movies of yesteryear. Places a downtrodden cop goes to drink a shot of bourbon and fill up his ashtray. In fact there’s a skit in one of the Naked Gun sequels that involves one of these bars and makes fun of the fact that they have become totally passé. Admittedly, these are great settings in filmland to develop a character’s feeling of depression or solitude. The problem here is that once the director sets that dreary tone, he forgets that it’s not a good idea to keep us there.
I’m no stranger to tedious movies, because maintaining a good momentum is a hard to come by skill. I couldn’t escape the bizarre feeling though that these filmmakers were well aware of the snooze-inducing pace and were actually quite comfortable to paddle within it. There’s a murder in the first five minutes that gives us the impression that we are going to see a few more, but to the best of my recollection the masked maniac only turns up once again before the showdown. Between that we get a mid-section filled with the development of flat characters and a couple of strange sub-plots that don’t go anywhere at all. It became more and more frustrating as the runtime rolled on and in the end I fast forwarded through to see how long I’d have to wait to see another killing. I obviously had to spin it back after to watch through for this review, but if I hadn’t seen the masked maniac again, I definitely would have just turned the TV off and gone to sleep.
The main issue here is that writer/director Douglas Grimm has filled the movie with dialogue that attempts to be moderately intellectual. There’s nothing wrong with that you may think, but it makes the film play more like a character study, which clashes with the concept of a thriller. We end up getting rapped up in the breakdown of the protagonist’s marriage and an obsessed fan called Maria, which makes us loose track of the nut job on the streets. I forgot to mention by the way that said nut job here is armed with a surgical laser and that is a new one on me. To be honest I assumed that such devices were used much in the same way as a scalpel and not a ray gun that can blast a hole in someone’s head instantaneously? Anyway, the majority of the slasher parts are weak and uninspired (kudos for the lovely LOVELY babes that play the victims though) and I was astounded by the low level of authenticity on display. Let’s see how many films you can name in five seconds that have a serial killer calling a radio station? I managed three (City in Panic, Open House, Play Misty for Me). And you…? Yawn.
So this film is undeserving of the amount of words that I’ve given it. I was actually eminently frustrated in places whilst I was waiting for some action. It all ends with an incredibly far-fetched twist that borders on the incomprehensible. (Without leaving a spoiler, I’d have to say that it would be impossible that no one would notice). It’s become a platitude to call a film a ‘cure for insomnia’, but Laser Moon would work perfectly in that way. Whilst it does generate a slight level of interest, it fails miserably by advertising itself to the slasher and thriller crowd, because we like our shocks fast and slick. Moon has the speed of a Easter Mass when you’ve had one too many red wines beforehand.
Co-star Traci Lords, who tries her hardest and looks great here, has spent years trying to erase her porn star past. I can imagine that this picture does not improve upon the worst of her memories from those times. It’s not that the film is lazy, it’s just that watching it does nothing to its viewer except make them feel that way.
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 √√
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: √
The Funhouse 1981
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Elizabeth Berridge, Shawn Carson, Jeanne Austin
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
We humans all reflect on poor previous experiences and wish that we had chosen a different option, a different set of words or a different solution. It’s a common thought process to imagine what might have been had we reacted to a bad situation in a different way. No matter how successful, happy or influential someone may be, we all carry regrets that weigh heavily upon our shoulders like anchors. Deep inside every one of us is a dreamer that yearns for a chance to relive past experiences armed with the knowledge that we gained the first time around. Although turning back the hands of time is an impossible act, the ability to do so would be beneficial to each and every one of us.
This mentality applies in all walks of life, and cinema is no different. Imagine for a moment that after John Carpenter’s Halloween set the standard, the genre loosened its restraints and pushed forward to greater heights. Instead of the intoxicating pollution of minimal brained and non budgeted features that plagued cinemas after 1978; what if studios had spent time and money investing in the cycle and pushing new boundaries for its ongoing development? Despite an astoundingly negative reputation, the slasher genre, when handled correctly, can provide exemplary results. Just ask Alfred Hitchcock.
In 1981, Tobe Hooper was a director with the world at his feet. Hot on the heels of his cult classic features The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eaten Alive, the director had been recognised by movie mogul Steven Spielberg and his name had become well respected in Hollywood circles. With the weight of a major studio behind him, Hooper decided to invest his talents in the fashionable slasher genre, which on paper promised to provide a feature that would finally rival Carpenter’s classic.
Hooper makes no effort to disguise Funhouse’s slasher heritage and he launches his entry with a scene that references two of the genre’s heavyweights. Whilst showering, our protagonist Amy is stalked via Carpenter-alike steady-cam in an opening that successfully sets the mood for the remaining runtime. The carnival has arrived in town and Amy and three of her teenage friends have decided to go along for the opening night. Despite warnings from her parents, the youngster bows to the pier pressure from her boyfriend and they arrive to be entertained by the lights and attractions on display. Ritchie has the ambitious idea to spend the night in the Funhouse, believing that the group can make-out and spend time alone without the intervention of their parents. It soon turns out to be a fateful plan, when the teens witness the brutal slaughter of one of the workers. Alone and locked in the carnival until morning, the troupe are stalked by a maniacal assassin with no chance of escape.
An endless amount has been written about Tobe Hopper’s full from grace and it reminds me very much of soccer striker Andrei Shevchenko’s awkward stint at London club Chelsea FC a few years back. It was hard to watch the former legend strolling around so clumsily and being criticised every week for his mediocre performances and the downhill slope for the quality of Hooper’s later work was equally as stark and unrelenting. The Spielberg collaboration that gave us 1982′s Poltergeist promised us so much and was supposed to launch Hooper as a Hollywood suspense maestro who could maybe share a status with past-greats like Hitchcock and Kubrick. Unfortunately the opposite happened and his career never hit the heights that had been predicted. Nowadays, horror connoisseurs look back on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as the only truly outstanding feature in his portfolio. That’s somewhat unfair on The Funhouse though as this is an equally shocking and grim vision of terror.
Chainsaw Massacre’s strengths were its excessive use of terrifying sound, a skill that Hooper successfully repeats in this follow up. The final scene is an excellent juxtaposition of visual and audible horror and the film maintains a harsh and unrelenting feeling of danger that surrounds the heroine. Mixing bright flashes of light and the ear piercing chimes of steel cogs and chains, the director creates an atmosphere of unease that provides the right mechanical backdrop for a tense showdown. The final girl here is obviously different from any that we had been treated to in the genre prior to this and at no time did she show the bravery of a Laurie Strode or a Ginny Fields. She cowers away at the smallest of noises and spends the majority of her confrontation dumbfounded, petrified and in a state of shock. Although Elizabeth Berridge is reputedly no fan of the genre and spent years criticising the film and others like it for their content, there’s no denying that she delivers a fantastic portrayal and it’s breathtaking watching the extent of her visual transformation into a terrified wreck
Modern day humans are obsessed with their image, and Hooper makes an intelligent social commentary as the youngsters glare in amusement at the freaks on display at the carnival. Their brash attitudes are ruthlessly avenged when they realise that they are alone with something that they had previously considered to be defenceless against their mockery. Revenge is served coldly as the protagonist emerges psychologically warped and drained like the creatures on display at the ‘freak show’. Funhouse’s subtle ethical theme shows an intelligence largely unseen in the genre.
The intelligence of author Larry Block’s script is given due respect by the vision of a director at the top of his game. His work is also complemented by some crisp photography and shadow play that’s planned with finesse. Set pieces are skilfully conveyed and the circus freak makes for an authentic and creepy bogeyman. Much like Halloween, Hooper takes the decision to steer away from gratuitous gore and builds a credible underlying momentum of growing dread over a longer period of time. The killer does not begin to stalk the teens until at least an hour in to the feature, but we never get bored or never feel like the terror is far off. This is mainly due to some well-developed characters and a tense and well-streamlined runtime. John Beal’s rangy score works perfectly to sustain the moods in places.
Why Tobe Hooper never became the horror maestro that so many predicted is a mystery. Funhouse proves however that there is more to his catalogue than a Chainsaw Massacre in Texas. By far one of the best of the early eighties slashers, this entry deserves to be remembered. On a footnote, Funhouse was bizarrely and inaccurately banned briefly in the United Kingdom as part of the video nasty phase.
Final Girl √√√√