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 √
The Pool 2000
Directed by: Boris Von Sychowski
Starring: Kristen Miller, Isla Fischer, Paul Grasshoff
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
After watching and thoroughly enjoying Anatomy a couple of weeks back, I thought that I’d check out another of Germany’s post-Scream additions to the slasher genre. The Pool didn’t make as big a splash as Stefan Ruzowitzky’s entry when it hit shelves, but it did tick a box that I’d dreamed of since I was a youngster.
You see, I remember visiting a Swimming complex in London when I was growing up called Fantaseas. It was a huge water park that had American-style flumes, countless wave-based gimmicks and a mixed-sex changing room, which was enough motivation for a youngster like me to hope to pick up some chicas. It was only open for a short while until a few serious accidents caused its sudden closure. One of those was a gruesome fatality that launched a tirade of bad press and the rumour that the site was haunted. With this in mind, a group of friends and I climbed through an air vent one night to see if we could discover any paranormal activity. Whilst we didn’t come across any ghosts or sentient beings, the sight of the dilapidated complex in spooky solitude is an image that’s stayed with me to this day.
I always felt that if I were to make a horror film, I would chose a similar backdrop to that which had effected me so much back then, but Boris von Sychowski beat me to it. I just hoped that he would make the most of what there was to offer.
A group of youngsters decide to celebrate their graduation by throwing a party inside a swimming complex. Little do they know that one of their number is looking to slash rather than splash…
Even though Pool was a German production, the cast is made up of various nationalities and a lot of the exteriors were filmed in one of my favourite cities, Prague. The mix of actors does create an interesting blend of accents, but unlike the aforementioned Anatomy, the crew decided to utilise English as the main language to make the movie easier to market globally. There are some faces that you may have seen in other pictures since this hit shelves, but the most recognisable is a young Isla Fischer who has carved out a steady career in cinema since.
Back in the early noughties, slasher films were still making a tidy profit and it’s visible that The Pool is extremely well financed to capitalise on that. Von Sychowski directs with a vibrant panache and plans every shot extremely well. He chooses a blue-ish tinge to shoot the action and it complements the film’s aquatic nature. I was hoping to see the water park backdrop utilised as much as possible and some memorable set pieces are created because they do just that. We get a kill scene that has become notorious and it sees a young bunny get sliced in half after sliding down a flume on to a strategically placed blade. It brought back memories of all those urban legends about razors in watershoots and its one that’ll make female viewers flinch. An impressive number of partying teenagers are dispatched via the killer’s signature machete, but perhaps because the producers were hoping not to suffer censorship issues, there’s very little gore on display.
There was another sequence that I thought was credible, which saw a group of teenagers stalked inside an air vent. It worked well due to the obvious claustrophobia and the fact that the victims had no real method of defence. What it lacked though, and it’s something that I felt really let the movie down, was the right amount of suspense. Make no mistake about it; The Pool is a fine advertisement for the slasher genre. It’s got some hilarious dialogue, a decent soundtrack, beautiful cast members and it knows how to have some fun. The only thing that was really missing was the slice of tension that can turn a good film into a great one and it had an effect on my idea of a rating. I don’t recall many moments when I felt that I didn’t know what was coming next and because there were no shocks or genuine scares, it made things feel somewhat diluted. Chuck on top of that a poorly handled mystery and a pointless subplot with a detective that looks like Roy Cropper and the film loses a chunk of its polish.
The Pool tries its darndest to follow the Scream methodology, (the opening sequence is almost identical) and I guess that it succeeds, because if you really like Craven’s picture, you’ll most definitely enjoy this. It’s a slick slasher movie that ticks the right boxes, but the only disappointment is that it doesn’t go for the jugular.Funnily enough one character even says, I know what you did last summer just to prove the Williamson inspiration
Looking at the fate that befell Cherry Falls when it was cut to smithereens, it’s easy to see why The Pool played it safe and didn’t go all out for the gore-filled approach. Unfortunately it left a movie that has all the gloss, but not enough grit. Me, well I prefer them gritty…
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√
Memorial Day Killer 1999
Directed by: Christopher Alender
Starring: Marcos Gabriel, Therese Fretwell, Andrew Williams
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Slasher films have always been notorious for their low production budgets, but the aftermath of the success of Wes Craven’s Scream saw huge growth in the output of such titles. The introduction of digital equipment made it easier for up and coming filmmakers to develop features and they were picked up relatively cheaply for global consumption. Films like Camp Blood, Granny, Head Cheerleader Dead Cheerleader and Dead 7 were a common sight in rental stores around the turn of the millennium and the lack of expenditure that was put into them meant that they usually always turned a tidy profit for distributors.
Memorial Day Killer is one that I came across back then, but never got round to watching. I think this was mainly due to there being so many new additions coming out that this one ended up at the bottom of a pile in my bedroom where it was forgotten. It was only recently when I was discussing 1988’s Memorial Valley Massacre with one of my readers here that I remembered that it even existed.
A group of youngsters head off into the woodland for the Memorial Day weekend. It’s been three-years since Rachel’s younger brother drowned in the local lake and this is the first time that she’s been able to return. Before long a masked killer begins to slice his way through the crew…
You could best describe MDK as the slasher movie equivalent of a two-star hotel. You get a bed to sleep in and a sink to wash your hands, but you have to share the bathroom and the breakfast is little more than value cornflakes and UHT milk. Oh and let’s not talk about the towels… Yuk! I say this because the visuals here are extremely foggy and Christopher Alender shoots everything flatly and with little invention. The characters are badly constructed and poorly portrayed, which makes them one dimensional and forgettable. There was a funny example of this where one soon-to-be-victim pleads for her life with the enthusiasm of a slice of dry bread. She was crawling along on a death trap that was laden with deadly razor blades, but looked about as bothered as if someone had just disturbed her from a snooze… Well maybe they had. There’s nothing in the screenplay to differentiate one face from another and the dialogue just feels recycled and irrelevant. I was impressed that the filmmakers included the old ‘campfire scary story’ chestnut, but it was leisurely replicated and mundane. We get little time to build any kind of relationship with the cast members and the first half of the runtime is spent waiting for the maniac to hurry up and get to work.
In the opening scene, we see an unattractive couple get murdered and there’s a part of this sequence that I thought was hilarious. After the boyfriend gets offed when he goes out to his car to grab a condom, the killer enters the house to take care of the female. She doesn’t realise that the masked nut-job is not her lover and so he blindfolds her from behind and goes on to re-enact Mickey Rourke from Nine 1/2 Weeks. Quite what the director had in mind when he got his bogeyman to erotically feed diced strawberries to the girl that he was about to kill is beyond me, but it was an amusing slice of WTF madness.
The threadbare locations emphasise the obvious lack of budget and the score may well have been one of those that you can buy online for $50. To be honest, by the twenty-five-minute mark I was ready to cast off Memorial Day Killer as absolute tosh, but there were a few things that I feel partially redeemed it before the final credits rolled. You see, it’s tough to make a great movie on peanuts, but trying your hardest is something that pays dividends. Whilst there’s a load here that is easy to mock, Alender does at least attempt to go the extra mile in places to give his movie a sharper suit.
The murders for example are extremely creative and there’s a lot of thought that has been put into how they’re conveyed. It would have been easy to give the killer a machete and gone with the usual sliced throat effect, but instead each slaughter is one that we don’t see very often and they’re extremely imaginative, albeit gore free. We are also given a twist that may not be exactly logical, but at least I didn’t see it coming. Some may consider it as bolted on, but it did at least spice up the story.
All in all, Memorial never really escapes its penny sweet budget (was the killer’s mask cardboard?), but it tries hard to pay tribute to Friday the 13th as much as possible and with a decent dose of creativity to boot. Whilst I concur that it’s still not one that you should go out of your way for, it’ll do the job if you’re hard up. Hey, like a Two-Star hotel…
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√
Don’t Go In The Woods 1981
Directed by: James Bryan
Starring: Jack McClelland, Mary Gail Artz, James P. Hayden
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Picking out the crème de la crème of the stalk and slash genre is a task that’s only too easy. Ask nine out of ten fans for their opinions on who’s the king bogeyman, and I’m betting that they’ll all reply, without pause for a breath: Michael Myers, Halloween. You may get the odd individuals that’ll pipe up with their love for Scream or Friday the 13th, but more often than not, it’ll be John Carpenter that rightly snatches the glory for his long-standing seminal masterpiece. A much tougher task on the other hand is attempting to root out the category’s biggest toads, simply because, there’s just so many of them. For every one half-decent attempt at rehashing the formula, there are twenty or more total turkeys, which makes the mission to save Private Ryan look simple compared to hunting out the undisputed crapola champion. If there were ever a poll to seek out the lowest of the low in psycho-killer entertainment, then I can guarantee, without a shadow of a doubt in my mind, that Don’t go in the woods would be there gleaming amongst the top five.
Woods is a true, true travesty of a movie that sinks the tonal depths in just about every way shape and form that a motion picture possibly can. Everything from the torch with low-batteries worthy lighting to the woefully irritating score – which sounds like it was composed by a drunken moggy running across the keys of his owner’s Bontempi – puts this rancid beast on a new level of shameful amateurism.
Certainly the most bizarre slice of trivia that has allowed this to gain the smallest level of cinematic notoriety is the fact that it was banned in the United Kingdom. Along with the bland, but not quite as atrocious Delirium, this is yet another video-nasty that leaves you questioning the astoundingly stringent decisions of UK censorship during the early eighties. Perhaps it was all just an ingenious marketing ploy to allow copies of this junk to sell for nonsensical prices on e-bay in years to come? (The other day I saw one up for £30!) I don’t know for sure, but either way, it doesn’t deserve the cult-classic accolade it has achieved since it was considered a tad too extreme by some numbskull left-wing Guardian reader.
It kicks off with shaky shots of some beautiful woodland. A young woman comes sprinting from out of the trees, closely pursued by jerky steadi-cam. She trips over, screams, and just when you think she’s about to get splattered – the screen jumps like a kangaroo on a hot plate. At first I thought that I may have been watching a heavily censored print, I mean this was 1982 and the video-nasty prohibition was just about to kick-off all over the world. I took the liberty of asking JA Kerswell from the kingdom of slasher knowledge – Hysteria Lives – if there was an uncut copy floating around. He told me that this was the only version that he knew of, and simply to put the erratic skipping down to cack-handed editing. In fact, he told me to put the whole movie down to bad editing, but I guess that we’re jumping the gun a little by saying that this early in the review. (Though I must admit, he does have a point.) Cut to a bird watcher loitering in the same area (presumably). He’s only on screen for ten seconds tops, and then the still unseen maniac turns up and offers him a life-long disability permit by gorily yanking off his hokey arm, which looks like it was moulded with paper-mâché.
Finally we get to meet four characters that aren’t only there to be butchered (just yet). There’s Craig, who infuriatingly keeps lecturing everyone on the dangers of strolling through the woodland. It’s a characteristic that grates throughout the runtime, until he bumps into Mr. nut-job a lot later than we’d really have liked him too. Suffice to say that his woodland experiences didn’t prepare him for that particular endeavour. The second male along for the ride is Peter, the brash rebellious guy, who’s full of piss and vinegar right through to the film’s ridiculous climax. They’ve also brought along their two girlfriends, but they’re both so flat that I really can’t be bothered to think up a description. The only thing that I will say is that one of them looks alarmingly like Richard Cunningham from Happy Days, even sporting a ginger ‘flat top’ side-parting. Anyway things plod along at the pace of an autistic tortoise, as we cut between the four nincompoops enjoying all that nature has to offer, and various no-hopers getting splattered by the psycho, who looks like a cross between a caveman and a hippy. Don’t go in the Woods’ only claim to any originality comes when Peter decides enough is enough, and heads out into the trees to track down and get revenge on the killer. Ho-hum indeed…
Funnily enough, the film was released this side of the ocean as Don’t go in the woods Alone, which would’ve been a catchy little title if it wasn’t so profoundly riddled with irony. You see, when the ‘hero’ does eventually jog off into the forest on his lonesome, not only does he manage to emerge with his limbs intact, but he also ends up defeating the maniac. Perhaps a more suitable title would have been Don’t go in the Woods in a Wheelchair, because one unfortunate friend of the director spends a tiresome ten minutes struggling to get to the top of a rocky hill in his. When he finally does reach the peak, the loony proves that he’s a nasty piece of work by showing us that he has no compassion for those with disabilities – Tsk! We never find out why this particular victim decided to take his wheelchair into the uneven grounding of a forest of all places, but to be honest, character development wasn’t brimming from the screenwriter’s mind when it came to padding out these 82 minutes with body count material. Characters are manufactured only for the slaughter, and if they do get a small snippet of dialogue, then it’s usually so inane that they themselves look puzzled as they struggle desperately to convince. Take for example the two newly-weds (so it says on the cover), who provide the only real quality cheesy giggle. It seems that the guy’s unfortunate enough to be called Dick, and his fledgling missus makes the best comical use of his name, by goofing things like, ‘Oh Dick, oh Dick…It’s just that my head isn’t in the right place Dick.’ (Make what you want of the last bit) Anyway Dick and Cherry (no, really) won’t be celebrating any anniversaries in the near future, they too were cast only as soon-to-be deadites.
Every review that I’ve ever read on this dollop of dung, refers to the theme song that plays over the end credits, which means it’d be pretty un-original of me to do exactly the same thing. But after hearing it, I can appreciate an author’s keenness to quote the lyrics word for word. God bless composer H. Kingsley Thurber is all that I can say, his ‘remarkable’ nursery rhyme re-imaging is one of the funniest things that I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. This being a ‘video-nasty’, you’d expect to find gore to rival the bloodiest Fulci or sexual nudity straight from Debbie does Dallas. But no luck in that department either, every character keeps their blouses buttoned, and the first Friday the 13th was bloodier, which cancels any gore hounds delight, because that got released on a stringent eighteen certificate.
Don’t go in the Woods is truly a work of utter incompetence that can only be rivalled by crap like Movie House Massacre in the shoddy film-making department. One character summed up her movie-making experience perfectly as she trundled through the woodland on the long winding path to film obscurity. Discussing the enviroment at that particular moment, she blurted out something along the lines of, ‘what a stink, yuk – it’s rancid!’ What she could never have predicted is that not even a truly polished cinema critique could have given a more accurate description of what she was partaking in. If you’re still one of the insane few that bids tirelessly on eBay to own an original copy of this stinker, then please do yourself a favour and save yourself the pain. This is one of the many cases when the bidding is the most fun that you’ll ever get if you win. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √
Killer Campout 2005
Directed by: Victor Franko
Starring: Jillian Swanson, Anthony Goes, Patrick Hickey,
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This is another total obscurity that I received in the post a few years back, but I’ve never got around to actually watching. I’ve been trying to review Camp Blood for a SLASH above since the start of the year, but I can’t locate my copy anywhere. Desperate to post a newish killer in the woods flick for y’all, I thought that I’d finally take the plunge and give this a viewing. Killer Campout is budget filmmaking at the lowest possible level, so there’s little more in terms of production value than a camcorder and an industrial sized container of corn syrup. I know that doesn’t sound like the most attractive prospect, but if I’m going to cover the entire genre, then I’ll have to sit through some of these from time to time.
It came from Victor D’Agostino (under the pseudonym Victor Franko) who had been working as an extra and picking up experience around the film industry since 2002. Amongst other things, he had assisted B-Movie director Jay Woelfel on the production of both Ghost Lake and Demonicus before finally getting the funds together to make his own slasher extravaganza three-years later. He hired locals and buddies to fill up the cast list and filmed it at a site that he knew extremely well.
Seven kids head off on a camping trip into some secluded woodland to smoke pot and make-out for a weekend. The forest is host to an urban legend of a monster of some kind that kills invaders of his domain. Before long, they soon discover this to be true, as a burlap sack sporting maniac begins to slash his way through them.
It would be foolish to have high expectations for a movie that cost $500 to produce, but prepare to be shocked señoras y señores, because Killer Campout is a real gem for the money that was put into it. What we have here is a tribute to Friday the 13th that pays homage in the best possible way and offers much more of a knowing nod than the likes of Blood Reaper or Day of the Ax managed. The killer looks splendid in a black burlap sack and traditional Killer in the Woods lumberjack get-up and he stalks with the kind of physically imposing frame that made Jason so memorable. D’Agostino didn’t have the budget to cast someone to play the maniac, so instead he performed the role himself. He really gave life to the hulking slayer, which may well have been due to his previous acting experience. A fine example of this is during the pulsating chase sequence in the closing minutes, where the final girl is pursued after she has sprained her ankle. Our bogeyman has a traditional slow-footed Michael Myers stalk, which means that her injury makes them equally paced and it generates some solid suspense. In another scene, the killer towers over the same cowering female after murdering one of her colleagues. She sits dumbfounded and in a state of shock and its one of those moments that makes you scream at the screen, “Get up and run for Gawd’s sake!” It was great to see the director transcending his budget in an effort to give us as thrilling a ride as possible.
The feature clocks in at fifty-four minutes, which doesn’t leave a great deal of time for character development, but the lightweight script still managed to chuck in some memorable gimmicks. These include a hilarious shoplifting skit and some wacky weed-smoking references that are delivered by a pair of rouge-ish chicks that are there to add a dose of humour. I was incredibly impressed with seventeen-year-old Jillian Swanson’s portrayal of the heroine, because with minimal dialogue and screen-time, she gave us a charming and approachable final girl. Her career blossomed for a couple of years after this and she appeared in a few other horror pictures, but she’s been missing since 2007, so I’m guessing that she’s given up on acting, which is a shame. Along with the energetic performances, I also found the gore effects to be worthy of credit, because they’ve pulled off some really effective visuals on shoelace funding. Amongst these was a gruesome impalement and an outstanding head-lopping trick that proved that with the right camera angles and a sharp mind, a lack of funding doesn’t effect what you can achieve.
Despite some crisp photography that is as radiant as anything that I’ve seen in slasher cinema, nothing can overcome the obvious amateurism of the sound mixing and editing. It looks as if scenes were completed and given musical accompaniment before everything was chopped together, so we get a whole heap of moments when two separate scores that don’t really fit are amalgamated into one set-piece. There are also times when the dialogue couldn’t be synced at the same times as the soundtrack for some unknown reason, which gives the audio an awkwardness that shows the film’s cheapness. They did make this work to their advantage in one place though, by giving the killer his own atmospheric POV that had a distinguished piece of music every time that he appeared on screen. It was a good way to make the best use of the budget restraints and its even something that they poked fun at later when the heroine grabbed a weapon during the conclusion.
I ask myself, did Victor D’Agonisto get what he could out of $500? The answer is as blatant a yes as a yes can possibly be. This is a very good entry that delivers far more thrills, Friday the 13th references and slasher fun than most of the films released recently on ten-times the expense. Whilst I admit that you need to be lenient in places, I think slasher fans will lap it up if they can find a copy.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√√
Cross Bearer 2012
Directed by: Adam Ahlbrandt
Starring: Isaac Williams, Natalie Jean, Victoria DePaul
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Being that a SLASH above is so genre focused, I guess that most of you that check us out weekly are collectors just like me. I mention this because I’m sure that you will understand when I talk about the desperation to uncover an obscure entry that you really want to see. You’ll have been through the endless hours of searching on peculiar DVD sites, eBay and Amazon stores and every torrent portal that’s ever been listed on Google, and you’ll understand how much that raises expectations. Well even though it’s just over two years old, Cross Bearer has been the latest title that I’ve been hunting out for what seems like an eternity.
I first heard about it from Dead Girls co-director Steve Jarvis, who saw it at Shriekfest in November 2012. He gave it a, ‘bona fide, 14-carat, good housekeeping seal of approval’ and in general he knows a good slasher movie. It was soon listed on the IMDB with a 7.5 rating, an amazing score for such a picture, and I found an incredibly positive review on the Horror Society website, which called it an, ‘extremely dark slasher film, full of grit and grime’. I was expecting it to be released soon after and I waited in anticipation, but only now, twenty-months later, have I managed to source a copy from Cologne, Germany.
It opens with a truly brilliant collage of shots of religious imagery and Audio snippets of fanatical preaching. Then we head to a seedy Pittsburgh apartment block where we meet a long haired religious nut with a beard who is spying on and recording a pimp and his hooker friends. As the story unravels, more characters are introduced including a sleazy strip club owner, a pair of lesbian strippers who are madly in love and a single mother who is a part-time drug courier. They all come together in a large rundown warehouse for a gore-tastic showdown with a hooded killer.
There’s some discrepancies on exactly how much was spent on the budget of Cross Bearer. Director Adam Ahlbrandt has stated as little as $3,500, but I would guess that it’s a whole lot more. The film really looks the business with it’s saturated colour and grainy images that capture the morbid tone. It also has an impressive soundtrack of songs that are professionally composed and produced. Add on top of that some excellent gore effects from Doug Sakmann that do not scrimp on costs whatsoever and you get a production that doesn’t look far off the same year’s Smiley. Bearer tramples the line between slasher and torture porn incredibly well and most of the on-screen killings are exceptionally brutal and visceral. The bogeyman beats each victim do death mercilessly with a hammer and he only changes his MO on two occasions. In one of those, he uses the claw end of said hammer to rip out one victim’s tongue and in the other, he pours a bag of coke over an incapacitated girl until she froths at the mouth and chokes to death. I thought that was a pretty cool idea and even though we’ve seen something similar in Dead 7 from 2000, it was much slicker this time around
The film is a mix of inspirations that are taken from the straight-ahead masked killer stalks teens stories of Halloween or Prom Night, whilst also digging deeper into the sadism of 70s titles like Three on a Meathook or Deranged. We also get some Scream era referential dialogue, with one character mentioning Friday the 13th part II, which I feel is of relevance to the choice of guise for the killer. Whilst it is not quite a burlap sack, the white ‘bed sheet’ headpiece is visually similar to Jason circa the second franchise installment, so I would include this amongst titles like Malevolence and Boogieman that went for a similar costume. Psychos in that kind of get-up have always been my favourites and when we see him stalking whilst spattered in blood, it does look exquisitely creepy.
In-between the kill scenes is time that’s spent with a group of seedy low-lives and it’s here that the film falls to pieces. Firstly there is no central character for us to bond with, so there’s very little suspense in wanting to see anyone survive. We are given a bunch of drug addled strippers and pimps that don’t even marginally convince that they’re delinquents. Mind you, they shouldn’t need to, this is a horror film, not a ghetto flick. Because he has a cast that look about as gangster as Popeye, Ahlbrandt makes up for it by taking the level of exploitation so far in the first 10 minutes that it loses impact and becomes irritating. Every second minute we get another lurid sex or cocaine reference and it’s delivered so weakly that I was begging for some normal conversations. Such messages are conveyed more effectively with restraint and in the end it reminded me of one of those kids that wants to be a bad boy so he fabricates endless stories of debauchery.
I also felt that it needed more stalking scenes to help sustain the atmosphere. The most that we usually got was a single shot of the bogeyman walking up to burst in on his intended targets and therefore there wasn’t really any tension. When we did finally get a chase sequence during the last 20 minutes, I thought it was darkly effective due to the antagonist’s loony-tune chants, like, “Come out harlot, I can smell you”. As I said, he looks intimidating in the backwoods get-up, but I think that showing him unmasked in the opening scenes was a bit of a blunder. It took away the anticipation of revealing the motives behind such aggression and therefore the fear factor was reduced.
It’s surprising for me that Cross Bearer hasn’t yet received the release that it deserves, because it is better than many of the other films that have come out recently. Its IMDB score has dropped to 3.7 at the last check and all that initial positivity has been replaced with much poorer reviews. I have it on good authority that a script for a second chapter already exists and it gives the assailant a sledgehammer upgrade. Unless this feature gets picked up for a better distribution deal soon though, I don’t think that we’ll ever see it. There are not many companies that will sponsor a sequel when the first film never really took off. There’s no denying that a great opportunity has been missed here, but I still think that you should give it a go. It’s far too good to be just one of those obscurities that people hunt out on portals in twenty-year’s time.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √