Ripper: A Letter From Hell 2001
Directed by: John Eyres
Starring: A.J. Cook, Bruce Payne, Kelly Brook
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Being that I host a SLASH above, it’s fair to say that I’ve watched my share of films that definitely weren’t the best. A few of those though included enough for me to see that certain crew members had the talent for another shot at stardom. Whether it be a smart line of dialogue or a smoothly edited set-piece, a bad film doesn’t always mean that everyone involved is part of the bad-ness. There are a million things that can go wrong during a movie shoot and sometimes a person’s true ability can be concealed through no fault of their own.
John Eyres was responsible for 1987’s woeful killer priest slasher, Goodnight Godbless, and I have to say that seeing his name here didn’t fill me with confidence. I certainly don’t recall anything from that picture that made me think that Eyres’ skill was restrained by the mediocre budget. Still, I’m one of those that believes everyone deserves a second chance and so I’ve finally got round to checking out his follow-up, Ripper: A Letter From Hell.
A girl with a slight attitude problem decides to study criminology under an eccentric professor. She doesn’t get along too well with her classmates, but they become close after a vicious maniac begins to target the group and brutally murder them one by one. They soon discover that they share their initials with the victims of Jack the Ripper and it looks like he could be back from beyond the grave…
At just under two-hours, if Ripper had been of similar quality to its elder brother Godbless, we would have been in for a tiresome exercise in visual punishment. Thankfully, during the fourteen-year gap between those two entries, Eyres has learned a lot about the art of slick direction. In fact, the film launched with such an impressive amount of panache that I was left wondering if this was really the same guy. It shows us the conclusion of a set of killings that occurred sometime earlier in a dense forest. We get flashy cuts and intense camera tricks that build neat tension, even though we don’t know yet who or what we are witnessing. After a couple more fast-paced shocks, we learn that this was a unique way of introducing Molly, our central character. It seems that she was the lone survivor of the aforementioned massacre and she’s now relocated to restart her life and enrolled in a new university.
The next few parts that develop the players (and likely suspects) who will carry us through the runtime are amongst my favourite of the picture. They contain intelligent discussions on the characteristics of serial killers and are shot with intriguing movement that delivers a subtle underscoring of energy to the talk scenes. It’s nice to see that the writers have researched their subject-matter and also they’ve included an authentic slant on one of Scream’s major gimmicks. Whilst Kevin Williamson’s screenplay name-checked the likes of Tom Cruise and Richard Gere, here we get Ted Bundy, Albert DeSalvo and of course Jack the Ripper. The fact that Eyres has privately investigated the Jack the Ripper case for most of his adult life made him the perfect choice for this project. It’s easy to see that he felt he had a score to settle with the slasher genre.
Whilst Godbless owed a lot to John Carpenter’s Halloween, here it seems that Eyres has followed the path taken by Jamie Blanks’ Urban Legend. There are a lot of similarities in the way both films are staged, which I mean as a genuine compliment. The kill scenes are delivered with style and they create some memorable images, like when a freshly murdered corpse pours blood on to a girl’s white dress as she dances below. Another youngster gets rammed off a cliff by a truck that brought to mind the one used in Mirage, and whilst these murders may not be overtly gory, they are powerful due to their brutality. By the time the conclusion comes around, we end up in a tree-chopping factory (?) that really needed a visit from a health & safety expert in a hi-viz jacket. If it doesnt bother the authorities that there are deadly blades that spin around 24/7, perhaps the fact that it’s left totally unguarded will. This leads to a couple of taut chase sequences and a revelation that is highly ambiguous. This was apparently down to Eyres not havin enough budget left to deliver what he had initially intended. I am guessing that might also explain why such a smart story suddenly becomes disjointed in the final ten-minutes.
The cast do a good enough job of keeping things moving without really delivering any sympathetic characters. Ripper is a film that believes in its dialogue and compelling mystery, so the focus is taken off individuals and centred more around the overall plot. We are treated to some truly beautiful actresses and kudos to Eyres for killing off the worst performers quickly. Brit glamour girl Kelly Brook is the first to go and despite her highly unconvincing pleas for mercy, she takes part in one of the greatest stalk and slash murders of the entire cycle. You should watch the film if only for that one sequence.
John Eyres’ website completely ignores Goodnight Goodbless and doesn’t even list it as one of his features. In fact, it goes as far as to say that his filmmaking career began in 1990, which is three-years after that film was released. Whilst it’s unlikely that another British ‘John Eyres’ was responsible for Godbless, the fact that he wants to erase it from his filmography speaks a thousand words. I’m not sure whether that was really necessary, but either way, he had certainly upped his game by the time Ripper went in to production. It’s a tense and engrossing entry that really does impress. In fact I’m fairly surprised that it isn’t more fondly thought of amongst genre connoisseurs.
I guess the only question we are left with is what Eyres was doing that was so important he turned down the sequel…?
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √√
The Orphan Killer 2011
Directed by: Matt Farnsworth
Starring: Diane Foster, David Backus, Edward Winrow
Review by Luis Joaquín González
The IMDB is such a fantastic tool for checking out big budget movies. Before going to the cinema or buying a DVD, it’s always worth looking at the ranking that a studio flick has acquired. If it’s above an 8, you’re generally in for an out and out classic, whilst anything from 6.5 will certainly be worth investing two-hours of your life with. Where the site really has issues is when it comes to stalk and slash pictures. Whilst Halloween sits accurately at 7.9, Friday the 13th Part II has a measly 6. It’s even worse when you start to look at low budget entries, and that’s where I found a problem with The Orphan Killer.
After watching the film, I checked to see what others had been saying about it and I found five reviews in a row that had given it 1/10, the lowest ranking that the IMDB offers. There were also a few comments, including the classic, ‘Just when you think you’ve seen the worst movie in the world, you stumble upon this piece of trash.‘ Really? We live in an age where there are features available that have been shot and edited on an iPad, but if you listen to the users on the IMDB, this is poorer than any of them. Without blowing my own trumpet too much, I have to underline the necessity of a site like a SLASH above, where authors like my good self make the effort to analyse these films in detail to give you the best possible heads-up.
Two young children that survived the brutal murder of their parents in a botched robbery attempt are transferred to a catholic orphanage and put up for adoption. Upon arrival, Audrey manages to settle in quickly and make friends with the other kids, but her brother Marcus has a much tougher time and displays bouts of vicious violence that lead to aggressive punishment from his superiors. It doesn’t take long for Audrey to find a home with a loving family, but Marcus is left behind to suffer abuse from the over-zealous priest. Years later, Marcus escapes his confines and returns to the church to hunt out the sibling that he feels abandoned him.
As someone who was collecting slasher VHS during the late eighties, I remember the buzz of hunting out the full version of a gore film. Back then, due to censorship issues, it was a challenge to uncover an uncut copy from foreign (usually Dutch) shores and a real treat when you finally did. The likes of Absurd or Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche were never known for their intriguing plots or great acting, but they certainly delivered on the red stuff, which gave them a unique standing. In more recent times, we have much more leniency in what gets through on DVD or Blue Ray and it means that viewers don’t only demand gruesome effects; they want everything else to boot. If The Orphan Killer had been released in 1981, it would have become one of those cult classics that horror fans spent an eternity searching for. Nowadays though it’s a fossil from a bygone era and gratuitous bloodletting alone doesn’t have the same underground appeal.
Whilst it’s hard for me to say whether my recollections of those times have swayed my opinion, I found quite a lot to appreciate about The Orphan Killer. I am writing this review the morning after the 2015 Oscars and Alejandro González Inarritu’s wonderfully kooky Birdman picked up Best Picture. It was filmed using lengthy tracking sequences that were so cleverly cut that the film looked like one continuous shot from start to finish. Director Matt Farnsworth (on a much smaller scale of course) utilises the completely opposite approach here, but also creates some intriguing visuals that brought to mind early Aronofsky. I counted 8 cuts in a thirty-second scene at one point; and each came from a camera placed in a creative location that was rarely static. It’s almost as if Farnsworth entered a room and spent hours defining all the possible areas that he could shoot from before deciding how he could apply movement to keep the momentum running. During the mid-section, there’s a marathon of stalk and slash action that includes so many camera switches and angles that I literally lost count of them. A great example of this can be found in the murder of the unfortunate nun that I have posted above.
Orphan is a splatter flick at heart and the gore is exceptional considering the stringent funding. Heads are crushed, squashed, smashed and in one really gruesome scene, split in two by a machete. I recall numerous moments that made me flinch away due to the level of grotesque imagery, and this is a picture that revels in the suffering of its players. Marcus Miller is a terrifyingly ruthless antagonist and he stalks with an obvious menace that brings to mind the iconic bogeymen of yesteryear. Unlike many of his kin, Marcus taunts his victims with verbal threats that add to his intimidation and the backstory works to help build his psychopathic aura. David Backus does a superb job of bringing the killer to life and he fills the role with power, strength and maniacal intent.
Even if I have highlighted that gore films are never huge on character development, it is clearly visible how the lack of any at all has left Orphan looking extremely hollow. It’s rare that you’ll see a cast list with so many anonymous credits such as ‘Skateboarder’ or ‘Urban Legend Teen #2’ and the people featured within are given less importance than the props the killer uses to dispatch them. It makes such a difference to have players that we’ve invested in emotionally, but even the heroine failed to win us over in this script. This leaves the film without a solid structure and it plays almost like a collection of kill scenes that have been loosely stapled together. I’m not a fan of death metal and I look at horror as a genre that succeeds when audio and visual are juxtaposed together to bring an environment to life. More often than not I found myself reaching for the ear plugs and the film could have done with a suitably creepy score.
Once Marcus has finally caught and imprisoned Audrey, we get some slower paced torture porn-like scenes that are a lot less engrossing. A directorial style as rapid as Farnsworth’s didn’t flow as well in an enclosed environment and the best pieces of his work came during the numerous chase sequences. In terms of dramatics, the performances were weak but serviceable and kudos to Diane Foster, who gives her all in a portrayal that asked an incredible amount of physicality. The insane killer stalking his sister synopsis has been done to death, but Orphan manages to keep you interested, despite the numerous flaws.
Matt Farnsworth has worked really hard here to give us a film that pushes the boundaries of what we have experienced previously. It infuriates me that all this effort can be brushed off by a 1/10 rating without recognition of all that he has achieved. It’s ok to dislike a film, but it’s a waste of time to read any write-up that contains something along the lines of ‘this is the worst movie ever made’. You’ll have to trust me when I tell you that it simply is not…
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √√
Directed by: Tim Cowles
Starring: Eleanor James, Emily Eaves, Jason Impey
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I’ve recently turned 34, which I tell you because I’m from a generation that grew up just before the invasion of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Hi5. I was in my twenties during the noughties, so I still got to experience the impact that these sites had on social interaction and relationships. It’s interesting, because I remember the times of having to call landlines or walk to knock on someone’s front door if I wanted to chat with them. Nowadays I can simply drop them a note on What’sapp or some other messaging service and ascertain where they are, who they’re with and whether they’re choosing to ignore me ;) I’m often told that I should be more proactive on Twitter and Facebook, especially with regards to a SLASH above, but perhaps it’s because of my age that I haven’t quite grasped the necessity of a social media presence.
Whether these methods of contact are a benefit or a hindrance to our evolution as humans is impossible to answer, but it’s an interesting theory to think about. It’s one that was certainly on the mind of director Tim Cowles when he put pen to paper for this British slasher that hit shelves last year. Not to be confused with 2005’s Backslash, Backslasher was poorly received upon release and currently holds a 2.2 rating on the IMDB. This Is incredibly low, but there’s always the excuse that slasher movies are easy targets for mockery from stern critics because of their simplistic style. Seeing that the excellent Billy Club has dropped from 7.4 to 5.6 on the same website adds weight to this theory.
A young woman who’s obsessed with her social media accounts launches an online business that sells lingerie and sex toys. She Is running a blog to assist with marketing but soon discovers that someone maybe taking an unhealthy interest in her status updates. It soon becomes apparent that a masked killer is stalking her friend list and it looks as if she’s next in his sights…
Shooting films on a penny sweet budget must be tough, because creative concepts can get lost amongst the lack of funding. Backslasher tries hard to deliver something unique and intriguing but has suffered, slightly unfairly, due to its minimal production values. It choses an unusual starting path, which introduces our characters rather awkwardly. The best horror movies begin with a scare or shock sequence of some kind to set a tone, but it takes fifteen-minutes or so for the killer to even put in an appearance here. This makes the opening scenes a bit pointless because we are left trying to get our heads around what we are watching. A group of girls prance around in lingerie to introduce the theme of the products that they’re selling, but these parts are a nothingness in terms of the film’s horror backbone. I haven’t seen the old chestnut of a maniac stalking two lovers parked in a secluded spot for quite some time, so it was refreshing to be back at a set up that is so rudimentary yet satisfying. Cowles shows his knowledge of the period slashers in a couple of the murders, including an assault of a female jogger, which was last seen in Graduation Day. Dressing the killer in a common mask and hooded jumper underlines the film’s cheapness, but he is at least brutal and intimidating when he strikes.
What I really liked about Backslasher was its smartly ambiguous conclusion. The plot works along the line of you thinking you’ve guessed who is under the mask, but just when you believe you’ve really nailed it, your choice of culprit becomes the next victim. I felt initially cheated by the revelation scene, but later I understood that it was the perfect end to a story that focuses on the privacy and anonymity of Social Media. It’s extremely unusual for a stalk and slash film to include an ending that you’ll need to watch through again to really understand and in honesty it impressed me. Whodunits have been done to death and outside of tricking the audience unfairly, there’s very little that we haven’t seen before. Cowles takes a risk that might disappoint some viewers, but I appreciated his ambition to try an off-kilter resolution.
It’s unfair to criticise a low budget movie for being low budget, but Backslasher’s main issues are visible exactly because of that. The performances are predictably mediocre and the footage is grainy and poor in quality. We do get a guitar-based score that is fresh and uplifting, but when the horror starts, there are some misplaced sci-fi-like buzzing sounds that are notably out of place. Whilst the screenplay does have moments that are strongly commendable, it could have been structured to have a much smoother flow. I imagine the film would play much better with a murder in the pre-credits and most of the background characters are interchangeable because they’re given very little to do. There were a couple of times when people got killed and I couldn’t remember who they were, which showed they had been poorly introduced.
Backslasher is a project that writes cheques its budget can’t cash. It’s a creative concept that could have done with some fine tuning. Many people won’t have the patience to really appreciate it, which is a shame, but a lesson that can be learned. Tim Cowles shouldn’t give up on his filmmaking dream, but he’s still some way off delivering a really credible entry.
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√
Chill: The Killing Games 2013
aka Chill (Working Title)
Directed by: Noelle Bye, Meredith Holland
Starring: Roger Conners, Bradley Michael Arner, Kelly Rogers
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I must tell you that Chill was one of those movies that I was really excited about getting my hands on. Haydn Watkins, the co-author of magnificent upcoming slasher book Alone in the Dark, told me about it and so I got in touch with director Noelle Bye who sent me over an online copy to review. At the time of writing, it boasts a 7.5 ranking on the IMDB and it has been keenly anticipated amongst cult horror circles due to a couple of successful pre-screenings.
Despite accusations that slasher movies are all exactly the same, genre completists will note the small traits that distinguish titles by their production date. Since about 2011, we have seen a theme of strategic multi-layered twists and revelation scenes that have appeared in the likes of Billy Club, Camp 139, Smiley, Blood Junkie and Backslasher. From what I’d heard on the grapevine about Chill, it was another that had been written with a focus on maintaining a compelling mystery.
A college in the US has become notorious due to the grim legend of a game that goes by the name of Chill. It involves a number of people randomly picking a piece of paper from a box and keeping what they get a secret from the other participants. Dependent on what they receive, they will either become the ‘killer’ or a ‘victim’ and it’s the killer’s job to hunt out and ‘murder’ the other players, whilst keeping his/her identity anonymous until the end. Chill was popular until about 1988, when one gamer took the whole assassin thing a bit too seriously and butchered twelve students before succumbing to a gruesome fate. Since then, the game has been outlawed on campus and it has become a part of the town’s history that they’d rather leave behind. One business-minded local thinks otherwise though and decides to revisit the scene of the original massacre and televise a new version of the game for profit. Despite resistance from some of the townsfolk, especially an over-zealous professor, the launch date goes ahead as planned. It seems that someone still has an axe to grind and before long, the youngsters are forced to pit their wits against a maniacal villain.
Before we get going, I think it’s important that you understand one thing about Chill that’s really essential as to how you perceive it. I’d been wrapped up in the decent IMDB rating and the positivity that I’d heard and so I was expecting a slick slasher along the lines of Billy Club. It wasn’t until thirty-five minutes in that I realised this was in fact a micro-budget production ($3,000) and only then did I really begin to appreciate the film’s accomplishments.
You see, Chill is quite long for a slasher movie, (one hour and forty-five minutes in fact) and the first half of those are pretty unconvincing. Awkwardly acted characters in under-lit scenarios are the order of the day and I was thinking that I was going to be the first critic to put a dent in the film’s glorious reputation. There’s a lot of focus on a group of marginally-appealing personalities and they’re given dialogue that barely registers because it’s so basic and unimaginative. To offer an example, we meet a washed-up kid star who has been invited to take part in the game, but upon his arrival he is disappointed that there’s no fanfare and only one person recognises him. He’s obviously deluded as to the level of his notoriety, but it’s a joke that doesn’t need or warrant the amount of attention that it’s given by the script.
I was thinking the worst by that point, but when the games finally launch, the directors unleash a couple of really sharp and effective shock sequences. There’s nothing quite as creepy as dark dilapidated corridors and the film is nicely scored with gloomy low-chords that help maintain the morbid tone. In the earlier killings, we don’t get to see the antagonist’s bird mask clearly, but there’s a really well structured scene that introduces him with credible menace. He then goes on to slash the throat of a hapless youngster and there’s a juicy blood effect to maximise the impact. For the next half an hour, we get a tense showdown as the remaining players discover that they are locked inside the auditorium with a vicious maniac. Blood flows fluidly as people are sliced, diced and strangled, but the real suspense is delivered by the enigma of who it is that’s slaughtering the group. I didn’t work out the psychopath’s true identity, but I still am unsure as to whether it was a surprise or a bit of a a cheat on the audience. Either way, it successfully keeps you guessing and there’s nothing more that I could have asked for.
What I thought was really authentic was that the story was led for the most part by an openly homosexual central character. Kyle Carpenter (cool surname) does a good job of giving us a likeable protagonist and ticks many of the boxes that are stereotypically filled by a heroine. We also get a role reversal that I don’t want to reveal without giving anything away, but let’s just say that the film’s choice of survivor(s) is an uncommon piece of template realignment. It all leads to an intriguing open ending and I have heard through the same grapevine that Chill 2 is already on the cards.
Chill is one of a number of recent entries that underline the necessity of the slasher genre as a filmaking talent pool. There truly is no better style of movie to unleash some flair and the more of these examples we get, the closer we come to a complete category rebirth. Whilst the feature itself is not without its problems (poor illumination, half-hearted dialogue, noticeably average acting, a couple of WTF revelations and it could have done with some eye candy), it gives me great pleasure to see that we have moved well away from the era of Camp Blood and Carnage Road. Nowadays low budget features are stronger than they’ve ever been and that in itself is a real achievement. Congratulations to Noelle, Meredith and Roger for a decent effort considering the budget. The gloss and invention in some of their photography was extremely impressive and I am looking forward to seeing more of their work.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Halloween 4 1988
Directed by: Dwight H. Little
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris
Review by Eric LeMaster
Buenos Dias and Happy Valentine’s Day a SLASH abovers, I’m extremely proud to include a guest post from regular reader Eric LeMaster. For his debut, he has chosen the film that got him hooked on the genre and I am sure you’ll agree that he’s done a sterling job of describing for us what he loves about it…
Halloween 4 is my favorite horror movie of all time, so I was quite thrilled when Luisito asked me to write my first guest review about this– what I believe to be– a gem of a film. Some don’t appreciate this instalment because they believe that Michael should be dead– and by all rights, he should have been after the hospital explosion in Halloween II. If you take the movie at face value, it’s a wonderful entry into the sub-genre that is the SLASHER FILM!
Many years ago, I watched this for the first time on AMC. It succeeded in getting me hooked on slasher movies. The setting and the realistic premise of a madman who wants nothing more than to kill you makes slasher flicks pretty much the only style that can give me chills. The wonderful cinematography and utter darkness of the film bring something special that “budget” movies just don’t ever seem to give.
To prepare for this review, I popped in my Blu-ray of Halloween 4– that’s right, I own the Blu-Ray. Does that make me cool? No? Ok. Continuing… The montage of Midwestern Autumn scenery immediately brings me back to my childhood, though not too far, because I can still see the rickety farm buildings and “country” scenery around where I live. Eastern Kentucky hasn’t grown up much; we’re stuck in 1988. The only thing that could make the film seem more “true to the area” is if John Cougar Mellencamp sang the score– and I guess that just wasn’t on the cards.
After Halloween 3 flopped due to the removal of Michael Myers, Moustapha Akkad wanted to continue the franchise and bring back its iconic villain. John Carpenter and Debra Hill weren’t on board for another Halloween and sold their rights to the series, so Moustapha found the very talented director, Dwight Little.
Alan McElroy would write the script and finished it in an amazing eleven days. Ellie Cornell, whose only previous acting experience included an episode of Thirtysomething and a minor role on Married to the Mob, would play the seventeen year-old Rachel Carruthers, the foster sister to the main protagonist, Jamie Lloyd (the lovely, young Danielle Harris) the daughter of the late Laurie Strode (who apparently died in a car accident).
Donald Pleasance signed on to continue his role as Dr. Loomis, the once psychiatrist of Michael Myers, who would continue to chase him and try to end Michael’s killing spree once and for all. Also signing on were Sasha Jenson who would play Rachel’s boyfriend (Brady), Beau Starr who would play Sheriff Ben Meeker, and Kathleen Kinmont would play his daughter, Kelly Meeker.
We begin the fun with an ambulance traveling in a rain storm. We find that Michael is being transferred from Smith’s Grove unbeknownst to Dr. Loomis. Once approved for transfer, Michael is wheeled into the ambulance. Per the conversation between the EMTs, Michael discovers that he has a living niece and decides to murder his only living blood-relative. He kills the ambulance workers and makes his way back to Haddonfield.
True to form, Dr. Loomis becomes concerned with the transfer and begins to question the head of the Sanitarium. While he’s there, the manager receives a phone call informing him of the accident. Overhearing, Loomis takes off and lets his sixth sense of Michael’s whereabouts take over.
What happens after then? Much trick-or-treating, high school drama, and some high class stalking! There’s even some humor, too. The scene with the “traveling Reverend” is hilarious, and adds some comic relief to a more serious film. You’ll have to see it all for yourself.
To say that I recommend this film would be an understatement. It’s got plot, it’s got good acting, it’s got a great score by Alan Howarth, and it has some good gore. I beg you to see it. Don’t watch it as a perfect continuance of the series and you will find that it’s a gem. If you don’t like it for all of these things, at least you’ll enjoy it for it’s 80’s vibes– and boy does it have it. If you’re like me, you’ll fall in love with Ellie Cornell, and if Danielle Harris isn’t one of your favorite child movie stars, you’ll more than likely change your opinion.
This movie is widely available on DVD and Blu-Ray with or without its less amazing partner, Halloween 5; and, if you’re lucky, you can catch it on AMC like I did.
Luis’ view: Whilst I agree with a lot of what Eric has said here, I must confess it’s a three and a half star rating from me, simply because I slightly preferred Rick Rosenthal’s sequel.There’s no denying though that this is somewhat underrated due to its dark tone and engrossing story. Whilst it may be slightly disjointed and Michael’s mask looks almost comical, it shares more with its elder siblings than any of the latter installments.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl √√√
Blood Sisters 1987
Directed by: Roberta Findlay
Starring: Amy Brentano, Shannon McMahon, Dan Eriksen
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I’ve obviously never met her, but I’d imagine Roberta Findlay to be the kind of woman that would come along to watch a match and then join you at the bar to get smashed on Jägerbombs after. The type of cool chick that a guy can hang out with and tell her everything as if she were one of the lads. I think this because Exploitation films from the seventies were almost always male-dominated productions. With some help from her hubby (fellow director Michael) though, Roberta often managed to totally out-sleaze the competition and her filmography makes for interesting reading. She took softcore porn to the boundaries of hardcore territory with The Alter of Lust in 1971. Then three-years later she created controversy (and profit) by the bucketload with a fake pretending to be real Snuff movie that was imaginatively titled, Snuff. It had began life as a proto-slasher (many of her and Michael’s movies were), but producer Alan Shackleton tipped off the Police and spread word that the murders committed in the footage were in fact real. This brought audiences flocking and it has become something of a Grindhouse classic since.
The birth of the slasher genre offered former-exploitation directors an opportunity to return to the frontline. Successful titles like Halloween and Friday the 13th were not a million miles away from the style of film that they had been churning out over a decade earlier, which made it an even more logical step. It took Roberta Findlay until 1987, but she finally released Blood Sisters and I couldn’t help but be excited by the possibilities. What kind of slasher movie would a person responsible for everything from hardcore porn to sadomasochistic thrillers bring to the table?
The set-up is as traditional as they come. A group of sorority pledges have to spend the night in an old dilapidated mansion to become fully fledged members. Little do they know that the site was once a knocking shop that is reportedly haunted after a gruesome murder thirteen-years earlier. Unfortunately for the girls, it seems that a psychopathic intruder dressed in the clothing of the deceased prostitute has come along to spoil the party.
In fairness to Findlay, she had proven in films such as The Clamdigger’s Daughter that underneath all the sexploitation, she was more than capable of handling drama and extracting good performances from a cast. Whilst Blood Sisters is not amongst the best of her work, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I enjoyed watching it. Running a SLASH above means that I have to sit through tonnes of modern slashers when sometimes all I really want is a dose of cheesy eighties trash. Thankfully, it’d be hard to get more trashy than this one. Much like the fat kid at school that wears broken spectacles and gets picked last for the soccer team, this has become something of an easy target to be mocked. I had a browse online to see what other people were saying about it and the general consensus is that it offers very little to be appreciated. Whilst I agree that there’s not much here in terms of credible filmmaking, I have to admit that Sisters deserves a little more love from slasher buffs than it currently receives.
There’s nothing more hilarious than seeing someone try their hardest to achieve a feat, whilst it falls down all around them. TV shows like You’ve Been Framed or Funniest Home Videos have made a fortune out of broadcasting such scenarios for audience pleasure. There’s a good example of this during Sisters in an early character definition scene. It’s set at a party and Findlay packs every shot with extras bustling past the lens in a bid to bring the environment to life. The problem is that they act in such a cheesy manner that it ends up looking extremely comedic. This is applicable especially to the sultry Diana, who after admitting that she has three dates lined up for the evening, boogies on down whilst a trio of jocks leer over her and try their hardest to dance at the same speed as the person closest to them.
When we do finally reach the fabled ‘haunted whorehouse of horror’, the tone does become somewhat darker. All of the girls are sent on a scavenger hunt, which means they split into pairs and head off to secluded corners of the spacious building. Whilst it does take maybe ten-minutes too long for the maniac to finally get to work (an hour in fact), Findlay does a sterling job of keeping things interesting in the meantime. Our characters are possessed briefly by the ghosts of former prostitutes that worked there, which is peculiar because we only saw one of them murdered in the beginning(?). Despite that, some of these sequences are strangely effective, especially an erotic scene that’s seen through a reflection. It’s hinted that mirrors are doorways of sort to the afterlife; an interesting concept that’s never really taken anywhere further.
Without a doubt the reason that Sisters is not thought of more highly is because after such a long build up, the bogeyman finally arrives and rushes through a bunch of diluted killings without any suspense. If Findlay had taken the approach of say, Pieces for example, we’d be looking at this with a similar level of adulation. Instead we have a film that has the cheese, hilarious dialogue and acting, but excludes the gore and grittiness. A director with such an extensive experience of Grindhouse pictures should have known better than most what ingredients were necessary. When it comes to the horror parts though, she flies through them with minimal application. I had trouble picking my choice of final girl to do battle with the lunatic, but there’s a reason why I found it so hard, which I won’t spoil for you.
To give you a better idea, Blood Sisters is extremely similar to the previous year’s Girls School Screamers. In fact I could go you one better by saying that it was almost completely reproduced by Jim Wynorski in 1991 and titled Sorority House Massacre Part II. If Findlay had gone with what I guess would be her natural instinct and been more exploitive with the death scenes, we’d be looking at a trash slasher classic. In the end though, a few softcore embraces and bemusing characters don’t do enough to salvage it. I liked the fact that it was such a clear postcard of eighties fashion and goofiness and simply for that reason, if very little else, it does deserve to be seen.
Killer Guise: √√
aka Cut Throat
Directed by: Keith Walley
Starring: Luciano Saber, Kate Norby, Raquel Baldwin
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
You know what? I had a great idea the other day for the opening of a slasher film. A girl is all alone in her house late at night, when the telephone rings. She answers it and a demented voice that she doesn’t recognise begins taunting her with personal knowledge that he has about her life. At first she wonders if it could be a prank, but then the deranged caller becomes more threatening and asks if she wants to play a game. We soon learn that he has a family member/boyfriend tied up close by, and if she doesn’t complete the quiz, the loved one will die. So then we… Hold on, my phone is ringing…. “Oh hi Mr Craven. Yes, of course I know what a lawsuit is, why do you ask?”
This totally forgotten entry from the boom years of the second cycle starts pretty much the way that I’ve written above. Whilst I appreciate that it may have been a subtle comment on the magpie nature of the slasher genre, it doesn’t really hint at satire and instead plays it incomprehensibly straight. Would a film really be bold enough to rip off its obvious inspiration (Scream) so openly?
A film crew that are working on an up and coming slasher movie called Death Blade become the target for a brutal masked killer. As more crew and cast members end up dead, the leading lady decides to hunt out the murderer.
Whilst watching Scared, I was reminded of a very good Tim Robbins film from 1992 called The Player. Aside from having an intriguing synopsis, it became renowned for an eight-minute tracking shot that was truly a miraculous slice of cinematography. It wasn’t only the length of running time that made the scene impressive, but also the amount of action that was perfectly coordinated all the way through. There were a large number of actors working in conjunction and on cue to maintain the momentum, which really stood out as an ambitious director going the extra mile. Scared includes a somewhat shorter (96 seconds), but similar in craft set-piece that immediately created the impression that we were watching a stylish slice of motion picture development. In fact, with so much dialogue revolving around the background details of movie production, I was convinced that we may have a slasherised homage of type to Roger Altman’s classic. Unfortunately, like a senior manager that berates his team for their lack of focus whilst clearly logged on to Facebook, Scared doesn’t lead by the example that its script brags about.
I remember a time when even the worst slasher movies included characters that we kind of enjoyed watching. Give me a van full of numbskulls from The Prey or Don’t go in the Woods over a group of conceited silicone-enhanced brats any day. Scared has a cast that’s so deplorably unlikeable that I failed to understand the screenwriters’ logic for even bothering to include a central character. They were all involved in some kind of inane love triangle that made them look like a bunch of junkie sluts. I forget the exact details, but our heroine Samantha had been passed round more of the crew members than the script they were working on and her buddy was portrayed to have the intelligence of a tadpole. They set out to uncover the identity of the masked killer, but this wasn’t much fun for us, because we had guessed it ages ago. It turns out that there’s a tag team of homicidal maniacs on the loose, which I think I might have seen somewhere else ( Mr Craven, whilst I have you on the line…)
When a mystery is really crappy in a slasher movie, it’s an easy slant for a critic to call it Scooby Doo-esque. With Scared, we don’t even need to resort to such slander, because the final girl and her partner set out on a mission to catch the psychopath using a gimmick that they admit was learned from an episode of Scooby Doo(?). This involves them both dressing as the killer so that the villains will think that the person they come across is actually their partner-in-crime and not an intended victim. Sound confusing? Well it gets that way, when the final girl bumps into the assailant and they roll about on the floor in exactly the same attire. Robert McKee from Adaptation said that voice-narration is a cheat’s way of depicting what’s going on in scene. I can only assume that he hadn’t experienced Scared’s methodology of having a conclusive battle between two identically dressed characters. Perhaps they could have placed two luminous arrows on the screen above each participant and scribbled, ‘bad guy’ and ‘the one we’re rooting for’ to make it clearer? Then in what I guess could only have been included as a deliberate piece of inadvertent humour, the heroine challenges the maniac, who had thus far notched up about 6 of her colleagues, to a knife fight. You know, as you do. How we laughed. It’s almost as dumb as trying to track down a psychopathic killer by yourself… Oh yeah… Oh. Mind you, if you meet cops as incompetent as those featured here in real life, you might just feel the need to start your own investigation. I forgot about the unwritten rule that makes detectives in crud horror films a) insanely inept and b) unable to purchase a normal suit and tie combo. Damn it.
Bad slasher movies are two-a-penny, but what made this one worse was that it talked a good game. It’s ironic that the script was filled with choice lines about making ‘the next Scream‘ and ‘the need for a good twist and T&A’ but Scared doesn’t practice what it preaches. It was released in the US as Cut-Throat; a title that I guess was safer than Cut-Off-My-Own-Head-With-A-Blunt-Hacksaw, which is what, at times, I felt like doing. The awful acting (the director guy was abysmal), terrible inept dialogue, characters that vanish without trace from scene to scene and predictable mystery are totally at odds with some creative cinematography. It’s a shame that it was totally wasted in this junk.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl √
Directed by: Denis Devine
Starring: Meredith Mills, Eric Bunton, Joe Decker
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When you take a look at some of slop that has populated the slasher genre since 1978, it’s not hard to see why so many entries are mocked for their ineptitude. Have you ever wondered what was the initial production plan behind movies like Night Divides the Day or Camp 139? Do you think that the distributors who picked them up were expecting extravagant success when they watched them through? Were they haunted by a delusion that prevented them from recognising the heinous level of their product’s quality? Keeping that in mind, it would take a brave man to take a gamble on a slasher movie that hasn’t – as of yet – been signed for any kind of distribution. Made way back in the year 2000, Bloodstream has yet to find a scheduled release anywhere across the globe. It was only because it had come from genre veterans Dennis Devine and Steve Jarvis (Dead Girls/Fatal Images/Club Dead) that I even bothered trying to track a copy down. I eventually managed to contact Jarvis, who was good enough to send me a DVD screener. Despite the experience of the filmmakers behind the project, I found it hard not to approach Bloodstream with expectations lowered. Surely if the movie was any good then it would have been snapped up moons ago, right? Well fortunately enough and not for the first time in my splatter-reviewing career, my preliminary expectations were off target with this one….
It kicks off in the unfamiliar settings of a chemical laboratory. A devious worker manages to trick a dim-witted security guard into letting her sneak out a small quantity of an unknown substance. The woman takes the vial to a remote warehouse, but she is brutally murdered by an unseen menace before she is able to receive payment for her pilfering! Next up we meet the likely body count material and massacre applicants at a Los Angeles ‘talent’ show. Pam has traveled from Arizona to watch her younger sister Sandy’s singing debut and she soon gets to meet her friends and colleagues. Unbeknownst to her and the guests, Sandy will not be performing tonight, which is due to the fact that she has been kidnapped by a nut job who may or may not be a vicious serial killer. The following morning when she doesn’t return, Pam and her new found friends begin searching for the youngster. It soon becomes apparent that someone doesn’t want Sandy to be discovered, because members of the search party begin being kidnapped and then surgically dissected by a cackling masked psycho. Next we learn that the motive for the attacks is not as straight-forward as first expected and soon a mysterious link between the victims leads to an authentic conclusion…
Unlike traditional post-Scream slasher yarns, Bloodstream has an extremely complex and creative synopsis. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that the screenwriters deliver an impressive number of sub-plots and branches without wrapping themselves up in an awkward knot. Despite a huge amount of interchanging activity in the story, ‘Stream manages to maintain its momentum, which is all down to some slick work from Jarvis and Devine. Even if the budget restrictions are visually obvious from the start, the sets are stylishly lighted and attempts at suspense are carried out with flair and panache. There are also a couple of bloody murders that liven up proceedings, which include a grisly eye-stabbing that reminded me of the terrific opening from Evil Dead Trap. Also watch out for a few surgical ‘torture’ scenes that manage to look credibly realistic, despite the miniscule budget. There’s an extra lick of gloss that comes from an engaging mystery and Bloodstream is a movie that stays in your head hours after the film has ended. That’s a very accomplished feat for a modern teen-slasher.
When reviewing a pre-screener, you have to ignore some of the continuity mishaps because they would likely be ironed out before the final print is submitted. I did pick up on a few blunders that really stood out though, like seeing the nozzle of a smoke machine bellowing fog into the moody night sky. Jarvis admits that the audio on the disc is not perfect; and in honesty, it is sketchy in places. What I found stood out more to me though was the cheesy level of the acting quality, which gives away the amateurism of the budget cast members. Still, there was enough in the story to overcome this and none of the issues were nearly bad enough to have kept the film from being released. It was apparently re-edited and streamlined twice to tweak the mystery elements and give the runtime a smoother flow. This left a couple of minor gaps in the plot, which don’t detract credit from the complexity of the story, but were likely explained in the footage that was later removed.
It isn’t far off a crime, when you consider the amount of schlock being released with regularity, that an authentic and ambitious title like Bloodstream hasn’t yet been given an opportunity at mass consumption. Perhaps it is not too late for a company to pick up the title and give it the exposure it deserves. I find it hard to explain why movies as contemptible as Paranoid and Head Cheerleader Dead Cheerleader managed to find distribution, whilst this looks set to suffer the fate that befell ‘The Legend Of Moated Manor’ before it. I just hope that this isn’t the case and one day you guys have the chance to see if you agree with my comments……
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl √√
Psycho Santa 2003
Directed by: Peter Kier
Starring: Sarah Kendall, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Can you believe that it’s almost Xmas already? Time just flies by. I am guessing that you’ve all got something slasher-tastic planned for the festive period. As per a SLASH above tradition, I wanted to post a few Christmassy entries, but thus far I could only locate this obscurity that I picked up a while back. I may be able to squeeze in one more before the big day, but as it stands this is your lot unfortunately :( Psycho Santa was released on a double DVD with Satan Claus, a movie so tough to sit through that I’ve postponed its review until next year when I’ll hopefully have built enough courage and will-power to try again. Despite the quality (or therefore lack of) of Claus, I was confident that this picture may deliver a shiny present that we’ll be excited about unwrapping.
On the long drive to a party, a boyfriend decides to share with his partner his knowledge of a psychopathic Santa that has stalked the local region for over a year. He tells her three separate urban legends about the maniac, who dressed from head to toe in the guise of St. Nick, is said to lurk amongst the woodland. We are soon about to learn if he is speaking the truth…
Ok, so for ten minutes, I really thought that we were in for something special. It began with a stalking sequence through a junk yard that incorporated some intelligent editing and interesting camera angles that were generally well conveyed. We then get to meet the two characters that will narrate us through the three stories and the plot becomes something of an anthology, with each segment further developing the background of our antagonist. The first on the list involves a pair of young women that have planned to have an Xmas slumber party at a remote cabin. They turn up to find that their friend isn’t around, but notice some of her presents under a tree and believe that she must’ve gone for a wander. Chick #1 is a voluptuous brunette that steals every shot with a cheeky grin and a plunging neckline, whilst her friend is not so attractive, ten-years older and has more piercings than a junkie’s arm. One of them decides to have a shower, leaving the other to head out and search for their missing amiga. Logic dictates which of them is the correct choice for a lengthy full-frontal nudity sequence, but already by this point, logic had gone into hiding along with the MIA girl.
What follows from there feels like an eternity of absolute nothingness. I am reminded of the time that I pulled a chica in a London bar that looked, from the impression of her tight-fitting top, to have boobs that would rival Kim Kardasian’s. After getting her back to a hotel, I quickly learned (she confessed actually) a lesson that will stay with me until the day that I shift off this mortal coil. Padding, in almost all walks of life, is criminal. So the girls drink vodka and dance whilst an ominous someone looks on through POV in a scene that could have been clipped by at least five minutes. The photography had been good, the scoring had built tension, but the net result was a humongous mound of asbestos-laden boredom. Finally the door bursts open and I was convinced that all would be salvaged by us seeing a couple of gruesome slashings. Instead we cut back to the storyteller who, in the most flat and boring way possible, TELLS US how they were brutally killed. Eh?
Anyway, we skip on to the next anthology ‘installment’, which involves the least tense burglary in the history of crime. The filmmakers throw us a smart gimmick by giving us a blind homeowner (with a bikini-body?) that almost catches the robbers in the act. I guess that the sequence may have worked if it had been conveyed with an ounce of common sense, but it took me a while to even realise that the young lady in question had defective vision. After she has been dealt with, the invaders find a locked basement that houses our psycho Santa. He slaughters one of them (off screen) and again we have to be told what happened to the other by our narrator. The bogeyman’s escape and subsequent stabbing of a hapless St Nick leads to the third and final story of the picture.
Now this one, perhaps more than any other, really sums up all that’s wrong with Psycho Santa. A brother and sister, that are driving through some remote woodland, pull over after suffering some convenient problems with their automobile. They get out and begin to walk… and walk… and walk… and walk…. And then, walk some more, until eventually they come across our nut job who proceeds to (not) kill them. I mean, what the hell? Is this the mad slasher with the heart of gold or something? Now don’t get me wrong, there are a couple of murders in this movie that I didn’t mention (including a young kid), but the majority of the runtime is outrageously tedious filler. Scenes that should have been twenty-seconds long are stretched to five-minutes and to be honest you wouldn’t miss anything if you just fast forwarded through them. Much like my experience with the girl with the stuffed brassiere that I told you about earlier, padding to this extent is a total rip-off and no one likes a cheater.
Psycho Santa was directed by a guy by the name of Peter Keir and his billing was the most intriguing thing about the picture. You see, Keir has a couple of credits on the IMDB and two of them are films that were scored by Steve Sessions, the director of Torment. This got me thinking, did Sessions, exasperated by the poor quality of this film, use that name as a pseudonym? I tried finding some info about Keir on the net but came up with nothing at all. This leads me to believe that Sessions, a capable director, was pressured into padding out this film by an external influence. Perhaps the producers gave him a short shooting schedule and a runtime that needed to be fulfilled…? He then watched the net result and released it under an alias. I wouldn’t blame him
Whilst it’s tough to know for sure if my hypothesis is true, it would explain the inclusion of some deft visuals and a superb score, which I know Sessions has the ability to provide. Unfortunately there just wasn’t enough of either to overcome the disjointed and mind-numbing mid-section. We are promised a conclusion that we never get and all that we’re left with is a bloated boat that sinks after ten minutes and never bobs back out of the depths. Avoid it like you would a potential partner with suspiciously stuffed undergarments…
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl √
Dark Ride 2006
Directed by: Craig Signer
Starring:Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Patrick Renna, David Clayton
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The strength of TV shows like The Wire, Breaking Bad, Walking Dead and Broadwalk Empire make it easier to forget just how good The Sopranos was. It’s been seven-years since the last episode and I recently began the whole series again from the initial pilot on DVD. It was whilst watching that I was reminded of this slasher movie that includes Jamie-Lynn Siger as its heroine. She is of course the actress best recognised as Meadow Soprano and her notoriety was a key element for the marketing of this flick. I recall being excited when it was in development, bought a copy upon release and then never actually got round to watching it. Finally I decided that I had to change that..
In my review of Scream Park recently, I mentioned my love of Funhouse; a stalk and slash movie that used an amusement park as a backdrop. It took a while after the Scream-inspired rebirth, but director Craig Singer decided to revisit the location once again for this glossy stalk and slasher.
Six friends head off on a road trip for their break, but whilst travelling, they decide to spend the night at an abandoned theme park. They are not aware however that an escaped murderer has taken refuge inside the complex and he soon begins to slash his way through them.
I must confess that Dark Ride successfully took me back somewhat to the glory years of the eighties. A group of kids heading off in a van to a location where they plan to stay the night but are stalked by a hulking asylum-escapee brought memories of The Prey and Terror Night streaming to my mind. It wasn’t only the set-up that felt nostalgic, because in Jonah, we have a psychopath that was highly reminiscent of Jason Voorhees during his prime. The fact that he stalked with an awkward lumber and wore a chilling mask really helped to give him that deranged presence. Whereas the majority of Scream clones often got lost in their dedication to deliver a compelling mystery, this screenplay ignores the whodunit aspect and instead goes all out to thrill with an antagonist that’s identified from the start.
Craig Signer directs with a contagious bundle of energy and engages us neatly with creative photography and razor sharp flourishes. He utilises the possibilities of the amusement park location perfectly by constantly swooping his lens and revealing a deft capability for pulling the best from his backdrops. One stalking sequence through the tight pathways behind the thematic decor was reminiscent of Michele Soavi’s Stagefright and when the killer strikes, it’s usually always well-timed. We are also treated to an abundance of gooey red-stuff and one killing in particular is exceptionally gruesome. A hapless security guard turns up and almost saves the day, but before he gets a chance to rescue our petrified heroine, his head is split in half like a melon by Jonah. You can see it in the video above…. Ouch!
Whilst Ride includes a lot that links well to its elder peers, it does fall foul to a flaw that is found more commonly in new-age entries. We are given almost an hour of character development, which shows that Signer really wanted to deliver defined personalities. The only problem with this approach is that they’re such a whiny bunch of brats that it’s impossible to like or relate to them. Spending the best part of sixty-minutes listening to bickering is not enough to prevent those first three-quarters from dragging and it makes it harder for the film to recover. Jamie-Lynn Siger had for seven-years delivered such a balanced portrayal as Meadow Soprano that she held her own against a heavyweight like Gandolfini. Here though she doesn’t look to be half as motivated, which is bizarre as I’d have expected more from a feature film performance.
The idea of pitching a group of teens against a maniacal assailant is something that doesn’t need much work from a screenwriter, but not much doesn’t mean none at all. In honesty, the script felt rushed and left gaping plot holes that were tough to ignore. Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse gave us a reason as to why it’s victims were trapped within the ride, but here not one of them realised that they could follow the track to the exit, which was baffling. We get a twist that is easy to foresee and relied heavily on coincidence to have worked. By the time it arrives, it felt unnecessary and like one layer too many.
Dark Ride is a tough film to review, because it does a lot that I consider to be spot on and I really appreciated that. It came so close to being a perfect tribute that I was perhaps more disappointed that it couldn’t live up to the expectations it had set for itself. In the end though, this was more down to me wanting it to be ideal than it actually being so. It is still a polished slasher movie with a lot to be admired, but when it’s over, you wouldn’t shout for more
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl √√