Mask of Murder 1985
Directed by: Arne Mattsson
Starring: Rod Taylor, Valerie Perrine, Christopher Lee
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Following hot on the heels of my reviews of Out of the Dark and Dead End, Mask of Murder is another of those mystery thrillers that borrows plot points from the slasher movies and giallos that had been popular around the time. It was a joint Swedish/Canadian production that was shot in Uppsala län, and it was that unusual blend of cultural heritage that initially caught my attention.
Christopher Lee’s credits over the last twenty years have included three mega-blockbusters, which isn’t bad going for an actor that made his first movie appearance way back in the midst of World War 2. He was initially John Carpenter’s choice to play the Sam Loomis character in Halloween, but he didn’t accept; something he admits he’s always regretted. He even went as far as to call it the biggest blunder of his career.
Obviously annoyed that he’d missed out on some supreme slasher action, perhaps the reason he took a supporting role here was because he didn’t want to make the same mistake twice? Or maybe he was blackmailed into doing it? I really don’t know, but one thing is certain however, he was definitely slumming it.
It’s all set in a small snowy Canadian town. Almost immediately, a loony in a mask grabs an unsuspecting woman and slices her throat with a straight razor. Later that day in another location, a second victim suffers the same fate at the hands of the gruesome killer. He removes his disguise and heads back to a remote cabin where he proves his dementia by gnashing his teeth and staring into the screen. Ooooh scary…
We next get to meet the members of our cast over an evening’s gathering. First off there’s John (Christopher Lee) the chief of the local Police Force. His best detective, Bob (Rod Taylor) has been having problems with his wife Marianne (Valerie Perrine). These difficulties must have a lot to do with the fact that his partner Ray (Sam Cook) is busy banging her every time that he gets the chance. The dinner party is cut short when Bob receives a call informing him that they have the assassin surrounded. They rush to the scene and to cut an overlong story short; the city of Nelson should be a little quieter from now on. But the tranquillity doesn’t last. It begins to look like there’s a copycat murderer at work when more women turn up with their throats slit. Is someone mimicking the murders? Or is the killer back from beyond the grave?
Why Christopher Lee turned down Halloween but chose to play a part in this turkey is one of the world’s biggest mysteries. It’s up there with the Bermuda Triangle, Roswell and Big Foot. I mean seriously come on; surely the screenwriter must have known that the killer’s identity was patently obvious from the start. This is perhaps the dumbest and most basic premise for a murder mystery that I have ever seen. The Scooby Doo cartoon offers less obvious plot twists. Swedish filmmaker Arne Mattsson directs so sloppily that he manages to drag surprisingly wooden performances from an inviting ensemble of screen veterans. Lee’s the best of the bunch, but he’s not on screen long enough to warrant his fans to hunt this down. The pace moves like a traffic jam, and perhaps the most obnoxious thing about Mask of Murder is the horrible music that accompanies every ‘twist’ in the story. It sounds like one of those guitar-sporting beggars that you sometimes see on the street had been recorded whilst heavily inebriated.
Surprisingly though, there are some things that I liked about the film’s set up. For example, the killer has a pillow case over his head and if you squint your eyes it almost looks like the kind of burlap sack that Jason wore in Friday the 13th Part II. Also, the throat slashings are fairly bloody and in one scene a girl is murdered in a cinema – a trick that has become a slasher trademark after He Knows You’re Alone, Cut and Scream 2. The only problem is that the gore scenes are so leisurely executed that the gratuitous blood gushes just look like a poor attempt to flog a dead horse. There was never really a moment where I felt like things might improve or that I was perhaps being a tad over-critical. My suspicions were confirmed once and for all when I witnessed Rod Taylor sniffing his adulterous wife’s underwear. (Don’t ask!)
Mask of Murder was once amongst the rarest fossils of the genre, despite being released in quite a few countries. Nowadays though, its available on a Dutch DVD, although I must admit that I haven’t seen what the quality is like or what version it is on that disc.The first copy that I ever found was the BBFC rated print, which is missing 124 seconds of footage, but then I came across a VHS in Spain that’s totally uncut. It doesn’t really make much of a difference though because the film is as exciting as root canal surgery and almost as painful…
Killer Guise: √√√
Camp 139 2013
Directed by: Matthew Joseph Adams, Benjamin James
Starring: Ricardo Andres, Greg Bronson, Michael Cooley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Last week, when I posted my write-up of Blood Shed, I was chatting about other entries that included a crazed soldier as an antagonist and how the ‘born to kill’ synopsis made a perfect motive for a film such as this. Well Camp 139 has a plot outline so similar to Shed that I had to check that they weren’t from the same crew. Released on DVD earlier this year, not many have given this the time of day, which makes your old uncle Luis proud to be the first to put pen to paper on a Slash above. Interestingly enough, there’s a short that I have seen called Camp 139 that was released back in 2010 by director Ryan Polukord. I haven’t uncovered a link between the two productions, which is strange, because they have similar woodland backdrops and the same unique title…
Four youngsters head off to a place in the forest where it’s rumoured that there lies an abandoned military hospital. Legend states that many years after the Second World War, the site became a hub of experiments to create soldiers that were brainwashed to become remorseless killing machines. After a while, we learn that a maniacal force is hiding amongst the woodland…
Like many hard working Joes across the world, I use public transport, the train in fact, to arrive at my place of work. (Rarely on time) Readers in countries like Germany and Canada can be comforted by the fact that they may never have to experience the catastrophe that is the National Rail Service in the United Kingdom. A couple of weeks ago, I arrived at the station to see that not just one, but two of my scheduled journeys had been cancelled due to an ‘undiagnosed fault’. When a carriage finally did pull up to my platform an hour and a half later, it was packed like a cattle truck so they would let no other desperate passengers clamber aboard. My boss was livid. Camp 139 is a similar experience to that event, because we wait 38 minutes for the killer to arrive, and when he finally does, he drags his victim off the screen in two-seconds flat. It felt like one of those crappy Secret Santa presents where a devious colleague has wrapped a health-food bar in an iPad box. I’m still not sure if I have fully recovered.
Up until that point, things had been grim, inescapably so. A mechanic couldn’t give you heart surgery, a bricklayer wouldn’t build you a cloud software platform and a person without a clue won’t deliver an exciting scary movie experience. I felt a bit sorry for the actors, because they weren’t doing such a bad job. I closed my eyes to listen to their conversations and they sounded almost how you would imagine a gang of friends to talk. It’s just that the dialogue is so bad and so tediously shot that it takes the will power of an ancient monk to keep focus. They didn’t even bother including a score of some kind to add energy to the sequences. It’s hard on occasion, when watching a bad movie, to put a finger on the true roots of the problem. With directors Matthew Joseph Adams and Benjamin James, there’s no mistake in uncovering the guilty party.
The final third takes place in an abandoned factory of sorts and rips off Blood Junkie so much that for a moment I forgot what film I was watching. I often wonder how psycho killers that reside in such a dilapidated place manage to survive when dumb teens don’t wander through on a camping trip. I mean, what do they eat? Do pizza guys accept payment from a fellow in camouflage and a Gas Mask? Do such people receive homeless benefits? Anyway, whereas Junkie was a fine example of craft and finesse on shoestring funding, Camp offers absolutely nothing. No chills, no thrills, no skills and no hundred-dollar bills baby. You can blame the minuscule budget all you want but that’s not an excuse for flat boring camera angles, cringeworthy conversations and a killer in a mask that doesn’t even fit him. I mean come on!!! Even the sight of Victoria Paege in a bikini couldn’t save it.
I knew that I was in for a bad time when the pre-credits scene burst on to the screen like a headless bull. Just who were those people and what the hell was going on? Before I even had a chance to analyse the visuals, my ears were pounded by some death metal and everything faded to black. It came to a close with a twist that you’ll have guessed and a hilarious explanatory scene, which had my partner and I grimacing. Following that, our room was like something from a Sergio Leone Western. All that was missing was a gust of wind and some tumbleweed. We looked at each other in silence and a state of shock. Perhaps it was only a bad dream? If only.
Quarantine this Camp on the double is my recommendation, I’m off to catch my train… (Crosses fingers)
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √
Blood Shed 2014
aka American Weapon
Directed by: Cliff Vasco
Starring: Amin Joseph, Maria-Elena Laas, Benjamin Mouton
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Recently in my review of Rose of Death, I mentioned that leaving a rose beside a fresh corpse had been done before and much better in one of my all-time favourites, Rosemary’s Killer. Well it’s nice to see that the film that I have so much respect for is still having an influence on the genre it assisted in defining, because Blood Shed has also decided to ‘borrow’ an idea from that synopsis.
Shed is the latest that came up with a loon that’s not been able to escape his military background, but its plot takes things to a much more intriguing level.
Six teenagers take a break in some secluded woodland for a few days to get away from it all. Little do they know however that hiding in the woodland is a deranged psychopathic killer…
Whilst I was logging on to Vimeo to watch this pre screener, I took a browse around online to see if I could find any news or information about the picture. On the IMDB, I saw that it already has a laughable 2.7 rating with a couple of not so generous comments posted below. There were also a few external reviews that were equally as critical of Cliff Vasco’s debut feature. Often slashers get a hard time from critics no matter their quality and I wondered if the genre’s reputation had contributed to the initial negativity?
Well yes and no is the answer, because whilst Shed is not going to redefine the way that we look at slashers, it deserves more respect than it’s currently being given. It all kicks off at what I guess is a marine training camp. We see two actors giving fairly credible impressions of Private Pyle and Gny. Sgt. Hartman from Full Metal Jacket. The scene includes cuts to real soldiers being drilled at a military base and it’s very easy to see that this is (ancient Vietnam) stock footage, which adds a chunk of inadvertent humour to the opening. I liked the idea of an antagonist that had been warped by the pressure of an over zealous drill sergeant and was excited about what would come next.
We then get to meet our group of cannon fodder and l did note that their dinnertime conversation was unlike the norm. Screenwriter Vasco is most certainly a fan of conspiracy theories and his characters discuss subjects such as the CIA’s power and that war is the organising principle for any society. It was enough to make Oliver Stone send a Facebook request and continued the tone for our lone assassin on the grassy knoll, sorry, in the woodland wilderness. We are made aware of his presence by constant POVs that show him preparing to strike and we don’t wait long until he does.
The kill scenes in Shed may not be gory, but they are incredibly gruesome and they are spaced well enough to so that we are never left waiting around for action. There are a couple of effective jump scares that keep your heart racing and Vasco does well to make the chase sequences fast flowing and tense. We work out pretty quickly who is set to be our final girl and she gets twenty-odd minutes alone to confront the killer. Unfortunately, it’s with him that lies the biggest of the feature’s problems. When our antognist is first introduced, he looks incredibly creepy in army fatigues and a Nixon (?) mask. The headpiece is lost almost immediately though and then we are left with little more than an average middle-aged guy in camouflage. I recently saw The Demon from 1979, and the bogeyman there was clearly visible on-screen on only the odd occasion. This wasn’t important though, because his size and demeanor made him incredibly intimidating. Blood Shed has a big hole in the middle of its story, which is about the size of a threatening assailant.
As I alluded to earlier, the murders are consistent, which left me wondering as to why the film failed to maintain my attention. It’s hard to put a finger on the exact reasoning, because on reflection a lot of things are done with more input than usual. For example, each player gets time to build a relationship with the viewer and they have strongly defined, albeit stereotypical, characteristics. It’s just that they aren’t likeable enough for us to care if they survive. Even the final girl lacked charm and charisma. It’s unfair perhaps to criticise the sound mixing of a pre-screener (these issues are usually ironed out before going to print), but I must admit that I nearly blew my speakers every time that the music came on because I had the volume at 95% to hear the dialogue.
Blood Shed is an interesting addition to the genre, because it is a generic slasher film in so many ways, but in others it snaps branches of the template. The final scene for example is overplayed and poorly delivered, but I have never seen anything like it. The whole film is a mish mash of ideas that work only sporadically, but those sporadic moments are worth checking out. Having a confused military angle and trying to deliver a political message of some kind was unusual and perhaps slightly misplaced.
Whilst Shed is ultimately flawed, I must admit that a 2.7 rating is incredibly harsh…
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √
The Demon 1979
Directed by: Percival Rubens
Starring: Jennifer Holmes, Cameron Mitchell, Zoli Marki
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I discovered The Demon on big-box VHS when I was about twelve-years-old at a jumble sale in my local village hall. It’s hard to believe that it was one of the first to jump on the Halloween-inspired slasher bandwagon, because nowadays, it barely gets a mention amongst the plethora of peak period entries. That does seem somewhat strange, because it received global distribution and plays closer to John Carpenter’s rule book that many of its contemporaries from back then.
It tells the tale of a mysterious hulking menace that kidnaps a teenager in the opening sequence and then proceeds to slash his way through anyone that he bumps into thereafter. He sets his sights on a teacher and her cousin whom share a house in a secluded neighbourhood. Meanwhile, the abducted girl’s father hires a psychic to help find the shadowy madman and the pair set out to track him down. Can they stop him before he strikes again?
If ever a movie were to be called a mixed bag, then The Demon would have to be top of that list. There’s some decent stuff here, but it pops up only on the rarest of occasions and the rest is a bit of a puzzle. We begin things with the family of the kidnapped child and their efforts to track down the perpetrator. They hire an ESP specialist (delivered hilariously by Cameron Mitchell) to assist them and the it builds some intriguing momentum. After twenty-minutes or so, we are introduced to two new characters and a separate storyline, which dominates the majority of the runtime from then onward. We cut between the two simultaneous branches sporadically, but they lack a connection aside from the antagonist and so the film becomes disjointed and begins to lose it’s way.
Our heroine Mary (Jennifer Holmes) is a school teacher that lives with her cute cousin Jo (Zoli Marki). They are given a lot of time to flex their acting chops, especially Marki, who gets a silly romance sub-plot, which is extremely long winded. Dialogue like, “Drive me to the moon” feels like it’s been lifted from Romeo and Juliet and the fact that wardrobe gave her dresses that look like shower curtains certainly didn’t help. Talking of shower curtains, did I mention that the final girl does indeed sport one in order to cover her dignity after being chased around the house in only her nickers for the climax? Seeing a bra-less heroine battle the killer was a new one on me.
During the bloated mid-section, the psycho pops up a couple of times to prevent us from nodding off. One of these events occurs outside a nightclub called, ‘Boobs Disco’, which sounds like my kind of joint. After boogieing to the pop strains of ‘Funkytown’, a South African lass is stalked and almost raped (?) by The Demon, whose techniques for attracting the opposite sex are those of the Borat variety. She is saved by two passing motorcyclists who receive a vicious clothesline for their efforts, which leaves them in heaps upon the concrete. One of them is especially unfortunate because his bike explodes into a ball of flames after bumping into a wall. I’m still scratching my head as to how that was possible. Spontaneous combustion perhaps? Well, he is The Demon, I guess…
There’s a great scene shortly after, which shows the maniac preparing for his showdown and it’s intercut with Jo getting ready for her date. Once he arrives on site, the slasher chills are extremely effective and deliver some shades of suspense. We don’t get to learn anything about the maniac’s motive and this adds depth to his aura of menace. The script conveys his anonymity superbly and the actor playing him is probably the best thing about the feature. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he is up there with Jason and Michael in the villain stakes and his hefty frame and creepy white mask create an imposing menace.
The only copies available of The Demon are poor in quality and many scenes are dark and unclear. There’s minimal gore due the fact that the nutjob’s method of murder is to put a bag over the head of each victim and asphyxiate them. We can’t escape the scriptwriting shipwreck of the character development parts, which are snooze-inducing, and they seem to have let Cameron Mitchell loose on the quaaludes before he turned up on set. Does this make The Demon a total waste of space? Well funnily enough, no. We may be somewhere off Halloween with what we have here, but there’s enough in the extremely cute actress, remorseless assailant and idea that a place in the world exists called Boobs Disco to have kept me engaged.
What we need is a proper DVD with a commentary to answer some of the questions that I’ve raised here. Until then, I’m not saying don’t pick up a copy of this, but a few cans of lager will help you to appreciate it
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√
Dead End 1999
Directed by: Iren Koster
Starring: William Snow, Victoria Hill, Matthew Dyktynski
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Not to be confused with Jean Andrea’s Dead End from 2003, this Australian picture is barely acknowledged by fans, despite the fact that it received global distribution. I picked it up many years ago on VHS and it’s one of those that I’ve wanted to cover for a while, but my VCR Machine has seen better days and I haven’t had the time to pick up a new one. Recently though, I came across a shiny DVD whilst on vacation down-under and watched it on the flight back.
It tells the tale of a former detective turned author named Todd Russell that becomes involved in a spate of brutal murders. They are extremely similar to the last case that he worked on before retiring from the Force, called the Evergreen killings. The fact that he had so much knowledge of the original slayings makes him the key suspect and as the evidence and bodies begin to pile up, he is forced to get involved for a second time. Could it be that Todd Russell has lost his mind and moral compass?
I guess that the first question to answer with this feature is whether it qualifies as a stalk and slash flick or is it a thriller? Well whilst it doesn’t follow the traditional path of stranded teens against a malevolent force, it includes many Giallo trademarks, such as brutal slayings committed by a masked assailant, so for me it’s definitely on the right website here. Before watching it, I had sat through 1988’s Out of the Dark, which is generally considered a slasher and is almost interchangeable in terms of plot content and delivery. I would go as far as to say that this is even grislier in terms of its murders and therefore underlines the horror categorisation. Amongst those murders, whether intentional or not, we get a rehash of Al Filo Del Hacha’s car wash set-piece, only this time the killer strikes with a hook rather than axe. Later, we see the menace stalk a young girl in an elevator, which was similar in many ways to a scene from Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche. The assailant even looks the same in a dark fedora and mask and it made me wonder, was director Iren Koster a fan of Spanish slashers? That could well be the case.
Dead End’s biggest strengths can be found in its accomplished dramatics and ability to wrap viewers up in the enigma of its storyline. I did work out early on who was behind everything, but I was never 100% sure. There are numerous twists that pop up throughout the picture, which help to keep us engaged and the intelligent pacing works to sustain the tone of intrigue.
Perhaps the only thing missing was a bit more development into the choice of victims. One murder sees a girl literally walk on to the screen before she’s shot, so we really don’t know enough about any of them to care what happens. I would have hoped for at least one tense chase sequence, but there’s still a whole heap of suspense to be found in the complexity of the puzzle. The revelation part is handled well enough and I was amused by the survival techniques of one soon-to-be victim. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that if all else fails and you look like Victoria Hill, then remove your underwear ;)
A film so driven by its characters needed good performers in order to succeed. Snow and Hill rarely have a weak moment and they are given a few tough scenes to work with. The star of the show is Iren Koster though, because he directs with an energy that keeps us on the edge of our seats. Aside from the obvious, filmmaking is mainly about placement, blocking, length of shots and location. In all of these, he did a sterling job. He has another horror movie under his belt that I haven’t got around to seeing, but I’ll definitely be checking it out soon.
Without hesitation, I would give Dead End a thumbs up. Whilst it may not be slashertastic enough to rival Friday the 13th or its brothers, there is loads here to warrant a viewing. I haven’t seen it reviewed anywhere else, so therefore it is yet another a SLASH above exclusive :)
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√√
Blood Junkie 2010
aka Rocky Trails
Directed by: Drew Rosas
Starring: Nick Sommer, Emily Treolo, Ross Bachhuber
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Over the past couple of days, I’ve watched Bloody Moon and Do You Wanna Know a Secret one after the other. Despite being similar films in terms of their genre and content, the most obvious difference between the two is one that I have highlighted previously: charm. Is Bloody Moon a better example of filmmaking than Secret? No; but at least it doesn’t have a cast full of unlikeable and egotistical cliches that we can’t relate to. Eighties slasher movies, no matter how bad that they may have been, were successful in giving us characters that we liked. There’s no bigger or better drama in cinema than hoping a hero or heroine that we’ve invested in prevails against an evil force.
Director Drew Rosas understands this and has given us a slasher movie that has stolen the keys to Dr Emmet Brown’s time-travelling DeLorean and taken us back to the category’s past glories.
Four beer loving teens decide to take a weekend’s camping trip on some secluded woodland. Due to the fact that one of them was babysitting and can’t leave her kid brother alone, they decide to take him along. During their hike through the woodland, they uncover an abandoned factory, which has various legends of a disfigured loon that dwells within. They soon begin to discover that those stories may be true.
I must confess that it’s been a while since I’ve seen a picture distributed by Troma. Whilst I have never been a fan of their love of toilet humour, they must take some credit for their part in helping to populate the slasher cycle with some good and bad additions. These include Blood Hook, The Creeper, Angel Negro and Girls School Screamers. Blood Junkie is arguably the cannon of their arsenal, which Ido mean as a compliment.
What we have here is a feature that’s hard to take a swipe at. Having seen as much DTV crap as I have over the years, it’s nice to finally get an entry where the amount of effort is so visually obvious that it radiates. Unlike The Sleeper, the eighties continuity here is OTT, but consistent. We see cassette tapes, moustaches, boob tubes and luminous tops; but what amused me the most was the Hair Metal posters that were shown on one guy’s wall. I lived through those times, listened to those tracks and it seems like light years away nowadays. The energetic score is better than any actual synthesiser accompaniment that I recall from the period and the dialogue is comical without being overtly obvious in its attempts. Each shot is planned to be more inventive than the last and the runtime becomes a livewire of creative ideas. For reasons that I can’t disclose here, Junkie is also a film that warrants a second viewing to really bring the best out of the unexpected ending.
What I thought was especially effective, was the director’s ability to change the tone successfully and with minimal effort. Time spent with the characters is campy and fun, whilst scenes that involve the killer often border on being quite creepy. His costume is a gas mask, which is anything but original, but it is ok because his motive is fairly unique. Much like a vampire, he has a taste for human blood and he knocks victims unconscious and drains them in a secluded room. This leads to an ingenious use of the aforementioned headpiece, because the nutjob inserts the protruding hose into a victim and then sucks through it to give himself a warm hemoglobin smoothie!
Despite the novelty of the blood draining part, the abduction, instead of slaughter of teens, does lead to a lack of slashing. The first couple of murders are committed off screen and it’s only later that the maniac begins to attack with brutality. There’s a gooey throat slashing that serves only to inform us of what we could have been in for had Rosas structured his antagonist’s MO more typically. The less is more approach doesn’t necessarily work in low budget slashers.
Still, Blood Junkie was a pleasure to sit through and there’s enough here to prove that Rosas is an exquisite horror filmmaker. His audacious directive style makes him something of a B-movie Wes Anderson and I am eagerly awaiting Billy Club, which should be released shortly.
At 72 minutes, Junkie could never be accused of outstaying its welcome and it’s a film that I feel deserves some of your time.
Killer Guise: √√√
Do You Wanna Know a Secret? 2001
Directed by: Thomas Bradford
Starring: Chad Allen, Jeff Conway, Jack McGee
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When I was a young dumb teenager, I remember that I fell madly in love with an older woman. I was too scared to ask her out, but we spent loads of time together and my heart used to beat like a UFC afterparty. One time we got drunk on cheap cider and in a final attempt to make her mine, I sung her the Billy J. Kramer hit, Do you wanna know a secret? Anyway, when the key line of, ‘I’m so in love with you‘ dropped I serenaded her emphatically. She smiled in a mocking way, finished the drink that I paid for and went home without batting an eyelid. I never saw her again.
I was hopeful that this overlooked genre entry, which was titled after that song, might solve some of the deep-rooted confidence issues that have haunted me since that fateful day. Perhaps my experience with those words might be a bit more enjoyable this time around and maybe, just maybe, I would be able to leave the past behind and start my life again… Weep
A year after Beth’s boyfriend is brutally hacked to death, she decides to take a weekend away with her new beau and four buddies. Almost as soon as they arrive, a masked killer turns up and begins slashing his way through them, leaving the words, Do you wanna know a secret, beside each corpse. Who could be the killer and what is the secret?
If I may, I’d like to remind you of the opening to the film, Reservoir Dogs. Instead of setting up the introduction of a protagonist in a typical fashion, we meet a whole group of characters that are sitting around a table drinking coffee. Even if no clear tone is being set by what we see, the dialogue is so intriguing and well written that we can’t take our eyes away from the screen. Now I know that it’s unfair to compare Do You Wanna Know a Secret to Quentin Tarrantino’s breakout motion picture, but I did so to underscore the importance of developmental dialogue.
Thomas Bradford’s slasher leaves us in the hands of a pack of one dimensional players for the first forty minutes and despite only finishing this last night, I can’t remember a single word or sentence that any of them said. I’ve overhead conversations on trains that are more engaging, which leaves us with a chunk of tedium that would fail to maintain the attention span of a cyborg. I often gripe about poor attempts at slapstick in horror movies, but I would probably rather that than what feels like a lifetime of nonsensical chatter between people that are absolute nobodies to us. They flirt, they dance, they argue and they pose, but they have the chemistry of strangers and the intrigue of a dishwasher.
I’d completely lost interest by the time that the killer started slashing, but to be fair, they gave him an exceptional mask, which reminded me of the Tor Johnson one from Small Town Massacre. The kill scenes are delivered in ways that eliminate the chances of suspense and there’s not much gore either. Most slasher flicks give us a unique weapon or a method of murder that makes them stand out. Secret doesn’t bother with that though and does everything in the driest way possible. We finally arrive at the build up to the conclusion and the stupidity continues as the killer murders a police chief for no apparent reason in the toilets of a jailhouse. Our Reese Witherspoon wannabe final girl witnesses this and looks on as the masked assailant drives off in a rusty pick up truck. If you were left in that same position, outside a Police station, would you a) turn around and tell an armed law enforcement officer what you’d seen or b) take off after the murderous maniac alone with no weapon? Take a guess as to what she does. This all leads to a revelation scene that has been ripped off from Embalmed and then we learn the ‘secret’, which has the impact of a dandelion.
So was there anything that impressed me? Well, the photography was energetic in places and Jack McGee and Jeff Conway did what was asked of them with the limited script. It was just that I was disappointed, because such a clearly well funded picture should have been capable of so much more. Ideas for movies don’t always work, but this one didn’t even do the basics properly. With minimal gore, unattractive females and yawn inducing plot delivery, I really couldn’t wait for the final credits to roll.
So did this assist me in my issues with rejection from so long ago? No. Instead, I went on Facebook and looked up that girl to see what she was like eighteen-years later. Six kids, twice divorced and a figure that would scare a sumo wrestler. I had a lucky escape… ;)
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √
Bloody Moon 1981
Directed by: Jesus Franco
Starring: Olivia Pascal, Christopher Moosbrugger, Nadja Gerganoff
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I always believed that the Máximo Espejo character in the brilliant romantic comedy, ¡Átame! (1989) was based on Jesús Franco. That film’s director, Pedro Almodovar, also used scenes from Bloody Moon in another of his Antonio Banderas led pictures, Matador from 1986. Does this mean that Almodovar is a fan of his fellow countryman’s work? It’s hard to say, but the amount of sleaze in Franco’s 180+ filmography makes it easy to overlook the fact that he could be a capable filmmaker when he put his mind to it.
After the success of Halloween, a German production team approached Franco to help them put together an entry strong enough to grab a share of the hottest cinema craze. Bloody Moon went on thereafter to become something of a grindhouse classic in cult circles. This was mainly due to its whacky dialogue, explicit gore and extreme nudity. After being released uncut pre-cert on VHS in the United Kingdom, it went on to join the DPP list and become a video nasty, which added to its notoriety. Much like I had done with Juan Simón’s Pieces, I wanted to go back and view it with an open mind to see what I made of it.
A group of German students head to a language school in Spain to brush up on their Español and catch a bit of sun. It becomes apparent that they are sharing the location with a disfigured murderer who has just been released from the local asylum. Girls soon begin disappearing, so could it be that Miguel has not been fully cured?
Checking out Bloody Moon after all these years, I found that I appreciated it much more than I did a decade ago when I wrote the review that you can find here. This time around, I watched it in Spanish and the dialogue is not as hilarious as the, “I love your tenderness” and “let yourself melt in my arms” slop that we got in English language prints, which helps to make it a bit less comical. Juan Soler utilises a bright palate of cinematography that brings the screen alive, but he does overuse the zoom effect too much. Screenwriter Erich Tomek pinches a lot from Halloween, including the isolation of the final girl in her knowledge that there’s a psychopath on campus. In that role, Olivia Pascal screams her way through each new scenario with a subtle vulnerability and we do genuinely want her to survive.
The mystery is clumsy in the amount of early information that it gives us, but there are still a few surprises to be had as it unravels. Franco includes a couple of tense sequences, like the claustrophobic finale, which sees Pascal’s character uncover the corpses of her chums spread around her apartment. Juan Molina’s gore effects haven’t aged well, because nowadays, we can see similar levels of goo in most DTV efforts. Still, there’s something quite unsettling about watching a young kid get mowed down by an automobile (no, really) and the famous buzzsaw murder of a promiscuous chick hasn’t lost any of it’s pitch black humour. After letting herself be tied to a table, the aforementioned bimbo quips that she’s up for anything with what she believes is a hunky Latin lover. It’s funny, because she’s expecting to get drilled (if you know what I mean) and instead, she ends up getting sawed and TOTALLY screwed!
I wrote in my notes that some elements of the extraordinary soundtrack were almost Pink Floyd-like and then I read that Franco had falsely been promised some authentic music from that band by his producers before signing on. No wonder that he later stated that he had countless problems with them and that may explain some of the outright weirdness that we come across in the story. I mean, if there were two opposing visions working on the project, then who knows what came from where.
Going back after all this time, I’m still not convinced that Bloody Moon is much more than a cheese-sleaze slice of trash. It’s enjoyable trash though, which I guess is most important. It’s a film that I feel often gets overlooked, because with the hottest collection of chicas that I can remember, some fun gore and more moments of WTF than you can shake a stick at, it deserves a lot more recognition than it currently boasts.
Bloody Moon is gleefully bad enough to be enjoyed and although it hasn’t aged as well as others, it’s still well worth re-checking.
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√√√
Rose Of Death 2007
Directed by: L. Alan Brooks
Starring: Luke Jones, Sarah McGuire, Sandra Winogrocki
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Buenos días slasher fans, my apologies that I have been away for so long, but since the last time that we spoke, I’ve moved house twice and stumbled a bit upon the work/life balance tightrope. Funnily enough the site’s visit stats during my MIA status have shot through the roof, which means one of two things: 1) You guys and girls prefer when I’m not updating a SLASH above or 2) the legion of global stalk and slash admirers is growing. I’m hopeful that it’s the second.
So here we have one that I believe not many have heard of, Rose of Death. It’s a cheapo quickie from 2007 that was included in the Tomb of Terrors 50-film DVD pack that I picked up a few years back. Much like the slashers of yesteryear it tells the tale of a group of kids that go too far with their bullying on Prom Night. A sadistic event leaves two teenagers, Rose and Kevin, dead and the wrongdoers agree a pact, never to tell anyone about what happened that fateful night.
Ten years later, the murderers attend their high school reunion, but it soon becomes apparent that someone must have worked out their secret. A masked menace and his accomplice begin killing them off one by one by the most brutal means possible. Who could be behind the killings?
For many years, Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2 held the record for the longest pre-credits sequence in cinema history. Rose of Death runs it close here with the opening slaughter of the unfortunate prom attendees. There’s a story that I guess makes sense, regarding a jilted jock ex-boyfriend who sets out to teach his geeky love rival a lesson, but accidentally murders him in cold blood. In order to cover up the grim deed, he and his buddies decide to get rid of Rose, who is the only surviving witness. This sequence is effectively brutal in its content, but it is filmed so badly that I began to lose interest after four minutes of struggling to make out what was going on.
We are plagued by the usual mind numbingly bad acting, mumbled speech and braindead dialogue, but its the lack of ilumination that’s the real issue. I noticed that some times, even during key moments, it was impossible to see anything at all. We learn later that the two corpses were put into an automobile and pushed into a lake, but if the producer invested any money in this effect, it was wasted because all that was visible was blackness. This continues throughout the runtime on every occasion that the camera heads outside into the night sky and it doesn’t take long to become frustrating.
We fast forward ten years and the plot then stumbles through the development of the guilty parties after the events of the prologue. If I had the chance, I’d ask what skin cream that they use because they haven’t aged a day. Soon enough, a gruesome twosome of killers begin to slash their way through the troupe and we get one slightly ok gore effect. As a nod to Rosemary’s Killer, they leave a freshly picked calling card at the scene of each death. The girl’s name was Rose, so they leave a bright red one.
To be fair, the momentum tightens during the second half of the story, because we are asking ourselves who the vigilantes could possibly be. The budget piggy bank must’ve been empty by the time that we get to the big revelation scene though because the whole thing is left pretty much unexplained. Without giving too much away, I was scratching my head with perhaps the most important of all questions, which is: how? Please let me know if you have any idea.
ROD has some good ideas in both it’s script and filmmaking technique, but it’s plagued by the obvious lack of funding. I liked the referencing of The Prowler and they even find the time to put in the old head in a toilet trick, which we saw in both Curtains and The House on Sorority Row. The odd flash of genre recognition is not enough to make up for the moments of ineptitude though and the film is just awkward to watch.
L. Alan Brooks’ slasher couldn’t help but bring to my mind the title of the underrated Nicolas Refn film, Only God Forgives. I feel that in this case though, even the almighty may not be quite forgiving enough…
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √
Rosemary’s Killer 1981
aka The Prowler aka The Graduation
Directed by: Joseph Zito
Starring: Vicky Dawson, Farley Granger, Laurence Tierney
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So here we have it, my favourite ever slasher movie. (I don’t include Halloween in that, because well – that’s everyone’s favourite). I found out about Rosemary’s Killer when I was at school and by the strangest possible means. My buddies and I used to have a sly cigarette in an old shed in the woods nearby to where I lived. We would always find ripped magazine pages covering the floor and as devious thirteen-year-olds, we would hope to uncover a few porno highlights amongst the mess. Anyway, one night I went there alone and as if by fate, lying in the corner was a horror fanzine in pretty good condition. I was already a huge fan of the genre and so I scurried home to study the pages in the comfort of my bedroom. There in loving colour, my eyes first met with the iconic image from one of the finest killings of the category, the swimming pool murder. You can see it to your immediate right and it is also the background of a SLASH above. I immediately began a hunt for a copy on VHS, which much like my search for Graduation Day, would continue for much longer than I’d hoped.
Now without eBay and Amazon, my method for tracking down slashers was restricted to car boot sales around the London area. I found lots of titles during my travels, including Night Screams, Nightmare (Dutch uncut copy!) Ghostkeeper, Stormbringer,One by One, The Demon, Fatal Games and Psycho Puppet. However the one that I REALLY wanted remained elusive. It started to become an obsession, but after months of trying, I finally came to the disappointing conclusion that I would probably never see the darn thing. Then through a twist of fate, I found a video-search agency that came to my aid with an almost pristine copy. The price of £30 was daylight robbery, but for me it was mission accomplished and I probably would have paid £50
Avalon Bay is getting set for the first annual dance since a young couple were viciously murdered 35 years earlier. The youngsters of the community are eagerly anticipating the event and spend the day preparing and decorating the town hall. The junior Deputy is alone for the first time as the Sheriff has gone on his annual fishing trip and stress levels are raised when it’s revealed that a wanted criminal that slashed two young females could be heading to the area. As darkness descends, it becomes apparent that there’s a maniac dressed in World War 2 army fatigues stalking the Bay. Can the Deputy muster the courage to stop him?
Rosemary’s Killer is not only one of the best examples of stalk and slash cinema from the golden era, but it’s also one of the most underrated. The movie ticks every box in terms of the relevant trappings and instead of just ticking them, in a few places it completely surpasses them. I like the World War 2 gimmick and I think that the killer’s disguise is an absolutely brilliant touch. His calling card of leaving a rose by his victims is creepily effective and there’s a great moment towards the climax where he offers it almost romantically to the final girl before attempting to ram a pitch folk through her. In 2007, a low budget entry by the name of Rose of Death attempted to mimic that calling card, but failed to add the slash with panache necessary to pay tribute to Joseph Zito’s classic.
It’s his pacey direction that sustains such an awesome amount of suspense during the first half, which works, because even when not much happens, we are kept fully aware that something could at any moment. Other parts of the film equally excel in their technicality with some beautiful photography and a focused score. I especially liked the staircase stalking sequence, which in true popcorn fashion, keeps everything tight by having the intended victim make all the wrong decisions.
Vicky Dawson makes for a classy final girl and she works well in partnership with Christopher Goutman. For relatively inexperienced performers, they carry the picture comfortably and they deliver only one or two weak moments. I thought Dawson was unfortunate not to have built a longer career in cinema, because much like Amy Steel in Friday the 13th 2, she offers a sweet and alluring naivety, but shows brave independence when left alone to face the prowler. Before the final credits rolled, my wife who was watching with me said, “tough girl” – my sentiments exactly. Farley Granger added class to the cast list, but it’s been confirmed that he had a horrible time on set and suffered some uncomfortable sweating during the make-up effects. Laurence Tierney’s on-board too, although I have no idea why, his character is barely used to much effect and was probably a waste of budget.
Tom Savini’s effects once again steal the show and there’s no denying that Killer is amongst the best of his work. We feel at times that what we are watching is almost too realistic and the swimming pool killing even includes an aftermath shot that’s uncomfortable in its authenticity. It happens as the victim’s lifeless body sinks to the tiles below and her legs begin to twitch as her nervous system comes to terms with the fact that the lights are going out for the last time. The best part of the sequence was actually a mistake from Savini, because at the same time as the gallons of blood seep from her wound, some bubbles also appear under the water (from the pipe pumping the goo). Instead of re-shooting, the effects master recommended that Zito utilise the footage as is, because the bubbles look as if they were the last gasps of the dying teenager’s breath.
It’s been noted that the plot structure is similar to the same year’s My Bloody Valentine and the two would work superbly on a double-bill. Strangely enough, what one title lacks the other boasts in abundance and if you were to mix the two together you would have the perfect slasher film. Whilst MBV also has some great kill scenes (equally as gratuitous) and a good-fun factor that adds momentum to the plot, it lacks any decent suspense. Rosemary’s Killer on the other hand is nail-bitingly tense in places, but has some serious problems with its pace.
Now I picked my favourite slasher film when I was about fourteen years old and much like my love for the Arsenal (the closest team to where I lived), I must admit that it was a ‘teenager’s decision’. Adults have the ability to analyse; step back and view the bigger picture before making a choice. Young minds do everything spontaneously and I didn’t notice the faults back then in Rosemary’s Killer that I see now. As I said, it starts superbly and comes across almost like an anxiety marathon. My Mrs and I were watching it together in silence, knowing full well that there would be a shock at any moment (And I have seen this flick a lot of times). Then after about thirty minutes the rapidity dries up and the film can’t maintain the same thrust.
It’s not necessarily the fault of Joseph Zito, but the script wastes too much time building the mystery in locations that are drab and overtly dark. Some parts could have been much shorter or removed completely during post production to make the film slicker. I especially thought that the length of time used when the Deputy was contacting the Sheriff was ridiculous and ultimately ended up being a pointless diversion.
Despite those issues, this is still one of the best entries of the golden period. It does drag a bit in the development of the plot, but the excellent kill scenes and two fantastic leads more than make up for it. Joseph Zito was widely tipped to be a future horror maestro after his work on this and Friday the 13th The Final Chapter (one of the better sequels of the series). When horror began to lose its way towards the second half of the decade, he moved over to action-orientated flicks, which didn’t give him the same chances and his career unfortunately faded.
I would say that Rosemary’s Killer, even under its superb two alias titles, is a perfect example of a solid horror director’s work. It’s also a time-capsule from the best year of the slasher genre thus far. I’ve seen it more times than I care to remember but still not once too many. Enjoy…
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Final Girl √√√√√