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 √√
Dead of Nite 2013
Directed by: S.J. Evans
Starring: Tony Todd, Joseph Millson, Cicely Tennant
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It still surprises me that since Cannibal Holocaust launched the ‘found footage’ gimmick that has been vital to horror hits like The Blair Witch Project and Rec, it hasn’t been used very often in the slasher genre. It’s strange because I can’t imagine another style of horror that would benefit more from that narrative. I remember considering posting a review of The Last Broadcast on a SLASH above, as it incorporates many of the ingredients that are commonplace amongst features on this site. In the end though, I decided that this was wishful thinking on my part as it is not, in fact, a slasher movie.
That argument cannot be levelled at today’s choice of post, Dead of Nite, which is a recent British entry to the cycle. It was released hot on the heels of Evidence – another title that utilised pre-filmed flashbacks as a structure, but chose the standard stalk and slash template as an overcoat. What is it they say about waiting ages for a bus and then two coming along at once?
A team of youngsters that run an online paranormal exploration site decide to visit the notorious Jericho mansion. It has a reputation as the most haunted place in the South East of England due to rumoured sightings of ghosts and a murderous history. They are locked in for the night to complete some research, however the next morning, most of them are found dead. All that remains are the tapes from their cameras…
To say that Nite starts badly would be one hell of an understatement. We open with Police taping off the scene of the massacre and the camerawork judders like it was being filmed by an epileptic. To make matters worse, these weren’t even scenes of found footage that could be excused due to a shaky hand. Many low budget horror films incorporate cameos from previous stars such as Kane Hodder or Robert Englund as a form of genre recognition. Here we get Candyman’s Tony Todd, but I’m not sure if you could consider his appearance to be a plus. He spends ten of his fifteen-minutes worth of screen time whispering inaudibly and then when he does raise his voice, it seems that the effort he took doing so made him totally forget that he was supposed to be ‘acting’. To be fair though, it’s not only Todd that could be accused of poor dramatics. The scenes filmed outside the mansion before the teens are locked in the abode play like a pre-school playground production of West Side Story. Someone call the drama coach, you guys have all got detention.
Anyway, when they finally bolt the doors, the screenplay goes on a self-discovery mission. If a script could suffer a midlife identity crisis, then Dead of Nite’s is in desperate need of counselling. After the obligatory shot of a full moon, the visitors decide to hold a seance. The ouija board spells out the word death and the glass flies off the table and smashes to smithereens against the wall. You could be forgiven for thinking that we have got a supernatural thriller on our hands, but after a sickle is grabbed from the wall by an ominous hand, the paranormal elements are never seen (or heard of) again. That’s not such a bad thing though, because when the slasher stuff starts, the film finally finds some credibility and delivers a few impressive chills.
Whilst Nite can be considered a ‘found footage’ film, these elements, much like the ghostly stuff I mentioned earlier, are kind of bolted on. One minute we will be watching a camcorder shot of the action and then in the next instant, we see everything through a fixed lens. Surprisingly though, this blend works extremely well in some places, like when the director cuts to isolated staircases and rooms to underline the atmosphere of solitude. After the fusebox is destroyed early in the runtime, everything is filmed in night vision and it makes the actor’s eyes illuminate like reflective motorway studs in the darkness, which was creepy. I liked the antagonist’s guise and Robin Scott Fleming delivers a decent score to help maintain the tension. The killer stalks with a traditional Michael Myers-alike strut and even if we only get a handful of murders, they are creatively delivered and fairly menacing.
Whilst there aren’t any true gore scenes and the mystery is easy to figure out, Dead of Nite has enough in its briefcase to at least deliver the odd moment that is worthy of praise. I wasn’t expecting much, but I enjoyed the few jolts and the attempt to make the stalking sequences as scary as possible. If you have seen everything else and keep what I’ve said in mind, you should check it out.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl √
Directed by: Dick Mass
Starring: Huub Stapel, Monique van de Ven, Serge-Henri Valcke
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Being that I was born in Huelva, finished my studies in Moscow and have also resided in Budapest, Przymysl, Paris and London, you could say that I’ve seen a bit of the world. If I had to chose one city though that I would put at the top of my list of fun places to go, then it’d have to be the capital of The Netherlands. I love everything about Amsterdam; – from its rich and tranquil canal based landscapes to its mind blowing cafés, you truly haven’t lived until you’ve been there. That’s why I was infinitely excited when I learned that Holland had created its own addition to my favourite cinema sub-genre – an aquatic slasher movie. You read it right; Amsterdamned manages to mix the B-movie bliss of a masked psychopath with the cultural trademarks of Europe’s most exciting location for a weekend break. Perhaps better than that is the fact that it’s actually an amster-damned good movie
It opens with a cool credit sequence that mixes some brilliant underwater photography with an eerie horror soundtrack that was provided by director Dick Maas. The shot pans along the riverbanks as a yet unidentified predator stalks its prey. It’s almost like Jaws in a canal, as we watch the camera emerge from the murky depths, scan the area and then move on to another location. Next we cut to a prostitute flagging down a taxi later that same night. After an amusing bust up with the randy driver, the hooker is left walking the back streets to find her way home. Before she even has a chance to begin her journey, a dark figure raises out of the canal and repeatedly stabs her with a large blade. The killer, leaving a streaming trail of blood behind him, then drags her corpse into the river and disappears into a mass of bubbles. The following morning, the woman is discovered hanging upside down from a bridge by a boat that’s filled with tourists.
Next up we meet Detective Eric Visser (Huub Stapel), a hard-boiled Dirty Harry-alike who is immediately put on the case of the bizarre killing. After a vital clue is found at the scene of the next slaughter, the Police seem convinced that the maniac is a diver and begin checking out all the local clubs and stores. Whilst following that lead, Eric meets Laura (Monique Van de Ven), a beautiful artist who is keen to help him crack the case. Meanwhile the body count is rising and the town mayor wants this killer caught. Can Visser track down this maniacal madman? Or will the killer find him first…?
I have no hesitation in stating that Amsterdamned is amongst the best slasher movies to be released towards the end of the eighties. Boasting a superb script (“What does she mean a big black monster with huge claws?” “I don’t know but your mother-in-law better have a good alibi!”), some stunning photography, intriguing characters and a talented director, this is truly a great advertisement for Dutch cinema. It’s not really a teen-slasher in the hackneyed Friday the 13th mould. Instead it’s best described as a slasher/murder-mystery/thriller, which makes the most of being a part of each category. It’s easy to see that Amsterdamned was extremely well financed and at times, it even manages to outshine its American brethren from the same period. How many hack and slash flicks have you seen that include a town-wide motorcycle chase AND a colossal boat pursuit in the same feature? Dick Maas did an extremely good job of making his movie stand out from the mediocrity that had engulfed the cycle this late into its rein and it gives ‘Damned a plush backbone.
Whilst it could by no means be considered a gore flick, there are enough gooey corpses floating about (literally) to keep the bloodhounds interested. It’s also competently written, which means that it’s not easy to work out the psychopath’s identity until he is unmasked at the conclusion. There’s a fairly large body count and most of the murders are carried out creatively, whilst trying to pack in as much suspense and intrigue as possible. My favourite would have to be the underwater battle between the killer and an unsuspecting Police diver. The whole scene is filmed aboard a submerged boat and the claustrophobic tension is superbly executed. Unfortunately, Amsterdamned was yet another victim of poor dubbing for international broadcast, which means that the voice-overs sound like a consignment of community drama-project dropouts. It’s impossible for me to rate the true performances of the cast because it’s this dubbed version that I saw, but I’ve heard that they’re pretty poor from the supporting actors anyway. It’d be nice to find a subtitled copy one day and check that out though
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Amsterdamned turned out to be a big surprise for me and it is wholly recommended to slasher fans across the globe. It’s extremely well financed, boasts some snappy dialogue, superb direction, a cool killer costume and even a cheesy theme tune; how can you argue with that? The boat chase alone is worth the budget purchase price. Recently we were talking about slasher movies that have unique antagonists. A killer Diver? Well I’ll be (Amster)-damned… – (And yes, I did steal the same joke twice))
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl √
Air Terjun Pengantin 2009
aka Lost Paradise – Playmates in Hell
Directed by: Rizal Mantovani
Starring: Tamara Blezinski, Marcel Chandrawinata, Tyas Mirasih
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Throughout the history of Indonesian cinema, it has mostly been dominated by imports from larger countries. When Dutch-born filmmaker L. Heuveldorp attempted to launch a domestic market in 1926 with his silent fantasy piece Loetoeng Kasaroeng, he soon realised that his attempts were futile against the popularity of larger budgeted and technically competent features from the U.S. and Hong Kong. Later in the century during the Japanese occupation, films became more of a propaganda tool and the moderate success of self-developed titles such as 1938’s Fatima was brushed under the carpet once again.
It wasn’t until the year 2000, under the Reformasi movement of the post-Suharto era that a freedom was found once again in independent filmmaking. More titles were released that covered previously censored themes of love, politics, happiness and religion. This allowed budding directors to finally approach a genre that had been highly in-demand amongst native audiences: horror. Whilst obviously not on a par in terms of special effects, the creepy and haunting Jelankung from 2001 showed a huge amount of potential. It took a further eight-years, but in 2009, Indonesia’s first attempt at a slasher movie was released called Air Terjun Pengantin, or Waterfall of the Bride.
A group of youngsters take two boats and head to a secluded island of tranquil beauty for a romantic break. On route they discuss a myth about a deranged witch doctor that lived there and was rejected by his stunning bride. Before long, it becomes apparent that a masked killer inhabits the Isle and a fight for survival ensues…
When watching Pengantin, I was reminded of a skit from the 1988 tongue in cheek slasher, Return to Horror High. It’s the part where the eccentric producer mentions that he doesn’t care about plot or depth as long as there’s enough boobs and blood to go round. Whilst there is no ‘true’ nudity exposed herein, the first twenty minutes play like an exercise in the best camera angles to reveal the female anatomy through a bikini. Now there’s not a lot wrong with that, considering the fact that the chicas were undeniably hot, but when an attempt at exploitation becomes instantly recognisable, it is in danger of falling into the realms of campiness.
Keeping that in mind and the fact that I had absolutely no idea what to expect from Rizal Mantovani’s picture, I initially felt that it may be little more than a slice of prime fondue. In the opening scene for example, our obvious final girl is shown waking up in the morning sporting exquisite lingerie with perfectly coiffed hair and make-up. Despite attempting multiple times, I have never managed to avoid looking like an alcoholic scarecrow when my alarm goes off in the AM, so I found that extremely impressive. Moments after, when we are introduced to her gang of friends, they convey a collective cheesiness that would shame the cast of Embalmed. Upon the killer’s arrival sometime later though, the tone changes dramatically and the film becomes violent, gory and slightly mean-spirited. The murders are most definitely inspired by the torture porn trend and the first one caught me totally off guard. A teenage girl is nailed to a chair and has her finger dismembered before receiving a machete through the top of her cranium. Following that, another victim is slashed across the shoulder and left to bleed to death in agonising pain.
Even though both brutality and cheese are found regularly throughout the slasher genre, the strength of one mood brought out the weakness of the other in this juxtaposition. Pengantin has some memorable characters that are placed into intimidating situations, but I was never rooting for one of them to survive. I found myself more interested that actress Tamara Bleszynski was half Polish and born in London than I did anything that she gave to the final girl role and the rest of the cast offered nothing worth remembering. I’m not sure if this was mainly down to a poor translation of the script or because the plot was so threadbare that it failed to give us a reason to be interested. The lack of any real focus on the backstory though made it come across more like a collection of sequences that had been strung together randomly. Funnily enough, I Know What You Did Last Summer was immensely popular upon its release in Indonesia and I could see that it was a source of inspiration behind the planning and delivery of this feature. It’s just a shame that screenwriter Alim Sudho didn’t follow Summer’s strongest suit, which was its smart and engaging mystery.
On the plus side, the location is outstanding in its beauty and Mantovani captures the colours of the picturesque landscape exceptionally. There’s also a great soundtrack that gives the production a truly polished feel and gore fans will enjoy some of the outlandish killings. It’s just that the film’s methodology was best demonstrated by its portrayal of its female cast members: glossy and attractive, but ultimately hollow. Last year, a sequel of kind to this was released, titled, Air Terjun Pengantin Phuket. I haven’t plucked up the courage to sit through that one yet ;)
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl √√
Left For Dead 2007
aka Devil’s Night
Directed by: Christopher Harrison
Starring: Steve Byers, Danielle Harris, Shawn Roberts
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Halloween has become far more significant than just a reason to dress up for slasher enthusiasts. After the success and legacy of the seminal film of that title, it will always be known to us as ‘The night he came home’. I first saw Carpenter’s classic on the 31st of October 1987 and I launched a SLASH above around the same date in 2011, which makes this the site’s third year on the net. Happy Birthday and all that.
As it is such a momentous day, I generally try to find a suitable slasher film to mark the occasion and this year I’ve chosen Left for Dead. Despite decent funding and a cast including scream queen Danielle Harris, Christopher Harrison’s entry has become surprisingly obscure. Not many of the leading slasher sites have bothered with it and it is hard to find a copy to buy online. It was produced with a large amount of PR and I remember reading an exciting preview in Fangoria back in 2007 before everything went quiet. It snuck out direct to Canadian TV some two-years later with much less media coverage and didn’t hit disc format right up until 2012. It’s never a good sign when that happens, so I wasn’t expecting too much.
After an unfortunate event in an early scene, which leaves a kid dead, a group of youngsters promise to keep it a secret and they get on with their lives. The next Halloween, they decide to have a fancy dress party, but it becomes apparent that someone is watching their every move…
To be fair, there are quite a few things that Left for Dead gets right. For example, the killer turns up almost immediately and once he’s on screen, there’s never a huge gap between one murder and the next. Harrison as a director is all about visuals and the majority of the first half of the movie is filled with girls with ample cleavages, cheesy fancy dress costumes and bright colours. He also tries to get the best out of his (admittedly below average) cast, especially when they’re speaking one on one. There’s a good example of this in an early scene where Danielle Harris and her boyfriend, played by Steve Byers, converse. Whilst it’s impossible to say how much of this was down to the creativity of the actors, the scene is nicely set-up and convincingly portrayed. Little things like this are important to see in a feature film and even if you don’t notice them initially, subconsciously you will.
Another thing worth mentioning is that there’s no doubt that Harrison is a fan of the slasher genre and eagle-eyed viewers will notice many tributes to titles like Maniac (the shotgun through windscreen murder), Fatal Games (victim on crutches), Friday the 13th Part II (spear through lovemaking couple) and Halloween. Oh yes, he’s a fan of Halloween alright; so much so in fact that he duplicated entire sequences… And the score. I don’t have a problem with this though, because it is fun playing the recognition game and makes you feel all wise and knowledgeable on the genre. The only issue though is that it seems that the director was more interested in showing us his inspirations than concentrating on making a credible entry that future pictures could reference themselves.
I have complained previously about overlong character development, but Left for Dead doesn’t seem to have much at all. Most of the time I couldn’t recognise one person from the next and once we had defined the main players, we really didn’t get any backdrop on the others. Not only did this mean that we couldn’t care less about what happened to them, but it had a devastating effect on the mystery. When the culprit is finally revealed, it was like, who was that again? Did I miss something? Erm… Ok…
Still there’s a fair few murders and despite a disappointing lack of gore or suspense, it’s worth watching for the most part. A missed opportunity to be sure, but it’s at least worth a look.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl √
Billy Club 2013
Directed by: Drew Rosas and Nick Sommer
Starring: Marshall Caswell, Erin Hammond, Nick Sommer
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I don’t remember the last time that I’ve anticipated a slasher movie quite as much as I have Billy Club. To be fair though, it’s logical as to why I’m feeling this way. It’s from Drew Rosas and Nick Sommer, the creators of Blood Junkie, which was one of the best genre entries of the past decade. Junkie achieved the admirable feat of mixing campy SOV wit with a smart synopsis and it was shot with an ambitious pizzazz. It’s also worth noting that it’s not just a SLASH above that have been counting the days for the release of this one either. Horror forums, sites and critics across the world have been extremely vocal in their support for the project and I haven’t seen quite this kind of buzz since the 3D remake of My Bloody Valentine was rumoured.
With Billy Club, Rosas and Sommer have approached a theme that really needs a credible entry, – ‘the sports slasher’ – and their choice of sport is baseball. We’ve been here before of course in 1998 with The Catcher, but the fact that my one-star review of the film is the most positive that can be found on the net, should tell you all you need to know about its quality. Another title, Sawed from 2004 also included a psychopath with a b-ball bat, but aside from the weapon, it offered little else to be considered as a comparison. There was still a gap in the market for an addition that could stand the test of time due to such a unique and popular subject matter. Add on top of that the fact that it is based around Halloween and all the elements were there for a real slasher treat.
A guy travels back to his town of birth to meet up with his former teammates from his school baseball team. Things haven’t been the same for them since a kid that they used to know went mad and killed his coach in cold blood. Upon his return, it seems that he has stirred the wrath of the psychopath and before long he’s fighting to protect not only his own life, but also that of his hi-school sweetheart…
The second major motion picture after a successful debut for a filmmaker is always the hardest to produce. Despite the experience and critical praise that has been received, there’s a lot more pressure to improve upon what was done previously and it’s tougher to build the same level of motivation. I remember when Donnie Darko was released all those years ago, I waited patiently for Richard Kelly’s follow up. When Southland Tales hit screens five-years later, there was no sign of that same spark. I’m happy to say that this is by no means the case with Billy Club and in fact, it’s the total opposite. What we have here is a pitch perfect slasher movie and instead of being strong in just the odd area, the crew have delivered the complete package
As is common in these pictures, the bogeyman’s motive is linked to an incident from the key characters’ childhood. Instead of following the typical Halloween/Prom Night methodology of showing you this event at the outset, it is unravelled in glimpses as the plot gathers momentum. This authentic approach works wonders in sustaining the mystery and it also builds an underscore of tension that doesn’t waiver all the way through. I consider myself amongst the best at guessing the identity of a masked maniac in whodunits, but in honesty, this one had me stumped until the revelation scene. I’d like to be able to state that I was cheated by the screenplay, but I wasn’t; I’d been outsmarted at every turn. It also helps that we are given personalities that grow on us as the story unfolds and the performances are strong enough for us to develop bonds with the cast members. I was especially impressed with Marshall Caswell’s turn as the male protagonist and he looks to be a fine actor that can handle numerous emotional levels. I can’t believe that this was his first full feature
Blood Junkie was marketed as a horror comedy and it did have a number of scenes that were highly amusing. Club’s humour is far more subdued, but when it strikes, it’s handled with care. There’s a hilarious skit in the mid-section that sees a youngster accidentally consume a large amount of shrooms and the directors utilise colours and camera trickery to portray the effects of his hallucinations. In my review of Intruder, I highlighted Spiegel’s energetic photography as highly addictive and entertaining. Well there are examples of the same panache here and it works perfectly to set the tone. When the killer turns up, he does so with menace and his guise (a modified umpire mask and lumberjack get-up) recalls the best backwoods loons. In time honoured slasher tradition, he crosses faces from a team-photo, however this time it’s done with a blow torch that’s also used to stamp the victims with their shirt number post-mortem. You’d expect a film so ripe in so many places to be equally as gory and we are treated to some outrageous kill scenes. These do aim more for realism than extremity though and I believe that suits the film’s set-up perfectly. Whilst the chase sequences are suspenseful and the bogeyman does have that hulking Jason Voorhees-like frame, the best chills for me came from the discovery of the killer’s lair and the childlike score that accompanied it. I found these moments to exude an adept aura of creepiness.
I recently went to see Fincher’s Gone Girl at the cinema and about halfway through, I got that exquisite feeling that comes only when you’re watching a great film. It’s best described as the dropping of your critical guard and just letting the filmmaker’s takeover because you are secure in the knowledge that these guys know what they’re doing. I had that same impulse whilst sitting through Billy Club and I honestly can’t give it any higher praise than that. It makes a change to see a movie that lived up to it’s potential and I was over the moon that it did so. Let’s work together to make it the success that it deserves to be and then we can remain in hope that Rosas and Sommer give us another slasher movie sooner rather than later. Club has already picked up three awards prior to its release and I’m confident that it will receive more after November the 4th. Pre-order your copy without delay.
I had always predicted that it would take a big budget hit to bring back the slasher genre. Movies like Billy Club are making me think otherwise.
- Drew Rosas and Nick Sommer have given me some T-Shirts to give away to lucky readers to follow the November the 4th launch. All you have to do to is answer the questions here and you will be in the mix to receive one. Check back on Halloween for the link :)
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl √√√
Directed by: Steve Sessions
Starring: Suzi Lorraine, Tom Stedham, Ted Alderman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
We have seen the title ‘Torment’ pop up a few times in obscure horror titles over the past thirty years. These include a film from 1985 that is often touted as a slasher, but is more of a serial killer flick and a British entry from 2009 that traipsed the ‘revenge of the bullied herd’ route. This quickie from director Steve Sessions is most definitely the truest stalk and slash flick of them all and it has also become something of a rarity
It was made for $5,000 over five-days in 2007 and was picked up for release the following year. Director Sessions already had a couple of horror movies under his belt and has become fairly popular amongst fans of micro-budget movies. He chose a clown as his antagonist and as I have said previously, motion pictures with killer clowns in them are rarely any good, so he had a real chance to make a statement with this, his sixth picture.
A young women is released from an institution by psychiatrists that believe she can adapt back to society as long as she’s taken care of. Her husband whisks her off to a remote house in the forest where the two of them can be alone and rekindle their romance. As soon as she arrives though, she sees an ominous stranger dressed as s clown from the window and attempts to convince her partner that they are unsafe.
I had promised actor and a SLASH abover Jade LaFont, who plays a small part in this picture, that I would review this film over a year ago. Unfortunately, I never got round to doing so until he reminded me on the site’s Facebook page a few weeks ago. I’m glad that he did, because Torment is an interesting addition to the genre and it is unlike any other that I’ve seen recently, which is meant both as a swipe and a compliment. It seems that the plan here was to roll out a stalk and slasher with a psychological slant and this novel approach is intriguing and unique. Session’s screenplay is all about delivering an atmosphere; and it mixes three styles from popular sub-genres. Whilst the murders are those that you’ll usually see in torture-porn films, the bogeyman is pure stalk and slash and they are both wrapped together in a synopsis that leans toward the Identity/The Ward style of thriller.
I browsed through some other reviews of the picture and found that they all mentioned one specific aspect. You see, Sessions includes early scenes that portray that Suzi, our heroine, is suffering delusional visions because of her illness/medicine. However instead of building the mystery around whether the killer is real or just a figment of her imagination, we are shown him committing external killings that prove that the threat is indeed genuine. Although those critics considered this to close the door on the most obvious slice of ‘is he or isn’t he’ tension, personally, I feel that it opened many others that manifested themselves as the story rolled on to its surreal conclusion. We are offered no backstory or motive for our psychopathic jester, which gives him a Myers-alike chilling aura that makes him all the more terrifying and adds to the ambiguity. We also get some impressive suspense scenarios in the later stages and one jump-scare that is truly outstanding. I especially enjoyed the use of specific sounds – or therefore a smart lack of – to make the deaths all the more authentic and the score is neatly composed.
Despite so much positivity, the film does have a number of flaws. Far too much time is spent within dialogue scenes between the husband and wife that are long-winded and fail to add anything to the plot. There’s a sequence inside a car in the first twenty-minutes that is so badly edited and conveyed that it almost becomes nonsensical and frustrating. Even more so when it’s obvious to viewers that this could have been filmed in a different location and would have worked much more efficiently. Another weak part is that three people are brutally tortured, but don’t let out so much as a loud whimper, let alone a blood curdling scream. I have learned that this is because the director was filming in a upstate neighbourhood and didn’t want to alert the authorities, but if I hadn’t had been told this, it would have left me highly critical of what looks like obvious ineptitude. In reality victims can at times be too scared or stunned by a state of shock to yell when pain is inflicted upon them. Film fans are used to hearing the cries of the prey in horror films though, and so they are unlikely to over analyse and excuse the lack of audible reaction seen herein.
Bluntly, Torment should not be as obscure as it has become. It is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it tries hard to deliver something authentic and that in itself deserves praise. There are not many slasher movies that don’t have some of the elements that were implemented by Halloween, but you could count on one hand the amount that capture Michael Myers’ chilling aura of menace. Tyler Tharpe’s Freak from 1996 was a fine example of an enigmatic antagonist and now we have another. If a movie of this genre manages to build tension and keep you guessing, it’s doing something right.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl √√√
Halloween II 1981
Directed by: Rick Rosenthal
Starring: Jamie Leigh Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It was always going to be tough to follow up one of the greatest horror films of all time, no matter how good a filmmaker took the task. Halloween had been a magnificent success across global markets, which meant that there was still power in the brand and intense pressure to put together a continuation. John Carpenter passed up the opportunity to direct a second time around, because he felt that a new vision would bring more ideas to the production. The job was handed to relative unknown, Rick Rosenthal, who showed the most positivity when auditioning. Carpenter stayed on as producer and also wrote the screenplay, which proves that he wasn’t ready to completely hand over the reins.
Since 1978, Terror Train, Prom Night and Friday the 13th had come the closest financially to matching Carpenter’s classic, but none of them had received the same respect from critics or audiences. Michael Myers was still the most fiercely terrifying antagonist to stalk and slash his way through the silver screen and there was little doubt that another entry to the series would be hugely popular amongst the buzzing horror crowd. In the end though, Rosenthal’s follow up failed to capture the enigma of its predecessor, despite a strong showing at box offices. It is not uncommon in cinema for a sequel to be weaker, but perhaps on this occasion it was due to the sheer weight of expectation. I decided to review Halloween II as if it were a stand-alone feature and ignore, where possible, connections to Carpenter’s classic. I was hopeful that this would allow me to overcome the disappointment that I have carried since first watching it almost eighteen-years ago.
After the events of the last movie, Laurie Strode is rushed to the hospital, leaving Dr. Sam Loomis to hunt the streets for Michael Myers. Myers however is out to locate Laurie no matter the cost and another battle for survival ensues…
Rosenthal’s slasher starts with an explosion of energy. The camera floats around the action to create the impression that we could actually be at the location watching it unfold. There’s a subtle buzz of tension to each and every scene of the initial manhunt and I was over the moon to be back amongst the Haddonfield streets that I know and love. Donald Pleasance, whose performance was vital the first time out, hams his way through some superb dialogue and lines like, “You don’t know what death is” really bring the opening to life. After a while, we transfer to the local hospital, which becomes the main backdrop for the rest of the runtime. As more characters are introduced, the pace drops a bit and it’s left up to Carpenter’s rehash of his notorious score to keep the chills pulsating.
It’s in the mid-section that Rick Rosenthal shows what differentiates him from Carpenter. There are various attempts at shocks (most notably an awful false cat scare), but they feel far more laboured than they have when seen in other places. Carpenter himself had seen the effect that his seminal picture had made upon movie trends and was aware that imitators were using more visceral ways to clip young victims. He later went back and shot gore scenes, which he added to the murders after the shoot and Rosenthal blamed those for ‘disrupting the film’s momentum’. Whilst this underlines my feelings that Carpenter wasn’t fully prepared to let go of his baby, it’s somewhat harsh of Rosenthal to highlight this as a cause for the diluted fear factor. With that said, he did at least pull off one or two credible set pieces and the build up to the ‘hot tub’ murder is perfect in its delivery.
The director does save the best for last and when Michael finally discovers Laurie Strode, the simmering apprehension comes to an almighty boil. Due to her injuries and the painkillers that she’s been given, Strode is even less battle-ready than she was last time around. There’s suspense delivered in a superb chase sequence through a basement and Jamie Leigh Curtis is at her scream queen best for these moments. I still don’t feel comfortable with the revelation that she’s Michael’s sister, but I guess that John Carpenter was taking something back from the countless titles that had taken from him. Family connections had been key in most slashers that followed in the wake of Halloween (Prom Night, Friday the 13th, Bloody Moon etc) and I’m sure that this was something that he had noted.
I liked the way that that they finally ‘stopped’ the bogeyman and it feels like the story had come full circle. The shot of him emerging from the flames reminded me just how much even a great film like The Terminator had been inspired by these movies (including the duplicate of that scene, antagonist POV shots, the way Arnie sits up, the have sex and die rule etc). It’s interesting that very few critics notice this.
Was Halloween a movie that needed a sequel? Quite frankly, no; but taken as a stand alone, this is a SLASH above many others. In the years that followed, Rosenthal had one good movie left in him, Bad Boys with Sean Penn, but he never found the breaks thereafter. Whether he was the right choice here is all up for debate, but I must admit that I preferred his TV ‘director’s cut’ of the two available versions.
After watching with a mind clear of comparisons, I can comfortably state that Halloween II is an extremely good slasher film. Rosenthal’s gimmicks, like the cuts to the CCTV footage of Michael stalking, are a nice addition and aside from an uneven pace, there’s really not much here to criticise.
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Final Girl √√√√√
Burlesque Massacre 2011
Directed by: Tim Whitfield
Starring: Crystal Swarovski, Olivia Bellafontaine, Polly Peabody
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Tim Whitfield is another of those self-financing underground directors that has built up a catalogue of horror films on low budgets and released and distributed them through his own company, Timberwolf West Entertainment. Back in 2002, he produced a slasher movie called Summer’s End: The Legend of Samhain, which added a supernatural sheen to the standard masked killer vs teen template. It was extremely low budget, but it played true to its eighties heritage and delivered a high quota of boobs and blood. I have it in Spain amongst my other VHS cassettes and will no doubt review it in the future.
Over ten years later, Whitfield returned to the genre with Burlesque Massacre, a title that he has said pays homage to the sleaze-ridden entries from the seventies. It’s available to buy from his website and you can also get a copy on Amazon at an agreeable price.
After a creepy black and white intro that shows a naked chick getting drowned in a bath, we meet a group of low level strippers at a dance club. They’re planning to take a break for a weekend at the abode of one of their friend’s with a couple of days to practice before their next gig. Unfortunately for them, it seems that they’re sharing the house with a pair of vicious killers that plan to slaughter them all.
First things first, Burlesque Massacre is a huge improvement on Samhain in terms of production quality. The photography is crystal clear and beautifully plush, which gives the movie an extremely polished look. Whitfield incorporates various shades to his colour palette that include sepia for the recollection footage and grainy borders to reference the 70s Grindhouse inspirations. He’s also invested in a stylish soundtrack that is competently mixed and works wonders in the opening twenty-minutes to vitalise the tone. We hear a melodic piano composition at one point that is so unique and operatic that it really gives the runtime a gloss of professionalism that hides the moderate budget.
Burlesque doesn’t dwindle in the delivery of its subject matter and we see three murders and two full frontal nudity shots in the first fifteen minutes. I don’t recall any lengthy periods where someone isn’t about to get slaughtered and Whitfield shows an awareness that slashers often get tedious when the maniac is not on the screen. There is little chance of that happening though because there is a tag team of psychopaths at work, and they notch up an impressive number of corpses between them as the story unravels. The main bogeyman has a skull-mask and hulking frame and despite the film not being overtly gory with what it displays, the killings are gruesome due to their remorselessness.
I’m not giving away anything by revealing the crux of the plot, because Burlesque is not a whodunit. Our villains are a brother and sister who have grown into a incestuous relationship due to the abuse of their father. We are shown numerous scenes where they get it on (sometimes around corpses) and this ups the sleaze factor to the maximum. They plan to murder all of the strippers and then take off somewhere so that they can be together and open a dance school, but we never really learn how they plan to cover their tracks. It does seem that their murderous mission is the crux of the synopsis, because none of the other girls step up to take on the protagonist mantle. Usually this is the kind of thing that is likely to ruin similar features, but Burlesque moves so quickly and is so packed to the rafters with action that I barely got time to notice what was lacking.
This is at heart another title like Porn Shoot Massacre or Strip Club Slasher that aims to be as perverted as possible to attract the T&A type of audience. I have mentioned previously that slasher movies that go with the softcore approach are not my bag and if I must be honest, my stance hasn’t changed. The incest scenes were OTT and disturbing and went a bit too far for my tastes. I like my slashers to be cheesy and scary, but I don’t need to see so much nudity and exploitation. Still, I can openly admit that this is down to my personal preference and if screaming hookers in their skin suits rocks your boat then that’s fine by me.
Whilst not really being the kind of entry that I usually enjoy, I must admit that there’s loads for others to like about Burlesque Massacre. It’s a gritty take on the slasher template that has moments of creepiness, bundles of murders and an overall flair for unpredictability. Stalk and slash flicks are meant to be fun and Whitfield deserves credit for avoiding the flaws that destroy so many of his brethren. By avoiding the typical mystery aspect, giving us a twosome of maniacs and keeping with its aura of sadism, its actually fairly authentic.
I say check it out…
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl √